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Balibago, Angeles City, Philippines - 10/18/2022, 20:46 UTC+8

An internal alert was considered, frowned at... and then ignored. Qingshe frowned, as she didn't even bother picking up Noel's message. Why was he hailing her on both her personal and the Task Force Obsidian frequency? Well, either way, it wasn't really her problem, right? After all, she was on mandatory leave. They all were. Noel really shouldn't have been hailing them at all right now, and if anyone asked? Well, she'd just say she had her contacts silenced while on leave. She had that right.

The shrill ringing of alarms joined the rising chorus of chaos, as Qingshe finally came into sight of a three-story building with a functionally nonexistent parking lot. A single green brow rose to her hairline, as Qingshe spied the proud yellow banner with black words declaring the establishment as "Maybank". It was a piddly, unimpressive thing, practically a hole in the wall convenience store in size that didn't even have a whole building to itself, Qingshe decided, as her feet carried her up to the broken doors, the windows having been clearly bashed open to admit someone.

"On your knee- Arrgh!" An authoritative voice called out before crying out in alarm, as a scuffle clearly ensued from within.

Eyeing the broken sign on the ground that clearly labeled it as being after-hours, Qingshe dithered on approaching the building, before her shadow briefly boiled up from underneath her shirt to fire paintballs at the rather mediocre security cameras overlooking the area, quickly blinding them after several layers of paint. Feeling more secure in her anonymity, Qingshe strode closer, mostly retracting her shadow, as she leaned her head into the doorway and saw a woman struggling with a pair of security guards, one of whom was nursing a bleeding hand.

The woman was snarling a spitting like an animal, writhing on the ground and swinging a bat she held in one hand wildly, spitting invectives. One of her legs was bleeding from a bullet wound, but despite the growing puddle of crimson beneath her, she seemed to care not a single bit about it. Adrenaline? Rage? Either way, the persistence on display didn't seem natural... but then again, even mundane humans were known to reach some strange heights at times.

Pursing her lips, Qingshe considered the matter. Technically, she was on mandatory leave... on orders to avoid combat even. If word got back to Admiral that she -or any of Task Force Obsidian- were interfering in matters of civilian law jurisdiction like this? Well, she couldn't imagine it would be a pleasant conversation. She was, after all, for her own part, a foreign advisor as much as a member of Task Force Obsidian. Technically speaking, her jurisdiction in matters within the military was already murky, never mind outside it.

Her shadow snaked around her waist, propelling a capsule at the snarling woman's face. The capsule, designed to be thin-skinned, broke easily and harmlessly on impact, releasing chloroform all over the madwoman's face, and she slumped into unconsciousness in moments. Shaking her head, shadow retracting, Qingshe ducked out of sight and headed back towards the main road, ignoring the cries of surprise and alarm behind her. Her job here was already done, and she was certain the bank security could handle keeping the intruder contained until proper law enforcement could take her.

Well, that had been a short-lived bit of excitement, but it seemed she was now once more be...reft?

Gunshots. Shouting and screaming.

She hadn't honestly though too much about it before, but now that her detour was over, she was starting to grasp that whatever was going on... was much larger than she'd first assumed. At first, she'd thought that woman -on the surface of it- was an isolated incident... but as she got a glimpse at the distant -yet still encroaching- crowd of rioters currently spreading down the length of the main Manilla N Road, she realized that conclusion was most certainly erroneous.

In the corner of her vision, she heard a gunshot and saw someone in a vividly crimson mask dash burst into some sort of diner across the highway. A frown crossed her lips at the fresh chorus of screams that tickled her ears, as her eyes narrowed at the sight, drifting back and forth between it and the chaotic crowd of fighting people. Coincidence? Independent interests? Just someone taking advantage of the chaos? Someone she didn't recognize out of hand was flying through the sky in pursuit, a gun in hand.

Slowly, unconsciously, Qingshe's tongue crept across her lips, as her pupils narrowed ever so slightly.

Sudden chaos, uncertainty and so many delicious things to investigate.

"Where oh where shall I begin~?"
Time: July 4th, 2011
Location: Fire Moth HQ, England, United Kingdom.

The ticking of an overhead clock sounded throughout the room, a fairly modest office, as the two occupants sat across from each-other in silence. The man at the desk was an older gentleman, early fifties and sporting a well-groomed salt and pepper beard across his chin, accompanied by a bushy mustache. What hair wasn't grey was a chestnut brown, and he wore the contrast well. Despite his age, he looked little the wear for it, his build strong-shouldered, hands calloused, and face wrinkled only by a few crinkles under his eyes. He was in uniform, if casually, as his hat and officer coat hung upon a rack to his right. Upon the breast of the coat, the insignia for the rank of Major stood out proudly.

