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I will never emotionally recover from the knowledge that Fire Emblem Awakening could have been a Pokemon crossover instead of a waifu simulator.
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The ideal number of RPs depends entirely on how active you expect your partners to be, and your own mental bandwidth for keeping track of characters and story threads.


A late twenties/early thirties, they/them something-or-other who's been doing this writing thing on and off since my teens. When I need to blow off some steam, I play the kinds of games that would make the average Dark Souls fan scream with rage. Aside from those two hobbies, I don't make time for much. My roleplaying is probably the most social I'll ever be across the internet, but hopefully that's what you're here for. Time Zone: +9, Korea/Japan/Australia. Hello American night shifters.

Most Recent Posts

Might clean it up or expand it a bit, but the essential stuff is in there.

Xiuyang and Roslyn
Trouble Brewing: How the Mächtig Fall

The Hoch und Mächtig had ended with Xiuyang receiving a token from Maura; a gesture for which she'd be extremely appreciative in the near future, and one which did a great deal to clear the fog in Xiuyang's mind regarding their relationship. They were friends first, and business rivals second.

However, the night's revelry would continue, and the warm notes of rekindling friendship would once again be overtaken by the dry aftertaste of failure. Just as she had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, so too would Trypano; but that wasn't what bothered her. No—Ashon and Penny were flirting, and the conversation that ensued treaded the line between Ashon's usual jovial ribbing, and a serious argument regarding his questionable taste in baby names. Xiuyang had exercised no small amount of willpower to resist the temptation to... check—but Penny was a friend, too. She respected her privacy.

Yes, Penny was a friend. That made it worse. It was childish, she knew, but still, she fled the scene with a poor excuse that she didn't feel well, hobbling off through the bushes of the Arboretum, towards the Ever Tree and Hedda's Lake, one of the few places she still felt safe—though Juulet would soon take it from her. Xiuyang looked over her shoulder, and to be sure, she saw Roslyn, but didn't suspect for a second that the girl was following her. Few students batted an eye at the sight of Xiuyang being drunk. She always seemed to make it back to her dorm by herself just fine, and come back stronger tomorrow.

This made it all the more surprising, then, that once she entered the foliage of Hedda's Lake, she began walking steadily. It made sense in hindsight; the girl was always swimming in low-level chemical magic. It would be strange if she didn't know how to purge the toxins from her body. What was also strange was that she had covered herself in a sonic bubble.

One might have suspected the girl, who wore the shady Revidian merchant look as an almost "ironic" fashion statement, was up to no good. However, she soon knelt down onto the soil, hands pressed up on a tree, looking as if she was going to puke despite being sober. She shook, in agonizing pain.

When Roslyn spotted Xiuyang against the tree, the alcohol in the Hendlish girl's stomach twisted. Any questions in her hazy mind vanished instantly. She hitched up her skirts and rushed forward. Shoes kicked off in her wake letting her feet hit the soft grass. In moments, she kneeled down at the woman's side. Her hand reached out and gingerly touched Xuiyang's shoulder.

"Are you okay?" Frowning at her ignorance of the obvious, she scolded herself for the stupid question.

"Scratch that question. It might be better to shift into a sitting position. It looks like you had a bit too much to drink." Roslyn hoped that was accurate because she wasn't the most skilled healer and she doubted there was any Zenos nearby.

Xiuyang's ears rang and her vision blurred as her face became another's. A sensation like a million hot pokers all across her body blinded her to her surroundings. Her heart nearly stopped as the hand touched her shoulder. On instinct, she veiled her face in shadow as she whirled around to confront her pursuer. She could barely hear Roslyn's voice, but she could recognize her, and knew from body language cues that she was trying to help. Her body trembled violently, as if she were on something much stronger than alcohol. She pushed the girl's hand aside and faced away, making hand motions like she was fine, but she wasn't.

No! Not Roslyn—she could never know.

No one could know. The cost was too great.

Upon closer inspection, Roslyn's eyes narrowed with concern. Something was off, her gut screamed. She had seen excessive drunkenness and its effects before, but never this harsh. The way Xiuyang's body shook hinted to something stronger. She fought the urge to jerk back when Xiuyang's blotted out face turned to her. Past the shadows, a pair of eyes stared at her. They seem to shift in color causing her breath to still in her chest.

What the... Her heart dropped into her stomach as her eyes adjusted. For a moment, Roslyn wondered if she was seeing things. Was it the trick of the light, maybe? Some primal instinct argued otherwise.

Xiuyang had only done this a few times before, and it was always horrific, but she had no choice. She immediately began to reverse the facemimic process. Agony compounded on agony as her body returned to her normal. Shit, she was actually going to hurl. It was unbearable. Hastily, she removed her mask with a silent hiss. No noise escaped the sonic bubble as she relieved herself of the alcohol in her stomach.


"Godsdamn it, Roslyn! You shouldn't do that. Scared the fuck out of me," came the disembodied voice from the mask in her hand. She exhaled, her breath ragged. She seemed more relieved than annoyed. The shivers started to die down as she leaned up against another, unsoiled tree.

Swallowing the rising anxiety, Roslyn stood there and let the masked woman sort herself out. Her right thumb rubbed her fingers before a foul odor like sour carrots invaded her nostrils. She wrinkled her nose, but did her best to hide her disgust. All she could do was stand there and watch. When Xiuyang spoke, Roslyn breathed a sigh of relief. Her hand dug out a handkerchief and then offered it to Xiuiyang. Whether it was for the eyes or mouth, she didn't bother clarifying.

"I didn't mean to sneak up on you." Roslyn didn't point out she was anything but quiet. For a moment, she considered her next words. Her form lowered into cross legged sitting position in front of Xiuyang. It wasn't lady-like, but at this point the brewer girl didn't care.

"You going to be okay? Cause whatever that was, it seemed really bad." She tried to put on a comforting smile, but her worry bled through.

Though Xiuyang's mask was removed, a veil of cloth still covered her face. She never showed her face to anyone, nor much of her body aside from her eyes and hands. The rumors why she did so were as absurd as they were numerous. One thing many students thought they knew was that Xiuyang couldn't breathe properly without her mask, but that didn't seem to be true, since she was breathing quite heavily now.

As if she were just suddenly thinking about it, she quickly put it back on. This time the hiss was audible. "I must be losing my edge. You actually snuck up on me." A hollow chuckle echoed from inside the mask as she wiped the tears from her eyes. The pain had passed, and she seemed to be doing fine. She waved her hand dismissively, declining the handkerchief, though she did use the cloth on her face for it. "Sorry you had to see that. Drinking too much doesn't pair well with migraines and chronic pain."

Reaching into her medicine box, she retrieved a pipe and set its contents to flame, but rather than smoking it, simply absorbed its chemical energy, using it for pain relief. "Don't like to mention it. Complaining ain't very classy, 'specially for me. 'Binder, heal thyself,' yeah? There's nothing for it, though."

Seeing the polite decline, Roslyn placed her handkerchief in her dress pocket. Her form leaned back with her hands planted behind her. Absorbing Xiuyang's words, her lips shifted to the side in thought. Garith and Xiuyang had something in common it seemed. Her eyes softened with empathy while she listened.

"Yeah, pain and alcohol are never a good mix. My brother avoids drinking because of that. Not ideal when we're suppose to run a brewery together." Roslyn kept her voice steady when she brushed the sensitive topic.

Xiuyang shrugged in her usual blasé fashion. "Anyway, I'm not sure what else you expected to see, following the school drunk into the bushes. A lovers' rendezvous, perhaps? That's just a rumor, though."

"I will note, I've seen many different types of drunken reactions, but yours... That's a first for me." She began to realize she might be thinking too much into this. Everyone was different after all. Moving on, Roslyn noted the medicine box and the pipe taken out. She considered asking questions, but she dismissed them. It had to be for the pain, she thought and moved on.

"As for rumors, I never take them seriously. After being the subject of them last year, I realize how easily gossip spreads. All it takes is for a lady to strike up a friendship with a gentleman and everyone becomes very chatty." She rolled her eyes at the memory, chuckling softly over how farfetched some became. They mostly died down a month or so later much to her relief.

Xiuyang turned her head slightly, as if she were just a little bit taken aback. Did Roslyn just... dodge a question? Roslyn inwardly cringed spotting Xiuyang's reaction. She realized too late how she sounded and let her smile drop for a moment. Garith was the more articulate one compared to her, rarely fumbling over his words.

