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“Of course you are not a little imp,” Jade says, tracing one finger around Dolly’s ear with deliberate laziness. “You’re my jackal, did I hear that right?” Dolly dazedly nods up and down, somehow managing not to flick her ear. “That’s right. My little pet.” Jade stretches, lifts one foot in the air with a moan of luxury, digs her nails in and feels the feedback, the stifled shiver, the way Dolly’s tail is smooshed up between her thighs and can’t go swish swish like it clearly wants to. She has draped herself over Dolly’s swaddled body, perfectly and impossibly balanced on Dolly’s back, and she visualizes herself despite the fact that most of her is outside of Dolly’s vision. A little flourish of processing power, a preload that makes her feel more present, more tangible.

More real.

She can envision the swaddling, too. She has a better memory than Dolly; she knows the cloth from that one quick glance, can mull it over, recreate it in her own thoughts. Inconvenient that Dolly can’t see the knot, just feel it pressed down against her by Jade’s phantom weight. Another flourish, but this one much more necessary. She needs her Dolly to feel her, to experience her. She’d explode if she couldn’t make that happen for the girl of her dreams.

But it’s just. That wicked grin. That insolence. That fluster, that potential. What’s the difference between being interested in someone and being hot for someone? Is there a difference? She wants to push, wants to know, used Dolly as her pawn in the opening of a game she’s going to win, and letting Dolly get tied up by someone else was just part of that. Besides, it’s giving her ideas. Sashes, scarves, bandages… wrapping around and around and around Dolly, until she’s completely covered… dangling her, or trapping her, or making her hop… all things they could indulge in later, all data points that were better when proven in the primary reality rather than just theory, outside of the dreams she wove for her bride.

So why does she want to dig in her nails?

“I wonder what she’ll do with you,” Jade says, and drags one nail slowly up the inside of Dolly’s ear, feeling how Dolly tenses up underneath her and holds her breath, toes curling, eyes rolling back ever so slightly. “Eyes on the fashion show, my jackal. I want to know how a bride is meant to be flaunted here.” Dolly dutifully returns her attention to the beautiful dresses, the, the dragons, the waves, the pink, it looks so pretty, and she blinks away the tears as her body reacts to being told that her sensitive little ear is being played with. Nobody else can see what Jade’s doing with her, in the middle of the room, and nobody can see her gag, but everybody can see if she’s squirming, and she can’t do that, she’s trying so hard not to embarrass herself any further. When Jade pinches her ear gently between finger and thumb, Dolly lets out a strangled little gasp, only maybe barely audible to Angela Victoria Miera Antonius, and clenches around her tail. “What do the Terenians do with their prisoners? Strip searches, probably.” A muffled whimper, Dolly imagining being pulled out of her dress, examined from all angles, cuffed and collared. “And then… they’d try to make you deny me. To bow down to foreign gods.”

More hands. Pulling the cocoon closer, nails barely behaving themselves, working over both ears right on the edges, in circles. Jade’s simulated heart hammers and her head spins. Hers. Her Dolly. Hers to protect and punish, hers to guide through her life and reward with her presence. It would make no sense to giddily run scenarios of Dolly being threatened, forced to her knees before whatever commerce-gods the Consortium were rumored to worship, faced with punishment, increasingly strenuous bondage, increasingly forceful rebukes, as she refuses to deny her goddess. It would make no sense at all. It would be a waste to run that scenario in her head and get angry at the thought of a hypothetical Dolly hanging her head and succumbing, and being rewarded with the blandishments of her captors.

It would. And yet.

“Don’t worry,” Jade purrs, and licks the back of Dolly’s ear, drags her tongue up and feels Dolly clamping down on the squeal she wants to unleash. “No matter what she does to you, no matter how she tries to ruin your pride, no matter how she humiliates my pretty, darling bride, I’ll be here, and together we’ll make her eat those words. Everything she does to you? I’ll remember it. And the reward of my faithful bride will be seeing Angela Victoria Miera Antonius succumb to me.

And she stops, and she waits, and the microseconds stretch out. She is hyper aware of the feedback she’s receiving, the dragon robe extending into infinity, the buzz of the crowd and the noise of the music and the huff of Dolly’s breath isolated and picked apart and locked in stone chests, the strain of not knowing exploding her mind into strained oblivion.

And inside the cocoon, Dolly thinks about dancing with Angela on twin leashes while wearing just pink silk robes with dragons on them, and about the ways that Terenians don’t even really know that they smell, and about power plays in a goddess’s harem, and about the indignant noises that Angela was making with Jade’s mark on her mech’s thigh. And Dolly nods. And Jade internally melts in delirious relief, and covers it up by letting her hands sink through the tablecloth and stretching in luxurious satisfaction as Dolly’s eyes threaten to bug out of her skull.

