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The world is shrinking. It's squeezing her, crushing her, pinning her in place. The world is the stomp of angry feet and the cold of lashing rain and the burning of rubble that once was home to an entire people. The world is three sharp, looming walls doomed to die by Jas'o's uncaring hand. The world is the muted stench of whipped mutts pretending they are soldiers, the blinding flash of Zeus' triumph and the deafening clap of her victory roaring across the shattered stones and the weeping sky.

The world is Bella. The world is Redana. There's no more room for anything else.

Bella's body is tenser than steel. Her eyes are wild shrunken slits that gleam savagely in the flashes of lightning. Suddenly her back is hunching with the weight of carrying her princess all this way. Her chest heaves and strains within it's sodden silken prison, heavier and heavier, until she sounds like she's about to pop.

She lets Redana fall to the ground. Her tail thrashes and her ears flatten miserably as she watches Redana's head smack against a wall, followed by her back and butt. Only her legs touch down gently, and Bella is quick to rise to her full posture in the instant the princess is blinking away her pain. Bella reaches down with one hand until the sight of her jewelry talons makes her snatch it back. She closes her eyes. She forces her breathing to slow. She forces herself to be calm, be calm. She must be calm for what comes next.

"Fine then!" she screams across the storm, "Fine! If... if you love your new friends so much I know just how to reunite you! It's easy, right Princess?! All you have to do is sit here! And watch what happens!"

Her ears flick up and behind her immediately, listening for the sounds of feet rushing in faster toward the signal. The breakdown. It's good that there's so much rain. It means she doesn't need to worry about her eyes. She turns her back on Redana, bedraggled tail twitching with obvious irritation.

"...I'm the only one," her voice is so low that surely even Redana won't pick it up this time, "The only one who can keep you safe."

She leaps into the air and springs off a broken slab of wall. There's a shower of sparks as her claws slash through one of the only standing walls still left to climb, until she finally finds purchase. She scrabbles up the wall and vanishes like a shadow into the storm.
Étoile swallows loudly. She's picturing it even though she can't afford to: the inside of the Inquisitor's chambers, the threat of 'rehabilitation', and the end of everything she knows. That's what's at stake here, and nothing less. That's why she's got exactly four seconds to get her face on right and do her job properly before she takes a dart to the neck and all of her decisions get made for her for the rest of forever. Come on, is she Lady's lamassie or isn't she? That's right, there's a good girl.

She very gently dips down to let her Lady rest on the ground. She has just enough time to sneak in an affectionate bit of nuzzling before she has to turn around, and this only because it helps sell the image of the ridiculous little pet. She's a bit far away at this distance for Jezcha to be counted on to catch the bright sparkle in her eyes, so Étoile is extra careful to giggle and clap her hands with delight. The pistol clatters to the ground, apparently forgotten.

"Amazing, amazing! Oh wowies," she trills, "Lady Jezcha plays such wonderful games! lamassie was completely fooled! Ahaha!"

She trots forward with mincing little steps that seem as heedless to the danger in front of her as they are to Tamytha's desperate warnings behind her. How could Mistress's beloved sister wish her adorable pet any harm? She trips on a rock and falls backwards onto her butt with an 'oof' of protest which seems to miss the sound of a rifle firing and the dart that zips through the space her head had been a second ago. Her eyes are adoring. Her neck seems suddenly very stiff, but that's just... because she fell, yes! Silly lamassie!

"...Was I good? Did I do a good job playing? Is Lady Jezcha pleased, can lamassie have a treat? Oh! Oh! I wanna get tied up this time! Lady Jezcha is so generous and kind, she's given up all her hunting time to play with Mistress! But she's sooooooo skilled, I bet she'll get a dozen trophies anyway! Can lamassie help? Oh please please please, let her play 'bait' too! She's so so good at wiggling and squeaking, she'll draw all those naughty humans right here with her pretty shiny hair! Pretty pretty please, can she go on the pole now?"

Étoile lifts her hands up to her chest and does her best soulful begging impression. Inside her stomach there's a dark flame burning a hole through her, but her mask is up to the challenge. Her win condition just shifted, that's all. Whatever it takes to let Lady rest in the shade and go home with her this evening, that's what will serve the Cause. That's the same thing as defeating Jezcha, the exact same thing. She wiggles her hips just to be extra shameless and enticing. It's the cute ones you need to watch out for, in the end. n'est-ce pas?

