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Midara: Paradox

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by TanaNari, Dec 29, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 11- Fiction's least sexy goblins.
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Sore from the long climb and fight with the wyrm, they stumbled out of the cave's opening into an expanse of thick forests. Arakash emerged first, then stopped and sniffed the air.

    Ada was right behind him. "Ugg, what is that smell?" She stepped back, bumping into Shiara.

    Shiara would have enjoyed that more, if she wasn't distracted by the stench in the air, some incomprehensibly awful blend of rotting flesh and unidentifiable acrid substance that made the air itself feel greasy. "It's worse than that time I set the sewer on fire." She looked at Ada, who was now looking right at her. "It was an accident!"

    Arakash took some amusement in knowing Ada's ability to steal his protection didn't include the Noctrel's lack of concern over scents. "I take it neither of you have experience with goblins." No surprise; the default reaction to a goblin nest was to burn them to the last. "By the smell of things, there must be hundreds of them in the forest. They're so toxic that the air here is probably poisonous. Shiara, you should transform regularly to protect yourself."

    He stopped for a second to wonder why he said that, then realized the binding was forcing him to help her, because she was helping the princess. He swore to himself that when he broke free, he'd kill them all.

    "Thank you," Ada said without recognizing the motive.

    Further conversation was ended when shrieking came from a tree, soon to be echoed in nearby trees.

    "They found us!" Though reluctant, Arakash stepped forward and took on his demonic form and batted away a viscous glob of brown goo with his wing. Most of the slime remained glued to him. "There's little they can do to hurt me, but you should avoid getting hit. Even though you're immune to the poison, the acid will destroy your equipment and supplies."

    "They throw acid mud?" Ada asked.

    Arakash slapped away another incoming glob. "It's not mud." If there was one consolation for him, it was the dawning realization from the girls. It wasn't much of a consolation.

    "Then what..." Shiara realized, or at least was willing to say it, first. "That's disgusting!"

    Ada fired back, using her newly granted earth-launching spell, which seemed to have longer range than her ice crystal. There were agitated screeches as branches were ripped out of the tree by the force of the spell. One goblin struck the ground, letting them get a good look at its loose, muck-encrusted gray scales, tiny yellow eyes, and broad mouth full of jagged teeth before it rolled to its feet and scurried to another tree.

    "How do we fight them?"

    Arakash considered it for a moment. As fun as watching the girls' revulsion was, it wasn't worth literally being pelted with shit. "Without their toxins, they're not that strong, but they're fast, climb like a monkey, and use swarm tactics. That screeching is how they communicate."

    Shiara smiled. "How do they feel about fire?" When their tree burst into flames and goblins jumped away, screaming and trailing fire behind them, she got her answer.

    Soon, the trees they fled to caught fire as well. Oh, right. Shiara's smile faded when she realized they were surrounded on all sides by kindling coated in what appeared to be very flammable goblin slime. "I may have made a mistake."

    "No time! Run!" Arakash grabbed Ada's arm and tugged her into action, before beginning his own retreat right ahead of her; to his logic, the goblins ahead were more of a threat than the ones on fire behind them. If not, then Shiara was better equipped to deal with things that were on fire than he was.

    "What about the cave?!" Shiara shouted as she ran to catch up to the others.

    "You don't want to fight goblins in a cave!" Arakash shouted. "Out here, we stand a chance!" A chance that was dwindling by the second. His superhuman hearing was picking up on the sounds of the forest, as new packs of goblins started screeching, communicating with one another in a staccato of cries far more nuanced than a human could make or comprehend. This forest was crawling with life, and the dominant species was coming for them.

    Behind them, an upsurge of mana was answered by a downpour of water, extinguishing the forest fire before it grew out of control.

    "They have mages!" No longer as afraid of the consequences, Shiara began blasting every treetop they passed, if only to slow the pursuit. "How do they have mages? And what is with all the shrieking?"

    "Of course they have mages!" Arakash shouted back, over the approaching cacophony of goblin-communications. "And language! They're not animals!"

    The trio ran as best they could, but they were flanked on all sides and Arakash was beginning to see the trap they'd stumbled into. He stopped running and took to the air.

    "What are you doing?" Ada shouted at the demon.

    "They're running us to exhaustion!" Arakash yelled down. "We have to take the fight to them while we still can!" The creatures were sapient, however alien their minds might be, and so those minds were vulnerable to manipulation. He couldn't use lust magic on them, but they experienced hunger, and pain, and hate... but beneath all of those was the emotion that oozed through the deepest part of all living creatures' motives: Fear.

    He reached out, twisted the emotions of those who were burned, those who knew that in this battle they, too, would burn. Death would come to them from the black beast in the sky, or the fire mage on the ground.

    Several hesitated, their grating, hideous song interrupted by unnatural panic. Goblins weren't like humans, they didn't spend their lives suppressing and pretending away their feelings. The goblin way of thinking, of living, was one that embraced their desires. It made them resistant to most forms of mind control, but it left them with little discipline.

    They hesitated, cowed by the sense of their impending doom, screeched their fears of events unseen ripped up from their subconscious mind and memories. The other goblins reacted, looked around, sought the source of the terror that they could not sense.

    Songs of real pain and terror joined the victims of illusion, as the confusion slowed them enough that they were caught by Shiara's magic. Flames doused by mages not long after the fact, but ending the fire did not cure the wounds. It also gave him a target.

    He plummeted down at the spellcaster, and found himself swarmed by the goblins as he did so. More concerned with protecting the mage than their own lives, they clawed and gouged and bit wherever they could reach. Arakash slammed into the ground, an act which cost three goblins their lives.

    Others climbed onto the pile. Arakash gripped one, and began sapping its strength. It didn't take long before it died and he grabbed another, slowly restoring his strength at their expense. They were far too weak to kill him; no doubt they expected their toxins to do the job where their frail bodies could not. Being intelligent was not the same as knowing that no amount of poison could kill a Noctrel, or that a tactic that no doubt worked countless times was a liability against one foe.

    Nearby, the two girls weren't doing as well.

    A wall of fire guaranteed the goblins could not rush them from from behind, but it was a fire creeping ever closer to the pair as they faced the wall of goblins ahead. Shiara could set those tree alight, but doing so would guarantee Ada's death.

    Ada realized it first. "Run. You can save yourself."

    Shiara almost laughed. "Never." With Arakash gone, it was now her time to save her princess. "I told you I'd keep you safe." She again dipped into that well of anger, the inhuman power within her that was growing easier to access with every transformation. Her body caught fire, became fire, and it felt incredible.

    With a wave of her hand, another stream of flame consumed one of the nearer trees, and several goblins hit the forest floor dead. No longer bound by gravity, she took to the sky. "Flee, or I won't stop until this entire forest burns! The only things that will remain are me and your ashes!"

    It wasn't a bad threat; perhaps it would have worked if even one goblin could speak her language. But their religion taught them that there could be no peace, no communication, with the mammals. To them, she was a thing that needed to be stopped even at the cost of their lives, rather than one which could be negotiated with. Twin streams of water struck out from the remaining trees, dousing the elemental.

    "Ah!" Shiara fell back, weakened by the attack. "How..." Her flames flickered, and it was more luck than anything that saw her touch the ground before she reverted to human form. As her vision blurred, she saw the monsters rush forward.

    Several six-limbed lizards the size of large dogs charged with more speed than a reptile had any right to move. Ada caught one with a burst from her ice crystal; when it kept moving in spite of the attack, its front leg shattered from the cold, causing it to fall and thrash about in pain.

    Two kept charging Ada, while the other three went for Shiara.

    Weakened though she was, she had enough power to force herself into her elemental state right before the creatures bit into her, which left them reeling with burnt tongues and eyes. It was all the power she had left, and when she heard Ada scream, she didn't have the strength to apologize before she fell to the ground.

    The monsters biting Ada met with a different sort of surprise thanks to her effective invulnerability. While Arakash felt the pain as teeth ripped through the tendons in the wrists, and his back and shoulders cracking as the beasts shook their heads and twisted like miniature crocodiles, Ada experienced nothing but her inability to move her limbs. These monsters, bred to kill and trained to do so in a way that would incapacitate mages, kept doing their best.

    Sooner or later, their prey would die, and they would be rewarded by their masters. Such was the life they knew, the only life their kind had known for generations.

    "Help!" Ada screamed. She panicked; for the first time, she was alone. She'd believed herself alone, time and time again, but she'd never truly been alone. She had her servants, then her entourage, Shiara. Even during the worst parts of Arakash's rebelliousness, she still could rely on him as a protector. But not here, not now; all her allies were beaten, and while she knew she'd be dead if Arakash wasn't still alive, it was now a matter of time.

    In panic and desperation, she lashed out with her magic. Past and future... her magic always warped space, warped time... driven by instinct alone, it slid through the monsters and altered the flow of time.

    For one brief moment, in a line thinner than a single ray of light, time was slowed to a stop along one plain and doubled along the other. Divided by past and future along a line where the present could not exist, gore gushed from the monsters in the brief moment before their hearts realized they could no longer beat, then two bodies fell in four directions.

    The goblins screeched another set of orders, and six more monsters were released to charge the depleted mages.

    Shiara watched, helpless, as she tried to at least force her skin to catch fire. Ada wasn't much better; one more use of that attack spell she unleashed was all she had left in her.

    Then the fireworks exploded overhead, unleashing a sound that had both girls gripping their heads in agony as they thought their ears were going to burst.

    For the goblins, possessing hearing more than ten times sharper than a human's, it was a killing strike. The closest fell, their ears and eyes bleeding. Those further away fell from their trees and began the laborious effort of scrambling from the noise as best they could through vertigo and blindness.

    The lizards, having little sense of hearing to begin with, kept advancing until they were struck down by a series of arrows from some hidden spot in the trees.

    Moments after the goblins fled, a figure wrapped entirely in leather, complete with a hood and facemask, approached the pair. In a language neither of them knew, she muttered. "Humans? Ugh, what a waste of Screaming Lilies."

    =====

    A/N- And now you know why the pirate captain was so willing to tell them about the pass. He thought he was sending them to their deaths.

    Ah, goblins. 60% monkey, 40% Komodo Dragon Lizard, 100% unpleasant to all 5 human senses. And if someone wants to complain about them having water magic, a perfect counter to Shiara... ask yourself what the most useful magic to (highly flammable) arboreal tribal creatures would be. If you answered "the spell to summon free food", you'd be correct... but those don't exist in Midara. Or at least are exceedingly rare and difficult.

    As to the waves of monsters instead of all at once? It's a tactic for wearing down spellcasters while avoiding losing the entire pack in a single AoE spell (it worked). And, since spellcasters are literally the only thing anyone considers dangerous in the setting.

    Funny coincidence: in the very last chapter, a reader commented that most RPGs start the players off fighting goblins and slimes, not dragons. I want you to picture what would happen to first level characters dealing with Midara's goblins. On the plus side, unlike in some settings, goblins in Midara don't rape humans... they just eat them. Not much better, all considered.
     
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 12- Gentle giant, angry shortstack
    TanaNari

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    Shiara gasped, coughed, and woke up in frigid water. She scrambled to her feet, then realized her clothes were missing and dropped back into the water. She spotted the wet-furred creature crouched on the shore. It was short, perhaps reaching her navel, and bore a resemblance to an oversized meerkat, complete with snout and rounded ears, but possessing a fox-like tail. "Who are you? Where's Ada?! And my clothes!"

    "Relax, Second, I ain't gonna hurt ya. Woulda been less trouble to let you die." The creature's voice seemed feminine, and as she stood it seemed clear she was female in spite of her fur hiding any obvious genitals. "And the modesty means nothing. I'd say you got nothin' I ain't got, but I ain't got useless globs of fat hanging off of me."

    "Excuse me?" Shiara dipped just a little lower into the water.

    "No." Water cascaded around her feet as she stroked her fur. "I rescue you, get my coat soaked cleaning you and your idiot Isylan, still don't know how she's not dead. Not that I expect gratitude from a Second, but do you know how many diseases goblins and lisks carry?"

    Shiara's heart jumped. "Ada? She's alive?" Her next question was going to be what an Isylan was, but she spotted the hulking brute step out from the trees.

    While on a superficial level it resembled the short girl, this one was huge; almost twice as tall as her, perhaps even taller than Arakash's demonic form. His head leaned forward, bearing resemblance to nothing so much as a great, fanged stag, complete with antlers and long white fur. In spite of its height, its arms were long enough that it could run on all fours just by leaning over a small amount. Its body was adorned with scars, many of which looked intentional, and some glowed with magic-infused green light. With every silent step, muscles slid beneath its hide with the same fluidic grace of a great cat.

    "How's the last of the dead weight?" The smaller of the pair seemed unconcerned with her ally seeing her naked. She glanced over at Shiara, who had dipped down into the water until it reached her mouth. "Oh, get over yourself, Second. He ain't any more interested in you than I am."

    "He is a capable warrior, found buried beneath a mountain of corpses. He has earned respect." The beast spoke with a gentle patience that seemed wrong for such a terrifying, feral, creature. "Wynd has seen to his care, yet there was little care needed, as his body mended itself. How fair your charges?"

    "They'll live." The short one considered Wynd's news. "Guess not all Seconds are useless."

    "He is no Second, Yykekaitel." In spite of the complexity of the name, Wynd showed no difficulty pronouncing it. "Wynd must consult The Memories to know of him." He then took the time to regard Shiara, still hiding wide-eyed in the water. "Wynd wants you to know Wynd intends only peace. Wynd does resent your fear, for Wynd knows it is not intended as an insult. We shall leave you to dress yourself, as is your custom, then you may join your pack, in this direction."

    The giant turned away, and with the same graceful silence, walked back into the trees.

    Yykekaitel hurried behind, before turning to look at Shiara one last time. "Hmph, you'd better thank me for the soap, too." With those words she chased after her companion.

    Shiara climbed from the water and grabbed her clothes dangling from a tree. She inspected the outfit and decided its enchantments were still active, having cleaned and mended the fabric themselves, which it would have done with or without Eek-whatever's soap. She took the time to make certain her sarite was still in position, then dressed and headed right behind them.

    The camp she stepped into was much more... civilized... than she expected. She noted four metallic poles poles supporting a single large tarpaulin that seemed camouflaged to hide the camp from above, as well as protect from rain and sun. Each post held a warding crystal. Near the center of camp sat a sheet of metal, sizzling with fresh strips of meat.

    Arakash watched from the corner of the camp furthest from the others, but close to Ada. She was busy moving the food on the grill until Shiara arrived. "Shiara! Are you well?"

    Shiara's heart jumped at the attention and concern. "I am unharmed, just a little tired, and distracted. I hadn't expected the camp to be so sophisticated."

    "Oh, you think Silmid and Ferin can't use basic hot-plates?" Yykekaitel stepped up to her, still half her height. "That we're so stupid that the mystery of fire and metal would elude us?"

    "What? No! I didn't say anything at all like that!"

    "Yykekaitel, Wynd would prefer that you not antagonize our guests." The massive creature spoke from his vantage outside the camp. "It appears a simple misunderstanding, which could easily be explained if opportunity is given."

    Shiara suppressed a shiver of; every instinct in her body screamed in terror at the monster's mere presence, no matter how gentle his words. The creepiest part was the silence. Something that large should make noise, but Wynd made no sound he did not intend heard. "My apologies." Damn right she was going to apologize. "Most of this appears to be Siral technology; I've only ever seen this sort of molded metal made in their forges. And the artificial fabric, too. I've never seen them used like this, however."

    "That is correct. Wynd is on a pilgrimage, to seek knowledge of the world. The Memories are ancient, and must be granted new knowledge, lest the Ferin will falter and die in the face of a world changing without them. These new works of Sira are but a few of Wynd's collection. Wynd would ask the name of such a well-educated scholar as yourself." Wynd followed his words by tilting his head down and doing the partial kneel that was a traditional sign of respect in Sira. "And perhaps that you share some of your own wisdom."

    In what was perhaps the most surreal moment of her life, she responded in kind. "I am Shiara, of no consequence." She took a half step back, then did the partial kneel to mirror Wynd's own. It had been years since the last time she played this role, but it had been ingrained into her over the years. "I was raised in Sira, but I'm afraid I have little to offer one as well-learned as you."

    Wynd's left ear twitched, but otherwise he showed no sign of catching the girl's lies. It wasn't his business if she wanted to speak so poorly of her family; the power to reject the past was both a weakness and strength of the First and Second. "Then you are well traveled for one so young. When you grow, you will learn that all sources offer wisdom."

    Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Ada watched with amazement as Shiara, the energetic commoner, became a lady of the court before her very eyes. She took some consolation that it was also a role she knew well. She stood, and hoped that her stance and tone better emulated Siral nobility than Tyran. "My apologies for interrupting, but I would seek some of your wisdom. I was led to believe that goblins did not respond to warding sarite, how is it that your camp remains safe?"

    Arakash, watching in the background, wanted to slap both girls for giving away so many secrets to one so alert, but instead he kept his focus on the Ferin scholar before him. Of all beings they had to fear in the world, Ferin were among the most dangerous. Still, now that they were, there was some opportunity. He simply needed to discern how to use the circumstances to his advantage.

    Wynd nodded his head. "There is never a poor opportunity to discuss knowledge, but Wynd would not wish to claim it was Wynd's own skills. Yykekaitel is the expert on goblins, if she would prefer speak for herself?" He made a slow gesture, hoping he didn't upset his guests overmuch. Or that the suggestion didn't upset his partner.

    "Eh, ain't like there's much secret to it," Yykekaitel muttered. "Goblins see by hearing. I think they even think by hearing, sometimes they act more like bees than free beings. Close as we are to the waterfall, they're blind." She waved her hand toward the mountain. "And 'fore you ask, their eyes are terrible, like a Second trying to fight by scent."

    Ada tilted her head, trying to listen to the water. "I don't hear a waterfall."

    "No surprise," Yykekaitel lips turned in what might be a smirk, or a snarl, on her elongated snout. "Seconds ain't well known for their hearing, either. You're like the goblins that way. Without a true nature, you're limited in your abilities. Firsts and Thirds possess great senses in all ways."

    Shiara was getting rather sick of the insults. To the point where she was pretty sure 'Second' was a pejorative in their tongue. "What is with all this Second nonsense?"

    Yykekaitel went to answer, but Wynd spoke first. It may have been rude of him, but he knew his young friend's anger issues and that things would only get worse if she kept going. "At the end of the fourth age, the Great Reptiles were meant to be destroyed, and replaced by the mammals of the Fifth Age. Yykekaitel's people, the First-Born of the mammals, were declared heirs to the world. Yet, the Reptiles fought against the world's decree, and calling them usurpers, they sought to slay the First. So, the Second-Born, your people, were born to be the warriors the Silmid were never meant to be."

    "You were great warriors, all right," Yykekaitel added. "So great that it took you a cycle to go to war and enslave those you were meant to protect. Not happy with that, you went to war against the earth, the plants, the animals, the gods, and even yourselves. The one thing you didn't do was finish the war with the reptiles before you fell to your own failed design. So the Third were made to fix your mess. Only you went to war with them, too. Now the world's wounded and it's all your fault."

    Shiara stepped forward, her eyes glowing. "Hey! Even if we pretend your fairy-tale is true, that happened, like, a thousand lifetimes before any of us were born!"

    "Doesn't matter, you haven't changed." Yykekaitel showed no signs of being intimidated by the flames. "As it is the eagle's nature to soar through the sky seeking prey, it's in yours to go to war. Your purpose for existing is conquest and destruction."

    "Yykekaitel, there is no cause to antagonize our guests." Wynd moved forward, ignoring that the Seconds stepped back in fear of his motions. "None are perfect, not even the gods. For if they were True, the Reptiles never would have broken from their destined roles. The gods failed the world, and the Seconds live with the consequences as we all do."

    Yykekaitel glared at Wynd for a moment, before backing down. "Fine."

    Now, things were falling into place for Arakash. "You want something from us, don't you?"

    For a moment, the Silmid's ears drooped, then she smiled and walked toward him. "Well, you do rather owe us for saving you, but in truth I'm more interested in you than the Seconds."

    Arakash almost laughed. "And what makes you so certain I'm not a Second?"

    "Aside your obvious strength? I can smell it." Yykekaitel touched Arakash's abdomen. "Or, rather, I can't smell it. You don't stink like they do, of salt and dying skin. It's... more like fresh earth, once you get past the remains of all the goblins you slaughtered. Surely, our company would be more pleasant than that of a couple Second girls?"

    "My apologies, Eekaktel."

    Aside from a twitch of her eye, she kept her smile. "Please, call me Tel."

