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Midara: Requiem [High Fantasy Necromancer fun]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by TanaNari, Jan 15, 2019.

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  1. Rathmun

    Rathmun Experienced.

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    You missed a threadmark.
     
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  2. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Finally! A fuckup that doesn't confuse me!
     
  3. Desdiv_Eight

    Desdiv_Eight Possibly a Destroyer, [ a Tug-Boat in disguise.]

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    Besides the edginess of this sentence alone, twas a good chapter.
     
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  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 14
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening


    Elruin looked up at Cali, but her mind remained locked on the city being destroyed. "I'm fine." She was rattled by the brush of foreign emotions, but didn't feel hurt. "It's my... magic. It's all so new, and I've never used so much before."

    Calenda smiled at the girl. "I imagine the last few days have been quite the experience for you." She helped pull Elruin to her feet. "Stay strong just a little longer, and it will all be over. Then you can take a long, well-deserved rest."

    Cali returned to her project, dropping every corpse into a shallow grave by use of magic, then she went to the pit where the three corrupted corpses were, in order to slide the earth back over them. "You're needed here for a second!" Cali shouted at a pair of the men, returning for their second trip of hauling the bandits' equipment.

    The brothers were a rare set of identical twins, with the same scruffy light-brown features. Neither looked like they knew what to say or how to act with Calenda as their boss; letting the priestess give commands through their boss's son was one thing, but taking direct orders was uncomfortable for them. They kept their eyes on the ground, or looking for the nearest distraction to get them out of the awkward situation they found themselves in. No woman, other than their mother, had ever given them direct commands before.

    "When the Archmage comes, she'll want to know exactly where the bodies are buried," Cali said. She kept the statements as neutral as possible; while she was accustomed to command, and viewed these social taboos as more annoying than useful, she had learned to work with a whole lot worse than these boys. "Can you memorize the trees around this spot?"

    The pair glanced at one another, then managed to mumble "Yes, priestess."

    "The Empire thanks you." Calenda chose to make it as impersonal as possible, positioning herself as little more than an extension of the crown. It made the traditional type less uncomfortable. "Now, our task is done here. Please, give our thanks to the Lady and Lord for their hospitality, I'm sure they understand we have no time to waste on polite goodbyes."

    The young men nodded and mumbled, but still kept their eyes down. Even if they had disagreed with her, they wouldn't have dared voice that opinion.

    "Now, the tricky part will be helping you keep up, Ell," Cali spoke more to herself than Elruin. "That lightning sarite will help, but-"

    "Mister Clackybones can take me!" Elruin jumped at another opportunity to prove her skeletal steed was the perfect pet. A few hummed notes alerted the horror that its mistress had need of it.

    Calenda ran a list of concerns through her head, but it was better than her plan to leave the child behind to wait for the Inquisitor. "If you're absolutely certain you'll be safe."

    The horse knelt down on both fore and hind knee joints, then waited as Elruin climbed up to sit on its back, with her feet locked into its ribs. She gave a gentle pat to its shoulder bone. "He's a healthy, obedient, animal."

    Calenda could find no part of Elruin's statement she agreed with. It wasn't a 'he', it wasn't 'an animal', it certainly wasn't healthy, and obedient remained to be seen. "Duty above all," she muttered. "I'll take the lead, you stay behind and if you see me stop, lead it into the woods to hide. Wouldn't want to startle anyone, or give them the idea that I'm fleeing."

    Contrary to what most thought, horses were a poor choice for getting between towns quickly. Even on flat terrain which favored the horse more than it did the man, human resilience would keep the body moving long after a horse had fallen to fatigue, injury, or a burst heart. The humid late-spring air would only speed the process along.

    None of that was a concern for this thing which had no heart and felt no fatigue. Weighing less than half it did when it was an animal, with limbs that could never tire, it leapt along the path at a pace no natural creature could match for more than a minute. The morks which Elruin encountered the first day had spoken truth about the distance of the trip, a three day trek along perilous roads for a person, a night's journey for them, or two hours for a little girl and her unliving steed.

    Calenda had never been so grateful to see the walls of civilization as she was in that moment. She slowed to a stop, which Elruin took as her instruction hide in the forest along the path. Cali appreciated this in part because it meant the girl could follow instructions, but mostly because her lungs were on fire, and she didn't want to give the little necromancer the impression that her newly acquired abomination was, or that it could have outpaced her if they had more than a few minutes longer on the road.

    Cali stayed in a tree branch, catching her breath until Elruin poked her head out from the trees. "I made Mister Clackybones bury himself, so he doesn't scare anyone."

    It was better by far than taking the monster closer to town, where the guard would come out in force to destroy it and the girl controlling it. Calenda's influence would go far enough to keep them from executing Elruin on the spot, but they would arrest her, and the experience might sour the girl on both the empire and the academies. Discretion was the better choice by far.

    The girl stopped to get her first look at the city. The front wall was more than twice the height of the walls of her farm. It was even taller than the barns, which had to that point been the biggest buildings Elruin had seen in her life, and she could see many buildings that stood well above the wall behind it. Just the front wall of it could have wrapped around the entire farm, and she couldn't imagine any mud slide which would cause part of it to collapse.

    "I can't believe Engewal is so big."

    "This is Arila," Cali corrected the girl with a smile. "My hometown, and seat of our Barony. Engewal is more than ten times this size, seat of both the Duchy and Kingdom of Acheria." In the back of her mind she wondered how Elruin was walking so easily. Trained knights in saddles, on horses with some flesh for padding, would have been in pain after that ride, yet this girl showed no sign of discomfort.

    "Really?" If she was impressed before, now Elruin couldn't begin to imagine how impressive the capital might be. "But didn't you say?" She stopped, since she knew better than accuse an elder of lying.

    "I bit of a fib, to keep bad people from knowing where we were headed." Cali began walking into the field cleared around the city. There were no trees, rocks, or hills allowed within two miles of the city. No place for bandits, monsters, or enemy troops to move without being seen, as was only wise and proper. Besides, if there had been any trees, they'd have been carved up by the woodcutters. "I don't think anyone we talked to was untrustworthy, but you never know who might be listening in with magic. Besides, Arila has everything I promised to send back to help at the farm."

    "Oh, okay," Elruin agreed as she followed behind. The idea of lying to one person in order to trick someone else sounded like one of the most clever tricks the little girl had ever heard of, which brought up a question. "Who were the bad men, why'd they want to hurt you?"

    "I don't know, that's why we need an Inquisitor," Cali said. "If anyone can discover the truth, it's one of them."

    "Oh," Elruin thought back to the flashes of memories from the dead man. "What's your family like?"

    "Just your typical career military family," she said. "I'd say not all that different from yours, but, I've met your family. The last four generations of my family served the crown, one way or another, and all are lesser nobles. Grandfather was a famous hero in his time, Grandmother a priestess of Ifaril. I'm an odd one out, one of two water mages in the family, the first since Grandmother to go into the priesthood, and I didn't even go into the priesthood they would have preferred. But they can't say I haven't done my part to serve the crown."

    Soon, they reached the point of the gates, which were large and made of metal with holes that people could see through, instead of the solid wood like the farms used. It seemed dangerous to her, letting bad people look in, but on the other side of the gate were people in metal armor, with pointy sticks. Up on the walls were people with bows and crossbows. It seemed like such a sensible idea, to have people have the chore of standing on the wall to kill monsters. She wondered why none of the farms had anything like that.

    "Calenda, you were expected back last night! What happened?" A woman a little older than Cali met her at the gate. She shared Cali's bright orange hair, but was taller, broader, and encased in metal armor instead of Cali's lighter leather. A gesture from the woman, and the metal barricade began to slide up into the ceiling. Elruin found this, too, to be a smart design that she couldn't understand why none of the farms possessed.

    Cali was the one to take the submissive pose, now. Though it wasn't as pronounced as with most of the people who the priestess had dealt with, she kept her head tilted down a little, and did not attempt to make eye contact. "It is a long story. Make that two long stories. We have to put a team together. An outskirt farm needs a midwife, and there were events that will require an Archmage and Inquisitor near the same farm. Both situations are urgent, and it seems most cost effective to have them travel together. I dare not say more until we are in a nullification zone."

    The woman gestured to one of the female soldiers, who said nothing before walking out of the entryway, off to the side of the wall. "Does it have to do with your new shadow?" She gave Elruin a cold and humorless smile for a couple seconds, before returning to a flat stern expression.

    "Elruin is part of a third long story, but not a pressing one." Cali turned toward Elruin. "I've got to go for a while. It's part of my job to make sure the Midwife gets to your aunt and uncle's farm in time, okay?"

    Elruin nodded back. "I know, you have to do chores before you can play."

    Cali smirked more than smiled. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised. I can have someone take you to my house, get you a warm meal and some clean clothes. Or if you like you can wait in the training field. This is prime time to watch the battle mages practice, maybe you'll pick up a trick or two of your own."

    =====

    A/N- Vaguely sinister Cali is vague and sinister.

    Meet Marela. She's a Warmage, and outranks Cali. Also her older sister. Funny enough, if it came down to a fight, Cali would win handedly.

    It's true about horses, FYI- they suck at getting you from place to place quickly. A decently trained human on foot (or "runners" as they were known) were often employed to deliver urgent messages between cities or on the battlefield, where the endurance demands outstripped what a horse's short burst power could accomplish. Also, we can survive limbs being ripped off, while a simple broken ankle can kill a horse.

    Humans are damn tough.

    The undead are tougher.

    Elruin is impressed by the sorts of fortifications a real city possesses. The answer to most of her questions is, of course, "because farms can't afford what cities can afford."
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2019
  5. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    I think we're operating on rather different definitions of what the word "edgy" means.

    I was honestly going for a bit cheesy in that sentence, to help capture the experiences of a child witnessing something bizarre and inexplicable.

    But edgy? I just don't see it.

    Certainly not compared to such scenes as the undead disemboweling people and/or eating their faces. Or some asshole shooting a little girl with a crossbow. Now that is edgy.
     
  6. Rathmun

    Rathmun Experienced.

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    Missing quotation mark.
     
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  7. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    If that is the worst error I made in this chapter, I consider it a resounding success.
     
  8. Desdiv_Eight

    Desdiv_Eight Possibly a Destroyer, [ a Tug-Boat in disguise.]

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    Yeah sorry, cheesy would be the word I was looking for.
     
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  9. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Fair enough, we are in complete agreement, that was a cheesy line. I try to change the language of the story a bit when dealing with Elruin experiencing magic, make it more childish as well as fantastical.

    It's my attempt to imply that the physical part of the story follows a mechanical set of rules, while magic follows a more psychological, subjective set.
     
  10. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

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    heels

    That should be a dash instead of a semicolon, as the second part is not a sentence.

    Plans were dashed

    a larger

    teemed

    its

    reflex

    had left behind

    loss
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Chasing Beauty
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Especially noteworthy suggested listening.


    Maris' eyes snapped open the moment the door to the barn did. Laor stuck his head in. "The Inquisitor's here."