[Mild Mannered: 7]
Étoile glances nervously about as she bends over (sticking her butt unnecessarily high in the air while she does it) to pick up the clunky antique looking revolver.

"H-hello? Is... is anybody here? Lady? Are you playing a new game, Lady? l-lamassie is scared..."

But there are no replies. It's just her in the empty ruins of a Disneyland restaurant, alone but for the heavy weapon in her hand and the tattered remnants of the picnic she'd been dreaming of all week. She lifts the gun and holds it to her chest like a treasured stuffed animal, and pushes all of the air out of her lungs.

This is the first time she's let her mask drop since she first met Marianne. When she looks across the way to where she knows her targets lie waiting, her eyes don't smile with the calm servitude of Tamytha's darling little star, or the silly and unfocused glee of lamassie, or even the hot fury of her alter ego. The real Étoile's fury is cold. Her eyes are dull and filled with lethal intent. Jezcha, espèce de raté, you ruined everything. She'll make you wish you'd drawn Marianne instead of her.

Then she sneezes, and that girl disappears and leaves frightened little lamassie back in her place. She carefully gathers up all of Lady's belongings back into her pack, and drags it with her as she trots off to find her mistress, making exaggerated sniffing sounds as she goes? See, Lady? She can track, she can!

The sight of Lady, all trussed up and dangling precariously from a pole like the mermaid on the prow of a ship, makes her squeak in horror.

"Ohmygosh and goodness! Oh! My Lady, please hold on, I'll save you from the humans who did this to you! Oh gosh gosh gosh! Oh!!"

Étoile, of course, is not a natural born huntress. If you want one of those, get a Lynx of course. But did you think she's been taking naps whenever Marianne came out to do her work? Of course she sees their hiding places! Of course she knows where to look! But she minces closer on trembling legs, trying to hold the heavy pistol out in front of her like a pro but needing two hands and an awful lot of bobbling to do it.

Every slight noise seems to frighten her. Oh no, oh no! Is that a shrub, or a monster lurking over there? She squeezes her eyes shut and holds her head away from the gun as she fires a wild shot into absolutely nothing. It's a strange gun that lacks the sharp report she knows from movies, but fires with a dull popping sound instead. Still, it makes her jump three feet into the air at the sound of it. And that's her one, besides.

She spins in a slow circle, waving the gun in front of her for protection when, oh gosh! Oh no! Silly lamassie, you shot right at one of Jezcha's hunting buddies! The shot scares her so badly she bobbles the gun and almost drops it straight to the ground, and in her mad scrambling she somehow manages to fire it twice more at the area her most exalted companions are hiding. If you were watching, you'd be forgiven for missing the tiny moments where her gun arm suddenly straightens and her aim switches from incompetence to (well, not quite) deadly precision. It's only just long enough to find a center-mass shot, and she is such a very silly girl in all.

Now she runs toward her Lady, yelping and sobbing and waving the gun behind her as she goes. Pop! She hears more than sees a body slump against something hard. Pop! She has to assume she just missed. And that's two. She sprints all out, clearing the distance between her and Lady with frightening alacrity before... she trips on the ditch they dug and lands flat on her face under Lady's tender feet. It takes her a few moments of squeaks and groans before she regains her feet to fumble at these too-tight knots.

"Oh gosh, oh gosh, My Lady I am so sorry! I'm so sorry! I am! Are you all right? We have to go, we have to go, let's get out of here, please I'm so scared! Oh, I'm here, but... please!"

Her mask falls away again without her realizing it. But though her eyes aren't smiling, it isn't fury that's dancing in them right now. You would have to be the biggest idiot in the whole universe to miss to miss the spark of love that flickers in that look.

[Defend: 9. Étoile takes Influence over Tamytha, but escalates the situation]
"Oh, now you care about keeping pr--"

The crack of stone is even louder than the thunderclap. Bella's ears clamp flat against her skull to drown out the sound, but it's a useless gesture. The city is screaming as it dies: the stone howls and the metal bubbles, scentless and burning brightly in the pouring rain. It comes down in curtains now, soaking through her fur and her dress and pooling inside her boots so that they squelch with terrifying loudness with every darting step she takes.