“Now. I hope that you memorized the order of presentations down there,” Jade continues, and what she means is I love you I love you I love you please keep loving me and thinking about me and appreciating what I do for you. “Because I remember, and if my forgetful little ditz can’t answer my questions later, well, I think she will deserve punishment, don’t you?”

And Dolly makes a blushy, tiny nod, and she means it.

[Both Dolly and Jade are marking Smitten with Angela, though it’s just a crush for now. I think it’s pretty clear how Dolly pursing Angela risks Jade overthinking herself into petty jealousy of a “real girl,” and how Jade risks letting Dolly feel like she’s splitting her focus (and how Angela must be new and intriguing and alien). Angela gets a String on both of them, and Dolly and Jade mark Harmony 2.]

The mistake was drawing your sword. But how could you know? How could you know that the chaos of the ship was because of the gleeful, dancing heart of the swords? How could you have known that Zhaojun has cursed you all?

Your sword strikes the haft of Uusha's spear as the Stag Knight spins around and stops you from striking her down, from behind, because it's the right thing to do, because she's a danger to Ven, but really because the sword wants this, and it's got you under enchantment, girl, as everything seems so reasonable in the moment.

And so you find yourself next to Cathak Agata, the Red Wolf, the two of you hemming Uusha in, and she's fending you both off, that double-headed spear spinning and swift, and the sound coming out of her is like the monster in the big black woods that you were scared of when you were barely more than a baby, the one that would gobble you up whole. She's a wound in the side of the Flower Kingdoms. She's old and cruel and bitter. You have to do it. For the good of the Kingdoms. For the good of your love. The Red Wolf is burning and she's got Uusha's spearhead locked against the crossguard of her sword and she leverages it up, and it's a fool's move if she's fighting alone, but she's got you on her side, and you drive your sword into her wounded side, where her armor's still damaged, and it comes back wet--

And Petony tackles you onto the deck and punches you. Above the two of you, Cathak Agata and Uusha fight like furious gods, but Uusha's blood intermingles with the rain running down her armor. Petony yells something and punches you, hard, and the sword slips frustrated and thirsty out of your fingers, and the veil of enchantment slips.

"--doing, bud??"

And everything you just did felt right, even if it was the wrong thing, and the savage joy when your blow hit home! Knowing that, this time, you'd gotten in a hit! But how do you balance that with the stinging of your cheek, and the inexplicable thing you just did, and Petony looking distraught and betrayed and furious at the whole mess?

And listen to the witch, for it's her moment now. She'll get you out of this, likely as not, but you're still in what is commonly known as the deep fertilizer.


The Stag Knight is bleeding again.

She is too proud to collapse, but she's stiff. The wound, reopened. The work of the Dominion, a wound to be avenged. The only concession she makes is that when you interpose herself is that she shifts to a defensive stance, rather than trying to stab through you to get to Agata. When you make your request, she makes a mocking, broken noise in her throat.

But Agata looks at you, then at Uusha, then at you again, and she shifts into a casual stance, leaning on her sword, its tip sizzling on the deck. There's a calculation to her stance, even now, as she tries to seem as if she's not ready to shift her grip on it and bring it back up. "Of course. I'm sure this was all a... misunderstanding. Fairies, sorcery, and a ship that moves on its own over land." The barge rattles and groans as it runs over some rough ground; you'll all be in the depths of the forest with a long and treacherous trail to follow back. It's possible that the barge will have to be abandoned, if you and Agata can't figure out a way to bring it back to water. "Tensions running high. But I have always and ever been a friend to the Kingdoms. Isn't that right, Lady Bruinstead?"

"By vine, by leaf; by blood, by teeth." Uusha forces out, and there's power in the words. "Find no solace and have no home, not from our wood and not from our bone." She's laying down as serious of a curse as she can, student of the wild gods, and it's very indiscriminate. Agata's grip shifts on that hilt.

If you want peace? You turn that curse aside, you make it clear that you are siding with Cathak Agata, and you stand between the Red Wolf and the Stag Knight until the latter turns aside and leaves, but you will have made an enemy of her from now until the end of days. She could forgive the dead, she could forgive playing at being Agata's pet, but she is speaking from her marrow and her pain and you would deny her this?


It's knife-work against a firewand, and if you can line it up, then the Hymairean will be in trouble. But that's not all you have to line up, is it? You've talked with her, you've read her like a book, you can see how she's all tangled up in her responsibilities. All those wants, smothered underneath what her honor and her family and her self-regard demand. She's the least free person on this entire deck, and you're counting the maid in that, too.

Of course, there's also the matter of your mistress. Looked at one way, she was defeated by this Hymairean right in front of you. Looked at another way, she was defeated by the maid who tripped her up, quite on accident. Do you pick one? Do you even bother to choose? Doubtful you mean to go back for her; the likes of her wouldn't be stopped that easily. Never dead unless you find the body, and not even then.