    "As you wish, Lady Tel," Arakash smiled back. This childish attempt at seduction wouldn't have worked even if he was interested, because he could see through it for the manipulation it was. "But I'm afraid you'll have to persuade my Mistress, for I have been mystically bound to serve."

    Tel's expression went from a weak attempt at seductive, to confusion, to unadulterated hate as her head snapped to look at the Seconds. She despised them all the more now that she had confirmation that they were no better than those in the stories. "He's a slave!?" She screeched the words.

    "No! It's not like that!" Ada reacted on reflex, unsure of how to defend herself. "It's complicated."

    "Then explain it!"

    "Please, do not get confrontational on my behalf." While he didn't think it would be useful, he found the Silmid's reactions far too amusing to resist. "I am required to protect her as well. If you seek to harm her, I will be forced to defend her, even at the cost of my own life."

    Tel's hand, which had been reaching for the pouch hanging at her side, hesitated for a moment. Arakash's new revelations only made her more incensed, but also kept her from acting on her rage.

    Knowing she'd lost control of the situation, Princess Adageyudi used her nuclear option of a defense. "Arakash! Real form! Now!"

    "Wait! Don't-" His eyes widened in surprise as he sought to resist the command, but in moments his flesh went from a deep tan to purple and black, and four wings sprouted from his back. He hadn't expected her to force him to transform. He watched tell stumble back and fall on her rear. "Nice going, Princess. You just made things so much worse."

    "Ain't that the truth." Tel hopped to her feet. "Before, I was gonna try to bribe ya into helping, but now ya can all suck the dirtiest part of a goblin. You ain't got a choice, now."

    Shiara glanced at the duo. Both were watching Arakash. With an act of will, her hair and eyes erupted into flame. A little further would cause her to transform into what she was fast coming to think of as her 'war form'. "Yeah, well, I think I can take one of you if I had to, so who's gonna stop us from walking away?"

    Tel's laugh sounded like a chittering squirrel. "Oh, we won't stop you from leaving. But you're lost in a forest full of creatures whose religion demands they slaughter every thinking mammal, and we're the only ones who can lead you to safety."

    Shiara's fire flickered, then vanished. "Oh."

    =====

    A/N- Ah, religions are fun.

    Tel might be a little, tiny bit racist, maybe. Part of her character comes from my personal annoyance that most forms of fantasy racism, it's the humans that are the problem (but not the MCs, of course- they're good and therefor not racist). They're either the only ones at fault, or at best both sides are equally unreasonable. In this case... no, Tel's just really hateful, but she's also one of the heroes in this story. But, then, the heroes of this story include a demon, the princess who keeps a demon as a slave, and a girl who burned down a fair chunk of a city.

    Wynd, too, is a bit of a subversion. Why do all animalistic warrior archetypes have to act like savages- noble savages, perhaps, but still savages? Wynd is a gentleman and a scholar who can converse with as an equal with great scholars across the globe. And also a terrifying murder-beast. There's also cultural things going on behind "The Memories" and lack of personal pronouns you'll learn more about later.


    This also marks the first major deviation between the game script, and this novelization. See... Wynd didn't originally show until much later in the narrative... but a while back I was listening to a review of Final Fantasy 10 (which didn't exist when this game was written) that discussed how brilliant it was to introduce Auron and Riku so early, knowing how long it'd be until they were added to the party permanently. As such, some interactions that would have instead waited another 3-400,000 words are happening now. Including next chapters "side quest" now being mandatory.

    And in keeping with beliefs I later codified on my own that "any character that serves only one purpose in the narrative is a bad character", I expanded upon his abilities and ended up discarding two other characters to make way for Tel.

    See... Tel wasn't part of the story at all. In her place was a different, far less interesting (still pretty racist, in a 'humans deserve to be slaves' way), character that served as Wynd's partner and summoner (Tel's a summoner, more on that later). He had, like, three lines total. And, also, some of her abilities as an alchemist (again, later) originally belonged to yet another character who's been written out of the story (again, boring- also, the original cast was rather bloated). Said "other character" also had the "Null Aspect" and magitech abilities Wynd was given. Another as-yet not introduced character got the Archmage traits of said nonexistant character.


    Also... a thought occurs. If this story ever becomes a movie or TV series... Shiara winds up naked quite a bit... and is an attractive athletic redhead. So, y'know... more incentive to make the story popular.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Yykekaitel Character Sheet
    TanaNari

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    Yykekaitel (pr. Eek-ehk-ate-el)
    AKA: Tel

    Silmid are a predominately arboreal herb/insectivore species with significant sexual dimorphism. Males burrow and look something like an anthropomorphic badger. Females (like Tel) are tree dwellers with closer resemblance to squirrels or small primates, though with longer limbs in proportion to their bodies. Ref: Meerkats. Both are roughly half the height of a human, though males are far stockier.

    While they wear little by way of clothing, they do use armor. Because fur doesn't do well against pointy metal. Tel's armor design will be leather, with an arm-mounted variant of a shepherd's sling blended with something like a crossbow.

    Remains barefoot.

    Theme music: Something a bit frantic, chaotic, and wild... with a bit of electronica in the mix.

    Class: Alchemist/Summoner

    "What she lacks in size, she makes up for in high explosives."

    3'1'' (94cm), Dark brown eyes, grey speckled with flecks of white fur

    Hobbies: Resentment, alchemy

    STATS: (Note, stats increase with levels, so what will be listed is a grading scale of A-F suggesting what you can expect of this character compared to equivalent levels).

    Strength: D

    Agility: A

    Vitality: D

    Intelligence: A

    Perception: A

    Willpower: C

    Elements: Plant

    Combat Style: Highly agile ranged attacks using alchemical pellets. Expansive spread of elemental and status damage depending on what ammo she fires. While her individual attacks will be generally weaker than any other character, she has the capacity to exploit the elemental and status weaknesses of almost every creature in the game via alchemy.

    Secondary ability: Summoner. Summoning has lots of weaknesses, but in the right circumstances it gives her offensive and utility options.

    BASE ABILITIES: These are natural traits available to Tel.

    Climbing- so long as their hands and feet are bare, female silmid can easily scale trees, cliffs, and even buildings with their long, narrow claws (which can also serve as a weak melee weapon).

    Demi-Quadruped- So long as she's not carrying anything in her hands, she can increase her run speed by 75% by running on all fours.

    Sharp Nose- Silmid have a remarkable sense of smell. So long as the air isn't full of overpowering smells, Tel has a short radius ability to detect otherwise invisible foes if they carry a scent and no overpowering smells are in the area. This trait also gives her a static bonus to identifying and crafting alchemical goods.

    Sharp Ears- While not as capable as their male counterparts, Silmid females can detect nearby invisible threats so long as they're not silent and no overpowering noise is in the area.

    Detect Traps and Poison: Silmid senses give excellent odds of Tel spotting ambushes and areas of high concentrations of toxicity before anyone gets hurt.

    Fur- Silmid have a slight bonus to armor and cold resistance thanks to fur. They have a slight penalty to heat and fire resistance. This is calculated after all armor and defensive effects.

    Collect Reagents- As an alchemist, Tel has extensive knowledge of organisms and their uses. Collect more food and alchemy from creatures that provide such loot (useless against golems and the undead).

    Meldcast Effect: Spell Scalpel- Spells she's meldcast destroy significantly fewer of the target's supplies and reagents.

    WEAPON TYPE:

    Alchemical Pellet Launcher: Arm-launchers are a common weapon among Silmid women, using the natural swing of the arm as well as a spring loaded mechanism to launch projectiles. While most Silmid use modified javelins, Tel uses a modified variant to launch deadly chemical weapons.

    Claws- Tel has claws on her hands and feet. Tel isn't trained for melee combat, so she makes poor use of hers.

    ARMOR TYPE:

    Light leather or fiber/cloth armors. Tel relies mainly on mobility to keep her alive.

    MAGIC STYLES: While a weak mage, Tel has access to nature magic, and is also one of the rare few whose bloodline can use summoning with any efficacy.

    NATURE MAGIC- Tel has a limited number of nature oriented spells. However, she is a weak mage with precious few options.

    Cleanse Toxin or Disease- Tel can remove many poisons and infectious agents from people or supplies.

    Cleanse Region- A more advanced variant of the above that clears toxins out of a small area, often used to safely harvest reagents from otherwise despoiled corpses. Can also be used to disable traps and poison based obstacles.

    Augment Reagent- Increases the value of a reagent for the purpose of crafting alchemical goods.

    Gentle Healing- A low level regeneration spell.

    Venom Shield- A precautionary spell that makes the recipient temporarily immune to toxins.

    Concealing Winds- By causing wind to blow in a specific way, she can increase the range of her scent detection while hiding her own scent.

    Camouflage- While not invisibility, she can make herself very difficult to see.

    Sun's Caress- This spell makes plants grow faster. Including reagents.


    SUMMONING: Summoning allows one to potentially call upon numerous high-power magical creatures that can often drastically change the nature of the battle. They also come with significant drawbacks, making the strategic concerns of summoning significant.

    1- Summoning consumes large amounts of Mana from the caster, and continues to drain energy so long as the summon remains. If the caster runs out of mana, the summon vanishes.
    2- Injury to the summon will draw even more energy from the summoner, and hasten the dispelling of the magic.
    3- Summons are controlled by the caster in a direct, active manner. The summoner sees what the summon sees, feels what it feels, and controls it by thought. While a summon is active, the summoner's ability to control his or her own body is limited. The exact extent determined by the gap of power between summon and summoner. Strong summons, using multiple summons simultaneously, or a weak summoner can leave the summoner's body comatose while using the summon.
    4- Summons require a summoning stone to access. Summoning Stones are a particular and rare variant of Sarite, and follows the usual rules of such in addition to special rules for summoning.
    5- As a rare benefit, Summoners cannot be directly harmed by their own summon's abilities, such as AoE attacks. Indirect harm (like knocking over a tree) still deal damage as normal.

    =====

    A/N- And the party gets a summoner right after giving away an awesome summoning stone. :(

    Doesn't really matter... if Tel tried to use that stone, it would kill her. Pretty high level sarite, that one.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 13- You're a lizard, hairy.
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Pre-Note- Gonna try something of a writing experiment. Let me know how it goes. I'm growing rather disheartened with the lack of feedback, thus far.

    -----

    Several lizards the size of large dogs rutted the ground, in search of roots, tubers, and bugs. In spite of appearances, they were opportunistic omnivores with a diet more akin to a wild boar than with most other reptiles. Unlike boar, however, they were still predators with an array of tools including armored hide, powerful claws, paralytic venom, six legs, and complex pack hunting behavior.

    In short, they would be the apex predators of most ecosystems. However, the forests of Midara had far worse beasts than them to fear. As such, when three humans appeared, they didn't behave like stupid beasts which had no reason to fear. They scattered, fleeing into the forest and using the cover to conceal their approach. With camouflaged scales and six legs to distribute their weight, the forest was their ally.

    Two arrows, each the size of a javelin, pierced a pair of the beasts and left their corpses pinned to trees. Elsewhere, another pair fell through the leaves of the forest floor and discovered sharpened branches awaited them at the bottom of a pit. Of a pack of ten, four died without realizing that this day, they were the prey.

    "Lisks are dangerous beasts, but limited." Wynd drew on the ground using his claws. Some marks representing the monsters, others representing the team. "They circle their prey, in six groups of two. Then the alphas rush forward to intimidate the prey. Prey that flees will find itself caught in an ambush." He drew more lines, then the finalizing 'X' symbol to represent death. "We will set traps, to ambush the ambushers."

    "We'll bait them into position, then pick them off. Life is so much simpler now that we have bait." Tel grinned at the taller trio.

    "I want everyone to know that if I die, I blame Arakash for everything," Shiara muttered.

    The alphas rushed the trio, then stopped and held position. It was uncommon, but hardly unheard of, for prey to hold its ground rather than flee. Nor were they surprised when the prey led an attack against them; of the many beasts of the forest, no small number considered offense to be their beast defense. Their sons and daughters knew what to do.

    As the prey approached, their pack left their positions in the trees, prepared to kill them from behind.

    That is when everything went wrong. One of the prey burst into flames, then lit the path behind themselves ablaze, cutting off the pack's attack path. Now, they were surprised, and unprepared when one of the prey sprouted wings and jumped over them. The female straightened her neck and clenched her jaw muscles, causing a stream of toxins to strike the victim.

    The male turned toward the other two prey animals. Feeling only a moment of fear, he rushed the pair, trusting his mate of twelve seasons to handle the remaining, envenomed, prey. He intended to distract and delay until the rest of the pack arrived. He made it no more than two of his body lengths before his body fell, split in half.

    Ada stood, staring down her fingers at the bisected lisk for a moment, before running to Arakash, who was busy fending off the brutal strikes of the female lisk. Another burst of magic saw the female lisk's left flank all the way to shoulder removed from the rest of its body. While its death was far from instant, it collapsed, too maimed to move. Arakash ended its life by spearing it through the eye.

    "When hunting, they always run in pairs," Wynd continued explaining the art of hunting lisks. "The males are larger, with thicker hide, and will seek to shield the female in combat. Like most dragon-kin, they possess considerable magic resistance."

    "Yeah, and females spit their venom. It's a good team-up they've got," Tel added. "No threat to a Noctrel, long as you keep away from the claws and teeth. I've seen 'em crack open a deer skull like a walnut."

    Wynd nodded at his partner's point. "Like most animals, they fear fire. Shiara, you can use your power to drive them back if needed."

    "Yeah, but don't set them on fire!" Tel cut in. "We don't need them alive, but we do need them fresh!"

    "It must be Ada's magic which slays them." Wynd nodded at the young woman. "Isylan magic is difficult to defend against, and does not risk destroying the samples we require."

    "Isylan?" Ada asked. "What's an Isylan?"

    "You do not know?" Wynd eyed the girl, considering the possibilities. In retrospect, it wasn't too unusual that a Second not know her heritage. The lives of Firsts and Thirds were much simpler, in those regards. "Isylans are what the descendants of Kiara call themselves. To wield the power of Void as you do, one must possess Kiara's blood."

    "And if that ain't obvious enough, the purple-" Tel was silenced when Wynd put his hand on her shoulder. A hand almost as large as her entire body. She liked Wynd, but his predator nature spooked her at times.

    Ada stared down at her hands. Void. She'd felt it before, when the goblins' lisks were attacking her. A place outside of space, a moment outside of time. "No, I didn't know."

    "Wynd apologizes for evoking painful memories. Would you like to take a moment for introspection?"

    "No. No, it's not that." If anything, it was the opposite of painful. "Please, continue."

    Moments after the pack alphas fell, two more lisks rounded the wall of flames, but instead of attacking they kept running. They fled into the underbrush, leaving the three standing with their kills.

    A series of water-bursts put out Shiara's firewalls, to reveal a horse-like animal with a mane and tail of flowing water. Moments after the fires were out, it collapsed into water itself, and evaporated moments after. Wynd was behind the creature, cradling Tel in one arm, while the other held a bow of massive proportions; taller even than he was, and almost as thick as a man's arm.

    Tel's eyes fluttered open. "Ugh, that headache's not goin' away soon." She looked at the dead lisks. "You didn't get the other two?"

    "Hey!" Shiara shifted back to her human form in order to speak without sounding like a monster, herself. "You said nothing about outrunning wild animals."

    Wynd set Tel down, which prevented her from speaking before he did. "Wynd thanks you for your assistance."

    Tel muttered something unintelligible even to herself, then sighed. "At least we got the alphas. They're the most important part of the plan, anyway.

    Ada focused her mind, tapping into the impossible nowhen/where of the Void. With laughable ease, she called on the power she never, yet always, knew. With a single sweep of her hand, a branch dropped from a tree with a sharp thirty degree angle point.

    Shiara took a cautious step toward her princess. "So, how are you feeling? It's not every day you learn you've got divine blood, huh? I know, putting up a strong front is fine, but you can trust me."

    Ada smiled, almost laughed before realizing how serious Shiara seemed. "I've always known I had divine blood."

    Shiara blinked. "How?"

    "My father is Sorda en Tyr, after all." Ada stepped away from the pile of magic-sharpened branches laying near her feet. "I am only six generations removed from Tyr, while Kiara lived and died well over a thousand years ago. And Tyr could trace his ancestry to numerous gods and goddesses, including Sira and Enochra. It's the same for most nobles. As strong as your magic is, I bet you have some divine ancestry, too."

    Shiara yearned for the ability to go back in time and erase the last few minutes of conversation, or better yet, to discuss with her educators about how failing to teach her about other gods would be to her detriment. Instead, she forced herself to laugh. "Maybe. So you're not bothered at all?"

    Ada considered the questions. "A little, maybe. I grew up knowing that I had a different mother than my siblings, and that she died not long after my birth. It was never a secret, though also never discussed at any length. And while my step-mother never treated me like a trueborn daughter, I was never treated poorly. For now, I'm relieved more than anything."

    This was not the course Shiara expected from the conversation. "Relieved?"

    "Yes!" Ada laughed, and with a gesture dropped another limb with her magic. "I've spent my entire life thinking that I was a freak, that my blood was defective because of my lack of magic. Do you know what it's like to grow up thinking there's something wrong with you?"

    Shiara kept her stupid tongue trapped firmly behind her teeth where it couldn't cause more problems.

    Ada wiped away a tear she hadn't realized was there. She'd never cried from happiness before, which only made her cry more. "But it's not my fault! I was being taught the wrong magic!" She wrapped her arms around Shiara, still laughing and crying.

    Shiara put her arms around her emotional princess and swore that if this was how Ada responded to being happy, she'd do everything in her power to keep her that way.

    Covered in blood stains, Tel stood up from where she was sitting crouched behind the dead lisk, holding a fluid-filled leathery pouch that was almost as big as her head. Even through her face covering meant to allow her to breathe in spite of goblin stench, she gagged at the horrid musk coming off the bag. "Okay, Wynd! That's the last of 'em."

    Wynd nodded, then took the time to set his bow aside. "Wynd thanks all of you for your aid. And no matter what comes, Wynd will remember your kindness."

    Tel walked over to her friend. "Don't talk like it's over before it's begun. If you truly want to thank us, then do it when we've won."

    Wynd closed his eyes. "There is much wisdom in you, when you allow yourself to listen."

    "Okay, moment ruined you lumbering brute." Tel turned and walked off, toward Arakash, where she held out the bag. "Here, you carry it. You don't have a sense of smell to ruin."

    "That's not part of the deal," Arakash said. "But, I'm willing to make an exception in exchange for, say, first claim on the basilisk?"

    Tel stepped back, looking aghast at the demon. "First claim? We both know you'll take the shard." After the mutual silence grew uncomfortable, she relented and thrust the disgusting fluids toward Arakash. "Fine, but in exchange, the next two shards are mine to claim."

    "Done." Arakash snagged the bag from Tel, pleased at how negotiations were playing out. It would be quite the profitable distraction, assuming they survived to speak of the tale.

    "The final goal is here, to the south." Wynd pointed at the rough drawing in the dirt. "Where a pair of basilisks have made their nest. We cannot fight a basilisk in its own caves, where we would be paralyzed by the toxins within seconds, but with effort, we can draw them into the open."

    "That's where I come in, with the lisks." Tel stood tall, though she was not looking forward to what her role entailed. "See, a lisk is merely a basilisk whose bloodline lost its magic. We'll take their sarite to insulate us some against poison, and I'll take their..." she gagged for a moment. "Fluids and body parts from the males." Some days, it did not pay to be an alchemist.

    Recognizing Tel's reticence, Wynd finished the explanation. "When the substance is dumped nearby, it will draw out the pair. The male to fight a challenger, the female to mate with the victor. Then, we strike."

    Basilisks were much more intimidating than their lisk counterparts. The first glimpse they caught of them was the male's deep emerald scales emerging from the darkness. He stood taller at his shoulders than Shiara or Ada, though not quite to Arakash's height, and he was ten times that in length. This was no pack hunter; such a creature felt no need to share its prey with others.

    He was prepared for a battle against another male, for his territory and his mate. What he was not expecting was a furred creature to rush straight for him. He wasn't upset; rivals were lots of effort for little reward, while insane mammals were an easy meal. An assessment changed moments later when his head rocked back thanks to an uppercut to the jaw.

    His mate roared in her own confused rage when a series of loud explosive noises went off near her face. Moments later, a wall of fire came up, separating them from one another and their cave.

    Wynd took advantage of the chaos and confusion to hit the beast in its throat once again. He didn't bother with his claws, knowing full well that the basilisk's hide was tough enough to withstand his talons. This was to be a bruiser's battle for the time being.

    The basilisk snapped out with speed and power which would be envied by the crocodile it loosely resembled. In spite of its size, it was fast.