Bella's eyes are shrunken and trembling. Her scowl is permanent, teeth bared and clenched together so tight they look like they might shatter. She turns toward Redana with this same look on her face, her cheeks flushed and burning in a way that calls to mind a fever. And then she looks away, stealing glances over her shoulder and chancing to lift and bend her ears to lock down the sound of the stomp stomp stomping that signals a clear shot, and death. She spins around a corner and dives for shelter under an angled slab of a building that must have once been somebody's home, and can't quite make the line cleanly enough to avoid smacking Redana's leg on the way under.

She clamps her hand tightly over Redana's mouth to stop the scream before it can ruin everything. The scowl deepens for just a moment before it falls off her face entirely. Now she lets herself be vulnerable. Now she lets herself look tired. Her chest heaves with effort as every bit of her drips miserably.

She did not come dressed for a storm. Her shirt is drenched so thoroughly that it's clinging to her every curve like second skin, and where she's chosen to wear white it's gone completely see-through. Her top whisks water slightly better, but that's no comfort either: every breath sends rivulets draining into the space between her breasts and sending her into fits of shivers. Her sodden sleeves constrict her wrists like angry snakes, and even her bells are too waterlogged to sing their song; they rattle and slosh sadly when she shifts her weight to adjust her grip. Her skirts are stuck to her thighs tight enough that it restricts her movement. If she can't take a time to pull them free then her next great leap might even tear them.

Like this, her tail's too bony. Like this, her fur looks matted and unpleasant. Like this, her thick hair is bedraggled and flat and her artfully arranged bangs now flop gracelessly onto her forehead and bother her eyes. Is there anything less seemly than a wet cat? Her cheeks burn with a fresh flush of color, but her eyes are only on her Princess. Her Princess. Hers. Whoever the wolf girl was to Redana, she clearly never had what it took to be a proper r... R... Re... the thought cuts short with a growl. In any case she's dead now.

"Don't you understand how much danger you're in? You idiot! Jas'o's here for you! The whole Armada's here for you! Do you think it's on your mother's orders? Odoacer wants you for herself! She's going to turn you into her trophy and then climb you like a ladder to take the throne! She's already killed everyone else here who cares about you at all! So don't... don't you... don't call me a scaredy-cat! This is not one of your holos, Milady! And don't lecture me about time, I'm the one who's..!"

There's a rumble and a blinding flash of light that's followed by a crack of stone loud enough to leave a ringing even in ordinary human ears. The little shelter explodes and fresh sheets of water and stone rain down on Bella hard enough to knock her to one knee. She snarls and presses Redana close against her as she springs away into a twisted nest of streets and crumbling buildings with only the wrath of Zeus to guide her way.
Bella is halfway to pouncing in an instant. She's risen to one knee before she even notices her response, and on the hand she isn't using to support Redana her claws are extended on each of her curled and straining fingers. All of her fur is bristling horribly and her tail is snapped back so straight it hurts. Would that the gods had granted her the power to hide her own agitation, but alas, they played no role in her creation at all. A scowl darkens her features as she clenches her sharp teeth tight against one another, powerless to keep the low growl out of her throat. Her eyes shine with lethal golden light, locked on Jas'o for the first time.

But then her gaze slips off of his chiseled form (there is a permanent stink of thunderbolts that will cling to him for the rest of forever. It is worse by half than being next to the Nemean) and heroically handsome face to the quivering fingers already reaching for his next deadly shot. Her heart catches in her chest. She turns her head, sight sliding downward, and beholds Princess Epistia properly for the first time.

Thunderbolts are awful weapons. Of all the tools humans have been granted to kill with, they may well be the worst. There's no blood spurting from that wound, but it must be spilling all over her insides. She reeks of burning skin and fur, and...ugh. Just look at the way she twitches. Lying there, calm as death, until the spark sets her abdomen to spasming, convulsing, arcing through her skeleton and bending her spine until surely it must break? It'd be a kindness to tear out her throat.

The corner of Bella's eye grows wet with tears. She slides smoothly to her feet, lifting Redana up by the butt until she can wrap her arms around Bella's neck and gingerly supporting her wounded legs with her previously free hand. With nothing to stop her tear, she has to suffer to let it roll slowly down her cheek and dangle from her chin until it finally, mercifully drops onto her Princess' stomach. She draws herself to full height with deeply practiced poise and restraint, her prizes from a lifetime's worth of lessons and floggings.