Well, two could play that game, anyway. "You're better off. People only spread rumors because they have nothing interesting going on in their own lives. I'm sure you've heard the rumors that I'm a major tree-rider. I'll screw anything that has pointy ears, apparently. Oh, or that I must be a sanguinaire, because I never show any skin. That's a good one. If only my secrets could be kept so easily," she japed with a wink.

When Xiuyang mentioned sanguaires, a raw ball of emotions twisted in her gut. Her form tensed a bit against her will. Forcing herself to relax, she pushed away the discomfort. "You're definitely not a sanguaire." Her confidence was strong about that fact. "As for the other stuff, a good punch in the jaw might set them straight."

Xiuyang took a deep breath, like someone enjoying the aroma of tea might. "I'd never heard you had a brother. Funny thing is, I also have two sisters no one talks about, aside from my dad—who reminds me every chance he gets that they were already married at my age. Whenever he visits, I like to ask him if he's secured any alliances lately. Hopefully he'll get a sense of humor before he gets that joke."

Was it a sore spot or harmless fun? Roslyn wasn't sure, but she didn't pick at it. When her thoughts turned to her own family, the mirth seemed to fade. "Yeah, we didn't exactly leave on the best of terms. He was suppose to be here instead of me." She took a small breath and hid away the hurt. "So what are your sisters like?" She leaned a bit forward, her elbows rested on her knees.

Xiuyang shrugged. "One's a proper snooty lady, living her best 'snootily ever after.' The other at least has a sense of fun and sneakily visits Ersand'Enise from time to time. Neither of them were impressively gifted with magic, though, so it's just me here." She might have looked like she wanted to say more, but kept her pessimistic musings about her father's possible motivations for sending her to Ersand'Enise private for now.

More interesting was what Roslyn said a moment ago. "You're rather confident that I'm not a monster. Can't help but be a bit curious about why." Perhaps, after she allied with sanguinaires in ReTan, she needed some confirmation that she wasn't, in fact, a monster. Perhaps it was her admittedly large ego about her secrecy. Perhaps both.

Roslyn mused over memories she had of Garith before they drifted apart. In his youth, he held a strong wit and mischievous nature. The years wore it away and replaced it with a serious air and bitterness. Things were so much simpler before the disease. She bit her lip when Xiuyang mentioned her confidence. Her eyes shifted downward and considered what to say next.

"I'm not sure you'd believe me, if I told you. I learned things I wish I didn't and even... killed someone by accident. I have regrets and deep down, I wonder if I did anything right." Her face fell when thinking of her last mission.

"I am still having nightmares about it. The good thing is, I found beer helps numb the guilt." She tried to smile, but the eyes didn't match.

Xiuyang had to resist the urge to laugh—not because what Roslyn said was amusing, but because of the absurdity of this situation. She was an honest girl, and it wasn't hard to guess that her true intentions in following Xiuyang were pure. Now she was the one spilling her guts and seeking counsel from the school drunk—counsel which, having gone through a similar experience, she should ostensibly have.

But she didn't. At least, not any that helped.

Some of the tension left Xiuyang's body as she acclimated to the change of subject—not the topic of conversation, but the subject of their attention: Roslyn, rather than herself. Content with this turn of events, she settled into her role as a dispensary of dubious sagely advice.

"I'm guessing you've met one, though I'd say it's not much of a guess. Here's the thing, though," she said, taking a "drag" of her pipe. "There's nothing especially 'evil' about them. They're the result of putting a human in a moral dilemma—drink blood or die—and letting them fester in it for centuries. There's very little a human heart can do in that situation except grow numb. If you ask me, the ones who grow numb to the suffering of other people within a normal human lifespan are infinitely more deplorable than the 'evil' sanguinaires."

It was an opinion that would be shouted down as heresy in any Quentic church—but it was very "Xiuyang." "Any evil you might see out there exists in all of us, to some degree. Sometimes, it's not our fault when it comes out. What matters is trying to be good. You got regrets? Hold on to them. They keep you human. I'd say you can't change the past, but, well." She shrugged and winked. "Thing is, we actually can change the past, and just look at what good it's done for us. I don't look at the world and see perfection—do you? If the wealthy and powerful can't get it right, what chance do you or I have? We can only do our best, and accept that the mercy of our Pentad has to make up the difference. That's our lot." She said it so simply, and tried to make it sound more convincing for Roslyn than it was for herself. She reached down to her medicine box—not to take anything out of it, but to make the sign of Oraff, in a silent prayer that her killing was just.

If Xiuyang was good at anything, it was her way of considering all the factors and justifying her decisions to herself before she made them. It always felt cynical to weigh lives on a scale as if they belonged in a ledger—but when all you had was a merchant's skillset, every problem presented itself as a type of accounting. Her friend from the brewery club was clearly more distraught by her first kill than she was. She'd hope that fact at least made her sound like an expert. As she finished her silent prayer, she nodded as if to confirm the soundness of her own advice—if that's what she was calling it.

Roslyn nodded, confirming Xiuyang's suspicions. On a small degree, she knew what the masked woman said to be true. Vel was an example of this and his struggles reflected it. She prayed to the Gods he didn't turn into a blood thirsty monster one day. Her hands had settled into her skirt where they toyed with the folds. It was a childish gesture, but she didn't care. As Xiuyang finished, she seemed to digest the words bit by bit.

"That makes sense. Sadly, I don't think the Gods have much mercy for my family." She needed more time to think, but some of the weight in her chest had faded.

Roslyn leaned back again, her eyes fixed on her fellow student.

"Do the nightmares ever stop? I imagine you had a few of them thanks to the mission in ReTan. Vel mentioned something about having issues with a giant squid."

Xiuyang paused as the pieces started to look like they might fit together—but, even if Vel had become a sanguinaire during their visit to ReTan, surely he wasn't the one who'd scared Roslyn so badly. It remained a theory, for now, but it did make her even more wary of Ingrid.

"I've never been much of a sound sleeper. Don't really get a lot of dreams to be honest, either." She shrugged. "Probably the alcohol—but uh, don't follow my example. Obviously."

"I think that's a bit too late. I started when I got back from Vossoriya," Roslyn replied. She knew her collection of bottles were growing each night. At this point, she needed one to two mugs just to relax then more to pass out. Her hand lifted to rub her neck which became sore at the thought.

Of course, Xiuyang had been given some time to think about the knower titan. A small part of her refused to accept that what she'd seen was real, but either way, there was no sense in burdening Roslyn with even more worries. "Giant squid" suited her just fine. Perhaps if she did have a dream about ReTan, she'd try to superimpose a giant Ashon into the scene and have him eat the thing like a dish of calamari, just as he said.

"Try to think of something, or someone, pleasant to dream about, and maybe they'll show up instead, or help you out. If you get yourself a new weapon or something that makes you feel safe, you might see it in your dreams too. In the end, though, whether or not the nightmares end is up to you. Grow as a person, and outgrow your fears."

She shrugged. It wasn't a totally satisfactory answer, even to herself—but as the words left her mouth, she realized that perhaps she was stronger than she thought. She'd never fight a knower titan with confidence, but perhaps the feeling of cosmic helplessness would subside eventually. Or maybe she'd just grow old and tired, like everyone else. Only time would tell.

At the mention of weapons, Roslyn snickered. "I don't really have any. I might get a pistol from the Magehunters, but that doesn't make me feel safe. As for outgrowing my fears... That's hard to imagine." Roslyn let out a breath. It felt good not having to be careful with her words now. With Esmii, Niallus, and even Vel, they had so much to carry. It was not fair to add more on.

"It's hard to go from normal to... being swept along in something way bigger than myself. Even when I had magic back, it didn't seem to make a difference. I hesitated and Penny died because of it. She's alive now, but..." Roslyn's arm wrapped about her middle, comforting herself.

Xiuyang shrugged, defeated. She couldn't think of a weapon good enough to make her feel like she had a chance, either. Resigned to her own inability to make Roslyn feel any better about her situation, she started when she mentioned Penny. "Penny died? That cheeky fucker didn't tell me shit!" She slapped her gourd on the dirt, scandalized. "I'll kick his ass later," she told herself, drinking to it.

Roslyn blinked and questioned if she should've kept it to herself. Well, it was too late to change it now. In all fairness, she only knew about it because she saw it happen. Otherwise, she would've been ignorant too. Though based on the use of he, Roslyn could guess where Xiuyang learned about Penny's situation.