The young woman across from him, by contrast, couldn't have been older than twenty. Ashen of hair, she was paler than many might deem healthy, and her richly purple eyes bespoke of a nature beyond the mundane. She wasn't wearing a uniform exactly, dressed more as a well-composed civilian than anything else, but that wasn't too unusual for her kind. She was arguably less extravagant than some others of her profession, so at the least, she seemed to appreciate the idea of dressing appropriately for a formal meeting.

Spread out on the table, an open binder faced the girl, several sheets of paper pulled out. She leafed through the contents one after another, a frown slowly growing on her face, before she neatly organized everything and replaced most of it... well, that's what she'd have liked to say. After all, the "most of it" that she was singling out were the... issues she needed to address. Again, "singling out problems" was what her brain would like to have called it, but the truth was that it would have been easier to single out the bits that weren't problems.

"All due respect, sir," the girl finally said, looking up at the officer across from her, "but is this a joke? If so," she tapped the files she'd singled out from the group... which was most of them, "it's not one in very good taste."

The Major leaned back, simply raising a brow. "Are you deferring from the position then?"

The girl paused, lips tightening.

Pressing the attack, the Major continued, "If you don't think you're the right person for the job, we could always pass it on to one of the others." There was trepidation in the girl's eyes now. "If you think my judgement was in error, if you think you're not fit..."

After a moment of internal conflict, the girl's expression hardened. "It's not me that's unfit." Her hand clapped the table atop the documents. "It's this entire team." She didn't raise her voice, carefully aware of her position, but it was a near thing.

"That's a strong claim," the Major said lightly. "Care to elaborate?"

The girl's eyes narrowed. As if he didn't know. "I've seen their grades and the attached medical reports... Half this team is outright unfit for duty on the simple grounds of Honkai resistance." She scowled. "I get that they aren't going to just drop dead like the average joe might, but you're as aware as I that even if this team is only assigned to the lowest of the low missions, they are still supposed to have a safety zone. There's always the risk of the Honkai escalating, and if it were to, it would be deadly. Even a Class 1 Miasma zone would -by the books- warrant an immediate full retreat of half the team, just on principle."

"Fire Moth aims to enable all skillsets in the fight against the Honkai," the Major replied easily. "Not every Valkyrie will specialize in the same areas, and a balanced team requires variety. And moreover, you should be assured that a C-Rank team like this will not be sent up against anything that would mortally threaten them."

On paper anyway. But this was the Honkai they were talking about. Expecting it to not throw curveballs at the worst possible time was a fool's errand.

"If this were just about specialties, it would be one thing, but we have minimum standards for a reason. And some things are inherently more critical to shore up than others. These scores are just begging for a Honkai cascade... assuming a stiff breeze doesn't take them out first." The girl's expression darkened. "You're putting me in charge of leading these girls to their deaths."

The Major folded his hands at that, staring her dead in the eyes, before reaching down to flip open the binder. He slid a sheet free, the girl's own profile, and tapped a finger on a specific section. "You were chosen for this team, because you were deemed to be one of the precious few options that wouldn't lead them to their demise. Your unique 'gift' is the key."

The girl's expression tightened, but she didn't deny it. "And they couldn't have been spread out amongst other teams? Instead of having one that's practically got a foot on death's doorstep?" She ran her hands through her hair in an expression of stress. "These mental profiles are not really selling this team to me as one that will play it safe. And that's another thing..." She grimaced at the documents. "Why is it that I am -with what might be a single exception- the only sane one here? These psych profiles paint this team as a powder keg."

"That too, as you might imagine, contributed to your candidacy for leadership," the Major said, reaching over to leaf through the other files. "Miss Hughes was considered after yourself, but she was deemed to lack the force of personality to keep the rowdier elements in line."

"And Lehtinen?" the girl asked, even though she felt she already knew the answer.

"It is our opinion that she would lead the team into an especially early grave, and beyond that, no other candidates were deemed to have the capacity to ride herd on her even if she isn't leading."

"And there's no option to transfer?"

"The team assignments are final, pending casualties," the Major replied bluntly. "It's just a matter of how you wish to organize yourselves internally. So then..." his gaze sharpened. "What will be your decision?"

Resisting the urge to scowl, the girl reorganized and stored away the documents, stone-faced. "Not like I have a choice."

"We always have a choice," the Major said easily.

"I'm not leader material," she groused in defeat.

"Your records would beg to differ."

"Those were special circumstances," she protested.