"No, King," her voice is as polite and level as it is in almost all of Redana's memories, "Her Highness' choice is not for you to make. Not you, not the Admiral, and not any other traitor to the throne."

The princess detests blood. And she hates foul play even more. But surely she'll understand just this once? Bella digs her heel into the ground and spins sharply, raking her other foot across the ground before kicking in a wide and vicious arc. If the debris here is more dangerous than usual, Jas'o has only himself to blame: bits of cracked stone, fragments of a hoplite's shield and shards of broken scythe, and a bit of mud besides all spray indiscriminately toward the King's face. Maybe it'll be enough to make him bleed. She can only wish the Ceronian pup's last gasp would be enough to blind him. But all she needs is one small flinch, and for Jas'o to shut his eyes.

She turns and runs deeper into the city without a moment's hesitation, her boots squeaking and sliding across the rain slicked stone streets. Hers is a pedigree of a champion. Her stride won her the laurel wreath in the Olympic Games her princess missed. Every rough step forward is another fresh explosion of momentum that can't help but jostle her charge violently, but speed is more important than comfort. She darts agilely first this way and that, and disappears around a corner into an alleyway.

"I promise Milady," she breathes in between steps, "I promise I'll keep you safe."
Étoile has not mastered the subtle art of "gasping for air, but quietly", but even still she tries her best. The problem is that when you force your voice out of a cough you also make it much less good at doing the things a cough is supposed to accomplish. She hangs on the fence for several minutes, sputtering uselessly with her throat feeling scratchier and more awful until she finally manages to get the last bits of lake water out of her system so she can start filling it with air again.

What a mess. Marianne would be through this fence before you could blink, and oh, what fun she'd have after that, but Étoile doesn't dare call on her. They had both worked too hard to keep their connection a secret, and she couldn't ruin that over one of Jezcha's pranks. Not to say those weren't dangerous, but... so far out from anything important? Nothing to steal but veils and hearts? No. It would damage the Cause too much.

Still, though! Maybe just a little? Just a teeny flash of power, then back to the shadows with her? Just enough to, oof, say maybe, eep! Make it so she, oof, ugh! Doesn't have to climb this fence with her wrists and ankles bound? It's chainlink, thank goodness, but she... oof! Has to shimmy up it like a worm. Which makes much more noise than even ducks can quite cover over, and is very painful besides.

Cresting over the top, she saws her wrist cuffs apart on the chicken wire looped around the links to discourage children from doing exactly what she's doing now, and then drags herself unglamorously across it to flop down to the other side with a squeak and a thud. She winces as she rubs her butt before bending forward to untie her ankles. Her outfit is completely ruined, to say nothing of her poor skin, which is covered from stomach to thigh with angry red scratches that sting fiercely as the air kisses them. Just because Marianne took worse blows with regularity doesn't mean this didn't hurt!

Stupid Jezcha! Stupid, rotten bully! Maybe she'd like a dart in her butt, hmm? Pour qui tu te prends? Étoile stands up, and then immediately flops back onto her veiled face again. Oh, right. That whole... almost drowning thing. Fine. It's fine. c'est bon, vraiment! This is just... the strategy portion of her comeback. She sucks in fresh breaths of air greedily but as quietly as she knows how, and squeezes her eyes shut to help her think.

This whole thing is a game, which she wins if she can get to Lady before anything too embarrassing can happen to her. But how's a little lamassie to fight back when the board is so stacked against her? With a weapon, is how. Where did she leave Lady's rifle? Oooh, get ready Jezcha and friends. There's a sacred oath laid over these grounds, that no one under any circumstances shall be allowed to ruin a magical afternoon at Disneyland. And woe betide those who break taboo...

[Assess the Situation: 7 What here can I use to fight back without switching personas (or more accurately, how do I get to it?)]

Bella's voice is barely more than a hiss. For a fleeting second, her body is wrapped in the shroud of total weightlessness, but she barely notices. She's coming down with it again, she can tell. The strange sickness she first caught from the baths when she was fourteen, just after she'd turned to tend to Redana right as she was rising out of the water. It's a terrible illness, that not even her superior breeding can protect her from. And the most insidious part about it is that... she...