Then, finally, Xiuyang decided it was time to stop sitting on the dirt. "There's better places to talk than on the ground," she said, pointing to the gazebo on the little island on the lake. "You wanna know how little people like me make a difference?" the merchant girl from a wealthy family said to the noble brewmaster, a glint of feigned smugness in her eye. "I've got a minute. Let me talk your ear off real quick, eh?"

Agreeing with Xiyuang's suggestion, she picked herself up. She paused long enough to dust off the dirt and casually followed. As she kept in step, her attention latched onto the conversation. A small spark of hope glowed in Roslyn upon learning about yet another person feeling the same way she had.

Xiuyang would while away the next hour or so recanting the tale of her struggle with Seki and Hitoshi, alongside Mountain Spring and Cold Soup. She recalled how small she felt watching the titans fight, and how Seki refused to take the "child" from Ersand'Enise seriously—but she waited for her moment to intervene, and took down Hitoshi with a single well-timed arcane lance. The lesson, she insisted, was that even little people could make a big difference in the right context. If Roslyn felt small, she could cozy up to the "big" people, find her niche, and apply it.

If Xiuyang learned anything tonight, it was that she gave more effort comforting others than she ever did herself. She held herself to higher standards, while giving others more charity. If she wanted to stop feeling small, perhaps she should stop belittling herself while propping up others. Perhaps she should be just a little more selfish. She thought to give Roslyn much the same advice, but she held her tongue for now. She'd defy her usual pattern and give her own advice a test run before giving it to others. She owed herself at least that much, right?

Feeling the tale deserved one in return, Roslyn spoke about the incident at the monastery and then the warehouse. Including information about the anti magic devices. It reminded her that she still held one in her possession. During her shock, she had completely forgotten about it until now. She would need to figure out what to do about it later.

"I have a lot of thinking to do, but thank you. So... How are you feeling now? If you feel up to it, we can pop over to the beer garden. I heard cider can help with stomach recovery..." Realizing Xiuyang might not want a second round, Roslyn then added. "Unless you have something else in mind? I'm all ears."

Xiuyang waved her hand, in a "perish the thought" sort of way. "That suits me fine," she said with a hidden smile. Perhaps, for once, she'd just made a rare, real friend.

Xiuyang and Desideria Solari
Suunei Solari

...Silence. At first, a dramatic silence. Then, a confused one. Then, a very concerned silence when the crowd finally noticed.

From within the darkness of the backstage area, a singular object became visible: a silver mask bearing a hauntingly wide and ambiguous smile that almost threatened the audience with a good time. Having secured the attention of the crowd—but not before a dramatic pause had passed—the disembodied mask moved eerily smoothly up the stairs and entered the stage, revealing the slim form of a dark-haired beauty in a pitch black wetsuit. She strode confidently onstage, in an almost spectral way as the stunned crowd silently watched. No words accompanied her appearance, only a form of music—which, like the lady's mask, was also caught somewhere between jovial and macabre.

The curtains parted, revealing a large glass tank, empty except for a roughly five-inch layer of sand at the bottom. Above it was another tank, this one with a live thresher inside! Some among the crowd recognized this as a setup for escape artistry of some description—and were quick to point out that, for a student of Ersand'Enise, this could turn out... quite mundane. However, before the whispers could travel far, the masked woman made her next move: she craned her neck toward the audience, in an almost leering fashion—and, invisible eyes locked on the crowd, she silently and deliberately showed off each of her limbs—how the wetsuit hugged her body, leaving no space to hide any tools.

In the meantime, two more pitch-black figures emerged, wearing skull masks. One began binding the masked lady hand and foot with rope, handcuffs, and yet more rope—while the other came bearing a plain sign that read "NO MAGIC ONSTAGE" in a variety of regionally-relevant scripts. The crowd whispered amongst themselves; some clearly didn't understand precisely what to expect—but the eerie mask, unsettling music and utter deafening silence of everyone onstage was making them anxious nonetheless. Others knew well, but whispered all the same: could the school really allow a student to attempt something so dangerous? As the girl was daintily lowered into the tank by one of her assistants, the other manned the pulleys hanging from the looming thresher tank above, and tipped it slightly, causing the masked lady's tank to begin filling with water. At last the show had begun in earnest, and the crowd began to quietly watch.

At first, the masked lady did nothing—while the music quickened and built drama, she was just... getting wet. Suddenly, however, one of her assistants just... fell over, in an abrupt and notably un-dramatic fashion, appearing disturbingly unscripted. The water began to rise faster, and the remaining assistant glanced around, appearing alarmed as the masked lady calmly and daintily looked over her shoulder at her bindings... still not doing anything. "Would someone please assist?!" he cried, finally breaking the silence of the act! Tommy rose immediately, no longer able to resist the urge to add to the theatrics and save the damsel with his machismo—but he was too slow! Mahal took to the stage, pulling the rope as she was directed—only, the water began pouring even faster! The crowd began to panic!

But the girl had been waiting for her moment—water at chest-height, her arms obscured by swirling sand, she'd used the wooden hair pin no one had noticed drop from her mask to pick open her handcuffs. She'd been using the teeth of the cuffs to saw through the ropes, freeing her wrists, ankles, and legs. Just as the crowd was begging for someone to save the girl from drowning, she leapt out of the tank, performed a handstand on the rim and landed onstage with a graceful flip, shocking the crowd and her impromptu volunteer! The crowd cheered as the masked lady patted a shaken Mahal on the back comfortingly, silently thanking her for participating in her clever little distraction.

The judges, it seemed in retrospect, had been at least partially in on it. Sunny had gasped and bolted to her feet before being pulled back down by her sister. Luna had been still and impassive until near the end, when she grinned and clapped. Johnny Fabio had leaned in to Jocasta partway through the performance, when things had been going 'wrong' and the two had exchanged a secret discussion. The former was leaning back, arms crossed, expression unreadable. The latter was wearing a smirk. She clapped quite enthusiastically, but she'd been the toughest of all judges so far and that wasn't likely to change. Still, she at least gave a 3 out of 5.

Xiuyang had gambled—correctly—that a magic-less act would stand out at Ersand'Enise, and the top five winners very much did. Unfortunately, Xiuyang was not one of them. Despite capturing the attention and emotions of the crowd, and scoring top marks with the judges, her act was less than appreciated by her fellow students. Perhaps the showing had been too morbid; there was a reason the school felt a need to go all out with the faire this time around, after all. The timing may have been bad. It may also be comeuppance for her insistent habit of remaining an enigma, even to her so-called friends. Perhaps there was such a thing as too mysterious. Whatever the case, Xiuyang was unconvinced that she deserved better. She'd needed to spend more than a mere two days planning to develop something truly excellent. She could, at least, consider the act a modest success; she didn't embarrass herself as so many beneath her had done, and none of the probing mages in the audience could figure out her trick. They'd wasted too much time on her carefully planted red herring: the layer of sand at the bottom of the tank that "obviously" hid a handcuff key, or a knife—its true purpose being to hide the wood pin from all but the most observant and skilled binding mages—provided they weren't looking for metal objects.

Then there was Jocasta, who had probably figured out the trick immediately, and found herself suitably unimpressed with its simplicity. Hiding anything from Jocasta would likely be forever a pipe dream. In theory, anyone with the wherewithal to ask logical questions during her unsettling performance could have guessed that she was probably holding something in her mouth beneath her mask, and that was why the act was silent. However, it seemed as if no one did. Most were too mesmerized by the theatrics—and some, by her curves on full display.

Though, it wasn't her body.

"Xiuxiu!" came the hushed whisper of another girl from backstage.

The masked lady, Xiuyang, stared into the darkness, at her own face. It was another Xiuyang!

But, it wasn't.

Xiuyang removed the creepy mask, revealing her face. Though, it wasn't her face.

The other Xiuyang saw her own face staring back at her. "Heyhey!" she greeted herself with a wave.

"Hey Desi," replied the unmasked lady, hugging Xiuyang. Or was it the other way around?

"I thought we were gonna do a bit and prank everyone?" the Xiuyang-faced Desi asked curiously.

"Nah. Was gonna call you over when I stepped up to claim my prize. Didn't win, though. I didn't make top ten, even," she admitted, tapping the toes of her boots on the floorboards evasively.

"Oh..! These kids have no taste. I was on the edge of my seat!" Desi assured her.

"Seeing my own face pouting like a kid is so fucking surreal," Xiuyang remarked.

"Shush! Father will kill us both if he hears you using my voice like that!" Desi replied, cupping a hand over her mouth. She resisted the urge to tell her little sister that she did, too, pout like that when she was young.