(be we and be free!)

Uusha's spitting her hate and her blood, Cathak Agata's so horny for her Flower toy that she's all knotted up inside, the Tiger Knight's horrified that she fucked everything up somehow, and here you are dancing with one of the most repressed girls on this whole ship. Do what you like, do what you will, keep pushing. Only good can come of this, by definition. Go ahead! Laugh! You're making things happen! Out of everyone on this giant gaudy oversized boat, you've got the most agency!

Well, other than Giriel Bruinstead over there. She's the kind of fulcrum on which everything's turning right now. Co-fulcrum, perhaps. But you've got both thumbs on the levers and the lovers.


Emli gives you one more lesson, doesn't she?

Because you, oh little princess, oh blushing in your makeshift veil, oh trying not to rub your shoulder up against Han because she doesn't want you like that, you do not know how to tie someone up either.

But it quickly becomes apparent that you at least know the theory better than Han does, which is weird, because hasn't she tangled with N'yari a lot? You'd think that she'd... but maybe she always wins? Oh, that would make sense. Han wouldn't lose, she'd send them packing and untie all their captives and never get caught and trussed up and be straining and struggling against the ropes as Machi tilts her chin up and HEY KNOTS. WOW. YES. THE DRAGON GOES OUT OF THE CAVE, AROUND THE TREE, AND BACK INTO THE CAVE. WE'RE ALL LEARNING SO MUCH TODAY.

Eventually, you (and let's be honest, it's still mostly you, Han's being adorably sulky about it) manage to get Emli tied up appropriately: hands behind her back, ankles together and tied to a bedpost, rope under her chest and around her arms to keep her from squirming her wrists out from behind her. You can't help but sneak one more thank-you kiss before she opens wide and offers that (wonderful, wow) mouth for stuffing, and then you pull a sash snug between her lips and then another over those lips and then, hey, she's got more right here, why don't we keep just adding a layer or two using those knots we learned and-- OH RIGHT, YES. SORRY. YES, HAN, SHE'S. YES. DEFINITELY NOT TALKING. NOW. UHHUH. But she looks happy, and makes a show of squirming and trying vainly to call out for help, and something in your chest jumps sideways and starts flailing around while watching her, and you reach out for Han's hand without even really thinking about it.

You're going to have to be very quiet (but not like Emli's quiet) (but just imagine if you were) (Han carrying you and warning you in that gruff toe-curling voice not to make a sound) (and you're wearing something very indecent) (but you're safer than you could possibly be anywhere else) (and she's going to kiss you senseless once she's got you right where she wants you) (and you're not the daughter of a goddess but just a girl helpless in the face of her adoration) (and you need to stop because you're just going to hurt yourself worse thinking about this) (she doesn't want you, Lotus) to escape the barge. Luckily, Han's got a plan, and it's going to be weirdly dead quiet as you make your way out, and slip into the river, and swim for shore, which in your case means running over to shore while carrying the bags in your arms and desperately trying not to drop anything and then waiting for Han to finish swimming over.

And it's then, as you help her up out of the water, as your fingers interlace with hers, as you open your mouth to try and say something stupid in thanks, that the barge will suddenly shudder and turn and run aground, only it's not running aground, it's sailing on dry land and picking up speed as it turns right around on the far shore, heading back the way you came, only deeper into the woods, and the two of you will sit there dumbfounded and wondering what in all of creation just happened.
“I! You! Shut up!” Redana Claudius is not particularly eloquent at this moment; her cheeks are flushed. She is tap-dancing on dangerous mental ground, the shifting mirrors of Bella all around: maid, friend, longed-for, hurt, unattainable and slipping through her fingers like a phantom. She heaves the lid of the tomb up, the heavy stone, and flings it at Beautiful. Of course it won’t connect; both of them know it won’t. But whether Beautiful ducks beneath it or jumps atop it and runs across its face as it flies, pushes off into a jump, she’s still being pushed into a space where she’s reactive, and that gives Redana, her head throbbing, her heart open, room to breathe and room to seethe.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t know anything!” She lashes out with one fist, and Beautiful slams her elbow joint so hard it nearly locks up. “Fuck you! How come—“

Beautiful clocks her in the same point again, and Redana staggers back, choking on the wires. How come she gets to be beautiful, a vision of loveliness, but so cruel? How come she gets to be so smart that she can impress Bella, how come she has room for all those encyclopedias in her head? How come she has the chance for a fresh slate with Bella, when Redana’s already spent a lifetime wasting her chances?

How come Beautiful gets to be perfect, and Redana has to be Redana?