"It was a trial by fire, and you rose to the occasion. Where those around you faltered, despaired and broke, you pushed on. That the situation was unusual is exactly why you are the right choice." The Major gestured to the binder. "Many of these girls need that sort of example in their lives."

The girl fell silent for a while, before scooping up the binder. "Please note, for the record, I accepted this assignment under protest. I'll have my concerns filed officially, and I hope they'll be accounted for if this goes up in flames. If I might be excused?"

"You are dismissed, Miss Richter."

The girl left the room without a word, leaving the Major with his thoughts and the ticking clock.

Time: July 11th, 2011
Location: Fire Moth HQ, England, United Kingdom.

Across the base, personal devices cried out in alarm, as the personal battlesuits of several Valkyries were pinged for duty. Wherever they may have been since being first gathered and made at least slightly aware of their new teammates, the girls would all recieve the alert clearly, with backup alerts being sent to other registered personal devices like phones. To those same devices, they would all be sent a brief mission summary, a summons to provide support for a Honkai Outbreak.

It was a call to the hangers, where they would all find a Fire Moth transport waiting for them. There was little time present or humored for pre-boarding chatter, and all would be hurried aboard into a troop transport room, located at the back of the vessel and accessible via either the quickly closed ramp or the single door that led to the rest of the ship. Sturdy, armor-reinforced walls were hued a pale grey and the area lit fairly brightly. On either side of the room, long, conjoined benches sat with compartments for storing gear set into the walls above them. Altogether, the room seemed as though it could comfortably seat twelve or potentially squeeze twice as many if some were willing to stand.

According to the intel (provided to all who had bothered to read it), they would be assigned to cleaning up the stragglers from the main outbreak, which would -in turn- be handled by three teams of B-Rank Valkyries. As a team of C-Ranks, however, this team would not be expected to face much threat. Their job was simply to deal with whatever escaped the net of destruction the stronger teams wove, as for all their power, they were still only able to be in so many places at once. While the Honkai beasts would be primarily attracted to areas thick with Honkai energy, some would inevitably range out further, and this team would be but one of several assigned to exterminate them with extreme prejudice. The Honkai miasma level in the city was expected to be high enough to be dangerous to the C-Ranks, and so they were forbidden from leaving their assigned zones to enter it.

Destination: Rouen, Normandy, France
Incident Level: Outbreak
Miasma Level: 1 (epicenter); 0 (outskirts)
Expected Honkai Opposition: Zombie-Class, Chariot-class and Angel-class. No elemental variation detected.
Assignment Details: Canvas the town of Sotteville-lès-Rouen, south of the city, and slay any Honkai present. Guard the border of the primary outbreak zone and keep the stragglers contained for the duration of the incident.

Tucked away together within this fast-transport of the by now world-renown Fire Moth, the hum of powerful engines thrumming underfoot and loosing a muffled roar outside, the trip from the UK could be expected to last roughly ten minutes. Not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps enough to gets one's bearings, make any proper introductions that haven't been had already, and perhaps get a strategy or few organized on what to do upon arrival.

The pale girl, Jessica, is somewhat tense. Though her expression is all smiles and confidence, the set of her shoulders and the lack of words passing her lips really say all that need be said to the outside observer. Though she was apparently assigned as the team lead by the higher ups -at least in the field, she has yet to organize any team activities or training, instead doing her best to let everyone get settled and adjusted... herself particularly. Perhaps this was a mistake in hindsight.

Even now, she has mostly kept to herself, has been tending to her gear and double -triple- checking that all is in order. The most words that have left her mouth up to this point are to tersely check that everyone in the team is present, accounted for and as prepared as they can be, only nodding at words of assent or restraining the urge to frown at denials.

It's the team's first combat mission since being assembled, abrupt as it is (and really, when isn't it abrupt with the Honkai?), and the silence is begging to be broken, even as battle imminently awaits your team upon the horizon, not but mere minutes distant.

The field is yours.

Chinami Nadakai

"Liliya Montoya"


"Liliya" did not so much as allow a downturn of her lips to cross her blank, placid expression, as she slowly blinked at Reverios's words. Being mistaken for one of Darla's robots... Well, at least she could be certain her disguise was extremely effective now. Still, that was a misconception that would be easy to disprove, and she didn't see a reason to let it fester.

"I do not know a 'Darla'," Liliya replied bluntly in a whispery monotone, tilting her head slightly. "However, I witnessed your scheming on the top floor and the blonde girl you were speaking to... She and her conversation partners were... loud. I presume she is the 'Darla' you speak of."