Xiuyang snickered, wearing a smirk on Desideria's face that she wouldn't dare try. "You wanna get a drink?"

"Oh no, I couldn't! My husband is here too. We have, uh, plans after this," she confessed.

Xiuyang watched her own cheeks turn red. Had she ever made a bashful face like that? Is that what Ciro saw earlier? Just because he called her "bella" in that smooth voice? Good grief, she thought, shaking her head. "Oh. Well. Guess I'll get drunk by my poor, lonesome self," she teased.

"Alone? But you looked like you were thinking of someone just now," Desi fired back accusingly.

"Me, myself and I. Party of one, baby," she denied.

"Come on, sis!" she pleaded. "What about your sharp-eared friend you're always writing about? The one who's nine feet tall and handsome?"

"He's seven foot—and I never called him handsome," Xiuyang dismissed, earning herself a quiet scoff. "And watch your tongue. It's rude to comment on the ears... When did I tell you he was a yasoi?" She narrowed her eyes, suspicious.

"Just now," Desi tossed back playfully. "It wasn't much of a mystery though, you know? Even I know a few things about their culture. They're practically our neighbors! So anyway... introduce me!" she demanded with a smile. "It'll be fun! I'll be you, and you'll be me, and we'll see how long it takes for him to notice something's not right!"

Xiuyang shook her head, averting her gaze. "No," she whispered sternly. "We can't play around like that, you know this. We were pushing our luck to begin with." She sighed. She had no intention of introducing Ashon to anyone, not now that Penny was pregnant. It would be best if she—if she kept her distance. She choked up a little at the thought.

Desi didn't understand, but she certainly noticed. "He broke your heart, didn't he?" she whispered darkly.

"No!" Xiuyang denied immediately. "I did. I didn't... didn't act. I hesitated for too long, like I always do," she said through gritted teeth. She was so very, very tired of crying lately. Would her misfortune ever fucking end? "Change out of my clothes, would you?" she sighed, as if resigned to a lecture.

But the lecture didn't come. Lectures were father's to give—and lately, Xiuyang spoke with an authority that reminded her of him. So, Desi did as she was told. "You're still so young, li'l sis. You will find someone—and when you do, indulge in a little romance. If not for Ipte's sake, then for yours."

Xiuyang remained silent. She couldn't know. No one could know.

"Shuuko is here too. Were you expecting a fancy banner?"

Hotaru did not want to let Kiyo go. Her heart had been thundering in her chest. Her limbs felt as though butterflies swarmed through them, leaving behind shivering trails that stole away their strength. Hairs stood on end across her whole body and her breath shook with her body as she tried to calm herself down along with two others. Indeed, just like Kiyo's voice, the soothing hum of her other selves barely penetrated the fog of her emotions, unable to seize control from her in this state. They were worried, they were angry at the light girls along with themselves and they swore never to repeat this mistake as Shatterscape. Well, at least Sylvia did. Ember, as usual, went on to plan for the future.

"I... I'm sorry, Kiyo. I should have teleported back to you after I was done instead of... instead of chasing that stupid frog girl! She... you weren't hurt, were you?" Hotaru's embrace loosened as she lifted her left gauntlet, using one of its sharp fingers to trace a delicate pattern on Kiyo's face. The careful touch would not even irritate her partner's skin despite it's ability to rend apart metal at a glance and surely, the other girl could feel the deep consideration behind each feather-weight movement.

"It is our fault if you were," spoke Sylvia, borrowing Hotaru's lips to convey her feelings, her usual, even voice reduced to an whip-like whisper. She did not take away any part of her friend's body for her own use, but her feelings remained clear in her words. "I am also sorry," Only Ember remained silent, lost in her thoughts.

Kiyo remained perfectly still, only her eyes moving here and there as she checked the goings-on of Hibusa town, still not looking at her partner. "Scrapes and bruises, already healed minutes ago," she replied dismissively. "It was my reckless decision to pursue the new girl so far that brings us here, Sister. If I had died, I would accept nothing less than the lion's share of the blame. It was a golden opportunity—a fresh light girl that doesn't yet fear dark girls..!" she couldn't help but smile for a moment before it all came back. She sighed. "Such a waste. That girl was ripe. Nonsuch on the other hand, is still a sourpuss. I'll have to leave her to her navel-gazing for a while longer." Raising up dark girls... how absurd, she thought, but also... so very curious. She giggled out loud, feeling a kind of childish excitement as she wondered if this secret the two of them shared was even possible.

At any rate, it seemed Evil Eye was unharmed, and still very much her usual, weird self.

Sylvia let out a sigh of relief while Hotaru's hand remained on Kiyo's cheeks for just a few more seconds. Her expression softened as she heard that the mistake did not cost her gravely, a tiny smile adorning her face when Sylvia gave back full control.

"I... we are sorry. Again." Hotaru spoke for all of Shatterscape, for Shuuko. "I thought we could get rid of the frog girl. Everyone agreed." She averted her eyes as she spoke, hand dropping beside herself along with her shoulders while her fingers slid against each other, fidgeting with the subtle noise of metal sliding against metal. In her head, she went over the events of the night - not only did they not kill many Miseria, they failed to do anything with the light girls. What a miserable failure.

"And please live, Kiyo." Still unable to face Evil Eye, she dared not to raise her voice or to make a demand. "Your life isn't worth it. I have twelve. Use mine if you have to." The words were sincere even if Hotaru avoided her partner's gaze; Shatterscape's copies could be destroyed over and over again until no more remained. She would only die if even the last one were destroyed. Therefore, her life was worth less than Kiyo's, or at least such was her logic.

"Enough apologies," Kiyo gently scolded. "I'm your senior, I made the call. It's me who will get an earful from the boss, and rightfully so. I'll hear no more of it." Slowly, she reached out to find Shuuko. Touching her chin, Kiyo turned it towards her, and directed her eyes to where she knew Shuuko's would be. This was the only time their eyes could meet directly—when the focus of Evil Eye's gaze was elsewhere. "If you really want to split hairs, all magical girls are replaceable—what's the saying? There's a sucker born every minute?" She chuckled. "As you like it, then. I'll be more careful. It's not often that two people work so well together," she said, in what was, by Evil Eye's standards, a tender voice.

A moment passed, and Evil Eye sighed. "Looks like everyone else forgot about us, Sister. They're all deciding where to get food. Oros is already digging in," she said as she watched the rather passionate and extremely public display. "It's been a while. Why don't we get something alone, to go? We can prank the other girls while we're at it," she said with a mischievous grin. "We'll get whatever you want. I'll have the driver take us there."

It still stung a little, but the rest of the guilt, Shuuko would have to deal with on her own. Kiyo shut her down rightfully, going as far as to look into the other girl's eyes while her gaze did not pay attention, lest Shuuko be caught in the whirlwind of her magic. This gesture demanded nothing less than Shuuko having to face it with her own eyes, sincerity sparking in her gaze while she sealed away her emotions to deal with them later. Indeed while she sought out the other half of the duo, the rest of the Dark Girls chose to start livening up the atmosphere, especially Oros. Hopefully, their rulekeeper would break them in yet again.

"I really wish you girls weren't involved in this whole mess," spoke Ember as she surfaced, "It's just wrong, isn't it? Just as it's wrong to pull a fast one on someone... but in this case, it might be deserving." Dispelling her transformation, Ember's gauntlets along with her costume vanished into motes of light, leaving her with a few injuries on her mundane form. "But if you're offering... Let's get something simple. It is my turn today." A glint. A hint of a scheme in Ember's eyes that Kiyo likely knew well.

"Could we take a stop by my home? I'd like to enjoy the food without interruptions."

Finally, Evil Eye's gaze returned to the ambulance, but still she looked away from Shuuko. The paramedics had gotten off the floor and were giving treatment to their other patient. She supposed that was fine. Actually, weren't there two of them? She looked around and, sure enough, there he was sprawled out on the floor. He was dead, and also stank of alcohol. Kiyo shrugged, turning her attention to the privacy screen behind Shuuko's bed and tearing it aside. Barking a simple order at the helpless man, he would take a detour from the hospital to go to a drive-through instead.

Within a few minutes, Kiyo and Shuuko were in possession of a bucket of fried chicken to share. "Hold on to this for a bit," she said as she rummaged through medical supplies for some bandages, applying a couple of them to her face. She then hopped into the bed next to Shuuko, taking her phone out for a selfie and flipping the bird. Finally, she sent the picture to the group chat along with some text.