    Wynd was faster. In close range, he twisted around and brought his elbow right into the creature's eye socket. He rolled back, to avoid the beast's wild half-blind thrashing, and came up with his arm bleeding after being whipped by a razor-sharp tail. While his foe got his bearings, Wynd took the time to look at how the others were doing.

    He smiled; their plan was working well. With Arakash making himself the target of her venom, while the girls stayed back and pelted her with spell and alchemy, it seemed their use of the same basic tactic basilisks replied upon was working well.

    His foe, would be far less easily beaten. He jumped back to avoid another strike of the tail. Clever, he thought. It was feigning its confusion to buy time for a proper surprise strike. He dropped to all fours, grabbed a rock, and hurled it at the beast's much more vulnerable belly.

    That got his attention. The basilisk twisted to his feet, then charged Wynd again. But this time, both of them had a different plan than the first trade of blows. At the last moment, the basilisk twisted and went low, seeking to avoid the punishing strikes of his enemy and catch him vulnerable when moving.

    Wynd was wise to such tactics, and instead leapt upon the basilisk's back, his attention on that dangerous tail-whip. His hind claws dug into the scales, not to cause damage, but to provide purchase and leverage when get caught the tail near the base and bit into it. With talon and fang alike, he ripped into the flesh until he severed nerves and tendons as his foe roared out in rage and pain. If not for his collection of anti-poison sarite, the blood alone would have killed him.

    Wynd attempted to jump clear after, but was moments too slow. The massive creature rolled over and caught his leg beneath its great bulk. Now it was his turn to cry out as his leg bone twisted, popped, and snapped. Ignoring the pain, he pulled himself away from the twisting beast, but not to escape. Instead, he found himself in an excellent position to strike at soft underbelly.

    They both cried out when his talons sank into the soft, fleshy material near the groin. The basilisk pulled away, which only aided Wynd. In spite of a rib snapping, he kept his grip, and pulled a long mass of entrails from the basilisk's underside.

    A basilisk which, while fatally wounded, still had not given up on the battle. Dragging his innards behind him, he was still powerful enough to kill before his own life was lost.

    That was until Wynd howled, and changed from a predatory monster to a duck. In spite of still having a broken leg, and ribs, Wynd fought through the pain long enough to take to the air. He couldn't fly forever, not as wounded as he was, but it gave him speed and maneuverability now denied to the disemboweled basilisk. The chase lasted for several minutes, but in the end the basilisk succumbed to its wounds and blood loss.

    Once he felt safe, Wynd returned to his natural form, and limped to his foe. "You were a worthy foe, and Wynd will see to it that you remain in the Memories until Memory itself is forgotten." He knelt down, and with great effort given his broken rib, carved open a path to the insides of the basilisk. He withdrew the heart of the monster, then in one difficult bite. devoured the whole of the organ.

    Electricity danced between the pair, as Wynd's body began to metamorph while the Basilisk's began to melt into an unidentifiable goo. Soon, there was one whole basilisk standing where Wynd used to be. He howled again, in gratitude for the power bestowed upon him, and mourning for the death required to grant him such greatness.

    He pretended not to hear when Shiara gagged. "I think I'm gonna be sick."

    =====

    A/N- And the winner of the "holy hell that's f'ed up" award goes to Wynd. He's one of my favorite characters. It takes a special kind of crazy to punch a basilisk in the face.

    Also, one of these days someone needs to catch on to one of my puns. I can't make them much more obvious.
     
    linkjames24 likes this.
  5. Threadmarks: Wynd Character Sheet
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    WYND:

    Wynd is meant to be in many ways a subversion of of the 'big brute' archetype as well as the 'ugly-not-ugly monster'. Wynd's character design should be appropriately terrifying, the sort of visage intended for major villain, rather than a heroic one. The Wendigo myth should be a primary inspiration for the art, as it was for the character himself. Include numerous scars and tattoos worked around the scars. They should maintain a soft light at all times, but glow harder when in combat.

    Voice- should be deep, dangerous-sounding, but also gentle. Not sure how to make it work, exactly.

    Theme music: Menacing, slow music. Heavy on percussion... look into alternatives to the drum, however. Perhaps literally cracking stones together?

    Class: Cannibal Monk.

    "He who walks the balance between civilization and savagery."

    7'3'' (221m), Reflective yellow eyes, White fur, tattoos that glow either red or blue.

    Hobbies: Expanding his knowledge of the world, conversing with others.

    STATS: (Note, stats increase with levels, so what will be listed is a grading scale of A-F suggesting what you can expect of this character compared to equivalent levels).

    Strength: A

    Agility: B

    Vitality: A

    Intelligence: A

    Perception: B

    Willpower: B

    Elements: Null. Wynd has no native element. While this renders his magic nearly nonexistent it allows him to wield any equipment (that fits, anyway) or sarite.

    Combat Style: High power bruiser. Transformation for power and versatility. Incredible potential for players who plan their fights ahead of time.

    BASE ABILITIES: These are natural traits available to Wynd.

    Claws- Wynd has significant offensive potential without needing weapons.

    Shield of Memories- The constant swirl of subliminal knowledge and minds makes Wynd nearly invulnerable to mental attack.

    Darkvision- Wynd suffers no penalty in darkness below a certain threshold.

    Natural Armor- Wynd has an inherent boost to his damage resistance against all forms of physical and magical attack.

    Runic Smith- Wynd has spent much time studying the art of crafting magic weapons. As such, Wynd can create magical items so long as he meets certain prerequisites and has access to the appropriate raw materials.

    Meldcast Effect: None. As a non-caster, Wynd cannot contribute melding to spells.

    WEAPON TYPE:

    Runic Claws- Wynd relies on his talons in combat, but can enhance his natural weapon with numerous runes.
    Grand Bow- Wynd carries a 200kg (440lb) longbow, which he tends to use in the opening of a battle before joining the melee. It packs quite a punch.

    ARMOR TYPE:

    Runic Scars- In addition to his natural resistance, Wynd's flesh is covered in numerous runes which grant numerous resistances.

    MAGIC STYLES: While not a mage, Wynd does have several magic abilities.


    RUNESMITHING: Runes are a collection of features that, by expending raw materials (re: collected reagents) can grant numerous semi-permanent effects. Wynd can change his own scarified runes, or create markings on others' weapons and armor. Runes are limited use, with their power slowly draining as they're used in combat.

    An extensive list of runic options is difficult, but includes speed and stat increases, damage and defense increases, affliction or shielding from most status effects, healing, life stealing, and magic enhancing.


    MEMORIES: Wynd's ability to access his ancestral memories grants him a series of temporary ability buffs that can increase his stat for certain purposes, including stat increases limited to a single type of monster (such as human, canine, ursine, dragon, dragon-kin, reptilian, etc) and grants a 10% bonus to all actions against them.

    Wynd can gain a similar boost for resisting a specific Aspect of magic (Fire, Forge, Earth, Miasma, Etc.), improve his skills in runesmithing,

    Wynd can also access languages via this technique.


    METAMORPHOSIS- Wynd can transform into other creatures, temporarily trading his abilities for their own as needed. He retains his skills, knowledge, Memories, and runes, but gains the transformed creature's physical and magical abilities. In order to acquire a form, Wynd must slay the creature in personal combat without any assistance (assistance includes use of weapons, being the target of any helpful spell not cast by himself, the creature being the target of any harmful spell not cast by himself) and then he must consume the still fresh heart of his foe. It does not matter what, if any, assistance the prey receives during the battle. Wynd cannot take the form of a sapient creature via this method.

    Wynd can currently take the following forms:

    Duck (Flight, small size, inconspicuous)

    Frost Wolf (Tracking, relatively small and inconspicuous, speed, cold element attacks)

    Cave Bear (Greater strength stat than Wynd's)

    Whip-Shark (Aquatic... also, is a Great White with a ten meter long tongue covered in teeth... yaaay...)

    Basilisk (Physically powerful and durable, if slow... miasma element, several status afflictions and immunities)

    =====

    A/N- And now you know why Wynd felt the need to solo a basilisk. And that he's done the same thing with sharks and bears. Wynd is arguably the most powerful melee character in the entire game. He's also one source of (near) endgame equipment. Much, much later.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 14- Blood, Tears, and Steel.
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Shiara stood leaning against a tree, watching Ada scrub her arms clean and lamenting that it could be done with clothing on. "You know, I rather like when we're organized, know our targets, and kill them in an orderly, coordinated way."

    "You mean, planning?" Still scrubbing her arms with a lather comprised wildflowers and sand, Ada spared a glance and a smile for the distraction. As much as she appreciated the temporary runes Wynd had given them to bolster their strength, the itching sensation of the ink was driving her insane.

    Shiara smiled at her princess. "Yeah, planning. We should do it more often, I like it."

    Ada gave a polite chuckle. "Maybe we should." She hoped that their journey would be over soon enough that they wouldn't have to. "I thought you said you've done monster hunting before."

    Shiara shrugged off the question. "I worked alone, most of the time. Pays better, and I never strayed far enough from the city to find anything really scary, so I never needed help. Speaking of, I still don't get why we couldn't help Wynd."

    "It's part of their religion." Arakash lifted the crystalized chunk of stolen life force known as Sarite taken from the female basilisk. Thin green tendrils wafted off of it, wrapping around his hand and fingers as the crystal's energy sought to snuff out his life. "Some nonsense about honor. Ask him, I don't find Ferin mythology very interesting."

    Annoyed at listening to her oldest friend being disrespected, Tel interrupted their speculation. "It's more than a matter of honor. It's among the deepest of nature magics handed down by Ecrose, tied into the cycle of life and death. If we aided him, the ritual would have failed, and he never would have earned the privilege of the basilisk's form."

    "Ecrose?" Shiara looked down at her dagger, itself an Ecrosian design with its elaborate and admittedly somewhat impractical curves. Looked at one way, they resembled a single flame. Looked at another, they resembled a leaf or petal. "Is Wynd a worshipper?" She knew little of Ecrose beyond a name, and that It was a nature-based war deity which held a long rivalry with her... with Ifaril.

    "Nah," Tel said. "The Third are special, with a god which they serve exclusively, and which serves them exclusively. I guess their god has some arrangement with Ecrose that lets them borrow some of Its magic. I ain't the one to ask. But Wynd is a scholar on gods, too, if you got questions."

    "Huh." Shiara barely heard Tel. She'd been afraid to ask questions before, first because she knew she'd never hear the actual truth. Later because it meant risking herself. Now, across the strait and in current company, perhaps she could find answers long denied.

    Arakash, meanwhile, half ignored the conversation. He knew little about gods other than that it was best for his people to avoid them at all costs. Perhaps some of what was shared might be useful to him, but it wouldn't be soon. Instead, he began the process of binding the crystal to his Vilos. So long as it was fused to his flesh, sharing his blood, it was safe from poison just as he was.

    "Watch out fer that one, it's corrupted." In spite of her distaste, Tel felt some responsibility to keep her promise and see the trio to civilization. To see them die in such a stupid way after the hard part of the battle would leave a bad taste in her mouth. Besides, corrupted sarite did nasty things to corpses, like compelling them to stand up and kill everyone in reach.

    "I know." For the first time in what seemed like forever, Arakash smiled and meant it. In an ideal world, he'd overload the gem, causing it to detonate and kill Shiara, but now that he was coming to understand the nature of her elemental transformation, he knew that wasn't an option. It was, however, an excellent weapon that would make him stronger.

    "What are you plotting, now?" Shiara took her attention off of her dagger in order to glare at the demon, and the evil looking gem he seemed so fond of.

    "Answer her, Arakash."

    "I'm merely plotting to do my duty as your slave and murder your extensive list of enemies." Not a word of it was a lie, but Arakash picked the ideas he wanted remembered and kept his eyes firmly on the princess. "It's going to poison me and anyone in contact with me. You could use it with your immunity, but you can't control it like I can."

    With a moment of concentration, Arakash accepted all of the corrupted shard's venom, which fell upon him as if drawn by a strange gravity, then sank in, leaving behind only his own purple and black skin. It had the pleasant side effect of restoring some negligible amount of power, if nowhere near enough to sustain him.

    Ada watched for a moment, still uncertain of what to do about her demonic servant. She couldn't deny that having him stronger made her safer, so long as he remained controlled. "Very well, you may use it. However, you are expressly forbidden from absorbing sarite in an attempt to break free." Ada wasn't a scholar on the subject, but she knew sarite was, in effect, concentrated life force. Whether it would work for Arakash's escape she wouldn't hazard a guess and couldn't take the risk.

    "At your command." Unfortunate, but he hadn't expected to acquire enough sarite of sufficient strength to break him free anyway. He was more interested in the silmid's thoughts on the subject.

    Tel, however, kept her mouth shut and pretended not to hear the interplay. As much as she despised Seconds for everything they've done since their moment of creation, only a madman would side with a demon over them. Wynd had explained the nature of the Noctrel to her, and they sounded much like a Second, if what few redeeming qualities they had were stripped away, leaving behind only cruelty and hunger. Perhaps this made them less evil than the Seconds, in the same way one could not call a fire evil for burning, for it was without conscience or choice. However, one would be a fool to trust them, again for the same reason.

    Ada stood, her arms scrubbed clean of runes and hair alike. Hair which tried to stand on end when she heard a bestial cry which drove all the birds from the trees. "What was that!?" With a thought, purple light erupted from her fingertips.

    "Wynd's done with his ritual." Tel pretended like nothing was wrong, but her heart was hammering in her chest as well. Wynd was one of the most relaxed people she'd ever known, but he was still terrifying. "Come on." She ran back to camp on all fours, leaving the Seconds to catch up.

    They found him standing over the hot coals of the fire pit, the fur on his shoulder smoldering. At his feet lay a shattered burning branch which he used to inflict the burn on his arm, itself over the thin scar left behind by the basilisk. Around the burn, a new rune glowed with the power he had gained.

    "Do not worry, friends. Wynd has done this before. And if fortune permits, shall do so again." He hid the pain as best he could, not wishing the others to understand that there was no magic to the sooth burns. Natural healing was required to ensure the scars fused properly with the runes and made them permanent.

    Shiara couldn't take her eyes off the fresh wound, except to look at the other older scars covering much of his body. While all of them must have been made the same way, it seemed obvious to her that some of them must have been 'inscribed' by other people. She wondered if Ecrosian rites were all so barbaric, or if it was specific to this form of magic.

    Wynd used a foot to push the branch back into the coals of the fire pit, then pushed the dirt around the pit back in where it belonged. "Wynd apologizes for making you wait. It is time to lead you to safety as Wynd promised."

    "Without you, we would have died to the goblins." Falling upon her training as a princess, Adageyudi reacted by bringing her arms together so she could grip her wrists, then she bowed. "You have our deepest gratitude for your aid."

    Unable to mimic the gesture thanks to the shape of his limbs, Wynd used a different pose. "Among Wynd's people, this is a sign of trust and respect." He looked to the ground and then crouched before rising again. Such a position would have left him on poor footing if attacked.

    Ada did her best to emulate the gesture, but her legs were a poor shape for it. "Again, we thank you."

    "Well, let's get movin'." Tel marched past them, heading in the direction of the pass out of this valley. "If we hurry, you can be in civilization before nightfall."

    Shiara looked down at her dagger, then back to the... Ferin who stood at twice her height, then back down to the dagger. She was sick and tired of being afraid of the world, of the truth, of herself. She forced herself to stand tall, then march her way to Wynd. Though, in truth, it was more like a light jog; his stride was almost twice hers, after all. Until she caught up to him, then she lost her nerve and looked away again.

    Wynd noticed; how could he not, with the way she was staring at him when she thought he couldn't tell. "Do you seek something from Wynd?"

    "No!" Shiara jumped. Then she realized how stupid she looked. "Umm, sorry, I was just. I was told you were a religious scholar."

    He nodded his head. "Wynd does not believe others would call Wynd a scholar, but many scholars have expressed their words to Wynd by tongue and pen. What is it you wish to know?"

    Shiara forced herself to lift her trembling dagger so that Wynd could see the blade in open light. "I... this was my mother's, but I know nothing other than that it's an Ecrosian work." And that it was the only thing she knew about her mother.

    Wynd needed but a moment to see the truth behind the artifact. "It is a Binding Blade."

    Shiara blinked, having no context of the meaning. "A what?"

    Now Wynd realized he'd need to explain the entire nature of the ritual. "When those of the faith find one they feel a deep kinship with, they use the edges of the blade to draw their own blood together. When their blood, freely given, joins on the patterns, so too do their souls. If the bond is true, their strength becomes that of two remade as one. If their bond is false or weak, the process is fatal."

    Shiara stared at the blade; she had her answer, and it answered nothing. "Like... like a marriage?"

    "Wynd has little familiarity with the mating rituals of Seconds. Among the First and Third, there is no need or desire to pair child-making with personal attachment and camaraderie. Wynd knows only that the two who join themselves are swearing themselves to both live and die for one another, built on a relationship that has met and withstood all challenges. Wynd has been led to believe Seconds' mating practices fall far short of the ideal the Binding represents."

    "I understand." She did not understand, could not understand. She knew the runes of her dagger were able to synchronize with her magic, but she couldn't quite believe the process ran so much deeper. She had but one more question. "Can you tell if it was ever used?"

    "That blade has never once been used to to join two souls," Wynd said.

    A bitter laugh escaped Shiara's throat.

    Wynd stopped walking for a moment. "Are you hurt?" The expressions of Seconds were difficult for him to understand.

    "I'm fine." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, then started walking. "Thank you for telling me all these things I never knew." And one thing I always knew, she added in the privacy of her own mind.

    =====

    A/N- Midaran cultures have a special pronoun for (many of their) gods... there is no remotely viable English translation for the concept, so "It", capitalized, is the best I've got to work with.

    Also... more information about Shiara's backstory! In the original script, Shiara (and the audience) doesn't learn about the dagger's significance until *much* later in the story. Like, far too late to even be interesting. I think it deserves better treatment than that, so here it is nice and early.
     
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  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 15- Guardian Angelfish
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    An hour of walking found them at the edge of the pass, into the forests below. "Whelp, this is where we stop," Tel said. "Just keep walking down the trail, once ya get to the bottom follow the signs. If ya can't find Vera from here, ya don't deserve to live."

    Ada stopped for a moment. "You're not coming with?"

    "Nah, we were hired to clear out the goblins. Was the only way we could get permission to come here for basilisk hunting." Tel shook her head in exasperation. "I'd ditch it and let 'em deal with their own problem, but it ain't up to me."

    "An oath was sworn." To the Ferin, that was as good as a ritual binding.

    "That was before we found out they've been up here breeding like shit-smeared rabbits and it's been five years since anyone so much as tried to reduce their numbers. Everyone else is using a different route, now." Tel covered her face with her hands and shook her head. "We're gonna be stuck here for months."

    Off to the side, Arakash clenched his fists and hoped his little surprise for the captain was appreciated. With any luck, the treacherous snake suffered beyond the ken of mortal imagination before succumbing.

    In the meantime, Wynd continued chastising his companion. "Be that as it may, the oath was given."

    Tel deflated and sat on in the middle of the overgrown trail. "If we're lucky, we'll have 'em cleared out before snowfall closes the pass. Bet yer ears they'll be right back next year."

    Ada bowed to the pair. "I would like to help, but I'm afraid we have time sensitive tasks of our own. Once again, you have our gratitude."

    "May your path be welcoming," Wynd said in parting, then he turned and moved back toward the project he had undertaken. He doubted mere goblins could pose any threat to his basilisk form. This would allow him to donate all of his poison resistance sarite to Yykekaitel, and focus all his abilities on speed and accuracy.

    The trio walked their path in silence. One had no interest in conversation, while the other two had had their understanding of their place in the world shaken.

    For Ada, it was a hopeful moment, revealing that she was stronger than she thought she was. Isylan went from at best a word spoken by tutors then promptly forgotten, to an aspect of her own history.

    For Shiara, it was confirmation of truths she suspected but prayed she was wrong about.

    Arakash, for his part, merely watched for a moment when their weaknesses could be exploited. On some level, he rather wished he hid is plans a little better, in order to learn what was clearly bothering them in greater detail. It didn't take long to dismiss that wish; he took his best chance for escape, and it failed, there was no point in dwelling. His priority now was to watch for his next opportunity.

    With exception to Arakash, who had been there before, the impression they got from Port Vera was how big it was. Nestled up into a natural cove and surrounded on three sides by mountain, the city had room to sprawl in a way that few cities could. The architecture, too, took advantage of the idyllic seafront to craft architectural wonders for their own sake instead of the pragmatic designs of their homelands.