She is dimly aware of the sensation of her feet hitting the ground. But she is far too focused on other feelings to really pay attention to something so pointless. She feels the ache of her muscles as they tense harder than diamonds, and the burning sensation that crawls up her rigid spine all the way to the base of her neck, and all the way down to the tip of her tail, which she wraps tightly around her leg. Yes, there it is, the affliction. Her breath comes shorter now, and she can only draw it in through her nose. Her eyes water even though she isn't sad, and can't feel the irritation from any of the hundred pollens or bits of debris she might otherwise be inclined to blame. Her heart beats arrhythmically and, with every horrible flutter, sends an unwelcome warmth spreading in her chest.

And then, and then, yes, there it is. The heat seeps into her stomach, down to her hips, her thighs, right where the Nemean touched her, where she was reaching... yes. This feeling is a sickness. A disease that wracks her body. These feelings, this tension, they have no earthly cause. So it can only be an illness, or else a curse, that makes her squeeze her legs together to distract herself from the building well of pressure. Damn the giant muscle bitch. Whatever she tried to do, it won't work. She won't fail here. She can't. Not now.

She blinks and startles slightly when she catches a spray of mist on her lips. A spot of blood dribbles off her lower lip and splashes against Redana's neck. Bella takes her thumb and wipes it gingerly away. The princess. Her princess. She looks so peaceful when she's resting like this. So pure. And so... vulnerable. Bella winces when she sees the shape Redana's leg is in.

This is a sign from the gods. She cradles her princess and watches the pain inflicted on her body, and they take the sickness out of Bella in their turn. Her heartbeat finds its beat again. Her insides chill to ice. Her ears catch the sounds of battle drawing closer, and she pulls Redana nearer without a second thought. Above, the spray slicks her hair and clothes. She does not care.

But the wetness on her face has nothing to do with water. Unseemly. The princess will be upset to see it. Bella snorts at the thought, and lifts her hand to lick the palm. A towel would be more appropriate, but she needs her other arm to support the princess. She won't let those legs touch the ground, maybe ever again. Until they'd reached Tellus again. Her rough tongue darts across her palm with dainty, precise strokes. She lifts the palm to her face, and wipes Queen Hatchan's blood from her cheek.

Lap, lap. Smear. She can taste it this time. The familiar sensation of rising bile crawls up her throat in response. She turns her head and chances spitting, instead. Lap, lap. Smear. The retching. She turns and spits, violently. Uncouth. In the kennels, she'd be beaten severely for this behavior. But she must get herself washed for the princess, and she's running out of time.

"Finally," she whispers, "I finally found you. I've got you at last."

Bella squeezes her arm around Redana's shoulder. She takes the other one and carelessly brushes several of those disheveled golden locks out of the Princess' face. There'd be time to do it properly on the way home. There'd be time for everything now. She plants her legs deep into the earth, readying for this final charge, the last great duty of her adventure. But the rest of her uncoils, capable of ignoring the universe for the sake of the girl in her arms.

It was her duty to be gentle. And her duty to return home. Her mind slips past the crazy lioness and the strange sheep, beyond Jas'o (that dumbass), and across the stars to the Empress on her throne. She can hear the words of praise wash over her, feel the marble under her feet as she walks confidently forward to take her reward, take up her old station, and put things back in order where things will be safe again. She drifts past even that, to Redana's garden, with the butterflies and the smell of flowers and--

The princess groans weakly. Bella is drawn inexorably back to the present. She turns to look, and finds she'd shut her eyes. They drift open now. She's not dreaming. She's not. She draws a deep breath, which still shudders when she lets it out, and shakes her head.

"You're such an idiot, Milady. Didn't I tell you? Didn't I warn you space was dangerous? But you can't just listen to your Bella, noooo. You have to learn everything the hard way. Well, it's fine. I've got you, now. I've got you. And I won't let anything bad happen to you ever again."
Étoile has just enough time to squeak. She jolts her head upright, and then... um. Then, um. Everything. Sluggish? Hazy. Haha, that's a funny word. Hazy. Haze. Haayyyyyyzeeeeeee~

Tongue tastes cotton. Fade to black.

Her head flops indecently, face first, into Lady's thighs. All is bliss. All is bliss. All she knows is bliss.

Étoile sinks. Deeper and deeper, let the bubbles rise above her. Deeper and deeper, into the sea of her soul. There's no light here, but she doesn't need that to see. There's no sound here, but she doesn't need that to hear. She sinks, she bubbles, and she gawks at the jagged superstructures of darkened crystals in colors she can't tell apart. Down into the depths.