    "Already?!" She stood, and could see the people behind her elder brother. "Why didn't you give me more time?" she hissed, but his head refused to explode as she willed it to. She had no time to make herself presentable, so she threw together her best-practiced enchantments to make herself more presentable.

    A subtle magic rushed through her body, along and just beneath her skin to smooth away the wrinkles, even out and lighten the sun darkened marks of farm living, as well as her freckles. Unlike her dark-haired pale cousin, she had freckles to hide away. Also unlike her cousin, her magic had limits. In just seconds she had winded herself with her spell.

    "Please, you'll find I've kept watch of the prisoner all night," she said to the man who came in first. Her head down, her hands held together in front of her lap as was proper position. What she had not expected was for him to be so young and attractive, with eyes and hair that bordered on silver in coloration. Two other men, in heavy but utilitarian armor that hid much of their faces, flanked either side of him.

    The man took a moment to look at the prisoner, then his nose wrinkled in an expression of disgust. "And this is how Priestess Calenda left this man?"

    "With exception to the chicken-wounds, my lord." Maris flinched a little at an imagined reprimand to come. "My apologies, the farm is in disarray after the storm, and chickens are mean when they're hungry."

    "I'm less concerned with the condition of his body, and more that of his mind," he said. "I was under the impression that we needed a mind reader because his injuries made him a physical invalid, not that his brain was damaged."

    Glad she could pass the blame off on someone else, Maris nodded. "I'm afraid nobody on this farm is educated on this sort of injury, or how to inflict it." All true, and provably so. "The priestess said it was Elruin's death magic that did it."

    "The young necromancer." He took a seat on the hay next to the man's head. "I suppose I should be glad he survived at all, but I'm afraid it will be quite the challenge, extracting anything of value from what's left of his memories."

    "I'm certain you will succeed, my lord."

    "Then we shall see if time agrees with your faith." The man closed his eyes, and placed his hands on the temples of the half-conscious prisoner. Maris noted how serene he appeared, and she decided she liked it.

    Several minutes passed in silence before the Inquisitor spoke. "Tell me, what is your impression of this necromancer? Elruin, you called her?"

    Maris froze, as the butterflies in her stomach took the time to decide if they should be angry that this man, attractive though he was, taking the liberty to ask her personal questions as if they were close friends, or be elated that he wanted to be friendly with her. Instead she opted for jealousy that when he asked a question, it was about her gifted younger cousin.

    His eyes opened a moment later, and locked on hers until she looked down. "I upset you." He closed his eyes again. "My sincere apologies. I was not raised in this land, and am still getting accustomed to its social norms."

    "You need not apologize!" Now she felt bad that an Inquisitor of all people had to apologize to her. "I wasn't bothered, just surprised." She hazarded a look at her older brother, who was watching this interaction. Under normal circumstances, he or Father would be the one talking to the Inquisitor, but Maris had been the one to do everything in her power to make certain she got the opportunity to meet with these people from a city she might go her entire life without seeing. Now she willed him to continue staying out of it. She might never get another chance such as this one in her lifetime.

    "It is true, I needn't, but I do so regardless," he said. "The question is more than idle curiosity. She's become the topic of much gossip in the few hours between her arrival and our dispatch. Is she a good person? I'm under the impression that she's received no formal training, and relies on nothing but natural ability?"

    It was an Inquisitor's right to ask such questions, or at least Maris believed it was. "I only met Cousin Elruin a few times; the men don't like to bring us girls on the road, even if it's just between farms. Even as a small child, she was always creepy, and a loner. Not dangerous or mean, other than this weird fascination with dead animals, but strange. At times she'd attach to someone, whom she'd follow around like a puppy, but mostly she just watched their behavior, like people were some sort of strange animal she'd never seen before."

    The Inquisitor nodded, his eyes still closed as he worked whatever magic he was working on his captive.

    Maris looked over at her brother again; still watching, but still not interfering. "I can't imagine where she'd find someone to train her magic. I'm certain Aunt Othsa and Uncle Kalis wouldn't hire a tutor. They don't like magic, or not the high power stuff. They view career mages as either dreamers who can't produce anything of real value, and hired killers for the crown." Her parents felt the same way, as she learned time and time again. "Unless you're a healer, at least." Everyone loved healers, to Maris' knowledge.

    "A common attitude, I fear," he agreed. He paused for a moment. "For your lack of training, you have a remarkable talent."

    "My lord? I'm not-" Her denial was cut off by him opening one eye to look at her. "It was foolish of me to try illusions before an Inquisitor. I practice every day, but only someone like Elruin stands a chance against you, my lord." She released the magic, and with it the pretense that she might have been beautiful, rather than some boring farm girl pretending to be a woman.

    He smiled. "Better, but you are mistaken on both assumptions."

    She blinked. "I don't understand, my lord."

    "Please, call me Arden. I'm a lord only because high society would never tolerate a commoner with my rank."

    "Father says a title earned by hard work means a thousand times more than one granted by birth."

    "There are those who would have you beheaded for speaking those words," Arden said. "Fortunately, they're not the ones who write the laws. But perhaps we should return to the topic of your magic. It would have deceived most Inquisitors."

    She felt herself start to blush which, now that she lacked the protective disguise of her magic, made her blush all the harder. "Surely, I am not so powerful."

    "There's more to magic than power," he said. "Brute force has its role, especially in war, but subtlety can accomplish great things in its own right. What I'm doing right now, for example. No raw power short of a god could do what I'm doing here, but with subtlety I can accomplish greatness. And if anything, your reliance on skill rather than power made it easier to hide your work from most Inquisitors, who would detect more blatant manipulation with ease."

    "You say most, but not you?"

    "I am, in some ways, like Elruin," Arden said. He allowed a sad smile, but still remained focused. "My power was mine from birth, a rare ability that scholars call Absolute Clarity. I cannot be deceived, by anyone or anything, save perhaps the gods. Most Truthsayers are limited, often they have to concentrate on their subject to catch lies, subtle lies can sneak past, as can many illusions. I have something quite a bit more than that. No illusion or deception escapes my notice, no matter how subtle. By talking to someone, I learn their motives, goals, even the lies that they tell to themselves are obvious to me."

    Maris sank down, hoping the hay would swallow her so that she might hide with the insects where she belonged. "Then I've made a terrible first impression." In saying it, she felt liberated. "But since you already know, I want to say that you are the prettiest man I have ever seen."

    Laor gasped from his place behind the guards, and Maris turned to stare him down. Sooner or later, the conversation would be over and she would be in a great deal of trouble, but until then she was safe. Nobody on this farm would dare stop an Inquisitor's conversation.

    "A better impression than you realize," Arden said, drawing her attention back to him. "Everyone puts on acts, but most will add layer after layer of deception when challenged. Your first instinct is the opposite, to proclaim your truth with defiant pride. It is a rare trait, and quite beautiful. Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

    "Does that mean..." she couldn't build up the courage to ask him if this was him offering himself as a suitor.

    "Sorry, but I cannot," he said. "I'm afraid the situation known as 'political reality' won't allow it. Unique or strong bloodlines see... ugly... competition from the higher nobility seeking to control them."

    Maris swallowed, her dreams uplifted and dashed in under a minute. "If I said I understood, I'd be a liar."

    "But that was not the goal you set for yourself today," he said. "Before I walked in, you had no idea who I'd be. I imagine you thought I'd be some old, grizzled fossil whose last smile happened some time before your parents were born, or perhaps worse things."

    She nodded, it was true that the title of Inquisitor brought to mind nothing but unpleasant things. Until today, she had thought it synonymous with torturer, not a nice young man who complimented her and treated her with respect.

    "You wanted to see if you were worthy of the dreams you set for yourself, and none of those dreams had me in them. What is the true dream you set for yourself? What are you, what have you always been?"

    She looked at her brother, and now Mother had joined him. She didn't have the bravery to confront an Inquisitor, either. Maris took strength from the fact that she was strong. "I am an artist."

    She cast her magic in the open this time, not to lie by changing her features to be beautiful, but to proclaim the truth and accentuate and highlight herself in ways that embraced what little magic she knew. She covered her eyes much the way as she had seen Elruin and the priestess do, but with the blue of the sky she would gaze upon whenever she got the chance. A similar color spread across her skin, then in an act decided on the spot she used her magic to darken her freckles instead of hide them. Now they were like black stars on a day sky, instead of white on a night sky. It felt right to her, somehow.

    Even if Mother was going to beat her bloody after the Inquisitor left.

    Arden stood, smiling. He looked at his guards. "Take the prisoner. Lythas will be able to get quite a bit from him."

    They obeyed without hesitation, stepping moving where they had to to get to their captive.

    Maris stared like a deer in headlights at them. "You're done with him already?" She'd thought she had more time, not that any amount of time could have been enough to satisfy her.

    Still smiling, Arden looked down at her. "I was finished within seconds of touching his head. Funny thing about an emptied room? Anything which remains behind is easy to spot."

    "Then all of this was about me?" It seemed obvious, in retrospect. "Why?"

    "I wanted to know the truth, and once I knew, I wanted you to see it, too. How would you like to be employed by my estate?"

    "I... but... what?" Too much had happened too quickly for the young farmer's daughter, and it had caught up to her.

    "For now, my Forgemaster needs a new apprentice, then later I may have to teach you the art of Forbidden Wine."

    "I... I'm not suited for making weapons." More to the point, she wasn't interested in being a weapon maker. "And I don't want to."

    "You'd be surprised how effective illusion enchantments can be in combat," Arden said. "But that's hardly the goal here. In order to train a Forgemaster, they must develop a lot of skill in melding enchantment magic into metal. It has a tendency to ruin the metal, make it worthless as a weapon or armor, and mark it with residual magic that is difficult to cleanse and makes other enchantments nigh impossible to get right. Even using cheap base metals, it's expensive, and there's only so much demand for nullification zones. And there's no trick to reduce the cost in sarite dust."

    "Which is where I come in, somehow?"

    "Yes, with jewelry," he said. "It's best to start with illusions of youth and health like you used before, or the alien beauty you just created. If that is all you ever do, you can make yourself a wealthy woman, and something tells me that you'll pursue more interesting and exotic art as you hone your skills. I won't tell you where your art will lead, that is for you to decide. Tell me, how does that sound to you?"

    Like everything I have ever dreamed of and more. "What of this Forbidden Wine you mentioned?"

    He chuckled. "Strange history, that. At some point, illusion mages realized you could give one fruit the flavor of another using magic. I imagined it was used as pranks for a while, until someone realized you could do it by putting the flavor of otherwise deadly berries into safe fruit like apples. I suspect the first attempts to ferment them occurred the same day."

    Maris was stunned to silence. She'd used illusion magic on food, sometimes, in order to overcome the monotony of having so few options, but the idea of having the time and luxury to create illusion-laced alcohol for pleasure and novelty was beyond any experience in her life.

    "And that is just the surface of the ocean," he finished. "It's up to you."

    She'd all but made up her mind, but she had one more question. "If I say no?"