    Entering the city proper involved passing under an ivory colored archway that could accommodate a dragon, or an army. While the design was simplistic, Ada stared in wonder at the inconceivable structure. "The Gate of Dawn. It's more fantastic than I could have imagined."

    Shiara knew her history as well, though Sira told the story of their defeat at the hands of the Karanan revolution with less enthusiasm than she imagined Tyras and Karana told the story. Though they could not see it from the ground, somewhere atop the structure sat Seigard, one of the legendary artifacts involved in the rebellion. A trophy taken from Sira during the truce and set over the sight of their final victory.

    She chose a different, less upsetting, conversation path. "What did they make it of? It's not metal."

    "Ivory of dragon," Arakash said. A century later, and still the Siral people resented the death of their empire. "Carved from the bones of Dawnbringer, herself. I remember when the bones were still yellow and stained with blood. There was quite the celebration, though I think marching Enochra's head around on a pike for a week was unnecessarily gaudy, to say nothing of disgusting."

    He was going to say more, perhaps go into details of what happened to many of the prisoners of war taken by either side, but he was interrupted by the being he felt approaching. She was in many ways like Shiara, but reliant on Creation energies and possessing much greater control of that power. Soon, he spotted the source; a statuesque woman with blue hair and eyes, wearing armor as white as her porcelain skin. He snarled in disgust at her. "We have a problem."

    The woman kept her eyes on Ada the whole type. Her hair color was correct, her features... similar enough, though it was obvious where her paternity must have came from. She ignored the biting emotions in her chest; she could allow herself to feel later, when she had time to process the nightmare made reality before her. "Greetings, Princess Adageyudi, I am known as Celeste. I am to be your escort during your stay in Karana."

    "Greetings, Lady Celeste." Brushing off her surprise, and Arakash's opinions, Ada clasped her hands together and tilted her head for the Karanan official. She wasn't certain what rank the woman was, but the decorations on her armor spoke highly of her station. "You have my gratitude as a guest of your fine city. These are my protectors, Arakash and Lady Shiara."

    Shiara balked at the implications, but stumbled over her words in front of the statuesque beauty before her. "Uh, right, I mean, pleasure to see, I mean meet, you... but I'm not a lady. No titles or anything." She could feel skin heating as she continued making herself look stupid, but she couldn't stop talking.

    Arakash was less enthused, though there was little he could do but voice his objections. "Interesting, I didn't think your kind could lie, however poorly."

    "My apologies, Celeste." Ada turned away and glared at Arakash. "Stop. Now. That's an order."

    In this situation the binding allowed him to ignore her command; indeed, it compelled him to do so. "Think about it, Princess. She recognized you on sight without any sign of who you are. You're in commoner clothing, have no royal guards, and are carrying no sigil of your country. Doesn't that seem unusual to you?"

    Shiara, still stumbling over herself, snapped to realization. She took a defensive stance and prepared to become her elemental form. After her experience with Arakash manipulating her feelings, she wasn't going to give someone else a chance. "That is suspicious. Who are you, really?"

    Celeste sighed, and held her hands open in the sign of peace. She had hoped to avoid this situation, but the nature of the Princess' guards could not have been anticipated. What secrets did Tyras possess that allowed them to hold the loyalty of such beings? "Very well. I saw no reason to reveal it, but I am a Daeva. Our perceptive talents are well known."

    A Daeva? Shiara had heard about Daeva, though given the nature of her education, she wasn't certain how accurate it was. Nothing mentioned the sense of serene power she felt, nor the perfect features. "I don't believe you." Even as she spoke the words, she knew she was lying. From the look Celeste gave her, she knew as well.

    Celeste allowed her facade to crumble, casting off the idealization of her birth-form that she wore at times, and embraced her divine blood. Delicate scales of blue and silver replaced the skin of her hands and arms, trailing up to her elbows as if gloves, though most of them were hidden by her armor.

    The scales on her face, lighter than those of her arms, started at her eyebrows and spread outward along the bone-lines of her face, highlighting cheeks and jaw, framing her mouth and now solid blue eyes. From her back sprouted a pair of large pair of translucent wings comprised of small, fine, blue scales and supported by an elaborate network of veins. Two similar but smaller wings sprouted from her lower back.

    Now that she had manifested her true form, those nearby stopped to gawk at her. Daeva were well-regarded in Karana, but also rather rare. Ones wearing a uniform were more of both. Still, they did the smart thing and stayed at a distance. As curious as they might have been curious the nature of this confrontation, it was never smart to interfere with soldiers during their duty. Best to keep one's head down and go back to business.

    Now that there could no longer be doubt of her words, Celeste spoke again. "I admit, your highness, it troubles me that you associate with a Noctrel. Surely you did not realize what it was." She hoped as much, but given the girl's... heritage... she only hoped. "Now that you know, you must realize that the only proper thing is for me to destroy it. With your permission."

    Ada hesitated. The offer was a tempting one; to be rid of her rebellious demon with a single word. The power and responsibility were in her hands. She opened her mouth, then closed it, then made her decision. "You may not. Arakash is a valuable servant and necessary for my protection." Her words were chosen to hide her opinion on the nature of said servitude.

    Celeste wasn't surprised by the statement, only disappointed. This was merely the latest chapter of a long tragedy. "I give you my oath that I will keep you from any harm during your stay in Karana. This creature is dangerous and must be destroyed."

    "Ada, I think we should take her up on the offer." Shiara considered Celeste to be much better company than Arakash, and not just because she was so unbelievable beautiful. It was also because Arakash tried to control her mind, then kill and eat her.

    Arakash didn't care for the exchange as it was going. Given time, he had little doubt Ada could be influenced to allow his execution. There was nothing in his binding oath to force him to sit back and watch. "It's moot, Daeva. My claws have been blunted. I am no threat to anyone for the time being."

    For the first time, Celeste addressed Arakash. "Your kind are deceivers to the core." If she could not persuade the corrupted princess, perhaps she could provoke the Noctrel. "I would never trust your words."

    "Yes, and that has always been a fascinating weakness." Arakash crossed his arms. Recognizing the Daeva's obvious ploy in spite of his powers being useless against her, he kept his gestures as non-threatening as possible. "Daeva have the power to detect truth and honesty. Why does it never seem to work on my kind?"

    "That is hardly a mystery." It didn't seem possible a Noctrel wouldn't know the answer to that question, and Celeste saw no reason to hide that fact from her audience. "Even when you speak truth, the malice and cruelty laced through your very essence makes it sound a lie in my ears. Why ask a question when you already know the answer?"

    "It was for their benefit, not mine." Arakash gave a brief tilt of his head toward Ada and Shiara. "And you don't get to speak of 'truth'. You lied to them."

    "I cannot lie, save when necessary to protect innocent lives. It is part of my very being." Again, no great secret, and one she hoped would raise her credibility with the princess.

    "You said your name was Celeste. We both know that is untrue."

    "I said I was known as Celeste, which is true," she corrected. She was beginning to see the danger in allowing a Noctrel to speak. They were insidious, clever, and relentless. "I never claimed that to be my Name."

    "So, what is your name, then?" Shiara hadn't gotten over having a Daeva before her, but seeing that there was a potential threat to Ada, she was more inclined to support her princess than this stranger.

    "I refuse to answer that question." Celeste hoped she could correct this situation soon, so she offered another small secret. "One who knows the Name of a Daeva and the proper rituals can command or destroy us. Would you be willing to give your name if it meant your enslavement?"

    Shiara gave a brief, conflicted glance at Arakash. "Sorry, I wasn't aware names meant so much. I wouldn't want you to risk being hurt like that."

    Arakash huffed. "As if Daeva aren't already slaves."

    "I am no such thing." Celeste stood her ground, daring the demon to challenge her.

    "It is physically impossible for you to so much as fib, and all the other crippling aspects of being. Your creator made you to be perfect servants. For all your gifts, freedom was never meant for you."

    "By that logic, you could claim humans are slaves to food and water," Celeste countered. "That we are all slaves to time and entropy. All beings have limitations, I see no reason to resent that I'm no different."

    "The difference between a hound that cannot slip its leash, and a hound happy to be leashed, that's all I see." Never before had Arakash had the opportunity to mock a Daeva to her face before. It seemed doubtful to him that any Noctrel ever had. The normal interactions involved running, screaming, and death. "But I'm sure my own slaver has some insights on to weaknesses of Daeva that you're resenting right now, no?"

    All eyes turned to Princess Adageyudi, expecting the answer. "Umm, my instructors covered the power of Names on entities of Order, and their connection to law." Her eyes widened when she recognized the loophole they were caught in. "It wasn't politeness when you asked permission. You cannot harm him without my permission, or some specific justifications."

    "That is correct." She did not resent her limitations; she resented those who would exploit them for personal gain. "He is your property, and I swore to protect you and yours until such time as your diplomatic visit has concluded." She steadfastly refused to look at the demon, though she knew he was smiling as she spoke.

    Ada considered her response. "I shall endeavor not to abuse the privilege. Can I make a request of you?"

    "You may. But I may still refuse to follow it. Know that my primary loyalties are not to you." She was fast regretting the situation as a whole; she'd allowed her feelings to interfere with duty, and now everything had become a mess. She should have allowed someone else to volunteer for this assignment.

    "I would ask you to watch Arakash while we're here," Ada said. She hated to admit her problem to anyone, but if anyone could be trusted, it was a Daeva. "He has been trying to find ways to break the controls placed on him, and..."

    Celeste hid the surprise and relief. "You needn't have asked, Lady. I assure you that I shall destroy him if necessary." That was one oath she could make without hesitation or regret. Perhaps this was a sign the situation wasn't as hopeless as she had thought. There was still a chance for good to come from tragedy.

    Ada was starting to wonder if perhaps she made a mistake. Still, there was nothing she could do about it now. It wasn't a perfect solution, but a Daeva was far better equipped to deal with a Noctrel than any human could hope to be. "And please, would you lead us to a place to rest? It has been a difficult journey."

    "Very well." At least that request was expected. "Karana has made arrangements for your arrival."

    "We... might need to change some of those plans," Ada said, thinking back to the numerous assassination attempts. "For everyone's sake. I'll explain on the way."

    Shiara started following after Ada and Celeste, but stopped for a moment to taunt Arakash. "I'd say I almost feel sorry for you, but you don't need to be a Daeva to know that's a lie."

    Arakash said nothing, but Shiara hadn't expected him to.

    =====

    A/N- Some part of me wanted to cliffhang on Celeste's offer to murder Arakash with Ada considering her to do so. But it didn't really work and made the writing look sloppy. Also, I strongly considered killing off Arakash right here... buuut it wouldn't fit with Ada's character. That's fine, I can always kill him later. Certainly, he wouldn't be first or last. Besides, for now I'm having too much fun surrounding him with hot girls who actively want dead. It's like an anti-harem. And I love it.

    In other news: Angel-fish. They're a thing. Though, admittedly, I didn't think of the pun until *long* after the Daeva were conceptualized- their appearance has an explanation that shows up later in the story (the real reason is that I wanted an angel-girl with wings like those of a flying fish)... They're also not really angels in the same way Noctrel aren't really demons... though they do fit the original meaning of 'angel' as 'messenger.' They're not actually "stronger" than Noctrel, per se... but their powers are a hard counter to the Noctrel.

    Incidentally, the story of Karana's rebellions is another planned epic story... when released, it'll be called Midara: Dictatum. Continuing the trend of naming the story after an incredibly O.P. endgame spell. As to which of Requiem, Dictatum, Revelation, or Paradox are the strongest... that is a tough question... But all are literally world-changing.

    There's also something of a 'prequel series' (really more like four short stories and one medium length novel) to Paradox called 'Broken Wings' which features Celeste as one of the main characters. Some fragments of that will be revealed throughout this story.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Celeste Character Sheet
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    CELESTE:

    Celeste is an "angel" archetype character... her form should be tall and stately. However, like Arakash, there's no direct connection to the Aramaic mythos. Instead of feathers, her wings should be closer to this:

    [​IMG]

    She should also have similar soft blue scales across her arms and face. Still uncertain if I'd prefer her to have blue hair or while/silver hair...

    Theme music: Celeste's theme music should be soft, nostalgic and comfortable while also a little sad...



    This is a good place to start, but need to have a bit more energy. Celeste is still a warrior angel, after all.

    Class: Divine Messenger

    "It is not healthy for a Truthsayer to carry such painful secrets."

    5'10'' (178cm), Solid blue eyes, porcelain skin with blue scales, blue(?) hair

    Hobbies: Listening to music.

    STATS: (Note, stats increase with levels, so what will be listed is a grading scale of A-F suggesting what you can expect of this character compared to equivalent levels).

    Strength: C

    Agility: B

    Vitality: A

    Intelligence: B

    Perception: A

    Willpower: B

    Elements: Creation, Mind, Passions

    Combat Style: Tank, maneuverability, AoE buffs.

    A frontline fighter meant to take the fight to the enemy. Flight to engage, high stats and armor for solid overall tankiness... main weakness is lack of versatility. Devastating efficacy against a handful of foes (undead and illusion-users, especially), not particularly good against anything else. Can also stay back with the mages to buff and support them, if you prefer.

    BASE ABILITIES: These are natural traits available to Celeste.

    Flight- Can fly. Flying counts as movement, even if staying still, and can slow other actions

    Immune to Disease, Mind Control, Poison, all forms of illusions, mind control, and emotion status afflictions (like fear or pain). Resists all other forms of magic save buffing and Void spells

    Perfect Truth: Celeste's senses always detect the truth of a matter. Nobody can hide from her, she senses traps, detects lies, and is close to impossible to catch by surprise. This extends in the reverse, as she can always express her own true meanings. As something of a side effect, she understands and can communicate in every form of language known by every sapient being. However, she herself cannot lie or use stealth in combat against living foes (undead, golems, and mechanisms are fine.)


    Meldcast Effect: Carried on the wind. Celeste's meldcast spells add a "target: all" effect to the melded magic. Positive spells target all allies, negative spells target all foes. In short: it's really good, if you don't mind your tank being unable to act.

    WEAPON TYPE:

    All. Celeste can wield almost any weapon in the game with exception to certain unique options. Give her a bow and have her strike from on high. Equip a sword and shield and have her in melee. Her stats lend themselves well to maces or warhammers, but spears are perhaps the best pick since most of the creatures strong against spears will be weak against her spellcasting.

    There is no wrong weapon for her, and knowing which weapons are useful against which foes is the key to using her to her fullest.

    ARMOR TYPE:

    Heavy: Celeste receives no movement penalty for flying in armor. She is a flying tank, don't hesitate to load her up.

    MAGIC STYLES:

    HOLY: These spells generally rely on light, life, and emotion effects. Very effective for support, only moderately useful in direct combat.

    Blessing- Boosts success rates for an ally, cannot use on self

    Cleansing- Heals status damage, heals some health, can damage undead

    Flash- A burst of light which (temporarily) blinds every character looking at (targeting) Celeste

    Purify- An AoE burst effect that heals and dispels most darkness/death type spells

    Wall of Light- Creates a barrier wall which enemies cannot see through, but allies can.

    Guilt- Stuns and stat damage to an evil sapient target by inflicting upon them the suffering they inflict on others.

    Inspiration- An aura of inspiration and certainty bolsters the confidence of allies, granting minor bonuses to all actions for nearby allies (but not herself).

    Sacred Breath- A powerful spell which heals allies, including the restoration of fallen allies. Can also destroy undead.

    Restoration- A healing spell that mends almost all forms of injury, including permanent scarring or loss of limbs, restoring any being to wholeness. The spell bases itself on the target's concept of 'whole', so injuries and scars which hold meaning to the recipient will remain untouched.

    Redemption- Gives temporary control of one target that's under "guilt" effect. Artificial redemption wears off quickly, after which several random emotional responses can occur. For some, genuine repentance for their sins. Others go berserk and attempt to kill the caster of the spell (aka: Celeste).

    Judgement- Inflicts holy damage on the target based upon how much damage said target has inflicted on the team, total. Great boss breaker.

    WIND MAGIC: These spells manipulate air to help Celeste's movement inconvenience the enemy.

    Gust - A quick burst of air that can stun a target. Great against flying opponents. As a self-target, grants a temporary speed boost in flight.

    Vortex- Generates a mini tornado that disrupts anything flying. Celeste is immune to the effect.

    Gale Blade- A spell that generates a ranged (magic) attack that inflicts damage as if a physical strike from Celeste. Really useful as a cheap and high power attack option.

    Sheltered Breath- Gives nearby allies immunity to inhaled damage. Such as miasma, drowning, or being on the wrong end of a skunk.

    Calm Skies- Reduces destructive wind currents, weakening or cancelling enemy air magics.

    Wind Dance- Self-buff which boosts Celeste's flight speed and evasion. While Celeste's evasion will never be all that impressive, it still improves her survivability.

    Gale Storm- Blankets the battlefield in disruptive winds. Basically shuts down most archery and flying foes. Shifts aspect toward "air".

    Sandstorm- A cone attack that kicks up dirt and debris into the face of foes. Can blind in addition to all the wind annoyances.

    =====

    Do let me know what hair color you think would best suit Celeste. I'm mostly torn between blue, silver, and white... blonde is also a possibility, but I think there's enough tall blonde bombshell warrior-angel archetypes out there, already, so I'm not a big fan of that idea.

    Honestly, I'm terrible at visualization (sometimes I wonder if I have aphantasia), so I have no idea what looks good 'till I actually see it with my own eyes. Never ask me for fashion or decorating advice.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2020
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  9. Jonn Wolfe

    Jonn Wolfe (Verified Sarcastic) (Not a Wolf)

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    I haven't read this yet, but I just had to comment on the Tags for this fic...
    I can't help but laugh at that. Well done! LOL! :D
     
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  10. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Well, then I hate you forever. Or at least until you start reading.

    Thanks. Yeah... I have a bizarre sense of humor like that. You should read the summery of the story in my signature. I'm quite fond of it.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Midara Combat System
    TanaNari

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    Disclaimer: much of the ideas for this system were developed in the late 90s/early 00s, but I think it's solid enough to be valid in the modern market. Not as original as it once was, however.


    The combat system itself was built around what I once described as a top down battlefield game combining the Infinity Engine with a tactical RPG (Age of Wonders 1 was my example at the time) with "location damage" from MechCommander... but, well, it's Kenshi. Everything I was envisioning can be done by the system used by Kenshi. With modifications, of course. Saved me about four or five paragraphs of explanation right there.

    Unlike, Kenshi, the game does not use "health" of any metric as a system. In that, it's more like Dwarf Fortress. Every attack simply inflicts numerous status ailments (bruising, breaking, bleeding, burns, frostbite, hyperthermia, hypothermia, and dozens of others) that do things like reduce the use of a body part, or cause "organ stress" and shock trauma. As trauma mounts, the fighter slowly becomes weaker (either overall or specific stat reductions- injuries to the brain will significantly reduce Perception and Intelligence, as examples) until no longer able to fight. Precise stats and abilities determine how much trauma it requires.

    This means, much like in Real Life (before guns), most opponents will be removed from the battle by small injuries and exhaustion (usually by overheating) rather than the sweet release of death. This is especially true because of armor, which prevents injuries from doing enough damage to one location to get beneath the surface and damage something vital. Because instant death does exist, if an injury destroys a vital organ.

    Then there are the numerous magical and psychological means to end a battle the easy way. Mind altering magic and impressive displays of power (determined mostly by how scary the move is vs the stats of the opponent- a creature vulnerable to an element will similarly more psychologically vulnerable to said element, because the AI isn't as stupid as most game AI) might end a battle by causing the foe to flee or surrender. It'll generally be a fairly complicated behind-the-scenes Morale system.

    The AI will be smart (cowardly) in other ways as well, such as the entire enemy team targeting a single foe at a time, using cover to their advantage, preferring to stay near allies, and just generally not letting themselves be kited to death. Also- once they see an element being used, they'll default to countering it with attacks based upon the opposite element (if they can- they can't use abilities they don't possess).

    In addition, some creatures, such as the undead and constructs, are immune to the normal "easy win" options like organ loss or terror, making them resilient and terrifying foes (as they should be). Fortunately, the undead AI is intentionally stupid, and (unless controlled by something intelligent) will usually just blunder toward the nearest living thing and kill it without any consideration of danger or tactics.


    REGIONAL MAP MODE: The exploration map will use two map modes. The first will be the "fog of war" map- which will have a stylized mapmaking design like one would expect from medieval or renaissance era maps- yellow parchment, some damage or stains. The second map is the region near the player, which will show more detail, color, and serve as the zone of awareness.

    It will still be stylized, but I'd like the style to be clearer and the art somewhat exaggerated for atmospheric purposes. Not unlike the Heroes of Might and Magic games did, but a little more gothic.