She watched silently, as Reverio acquired the Tome of the Trium Throne, still muffling the mysterious book under his arm. Truly, the more she heard of his self-directed ramblings, the more aware of how big the bullet she'd dodged was. This man... was truly unstable. Insane. To think she'd almost been enamored with him... It gave her the shivers. "Peace..." Liliya murmured quietly, slowly, almost seeming to taste the word. "I suppose it could be... under a certain definition."

After all, the annihilation of all life would, indeed, create a sort of "peace" in the aftermath. And if this was the Great Evil...?

Behind her back, quick as a flash, her Spirit's invisible arms rifled through her backpack, quietly ripping off a sheet of paper from the notebook she kept within. A pen was uncapped, a number scrawled in large digits, the number of a burner phone, as the pen was recapped and paper folded several ways. She waited until Reverio was sprinting for the exit to follow, matching his pace, as her Spirit slipped the paper from her pack out of sight of them both and stealthily slid it into Reverio's right pocket.

- Liliya Montoya.

As the two finally parted ways, Liliya glanced over her shoulder, allowing a muted smile to upturn her lips ever so slightly, "If you dive into more forbidden places, call me. It's not every day one finds a fellow seeker..."

And then she was gone.

The first step in her new plan was to get in touch with an old friend, a face she hadn't seen since her archeology group broke up, their go-to when it came to getting them all the right documents to go when and where they pleased...

Brrrrr... Brrrrr... Brrrrr...

The ringing noise finally ended with a muted click, as a man's voice on the other end finally answered, an edge of confusion in his tone. "Hello?"

Chinami smiled broadly, holding her cellphone closer to her ear. "Uncle Ron!"

"Wha?" There was a moment of silent incomprehension, before he chuffed. "Chinami? Kid, it's been... years! How did you get this number?"

"Mom," Chinami shrugged.

"Ah, that would do it, yes." There was a scratchy noise that gave the impressing Ron was probably rubbing his beard with one hand. "Well, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Ahem... unfortunately not a social matter." Chinami scratched the back of her neck. "It's something only you can help me with, I'm hoping." Leaning back in her chair, she eyed a government webpage and another tab dedicated to St. Laurel's School of Divine Excellence. "I need a solid."

"...I'm listening."

"Your work in government administration gives you access to places I can't reach. I need a new identity and records... high class ones."

"Wha-?" Ron muttered. "Are you and Harumi in trouble?"

"Not... yet," Chinami sighed, shaking her head. "We're fine, but there's something I've stumbled across... something... forbidden. Knowledge, a secret, and worse, how to find where something terrible is hidden... sealed."

"Chinami..." Ron sighed. "I thought you swore to leave that life behind... after..."

"I did," Chinami grimaced. "But unfortunately, I'm not the only one that has this information. If I had any say in the matter, it would stay buried till long after I've come and gone, an issue for another generation to deal with, but..."

"Someone else knows how to open the seal, don't they?"

"Yeah," Chinami grunted, slumping back in her chair. "Maybe it's all nonsense, but if you'd come across this information the way I did... Well, you certainly wouldn't think it was bluffing. If I'm going to have any chance of stopping them, I need to know exactly where the seal is." Her eyes drifted to the computer screen, recalling the memories she had browsed within her mindscape shortly after separating from Reverio. "I know where it's buried, but I lack the excuse needed to spend extended time on -and search- the location." She adjusted her phone, leaning back and glancing at the ceiling of her room. "I need your help to make me a new identity with excellent records, one that will let me work at Rhea's administrative center. If anyone can get me an in, it's you."

"Will you be able to uphold that excellence?" Ron asked, a frown in his voice.

"Nowadays?" Chinami grinned. "Absolutely. I originally went to Kiburi's because my education was lacking, but no longer. I'm confident I can uphold this persona."

Ron was silent for a moment. "I suppose I'll just have to take your word on that." He let out another sigh. "Look, kid, this sounds... Are you sure you should be going this far? If you know who's after this seal, why not bring it to the attention of someone higher up? Why are you doing this alone? You're just, what, sixteen?"

"Seventeen now."

Ron huffed. "Look, what I'm asking is why I should help you put yourself in more danger. If something happens to you... what do you think that will do to your mother?"

Chinami grew quiet at that, and the silence stretched on for a while. Finally, a deep sigh escaped her. "I'm going to be in danger regardless. The other culprit, both they and I are aware of the exact location of two of the three keys needed to break the seal, along with where the seal is buried. It's only a matter of time before the third is found."

"And why act alone?"

"Because I didn't exactly get my hands on this information through the most... legal channels."

Ron sighed, earning a grimace from Chinami. "Dammit, kid..."