And there they were, sharing a hospital bed, Shuuko holding a bucket of fried chicken while Kiyo flipped off the camera.

"That'll do," she snickered as she showed Shuuko the text. Then, she squinted. "The fuck? When did I send this?" She'd finally noticed the "changed my mind" text Nonsuch had sent. Before she could think about it much, however, there came an urgent noise like an alarm from the driver's cabin, and the ambulance abruptly stopped. "Shit. Let's scram."

Evil Eye practically shoulder-tackled the paramedics and the ambulance door as the two escaped into the night, flying the rest of the way to Shuuko's home. That is, Evil Eye flew while carrying Shuuko. "One of these days that bitch is gonna pay for trashing my bike. So annoying." How she hated flying—but there were no trains left at this time of night, surely. Besides, they were already close.

Missing a last name and country of origin for now, while we work out how to integrate her into the story. Otherwise, she's ready for review.

Honestly, not sure how I feel about her. The angst is reaching epic proportions.

Xiuyang & Jamboi
A Needle in the Heart

For days, Xiuyang had been wandering to and fro on campus, going about her business as if in some kind of daze. Every once in a while, she would remember that, in a single day, her entire life had been turned upside-down. Her intelligence network was not her intelligence network. Her mother's side of the family, at least, had been watched by ReTan since before she was born, and her family secrets were not secret to the Twin Emperors. Her and her father's business now seemed insignificant in the face of the revelation that giant sky cephalopods from hell were a thing, and were probably not very happy with her and her friends right now. Ordinarily, she'd skip town if someone came looking for her with murderous intent unannounced, but leaving Sipentia seemed just a bit out of reach in the current year. Still, business goes on. I need a drink, she thought irritably, taking a drink from her gourd.

In that exact moment, she didn't appear as herself; she was a regular, average-looking male student of Ersand'Enise, slumming around Mudville—and just then, she heard a very interesting rumor. Xiuyang sighed. It was a complicated sigh. She had been so caught up in her own misfortunes that she'd forgotten to worry about Ashon. It was a sigh of both relief and disappointment in herself. Still, she couldn't help but feel slightly elated, even if her heart was weighed down by a mountain of worries. Finally, Jamboi's group had returned home safe.

She wasted no time in crossing the entirety of Ersand'Enise to get to the north wall and enter into the foliage of Hedda's Lake, passing the conspicuous island and heading towards the gazebo next to the Ever Tree. As she passed through the less-traveled brush, she withdrew her mask from her bag and put it on herself as her face twisted in agony. She grit her teeth as her body slowly shrunk in height, inch by excruciating inch, for several minutes. Transforming relatively quickly was becoming easier for her, but it would never be easy in that respect. It would always be painful, from what she knew about Facemimicry—the Solari family's most well-kept secret.

Xiuyang jumped across the river and up the branches of the tree one by one using her kinetic boots and a bit of levitation magic. She was getting used to this climb after falling just once or twice or... well, she made it this time, and that's what counts. She entered the Ever Tree house: built using a blend of living wood, woven vines and enchanted crystals that softly illuminated the interior with a gentle, ethereal glow. The structure itself appeared as if it had organically grown from the tree, its walls curving and intertwining with the branches. Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy of the Ever Tree, casting dappled patterns across the polished wooden floor of the common room, a sprawling circular space with an open-concept layout that seamlessly merged with the tree's interior. Plush rugs made from natural fibers in earthy tones softened the seating areas.

As the heart of the shared space, the common room served as both a place for study and relaxation. Lush cushions and woven hammocks were arranged in cozy corners, offering a comfortable space for the six Yasoi students to unwind, read, or converse. Standing enigmatic and somewhat out-of-place was a magnificent suit of armor standing atop an intricately carved wooden platform. The suit of armor stood at a lofty 7 feet, its metal gleaming softly with an otherworldly luminescence. Resting in the armor's hands was a grand claymore, its blade gleaming with hints of enchantment. Xiuyang eyed the conspicuous new set of armor that definitely wasn't there before with no small amount of suspicion. Its magical-looking blade immediately drew her attention and her curiosity. Someone had just left such a valuable-looking thing unattended?

No, she felt eyes on her—and the Ever Tree was always quieter than the rest of Ersand'Enise, but it was too damn quiet today. She just wasn't sure from where the eyes were watching. Instinctively, she dipped behind a bookshelf and merged with the shadows, feeling a bit foolish but playing it safe as always. Seeing no one, she eventually approached the armor warily, dismissing her nerves as superstitious and admiring it. As it stood on the ornamental platform, she failed to notice that it was more or less precisely Ashon's height.

"Rather dashing, I must say. Someone's very lucky to have you."

The suit of armour appeared to remain inanimate as she approached. And as she spoke, the temptation became too great. The voice that emerged was deep and reverberated from inside the armour. “Why, thank you. You are a beautiful young lass yourself.”

As if the suit of armour were being brought to life, it began to move, at first in an exaggerated manner, then it became more purposeful. Its titanic frame was imposing; it could easily appear as though it could swallow Ashon whole. “Young Maiden, I am an Armour Golem. I have come seeking a worthy challenger.” Its hands lifted the heavy sword as if it were a weightless trinket. “I am known by many names: the Grand Gorilla, the Gleaming Goliath, the Gargantuan, and the Gleeful Guardian.”

The armoured helm peered down toward the staff attached to the girl’s back. “Do you come here to prove your worth?”

As soon as the armor showed signs of movement, Xiuyang instinctively backed away with a kinetically powered jump, surprise evident on her face. "If you're seeking a worthy opponent, you've certainly come to the right school. Me, though? Well, I'm just a sidekick, really," she scoffed, with a visible shrug and a definite note of self-deprecation. Even so, she took her new staff in hand and twirled it rather fabulously. She was experienced enough to know a few moves. "Seriously though, who are you? You didn't just waltz into Ersand'Enise without papers, looking like that. Even I could never pull that off." Her face suddenly became serious as she considered, after the events in ReTan and the Forbidden Quarter, the possibility of something beyond the power of Arch-Zenos.

Then, she raised a brow, some of the figure's words only catching up to her after a pause. She had her suspicions about who was inside the armor. She had to be sure, though—so she reached out to sense what she could of her sudden opponent. She focused on matter and heat. Unless the suit or its occupant repelled her, she could recognize the man inside. Xiuyang never forgot a face, and she was also familiar with a few of the students' circulatory systems—

"Land on your feet!" The colossal figure of the golem suddenly bellowed, its voice resonating like thunder. Swiftly, it scooped up the girl, and with a powerful thrust, propelled her out of the tree house's window. Before Xiuyang could protest, she was swept off her feet and hurled through the air for the second time that week. All right, Shune, I get it. I need to learn more gods-damned kinetic magic, she thought bitterly as she instinctively righted herself in the air and landed on her feet like a cat. The towering golem, an imposing sight in its massive suit of armour, then strode purposefully to the doorway, its gaze fixed on her. "Good, you think fast," it rumbled in a deep voice, its expression hidden behind the visage of its metal helmet. With a swift motion, it hurled a claymore before Xiuyang, the blade embedding itself firmly into the ground. In the next moment, it leapt gracefully from the tree house, as it landed on the sword, and with a flourish, it dismounted the pommel of the claymore, its armoured boots barely making a sound as they met the earth.

"A side-kick? No, one must always aim to be the hero in the story," it declared with a mischievous tone, its gauntleted hand scratching its chin in mock contemplation. "And what a good protagonist requires is a brilliant antagonist. Someone preferably tall, menacing, and secretly handsome." The metal helm turned, its eye slits conveying a playful expression as it regarded Xiuyang. "What do you say?" it inquired, as if inviting her to partake in a grand adventure.

The "golem" had warned her beforehand, which only made sense if he understood the boots she wore. His teasing words and playful body language were very on-brand for Jamboi as well. Normally, she'd play along with his antics, but today... something snapped. Sure, her Yasoi friend had likely gotten a hold of some new armor, wanted to show it off, and decided to play a prank—but also, who could say some shady, vile creature with their eyes on Xiuyang hadn't damn well teleported this "armour golem" into the Ever Tree, and it didn't just fucking eat Jamboi like some kind of body snatcher, absorbing his body, personality, soul, and all? If giant calamari demons were real, what else in the five hells was possible in this madhouse called Sipentia?

Before replying, Xiuyang uncorked her gourd and threw her head back, taking a long chug. "I say you've taken this joke far enough, Jambino, and you'd better take that fuckin' helmet off and show me your face, or I'll kick your ass so hard you'll have the taste of my foot in your mouth for a week." A feisty response, and one that was typical of Xiuyang when she was moody. Something had definitely happened while he was away, and it wasn't good, whatever it was.