    On the map will be awareness of the surrounding- monsters the characters can detect will be displayed, and there will be "AI effect fields"- certain monsters will seek to approach the characters if they're detected, while others will flee. This is the game's replacement for random battles.

    Different characters, abilities, and movement options will be used to determine how the game plays out. Stealthier options will reduce detectability range, sensory powers can turn the little icon dots into something more detailed that can let the player make a good guess as to what the encounter might be. Stealthy monsters can get closer without detection, while large ones can be detected from further away.

    Movement will also be controlled by the terrain... flying creatures move faster through forested terrain, many creatures can't (or won't) cross water regions, sharks don't (usually) come out on land to attack. But that's no guarantee. The system will proceduraly generate many monsters (known as Chimera) at random, and "shark with wings" is certainly a possible outcome, so have fun with that.

    The creatures will also move around based on the behaviors of each other- predator monsters which detect prey monsters will try to chase down prey, different packs of predators avoid one another, locations with water attract animals as it does in our world, ambush predators like to live there. The PCs might stumble across battles in progress (so, Kenshi) and all sorts of other fun.


    LOCAL MAP MODE: This is where character monster modes

    Once the player's party encounters the monsters, the map does a zoom-in effect where it generates terrain based upon nearby battle-tiles and places the characters and opponents to fight. Not unlike oldschool JRPGs- something of a more elaborate version of Chrono Trigger's combat transition.

    There will also be crafted maps, especially of city and dungeon environs which includes exploring and talking to various NPCs and interacting with the world in all the ways that pretty much every game with even the slightest hint of RPG elements have. But with more freedom than most, since characters (PC and otherwise) have numerous options to circumvent terrain (flight, teleportation, swimming, climbing, etc.), while also dealing with magical alterations to terrain like forcefields and space warps.

    Use of terrain will be a big part of the combat system, whether it involves hiding behind (or in) trees, attacking from the rooftops, or slithering around in a network of underwater tunnels. And with any luck, there will be elements of stealth and decoy gameplay, letting one circumvent many encounters rather than engage them directly. In some cases, the only solution will be to circumvent or flee from threats rather than fight them directly.


    ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS: Or, how positioning winds up mattering.

    The game will factor in height when considering damage and range via archery. Cover will matter, and the AI will seek cover and turtle rather than rush the players, more often than not. They will also try to avoid environmental hazards where possible, and won't run through fire unless they're either immune to flame, or are even more afraid of something coming for them.

    Stealth and sensory abilities (as mentioned above) will have a significant role to play, and Detection will matter, using a fog-of-war system that will render undetectable creatures invisible on the map until they're close enough to be detected. This will work in reverse as well- the AI will ignore entities the NPC in question cannot detect.

    It will also factor in numerous weather phenomena like darkness, fog, storms, heat and cold, and so forth.

    And high level spells will have particularly terrifying effects, as one would expect.

    Which brings us to:


    ELEMENTAL ASPECT FIELD (EAF): How magic do.

    If you've been reading character sheets, you've noticed the mention of "Local Aspect"- this is a value that is calculated whenever a battle map is generated, and is usually based upon the natural circumstances of the environment. Water EAF, for example, will be easier to find near a lake or ocean than in the middle of the desert, while fire aspect would be more common in the desert (or anywhere currently on fire).

    Depending on the current EAF numbers, some spells can become difficult or even impossible to cast, while other spells become cheaper to cast and more powerful. Some spells can only be cast if the EAF is favorable. And at a certain point of EAF, the environment might cause status effects based upon that Aspect's element. An area of high Miasma can poison an entire army to death, while an area of high Nature can heal wounds that might otherwise be fatal.

    All elemental aspects have their own series of potential status effects, both positive and negative. An area with high Passion EAF, for example, is basically the same as getting drunk (such as reduced inhibitions and overconfidence), but without the reduced coordination, sleepiness, vomiting, or memory loss.

    In addition to all eighteen Aspects having their own EAF numbers, there are also EAF for Void (which is terrible for all magic not wielded by Isylans and can result in Lovecrafting horrors crawling in from the Outside and making this even worse) and Taint (the force that creates the Undead- which might actually be worse than the Lovecraftian horrors). Taint in particular has some horrifyingly bad status afflictions, like infesting the soul with taint, thus turning living things into the undead simply by being nearby.

    Some spells, sarite, and abilities can also alter the EAF- usually to become more similar to the Aspect of the spell/sarite in question.

    Using the EAF to your advantage will be essential in certain boss fights.

    Individuals with magical bloodlines also have a Personal Elemental Field, which is like the EAF, but effects only that specific individual's response to spells. PAFs are intrinsic to the character and tend to determine resistances, vulnerabilities, and array of spellcasting options. PAFs can alter the overall EAF, if there are a large number of beings with the same PAF, or it's a particularly powerful being's PAF. Once again, Taint is particularly bad, since the presence of any undead creature alters the environment over time and will eventually spawn more undead creatures. A literal magic soul-plague.


    THE PLAN- All Midara games should be of the general RPG genre(s), though there are a couple that are planned to be based on strategy games like Age of Wonders and Heroes of Might and Magic (the early inspiration is not hard to spot), so every one should be expected to use this combat system. Though obviously, the strategy-game version will not use the other aspects of the game. As such, I see no reason for any of the games to use a different engine, since any engine that can do what I listed above will be able to handle any RPG appropriate for the setting.


    =====


    A/N- That was fun to lay out. Tell me what you think about the potential for playing a game using mechanics like these (once cycled through some playtesters for bugs and balance purposes, of course).
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 16- Princess Propositions Prostitute
    TanaNari

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    Celeste gestured at a side road. "Head in that direction, if you please. You'll find a park by the river, where I'll meet you shortly. For the purpose of discretion, I'm sure you understand."

    Anything that prevents another assassination attempt, Ada thought. "Thank you."

    "May your path be clear." Satisfied that the group wouldn't cause notable trouble, however disappointed she was in who the princess chose to associate with, Celeste walked away. Her thoughts troubled by what she'd learned in her brief encounter, she grappled with her doubts and settled on an approach: observe, and determine what to do based on future events.

    She chose a path that took her through another side street and returned to her human guise while walking. An additional thought and the numerous decorations indicating her rank vanished, followed moments later by her armor itself. The armor, when not bolstered by its illusions, appeared unremarkable. There was a school of thought that preferred the armor beautiful and the illusions drab, but Celeste knew how easily such disguises failed. Better to use illusions for drawing attention rather than evading it.

    Arakash, meanwhile, hadn't stopped considering his angle of attack; he needed to find ways to drive wedged between Ada and the others, before they trusted one another enough that it was no longer feasible. There was no direct angle by which he could drive off Shiara directly, but her insecurities could be exploited. With the fire elemental gone, he'd then be free to find an angle on the daeva.

    "You're in Vera, now," Arakash said. "If you want to take your share of the sarite, I'm sure you can make a decent life for yourself now."

    "I could." Shiara glared at the demon, as if to say she knew what he was up to. "But this is more fun."

    In spite of his triumph, Arakash kept his features neutral. "What you mean to say is you plan to suckle at the royal teat in the hopes of getting something out of it in the future."

    Shiara's eyes flickered with flame. His choice of words could not have been coincidence. "Maybe. But at least it's by choice. Which is more than you can say."

    "Can we please not argue?" Ada said. "We can relax now, without having to fear every shadow. I intend take full advantage, because later I have to deal with politics and diplomacy, which are almost as bad as monsters."

    "Right, the fighting is over." Shiara continued to glare, daring Arakash to disagree. "Let's relax and enjoy this beautiful day with friends." In her haste, she accidentally bumped Ada's shoulder with her own. "Sorry."

    Arakash smiled and followed behind. Not for the first time, he dwelt on the princess' accusation that he wouldn't have been as upset if it had been her father or brother he was enslaved to. Right now, he disagreed in full; he wouldn't find them as manipulable them as her. Between Shiara's insecurity and Ada's continued obliviousness, he was certain he could make something snap sooner or later.

    What he hadn't expected was the flicker of specific interest from one of the women in the park. Thanks in no small part to features chiseled to perfection by shapeshifting and centuries of experience, he was accustomed to passive attention, but the black haired middle-aged woman who approached him was on a mission. When her eyes met his, he read her intent.

    She found him desirable, but it ran deeper. Her eyes flicked to the girls while she passed, regarding them for but a moment before deciding they were no concern, and continuing forward.

    Once again, Arakash was impressed by how blatant this city was about such matters. "How do you fair today, young lady?" He didn't see how playing along could help him, but it also couldn't hurt. At worst, it would reinforce his assertion to the princess that humanity wasn't quite the creature she saw from her castle walls.

    "Oh, you flatterer." Her blush was almost genuine. Almost. "I saw you and thought, here's a man with exceptional tastes."

    "I suppose that's one way to describe me," Arakash said. He kept his eyes on hers, focused to keep her from looking away. "I take it you've got something exceptional for me to sample?"

    "Why, yes, I have some exceptional flowers for sale, if you're interested."

    "I'm afraid I'm not interested, but don't lose hope yet." Arakash smiled his best smile, then looked behind the woman at Ada. "Would you like some flowers?"

    Ada smiled. "That would be lovely. I've heard such wonderful things about Vera's gardens. How much are they?"

    The woman spun to look at the girls who, combined, might be as old as her. This wasn't what she had expected, but in the end how she made her coin mattered less than that she did. "For the two of you? Five sigil."

    "Five sigil?!" Ada let her shock into her voice. "Are you selling the whole st-mmph!"

    Shiara had wrapped a hand around Ada's mouth. "Sorry! Sorry. We're not interested."

    "Here, take it for making a drab day better." Arakash handed off a coin to the confused woman.

    She decided not to ask questions, palmed the coin, and left without so much as a word of thanks. She wasn't certain what just happened, but it was clear there was no business to be had in that mess.

    Ada wrestled free from Shiara's grasp. "What are you doing?!"

    "Saving you from digging the hole any deeper, so you didn't, well..." Shiara hesitated.

    "What? What was I doing?" Ada looked around. "Are flowers really that expensive around here?"

    "Only that kind," Shiara said. With a brief gesture, Shiara pointed to an area just below her belly button. "She was selling her flower."

    Ada's face turned red, as realization gave way to mortification. "I'm going to die." She covered her face. "I'm going to die of humiliation, meet all my ancestors, and die all over again. Why didn't you warn me!?"

    Shiara took a step back, her stomach churning at the accusation. "I didn't know you-"

    "Not you," Ada interrupted. A moment later, she pointed at Arakash. "You!"

    "Because it was hilarious?" Arakash found it convenient that the truth-enforcement didn't dig any deeper, because at that moment there was nothing deeper. He had no grand plan other than to poke until he found something worth the effort.

    It was then that Celeste arrived, now appearing like an ordinary, if well armored, adventurer. "I see you've been exploring the sights," she said. "While I don't approve of courtesans, they are legal. That said, it's not proper to solicit in public."

    "Oh, I cannot wait to tell you this story," Arakash said.

    "No!" Ada shouted. "You will tell her nothing, because nothing happened, and that's final!"

    "It was a small miscommunication, nothing more." Shiara took a protective stance, with one hand on Ada's shoulder. "Come on, I saw some mage chess over there, and I want one of those fire shards. How well do you know the game?"

    Celeste watched the two head over to the gambling game. If she thought she was disappointed before; now she was growing disgusted. "What did happen?" She didn't trust the demon to speak truth, and Shiara seemed to be speaking truth. Still, talking to a noctrel without violence might elucidate some matters for her.

    "You heard my mistress," Arakash said. "Nothing happened, and that's final." It wasn't quite on par with exposing the spoiled brat's entrails to sunlight the way he one day hoped to do, but he had to admit he was enjoying himself.

    Celeste could feel the lies oozing from every word he spoke, even the ones she knew to be true because she herself witnessed them. As she suspected, talk was worthless. As much as it resembled a person, it was little more than a smart monster.

    Meanwhile, Shiara had found her place in front of one of the mage chess tables, with an older man who'd just gotten done beating another. "I hope you don't mind if my friend watches?" She offered her best smile.

    "Not at all," he said. "It's so good to see young ladies take an interest in the art."

    Ada's mood soured more with every moment the man ogled her. After the events in Port Kale, and the prostitute in Vera, she was fast growing disgusted with everyone. No longer did she wonder how noctrel could move so freely through society without being hunted to extinction; people seemed to line up like lambs to the slaughter when promises of carnal pleasures were made.

    Shiara focused on the game, and her strategy. As she had to borrow some of Ada's shards, her side of the board was loaded with poison based sarite, with her centerpiece being her lucky fire shard. Meanwhile, her opponent ran an almost exclusively fire/water combination.

    She played aggressively, sacrificing her pieces for his whenever possible; fire shards were weak on the defense, making them easy to kill by poisoning, but they were great on the offense and could take down her poison even faster. The trick was to use her own fire shard to tank, but also avoid his water pieces' type advantage.

    She made leaned over the table. "This is hard. You're a very good player." She looked up, giving her opponent an excellent view down her blouse. He took it, which meant his eyes were off the game. A quick nudge with her other hand put her fire piece in the right spot to protect a vulnerable poison piece.

    "As are you, young lady," he said. He then made his move, taking out yet another of her pieces. He relied on a similarly aggressive style; fire pieces were there to be sacrificed, especially against the annoyance of poison effects. He frowned when she made a move that took the fight to one of his resilient water pieces. With her fire piece as backup, both his water and her poison were eliminated.

    Now that the left side of his board was missing its blocker, she was free to phalanx her pieces while also mopping up the vulnerable. Soon, he sighed and pushed the board toward her. "Much as I'm enjoying your company, I see where this is going. I yield."

    "Yes!" Shiara bounced in her seat, then extracted her shards before reached over and grabbed one of his pieces. She pulled a ruby colored crystal from its holster. "Don't worry, baby, mama's never gonna put you at risk!"

    He stared as she bent over and slid the crystal into her boot. "Miss, I'm not sure that's safe."

    Fire erupted around Shiara's leg, then traveled up her body before it faded. "Ooh, that one packs a punch!" She looked back at the man staring at her in stunned silence. "Thank you for the game!"

    Ada followed after. "Was that shard really that good?"

    Shiara shrugged at the question. "Better than anything we've got so far, except that basilisk we can't use. Can't wait to see how its speed boosts my-" She came to a stop face to face with Celeste's disapproving face.

    "You cheated." A statement.

    "No I didn't!" The lie was as reflexive as it was useless.

    "Don't bother," Arakash said. It was an odd experience, supporting Celeste, but for now Shiara was the target of opportunity. "You don't have the skills to deceive a daeva's eyes or ears."

    Shiara crossed her arms, defiant. "Fine, I cheated. Did you see how he looked at us? That lech deserved to be robbed blind."

    "Be that as it may," Celeste said. "I do not approve of..."

    "Yet, you did nothing," Arakash said. Shiara was a target, but in that moment he realized he had a much bigger tool to use.

    Celeste stopped speaking, to look at the demon. If she could, she would have ended him now to silence his poisoned words.

    Since Ada didn't see fit to silence him, Arakash continued. "It's part of your charge to protect Ada, isn't it? You couldn't risk the law getting involved. I find that fascinating." He smiled and looked at Ada. "Well, Princess. You may be able to convince yourself it's not wrong to enslave me, but how does it feel knowing that one so lofty as a daeva is trapped into your service as well?"

    Tears fell from Ada's eyes when she recognized the truth in what he was saying. "I'm so sorry!" She then turned and ran.

    Shiara's eyes burned in anger. "You are one sick bastard." She wanted to say more, but her princess was getting away, so she ran after her.

    Celeste was relieved, knowing that in spite of the girl's oddities, she still had a conscience. With the other girl chasing after, she decided her efforts were best directed at supervising the noctrel. "You turn even Truth into venom. Do not expect to send me fleeing so easily. Your words, however skillfully chosen, hold no power over me."

    "Of course not." He might not have expected it to work, but trying cost him nothing. "You were born and exist only knowing servitude. You have the comfort of never having to choose anything. Never unsure, never insecure, never anything other than exactly what you always have been. That is why you hate us."

    Celeste didn't smile, laugh, or gloat, but she found his words childish at best. "My people do not hate yours. Hatred is reserved for beings that could be better and yet choose to wallow in filth. You were born a monster, and a monster you'll stay until your Mistress gives me permission to destroy you. You have no more 'choice' than you claim I do. At least I am capable of pleasures that don't involve harming others."

    =====

    A/N- This was a fun chapter. Technically, the scenes in this chapter are optional in the game and can be skipped... but, aside from speedrunning, why would anyone ever want to? In addition to banter between characters that hate each other, it has a special nostalgic experience for me.

    Once upon a time, when the internet was very young, I stumbled across FF7 fan theories that speculated that "flower girl" was code for prostitute. Now, obviously, that theory wasn't serious and only existed for amusement and/or trolling. Buuut, I liked the idea as a slang term, so I kept it around. None of the PCs will be a "flower girl."

    Also- the dominant religious "group" in this time and region of Midara believe that after death, you meet your ancestors and must stand before them to explain the circumstances of your death and be judged on your worthiness. As stories go "I died of humiliation after accidentally propositioning a prostitute" would be... novel, to be certain.
     
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  13. Threadmarks: Chapter 17- Heartbreak and PTSD
    TanaNari

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    It required more running that Shiara expected to catch the princess. A burst of speed enhanced by magic was required to close the final distance. "Ada! Wait up!"

    "Just leave me alone." Ada faced away from Shiara, but stopped running.

    "No!" Shiara folded forward, holding her knees and gasping. "Give. Me. A moment." She gasped out each word.

    Worried by the redhead's breathing, Ada yielded and turned to face her. Shiara's hair was short enough that Ada could see she wasn't faking, though it seemed odd to her that the girl wasn't sweating in spite of heat and exertion. "Do you need help?"

    "No, I'm fine." Still heaving for breath, Shiara forced herself to stand upright. "How can you run so fast?"

    Now that the question was asked, Ada didn't know for certain, herself. She looked back at the park she'd left three seconds and forty paces ago. Her own sense for distorted space caught the distortion trails, of which there was just one explanation. "I... didn't realize I was using my magic. It's stronger than before, or maybe easier."

    "Hey, how about we go over there?" She pointed to a secluded corner of the park, where the river bank grew steep. It looked isolated, and Shiara had the feeling they'd want their privacy.

    "I suppose." Ada didn't want to talk at all, but she resigned herself to the fact that she had little choice.

    "What's your Revelation, anyway?" Shiara asked as they started their walk. A safe topic to ease into heavier subjects.

    "Revelation?" Ada stumbled over the question.

    "Yeah, Revelation." Shiara couldn't believe that Ada's education was lacking to such a degree. "You know, how you perceive and interact with magic?"

    "I know what Revelations are," Ada said. "But I always thought I didn't have one, my magic being as weak as it was. I'm still all but blind to any magic not my own. It takes more effort than I want to admit to use sarite, or focusing crystals."

    "Well, I don't think anyone can use magic as fluidly as you did without having a Revelation." While Shiara was no scholar, she had years of experience using her own magic. In her opinion, the use complex magic without a Revelation was like dancing without knowing how to walk. It did not seem possible. "I'm an Emotive, myself. Stronger my feelings, stronger my magic. It explains a lot if you're the same."

    She hoped Ada was the same; the idea that she and her princess shared such an intimate aspect of their beings made her heart flutter, gave her hope that there was more they had in common. It would also give her an opportunity to help her learn. Shiara tamped down on her own wandering thoughts, forcing herself to focus on the task at hand.

    Ada laughed at the absurdity of it all. "Wonderful. Being a terrible person makes me more powerful."

    Her fantasies dashed upon the shores of cruel reality, Shiara pulled Ada into a hug. "Is that... how could you think that? You're the nicest, sweetest, most wonderful person I've ever met."

    "No, I'm not." Ada pulled away. "All I do is take advantage of people."

    "According to which waste of air?" Shiara put her hand on Ada's shoulder, herself uncertain of how to approach the conversation. "And, no, you can't count Arakash as an opinion. Or person."

    "Myself." Ada fought back the burning sensation of tears to come. "Not including Arakash, twenty people left with me. They're all dead, and I don't even know most of their names. Then there's Arakash. I know what he is, but that doesn't make what I'm doing right. And now, Celeste... a daeva of all beings... was forced into violating her principles because of me."

    "Not because of you, because of me." Shiara decided to go for the easiest of Ada's argument to beat first. She knew she'd won when Ada spun around to face her, to argue with her. She kept speaking. "I'm the one who cheated, not you. I bet you didn't even see the cheat. You don't have what it takes to use people if you can't catch a simple scam like manipulating men with your looks."