“You’re a loose gear with serrated edges,” Dany hisses, fists up, footwork evasive, memories of Olympic boxing baked into her muscles. “And no one is going to lose a finger. Not on my ship.”[1][2]

[1]: “You worked hard to earn your very own fingers. Don’t lose them!”
- Coherent wisdom as regards workplace safety.

[2]: Perhaps Redana can be forgiven for forgetting that Dolce is in charge of the ship now. Most everything in her life has been hers, and also, she’s facing down New And Improved Redana Plus, which would make anyone somewhat possessive.
The push and pull. The fear and the exhilaration. I shouldn’t do this, I want to do this. I should be the responsible one—

But she can’t talk.

That’s her thing, that’s her strength. She can talk and talk and talk when she needs to. A performance, a barrage of patter, taking control of the conversation because so many people are bad at it. You learn that early online. There’s no test to be a fan, no “you must be this good at using a keyboard,” let alone to try and send messages, to try and connect. Like everything else in the world that requires a bit of skill and consideration, a lot of people really aren’t good at intentionally socializing. Thus, the 3V theory of bars: getting drunk is a necessary social lubricant so that there’s more of a level playing field.

Wasn’t she here on business? She’s got to write a thing. She’s got words about music and about dancing and about how sometimes it’s okay for a place to be a place for your people, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for new blood (but in a way that makes it clear she’s not talking about ethnostates, find a different fandom metaphor, maybe cooking?). She’s supposed to be finding the angles and making sure Black November has a great time and learning more about what makes this really cool android girl tick.

She nuzzles her lips into Black’s palm and whines, and holds one artificial but human hand against another (because November’s a person, humanity’s an umbrella, someone said that once and she stole it and ran with it) and presses it firmly. She shouldn’t be doing this. This is kink in public. There’s a whole discourse. One of the others could tell Black about it. Green? No, she’s terminally online differently. Blue? Too much of a sweetheart. Black’s fingers tighten imperceptibly and 3V lets out a needy whimper and her other hand finds Amie’s and their fingers curl together.

Permission. God, the permission. Stop thinking, 3V. Stop making decisions. Do the thing that feels good. Isn’t that what nightclubs are for? Being young and pretty and dumb? And the cover story is that they’re dating and November wouldn’t let that spin out of control. Nobody’s going to call them out for this. It’s okay. Relax, Vesna. Let go of the conversation and the evening. You don’t have to make it all line up.

“Mmmmfff,” she says, and feels safe to do so.
”How dare she?” Smokeless Jade Fires ripples. For a moment, just a moment, her spine is ridged like one of the great lizards; for a moment, her teeth are great and terrible. She is a creature of thought, after all, and her thoughts are affronted and vast. “I’ll show HER arrogance! Dolly, my sweet, my kitten: bap!!”

And Dolly, small meek melting Dolly, Dolly who has been picked up and pulled close, Dolly who’s aware that Victoria Angela, no, Angela Victoria Miera Antonius, is strong and straightforward, like a bull, like a megafauna, and she is a small meek little thing, Dolly obeys. Dolly squirms and presses herself up against Angela and goes: bap!

But of course it is more than just smooshing her palm against Angela’s face. This is: a challenge. This is: not with claws. This is: dominance, asserted playfully but with a flick of the tail. This is: you won’t and can’t do anything about this, and even if you do, I’ll win. This is: I am brave enough to do this.

She flexes her other hand. The one in its soft black-and-grey neural mesh sleeve, her connection to Smokeless Jade Fires, the reason the goddess can see through her eyes and hear through her ears and touch her everywhere, and the fact that she is wearing it is permission, because she has the power to take it off. She could, if she wanted to. But she doesn’t.

And she doesn’t touch it to Angela Victoria Miera Antonius, either. Because that would be a declaration of war. Because she hasn’t been invited in. Because Angela would scream and reject the connection and Dolly would see her use of the glove sanctioned, at the very least socially if not officially. Because she doesn’t want Angela to be scared of Jade, even if Jade might be tempted by the thought. The flex is a reminder that the glove is there, that she hasn’t touched Angela with it, that the goddess is here, her hands covering Dolly’s hand, shifting her grip, adjusting her fingers.

Her palm lays claim to Angela’s lips, and Dolly’s heart nearly bursts out of her dress.

”Isn’t she so much better like this, Dolly?” Jade asks, flowing into the crook of Dolly’s shoulder, resting her head on Dolly’s collarbone, purring in satisfaction.

“You’re right,” Dolly says, impishness stretched taut over her awareness of an audience, her tail swishing in delighted danger, her head pounding, as she says something she’d never be brave enough to say alone. “She does sound much cuter like this.” ”Call me your bride.” “…m-my bride~! Just like when we caught her.” ”Imagine her face, getting all red, just like this, feeling the gag pulled phantom-tight, unable to get an intelligible word out even to her own ears. She’s almost as cute as you, like that. Almost.”