"This information was hidden for a damn good reason," Chinami forged on. "If I try to tell anyone I have it, even if it's just to warn the right people... I can't predict what they might do to keep it quiet. I'm just... not certain."

"Sounds like you're backed into a corner, huh?"

"Yeah... I am, so..." Chinami exhaled through her nose, getting straight to business. "Will you help me?"

Ron was quiet for a worryingly long time, before a long-suffering sigh reached her ears. "Alright, I really hope you know what you're doing."

Chinami closed her eyes, inhaling slowly. "Me too."

They got to work.

Several days later, Chinami's thoughts were churning, as she hung up, placing her phone on her desk.

Staring back from her on the computer screen, her administration profile as 19-year-old "Liliya Montoya" stared back. For a while, she simply browsed through it, looking through various forms of orientation material she had access to via either her profile or new email she'd created for this purpose. Her schedule was set, her identity forged... She glanced at her Chinami email, where she'd finished arranging for her Kiburi's schoolwork to be mailed to her home to be worked on in her absence from campus. Everything seemed to be in order.

One hand slowly rose to run down her face, as she fully processed what she'd just committed to.

She'd just... gotten herself a whole other life... and a job... as a secretary.

Just... keep your eye on the prize, girl. All you need to do is find the seal, and your powers are restored. That was the deal, and that's the priority. Opening it? Helping Reverio? Bullshit. All of that was to one end: reaching the seal. That's the demon's end of the bargain.

She didn't need to worry about the third "key", the third sword. As long as she could deny either of the ones she already knew about to Reverio, she could honestly drop this whole ridiculous quest entirely, let Reverio uselessly stew in his delusions for eternity... Not that she wouldn't look for the Albion key. If she could get her hands on it first, all the better... And she knew exactly how to do it. If she could find the Seal and get her full power restored according to her deal with the demon inside her, she could use that power to locate and steal the third sword and then hide it away where hopefully none could retrieve it. No, the sword wasn't a priority, merely an inevitable acquisition. And besides, no matter what, Reverio could only accomplish his goals by reaching the seal. No matter what, if he found the third sword first, he would have to come to her... go through her.

And then, she would put an end to this nonsense and restore her quiet life once and for all.

Yet... her curiosity was piqued.

After reading the contents of the Tome of the Trium Throne, reading the tale of St. Laurel and the Lyngurium Lie, some inconsistencies had arisen in her prior assumptions. The Lyngurium Lie had supposedly been a comrade to the being that was sealed away. At first, Chinami had almost come to the absurd conclusion that the one sealed was some "evil" version of St. Laurel, but a more careful read clarified that it was someone she had run with before her time with Laurel... or at least before turning on him. It could have been another member of Laurel's group of heroes, but... the immortal Lyngurium Lie supposedly sought a world of conflict she'd shared with Laurel in their youth. The prisoner was from a time before even the lands of Rhea. Yet, knowing that the prisoner was the Lyngurium Lie's ally... That meant.

"They can't be the Great Evil." The demon within her did not contest her, but she knew it was true. It had to be. Reverio, the fool, only thought he had found the Great Evil; but thankfully for all of them, his intent was undercut by that selfsame tunnel-vision. "If there was ever a time the Lyngurium Lie could be called a hero, someone of sound morality, then the 'prisoner' cannot be the Great Evil. If it was her former comrade, she would have been corrupted and consumed long before she ever met Laurel. She wouldn't have had any heroic period of her life on record."

"So, it would seem..." the demon replied.

Chinami couldn't help but feel a mix of relief and anxiety. "Yet... our deal still stands?"

"This One hast conveyed before; even This One is beholden moste firmly in a Pact."

Chinami grinned. This day just got a little bit better. Even knowing that something that was so dangerous it needed to be sealed a way might lay around the corner, the fact that it most likely wasn't a fragment of the Great Evil soothed her heart greatly. It was a drastic de-escalation of the terrible stakes she'd feared prior. If her new conclusion was correct, then even in the worst-case scenario of a broken seal, this was... actually pretty salvageable.

Of course, that didn't mean whoever was sealed wasn't dangerous, and it was certainly in her best interests to stop them from being released, but the urgency she'd felt prior was... reduced, like a great weight taken off her shoulders. Furthermore, she had no idea what this "Lyngurium Lie" was like, aside from the fact that the old word "grimalkin" pegged her for some sort of ancient cat-girl or feline shapeshifter.

She'd just have to keep her eyes peeled, she supposed. For now...

She glanced at the time in the bottom corner of her screen.

It seemed she'd better get a good night's sleep.

She had work tomorrow.