The armoured suit remained motionless, its gaze fixed on her. Its deep voice emerged in a deadpan manner, "Still got the aftertaste from the last pair of sandals you wore." There was a pause, as if for mock contemplation. "It was that secretly handsome part that gave it away, wasn't it?" Despite the hidden visage of the helm, a hidden smile seemed to lurk beneath its tone. "Calling me beautiful gave it away," Xiuyang responded with a sigh and notes of exasperation. "—but I had to be sure. ...Sorry. I didn't come here to yell at you, or hit you." She averted her eyes, gazing out at the lake.

His attention shifted back to the tree, the expression on the helm retaining its stoic façade. "The tree house is going to be a lot quieter from now on." A pause followed, and then he turned his attention back to her. "Mandelein was cruel to our suunei. Ismet has joined with the trees, Casii has departed, and Ymiico is damaged. Esmii is a Semprii; she will not take it well." Xiuyang's face fell as Ashon gave her the news. She'd certainly thought it odd that no one else was in the Ever Tree when she'd arrived. Her instincts didn't lie; she knew it was too quiet. Now she knew why. She didn't know what to say, but her eyes said it all.

He paused once again, before addressing her initial request. "This thing weighs like half a tonne. We might want to head back up there before I remove it. Need a lift?" With that, he crouched down, extending his hands to offer her a step up, facilitating her return to the tree house. Instead of stepping onto his hands, though, she sat, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Don't, throw me again," she insisted, jabbing his new helm on its forehead with a finger before holding on.

"...I'm glad you're safe," Xiuyang finally said. It was a weary, raspy voice that very few had ever heard. It was Xiuyang's true voice, muffled by the mask she wore. She only used it with her closest friends, at times like this, when expressing utmost sincerity was of paramount importance to her.

Ashon's curiosity was evident in his gaze as she cradled him within her arms. He reciprocated her embrace, holding her securely with one hand while he reached for the claymore with the other. "I'm glad you're safe too," the metallic timbre of his words echoed from within the armour, though he meant them sincerely. His attention shifted towards the Tree House, his eyes hidden behind the visor, but a mischievous smirk played on his lips. "Then hold on, beautiful," he declared, his tone teasing as he crouched down and then propelled himself upwards, carrying her effortlessly into the tree house.

Neither could see the other's face, but there was no need. Xiuyang's eyes betrayed a smile and she could hear the grin on Ashon's face as he spoke. Though these signs wouldn't be so obvious to others, the two knew them well. She scoffed at being called "beautiful" again, her mask spitting out a stream of cumulated dust out the side as she subtly rolled her eyes. She held on, not as tightly as the first time he brought her to the Ever Tree, but close. It was a somewhat nostalgic feeling, being lifted up as Ashon took to the air, though the armor did get in the way a little. Xiuyang snickered a bit as she remembered how much convincing it took to let him carry her the first time. She'd supposed she would be glad when she learned enough kinetic to ascend the branches herself, but the eventual reality was disappointment.

Yeah. She missed this feeling.

With a swift and graceful motion, they landed at the entrance. He released her gently, allowing her to settle on her feet, and then he followed her inside. In the confines of the tree house, Ashon found a comfortable spot. He started to remove the components of the armor, one piece at a time. As the heavy metal parts came off, his frame seemed visibly relieved of the burden. The top half of the suit was discarded, revealing his bared form. He grinned warmly at her, his chest exposed. "Just a couple of nicks and scars, but you should see the other guy," he quipped, his playful demeanour evident even without the armour.

"I'm glad you finally got something decent, but, you sure it's not too heavy?" she teased. Shrugging, she approached him, inspecting his new trophies—and the armor. "You 'liberate' these new toys from that guy? Truthfully, I'd rather hear about your exploits than recount my own this time around. Also... what happened," she added wistfully, referring to Ismet, Casii, and Ymiico. Xiuyang wasn't close with all of the Yasoi'riimel, but she did care for them. Looking over his newest scars, she traced one with her finger. "Any you want to keep?"

He paused theatrically, his voice carrying the undertones of a bard spinning a tale. "Ah, these humble trinkets?" His fingers fluttered in a dismissive motion. "Mere relics from an ancient armoury concealed beneath the shroud of a crypt, hardly worth mention."

Xiuyang worked on healing Ashon's scars more permanently, grinning as he went into his story mode. Robbing the grave were we? she thought but didn't say, unwilling to interrupt. He was trying to soften the blow, she knew. It probably wasn't going to help much, but... let the man give it a shot.

Ashon was acutely aware that the Yanii girl harboured an aversion to scars, a peculiar quirk he had memorized. She made certain that any remnants of such marks were diligently erased. He flexed his muscles with a dramatic flair, a performance to mask the residual twinge of pain from the healing process, as if flicking away discomfort like a pesky insect.

"but listen closely, for our saga takes a dark turn," he continued. "We were cast into the wilderness, ambushed by brigands hungry for trouble. A town, who saw us as a foe, we strove to save from the clutches of its smuggling scourge."

Snap! His fingers conjured a vivid memory. "Ah! I, the Monkey King, was challenged by an Alpha Gorilla, a clash of titans in a dance of destiny. Triumph was mine, and with my rescued simian brothers rallied behind, we surged forth into the fray."

So, the town they had been trying to help saw them as a nuisance. It reminded her of ReTan. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished, Xiuyang thought cynically, letting out a little inaudible scoff as Ashon made a complete footnote of his duel with a challenger whose name she'd forgotten just as quickly as he glossed over it.

His tone shifted, a dramatic pause to emphasize the shift to graver events. "Yet, tragedy did ensue. Casii, driven to the brink, dabbled in forbidden blood magic, crafting a golem of flesh and bone, shattering the ship we sought to commandeer."

She paused as Ashon mentioned blood magic, as if expecting a lecture that never came. He knew of her curiosity regarding the potential of using blood magic to augment her abilities as a healer. However, she'd never dared to use it after the first time, done once in secret with horrible results and never again—but finally an opportunity had come for her to partner with Trypano on the matter. Did she dare tell him?

...No. Not yet.

"On the homeward journey, grim tidings awaited," he intoned solemnly, his voice laden with the weight of the narrative. "The town, once inhospitable, now swarmed with Corrupted Wolf Wildbloods – a ravenous pack of six hundred. We were marked as their next feast, a desperate fight for survival our only recourse. Even the very priest, once the beacon of faith, transfigured into a monstrous abomination to silence our tale." A fleeting smile played on his lips. "But our tenacity prevailed, with young Kaspar's aid, I felled the monstrosity."

"But alas," he said, the tone of his recitation turning sombre, "Isii and Manfred encountered the smugglers' cunning leader, a rogue girl hailing from my own realm, christened 'The Mad Avatar' by some. Yet her title belies the truth, for she's naught but a wayward soul." As the narrative neared its conclusion, his expression grew serious. "I have been far from my homeland too long..."

Six hundred wildbloods later—yet again glossed over as if it were no special thing—the news finally came. The Mad Avatar—one more colorful character to add to Sipentia's cast of unfathomable, despicable beings. How many more would line themselves up in her path and hack away at every leg she had to stand on?

Mere days ago, she'd felt on top of the world.

Now, she felt so, so small.

Slowly, quietly, she wept—for Ismet, in spite of herself. She had been a nuisance, but also an amusing one. Each antic of hers was another hilarious story she'd hear from an animated Jamboi. She encouraged Xiuyang to be herself, even if it was in her own inappropriate way. It was perhaps because of her that she became a real friend to the Yasoi'riimel. Her old self would have kept them at arm's length, like she did her fellow humans. "And Casii? Ymiico?" she asked after a pause.

"As the battle's curtains fell, both Casii and Ymiico found themselves laid low," he recounted, his voice tinged with both gravity and melancholy. "While Casii's revival was a relatively straightforward affair, the news of Isii's passing wrought a silent departure from her. My hunch places her in the embrace of Tarlon.” He wondered how she would fare in the woods and if she would achieve the solace she sought.

His tone turned sombre as he shifted focus to Ymiico's ordeal. "As for Ymiico, she emerged from Eschiran's clutches, yet the ordeal shattered something within her," he explained, tapping his temple lightly. "A wound unseen, but deeply felt. She remains changed." With a gentleness that belied his lively demeanour, he affectionately patted Xiuyang's head. "And now, it is your turn. Ready to unburden yourself?"