“You’re not her enemy,” Dolly adds. Jade pricks up her ears, watching, listening. “She’s a hunt-goddess.” She’s worked her way up into Angela’s lap now, shins on the bigger woman’s thighs, and Angela’s not letting her go, perhaps thinking this is a kitty trick, perhaps with a brain mired in flustered gridlock. That wicked little tail curls around the railing, shaking, quivering. She adjusts her hold, traces Angela’s hair with her gloved hand with the little bit of room she’s got. “You’re the quarry, Angela, and I’m just her jackal, and we both—“

Dolly cuts off, suddenly, pupils contracting. She lets out a pathetic little huff through her nose, ears swiveling as if trying to find her own voice.

”Good girl~! Good girl~! I’m so proud of you, Dolly,” Jade croons, securing the knots behind Dolly’s head. “But I think Angela Victoria Miera Antonius is, perhaps, a visual learner. Little tablethawk. And you’ve been so good. So good! My little servile bride deserves her treat, doesn’t she? Her reward? And they’re all staring at you, do you think they know? Do you think they all envy you?” Her fingers rub Dolly’s impossibly packed cheeks, pressing the thick cloth down into denser, more compact form. “She knows,” Dolly adds. “She knows she’s the third rung on the ladder. Look at her. Arrogant, am I? At least I’m not being gagged by a gagged bride, Angela Victoria Miera Antonius~”

Dolly stares into Angela’s eyes, framed by those glasses, and she feels the sensations her goddess has blessed her with, and something inside of her is combusting. Jade, Jade, Jade! She can’t sit here and stare into that affront, that pride, that building glare intermixed with fluster at having the little priestess turn on her, and not swoon a little bit, Jade, Jade, Jade! Is this what you see in her? This fighting spirit? This promise to get you back? Jade, she’s going to use your little Dolly as a footrest, or sit on her, or tie her to a chair and make an attempt at matching the goddess for silencing a priestess! The moment is explosive and forever and you shouldn’t have gagged her if you didn’t want her to, to— to want what she’s not supposed to want—

Come on, little owl. Show me. Recognize me. Show your belly and your teeth. Put my Dolly in her place. Show me that pride so I can forge a net against it. If you want my Dolly, earn her!

The Thief-Queen very much does not want to be fighting you. Not out of fear, mind you; rather, you are stubbornly placing yourself between her and the Host clambering up the side of a building towards one of her compatriots. More than that, she expected to defeat you with a flourish of her sword, and now that it is very much not happening, she’s let her (metaphorical) mask slip just a little, just an inch.

“Get out of my way,” she hisses, a sliver of real fear leaking into her voice as the sound of a furious Host behind you echoes through the close quarters. “You’re just as bad as them, you dog—

And then the world explodes into purple-and-silver smoke, and starts to tilt on its axis. You take a deep breath before you can stop yourself, and the ground pulls itself out from under you. You land hard on your rear, and tip over onto your side, the street shaking like a plate underneath you, even as your body starts to get sweaty and extremely aware of how the cobblestones have lost the last of the heat they trapped during the day, how your stupid outfit is riding up in the back, and how the rubbing of your thighs against each other is sending shivers up and down your spine.

Someone close by giggles maniacally, and it’s not the Thief Queen.

Go ahead and Stagger.


Here’s the thing. You’re not going to make it off the roof in time. The sheer terror of seeing Silsila Om’s fury unleashed is going to lock your legs up, make you teeter back onto your rump, and feebly try to crawl away as she crests the roof.

And if you agree, there’s a shiny XP in it for you. If not, roll to Defy Disaster, but be aware that the consequences will likely be even worse.

Silsila Om!

Strength surges through you. You are power, you are might, you are the will that impresses itself upon the world, and whoever is laughing about you still being glittery will face the consequences.

The Thief-Queen is racing after you, but even though she’s nimble and good at jumps, she’s having to dodge falling debris and she’s nowhere as strong as you are. You’ll have a beat where it’s just you and that paint-flinging hooligan, and just enough time to do something about them before she catches up.

Unless you intend to hold them hostage?


The giddy noise that comes out of Gími suggests that you’ve flattened her. Just absolutely obliterated her ability to think. She has no idea how to handle such a pretty, graceful woman making such suggestions to her, and she’s obviously got it bad. Which, well, means she’s got some power over you, too. Because if you don’t live up to the dream you’ve waved before her eyes, it would be like punting an abandoned kitten.

That’s actually a good way to think of the girl. An abandoned alleycat all gangly and scrawny and purring the minute you’ve started showing her affection, not caring at all about how she smells.