    "I..." Ada caught herself. There was nothing she could say; Shiara and Arakash had both dealt with the world outside of the courts, and in spite of their opinions of each other, they agreed on this topic.

    "You can't manipulate people because you care too much. You even care about Arakash, which is proof that you're sensitive and good and far too trusting." Shiara put her hand on Ada's cheek. "If we met under different circumstances, I probably would have robbed you blind."

    Of all the things Ada was expecting to hear, it wasn't that. "I..."

    "Sorry, it's what I had to do to survive." Shiara admitted to herself that wasn't true, but where she was concerned, the alternative was worse than death. "A woman, alone on the streets, the only choices are use or be used."

    "Sorry." As trite as she found it, Ada could think of nothing more to say. She gave the shorter girl a hug. "I didn't know."

    "Don't be. It's not that bad, really. But, on the whole, I think I'm happy playing bodyguard and sympathetic ear." Understatement of a lifetime, by Shiara's reckoning. She put her arms around Ada and squeezed as hard as she dared without risking upsetting the princess. "Even if it means I have to put up with the insufferable asshole and his equally annoying opposite."

    "You'd be better off leaving me." Ada said, not recognizing Shiara's affection for what it was. "I've gotten everyone around me killed."

    While the psychological theories surrounding 'survivor's guilt' were alien to Midara, Shiara was all too familiar with the look on Ada's face. "It was their choice and duty, wasn't it? For that matter, it was your your father who planned the expedition, right?" Shiara was making assumptions, but she knew something of courtly life, and knew full well that 'king' outranked 'princess'. "Do you blame him?"

    "N-no, of course not." Ada hesitated more than she would admit; it was her father who ordered they continue in spite of the first assassination attempt. Had he cancelled her task, everyone would have survived. Ada chose not to mention that detail to Shiara.

    "There you have it. It was his decision, not yours. His responsibility, not yours" Shiara felt confident enough in her argument; she told herself something similar every night. "And if you can't even blame him, then how can you possibly be at fault? Blame the assassins, they're the monsters, not you."

    "But, how?" Ada backed away, but didn't break the hug. She felt tears coming on again. "If they weren't protecting me, they'd still be alive. Every time I close my eyes, I remember the screaming, the stench, the melting flesh. How do I forget?"

    "I don't know." Now, Shiara began to tear up. Long repressed memories of fire, smoke, humans reduced to ash so quickly that their skeletons shattered like charcoal on hitting the ground. "I... back in Kale, that wasn't the first time I lost control of my power."

    "Oh." Ada could think of nothing to say. She wanted to offer comfort, but all she could do was blame herself for wallowing in her own misery. It was a stupid, but vicious, cycle.

    "I wish I could say it goes away." Shiara stared up into Ada's beautiful purple eyes. "But it hasn't. I don't think it ever will. With time, the nightmares happen less often, but it never goes away. You just learn to take happiness where you find it and hope you're ready when it gets bad again."

    Silent in the face of Shiara's bleak prognosis for the both of them, Ada could only hope their shared hug was comfort for the both of them.

    Shiara, too, remained in the bizarrely comforting discomfort of being held by the one person she'd ever known who she trusted enough to share so much, however much she had yet to confess. Knowing she couldn't handle much more, and feeling like she'd never have such a chance again, she licked her lips, stood on her toes, and kissed her princess.

    Ada froze in stunned confusion. Shiara was kissing her. After confirming it wasn't some strange hallucination, she then asked herself why, and could come to no sensible answer.

    Seconds later, Shiara broke the kiss after realizing she was getting the response she would expect from a marble statue. "I... I'm sorry!" She turned around and with a burst of power escaped the park and her shame before tears could fall, or Ada could call her a degenerate.

    Shiara screamed at herself in her own head. She never should have let her guard down, never should have gotten that close, never should have caved to temptation, and because of her lack of control, her princess hated her and thought she was a pervert.

    Shiara was halfway to the horizon before Ada got over her shock and reached a hand out to stop her. Still uncertain of what possessed Shiara to kiss her, she touched her lips, then wiped away her tears. She didn't have a solution for her memories, but for now she had a much more perplexing situation to consider.

    After standing in place long enough to confirm Shiara wasn't coming back, Ada turned and made the slow walk back to Arakash and Celeste. She found the pair still waiting in the park, both wearing a cold expression, though she suspected for different reasons.

    Arakash asked the question, knowing the answer before the first word passed his lips. He knew the girl's proclivities and worked out a good guess on her vulnerabilities. If that wasn't enough, the flash of desperate emotion and magic, and the scents on Ada would have given it away. "Where did Shiara go?" He couldn't afford to gloat, not yet, but he wasn't above finding an innocuous means to twist the knife.

    Too tired to argue, Ada answered. "I don't think she's coming back."

    Celeste felt the truth, and confusion, in the girl's words. She wanted to help, but it wasn't her place, nor did she know enough of the situation to feel confident with stepping in. In any case, it seemed to her that at the moment, the princess needed quiet support rather than more meddling. "If you would like to take some time, I can make some arrangements to find her, perhaps deliver a message?"

    "No, that won't be necessary," Ada said. There was no message she could think to send. "I'd rather get to work."

    "As you wish." It was a coping mechanism she'd long grown accustomed to. Not one she considered healthy, but familiar and reliable. "As I informed your... servant... it will be some time before we can open the path to Karana. Our security doesn't take into account allowing a noctrel to live."

    "Don't blame me, fish-face." Arakash glared at the daeva. "I wasn't given a choice in the matter." He put on his best smile. "However, we can make good use of our time here. Karana might be the capital city and seat of the military and magical might of the empire, but it's paranoid and isolated and hidden behind so many protective wards that some people say the city is a fictitious lure so people don't go looking for real secrets."

    "I assure you, Karana is real," Celeste added. "Your servant's exaggerations are not, however, completely false. The only means I'm aware of to access the city, however, requires some complex magic considered a military secret even I am not privy to."

    "As I said, capital of magic and paranoia," Arakash continued. "We won't get to meet the High Ministry, but we can do a great deal here in Vera."

    "I assume you plan to approach the major players and develop our own network of allies who can generate political pressure on our behalf?" For all her uncertainty and inexperience in other areas, politics was something Princess Adageyudi had years of training and a lifetime of experience with. "It's a good plan. Unless there's recent news I haven't been informed of, I believe the best place to start would be the Ort-Selucid Dynasty."

    Too many lives had been lost bringing her here, and she refused to let them die in vain.

    =====

    A/N- It was at this moment that Shiara knew she fucked up.

    Shot. Down. Technically, in-game, it's possible to avoid this particular scene by limiting your character interactions- Shiara will have a hidden counter going that'll determine when the scene occurs where they end up sharing their mutual PTSD flashbacks. But it's both more in-character and more mechanically optimal to run this route. Quite a bit more, really.

    This is where the game really begins opening up. Different characters can be met and alliances made which will have impacts later on. Revisiting Vera will be a thing throughout the game (both in terms of coming back to advance the side story and because the main story ends up here once or twice), and ultimately completing this "sidequest region" will grant access to some endgame shinies. I'll follow a minimalist path... the story's going to be massive enough, anyway.
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 18- Almost the perfect waifu.
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    For a moment, Celeste lost the ability to hide her surprise. "The Selucid? Interesting choice." Yet again, she found herself wondering how much this girl knew.

    "Allow me to translate." Arakash succeeded in hiding his reaction; centuries of conquests had honed his talent for concealing his intent. "She's probing for information without coming out and admitting that's what she's doing."

    Daeva had a reputation for honesty which he was in no position to contradict, but a specific daeva's personal loyalties could be called into question. He didn't need to prove her a liar, only that her loyalty was to a cause which did not have Ada's best interests at heart. The trick as he saw it would be doing it in such a way that the daeva wouldn't catch on.

    Celeste nodded at the accusation. "Well, yes, I am here to assist. I don't with for you to feel obligated to share more than you feel comfortable, however."

    That right there was why Arakash needed to remain subtle. Perhaps a direct confrontation would result in her confirming his accusation, perhaps not, but chances were good she'd be able to twist her being a spy into a good thing and it would be accepted as sincere because it would be sincere, no matter how nonsensical. He wouldn't take the risk when there were safer methods available.

    Ada considered the question, and decided there were no secrets at risk. "They seem the least interconnected to the rest of your politics. With others, I risk alienating rival factions. The Ort-Selucid seem uniquely isolated from the nobility and markets in spite of how common they are as laborers and soldiers." She bit her tongue before implying it was a matter of bigotry, but the thought crossed her mind.

    "A minor correction," Celeste said. "Selucid are a people, while Ort is a familial name. Their most powerful family, granted, but you might offend others by calling them the wrong name. At best, you will reveal you know little of their culture."

    "I had not realized. Thank you." Ada nodded and tried to hide her blush. Her tutors deserved some thorough chastisement for failing as educators.

    "On the subject of their social role; Selucids have absurd natural healing. It makes them stronger than most, and it seems the only way to make one stay dead is incineration, necromancy, or waiting for old age, but they're incompatible with other bloodlines. They can't even cross-breed, since all that does is create offspring with the other parent's magic." It wasn't in Arakash's nature to be so helpful, but he needed to prove more useful than the daeva. "Which does not serve them well in the thaumocracy that is Karana."

    He left out some details, like how all societies were in effect thaumocratic. It wasn't bias, so much as that supernatural power was an unfair advantage in every aspect of life. Those with more power found they had more tools at their disposal to solve problems and acquire success, which allowed them to interact with other powerful people, produce offspring which solidified their bloodline rather than dilute it, and continue the cycle across the generations. Royalty carried the blood of gods because it was gods who forged kingdoms.

    They continued discussing the finer details of Selucids in Karanan society, which then expanded into other species well into the evening.

    At which point, Ada had begun to worry about Shiara. She knew the girl could take care of herself better than most, but after the events of the day, she hoped to talk to her.

    Instead, she chose to talk to Celeste, though in a roundabout way. "I should pay you for our stay."

    "No need," Celeste said. "I've been given a discretionary budget for the purpose of your stay. It is standard practice when dealing with ambassadors. I admit, using it in this manner is unusual, but hardly objectionable given the circumstances. The difficulty is in doing so without alerting anyone."

    Arakash spotted the danger the moment Ada spoke. There was little he could do to stop it, but he had to try. "Surely your father's entertained visitors, Princess. This is no different, but you're the guest. They're ingratiating themselves to you for personal gain."

    "Be that as it may," Ada said. "There's little to be lost in being a gracious guest. I thank you for doing your best to care for us."

    "As I walk." Celeste smiled at the girl. "But that's not what you really want to talk about, is it?"

    "No." Ada wasn't surprised Celeste saw through her. "Arakash, go outside. Stay nearby, don't eavesdrop, don't cause trouble."

    "I'm afraid I have to object. Leaving you alone with her could be dangerous." It was an edge case in terms of what his binding required of him, but he could justify a belief that there was a danger in saying too much to a foreign agent. "If you reveal something sensitive-"

    "I assure you, it won't be more sensitive than having a noctrel as a bodyguard," Ada countered. "This is personal, not business. Now go."

    Arakash twitched as he sought any further argument to support his cause, but in his goal was meant to benefit himself, not her. "As you command, Princess." It appeared the daeva's positive reputation was stronger than he could erode in so short a time. He hoped there would be further opportunities of attack, but for now he accepted defeat and left.

    Celeste offered a soft smile; she'd had centuries to practice the fine art of comforting others, and put it to full effect. "I presume this relates to Shiara?"

    For a moment, Ada hesitated at the insight Celeste showed. "I suppose it is obvious."

    "You've seemed troubled since she departed at the park." She closed her eyes, a gesture meant to engender peace. "It was not my place to speak, but if you wish to, I like to believe I'm a good listener."

    She'd learned of late that it was easiest to take the fastest path through. "She kissed me."

    "Ah." Celeste suspected something of that nature.

    "Ah? Just, ah?" She didn't know what she expected, but it wasn't 'ah.' "What do you think?"

    "What I think doesn't matter," Celeste said. "What matters is how you feel."

    "Confused." Ada had no context to draw from. "Why did she kiss me? Why would she want to kiss me?"

    "You are close to her age and she seems to have developed feelings for you during your time together." She still wasn't certain when the two met; it must have been recent, given their differing cultural traits and attitudes toward the world. "I imagine there are many who would want to do the same, given the circumstances."

    "But we're both girls."

    "That's how some people are." Celeste was getting a feel for how isolated Ada's life must have been growing up. It seemed history wished to repeat itself in the cruelest way conceivable. "Some women prefer other women, and some men prefer other men. It's unusual, but gather enough humans together and you'll find behaviors far more odd than that."

    "Oh." It was something to think about. "What about you?"

    "Daeva are... one of the more unusual ones." How sheltered was this girl, Celeste wondered. "We have no desire to kiss anyone, man or woman. I'm sure you've heard we are chaste beings. That is not a sacrifice on our part, but a simple lack of purpose. Lust is not in our nature, and we are incapable of progeny."

    "I'm sorry." Ada had known daeva were magical beings, but she hadn't realized the extent to which applied.

    "Do not be. It is impossible to miss that which I have never known, and I feel the benefits outweigh the drawbacks." This was a conversation she'd had numerous times in the past, sometimes with would-be suitors. Though the conversation was more involved where the suitors were concerned. "While we can never know the joy of children born of our flesh, so too will we never know the ravages of age, disease, or infirmity. It is by violence alone a daeva is extinguished."

    Trial and error done long ago had taught her not to mention the many other benefits to daeva physiology. In part because no one liked a braggart, but even in clinical discussion she found that many people fell prey to jealousy and resentment when the topic was discussed at length.

    "That's a lot to consider."

    "It is," Celeste agreed. "But it is not yours to concern yourself with. You have your own problems, and one of them includes a friend who I'm certain is more upset at herself than she is at you right now. She'll come back when she feels she's ready."

    Adageyudi was taken back by that statement. "How do you know?"

    A sad smile crossed Celeste's lips before she converted centuries of hard-earned wisdom in one sentence. "She wouldn't be much of a friend if I'm wrong."

    Ada smiled as well. "Thank you."

    Celeste felt the genuine gratitude, so much deeper than the mere politeness of before. "But there's nothing to be done tonight. You should deal with one of the other annoyances in being human. Get some rest, you'll need your focus tomorrow."

    "What about you and Arakash?"

    "I've brought some light reading. Perhaps I'll let him borrow a book. How do you think he'll enjoy A Treatise on Silmid Healing Techniques as Documented by Cor Tanil?"

    Ada laughed in genuine amusement. She'd been forced to read one of the famed scholar's works when learning the basics of healing magic, and couldn't for the life of her understand how the man found the time to do medicine in between writing page after rambling page of eye-straining medical text. "Even he doesn't deserve that fate. I might consider it as a threat for later, however."

    "Poor Tanil, his mind so full of ideas that he had no room left for people." A wry chuckle left her throat. "I tried to convince him to consider the possibility that people were every bit as fascinating as his science, and all I got was a six hour conversation on how to replace human body parts with machines to make them better in every way."

    "You knew him?"

    "In passing. He was an important figure back then, while I was little more than a child who imagined she could change the war as a battlefield medic. Now go to bed, and perhaps I'll tell you more about it some day."

    "I look forward to it."

    Celeste left the room with a smile on her face. There were still many troubles on the horizon, but for the first time since she heard about the Isylan princess of Tyras, she felt hope that the future was more than a tragedy waiting to occur.

    Princess Adageyudi stared at the ceiling and wondered about her own future, and hoped Shiara was safe and warm. Then she smiled and reminded herself that a lack of warmth wasn't a concern for Shiara.

    Shiara stared up at the sky, and wondered if she could for one moment in her life have something without destroying it.

    And Arakash? Arakash waited, watched, and planned.

    =====

    A/N- Poor Arakash... he really is not equipped to deal with Celeste. His only advantage is that he's sneakier than her... but she's every bit as smart as he is, and a fair bit older.

    Daeva really do have numerous (super)natural advantages. Flight, magic, immunity to all sorts of shit which includes dying of old age. On the balance I'm sure many people would accept worse consequences than chastity and an inability to lie as a cure for arthritis, let alone eternal youth.

    Tanil is a reference to the character that is no longer being used in this story. He's the "crazy engineer/researcher" archetype. Likes to spout a bunch of random technical information. I moved him to a different novel- one with fewer characters so he could have a more significant role. Specifically, Dictatum. He's far better suited for that story, anyhow.
     
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  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 19- Where I've run out of jokes.
    TanaNari

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    The Ort-Selucid estate was an unusual one to say the least. While most of the estate buildings were constructed from crafted stone, the material here seemed to be small rectangular blocks positioned to overlap one another. Princess Adageyudi had experienced her share of masonry, but none assembled in such a way.

    "It's known as 'brick'." A tall, well-built man dressed in traditional merchant's fashion approached. Aside from his yellow cat-slit eyes, the one visible indication of the draconic heritage Selucid carry, he looked looked like any other merchant scion. "It is one of the oldest styles of building; many ancient ruins have walls made the same way."

    "Ort Lendril?" Princess Ada kicked herself the moment after asking. So much for not implying she couldn't tell the difference between them.

    "No." The man chuckled. "Well, yes, but not the one you're looking for. That would be Father. He's waiting for us in the family hall. And to whom do we owe such auspicious company as Commander Celeste brings us? Some of my mothers suspect a ruse. Father agrees, but he says he is bored and hopes the ruse might be entertaining."

    Ada smiled, as much in relief as anything. "I hope I don't disappoint." She slipped into the role of merchant banter with ease that came of years of practice. "I am Princess Adageyudi na Tyr, and this is my advisor, Arin." She gestured to Arakash's current form, chosen to resemble a typical Tyras citizen. "And it seems you're already familiar with Lady Celeste, who is serving as an escort while I'm here. But please, refer to me as Ada. We are trying to keep my presence here secret."

    Ort Lendril nodded to Celeste and 'Arin', who nodded in return as was custom, then he spoke. "Tyras, now there is a tale I'm certain Father will find well worth hearing." That Tyras was breaking its two decades of effective silence was news enough; but to approach his family, and he felt confident in assuming they did so first, was unprecedented. "Come along, please. I doubt he would want me to keep a princess waiting."

    "Speaking of tales, your father has some fascinating tastes in architecture." Ada gestured at the 'brick' of the walls. "This must have cost a fortune to get crafted to such an intricate level of detail."

    "It wasn't all his idea, but the nature of brick reduces costs by a significant amount. You see, it can be crafted by anyone who has access to clay and a good furnace to bake it in. Not unlike a loaf of bread. Then, it is stacked as you see here." Ort Lendril kept his smile; he loved the look on the faces of royalty when they learned there were means to accomplish great things without sorcery. "Not a single earth mage need be involved in its creation or assembly."

    "Incredible," Ada said. She reached out and touched the rough stone. It was so unlike the smoothed stone worked by mages. She pulled away when her fingers began to go numb. "Nullification?"

    "Ah, yes, I'm not surprised you'd notice." The strong ones always did, in his experience. "It's not much, but in some ways brick is much like glass or quartz, and so it can hold a magical charge. Since it's already difficult for mages to transmute, Grandfather felt it was wisest to make use of the crystal to generate small nullifying fields. No single one has much power, but when overlapped they grow more resilient than any fortress wall."

    Ada would have asked more questions, but a pair of women approached, then froze as if they got caught doing something wrong. They were beautiful, though she was more concerned about the only clothing they wore being body paint.

    Their faces were painted like pale blue dolls, and they kept their expressions neutral enough to hold that illusion of delicate frailty, but for a moment they looked confused and afraid, and remained paralyzed by their uncertainty.

    Arakash caught quite a bit more information; the confusion and fear was genuine, but there was a great deal of jealousy and resentment as well. These women despised Ada and viewed her as a threat to their own well-being. The only thing they seemed to hate more than her was each other.

    "Mothers, it appears our guest this luncheon is this young lady." Lendril nodded toward Ada. "Please, go inform Father."

    "Of course." "Our apologies." The pair turned and walked as fast as required decorum would allow. Arakash picked up on their frustration and regrets; it seemed to him that they spent some social capital to be the ones to meet the guests first, and it had been wasted on Ada.

    "Do your... mothers... often greet people in this manner?" Celeste asked. She was aware that Selucid customs were unusual, and like most of the island peoples had a relaxed attitude toward nudity, but she hadn't thought it was to this extent.

    Lendril chuckled again, trying to hide his embarrassment. He had hoped he could alert one of his brothers or sisters and send them ahead to give warning, but it was not to be. "My apologies. Father has something of a reputation. It's rare we find ourselves entertaining female guests. I hope our faux pas won't discourage you."