    "Nothing, I won't be upset," he said. "You can change your mind whenever you like, and I will send an escort to bring you safely to my estate. Though other than the exorcist who will come here in a month to check on the threat of undead taint, I can't promise any means to contact me."

    "May I have time to get some things?"

    "Of course," another instant answer. "I'll need to confer with colleagues before we leave, to compare notes. And, if you can't be ready by then, I'll send an escort in, say, three days, or a week?"

    "No, I'll only need a few minutes." Maris stepped for the door, then turned and held her hands in show of gratitude. "Thank you so much!" She stopped again only because her mother stood in front of her. "My apologies, Mother, I must do this. Please don't stop me."

    "Is it because of the Inquisitor?"

    She almost answered no on reflex. Truth is beauty, and from now on I will create nothing but beauty in this world. "Some, yes. But he's not the reason that matters."

    Leyli pulled her daughter into a hug. The hasty illusions flickered at the disruption of touch. "Then I love you, and if you don't bring me one of those youth amulets when you visit, I will disown you."

    "Thanks, Mother." Maris rushed off to gather her supplies.

    Meanwhile, Arden met up with the exorcist as she watched the girl running for the house. She frowned, but only for a moment. "So, another one?"

    "Yes," he said. "She's nowhere near as strong as her cousin, but as wild talent goes, she's impressive. More skill than half of the noble-scions who pay their way into the academies, though lacking in raw power. Still, two in the same generation in the same family and region. It's quite the coincidence."

    "That is not what I meant, and you know it," the exorcist said.

    "I know," Arden agreed. "But it's something we may want to investigate, perhaps this area caries a stronger bloodline than we believed."

    "Or perhaps you are too inquisitive for your own good."

    "Well, it is in my very nature, after all. Nothing offends me quite like a mystery. Speaking of, I sensed no undead taint in the region, perhaps you can shed light on that? I admit my skills are better at the deliberately hidden rather than just the difficult to find, but it seems odd."

    She shook her head. "There is no taint to find, I'm certain of it. The area is covered in necromantic residue, and it all but drips with corruption from the sarite Scout Calenda reported, but not a single flicker of undead taint."

    "Speaking of mysteries, please tell me you got something for this trip other than a farmgirl."

    "They call themselves the Ghosts of Sorvel. This one is a follower, but his accomplices were there. At least a dozen other members and countless sympathizers, and his mind was too shattered to give me the names of any of them."

    "Oh, the Queen will not be happy to hear about this."

    "I'd suggest telling her it's better to know than to remain ignorant, but I already tried that once."


    =====


    A/N- Maris did get a small untruth through. Chickens are mean at all times, they're just worse when hungry.

    This chapter's one of the ones that has a couple moments at the end which I hope make the whole chapter worth rereading with the new mental perspective.

    Maris' opinion of Elruin in this scene is directly influenced by your votes and actions up to this point, and the "morality and reputation" scores going on half-invisibly in the background. More socially outgoing votes would have seen a different evaluation, as would a generally less social vote pattern... but thus far it's been heavy on being social with Calenda, and almost nobody else, so it's this outcome.

    During this scene, Arden is the closest thing to an Author's Mouthpiece that I have ever written. I don't fully agree with him- I never do, with any character I've ever written, but he is still closest in this moment. Later? Well... *is* amongst the "recruitable character/possible enemy" character list. I wonder if the more shocking twist would be to make him a genuinely sincere character, or to make him a manipulative bastard? How about now that I've said it out loud?

    There is a story path where Elruin signs up with Ghosts of Sorvel, though none of the ones at this encounter there were recruitable members. At this point, that one's all but guaranteed to be a boss fight.

    Also, on a more personal note, I'd give nightshade a taste, if not for the deadly poison part.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2019
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 15
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Elruin decided she could wait for Cali at the barracks. "I'd like to watch the mages." She'd never seen or heard of anyone waiting in a home for the owner to arrive, so it seemed weird to her.

    She didn't know what she expected, the only 'training' she had ever witnessed was her brothers play fighting with sticks during those rare occasions when the weather was good and the chores were done early. She thought that maybe there'd be a punch of people like Cali, all with their own songs playing together to make a beautiful harmony.

    What she found was an outdoor stone floor made of hexagonal tiles, each just large enough that a person could stand comfortably inside one. Most were white, except the ones that the other mages were standing on, where the colors changed to a myriads of blue, green, red, brown and yellows. A couple were near a corner, blasting a wall with fire magic, while nearer were two mages who seemed to be doing what Cali did to her body, but through their weapons and armor.

    It was a fascinating thing to watch, though their songs were weak and muted, like listening to people speak on the other side of a wall. She stepped out onto the tiles, to get a closer look at the fighters; something in their magic looked like it was a trick she could do. But with every step on the field, it felt like walking in mud that was in her mind rather than on her feet. She didn't like it at all.

    Nearby, a handful of the people training felt the need to comment on the newest arrival. "Looks like a street urchin got past the guards."

    "Did she climb in through the sewers?"

    "Forget the guards, look at her tiles." Several others murmured their surprise as well.

    "At her age? That can't be her, it must be some magical equipment."

    Elruin looked down at her feet, where the stone she stood had a medium gray, while the tiles surrounding were light gray. Small wisps of black smoke wafted away from the stone, then fell back down in a way reminding her of morning fog on the crops. She took a step back, and the black mist moved as if an invisible wind was pushing it toward her.

    "She'd still have to be pretty strong, if she can carry necromantic gear of that power without it killing her."

    The practicing warriors walked past the gossipers in order to approach her. Their personal tiles stayed a deep orange, with lighter orange extending out to the tiles around him, and then just enough extra to color the tiles past those. When they got closer, the man stayed back while the woman came closer. As they separated, their colors did to, until the man's tiles were a soft red color that was only a few shades darker than pink, while the woman had a deep yellow which bordered on brown.

    When her color panels met Elruin's, they pushed against one another, instead of blending. Yellow fought black like a sunrise, and much like a sunrise, yellow won the battle. Now, only the tile Elruin stood on, and two behind her, remained dark.

    She knelt down in front of her, putting the two of them at about the same height. "Perhaps you should share where you came from, lest someone do something so impolite as call the guard to drag you out into the streets."

    Elruin kept her eyes down, in part to watch the tiles, and in part for politeness. "Cali- uh, Priestess Calenda, said I could come here to watch the mages train. She has to do her chores, then she's going to show me the city and find me a new dress."

    The woman glanced back at her partner for a moment. "Lady Calenda is a wonderful representative of the Crown, and a credit to her line."

    "You know her?" Even to Elruin, it seemed obvious they were important. The gossipers so willing to say mean things about her were silent now.

    "Why, I've known her since we were children. We're practically family," the woman said. "I suppose this calls for proper introductions. I am Lady Juna na Enge." The woman, Juna, tilted her head. "Lady Calenda is betrothed to my brother, Garit ne Enge." She gestured to the man standing behind her, who gave his own head nod. "Knowing Lady Calenda, she rushed in to rescue you from some scary monster attack, and so you'll be staying with her until your retainers can bring you safely home. I hope you have nothing but kind things to say to your liege about the Kingdom of Acheria and the hospitality of Arila despite what I'm certain was a traumatic experience."

    "My name is Elruin." It was the polite thing to do, introducing herself in return. The lack of a titular name was noted by everyone listening. "Lady Calenda said I could go to an academy."

    "Ah, a foreign student," Juna adjusted to the new information in an eyeblink, as if she hadn't made a wrong assumption at all. "That proves your master is wise to send you here. You'll find no better kingdom in the world to study the arts. Which academy are you attending?"

    "I don't know."

    For a moment, Juna looked flustered. It didn't last long. "Well, I suppose your master would handle those details since you are so young. What's her name? Is she here with you?"

    "I don't have a master," Elruin kept her eyes down. "Lady Calenda called me a wild talent, then took me away from my family's farm because they tried to feed me to morks. Then we went to my cousin's farm, but there were bad men who wanted to kill babies so we killed them. One exploded. Then we came here to get help for the babies and find out why the bad men wanted to hurt them."

    Now the pair did stop to look at one another. This was quite the story they'd need to ask Calenda about in the future, but for now they had to deal with an untrained twelve year farm girl who had more raw power than half of the royal families.

    "Well, now I am more glad than ever to have met you," Juna said.

    "Really?" Elruin smiled, hopeful to have found a new friend, especially one who could make others stop saying mean things about her. "I'm glad to meet you, too."

    "Well then, since this is your first time, I shall endeavor to make it memorable." She stood up, then stepped back some, and the tiles between her and her brother began to shift back to their shared orange state. "Interested in the tiles?"

    "Why do your colors merge together with him, but pushes away mine?"

    "Ah, that's resonance in action," Juna said. "You'll find that most magical energies, whether natural or coming from a mage, tend to make it more difficult for mages of different elements to cast their spells. That's why fire mages like us avoid the ocean. But when two mages work together, they come to know and trust one another until their auras are in resonance. This reduces the magical resistance and makes them stronger just by standing near those they're resonant with."

    "You'll even find ways to combine your magic to generate spells that neither of you can cast alone, with elemental properties and raw power that exceeds all but your wildest dreams. With practice and trust, you can find power that only gods could cast without assistance."

    "Oh." Elruin wasn't sure about their claims, but the song she heard when the two of them allowed their power to sync up was more complex than anything she could have imagined. It was beautiful yet threatening, complex yet clean, and she had no doubt that it made them stronger by far. "Your song is beautiful."

    "And Revealed, too?" Juna hopped in place. "This is going to be a treat. Now, let's get to work on the fun stuff."


    =====

    A/N- In before some SJW reads this chapter and decides the entire novel is nothing more than an a pro-life allegory, and I get more nonsensical hate mail and death threats.

    Elruin being oblivious to her torn and burnt dress is hilariously in-character. But truthfully, the more optimal in-game choice probably would have been to go get some food, a bath, and a change of clothes first, and then come to the training ground. First impressions are important. Even if part of that first impression is to make her seem less unusual in this case. Now, everyone is paying attention to her.

    As a plus, more knowledge of the magic rules, and new contacts with the social elites.

    "Master" is mostly a gender-neutral term, especially when it comes to positions of teaching and power. Mages, for example.

    ... Why, yes, I have played both Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Fire Emblem. And yes, I did make their main unique gameplay mechanics into part of the Laws of Physics of Midara. Truth told, it was only intentional with Chrono Trigger... I loved their combo system... it made the characters each feel like they were friends, helping each other in battle, rather than just statblocks dancing to the orders of the player. My only complaint is that they didn't go far enough with it, so in Midara it's been plugged into a more dynamic system.

    It also may have a bit of resemblance to the Ar Tonelico "dive system", but Ar Tonelico didn't even exist when I dreamed up Midara.

    The pairbonding stuff you saw in my other works? This is the setting for which it was invented.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2019
  13. Desdiv_Eight

    Desdiv_Eight Possibly a Destroyer, [ a Tug-Boat in disguise.]

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    And then they all spontaneously burst into skeletons,

    Wanna know something terrifying,

    We all have skeletons, Inside of us.