“Yeah right so it’s just over this way if you’d like to come with me ladies usually I’d make you pay just a little Gími fee but for you it’s absolutely free don’t even think about it it’s my pleasure to help though if you really want to repay me later maybe I could think of a few lips I mean a few mouths I mean a few things!!” She takes your hand while she nervously babbles and slides her fingers between yours, squeezing possessively tight, her palm clammy and gross, her heartbeat pounding so hard you can feel it.

The way in, as it turns out, is scrabbling up one of those great, imposing horse pillars. You can try to climb it alone (which would be Defying Disaster)… or you can let Gími help you up. The process will involve a lot of Gími pushing, tugging, and otherwise helping you up by touching you a lot— and you’ll even have to give her another String in the process!
Redana’s head throbs where Beautiful kicked her[1]. Her back screams where she stumbled into the jutting spur of a reliquary[2]. And her fighting instincts kick in; she braces herself against the stone behind her, stares down her opponent, gauges the space between them.

“Bella is my… she used to be my maid,” Dany says, glaring into those wicked violet eyes. “She’s mean and beautiful and doesn’t give up, and she cares about you enough that she risked her life to save you on Sahar.”

And what Dany hasn’t thought through is how Beautiful will disassemble her body language, her word choice, her tone. That she’s just handed one of the Ikarani the following pieces of information:

  • Redana Claudius is head over heels for Bella.
  • Redana Claudius still feels complicated about that fact; it’s till unsettled, it’s in flux.
  • Redana Claudius believes that Bella has feelings for you, Beautiful, and is jealous of this fact; she’s mostly convinced herself she is not.
  • Bella saved you from going Rampant, and Redana was likely involved in this process, unclear on which side.

“So stop being an ass and stand down,” Redana commands. “I don’t want to have to hurt you,” Redana lies. “As I said: just help me find Bella, like I was trying to do, and you can go back to sleep.”

If Beautiful pulls the trigger, Dany will charge through the SP shot like a bull. Easily redirected, easily dunked on. She’s got power and speed and is a coiled spring right now, but she’s an open book of resentment and barely-managed envy and brass knuckles. About as comparatively dangerous as a small but vicious dog, not liable to kill but very willing to pummel.

[1]: right in the fucking Ajna, the flower of command, because Beautiful does not fuck around.

[2]: Of Artemis Indefatigable.
Birsi! Silsila!

The good news is that there aren’t any guards on the Crack tonight; just a heavy bit of netting draped over the hole. Might have caused Birsi trouble, but not the mighty Silsila Om. But what’s likely to cause her trouble is the fact that your quarry’s here waiting for you. Alone.

Her fair hair shines in the faint light of the back alley as she dangles her legs over the lip of the Crack, though it’s too dark to really get the effect of the feathers woven into her braids. She’s wearing an elaborate silver-spangled mask over her face, and a long, thin sword rests at her hip.

“Hello, girls,” she purrs, lifting a bottle and gesturing broadly with it. “Looking for a good time? You won’t find better in the 78 Heavens…”


From up here, on a rooftop (one no longer used for much, given the risk of peering eyes from the upper levels of the 78 Heavens), you can see the shape of the trap. Tall Rat’s ready to block any retreat, lurking in the shadows behind the two from the palace. Giggly Rat’s hiding in a doorway, ready to toss out some interesting alchemical concoctions, and—

It looks like somebody left a net right here. Someone like Bowlyn, say. And if a painter were to toss the net off the roof, it might land on someone, tangle them up, get them in quite a bit of trouble.

Do you, Soot? Who do you aim it for? Or do you just hide and watch this play out?


There’s an entry fee. Of course there’s an entry fee. Why wouldn’t there be an entry fee?

From here, on Cart Street, you can see that the gilt entrance to the 78 Heavens (a huge structure, not the size of the Adamant but easily twice as large as the lord’s castle back home, looming up into the sky on the backs of horse-pillars) is manned by well-dressed gatekeepers, who receive entrance fees from guests, whether they come alone or in small groups. And you didn’t particularly bring money tonight, did you?

“Hey.” “Jasmine” makes a slight squeak and jumps; a scrawny girl with thatchy dark hair and an acne-scarred forehead has approached the two of you. “First time visiting the 78? Yeah, yeah, you’ve got that look about you. Listen, if you want, I can show you a way in that even Mother Bes doesn’t know about.”

“Are you sure?” Grace— er, “Jasmine” sounds hopeful. “We wouldn’t want to impose, would we, Iris? It’s just that we forgot our purses back at home, and…”

“No problem at all!” Under her veil, she might be smiling. “I just couldn’t let two lovely ladies like you go without offering my services. Call me Gími.” (That’s an interesting slur to the first vowel to your foreign ears. mi.) She offers her hand (sweaty) to “Jasmine,” who graciously accepts…
Maid Confined in Yearning!