An hour later, as was perhaps too often her habit, Chinami found herself lying awake in bed with phone in hand, frowning at news reports that had happened to cross her feed. The death of someone she... actually recognized. Suzakura's father? Who was also a big name in the Old Faith Collective? Well, even if she also wasn't the biggest fan of the Gods, given some of the sentiments this group was purported to support, she was hardly going to shed any tears. Yet... The media seemed rather riled about this.

That... was a problem, right?

Well, hopefully, it could keep for later. Seal first, social unrest preferably never... Yet, she knew all too well that unless she forced it to, the world didn't care for her comfort, for her peace and quiet. The longer she resisted getting on top of this matter if it had even the slightest potential to screw with her, the worse it would probably be when it finally did... Choices choices...

Chinami sighed and turned off her phone, setting it on her bedside table.

She'd sleep on it and decide in the morning.

The Ritz Hotel, Balibago, Angeles City, Philippines - 10/18/2022, 20:10 UTC+8

I'm not very good at this "mandatory recuperation" thing, am I?

Such was the predominant thought roaming through Qingshe's mind, as she stared out the window of the hotel room with a half-lidded gaze. Velvety-red curtains hung wide open, granting a decent view of the cityscape from the top floor of the Ritz Hotel. The sun had already set, casting the city in night and leaving the room the Snake occupied lit only by artificial light, warmly illuminating pale-yellow walls and white carpet.

Swirling a glass of wine in one hand, Qingshe frowned, taking a sip and savoring the fruity taste on her tongue, an explosion of deep, soulful flavor lighting up her senses. Enhanced taste buds: never leave home without them. Despite the Admiral's warning, she wasn't really concerned with overindulgence. It wasn't like she could get drunk these days anyway... something she sometimes considered a detriment when she was feeling particularly adventurous or... "out of touch" with the average human. Lips tightening at that thought, Qingshe took the half-empty bottle of expensive wine from the side table she was sitting next to and refilled her glass. Yet, even as she took another sip, she knew the idle consideration had already soured her mood.

Exhaling through her nostrils, Qingshe set her wine glass on the table and glanced about her room with unrestrained boredom. If she'd had her way, she'd be working more on Lotus Squadron's "ladies" or tending to the wounded from the last mission, perhaps advertising some improvements for the Philippine military's equipment. There were some exciting things she'd have loved to try with the Navy, but it seemed red tape and the weakness of flesh and spirit her comrades were unfortunately prone to were going to waylay her as well. So, here she was, a woman married to her work stuck in some fancy hotel, being waited on hand and foot, pampered on the government's coin and orders. The television had been considered, humored and then finally discarded when the news was fraught with only the media harping on about and stoking social unrest.

She had considered making herself a nuisance to some of the rest of Obsidian, but those she would have felt comfortable teasing had all departed. Hannie... Kaityln... Indra. She'd actually been quite excited to poke the latter, a fellow national icon, but time and obligations hadn't really allowed for it. She was particularly worried about Hannie, now that she considered it. She hadn't exactly gotten the most positive impression of the girl's handlers by proxy, and who knew what they'd do after presumably needing to withdraw her for being a liability instead of an asset. People that were willing to wield a little girl as a weapon like that... She should have done something, been more proactive, stopped playing around so as not to keep scaring the poor thing. Maybe if she had...

Qingshe's knuckles whitened, as her hands tightened into fists. It was a good thing she'd already set her glass down, or she might have shattered it. And honestly, it would be a shame to stain the carpet with expensive wine and rack up even more unnecessary bills for her sponsors. Glancing out the window at the nightlife of Angeles City, she sighed.

"I need some fresh air."

Saying it aloud helped crystalize the desire into reality, as she stood from her seat, idly corking the remnants of her bottle of wine and dropping it from the table into her waiting shadow, where it disappeared into the bubbling depths without a sound. Scooping the wine glass from the table, she downed the contents in a single, deep swallow, licking her lips and setting the glass down.

Striding to the door, she idly considered her path forward and then briefly dipped into her shadow. Within the bubbling, humming depths of her ooze, garments and accents were stripped away, only to be momentarily replaced, forming from the nothingness that was whole upon her body, the crackling tingle of thunder humming in her veins and atop her skin. When she emerged from the ooze again right before her door, gone was the eccentric image of the Snake, the A-Rank Arms Master who drew eyes just by existing.