It is calm here. Peaceful. Beautiful. Étoile stops sinking, and floats in place inside a gently swirling current that massages all of her muscles into uselessness. Her head lolls from side to side and her hair floats freely, released from the prison of its ponytail. She can't move, but... does she want to? Does she need to? It is calm here. Peaceful. Beautiful.

"Feeling penitent, are we little star? How sweet!"

She startles. There's a pain in her neck, and another one swimming up and down her legs. She thrashes, and up above her the impossibly huge chimeric shape of Marianne looms and blots out the not-light. Her smile is full of ruby fangs that dazzle painfully. Étoile winces, clumsily bringing a hand up to shield her eyes.

"You're... here?"

"Of course I am here! This is my home, yes!"

"Still... mad at you."

Étoile's eyes flutter open and shut of their own accord. Marianne barks with laughter and thunders some sort of response, but her ears get distracted by the shape of a crystal floating by. Why is it... what? Why is it so hard to focus?

A great paw lifts her head with a tenderness that would shock her if her brain was working even kind of right just now. The claw that caresses her so gently is easily as thick as her neck.

"Étoile, Étoile, Étoile. Much as I love our little talks, especially seeing this adorable side of you, I require that you leave at once. Unless of course it's your intention to drown me?"

Her breath bubbles, and that's when she notices that her lungs are on fire. They're, they're! But that must mean that! Her eyes pop open in equal parts panic and understanding. Marianne's smile is vicious.

"Away, little star! This is not how we part, non! Go and breathe the air again, and I shall consider your punishment over! Fly, little fish, yes yes!"

The great paw swipes at her, and suddenly Étoile is tumbling, spiraling, twisting... up. Up and up and up, ever up, above the crystals, through the bubbles and...

Her lungs sting like they've been filled with hot needles. Her eyes feel clouded to near uselessness. But maybe that's the water? Étoile wiggles, half rises, and then begins to sink. They've got some sort of ropes around her wrists (tied behind her back) and her ankles. Mercifully, they did not tie them together.

Her mind is sluggish. Even now, in all this burning, cold, and wet agony, it takes her a long and listless moment to realize she's been tossed into a lake. But where is..?

Lady! If they did this to her, then!

Étoile curls herself into a ball, bringing her knees tight against her chest so she can work her hands under her feet. That will have to be enough. She lifts them above her head, though they feel half turned to stone by now, and kicks with every last bit of her draining strength. Tied together, all she can do is bob her legs up and down, waving her hips in time with the motion so that she undulates like a wave and cuts upward through the water. Handmaiden, knight, burning avatar of vengeance, victim, silly little pet... now add mermaid to her list of masks.

She just! Has to! Reach! The surface! Air! Air! She doesn't want to die! There's so much! She still needs to do!
Dulcinea stares bleary eyed at her latest batch of notes. She blinks stupidly. Pulls one hand behind her neck and squeezes as she rolls it from side to side, wincing at the popping sounds that are so loud you can't help but wonder if she didn't just die. Her head slumps forward again and her attention returns to the numbers and the conclusions she's written about them.

She stares at the ceiling. She sighs. Back to the notes. Ceiling. Sighs. Notes. Tap tap tap goes her pen. Ceiling. Floor!

"Owowowowow owies! Heck! Darn! Shoot! Expletives! Ow ow ow!"

On the plus side, writhing around on the ground clutching the back of her head where she bounced it off the carpet is an excellent distraction from today's rather unpleasant surprise discovery. Not to mention how effective it is as a stimulant! Why, she's not sleepy at all anymore, even though she hasn't rested in four days! Hooray!!

But all good things must come to an end. She blinks and groans as she stands up and immediately slumps over her cluttered desk again, adding a potential bonus bruise to her forehead to go with the one on the back.

"Ho...kay then. This is proooooobably my fault? But, consider this! It's very definitely not! Maybe! I mean, you know, it couldn't be? Really? Cause, like, I haven't done this before now. At least... not successfully. I don't think. That I remember? And it's not written down anywhere either so that's, like, confirmation. Probably maybe. No, it can't be me. I can't be the source of what's destroying this place. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not an apocalypse. Even if my high school elected me most likely to be. Jerks."