Xiuyang dried her tears. Tarlon. Just how much should she tell him? Ashon deserved an answer in kind, yet she knew she was in a very delicate situation. It wouldn't do to have him on bad terms with her new business partners. He didn't need to know all the minutiae of it. The fact that they knew she was coming, and laced her ceremonial garb with plushtail oil, or how they threatened the Tarlonese Yasoi if she didn't cooperate. That was a settled matter.

Perhaps it was an excuse. Maybe she feared Ashon's disappointment or rejection, if he did not agree with her decision. It was something that couldn't have crossed her mind when her life was on the line, along with so many others, but now it stuck like a needle in the heart. "Well, I finally visited ReTan, like I always wanted," she began with a positive note. "Met the Twin Emperors. One of them is nice, the other is un cazzo. One of their Black Guard is so very much like me. You'd like him, I think." She remembered Mountain Spring fondly, and considered showing Jamboi the gourd, but thought better of it. She had no way of knowing how strong the alcohol was, or what kind of effect it would have on the Yasoi. It certainly wasn't ordinary alcohol, that much was certain. Letting him drink it might be bad for him.

"There was a rebellion there, and I only arrived in time for the final battle. It was a bloodbath, with the sanguinaires on one side, and dragons and ogauraq on the other. It was decided that we would all choose who to side with. In a remarkable show of unity, we all chose to support the Twin Emperors," she said, omitting Trypano's indecisiveness, or that she'd be working with her more in future. "The dragons didn't like that. Neither did the knowers, apparently. It was my first time seeing one. Eye as big as a mountain, tendrils the size of fucking rivers..." She shivered. The knower titan had shaken her.

Ashon's smile remained fixed as he listened to her explanation, though some of the terminologies such as "Ogauraq" or "Knowers" eluded his understanding. However, his imaginative mind painted vivid mental images, conjuring scenes of epic battles between the fearsome Sanguinaires and formidable Dragons. The mention of a colossal kraken surfacing in those waters seemed logical; Ashon was familiar with tales attributing tsunamis to such massive sea creatures along the shores of ReTan and Nikan. The hyperbolic depiction of the kraken's size, likened to that of a mountain, clearly left a terrifying impact on her.

"Ah, so it seems Calamari might be best left for another day, then?" he quipped.

Xiuyang scoffed, delivering a light punch to his abdomen, but grinned stupidly anyway. It was enough to get her mind off of that terrifying image, at least, imagining this tower of a man looming over a much smaller cephalopod on a plate. However, she remembered something else—a burden she was carrying alone at the moment.

She sat down on the raised platform Jamboi had been standing on before. "There's someone I'm avoiding at the moment, so I might start coming here more often when he's in town. Dapper Revidian gentleman, with black hair, goatee," she described Mr. Solari. "Calls himself my dad, y'know. Weirdo. He pissed me off, so we're not really on speaking terms right now."

He settled into a chair, propping his feet up on the table in front of him. "Well, if you've got some Dad issues to work out, you're in the right company here," he quipped with a grin. "Join the club, right?" His expression widened into a playful smile as he continued, "During every Victendes, we trade stories about our respective family quirks. Like Casii's tales of her grandmother keeping the family in line, or how I went through a phase thinking my name was 'Dii' (No) for a good stretch." His thoughts briefly wandered, wondering what kind of extravagance old man Revan'cecil'loiyang was indulging in up in his lavish tree house.

"But hey, if you prefer, we can always pretend it's Victendes," he added, a hint of jest in his voice.

Xiuyang was silent for a long moment as she considered whether or not to say more. In her heart of hearts, she knew that Ashon would always be a friend, but a small part of her had always hoped that the stars might align such that they could be more. However, contrary to her given nickname, she was most certainly not "beautiful." Her marriage prospects were dubious at best and only grew smaller with each year that passed. Her one and only redeeming feature, her business acumen, would be drawn into question if she were to reveal what was about to happen to her—not that it mattered that much, she supposed. Maura would likely hear the news first, and it would surely spread from there.

In the end, Xiuyang's anxiety led to impatience.

She needed clarity and reassurance like she needed her next breath. If she couldn't trust Jamboi, then who? If he wouldn't stick by her when the storm flattened everything she was, then who? "My father will be removing me from his company soon. ...Just as the draft ends. Once I'm safe from the war for the time being... that's—that's it," she said weakly. Admitting it to Jamboi, in some way felt a bit like giving up, which brought a tear to her eye when she thought none were left. "Seems silly to cry about it when there's so many more worse things, but I..." She barely held back a sob.

"If I could have kept living the merchant life with my dad instead of going to Ersand'Enise, I would have! This was what I wanted! Why couldn't he see that?! This was—I gave up everything for this life—I have to hide my face now!" she blurted out unthinkingly amidst the torrent of emotion. She covered her eyes with her elbow. She felt many things in this moment, shame most of all.

He tilted his head to the side, his expression both sympathetic to her and disapproving of her father as he listened to Xiuyang. It was clear that this wasn't his area of expertise, and it seemed like she was seeking comfort more than advice. With a gentle movement, he brought his feet down from the table and drew closer to her, wrapping his arms around her in a comforting hug. He shushed her soothingly and held her close for a moment, offering silent support.

"So, are we going to be playing pranks on a Dapper Revidian when he drops into town?" He flashed her a mischievous grin as he pulled away slightly, trying to lighten the mood. "But you always have us, Suunei. As the Yanii saying goes, it's about the family you choose, not the one you get stuck with."

Suunei. Never before had Xiuyang imagined a single word could be so soothing—but, never before had she been brought so low. As she dried her tears, she considered Ashon's words, as well as Ten-Re's. Of course, she didn't "hate" her father. Did she want to get back at him? Not really—well, maybe just a little. She hadn't exactly asked her father why he was doing this, as she wasn't supposed to know he was doing it in the first place. No... it was because she was terrified of the answer. Better to assume that Ten-Re was right; he was a wise elder sanguinaire, after all, and also a father. Still, it meant that her father thought her weak, when she knew—what she believed to be true—she was stronger than him.

"I know what I need to do—no, not what I need to do, precisely—what I should have done already." She nervously clawed at the side of her mask with a fingernail. "...I haven't earned that title. Suunei. I've never been an open supporter of the Yasoi. I've kept it to myself and those I know will listen and take it well. I've taken no risks, hiding who I am as if it were something shameful." There was a glint of anger at herself forming in her eyes. "No more hiding. I've done it because 'it's the Solari way,' but that's just an excuse to be a coward like my father."

She found herself thinking back to Ten-Jiu's words, now—about how she'd been wasting her potential. Perhaps it was the fear of being rejected by her father that kept her from any bold moves that could make a difference. Now, she was filled with the spirit of having nothing left to lose. Of course, the Twin Emperors had just finished praising her for being discreet, so they would probably not approve—but what kind of person takes advice from elder sanguinaires over their conscience, anyhow?

"If it pisses him off, I'll consider that a bonus. I just hope I have the courage."

Ashon simply listened and waited as Xiuyang continued her discussion, observing as she debated with that inner voice and expressed her thoughts out loud. He tilted his head and then smiled. "If you're open to some advice, I have some," he offered. Xiuyang glanced back at Ashon, expectantly and anxiously. It wasn't clear what she hoped or dreaded to hear, but as usual, Ashon cleanly dodged her expectations. Shifting into a posture that conveyed wisdom and sagely guidance, he brought his hand to his chin. "What do you wish for?" He tapped his head. "The first thing that comes to mind, without judgments or overthinking like a yanii. Focus on what you want." He nodded encouragingly. "Now, go and pursue it."

Surprisingly, he asked her much the same question as Sage-Emperor Ten-Re—yet he also added something that caused her to scoff in amusement; indeed, her way of overthinking and overanalyzing was as much a curse as it was a blessing. He made it sound so easy, just tossing aside the judgments of others. "You'd laugh if I told you," she said. Then, quickly realizing she'd missed the point of the exercise, she went on.

"I want to travel. Put a pin in every country on the map, experience every culture, have stories to tell about each one. It just... seems so childish, now, so backwards. Only important people with something unique to offer, or rich people with the means get to travel like that. Those are life goals; traveling is just a perk. My dream is to travel, preferably with friends or family. The reason why doesn't really matter. ...Like I said, backwards."