In her place, a mature beauty stepped outside the room, locking it behind her and pocketing the key. Though, she was still certainly eye-catching with her long, green curls for hair and full, womanly figure clearly pressing up against the inside of her clothes, she was dressed far more casually -and conservatively- in clothes that could actually be considered civilian. Nestled beneath her clothes against the small of her back, a miniscule puddle of ooze left a cord trailing from within to her flesh, sinking cleanly beneath her skin. But despite those features, she could pass perfectly well for a civilian, making a deliberate effort to control her contracting pupils to keep them from narrowing to slits and fixing her eye color into a solid green hue. Being even this low-key was an uncommon event for any that knew her. Yet, she wasn't looking to be hassled and eye-balled while alone with her thoughts. Obsidian had a responsibility to not take the generosity and freedom allowed to them for granted, and that meant not making a nuisance of themselves while on leave.

Balibago, Angeles City, Philippines - 10/18/2022, 20:12 UTC+8

It wasn't too hard to avoid the rest of Obsidian, as Qingshe navigated the expansive hotel's depths, descending to the bottom floor and "hitting the streets", as it were. Her hands dipped into her white coat's pockets, as she ambled down the sidewalks with no particular destination in mind, watching civilians pass her by and trying not to think about how her skin crawled at the very concept of inaction and slothfulness, even when it was mandated...

She'd never been very good at just lazing about. Downtime was just another way of keeping her busy doing nothing, and her hobbies were borderline nonexistent. Life in the Chinese military -especially in these busy, warmongering years- hadn't really allowed for that, and when she wasn't busy with doing science on their behalf, she was working the PR machine like a dog. The very concept of "me time" was practically a foreign entity back then. And even once she'd finally cast off her chains, she'd just ended up involved with the QRS and fighting on the opposite side of the same war, moving from front to front, blunting the Chinese momentum with the presence only an A-Rank Arms Master could bring to the table these days, even newly properly christened as she was.

She was...

"Still not free, huh..." Qingshe murmured under her breath. Not yet, not until this war was done. Until that day, she would never be free to do as she pleased, to truly pursue the ascension of humanity and the recovery of all she had lost under her homeland's thumb, not while this foolish war raged on, not while humans tore each other apart out of spite, reckless ambition and pointless malice. All those resources, all those lives spent like water, all those brilliant minds forced to focus on developing the industry of violence and destruction, all those precious crystallizations of the soul -Noble Arms that could have changed the world for the better- thrown into the pyre of war and reduced to mere fuel for the flame...

It was so disgustingly wasteful.

It made her skin itch at the sheer incompetence, the irrationality of humanity at its very worst. To even contemplate the true depths of such waste, to actually calculate it, run the numbers and simulate -as she had- what could have been if everyone would just fucking get along for the sake of the common good of humanity... it made her so frothing angry that her mental stabilizers were triggered, restabilizing her reason. Not for the first time, she contemplated how much better things would be if she were in charge from the top-down and then discarded it. There was no point in daydreaming about the impossible, especially not if it would only stroke her own ego to arrogance. She was self-aware enough to understand that her nascent god-complex did not even slightly need a single drop more encouragement wherever she could starve it. The last thing she needed was to become the very thing she sought to destroy.

Yet, that didn't lessen her utter fury with her homeland. And more importantly, her disappointment.

It was why she'd betrayed them, after all, after they had killed her faith.

...And she should really stop thinking about that.

Shaking her head of that circular line of thought, Qingshe let loose a slow calming exhale. Inhaling the cooler late-day air, she snuggled her hands more deeply within her pockets and rolled her shoulders, working a few imaginary cricks from her neck. The night was young and her obligations none, and if she was going to really get in on this vaunted "recuperation" and decompression thing, then she supposed that she should try to stop thinking too much.

Impossible, her brain unhelpfully snorted at the concept. Regardless, reminiscence and self-reflection were clearly not her friends this night. It had only been the better part of a single week of this enforced "vacation", and she was already practically on the verge of climbing the walls and tearing out her own hair from boredom. After so many consecutive years always moving from one task to the next, she didn't really know how to deal with not having something of actual substance to do that furthered her future interests...

Maybe it's time to learn.

She checked her internal clock.


It seemed her aimless wanderings had just sucked time into a dark void, and now, she simply didn't know what to do with herself, even with the conscious realization of what she "should" do. Intellectually, she was aware that downtime was healthy, that taking breaks was essential to a happy work-life balance for humans, but habit and -admittedly obsessive- forward thinking advocated otherwise. Yet, if she didn't make up her mind soon, she was only going to find her resolution met by closed establishments for the night.

She was honestly disappointed at the shot of warped relief that rippled through her, as the sound of distant shattering glass rang through the night, followed by shouts of alarm. Qingshe's gaze snapped in that direction, her feet already carrying her closer, curiosity stoked, as she tried to catch a glimpse of what was happening from a distance.
Hmm, I honestly feel that 'Our World, but Fantasy', is a little lazy, but I get the logic of not wanting to reuse maps.