Tap tap, tap tap. She flips her notebook closed in frustration. Ok Dulcy, it's just like they say in... Texas? 'When in doubt, do the math!'

"Aight. Aight, aight, alrighty. So there's two obvious possibilities here. Option A: there's a heretofore unknown Dulcinea-adjacent genius in this rundown Podunk sticksville towny Town... thing who's conducting high level nightmare science and/or sorcery without my having noticed prior to this incredibly serendipitous coincidence, quite possibly with ill intent given how many of these manifestations have explicitly gone after innocent rubes. Er, people. Yes, the sweet and darling citizenry whom I have nothing but love for and hold in no contempt whatsoever. Those guys. And gals. And non-binary expressing miscellany. Possible? I mean, never say never.

Or! Option B: the person I already know about who I also know has been conducting experiments with various Nightmare Technology for over a year has, through some combination of neglect and willfully devil may care boundary pushing (not to mention dynamite good looks) has... uh, you know, either spawned or forged connections to the Great Beyond that turns mortal works and minds to rot, et cetera et cetera and so forth. Referring to you, in case this is at all unclear. You meaning me. Dulcinea D'Avingon. That person. That I am. Bluh."

Her head thumps softly on the desk as she contemplates the extremely lopsided probability of these two realities. Sleepiness creeps back into her life. She can't let it get her. Not here. With the suit and the... other experiments in various phases of completion, it would be a disaster beyond the reckoning of even a god, probably maybe. She groans and rubs at the dark circles under her eyes.

"Suppose the question would answer itself if I just tracked down this other portal and saw it for myself. Let's see, I'm gonna need a... hm. A Nightmare... uh, Altimeter? Yeah, an altimeter. It's the spikes and valleys you wanna watch for with nightmare energy. So it, I, yeah. Yeah. Height. Relative to nightmare sea level. Uhuh. So for... do I have one of those? Uh. I'm gonna need..."

She trails off for a long moment. With an exhausted, heaving sigh, she pushes herself away from her desk and trudges (though admittedly with very light, ginger steps) through her darkened apartment and around all of the Lego-sharp objects scattered around the floor.

"Air. Air is what I need. Air and coffee. Cause I gotta... blarg. I would commit legit, real live murder for an espresso machine..."

Her fingers find the doorknob. Sweet air kisses her forehead. And Dulcinea, wearing jazz slippers she's forgotten to replace with real shoes, worn out slacks, and a blouse she's only sort of buttoned the top half of, steps out into the "real world" once again.
"Hey, what are you?! St-stop, put me down before I! Hey! H-hey! Let! Go! Of! Meeeemmmfff?!"

Bella is held. Her feet dangle and kick uselessly in the air, which does her about as much good as the thrashing of her tail. Her face and her hair are soaked slick with blood, but her stomach isn't turning in the slightest; her nose is filled only with the scent of Redana. Redana! This is not Redana! But the smell, the... mmm, mmmmmnggh!

Oh Zeus, father of the gods! Bear witness to Bella's prayer! Mark you how the Nemean presses those greedy lips against hers, stiff and hard and unyielding against the pressure. See how her whole body tenses, the way her tail snaps straight behind her even as she reaches a shaking arm to rake her deadly claws across the back of this... this Amazon.

Oh Zeus, hear her prayer. Accept the fluttering of her eyelids and the sigh that escapes her lungs as her lip is bitten. Take these drops of her blood which dribble between their tongues. Cherish evermore the sight of this servitor yielding before the power of your progeny, going slack, letting her arm fall limp, turning this precious stolen kiss into an exchange. Take her moan, O Thunderer, that you might draw sustenance from it. Take the curving of her spine that presses her soft and supple chest against the hardness of Redana Chrysopelex.

Oh Zeus, it is to you she makes this offering. It is for you she lets her ears pull flat, for you she squeezes her eyes shut, for you she drowns out the world and cares not one whit for the sudden brutality of Epistia, for the smell of blood now choking out the air around her, for the furious chorus of spears and SP bursts and shouting growing ever closer.

This is all for the glory of the King of the Gods. Kiss stealer, skirt chaser, Holy Progenitor, beloved even so of Queen Hera. Accept this offering, this... yielding, and bless her with good fortune in the chaos yet to come. Or, if she is unworthy of even this small protection, then please. Take this moment and go. And when you do, give her back her Princess.
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