Ashon's grin widened as he listened to her answer. "Travelling is a wonderful idea! Unlike those Yanii, you don't need a lavish budget or a meticulously planned itinerary. You just throw on your trusty boots and follow the whims of the wind. That's how I ended up here," he explained with a playful tap to his own nose, as if sharing some profound secret of the universe.

Just... travel? Like that? Put on her Sea Legs and go? It seemed so fanciful, like a fairy tale; or a privateer's tale, she supposed. Not a well thought out plan, at any rate, which simply wasn't her style. She felt she needed a "why" and "how," not just a "when" and "where." In a pinch, though, perhaps just a "who" would do—indeed, there was something else she wanted, too: to one day be able to take off her mask—but that would require her to reach heights of talent she could scarcely imagine herself reaching alone. Yet, reach it alone she must, or else she would pay the price. Realizing that she looked as if she had something else on her mind, she continued speaking. "...Your homeland. If you're itching to go... I'd love to get to see it with you," she offered.

His expression shifted to one of concern. "But, Xiuyang, something's not right back there. Something's gone terribly wrong, and it desperately needs to be set right," he said sombrely. He sat up and stretched, his features settling into a more serious tone. "Normally, I'd say no and insist you stay right here, safe and sound. But the truth is, I'll need all the help I can get to clean up this mess. So, if you're truly eager to volunteer, I won't stand in your way." With a contemplative look, Ashon moved towards the window, gazing out at the sprawling cityscape below. "There are a few people we should meet here first. After that, what do you say? Will you join me on this journey to make things right?"

"Well, you didn't think I was planning a vacation, did you?" she said as she rose, dusting off her legs, staff in hand. "Could tell from the way you said it that it wouldn't be a social visit." Walking over to Ashon, she placed a hand on his arm. "You're strong, and not alone. We'll make it right, Jamboi." Resolve in her eyes, Xiuyang stood quietly next to her friend. She had no idea that the chance to prove her convictions was just around the corner. A path was chosen for her; her course was set, her upcoming decision inevitable.

It was fait accompli.

Indeed—this was more like it. The denizens of The Slag were such fools; the whole lot, who could only judge by appearance. Her allies here, however, seemed different. Only the barmaid and the fox had openly slighted her; Sinmara even seemed eager to fight. Her sudden transformation earned a few gasps from ignorant onlookers, but those in the room who possessed actual skill weren't shocked at all. In particular, her eyes drifted to the many-armed doctor who claimed to be able to fabricate anything. He seemed to be by far the most competent of the bunch. "Pardon me; the others have been so very noisy. I believe you said 'Fae' was your preferred term of address? My pleasure," Marissa greeted with a radiant smile. "I shall look forward to working with you. As for my own term of address, usually I prefer my proper title, Red Queen—but if you wish to call me darling—I'll allow it." She giggled.

Somewhere behind her, some nonsense was being spewed about swimming across an entire ocean, which caused her smile to look somewhat impatient, like one of a parent ignoring a screaming child throwing a tantrum. The look on her face devolved even further when Sinmara tried to show off, and tripped over her own two feet or something. Are you fucking kidding me? I'm absolutely surrounded by clowns, she thought furiously. It didn't take a genius with cybernetic augmentations to see the migraine beginning to form on her face, especially as she laid eyes on the new arrival. Not a bird, not a plane, but a... no, she was pretty much more plane than human at this point—the exact opposite of Marissa, whose only apparent blemish was a subtle one only Fae was likely to notice: an eye made of glass.

Thankfully, no one would have to witness Marissa explode just yet. Her smile would return as Ayaka calmly explained their next move. Marissa was quite pleased to hear that such luxuries as personal quarters were in her future. Finally, some recognition, and indeed, as Fae said, someone competent. "Bloody Mari is quite satisfactory as an internal codename—and let me be clear—it is just a codename, yes?" she said with a slightly threatening smile all around the room. "Good. Then, as for our group name—I rather prefer to be, how you say, 'on the nose?' The Seekers of the Seven suits me just fine. Or shall we call ourselves, Slayers of the Dark, perhaps?" she said meaningfully, glancing around at the others, wondering if they even had any interest in the Dark One.

Thank fuck, Marissa almost said aloud as Sinmara decided to stop acting like a schoolgirl and go to sleep. The promise of peace proved ephemeral, however, as it didn't take more than a single snore to drive Marissa to the opposite end of the ship. She mostly kept to herself, spending the majority of the trip sharpening both her axe and her appearance. When they arrived at the military port, she made sure her appearance was flawless as she stepped off the transport. She walked at an even pace, hands folded in front of her elegantly, her axe temporarily stored. Even as Sinmara continued her antics, Marissa ignored her, along with the unfortunate soul who fell in the water. Unlike some other platinum blonde women, Marissa could walk up a mild incline without any issues. "Like a floating fortress, my dear—not a castle," she corrected Sinmara as she finally finished boarding the ship like a normal person.

While Shatterscape desperately tore through the town in search of Evil Eye, Kiyo switched through the perspectives of her Mogalls the way a bored teenager scrolls through social media. Six of her comrades were exactly where she'd left them—hadn't they all received the order to give chase to the new light girl? She groaned in mild distaste at their lack of drive, and continued searching. Oros was many things, but perhaps "persistent" described her best; she and her partner were traveling together, returning home empty-handed, but what could be expected given how quickly Rei called them off? The other girls were scattered about like the disgusting rays of sunshine they were; only Nonsuch was nowhere to be found, having disappeared just like herself. "How slippery!" She snickered as she kept searching, to no avail. Then, her eyes widened madly as one of her Mogalls settled upon an unsettling image: Shuuko's motionless body. She froze.

Suddenly, a pair of giant metal hands filled the ambulance, knocking Shuuko's erstwhile caretakers to the ground as medical equipment scattered noisily around them. Evil Eye was just about to dismiss the transmission from her servant to turn her attention to this new unidentified threat when she felt the cold embrace of steel against her back, and the warmth of fresh blood against her chest. Her look of mild shock dissolved into a familiar, gentle smile. Her eternally demented gaze may have even softened a bit. "You're the only one who came," she observed, matter-of-factly as she caressed Shuuko's cheek with a damp towel. Where others may have scolded or belittled the girl, blaming her for their collective failures, or shushed her with sweet nothings to quell the storm of emotions stirring in her heart, Evil Eye did neither—she spoke a plain Truth that carried more weight than any hurtful or comforting lie ever could.

"I'm here, Sister," she whispered soothingly, simply letting Hotaru's emotions settle where they may.

"Excellent! Let us tear this place asunder!" the many-eyed beast responded to Richtor, clenching its clawed fists. "Yyyeah, could we maybe keep the 'sundering' to a minimum, please?" Karla suggested, clearly expecting the creature not to pay her any mind. Ceol'Oggoth paused a moment, pondered—then, all of its eyes rolled back. "I foresee disaster. A great tribulation by lightning," it declared unto the dreamers. "Only our enemies need be struck, little one," Ceol'Oggoth agreed, seemingly trying to assure Karla. "Yeah, I guess that works."

"Excellent!" Ceol'Oggoth repeated, victoriously.

...But, nothing happened.


"...Why do I ever get my hopes up?" Karla asked no one in particular. "Patience, little one. You are yet a young mortal, and lack perspective. In the twinkling of an eye, these fools will be but specks of ash, a mere blemish in the radiant halls of time!" it declared confidently, even as a pair of lesser dreamers not unlike the one Richtor had just made a mockery of cautiously approached the big eye monster that had seemed so intimidating at first, but must now have seemed an easy target.

Now, it was Karla who rolled her eyes. "Um. Help? Please?" she halfheartedly pleaded to Richtor. Something strange happened, though. For just a moment, she saw Richtor differently. She didn't see in the conventional sense, but in a sixth one—who he was, and what he was like, generally—and realized that Ceol'Oggoth was right. He was strong, perhaps just reliable enough to help, and if given the right motivation, just reckless enough to try. "Uh. I can't do much, but I'll try. For what it's worth."
Rika was somewhat torn. With how many people there were in the building, the odds of this one girl being the one she was looking for were extremely low. Her question, in truth, could very well have served as a trap, a clever honeyed ruse meant to draw out the demon within, if she had thought ahead. Yet, the girl lowered her bat, and her own question disarmed her. Rika didn't want the girl to see the blood.

"...What." she said in response to Kaeru's random comment about the girl's tanktop.

Then, she saw it move. Instinctively, her skin crawled as it brought to mind images of horrific creatures bursting out of bodies like in horror movies. "Uh. Please tell me that's your pet hamster or something..." she said warily, her body tense like a spring.
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