    The fleet is truly bamboozled.
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 16
    TanaNari

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    Suggested Listening


    "I suppose in order to teach you anything, we'll need to see what you can do first," Juna said. "So, what do you consider your best skill so far?"

    If she had been a more suspicious person, she might have considered this whole show was an attempt to learn her abilities, but Elruin had precious little experience with deception, and none with nobility. "I can zap things. But I shouldn't use that except on bad people because Lady Calenda says it's dangerous."

    Juna laughed. "I'd take that as a challenge, but I'm afraid there are rules here and it wouldn't be proper to ignore them. Bad for morale, you see. Maybe some day, you can visit our private training grounds." While she gestured toward the wall. "Go ahead, take the time to hit it with everything you've got. Don't worry, you can't hurt it. If you were that strong, the panels you're standing on would be broken by now."

    "Oh, okay." She wasn't sure what 'morale' was, but she understood rules and that these two were authority figures. She wanted to show her best, so she took the time to extend her hand as if reaching for an invisible hand while humming notes of power to herself. She wanted to make a good impression on her new friends, so she concentrated on getting as much power out as possible.

    The lance of black light traveled no more than a few yards before evaporating into smoke. She looked at her hand. "It should have been stronger."

    "The tiles don't just show colors, they absorb magic. It's kind of like running in water- the harder you push against it, the harder it pushes back, which gives weaker mages a chance to train with stronger ones, and both can get some benefit. The stronger you are, the more resistance you face, so you must work harder, which means you get stronger faster." Juna brushed some of her soft green hair away from her face, then she pitched her voice so the rest of the observers could hear. "You'll find some people complaining that it gives men an unfair advantage, since it takes away our magical advantage, but not their physical one. I say that if they trained harder, maybe it wouldn't take six of them to make me break a sweat."

    A few onlookers decided now was the time to pretend they weren't listening in on the conversation. Some, perhaps, agreed that their superior was right and eavesdropping wouldn't help them improve their skills.

    "Don't let any of that worry you," Juna said once she was satisfied with the rest of the crowd. "I think you did an excellent job. But I'm no blaster, so we should ask my wonderful brother for his expert opinion on the matter." She turned her head to look at him, and in the process guided Elruin to look as well.

    "Can you please?" Elruin asked, once again doing her best to remain polite and submissive.

    "How could I refuse such a polite request from a friend of Lady Calenda?" Garit smiled, as he stepped closer to Elruin, then knelt beside her. "First, you should work on form. A spread finger pose is good for wide area spells, which you might learn some day, but for now you need to think of your fingers as directing the magic. Point at the target with each of them. It will let you hit harder with the same power. Won't make much difference against weak magic resistance, but it's great for piercing the defenses of tougher foes."

    "Why, beloved brother," Juna gasped with a mock scandalized tone. "Are you teaching this precious child how to hurt me?"

    "Of course, my sweet sister," Garit answered back in a tone just as sarcastic. "As often as you remark that nobody in the kingdom can give you a good fight anymore, I thought this would be my gift to you."

    "That sounds like a wonderful project!" Juna laughed. "Go ahead, Elruin, let's see what you can do now."

    Elruin did as instructed, holding her fingers together instead of spread out, and was rewarded by her bolt traveling perhaps another couple feet before being eaten by the tiles. It was no stronger than before, but the more concentrated energy lasted longer in the strange field. She would have to take Garit's word for its effectiveness in combat, but it seemed sensible.

    "I did it!" Nobody had ever encouraged her to explore her magic before, and it was so much fun. For a moment, she forgot protocol. "What else should I do?" She caught herself, turning her eyes down. "Please, if you wish, I would be grateful to learn more."

    "You need not ask," Garit said. "You also need to learn to throw yourself into a spell." As he spoke, he began to extend his own arm. "You're holding yourself back, most mages do, and most of the time you should. Lady Calenda was right that you should never zap anyone, unless they're bad people who need to die. Now, let's talk about the opposite, like what you should do with a really bad man who belongs dead."

    "Until now, you've only been thinking of your blast as a weapon in your hand, now I want you to think of it as a weapon of your whole arm." He placed a gentle touch on her wrist and elbow, encouraging her to straighten out her arm pointing at the wall. "And when you fire, don't think of the wall as your target. Think of firing through whatever it is that needs to go away. Don't be gentle, don't hold back, it's in your way, it shouldn't exist, and you have to destroy it. When you're ready, end it."

    Fire through it, it belongs dead. Elruin drew on her power again, concentrating the energy through her limb while Garit whispered his mantra. Black lightning danced along her shoulder, down to her wrist. Now she felt ready. The concentrated black magic surged through her arm and took her breath with it when it left her fingertips toward the wall. Though much of it was consumed, enough power remained to hit the wall, leaving behind a black spatter on the otherwise white barrier.

    The stain of black on the wall, and streak of gray on the panels, began to fade to their default white as what remained of the arm of her dress crumbled away like dry leaves. Elruin giggled, thinking about the bad morks and worse men in the forests. She didn't have to be afraid of them anymore. One zap is all it would take to make any bad person go away.

    Then she fell on Garit's shoulder.

    "Oof!" Despite his crouched position, he managed to keep balance. "Surprisingly heavy for someone her size," he said while positioning her so his sister could take her, for propriety's sake.

    "Farm living," Juna said. "Early up, early down, lots of healthy food and fresh air, no time to sit around on your haunches getting fat. They're all built like soldiers out there, even the little girls."

    Elruin looked up at her. "Did I do good?"

    "You reminded all our recruits why we don't do live-fire training at this location," Juna said. "So, I'd say you did fine. But perhaps you should take a break from blasting for a while. There are other arts, you know."

    "Sister, are you jealous that I'm getting all the attention from our new friend?"

    "Not at all," she said. "I'm afraid that if all she learns is one style, she won't be well prepared for situations where that strategy doesn't work. It's best to be well-rounded, with solutions to every situation."

    "I'd like that." The argument sounded sensible to the little necromancer, who struggled to stand on shaky legs. "Thank you."

    "First, let's talk about breathing," she said. "You should take long, slow breaths. Deep in, deep out. Yes, like that. You'd be amazed how many people forget that magic is a physical art, as much as a mental one. Personal health matters for more than taking a hit. Especially for Negation magic, which has a reputation for harming its users."

    Elruin nodded, while concentrating on breathing the way she was told.

    "I'll show you some defensive tricks," she said. "It looks like you stand there and take hits, instead of trying to roll with the blows. The ability to turn a direct hit into a graze could save your life some day. True, it would be better if you were magically toughened, but good armor can help as well."

    "I'm tough," Elruin said. After seeing how easy it was for her dolly to kill Father, and Clackybones to kill the bad men, she knew she had some magic of that nature. "Cali- Lady Calenda said I should have lost my foot when a mork bit me."

    "Is that so?" She beamed a triumphant smile at her brother. "Let's test how tough you are, shall we?" She slid her hand to Elruin's forearm. "I'm going to squeeze here, and I want you to tell me when it starts to hurt, and we'll stop right away. Don't try to tough it out, I'm a lot stronger than you are and I don't want to break your arm."

    "It's true," Garit said. "She once punched a man's helmet so hard that he was decapitated by his own chin strap, and the severed head slammed into another man and caved his chest plate in. Ever since, she's been trying to get a triple-kill from a single punch. Not a contest you can win."

    "Okay." Elruin stayed silent as the pressure began to build, then it became uncomfortable, then it started to hurt. "Now."

    Juna relaxed her grip. "About soft copper, I'd say. You're no dedicated earth mage, but you're unquestionably earth aspect, which means you have access to time magic. That is much more interesting than blasting."

    Elruin hadn't so much as heard of that element before. "What can it do?"

    "Artificially age things, slow a target's perception of time, generate stasis effects. I've heard rumors of summoning people from the past. The most famous spell is Accelerate, which can make someone move at inhuman speed for short bursts, or heal wounds in seconds that should take years. Problem is, Accelerate devastates the body. It doesn't make you age a year every time it's used like the rumors say, but it's like running for hours in the hot sun. It can make your heart explode."

    "I don't think I like that spell."

    "I couldn't help you learn it, anyway," Juna said. "I'm on the creation side of earth magic, I can't do any destruction magic. But I can teach you how to use your elemental armor better. I'm magesteel grade; if a mork tried to bite me, it'd break its teeth on my skin."

    "I'd like that."

    "Then let's get to work," she took a combat stance. "You try to block me. Every time I'm about to hit you, try to push some of your power to your skin."

    One quick jab later, and Elruin was holding her mouth. "Ow!"

    Juna sighed. "This is going to take a while." A quick flash of healing light which somehow wasn't impacted by the panels mended Elruin's busted lip. "But at least you're not crying, that makes you better than half the new recruits."

    The hour that followed was a series of painful lessons in the gap between Elruin and Juna's ability. Strength, speed, knowledge, and the ease at which the older woman could change her magic from defensive to offensive were fascinating, frustrating, and often times painful. By the time Cali came out onto the field, Elruin was eager for that bath and change of clothes that had been promised to her.

    "Looks like we'll have to stop for now," Juna said when she spotted Cali. "Lady Calenda, we heard you've had an exciting trip. We're bursting with curiosity over the details. Dinner at the manor, perhaps? Young Elruin is more than welcome to join us."

    Cali smiled, but it was tired and unenthused. "Perhaps tomorrow would be better. I've got the Inquisitor, now I need to go by the church, make sure we get a good midwife ready for the journey, then... I'm afraid I'll make a terrible guest tonight."

    "I can imagine no such thing from you," Garit said. "But we won't press, our curiosity is of less priority than your wellbeing or that of Miss Elruin."

    Calenda nodded. "If no new emergency happens in the next few hours, then I'm sure I'll have time tomorrow."

    "That would be lovely," Garit said. "But please, allow us to make your life easier tonight."

    Cali hesitated, but had little choice but to respond. "I wouldn't want to impose."

    "No imposition at all," Garit said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "And it wouldn't require anyone going out of their way. Rig owes me a favor, and I can think of no better way for him to repay me than to provide a new outfit for your young charge."

    There was no good way out of the setup, and Calenda knew it. "Sounds like Rig will be going out of his way."

    "Nonsense," Juna said. "Rig has always been generously compensated for his work, this time before knowing what work he would do. I know how you feel about accepting gifts, but this is hardly the same. This is us doing our best to help this charming young mage. She is, after all, a guest in our city, and it's simply unacceptable for us to have a reputation as poor hosts. In fact, I should make an offer of my own. I noticed Elruin is a Virtuoso, and my old music teacher could use a new student."

    "Still holding a grudge after all these years, dear sister?"

    "Why no! Never. Not at all. Maybe a little." Juna moved from one thought to the next without a moment of hesitation. "But I would never suggest such a thing if I didn't think it was the best course of action. Please, consider the offer, not for your sake, but for us and for her."

    "Fine, I'll consider it," Cali said. "Please accept my apologies, but I really must hurry. Lives are on the line."

    "Of course, don't let us stop you," Juna said.

    Elruin turned to face the pair, clasped her hands together and bowed. "Thank you for playing with me."