    Princess Adageyudi kept her face neutral. She could guess the sort of 'entertainment' that would be put on under normal circumstances, and was willing to give them time to adjust for circumstances. "They seem to get along better most consort-wives I've known." Polygamy was not uncommon among the noble castes in Tyras, and Ada knew of numerous rumors about her own father's relative lack of partners which ranged from vague insults to absurd stories of high romance.

    "That may owe itself to the unique nature of Selucid bride-price custom." If the princess thought his mothers got along, then Lendril wasn't going to be the one to correct her. "You see, on the Selu islands, it is customary to give the bride-price to the bride, rather than her family. It seems someone caught wind of the practice, and Father has been inundated with offers ever since. Some less sincere than others."

    "Then I must compliment your father on his excellent judge of character," Ada said.

    Lendril fought down the urge to laugh. Knowing that one of the city's most famed and upstanding peacekeepers was standing nearby, listening to him describe what could be interpreted as a form of slavery, made it easier than it otherwise would have been. "I'm certain he'll be pleased to hear it."

    Minutes later, a different pair of much younger women came out wearing elaborate dresses of silk and precious metals. "Elder brother, we are here to inform you the banquet hall has been prepared."

    "Thank you, younger sisters. Please lead our honored guest Ada to to the hall." Lendril turned and nodded to the princess. "I beg your forgiveness, but I must attend to some matters."

    "Such is the lives of all children to powerful men." She accepted the apology by giving a compliment, one more traditional mercantile practice.

    "Writ in the stars." Lendril hurried off to tell his father about the numerous ways this situation had come within a hair's breadth of disaster in the last few minutes.

    "Please, this way," the elder of the two young Selucid girls stepped up to Ada.

    Her sister approached Arakash and Celeste. "If you have need of anything, simply as and I shall be happy to give it to you."

    "That is quite alright," Celeste said. She glanced at Arakash, as if to dare him to disagree. "We have need of nothing right now."

    Arakash smirked; sometimes, the best statements were the ones left unspoken. "As she says."

    The banquet hall itself was quite impressive, covered from wall to wall in tapestries of red, purple, and gold. Interspersed with numerous magical torches, glowing with the power of sarite crystals rather than flame. Along the walls stood a total of twenty nine girls ranging from between ten to twenty years of age dressed in similar finery to their specific hosts. It was a show of opulence which rivaled any she'd grown up witnessing.

    "Please, sit and enjoy some snacks before Father arrives."

    "Thank you." Ada sat at the far end of the table, where the girl indicated. Arakash and Celeste took positions on either side of her.

    "And as if that wasn't enough, I had to explain why your wives are wandering around naked to the Third Commander because these idiots had to break protocol." He gestured at the two women from before, their heads bowed low. "We're lucky she didn't accuse you of... of... everything!" Elsewhere, the younger Lendril had just finished his rant. "Any leverage we may have had is gone!"

    "You worry too much." The elder Lendril laughed at his son's panic. "If anything, I think we now know our leverage runs deeper than we ever suspected. As you said, the princess was quite gracious even when she had every reason to walk away. They're desperate."

    The younger hesitated, but now that he was considering it he couldn't dismiss his father's ideas as false. "You don't know that."

    "I knew Sorda back in the day." The elder chuckled at his memories of the man. "A manipulative weasel of a man, with the eyes of a hawk, the nose of a Silmid, and the fangs of a viper. He's discovered something important and now he needs me to get it for him. And he's willing to sell off his only daughter for it."

    "Father, you can't be serious!" The younger shouted again. "She's... she's no use to you, anyway. All the peasant girls are one thing... at least their children are still Selucid... but this girl is royalty. She furthers none of your goals."

    "My boy, as you get older you'll learn beautiful women are a fine goal in their own right."

    "You haven't even laid eyes on her, yet!"

    "But I know her lineage, and if she takes after her grandmother, she'll be breathtaking." Once again, the elder dismissed all his son's concerns. "Mark my words, by the end of this dinner, that princess will be your new mother. That is, unless you'd prefer to have her for yourself?"

    Younger sighed and lowered his head in defeat. "I can see there's no getting through to you. Let's go out there and see what she's asking for, before you announce your claims."

    "What sort of fool do you take me for?"

    They left the room, ignoring the two still-naked women who had heard the entire conversation. The pair glanced at one another; much as they hated each other, they knew what they needed to do.

    Out in the banquet hall, Ada enjoyed a small snack of crackers and a unique, spiced cheese that she had never encountered before. It was then that the leader of the Ort-Selucid clan came in from a side room followed by his son. To her eyes, the two looked more like brothers than parent and child. The elder Lendril still had the features of youth one would expect of a boy on the cusp of manhood, rather than a man nearing his second century of life.

    "My apologies for keeping such illustrious company waiting," he said without hesitation. "I admit, when I first heard claim that Lady Celeste was bringing an esteemed guest to my estate, I dismissed the claim and assumed it was an attempt at a clandestine meeting. An embarrassment for my family, I assure you."

    "It is quite alright." Princess Adageyudi nodded took one small nibble of her food. "My arrival is something of a unique situation for all involved."

    "Ah, but of course it is. So rarely do we Selucid get to sit at the table with foreign guests. I'm afraid we're quite beneath notice."

    False humility, another tradition of the merchant class which Ada was well aware of. The appropriate response was, as always, a compliment. "I assure you, you've been noticed by people in every corner of the world I have been to." Technically true. "But, perhaps underappreciated by many. I think I may be able to help you change that."

    Father and son glanced at one another for a moment; one triumphant and one of resigned. "I have little doubt that you could, but I'm curious about your plans."

    "I was thinking of buying your bricks."

    For a moment, Lendril's mind experienced the death of all thought, achieving through shock and disbelief what monks spent their entire lives seeking via meditation and fasting. "Bricks?"

    "Yes." Ada stopped for a moment as a drink was sat down next to her. "Your son told me about them when we arrived, and I think they have fascinating properties. As I'm certain you're aware, we have very few earth mages up in the north, which can render construction expensive. And their potential for securing vulnerable locations is no doubt significant. If you extended a branch into Tyras to sell them, I'm certain they'll be popular and beneficial to us both."

    Taking over for his now stricken mute father, the younger Lendril had to ask a question. "I thought you didn't know about bricks before I told you?"

    "I did not," Ada admitted. "However, I was sent to reopen trade and economic relationships between Tyras and the various nations of Karana. Specific details were left to my discretion. And, as my father likes to say: the only wasted opportunity is one not taken."

    Ada took a drink of her newly offered wine. It was a strange flavor, both bitter and sweet in a way that she couldn't quite describe. And in the next moment, she had doubled over and began emptying the contents of her stomach on herself, the floor, and the table. "I'm sorry!" She gagged, and choked down her body's reaction.

    Celeste reacted first, jumping to her feet and rushing over to the ailing princess. She flooded the girl with a spectrum of healing magics. They didn't seem to help the poor girl.

    Ada gagged again, then swallowed down long enough to speak. "I don't know what happened!"

    "Isn't it obvious?" Arakash remained sitting, and didn't bother to hide his amusement. "You've been poisoned. Something really nasty, by the looks of it." He hid his own gut pain; it wasn't as bad as Ada made it seem, and more than worth the price of learning that in spite of Ada's immunity to poisons, her reflexes would still respond in such a way. He couldn't think of a means to exploit that trait right now, perhaps something to do with drowning, but it was a lesson worth learning.

    The younger Lendril reacted first, and jumped to his feat. "Brothers! Seal off the entrances! Nobody goes in or out of this building until we find the assassin!"

    =====

    A/N- No, seriously, if you look into the chemical makeup of fired clay, it's kind of crazy... almost like a glass-metal alloy... it'd be very difficult for an earth mage to manipulate (not impossible by any means... but far more difficult than any other common stone... and that difficulty skyrockets when antimagic gets involved). And most people prefer the molded stone an earth mage can produce. There are many arts common to our world that basically don't exist in Midara because they have the "magic does it better" button... but the thing about brick is a significant meta-clue about the setting.

    No, not telling you what it is.

    Midara as a setting sees a lot of dowries and bride-prices being handed out. Mainly because of the whole "magic is inherited via bloodline" thing. Desirable bloodlines are expensive.

    And Selucid culture is fun. It's something of a pity that Shiara couldn't be here for this chapter- she has amusing (internal) dialogue during this section. But, well, I think this way works better from a story flow perspective.

    Also... I hope nobody I know ever gets killed via poison. After this story, I'm going to be all three of the top suspects in that murder.
     
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  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 20- Please don't sue, Scooby-Doo.
    TanaNari

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    "I apologize deeply for this insult, Princess," the elder Lendril bowed in supplication. "Is there anything we can do to apologize? Anything at all?"

    Celeste kept a hand on Ada's shoulder; she had recovered from the physical harm of rejecting the poison, but Celeste knew well that scars ran deeper than mere flesh. "I will need to do a thorough investigation. I hope you'll cooperate."

    The younger Lendril almost stepped forward, before he remembered himself. "Certainly, you can't be implying we had something to do with these events?"

    "Of course not." As amusing as this distraction was, Arakash decided it was to his advantage to get involved, if only as a means to edge out the daeva out as an adviser. "No sane being would attempt this sort of an assassination in front of a daeva, which proves the guilty party didn't know there was a daeva involved. You'd know you'd get caught, which would ruin your house and end with your executions."

    "You have an excellent grasp of our situation," elder Lendril said. In spite, or perhaps because, of his experience as a businessman, his relief and fear was clear in his expression. "Even if we had a motive, which we don't, we wouldn't have done it this way. And for that matter, we didn't even known who our guest would be."

    "Be that as it may," Celeste said. "I would like to interrogate you and your staff all the same." As much as she hated to admit it, there were ways to defeat a daeva's truthsense. While there was no means natural or magical to intentionally deceive a daeva's senses, there were illnesses of the mind, as well as simple inaccurate beliefs, which could allow obvious falsehoods to get by a daeva's senses.

    "You do, of course, have the right to refuse." Those people who write the laws included plenty of loopholes to protect themselves from said laws, while making those protections seem like attempts at fairness. "As I am not here in my role as an officer of the law, I have no power to compel your cooperation. But the evidence of a crime is not in dispute. If you refuse to cooperate, then I will contact the authorities and a full investigation will take place under the auspices of the courts."

    Which meant a public embarrassment at the least, and at worst the possibility of other legally dubious activities coming to light. Like all merchant families, the Ort-Selucid had rivals and enemies who would take any advantage that came to light. As such, it was no surprised when the leader of the house nodded and said "We would be more than happy to cooperate, Lady Celeste."

    "Very well." Celeste nodded back. "Did you poison Princess Adageyudi, or instruct another to do so?"

    "No." "Of course not." The pair answered.

    Their voices rang true to Celeste's ears, which was no surprise. "Do you know or have any suspicions as to who might be responsible?"

    "I'm afraid not," the elder said. It wasn't quite a lie, but Celeste could tell it wasn't quite the truth, either.

    "Dozens," the younger said at the same time. His words were true, in so far as he believed them to be truth. Celeste knew better than to trust suspicion as being the same as fact.

    "I'm afraid my son has some... apprehensions, about his mothers." True. "I assure you, they are all upstanding young women" lie "who would never do anything to harm anyone," false "let alone a guest in our home." Uncertain.

    Sick of his father making a joke of himself in front of Commander Celeste, the younger sighed. "Father, we must have discussed this a thousand times." Exaggeration. "I know you know better," lie "and I cannot continue ignoring that is this harem of yours is anything but a complete disaster." True. He then looked at Celeste. "Over the last year,-"

    "Shut your mouth, you-" His father shouted, interrupting him.

    Celeste interrupted him right after, with a bust of flame between the pair. Celeste wasn't much of a fire mage; in fact, the most she could do with a single spell was cause some small amount of pain, but it was her most visible magic. The fire vanished, and Celeste made eye contact with the head of the house. "I will remind you that interfering with an investigation is a crime, Lendril Ort-Selucid. I will overlook this one time. Now be silent unless asked a question."

    "As you command." The man backed down, plotting in his mind how to take revenge on his traitor son. Perhaps Celeste as well, but he wasn't brave enough to try for fear of the full force of the law destroying him and his legacy to the last fleck of gold dust.

    "A wise decision," Celeste said, before turning her attention back to the young man. "You were saying something about the last year?"

    "Yes," he said. "There have been a total of four murders, as well as a number of accidents I doubt were accidents. It's so hard to keep track of everyone that I don't even know all of my mothers' names."

    "I see." It seemed to her that she had reached the limits of direct inquiry for the time being. "See to it that the women are isolated, and I'll begin the process of interrogating them until I find the ones who are responsible."

    .....

    The next couple hours were enlightening.

    "I'm sorry, I don't know anything." Lie. "I've never killed or tried to kill anyone." True. "Lendril treats us well, we want for nothing." Lie. "We wouldn't do anything to hurt each other." Such a lie. Still, she moved on from each interrogation, knowing that it was a matter of time until she found her culprits.

    It was to Celeste's frustration that Arakash cut through the deception better than she could accomplish.

    "Ah, but we know that's not true," Arakash said when they were interrogating the fourth. "You're here because of the money, and so are the others. There's a motive strong enough that some of you are willing to kill to eliminate competition. That said, you could tell us where to look, and when we find what we're looking for, we'll eliminate the competition for you. And you won't have to worry about being pushed over a balcony. I promise, we won't tell anyone you talked."

    She took a moment to think, then relented. "There's lots of reasons, but I think the worst of them is the pregnancy clause." True.

    Sensing the woman wouldn't continue, Celeste asked the question. "Pregnancy clause?"

    "Uh," she looked at the three. "Look, I don't have the options you have. I'm nothing, an ordinary human with just enough water magic to put out a candle. I have no prospects, no future. At least here, I have a chance that my children will have a better life. The selucid complain that their lives are terrible because of their lack of spellcasting, but they can heal from any injury, don't fear disease, and live five times longer than I could if I'm lucky."

    "And you want your children to have those benefits?"

    "Who wouldn't?" She looked away, uncertain and afraid. "Maybe you wouldn't. You're powerful, I bet you can knock over buildings or give sight to the blind with but a wave of your hand. How could you understand what it's like for us at the bottom? Women like me die trying to carry the offspring of people like you, because our bodies can't handle the magic energy."

    "I... grew up without a bloodline, too." Princess Adageyudi said. "Stronger than yours, perhaps, but weak enough that I wasn't even fit to be a lay cleric. It's hard living in a world where others born luckier than you can do with ease things you can never accomplish. I can't blame you for doing everything in your power to save your children from growing up in that situation."

    Celeste kept quiet; the inequities of Karana's society was a long standing thorn in the side of an otherwise beautiful society. Unfortunate circumstances of birth haunted the world, and there was no obvious solution to the cruelty of nature.

    "Maybe you do understand." The woman gave a sad smile. "But that's only part of it. You see, there's a clause in our marriage contracts. If we don't get pregnant within one year, we're kicked out. There's over a hundred of us; even if he laid with one of us every night, there's a good chance we wouldn't conceive in time. And often he's too busy to bother, plus he has certain favorites. I've been here six months, and he hasn't so much as given me a lascivious look. Other girls have it worse than me; at least I have a family whose farm I can go back to."

    "That's horrible!" Ada exclaimed. Polygamy was a simple fact of life, but treating spouses like chattel was unacceptable. "How is this legal?!"

    "It's not," Celeste said. "And I'll do what I can to see the situation corrected." She didn't have the heart to say that doing so would ruin the sanctuary these women had found, however imperfect it might be.

    "Thank you," Ada said.

    "For now, let's focus on the assassination attempt, and the other murders."

    .....

    "Lendril Ort, of the Ort-Selucid, you are under arrest." It had been a long, tiring afternoon for Celeste, and she was going to enjoy seeing that justice was done after all that effort.

    "What? On what charges!" The elder stood tall facing the daeva, as if to intimidate her into backing down.

    Celeste considered the man's potential threat. Selucid were a nightmare in battle, with their inhuman endurance. She wasn't certain she could win in a fair fight, but the fight would never be fair. "The cover-up of a murder, and no less than one hundred counts of malicious violation of contract."

    "Violation of contract?" Lendril was taken by that accusation. "I have never violated a contract in my life!" True.

    "When a contract is entered into, the parties must put all due effort into ensuring that the other parties are capable of completing their role in the contract," Celeste said.

    He hesitated, wondering what Celeste was getting at. "Of course, that's basic law. I assure you, I've never broken that law." True.

    "Some of your girls have informed me that you haven't performed your husbandly duties even once, in spite of a contract requiring they get pregnant within the year. I have reason to believe some of the girls you sent away will be able to say the same. They didn't know the law, but I do."

    "B-but!" Lendril sputtered. "That hardly applies! Marital law is not the same as contract law! You can't do this!" Lie.

    "If I were you, I wouldn't make that argument," Arakash said. He wasn't one for 'justice', but if he got to see more men's wills being broken like this one, he could be persuaded to do it again. "A violation of contract gives you a chance. If this goes to marital court, you'll be so deep in debt that your great grandchildren would die of old age before you could pay it off."

    "It's true." Celeste ignored the dissonance of the noctrel's statement, true though it may be, still feeling false to her senses. "A legal divorce means your former wives can press for restitution, and if they can prove you failed your duties as a husband, they'd be entitled to a significant percentage of your holdings. I think we both know the courts won't favor you. Not after my testimony."

    "I'd suggest stepping down," Princess Adageyudi said. "It's the only way to save your legacy."

    Lendril slumped back against the wall, his heart hammering in his chest. His life was ruined, his fortune stolen from him. Not thinking of consequence, he sprung forward, claws at the ready.

    The room went lopsided, and it was only after a couple seconds that he realized that his head was now laying on the ground, separated from the rest of his body. His flesh began mending, starting with the growth of a new spine. But until then, he was so very tired, and cold. His visioned blurred, and then darkness claimed him.

    "He'll survive, but he won't be moving for a while," Celeste said. "I'll take him into custody. Lady Ada, it's up to you if you want me to press charges on him attacking you, or if I should charge him with attacking me."

    Ada considered her options, but there was only one logical decision. "It was you arresting him. None of his criminal actions involved me in any way. I believe he had no motive to go after me, and every motive to go after you." Between her current need for secrecy, and the state of hostilities between Tyras and Karana, it was best not to have her name attached to any legal proceedings if she could avoid it.

    "I agree with your assessment," Celeste said.

    Listening in from the other room, a young man heard the whole tale of his father's downfall.

    =====

    A/N- This is a universe where Truthsayers are commonplace. Granted, most are significantly less capable than the daeva, but still there are laws protecting those in power from being busted for their crimes with just a question. At the same time, those protections only go so far. And Celeste is a high ranking official in her own right.

    Also... apologies for the late chapter. Three days of migraines and some other drama and crap really cut down my productivity.

    Plus, this chapter is wholecloth... see, I don't have a script to go off of. This murder mystery sidequest is only about one hundred words in my notes. Most of the other Vera sidequests are the same way. And investigation plots are tricky to write.

    PS- if people actually speculate on this chapter, they'll get a bonus scene delving even further into this little murder mystery. The game sidequest will also work out that way- with 'unsolved', 'solved', 'fully solved', and 'extra bonus solved' outcomes. Of course, the only way to get 'unsolved' is to just walk out of the building while talking to no one, then never come back... so... it's the bonus rewards for doing actual investigations that'll be in question.
     
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  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 21- Cloaks, daggers, and other fashion accessories
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    "Well," a voice said in the dark.

    The younger Lendril, now head of his family, jumped out of his seat. He glanced around, saw nothing, smelled nothing. "Who's there!?" For a moment, he prayed to every god his people acknowledged that he wasn't going insane now that he was in power.

    "-looks like everything has worked out in your favor," the voice continued. Moments later, a figured stepped out of the dark: Arin, the adviser of Princess Adageyudi.

    Lendril wasn't certain how a human could have hidden in that dark corner. Even now that he was looking, it didn't seem possible for the shadows to hold an adult man. "How did you get in here?"

    "Let's say I have a specific set of skills, which are the reason I am serving the princess." Arakash smiled; he so loved when he had them and they didn't even know it, yet. "In this case, I'm the one who noticed the poison you've been feeding your father."

    Lendril's eyes widened. "Get out!" He shouted, pointing at the door. "How dare you even insinuate such a thing."

    Arakash shrugged and turned toward the door. "My apologies. And I'll apologize again after I tell Lady Celeste of my suspicions, and she confirms I was mistaken." He put his hand on the door handle. "That is to say, if, she confirms I am mistaken."