More like, from what I can see, not so much "our world but fantasy", but the same geography, just like magic and such caused it to never really leave a medieval age. The history is rather vastly different I would assume.

Though, honestly, I'm semi in agreement that something about the concept itches at me. I think, primarily, it's the scale. It feels like everything is so spread out that the PCs will have trouble experiencing every corner of the world. Then again, this could be mitigated by such things as an organized teleportation circle system to certain places or something, but I guess I'm a little surprised by the size of it all. And admittedly, I don't really like the idea of limiting where races/nations go based on what's the most culturally equivalent; feels like it shoehorns the global/national state. Though, I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

It's just, I think, hard to make certain crises feel relevant if everything is so spread out, makes it harder for PCs to get to and address things if they feel like (or alternatively, have no choice but to get dragged into them). Like, for example, this broad concept I threw down -if you're reading between the lines- for "Giant v Dragon War: The Revengance, the Sequel, the Return". To make it feel more "urgent", ideally, this possible plot would rely on whatever nation the PCs are in/primarily established being sandwiched between the two forces. But on the other hand, I can think of a few ways to sorta adjust it to an Earth map.
Alright, here's my pitch for some world-building, retaining some 5e lore.

Enclosed between two rumbling titans, the Realm trembles in fear and anticipation, as mighty relics encroach once more.

I admit, I'm struggling to come up with an actual proper name for this possible dragon empire. Something with "Imperial" in it maybe.
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No worries. Generally, I don't think I'm very good at World-Building... (haven't done it enough...^^")

The Head God is typically of the Light Domain (in my opinion), like the Sun.
But we could do something different and maybe have the Head God be the God of Magic?

The only issue I see with a condensed list of gods and domains would be, for example, if someone wanted to play a Grave Cleric that basically accepts death and helps people move on, but fights against the undead (think Caduceus Clay from Critical Role Campaign 2), they would probably find issue with finding that the only god they can worship is an Evil Death God who promotes murdering innocent lives.

Never implied the death god was evil. The "underworld" part is meant to imply a more benevolent type, like Hades. No reason Grave couldn't also be in there. Also means that for the purposes of "balancing" influence, "Earth" can go to the Life/Nature god, and Death/Underworld will have Grave too.
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My thought for world building would be to start with the Cosmology first. That way, not only can we get a pantheon, but we can get general beliefs from World Creation Myths. Plus, with a fantasy setting, we can establish some locations that are maybe considered Holy or Cursed.

I'm usually not too great at Cosmology, tbh, but a good starting guideline might be using the Cleric domains for inspiration.

Off the top of my head we need: Head God (domain ???), Life, Death/Underworld, Earth, Sky, Sea, Forge, Love, War, Trickery, Sun, Moon, Nature, and Magic.

If we wanted to condense this list more for simplicity, Death/underworld/Earth might be the same god or even Life/Nature/Earth. And for a twist, perhaps Love and War are also the same god. Trickery might be with Moon too. A domain of Fire could go with either the Forge, Sun or both, and Light might also belong to Sun.
So, do we have a map WIP or anything? Or is the current state of the world a blank slate?

Some good stuff to establish first is the "state of the world" in regard to major nations and territories. Need to figure out who the big players are. Classically, that'd perhaps be humans, dwarves and elves; they seem to be the most expansionist of the races, usually have the most legacy and prestige. But I think we could potentially throw in some other stuff.

What about a Dragonborn empire? Those guys could certainly stand to get some more representation.

What about gnomes? Are these ones still D&D flavor, and if so, how much has their Artificer-ing done to promote them in the world? Gnome empire mayhap?

Halflings usually remain pretty humble civilization-wise.

How about some of the big names like Dragons and Giants? Do they have any kind of remaining legacy or unity? Perhaps Dragons are involved in the aforementioned theoretical Dragonborn empire.

What about the goblinoid races? Goblins, Bugbears, Hobgoblins and Orcs. How much presence do they have? Are they still classically malevolent aside from rare cases? Are they united enough perhaps to have their own country that might be competing with or warring with the other "good" nations?

What about cosmology? Should we throw together a god pantheon?

Does anything like a classical "Adventurer's Guild" exist, and -if so- how expansive is it?

And, of course, in all this, we should figure out where the PCs are getting Battle Bus dropped.

I could go on. :)
It's probably best debated now for those of us that are unfamiliar with those teleportation methods.

I would assume this to be important for later to make sure teleportation doesn't become the end-all-be-all to getting around any defenses.

So, the conclusion is that shields stop teleportation?
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