    "It was our pleasure. We'll be happy to play some more, any time we're not busy with our chores." Juna watched Calenda leave with Elruin, then smiled at her twin. "Your taste in women never ceases to amuse me, brother."

    Elruin stared at the buildings as they walked. Everything was so impressive, so new. Never before had she walked a road made entirely of stone, nor had she seen horses used for a purpose other than work, nor had she seen so many people in one place or dresses of such bright and fanciful colors. It was like she'd walked into a storybook of some faraway land.

    "Your boyfriend was nice," she said to Cali in the hopes that she could get her talking again.

    "My b-?" She stumbled over her words. "He wishes he was my boyfriend."

    This confused Elruin. "He said you were betrothed."

    "Yeah, that's what he thinks," Cali growled. "But I'm not interested in marriage, and if I was, not one where I'm cucked by my sister in law."

    "Cucked?" She had no idea what the word meant, but having met Juna, she guessed it had something to do with fighting. "Are they bad people?"

    "Uh, sorry, that's a bad word you should never repeat it," Cali said. "It's a vicious rumor, not true. If it was, he wouldn't be pursuing me as hard as he is. Garit is a good man, for the most part, and both his family and mine love the idea of us getting married. Well, except some of my sisters who'd rather take my place. I'd let them in a heartbeat."

    Elruin looked back at the barracks. "Why don't you want to marry him?" She was still processing the concept that marriage was a thing you could choose for yourself. All she knew was that at some point Mother and Father would declare that one of her older brothers and sisters were married to someone, there'd be a party- sometimes at their farm, somewhere at the farm of the other family- and then they were married and either a sister moved away, or a new sister moved in. Later, babies happened. She saw no reason to think any deeper on the subject until now.

    "I just don't want to get married," Cali said. "I like my freedom, to go where I want and run the wilds. I joined the priesthood specifically in order to get outside the system, and now Garit wants to drag me back in."

    "Is that why you don't want to take their gifts?" Elruin saw no difference in getting clothes from Cali compared to getting them from Garit's friend.

    Calenda sighed again. "No, that's something else. Garit and Juna are the sort of people who want everyone to be grateful to them, want everyone to owe them and to know they owe them. They trade favors like currency. Come a few months, and they'll ask something in return. Nothing special, not something difficult, maybe something you'd want to do anyway. Then you're even, but now you've got it in your head to ask for another favor. And sooner or later, you will, because something will go wrong. Maybe they'll have you repay that one, maybe they'll sit on it, but sooner or later you'll find you owe them seven or eight favors, and now if they ask for something you owe them too much to say no."

    All of this confused Elruin, but she continued to listen.

    "They don't do anything bad with this power over others," Cali continued. "In fact, if it wasn't so unbelievably manipulative, it could be called heroic. One time, they saved a girl from slavery. It was a mess, unjust but unquestionably legal. Merchant's guild against citizens with the Guard caught in the middle. Almost led to riots, then they stepped in and fixed everything with the words 'we're calling in a favor'. End result, a slaver lost coin but can't complain, the business guilds settled down since none of their own were forced to do anything by the nobility, some business loses out on a slave, and a pretty but otherwise unremarkable young woman working at the library sings the praises of the kind lords who saved her to everyone who will listen."

    "They were liked before, but now everyone loves them. Which is good, I mean, their mother is our Countess, and nobody in the city doubts Garit gets the throne while Juna becomes the HIgh General. Some people hope their mother dies sooner rather than later, they so look forward to their heroic nobles taking direct leadership. I can't deny they're good leaders, but I despise the games. I want to leave others alone, and they leave me alone. Except the ones who hurt other people, I make them my business."

    Elruin still hadn't puzzled out the whole mess, but she could tell Cali wasn't sure how she felt, either. "So they wouldn't make me do bad stuff?"

    "You? Not at all," Cali admitted. "They'll encourage your education, call some favors to make certain you get the best tutors the kingdom, maybe the empire, can provide. A talent like yours will be cultivated and pushed. Then, in five or so years when you're considering what career you want to pursue, they'll step in and have a polite conversation. No matter what you want to do, I'm sure they'll have five major lords desperate to recruit you, or perhaps they'll convince you to remain working here in Arila. A handful of small favors cultivated into one big one. But, I guess, it's up to you."


    ======

    A/N- When doing this as a game, I can imagine a lot of graphics effort devoted to Elruin's hands. If it's in action-RPG format, there will definitely be a setup of "charging up" attacks for extra damage.

    Not sure how or if to do destructible clothing.

    Garit and Juna are two of my favorite NPCs in all of Requiem. They get to tease each other, be generally fun, and on some routes are the final bosses of Act 2 of the game (perhaps the hardest fight in the game, definitely hardest to that point). It's a three-act game. Arguably four acts, but I'm kinda envisioning act 2 being twice the size of act 1, and act 3 being twice the size of act 2. But that's a different conversation. Point is, the siblings are great fun to write.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2019
  15. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Found the "suggested listening" for the chapter and edited that in.



    The twins now have their theme. I love it for being subtle, beautiful, complex, and with just a hint of sinister and powerful under the surface, like at any point the song can increase tempo and go militaristic or pace and go thriller.

    It's perfect for them.
     
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  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 17
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    All this talk of guilds, riots, and planning for after she finished getting training was too complicated for Elruin, and she had a solution for games she didn't understand: don't play. "The city seems almost as scary as the wilderness."

    She smiled, a genuine one at that. "There is a reason I run the wilds at every opportunity. There, the threats are straightforward, with clear goals and outcomes. Worst thing a monster will do is kill you."

    "I don't think I'll take their help," Elruin said after a moment. She looked at Calenda, seeking approval from the older mage for her choice. Elruin didn't have many friends at the best of times, and now she was down to two, one of which was buried in the woods outside the city. "Would their gifts have helped a lot? Will learning real music help me? We could still go see Rig and a music tutor without them, right?"

    "That's a lot to unpack," Cali said. "Some think training in a classical art will help mages focus their skills, but I've seen wild talents with no formal education that were quite comparable to their classically trained counterparts. Maybe they'd have been even stronger with the right training, maybe not. But as my father likes to say, the only tools you can't use are tools you don't have, and all Revealed mages have a natural talent for learning arts which suit their magic. Once an academy takes you, I'm certain they'll have you with a music tutor within a week. Not one as illustrious or as likely to give her best to your education, but still a quality tutor."

    "As to visiting Rig? I wouldn't bother," Cali dismissed the idea out of hand. "He's the high end specialist, you don't get to walk into his place unless you've been recommended by a previous client, or drag a man's weight in gold to his doorstep."

    "Truth told, their offer opens all sorts of doors for you that I can't see any other way to open. Doors that are more valuable now than they'll be at any point in the future for you." She slowed her walk for a moment, then fished the extra pair of sarite from her clothes. "Although, now that I think about it, there might be a way. It involves joining their game, but as players rather than pieces."

    "Does it put us in danger?" Elruin may have been convinced to reject the offer, but not because she didn't want the benefits.

    "No, but it comes at a cost." Cali walked into one of the side-streets, still holding the pair of magic jewels made from crystalized life force. "These sarite are comparable to what Rig uses in his low quality works, with perfect properties. But I recommend saving them for a straight trade, with any luck we can find a death sarite. They're rare, but there aren't a lot of people compatible with them, and they're expensive to refine."

    "The trickier part is, well, I can adopt you?" Calenda fielded the possibility as a question.

    Elruin looked at her. "What's an adoption?"

    "Oh, surely you've had parents with children die, and then another adult takes charge of those children? We'd do that, then the law will consider me your mother for these sorts of things."

    "You can do that?" She always thought children were handed off to a relative, which would make Carob and Kasa her new parents if Mother died. Cali seemed like a better choice, since a choice was possible.

    "It will be considered improper, but undeniably legal. Don't worry about my rep, I'm already the city maverick. They will pay for mages with your potential, and with my family name you've gone from technical to actual nobility. The money, the name, and the prestige you could gain from being accepted at your age, will be enough to get what the twins are offering."

    "But it does mean you have no choice but to play by the academy's rules for years to come, and it'll still cost favors, but to people with less finesse than the twins. Plus, well, the whole nobility marrying into nobility, but that's as certain as the sunrise, anyway. With your power you'll have suitors to spare when the time comes." She slipped the shards back into her clothes, then began to walk again. "No need to decide now, we'll have a few days before we can get you to an evaluator. You'll pass, hands down, but bureaucracy demands we go through the system."

    They continued their walk while Elruin considered her options until they started through an area that was full of lush grass and large trees. "Why do you leave this spot barren?"

    Cali looked back at her. "Barren?"

    "Yeah, the grass is healthy, and the soil looks strong, but it hasn't even been harrowed." Elruin ran down her list of complaints one after another. "Is this supposed to be a hay farm? It's too early in the season for the first harvest, and it's too late for it to be this short, and it's the wrong type of grass. There aren't any fences, so it can't be for cows. Does nobody here know how to farm?"

    Cali laughed at the girl's assumption, but she had to admit she knew little or nothing of the assertions the girl had about working the land. "No, it's not a farm, it's a park."

    "What's a park do?"

    "It doesn't do anything, it's just here so people can come look at the pretty grass and trees. They love nature, as long as it's a fake, safe nature that's not hiding vicious monsters. Cultivating the land never crosses most of their minds."

    "That makes no sense." Elruin had never had much love for nature. She didn't hate it, but it never rated high enough in her attention to merit an opinion, it simply was a thing which had always been there, and she expected always would be there. "How do you feed all these people, without farms?"

    Calenda looked forward and up, unable to explain to the little girl that often times they didn't feed them, and more people in the cities died from starvation and the elements than any other cause. Nobles, soldiers, anyone else with magic potential, would be fine, but those of weak bloodlines faced a reality more cruel than any wilderness. The worst of it happening during the rainy and cold seasons, when access to the farms and their produce became difficult. "You're right, it doesn't make much sense."

    They stopped in front of a large building of white stone which became the new record-holder for Elruin's list of tallest buildings she'd ever seen. "Who lives here?"

    "According to the priests: Ecross, Ifaril, Nalet, and Enge," Cali said. "This is the church, and I must attend some duties and find a midwife suitable for the trip to your cousin's farm."

    "To help the babies!" Now Elruin had something positive to think about, instead of the empty field sitting in front of the church.

    "Right," Cali said. "This shouldn't take long, just stick with me."

    Moments after they entered, a priestess clad in orange and brown, her pink hair tied in a series of elaborate loops which reminded Elruin of a flower, approached them. "Sister Calenda, I hope the sun greets you well." She gave a look at Elruin. "I'm afraid we're low on space for the needy right now."

    "Sister Erena, the sun chose to greet me with interesting times, today," Cali answered back. "This is Elruin, she'll be staying with me for now. More likely than not, the academy will be looking after her in a week or so. But there is need for a midwife at one of the outskirt farms."

    "I see." Erena gave the girl a longer look, wondering if the girl was indeed academy material, or if Calenda had finally spent too long in the woods. "It will be... difficult to find an escort in this season."