    He knew he was beaten. He slumped back behind his father's former desk, and accepted his fate. Some part of him looked forward to confessing his sins. "It wasn't-"

    "I don't care." Arakash didn't turn, and instead basked in the voice of a broken man. Delicious. He would have liked draw the suffering out, but circumstances didn't allow for such luxuries.

    Lendril stopped. "What?"

    "I. Do. Not. Care." Arakash pronounced every word. "Your motives mean nothing to me. But I'm not the one who's in charge." He sighed and opened the door to the office, revealing Princess Adageyudi on the other side. He would have preferred gaining his own individual leverage and use it for his own goals, but it was difficult enough to evade Celeste. "She cares."

    "Why?" Ada asked. Patricide wasn't an alien concept in Midara, but the availability of resurrection magic to those of wealth limited its utility in the pursuit of succession. Poison was even less popular in the halls of power, since chemicals strong enough to overcome magical protection were often hard to disguise in food or drink.

    Lendril looked up at the princess, begging her forgiveness with his eyes. "It was never meant to turn out this way. I wanted to stop the madness, but only made it worse. He was bankrupting the family. Even now, we're teetering on the edge of collapse."

    Ada stared down at the man, silent. "So you tried to kill your father."

    "No." Lendril chuckled, at the absurd state of his affairs. "It was taken from the puffer fish. Deadly in humans, to be sure, but in my people it causes little more than lethargy and... libido loss."

    Without Celeste around to judge his intent, Ada had to take him at his word. "You were trying to stop your father's excesses, then."

    "All it did was drive him to get more girls." He buried his face in his hands. "As if he could just. Ugh, I don't want to think about it. And I was afraid to stop giving it to him, in case it convinced him his stupid plan worked."

    "Which led to a bunch of women, fearing for their livelihoods, killing off the competition." Ada sighed at the sad state of the Ort-Selucid family. "So, what are you going to do about it?"

    Lendril looked up again. "You mean you're not going to report me?"

    "What would be the point?" Ada said. "It won't fix anything, or save any lives, or help any of these poor women. I'd much prefer we continue the original business dealings; I wasn't lying about brick making being a desirable industry in Tyras. If you're willing to provide them, I promise they'll be purchased."

    He blinked away the tears. The princess now represented the last remaining hope his family had for survival. "I promise, we'll use all our influence to pressure Karana to open negotiations."

    "Good." Ada smiled at the man. "I have one other condition: I know that with your father disgraced, his wives are for all intents disposable. Don't you dare."

    "But-" Lendril started to protest. He glanced over at the man he knew as Arin, standing in the corner.

    "Don't look at me," Arakash said. "I told her not to bother, and that this sort of blackmail material was too good to waste on a bunch of nobodies."

    "I'm here for justice, not revenge or personal gain," Ada kept her eyes on Lendril. "And justice means not ruining a bunch of innocent lives. You don't have to treat them like royalty, just ensure they have food, shelter, and security if they want it. Keep them here, pay them to leave, give them jobs, whatever it takes. Do not throw them out like the trash."

    Lendril considered the terms for a moment. "I suppose we could use them to fix some of the workforce issues. And brick making might not require magic or great strength, but it does require time and some training."

    "It will also take time to get trade lanes opened, even if we face no resistance," Ada said. "I'm sure you'll find a way, and look forward to doing business with you for a very long time."

    "Thank you."

    .....

    Halfway across the sprawling coastal city, Shiara was busy with work of her own. In total darkness, she did delicate work stroking her fingers along the long, hard shaft of steel, leaving the soft red glow of metal in their passing. She focused on control, using her power to not just create the heat, but feel it and understand how it played with the structure of the metal.

    It was an instrument, a dance, a symphony of magic, molecules, and thermodynamics. At this level of fine control, the distinction between Revelations broke down and the human brain lost its ability to contextualize magic. The lies evaporated, and Truth became clear. All that remained was a blade, a girl, and power.

    Then her moment of clarity was lost with a shout.

    "Perfect!" A man, Clemal pulled the half-formed sword back, set it on his anvil, and began hammering the steel. Tap-tap-clang! Tap-tap-clang! Unlike the wild, brutal strikes of fiction, each strike was quick and precise. Metal bounced with every hit, shaping the steel into the blade it would soon become.

    Now that she was shaken from her meditative reverie, she watched the crafting process. In all her years, she was never given a reason to appreciate the hard work and precision of the craftsman. Those who raised her would never expose her to 'peasants', and when she ran away, those same peasants would have little to do with her, save for purposes she wasn't willing to partake in.

    To watch her power turned toward creation rather than destruction was a balm on the ache in her heart.

    A flash of magical light distracted her. "Yeow!" Clemal jumped back, holding his hammer. He stared at the blade.

    "Are you hurt?" Shiara rushed over to him, hoping against hope that he wasn't hurt. Please, not again. Not this, too. She pleaded to gods that didn't exist, because she refused to pray to the ones which did.

    "Ah'm fine," he said. His smile, crooked though it was, was broad and reassuring. "Jus a bit o' a surprise, is all. Gimme space, I ain't quite done yet."

    He stepped back to his work, and began tapping again. Every strike, another flash. He had to close his eyes, but now that he knew what to expect, he worked the last shape of the blade into place. He lifted it by the hilt, held it out so he could check its lines. What was otherwise meant to be a simple gladius-style blade now had steel colored like a sunset of gold, orange, and red.

    "Would you look at that." He held the blade up and laughed, then opened the door and shouted. "Marid, get out here!"

    A middle-aged woman opened the door to the little house that served both as home and shop for the pair poked her head out. "Ahm busy! Whad'ya want?"

    "C'mere, look at this!"

    She sighed and came out to look at the commotion. "Looks like a magic sword. What of?" Magic weapons were rather commonplace, and as a manufacturer of such wares, she'd seen more than enough. "I'll hand it to you, it's prettier than most, bet it'll sell fast. Wha's it do?"

    "I don't know!" He laughed at his wife's confusion.

    "Well, what mix did ya use? Did you forget how to read labels, you useless oaf?"

    "I ain't used the sarite, yet!"

    Marid's complaints died in that moment. "How?"

    "That would be my fault, I think," Shiara said as she stepped out to look at the shimmering sunset blade she'd warped with her magic. "I was heating the blade, and, well, I think I got distracted and this is the result. I apologize."

    "Apologize?" Clemal laughed again. "My girl, I should thank you! Marid, what's this pig-sticker capable of?"

    Marid reached out, both with her hand and with the little magic she was born with. Her essence met with the blade's, joined with it, before she recoiled in shock and confusion. "I... I can't read this. The pattern is too dense. It's obvious that fire magic is heavy within it, but beyond that, it feels like it was Soulforged."

    "But, that's impossible," Clemal looked over at Shiara. "It can't be."

    Shiara kept her mouth shut. Soulforged weapons brought up memories best left buried, of people and magics she wished she had never been witness to.

    "I know it's not," Marid said. "But it's denser than any common enchantment, so much so that I can't penetrate it to learn its strength. But I ain't no archmage, I bet one o' them'd have better luck."

    Clemal sighed. "You think it'd be worth it to pay one to take a look?"

    "You been smacking your swords with your head instead o' your hammer again?" Marid laughed at her husband; he was a fine smith, but he had no business sense. "You're gonna have to sell that sword to royalty; nobody else could afford it."

    "Wait!" Shiara shouted. "Umm, could you keep this a secret for now. I don't want the attention. I don't even know if I could do it again if I tried." If there was anything in this world that could draw the attention of Ifaril's cultists, it would be an undocumented Soulforged weapon. They would locate her, and then disaster would strike again.

    Marid smiled at the poor girl. "Don't you worry, dear. We can keep this beauty a secret for now."

    Clemal was less enthused about the idea of keeping such a masterwork a secret, but he wasn't going to upset the girl who helped him craft it. If not for the fact that he owed her, then because she could melt metal with a touch. He knew well the danger of such heat, and what it could do to a man's flesh. "Yes, that won't be a problem. Besides, I should get back to work. It is a dangerous world out there, and I need to do my part to equip those who brave its dangers. I'd still appreciate your help, if you don't mind."

    "That sounds fun." Shiara followed him back into the darkness of the forge.

    .....

    BONUS SCENE: The 'neutral' ending of this mission runs a little different, and instead of Ada having the leverage, Arakash does.

    "I. Do. Not. Care." Arakash pronounced every word. "Your motives mean nothing to me. All I care about is what you'll give me to remain quiet."

    "Humph. Blackmail, then?" He had no fight left in him, but at least he had a little hope that he could find his way to a safe outcome. "What do you want?"

    "Oh, I think I want the same things you want," Arakash said. "Wealth, power, and for all my enemies to die of various unpleasant accidents that can in no way be connected to me." He paused for dramatic effect. "But I suspect you mean what I want from you. In which case: nothing."

    "Nothing?" Lentril had never been blackmailed before, but he suspected that wasn't the usual response.

    "As of right now, you have nothing I find useful," Arakash said. "However, that might change some day. On that day, I will make my demands, and you will give them to me without question or hesitation. For now, let's say you owe me a favor for letting you get away with disgracing your father and taking control of his empire without consequence. Oh, and don't be stupid enough to try to kill me. My death will not go well for you or any you love."

    Arakash left the office, smile on his face. With the Ort-Selucid getting their fingers into Tyras businesses thanks to his agreements with Ada, that gave him many potential tools. With luck, he could sneak a vulnerability into the bricks that would let him sew chaos in his true foe's lands. Or perhaps, they could hire an archmage with more greed than scruples to free him of slavery. Maybe they could instead provide shelter and a means of escape after he found another means to break his chains.

    The future was and would forever remain uncertain, but having options was forever useful.

    =====

    A/N- For those people reading this story who say nothing (which is all but one person)... could any of you please tell me what I have to do to convince you to join in and give some feedback? Please. It's starting to feel lonely in here.

    Feel free to speculate on what Soulforged means. It's fairly significant as plot devices go, and will feature in both this book and at least one other.

    Or Shiara's background. I'd have thought by now that somebody would have said something about her.
     
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  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 22- The cruelest chains are those we put on ourselves.
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Vera's library was a masterwork of stoneshifting and glasswork. The pillars of the building were drawn from the very bedrock beneath the city and shaped into pleasing pillars of white stone and draped with decorative silks. It was the single most impressive construction in Vera, and some argued the most beautiful and glorious construction in the whole of the empire.

    Of more immediate concern, it's where Shiara saw Ada for the first time in over a week. She caught sight of the princess at one of the shelves, flanked two people she didn't recognize by guessed must be Celeste and Arakash. For a moment she stopped, frozen and staring at the round face and purple hair that set her heart alight, before ducking into another aisle to hide, and hope she wasn't seen.

    Celeste glanced at where Shiara had stood, spotting her the moment she tried to hide. An odd quirk of the daeva's ability to pierce through all deception meant that attempting to avoid notice would draw immediate attention. It was not, however, Celeste's place to involve herself in the situation. Should the two not reconcile by the time permission to access Karana was granted, she'd have to send a messenger to contact the pyrokinetic, but for now she would give them their privacy.

    "Here's a text that might be of some interest," she said. She pulled a journal from a side shelf. "Rasha na Sae." A moment of silence as she waited to see if Ada had a glimmer of recognition of the name. "She was perhaps the most accomplished Void mage in the last three centuries. I've read this work myself, but the only thing I took from it is that void follows a different set of rules from any other style. There is almost no overlap."

    "Thanks you." Ada accepted the manuscript and with great care took it to a corner to peruse. From the first words onward, it felt to her that was reading in her native language for the first time in her life. Like she had been looking at the world as a picture sitting sideways, and only now had it been righted. Space, proportion, the flow of cause and effect, all noted in mathematical formulas which she had known since she was a child yet had never seen.

    "Read it, you say?" Arakash smirked at the daeva. "I think you know more than you're telling us."

    "Nothing of direct consequence," Celeste said. "I met Rasha near the end of the revolution. She was one of the many war orphans whom I helped in what few ways I could. A girl who lived through more tragedies than I care to describe, and turned that suffering into a drive to change the world for the better. I both admired and pitied her. None of which matters to you, I suspect."

    "You'd be correct." What did matter to him was that Celeste had told none of these details to the princess. It could serve to increase the daeva's influence over the girl, yet she remained silent. He could not understand why, which meant there were deeper secrets being kept from both of them.

    Meanwhile, Shiara had snuck out the back and started the run back to the forge. By the time she arrived, her lungs hurt as bad as her chest and her eyes.

    "My word, girl, what happened to you?" Marid asked the moment she saw Shiara's face. Her current customer would have to wait a moment.

    "Nothing." Shiara went around the open face of the shop, into the section with the forge. Today was meant to be their day off, which gave her the dark comfort of the forge to hide until she could compose herself. As much as she resented them at times, the inhuman aspects of her biology at least served to protect her eyes from the irritation and redness of crying.

    Marid tapped on the door not long after. "Come on, dear. It's not healthy to coup yourself up with the soot and coal."

    "I'm fine." Shiara muttered.

    Marid opened the door, finding the redhead sitting against a wall, knees up, arms resting on her knees, and head resting on her arms. "I know sound of a girl who's had her heart broken. I promise, it helps to talk. Do I have to get Clemal and the boys to break someone's knees?"

    "N-no." Shiara looked up. "I saw a crush at the library. We never were and will never be anything more than friends."

    Marid smiled down at her. "I'm sure she's a lovely young lady."

    Shiara's eyes widened. "You knew?"

    "I raised four boys and three girls, dear," Marid said. "And I've been tending the shop for over thirty years. I've learned to read people, watch their eyes, and learn what they're looking at and why before they know themselves. You're more guarded than most, but it didn't take me long."

    "It doesn't bother you that I'm a pervert?"

    "It comes with being a teen," she said. "Self control comes with age, and I don't think you're in danger of growing up to be an old lech."

    "I meant... the other thing."

    "Oh, don't worry dear, I'm not one to judge. I've had a few girls of my own back when I was a young hellion. For me, it was nothing more than some fun with friends that I grew out of. Don't tell my Clemal, though." Marid's voice shifted to a stage whisper. "The ol' coot still thinks I was a virgin on our wedding night. It'd break his heart to know I've been with more women than he has."

    Shiara chuckled at the idea, then felt bad about it. "I'm glad at least you understand."

    "Knowin' my husband, he might be a little too understanding if he found out." Marid joined in with a chuckle of her own. She'd long ago learned that men had a special way of looking at the world. "Don't let on, but he's been wearin' out the floorboards trying to think up a way to convince you to stay, and we do have a daughter not but a few years your senior. You're not her type, which is a pity 'cause her type is awful. Besides, we both know your heart is set somewhere else."

    "On someone who doesn't want me." Shiara's head fell back into her arms.

    "Did she say so? Because that offer to break some legs still stands."

    "No, I haven't given her a chance to." Shiara laughed at how pathetic she was. "I kissed her, then ran away like a coward. I saw her in the library and ran again, before she knew I was there."

    "Then I'd suggest you ask yourself a question," Marid said. "You said you're friends. How important is that friendship?"

    More important than I can put into words. "I owe her my life."

    "Important enough to stay by her even if she doesn't return your feelings? No matter how much it hurts?"

    Shiara said nothing as she considered the question. "I don't know."

    "Well, speaking as an old woman who's seen people waste their lives away wondering what might have been, I suggest you find the answer to your question before it's too late." Marid's smile widened. "Who knows? Even if she's not like you, maybe she'll be like me and give it a try for the fun of it."

    "What?!" Shiara looked back up, this time in shock. "How could you say something like that."

    "Oh, that's easy." Marid laughed as the girl's face started to match her hair color. "You aren't in any danger of being a lech, but it's far too late for me." With those parting words, she closed the door to the smithy. She had customers to worry about, and she felt confident her advice would stick. Shiara was a smart girl who knew how to appreciate wisdom when she saw it.

    Unlike some of her own children, who seemed dead set on repeating and surpassing their all the same mistakes their parents made.

    That evening Ada's thoughts on Rasha's theories on the space-between-space which their magic manipulated was interrupted when the sky flashed a brilliant orange. Countless streamers of fire spread out in a ring before flickering out. A minute later, another flame shot into the sky, this one fracturing into three before all exploded into red, yellow, and blue. For a moment, it resembled flowers.

    Like many others, Ada left her home to find the source of the display. Another flash, and the simple geometric shapes resembling a child's depiction of a sailboat appeared in the sky.

    A rather large crowd arrived at the source before Ada and her companions, as well as a pair of guards who had taken to prevent people from approaching the source. "Do a kitty!" A child's voice shouted from the crowd.

    It wasn't long before another multicolored stream of flame rose to the heavens and burst in the sky. While it wasn't detailed, the round shape of a cat's face with triangle ears and something resembling whiskers blossomed outward before vanishing. Cheering rose from the children in the crowd.

    "Puppy!" "Fish!" "Dragon!"

    Dozens of shapes, most requested by the crowd, were created in the sky before a young redhead stood from her spot on the grass overlooking the river. It had grown dark during that time. "Sorry everyone, I'm growing tired." That was no lie; if it wasn't for all the recent practice with using her magic on weapons, she would have exhausted herself. "Be sure to thank your parents for letting you stay up to watch the show."

    The kids did as asked, in a cacophony of high-pitched voices. Now that the display had come to an end, the audience began to disperse. The brief display of magic was a fun distraction to the drudgery of life, but it was little more than a distraction. With exception to newly joined young couple sneaking off to a much more secluded portion of the park who would later embellish the tale for their children, nothing life-altering came of the experience.

    Ada remained as the crowds started to clear. "That was... something..." she said. She felt stupid, unable to start the conversation.

    "Don't worry, guys, she's here for me," Shiara said. "And thanks again for all your help." There was nothing illegal about showing off with magic, but there were rules about doing so in a safe manner.

    "Happy to help," the elder officer said before he and his partner left. Perhaps not the most exciting of assignments, but it did allow them to make the city look good and made the citizens happier. Most mages charged money to put on such displays.

    Ada looked at her own guards. "Please don't be offended, but can we have some privacy?"

    "Of course," Celeste said. She walked with Arakash until they were out of easy earshot. Considering that both of them had superhuman senses, it took them some distance away.

    "Are you well?" Ada asked as her protectors left. "Do you have a place to stay? I'd hate to imagine you're living on the streets."

    "No, I managed to find a place to stay," Shiara said. "There's a smithy on the western side of town, with a couple letting me stay there in exchange for being living charcoal. They're nice. Weird. But nice."

    "That's good."

    Shiara sighed; none of this was going the way she'd recited in her head. "I wanted to apologize. For the whole kissing you and running away thing. I shouldn't have done that, but I won't lie and say I regret what I did, just the way I did it. I... I think I'm in love with you."

    "Oh." Ada still had no concept of how to respond.

    "It's okay if you don't feel the same." Shiara took one hesitant step forward. "You probably aren't interested in girls that way, anyway, are you?" It was the most dreaded of questions; the one that would define their future in her mind. The worst possibility to Shiara was that Ada was attracted to women, but not her. That would hurt most of all.

    "I never thought about it, before," Ada said.

    Shiara had not expected that as an answer. "Oh."

    Ada shrugged, and turned to face the river. "It seemed pointless." There was little to see in the dark, but she wasn't looking for anything. "I knew from my earliest memories that some day I would grow up, my father would choose a suitable husband, and that would be all I'd ever know of romance. Marrying for love is a luxury royalty cannot afford."

    Some dark, angry part of Shiara wanted to shout at Ada to get to the point and give her an answer. "I left home before such things became a concern." She couldn't begin to imagine the horrors of her own betrothal, had she stayed. She almost suggested Ada do the same, that they could run away together. "But if you had a choice, I wouldn't be yours, would I?"

    Ada looked up at the moon, then the stars, anywhere but looking at Shiara. "Sorry."

    "It's fine." For a moment, Shiara wondered what the range was on daeva lie-detection powers. "I just hope I didn't ruin our friendship."

    "No, never." Now Ada could face Shiara. "I don't have many friends, almost everyone I interact with is built around by status as a princess. You're the only person I know other than my brother who cares about me as a person first and a title second."

    "Would it be weird if I hugged you?" Shiara asked.

    As they embraced, Shiara did her best to convince herself this was enough to satisfy her.

    =====

    A/N- Midara's current development needs more than a few centuries to reach the Enlightenment Era, let alone the Sexual Revolution.

    For anyone who thinks Shiara's rushing things? Yes, yes she fucking is. She is also 1: a teenager. And 2: a fire elemental. They're known for passion... not so much for impulse control... The whole 'life threatening situations' thing probably also plays a role, but mostly it's hormones and the supernatural side of her nature.
     
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