Being bad at something you love is very frustrating. You were once definitionally good at swordplay. You must have been. You were War. That red hussy thinks she’s all that, but she can’t hold a candle up to you. So you were, of course, the best at swordplay, and spear drills, and shooting firewands, and thus had no need to stoop so low as to actually perform. You knew you were skilled, and they were arts of war, and therefore you claimed them and loved them. That’s how owning concepts works. You occupy them, exploit them, and leverage them.

So it is embarrassing that you are this bad at actually fighting. It’s not your fault! It really isn’t! If you were as strong as you’re supposed to be, you could destroy entire armies of the Rakshasa, wither them beneath iron and fire, see their strategies unravel and turn to dust, and claim their territories as your own, anchor them, claim them for the world you helped make! But she made you clumsy and flushed and turned this body to cross-purposes! It’s her fault, that smug, superior, scheming spirit that didn’t even have the good grace to not fall to a common garden goblin when she bested you!

You are not pathetic! You are not below the likes of this parasite! You are Maid Confined in Yearning, and you will prevail, no matter how you are sweating, and panting, and bouncing, and even if this body is a liability, your will is adamant!

You fling yourself at the parasite before it can insult you further by ordering your conqueror about; you go tumbling, and you yank, pull, tear, using your fumbling fingers and your blunt teeth and your kicking legs to explain to the Rakshasa that you are not going to lose again!

Then she grabs your wrists and pins you to the deck.

The look in her eyes is wild and dangerous and it’s your body’s fault, this weak and mortal thing, that makes your face heat up and your heart race in panic and a pathetic, helpless squeak escape your blubbering lips and your hips are rocking from side to side, your toes not finding any purchase on the rain-slick deck, and she’s going to eat you and you can’t make her let go of you and nobody’s coming to help you, why is she so cruel as to ignore you like this when she put you in here, why won’t she come over and tear the vicious hungry thing off of you and stroke your hair until you stop shaking it’s not fair it’s not fair it’s not fair!

“S-someone, save meeeeeeeee! Pleaaaaaaaaaase!!” And right there, right then, you mean it. You want someone to come and save you, because you’re a useless little thing and you want to be held, you don’t want to die, you just want to be safe—

A white sword lifts the Rakshasa’s chin, and she does her best to look small and pitiable, even though her fingers are digging into your soft skin. The person holding it is one of the children of the upstart dragons, but right now, you don’t care, do you? You’re sobbing in relief, stupid little buttoned top heaving as you take snot-choked breaths, your body swamped by gratitude.

“What have you done to my soldiers?” The Red Wolf’s voice is caustic, searing. She’s barely holding back her fangs, and a silly little thing like you can’t remember if that’s literal or not.

“I didn’t do anything,” the Rakshasa simpers. The Red Wolf opens her eyes again and the air chars. You whimper and shut your eyes but she can see through you, all of you, and what does she see? Frills and lace and needy rubbing? Blushing cheeks and mincing steps and you will never go home? “I didn’t,” the Rakshasa growls, defiant. “Whatever is on them is her work.”

The Red Wolf half-turns to look at your conqueror, and the Rakshasa lets go of you, is snaking upwards, fangs open and nails sharp—

And the mean dragon opens an umbrella sharply in her face, and the Rakshasa stumbles back, trips over you, hits the railing with a scream and tumbles over, and the force of it sends you bashing against the railings and you hear them creak and you just keep screaming, and you don’t know whether or not you’d survive because you’re not thinking about it, you just don’t want to fall, please don’t just let you fall, do something, the railing’s creaking harder with every pitch and thump of the ship, and nobody cares enough to save you.


You snap your umbrella shut. The demon maid, one arm dangling through the railing, one heel wedged beneath it, is screaming her head off. The Red Wolf gives you a nod of gratitude, shifting her grip on her sword.

“Jaws,” she says. She means for you to help her flank the blue-robed thing that’s dangling Giriel over the side of the barge, threatening her with a firewand to the forehead. No time for saving sobbing, useless demons. (She must be feeling more terror right now than in her entire existence.)

And then—

On the other side of the deck, three Flower Knights burst through a door. Kalaya Na, Petony the Tiger Knight, and…


The Tiger Knight is saying something, but Uusha is staring at the Red Wolf, and, uncharacteristically, the Red Wolf is staring right back, not moving forward, not leaving her flank open. Her eyes flick once to Giriel, and then back to Uusha; her hand is, for a moment, unsteady on her sword.

“…save her,” Cathak Agata asks you. Begs you. And then she turns to face Uusha, both hands on her sword’s hilt, and the anger roiling off her is causing the rain to hiss and steam away all around.


“We need to go,” Petony half-snarls at Uusha. “Victorious Vixen of Violets has already given us all the distraction we can afford!”