    "How's an Inquisitor, an Exorcist, and an Archmage sound? I talked to the Guard before I came here, they are ready to do their duty."

    "An Exorcist? I see you were not exaggerating about interesting times," Erena said. Exorcists were Church domain, but they were also considered a military resource, to seek out and destroy undead taint wherever discovered. There weren't many situations where Church and Military were in full accord, but the threat of undeath was known to all. "I hope this does not imply a death cult."

    "I suspect the events to be unrelated to one another," Cali said. "It appears to have been spontaneous taint, brought on by the lives lost in the storm, the woman lost one of her triplets when a tree fell on her house. However, the Inquisitor and Exorcist will be better suited than I to judge the situation. The Guard has agreed that taking the Midwife along as well would not be an undue hardship, considering other circumstances."

    "Then I shall make the arrangements, immediately." Erena was suspicious about the situation; it seemed like a convoluted chain of events, and Calenda was not an easy woman to trust. Still, it was true an injury causing a miscarriage could bring on taint, and lost fetuses or children often caused the worst outbreaks, so she had little choice but to follow through. If time proved Calenda a liar, it would be the Inquisitor's business to deal with. "Will you be staying long?"

    "I cannot, Sister." Calenda chose to phrase it in a manner that couldn't be called into question. "I must show Elruin to my home, and see to it that she is properly cared for. The wilderness was not kind to her."

    "The wilderness is kind to no one," Erena agreed. "I hope we shall see you, soon."

    Calenda smirked at the obvious lie. "If duty permits."

    She left, taking Elruin through the park again, then down a side path that brought them back toward the wall. A small but well made house sat in the shadow of the wall, and it was there that they approached. "Welcome to my home. It's not much to look at, but it's all I need."

    Suggested Listening

    A creature poked its head out from a perch on the roof. It looked somewhat human, but also like the occasional praying mantis her brothers tried to scare her sisters with when they felt like being mean. They gave up on scaring Elruin that way, when it became clear the bugs were more scared of her than she was of them.

    It hopped off the roof, then glided down on wings of gossamer in front of them. If not for the metallic-green skin, and hair that looked like it was made of moss, the creature might have been mistaken for a six or seven year old child. "Hey, Lyra," Cali reached out and gave the moss-mat a rub.

    "Did you adopt her, too?" It was the obvious explanation for why there was a weird bug-child on the roof of Cali's house.

    "More like she adopted my maid. It's how we met. I'll tell you the story some day," Calenda said. "This is what they call a dryad. Don't let the shape fool you, she's not a person, in fact she's more plant than animal. Some dryads are intelligent, but this one is around the level of a smart dog, with the personality of a cat, and the power of a dragon. Luckily, she doesn't mind people, I'm not sure how many of us would die trying to kill her. In theory, she belongs to the church. In truth, she picks a new 'owner' whenever the old one dies. She's been here centuries."

    Elruin took a hesitant, but friendly step closer. "Hello, Lyra. I'm Elruin." She reached out, thinking that petting moss hair sounded a little fun.

    The bug-plant-pet hissed at Elruin, her bottom jaw snapping open to reveal her mouth was a set of insectoid mandibles with finger-like appendages tipped with inch long fangs that dripped a green ichor.

    Elruin jumped back, while Calenda put a hand on Lyra to push her back. After a moment, Lyra turned and flitted back up to the roof. She turned, gave one more hiss, then vanished behind the ridge.

    "Sorry, Ell," Cali looked up at the roof. "I guess Lyra doesn't like your magic."

    "It's okay," Elruin said. She was a little disappointed she couldn't play with the dryad, but she'd grown accustomed to animals running away. "Mister Clackybones still loves me!"

    "We'll save that conversation for tomorrow," Cali muttered. "For now, let's introduce you to Rena. You'll like her."

    The inside of the house was also comfortable, about the size of the farmhouse Elruin grew up in, but without the conditions of being forced to shelter between ten to twenty people at a time for generations. Plants lined the walls, and the whole place smelled like clean grass and wildflowers.

    "It's pretty!" Elruin gasped, touching one of the vines dangling from the ceiling. "Did you do this?"

    "Well, I am a botanical mage," Calenda said. "But this is Lyra's. Fae are natural fonts of life energy, this comes from sheddings of her hair. It's edible, grows fast, and doesn't require light or water. Doesn't taste bad, either. I hope that if I can create a version that breeds true without Lyra's presence, we might be able to feed many more people with far less work, which can save countless lives."

    "Lady Calenda?" An older woman brushed away some of the hanging plants. In some ways, she reminded Elruin of Mother, with her wisps of gray hair blended into the faded blonde that still hadn't lost all its vibrancy. The difference was that this woman walked with strength and youth despite her advancing years. "Oh, my, who's your guest?"

    "This is Miss Elruin," Cali answered. "Ell, meet Miss Rena. In theory, she's my housekeeper, but it's more like it's her house and I just sleep here once or twice a week when I miss quality home cooking."

    "Nice to meet you, Elruin," Rena gave a maternal smile to the girl. She ignored the damaged dress. "Will you be staying for dinner?"

    "Yes, please, ma'am."

    "Oh, aren't you a polite one! I should have you teach my granddaughters a thing or two."

    "Thank you, ma'am, I would be happy to help!" Elruin thought it was so much nicer to be praised for doing good than scolded for doing bad.

    "I'll cook something extra special for tonight." Miss Rena kept a gentle smile the whole time. "I'll dice some of the apples up."

    "Sounds perfect," Cali said. No matter what Rena put together, she was confident it would be delicious. "Come, Ell, I'll show you the bath, then pick out a new dress for you."

    "Okay!" She faced Rena again. "Thank you for your time." Then she chased after Cali who, to her surprise, led Elruin into the cellar instead of outside. She was even more surprised to learn it wasn't a cellar, but like an extra house underground, with rooms and everything. "Wow!"

    "It's nothing special," Cali said. "But I suppose it's better than what you're used to. Here's the bath room, and our heating stone. Just set the water here for a time, then you can give yourself a hot bath."

    The bath was the most luxurious thing Elruin had ever experienced, though she found the meal a little odd. There were lots of vegetables and the soft, tasty vine-stuff that she now knew belonged to Lyra. However, she found not a shred of meat in the entire dish. She kept silent, however, since she knew it would be impolite to mention it to her hosts. It didn't seem like Cali or Rena hogged all the meat for themselves, since their plates looked the same as hers.

    "Tomorrow, I'll have to take Elruin shopping for some more clothing," Cali said. "Put out the message to the academies. Oh, and how could I forget, our future overlords invited me to take Elruin to dinner with him, so expect you'll be alone with Lyra as per usual."

    "Say what you will about Lord Garit, one can find no fault in his determination," Rena gave a tired smile.

    "Writ in the stars."

    "Can we go to the library, tomorrow? Elruin asked when she sensed the lull.

    "I suppose we should have time," Cali said. "Anything you want to read about in particular?"


    =====

    A/N- Second time in my life I spelled bureaucracy right on the first try!!!

    Finally! A conversation about normal stuff! Well, normal for the timeperiod at any rate. Space that could be used for farming but is left uncultivated is a confusing concept to Elruin.

    It occurs to me that a lot of the conclusions I've come to as to how magic guided by bloodlines slides right into cyberpunk dystopia territory, just with a fantasy reskin. They paint over a crumbling society with a thin layer of lies, illusions, and what human kindness can be found, but nothing will fix the underlying rot.

    And the entire noble marriage system in Midara is more eugenics program than the business transactions of our world. I suppose I just can't escape transhumanist undertones in my story. Heh.

    Culturally, elderly parents stay with their children or grandchildren, but having a dryad following you around all the time makes normal traditions a little complicated.

    'Writ in the stars' is a cultural phrase for something that's so true it may as well be a divine law.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
  17. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

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    "praying", unless that's a new species with a punny name

    the other animals are "a"

    led
     
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  18. Threadmarks: Geopolitical Landscape of Engeval
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Geography and Neighbors:


    Engeval (the Valley of Enge) is a large region of temperate rain forest (roughly the size of France) formed between the Sea of Letar and a mountain chain known as The Enge. A particular portion of the range contains a series of semi-active volcanoes which serves as a wall to the vast desert wasteland to the southwest of Engeval. The Ancestral god Enge draws power from these volcanoes, making it a strong Forge Aspect god.

    To the northeast, the Sea of Lenal remains mostly unexplored, due to ceaseless monster attacks that prevent vessels from leaving the shallow waters near the shore. Some rare, powerful, ocean-going vessels come in from the Lenal Islands, seeking to trade luxurious spices and foodstuffs. As the two powerhouses of the region, there is some rivalry between Engeval and the Islanders, but war is prevented because any force of troops large enough to serve as an invasion force would draw every monster in a hundred miles.

    To the southeast, the Basin Jungles are a vast stretch of wilderness, marked mainly by goblins and other reptilian sapients who despise all mammals with a religious fervor, blaming them for the woes of the world. To them, being born human is a crime worthy of torture and death. Their lack of organization, metal tools, and having to deal with the same monster attacks as everyone else, prevents them from being a true threat to the empire.

    Within the swamps are some Silmid and Ferin enclaves, who provide a trade partner of valuable and exotic forms of sarite, and are eager to purchase well regarded Engeval weapons and armor.

    To the northwest, the nations of Senol Plains. Dry compared to the wet forests of Engeval, and filled with much larger beasts than can easily roam Engeval's wet, windy, and elevated terrain, these cities are few, far between, and forced to devote almost the whole of their resources just to driving back monsters. They are eager to purchase food and armor, while offering numerous exotic trained beasts and sarite.

    There is no official point where the Senol Plains of the North become the Senol Deserts of the South, but the lands grow more dry until it becomes difficult to find water and the monsters increase in power until they are too strong for any wall to deny. The most ancient maps and texts speak of a once-vast series of kingdoms which lined the region, numbering in the hundreds, which fell one after another to the wilderness. Now only ruins remain of these civilizations, and the promise of vast wealth for any who could survive long enough to loot the long-forgotten cities.

    In the Enge Mountains proper are a number of Dwarven holds, some in better condition than others. Dwarves are interested in the wealth of surface foods while happy to trade enchanted weapons and various metals. However, their alliance with Silmid makes them self-sustaining, and they hold little need for human goods. Engeval does make a steady profit taking Silmid silks and Dwarven gems and trading them for Lenel spices.


    Political Structure:


    Six kingdoms make up the Empire, with Enge Itself sitting as Emperor, while the six regents and three high priests form a Regent's Council, to determine the course of the Empire in all matters which Enge chooses not to involve itself. In almost 500 years, Enge has only issued four Imperial Decrees, making the Council the de facto ruling body of the Empire.

    Some political historians note that Engeval is not an empire, as the so-called kingdoms within can not be considered true kingdoms. They share a single ruling lineage, some control over one another's governing system, a language, a religion, and no notable cultural difference. They are in truth, a series of duchies, with Enge serving as King In Absentia, and the only reason it's called an empire is because the nobility's egos won't accept anything less than to have their own kingdoms.