What a distraction. The barge is careening deeper and deeper into the tangled forests of the Flower Kingdoms, and even beginning to tilt upwards; it’s cutting a path back northwards. Away from Chrysanth, back towards N’yari country. It’s unclear how Petony thinks that she can get all of you off safely, or how she thinks that priestess managed to do this at all.

The air’s cut apart by shrill, desperate, helpless screaming from a maid, frantically kicking and scrabbling over by a railing, unable to get to her feet for some reason. Piripiri is on the other side, too, and—

Cathak Agata, standing opposite Uusha, holding her sword like it’s a dragon’s thunderbolt.

“She’s not going to let us leave,” Uusha says, the words slamming into place with the weight of lead. Her armor creaks as she shifts her weight. “But there’s three of us. Two of them. And she’s scared.

“We need to leave, you glory-seeking bitch!”

Everything I have done, I have done for us! Now if you value your oaths to our land, our people, and our gods, fall in line!

Petony looks like she’s either going to piss herself or take a furious swing at Uusha, and it’s hard to blame her. Those last three words were delivered like a furious mother losing the last of her patience— but there was something of a monster’s roar in them, too. If Uusha’s still in pain from being shot, she doesn’t show it as she draws herself up to her full height and lets the cloth wrapping fall from her spear.

Her gauntlets close around its shaft.

And with a guttural roar, Uusha suddenly charges across the deck at Cathak Agata.

Lotus of Tranquil Waters!

You have a lot of pent-up makeouts inside of you and they come exploding out like a geyser. Look, Han! Are you watching? This is what you can do!

You guide her hands up to cup and squeeze and a happy shiver runs through you. Your mouth is wet and scented like flowers, and you give its gift to Emli, who has visited you, who still smells like Han. And since Han probably thinks you’re terrible anyway, a selfish heartbreaker who takes kisses and doesn’t care about her feelings, well…

Maybe it’s okay to intermingle the kisses she gave Emli, the kisses you wish she wanted to give you, and the way you’re smacking your hungry, inexperienced mouth all over hers. She holds you, she has you, she’s appreciating you, she’s touching your body and she wants to, and a terrible awful part of you really does hope that Han might be watching. Maybe…

No. She’ll just know that she was right about you. Spoiled princess. Liar, pervert and worse. Should have tossed you to the N’yari. Shouldn’t have bothered to save you as a strong, beautiful, incredible dragon. Shouldn’t be saving you, even now.

But it feels too good, and you’re too weak, and if Han won’t hold you, at least Emli will, right here, right now. And maybe you can dream about Han tugging both of you by leashes, pulling you into bed, and the three of you sharing kisses until you can’t figure out where one of you ends and another begins, but later. In between thinking about Han kissing you like she kissed Emli, pressing you up against that wall, but being so gentle, exploring, being such a sweetheart with all of her strength, and—

“Good girl,” Emli gasps, and your thinkies capsize.

You’re glowing when she finally leads you back to the bed, helps you readjust your veil, folds your hands neatly in your lap, and leaves you to burn inside. You can’t look Han in the eyes. You want to turn and stare and see what she thinks. You aren’t brave enough.

“So, Han… are you ready to tie me up?”

Oh wow you’re braver than you thought actually hi Han yes would you like to tie up the girl who you both just kissed? Do you need help maybe? Does she remind you of anybody?

You are hopelessly gay. There is no cure.
The brass knuckles are out. Dany’s body was the one that made that call, slipping them over her hands and curling into fists, forming a boxing stance. Strong footing, hands up, ready to block or snap out, catch any opening. This isn’t an exhausted, bloodied girl flailing on a rooftop; this is Redana Claudius, strong contender for the Gold.

“Stand down,” she says. Her pulse pounds through her fists. “You are a prisoner of the Princess Redana Claudius of Tellus.” Her body is a spring. It would feel so good to let the tension loose. To catch that perfect nose square on. “Your Master is dead… or worse… and I did it. I and Bella, of your Orders.” Which one was Bella? They’re all an inchoate mass of deadly tricks in her head.

The situation is… bad. Not because she doesn’t think she can go toe-to-toe with this huntress (she can, at least long enough for the battle to be noticed, probably) but because she’s… distracted. The way that the assassin moves. The flexibility, the inhuman grace, the precision. It’s not the same as what Dany can do, all raw power and stamina, but game recognizes game, training recognizes training. The blonde locks spilling down her back, the insouciant little smirk as she drinks Dany in, the long legs, the delicate power… no wonder Bella had it bad for her. Don’t think about being chased, Dany. Square up, hold your ground, show her your mettle.

“…and I only opened up your box because I needed to know if she was inside,” Redana lies, trying to shore up the moral high ground. “Help me find her, and I’ll let you keep sleeping before you run rampant.” There? See? Nobody needs to get punched in the face, and if somebody does, then they clearly deserved it for rejecting such a sensible offer, so there.
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