    It isn't a crime to spread such an opinion within the empire, but it won't make friends amongst the social elites.

    While Engeval calls itself an absolute monarchy, only Enge has the right to issue absolute decrees, and all other nobles are beholden to a series of High, Middle, and Least nobles which make up the complex chain of political alliances within the Empire, as well as Common Rights that makes clear note of what powers do and do not reside with the servants of the empire.

    In addition to the nobility, there is the church, which is supposed to protect the common people from the predation of the powerful, and the numerous guilds which represent the economic interests of the city's businessmen and landholders. The military represents a fourth, officially neutral, organization that swears its fealty to Enge and the rule of law.

    It is difficult to tell one organization from another at times, as there are no laws preventing the nobility from serving as priests or working as merchants, and almost anyone of high rank within the military is nobility.

    In addition, any citizen can become least nobility simply by becoming the owner of a piece of land, whether by taking control over wild territory (as Reclaimers often do), or by purchasing or being gifted land by a landowner.

    Most positions of nobility are determined by heredity, with the family elder deciding who will inherit the property upon the death of the parents, and if no heir is clear, then a vote will be had by the children who stand to inherit. Inheriting nobles are considered responsible for the wellbeing of their family, as their parents were before them.

    The position of Regency, however, is determined by vote. Often, the Regent will nominate a successor, but in the end the new Regent will be determined by a vote of all eligible nobles for the position, as well as the adult sons and daughters of the former king and queen, who by law may not inherit.

    One a new regent has been nominated, the Council then holds a vote to decide if the nominee is acceptable- often by asking the opinions of local religious and business leaders. The region's former regent's wishes will be taken into account, and considered an official post mortem vote, if an official document presenting the regent's wishes has been made available.

    In some extreme cases, Exorcists may be employed to ask the opinion of the dead regent.

    Engewal, as largest city within the Empire, serves as the unofficial capital of the empire, though it possesses no more official power than any of the other five nations. The official location of the capital is the Five Peaks, the site of a volcanic caldera that the Cult of Enge teaches to be the spot where the twins who first established the nation were conceived. Every so often, a hopeful woman (and her guards) will take a pilgrimage to the spot, to beg the god to sire her children. Any woman so blessed immediately becomes the High Priestess of Enge, but most die during the journey, and of the rest only two have received child from the god.


    Legal Rights and Privileges


    All citizens possess the right to a public trial, by Truthsayer, and a punishment meted out by a judge and jury within the confines of the law. Though it is more common for criminals, knowing the Truthsayer will find them guilty, will choose to accept a punishment by judge alone.

    Criminals can not have "undue harm" inflicted upon them by an officer. What constitutes undue harm depends on what the criminal is guilty of. People who feel wronged by officers are allowed to leverage an accusation against the officer, which will be verified by Truthsayers.

    Filing false charges against someone is a major crime. Also an easy one to catch, because Truthsayers.

    Criminals have some room to "purchase forgiveness", and will often pay the victims to forgive the crime. Making such an offer is considered legal and proper, it is ultimately the victim who decides whether to accept. "Crimes against Enge's people" (usually acts which impact a large number of people, or which seek to defraud the state, or lying to officers) offer no such indulgences.

    Slavery exists in two forms- one known as "debt slavery", where a person may be forced into servitude to recoup expenses. Debt slaves have some limited rights, such as not being forced to perform sexual services or dangerous labor. With time, they can earn their freedom. The other, known as "moral slavery", is a punishment for criminals who have, in the eyes of the law, "forfeited their human rights, by virtue of inhuman behavior". Considered less than animals, their owners have the right to commit any act, up to and including the murder of the slave.

    Public assembly is allowed, but limited, as is religious freedom and the ownership of property. The people are allowed to make their voices heard, and have enough influence to sway the political body, with nobles and merchants who consider it useful to at least be perceived to be on the side of the common people.

    Some rare number of Silmid also inhabit Engeval, and are provided legal protections, but are not considered proper citizens of the empire. They are appreciated for labor in enclosed spaces, as their small size and natural climbing abilities give them freedom of movement in places humans cannot go.


    =====

    A/N- My readers wanted to know more about the geopolitical structure of the region. Here you go.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  19. Rathmun

    Rathmun Experienced.

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    Undue. "undo" is when you return things to their former state. When I first read that portion, I thought there was a spell to "undo" someone's actions.
     
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  20. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 18
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    Elruin slept on a bed made of living plants, layers of moss stacked atop vines in a web that would make a spider dizzy. It was by far the most comfortable bed she had ever experienced in her life. She awoke to the smell of cooked food, and so rushed to get ready; Mother and Father became cross when the children weren't at the table in time; she and her siblings missed out on more meals that way.

    "Early riser, that's good," Cali said when the girl peeked in. "Eat up, we have a long day ahead and I don't know if we'll have time for lunch."

    "Where's Miss Rena, and Lyra?" Nothing more than polite chatter while she got her plate ready.

    "At church," Cali said. "Rena has always been a devout believer, spends an hour at the church praying every day, and at least one more volunteering. That's part of why Lyra chose her."

    "What are the other reasons?" Perhaps if Elruin knew, she could convince Lyra to play with her.

    "The priests will tell you 'purity'," Calenda said, though her tone was dismissive. "But, they'll never be able to explain exactly what purity means. They say 'if you have to ask, you'll never understand', then act like that's wisdom instead of deception. All we know for certain is she always picks religiously devout women, though she doesn't seem to favor any particular religion, and only those who have never killed any living animal, except maybe some plants and bugs. If you ask me, that's filter enough."

    Elruin began to eat while Cali talked, enjoying another dish made entirely of vegetables. Perhaps that was another part of making Lyra happy, since Cali seemed happy enough to share in the mutton at Aunt Leyli's farm.

    "Speaking of purity, we have to talk about your pet," Cali said. Elruin considered it quite rude of her to talk while she was eating, but there wasn't much she could do to object under the circumstances. "I kept it quiet, but you have to destroy it. Or, better still, we get another Exorcist and let her destroy it, in front of several members of the Guard."

    "But why? Mister Clackybones saved us."

    "No, you saved us," Cali emphasized. "That thing is an abomination with no mind and no soul. Controlling one is a crime, as is choosing to allow one to exist when you have the power to destroy it. The fact that it was naturally spawned, and you used it to save lives, is the only reason you can walk away from this without being executed, or worse." 'Worse' was an understatement for the ages. Elruin was young, and had a ridiculously potent bloodline. There was the possibility that she would be locked in an antimagic cage and used as breeding stock. She would be nowhere near the first to suffer that fate.

    "But why?" Elruin looked Calenda in the eyes, breaking social protocol in the process. "Like you said, I control Mister Clackybones. He can't hurt me, or anyone unless I say so."

    "You control the shell," Calenda said. "But not the force that created it in the first place. The walking corpses are nothing but a symptom, the disease itself infects the spiritual layer of the world, where souls reside, and where magic power is drawn from. If not destroyed, it will spread and consume everything. And that includes those necromancers who think that, somehow, they'll be the first exception to the rule. You can't control the taint, nobody can."

    "Do you know that for certain?" Elruin asked. "Maybe you just don't know how?"

    Cali sighed. "You're lucky you're cute, because people have been killed over lesser heresies." She took a deep breath. "Ell, there are five Greater Gods and three Ancestral gods of Death that I know of. Some don't just allow, but encourage murder, torture, human sacrifice, and acts of evil that would make you cry. Even they demand the annihilation of all undead taint. Don't be the fool who rushes in where even Gods fear to tread."

    Elruin had nothing she could say against that argument, save that she still wanted to keep Mister Clackybones. "But he saved us."

    "The Exorcist and Inquisitor will hear about what happened at that farm, and that includes you taking control of that thing. Then they'll return, and they'll want to know what happened, and I'll have no choice but to tell the truth. I can bend it, a little, and not mention how much you argued against destroying the monster. As a wild talent, maybe you don't know how to destroy it. Do you?"

    Elruin hesitated for a moment; she knew the song, suspected she knew how to break the song, but she couldn't be certain. "I don't know, I've never tried."

    Cali took a slow breath. "Good. That's good. The situation was stable, and it was better to wait until we had an expert available, on the off chance that you make things worse trying to fix them. I'm no necromancer, I don't know how to cleanse taint or what might go wrong in the process. They can't fault me for caution outside an emergency. But the team has no doubt already left, and will probably return by tonight. If that monster isn't destroyed by then, you will be, and I'll be lucky if I'm not as well."

    "Oh." Elruin looked down. "But."

    "Look, it will take time to get another Exorcist ready. There's only a few of them in the city, and one's out on business. We can go to the library, find what you want to know while we wait. I'm sure you'll understand when you have a chance to think about it."

    Elruin disagreed, but she still didn't see much choice. Nothing short of taking Mister Clackybones and running away would save him, and that would upset Cali and everyone else.

    During the walk to the library, Elruin tried to find another subject of conversation: clothing. Her new dress was nice, but it wasn't hers, and she didn't want to be a burden and destroy even more outfits that weren't hers. "Cali, is there a way to keep my clothes from being destroyed?"

    Cali looked at her. "Outside expensive mage-tempered material like Rig uses? Don't use magic in clothes you want to keep. Or at least don't use strong magic, you can get away with the gentle stuff."

    "So it's not just me?"

    "No, it's not just you, it's everyone," Cali said. "Some elements are better than others, but it happens to all of us one way or another. Sometimes, I wish I was a fire mage, at least having your clothes burn off looks intimidating. Mine just grow mold and rot off. But when did you ever lose clothes to your magic?"

    Elruin thought back, and every outfit destroyed so far had been thanks to mud, being shot by Father, wild animal attacks, and a bad man exploding. "I destroyed the arm of my dress when playing with Lady Juna and Lord Garit. He showed me a new trick, and it burned the sleeve. I almost fell over, after."

    "Ah, then don't use that spell," Calenda responded. "The twins take training as seriously as everything else they do. If you don't push yourself to those levels, you shouldn't have any problems. But I'll look into some low quality mage-tempered cloth for training. They'll demand you have something at any academy, anyway. Speaking of, maybe that's a way to save time. I can contact an academy Exorcist while you study at the library."

    Then we kill Mister Clackybones. "Okay."

    The library itself was larger than the barn that held the cows at the farm, made of stone like most of the city. "Is everything stone here?" she asked.

    "It's to be expected, when earth mages are the most common type in the city. Also, some of the oldest architecture comes from buildings abandoned by the dwarves before humans reclaimed the land from the wilderness."

    Calenda led them to a woman working behind a table, next to another table with a man who would help the male guests. "Hello, I was hoping you could help me."

    "With pleasure," the woman said. Then she noticed Calenda's clothing. "To what do we owe the honor of being visited by a priestess?"

    "I'm in the process of getting this girl ready for an Academy Evaluation," Calenda said as she put a hand on Elruin's shoulder. "It may take some time, and she wishes to study in the meantime. Please help her as you can, until I return."

    "I'll do everything in my power, Priestess." The librarian came to a handful of conclusions in quick succession. A girl so young with Academy potential came from a line of power, and had wealth to back it. Perhaps it was unusual for noble scion to wear such modest clothes, but that simply meant her family didn't want her to stand out.

    "Then I am relieved. Elruin, be a good girl for the nice lady."

    Elruin stood in polite subservience to the woman. "Hello, I am Elruin. Please, I'd like to read more about the history and, umm, politics of the city."

    "My name is Mipa," the librarian said as she continued her evaluation. Her dark hair and eyes, and pale features, suggested a exotic origin, which made her a foreign guest. As such, it wasn't too bizarre that a child of her age would want to get started on learning the local upper class customs. She was no doubt being groomed to a position of great power, perhaps a foreign diplomat to Engeval. "That is quite the topic. Let us start with the founding of our largest city, Engewal, and work from there."

    While a mere peasant like her had no hope of receiving a position of real power, there were any number of lesser positions required by nobles that would be a step up from her current lot in life.

    Whatever misconceptions the librarian had, Calenda made no effort to correct them. No untrue or even misleading statement had been made. It was not her fault the idea a child of twelve had more ability than most second-year academy students was too unbelievable to cross anyone's mind.

    Calenda shook her head as she left, and asked herself again why she was doing so much to help this girl.

    Some part of her hoped she wasn't like Garit and Juna, gaining favor with someone of obvious power, in order to leverage it later. Necromancers were rare to begin with, only a handful stronger than Elruin, and none younger than twice her age. If the girl could be convinced to abandon her empathy for the undead, she'd be a power to behold.


    =====

    A/N... Yeah, the controlling the dead thing is going to be a real problem with Pretty Much Everybody. You know when the gods of murder and human sacrifice consider them "going too far" that there won't be a lot of people on board with the undead army plan.
     
  21. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 19
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    The time spent with Mipa in the library gave Elruin some understanding of the world she'd found herself in, with its bizarre world known as 'politics'. She had no idea why people wasted such effort on these sorts of things, but all the books seemed to view this as normal, and she'd seen so many other great ideas from the city that she guessed this one was just too clever for her to understand.

    Although Cali agreed with her when she said that having a park instead of a farm was a silly idea, so perhaps the city people were wrong about this as well. It seemed to her that her first plan was the best: it was safer not to get involved. The problem was, it seemed like everything in the city had politics, including the academies to which Cali thought Elruin should go.

    By the time Cali returned, Elruin felt she understood the basics- nobles made all the decisions, like Father on the farm, but without friends and allies that were strong, nobody would do what the nobles say. Much like the workers on the farm, you had to be nice or they'd leave and the work would never get done. Unless they were bad workers, then nobody wanted them to come back.

    But Father was a bad man who shot her with a crossbow, so bad people could pretend to be nice people in order to make others help them. Cali seemed to think Lady Juna and Lord Garit were that sort of bad person who pretended to be a good person. So she would have to be friendly to them, but pay attention in case they try to hurt her in the future. The city-people were already going to kill Mister Clackybones, so it was clear to her they weren't nice.

    By the time Calenda returned, the sun was high in the sky. "I trust you didn't cause any trouble."

    Elruin looked up from the map she was studying, an old one of the area before the Empire of Engewal existed. "Yes, I've been good." She turned to Mipa, and clasped her hands together. "Thank you, ma'am, for your trouble."

    "There was no trouble," Mipa replied. "I believe you are the most polite and quiet guest the library has ever had." Too polite, for Mipa's taste. Watching the girl read and study in absolute silence was akin to watching a wax doll that would turn pages. No changes of expression, no shifting to get comfortable, she hardly so much as blinked. At times Mipa began to wonder if the child was breathing. It wasn't until the girl had left that she allowed herself the luxury of shuddering; if that's what foreign nobles expected of their children, she'd stay right here in Arila.

    "Does that mean" we're going to kill Mister Clackybones "you've found an exorcist?"

    "Close enough," Cali said. "She's a scourge. Exorcists are necromancers trained as healers, while scourges are battle-mages. I'm told exorcists have special training to remove taint from people without killing them in the process, which is a difficult process that only a rare few have affinities for, but any trained necromancer can cleanse taint from dead material."

    Like Mister Clackybones. "I understand."

    The trip was more small talk than anything, as Elruin asked Calenda questions about politics, and got some insight into the most important guilds and organizations within the city. Not many of them seemed like something Elruin would be involved in, since she knew nothing of trade routes, sea travel, or weapon crafting. She was surprised to learn there was a farmer's guild, then disappointed to learn it was about selling food made on the farms rather than doing any farming. She decided the Dragonslayers sounded important, however.

    "They're more known for suicidal insanity than political acumen," Cali said of them. "Some get rich, others get dead. Better to be a military Dragonslayer than joining the guild. Pay's worse, but you get support, intel, and kept to missions that are safer or crucial, rather than chasing every monster in Engeval until you find the one that determines your fate. But, well, a lot of stupid young men and women, mostly noble scions whose families are not wealthy enough to grant them a landed title. Sometimes I think the only reason the Empire tolerates them is because it kills off dangerous youth."

    "Dangerous?"

    "Strong bloodlines, quality weapons, teen stupidity, and desperation. Scary combination. Better to let them rush into the wilds than to sit around scheming violent revolution. And I suppose some of them do kill off an actual dragon once in a while, which helps everyone."

    At the gate, Cali left Elruin in order to go into the side area, then returned minutes later with two women in Guard armor. "This is Elruin, the wild necromancer you've heard so much about." Cali gestured to the girl. "Ell, meet Jess and Lefara. They shall be our escort and witnesses."

    "I am pleased to meet you."

    "As we are you," Jess responded. "Scout Calenda says that you captured an undead horse?"

    "Yes, Guard." Elruin nodded, it helped to keep her head down so she could hide her emotions. She couldn't let them see her feelings. "It was at the farm. It helped stop the bad men." She also couldn't help but speak in poor Mister Clackybones' defense, even if she knew nobody but her would care.

    The guards looked at Calenda, seeking some cue from her. She intoned the same explanation she'd used dozens of times in the last few hours. "I don't think the taint spread to any of them, but Exorcist Rayles was sent to the incident site along with Inquisitor Arden. I trust their judgment better than my own. I had Elruin bring the monster with us, because I wasn't certain how much control she could exert over a distance, nor do I know if she can cleanse taint. It was contained, better to wait for someone we knew could destroy it safely."

    "It was a sound, if perhaps overly cautious, decision," another voice said from the entrance to the gateway. An older woman dressed in a formal black combat uniform of leather stood there. "As Scout Calenda describes it, I doubt any harm would have come from destroying the creature. Still, no reason to take unnecessary risks." She approached Elruin first. "I am Scourge Nerys na Renor." Like Elruin, she had black hair, making her the only other person she'd ever met with that hair color.

    Elruin nodded and kept her hands together. "I am Elruin."

    "I am told you're a wild talent," the scourge made conversation while they opened the gate. Her stern face and reserved body language were oddly comforting to Elruin, though it made the guards uncomfortable. Calenda had dealt with enough necromancers over the years to know this was what to expect of them. Earth mages were stubborn, fire mages aggressive, and necromancers underwent rigor mortis while their hearts still beat. "And that you wish to join an academy?"

    "Yes, Scourge," she addressed by title. "Are you going to take me to your school?"

    "No." The stern looking older woman answered. "I am here to ensure the taint is destroyed, and to evaluate your potential. It is not that I distrust Scout Calenda's judgment, but no academy will accept a mage so young without the highest recommendations."

    "Lady Juna and Lord Garit say I'm really good for my age." Elruin imagined their recommendations qualified.

    "Is that so?"

    Calenda considered how to respond. "Generals Juna and Garit expressed some interest in her education." It was the most neutral way to describe the encounter.

    "Lord Garit taught me how to zap a wall, and Lady Juna hit me." Elruin considered that statement, then decided it needed elaboration. "Lots of times."

    "General Juna has a rather hands-on approach to training her soldiers," Cali added. "And I have been considering adopting Elruin, which may play a role in how we approach her future education."

    "Yes, Lady Juna's practice sessions are renowned throughout the academies. Especially the Order of Respite." Scourge Nerys responded. "Unorthodox, yet effective. If they were to recommend you, or you were to join a noble house, then your acceptance into an academy is all but guaranteed. How about we do some small tests while we walk? I'm told you're a Virtuoso?"

    "Yes, Scourge." Elruin started to hum her notes, bringing up small samples of her magic. The guards with Calenda slowed their pace, just to avoid being too close to the necromancer and her unnatural music, while Calenda and Nerys remained unaffected by the music.

    As Elruin was put through her paces, Nerys explained the academies, and what they would expect from the girl. It was a lot to consider, but it would help Elruin learn her abilities, compete with all the other mages in the world, and find a future career.

    Suggested Listening

    When they reached the edge of the forest, the moment which Elruin had been trying to will away the whole day came. She closed her eyes and sang to Mister Clackybones, who picked himself up out of the dirt to the startled dismay of a fox which was exploring the disturbed earth for whatever had been buried there.

    He walked toward Elruin, unaware of the fate which waited for him, and stared with empty eyes at the five witnesses. Two of whom held their spears at the ready, as if such weapons would cause much harm to him.

    "Impressive control," Nerys muttered with more concern for Elruin's technique than the subject of her power.

    Elruin wanted to scream and cry. Some part of her wanted to make Clackybones fight back, but she couldn't imagine the more experienced necromancer would have any difficulty doing what she was doing. "I... may I do it?" The idea of surrendering control and allowing the scourge to harm her poor horsey was unacceptable to her.

    "Very well." Oblivious to the reason why, Nerys had no cause to object. "It is a minor taint, and I am here to watch for mistakes."

    Elruin resumed her song to the matrix of energies that was Mister Clackybones. To her sight, there was little which was different between his life, and the human beings around her. True, it was a different source, and she could point to no single part of it that made him 'alive', but such was true for the people as well. They, like he, existed as a tangled network of concept and energy held together by forces she could not explain.

    He was not alive, but he was a being just like them in every place which mattered. He looked at her, unable to recognize that he was about to be betrayed by a second master in as many days.

    Two final notes, and it all came undone, the only mercy Elruin could offer her faithful steed who had done nothing wrong in either life. The bone collapsed on the trail, devoid of animating essence.

    "It was sloppy technique," Scourge Nethys noted. "Using raw power to make up for lack of finesse. But still better than half the second-year students' first attempts. For someone of your age and lack of formal training, one could not imagine better results. Guards, the taint has been removed. Please gather the remains to be burned while I triple-check the area. I doubt anything was missed, but there is no such thing as too thorough when it comes to the undead."

    Elruin ignored the woman. This was praise she didn't want to hear. She walked over to Cali and gave her a hug. "Thank you for the best days ever." Even if your city-people made me kill my horsey.

    An arm went around her back. "As I walk."

    A thought occurred to her. "Can I get a doll? A toy horse?"

    "I'll see what we can do."


    =====

    A/N- No, Mama, he was my dog skeletal abomination. I'll do it.

    ... I gave myself a sad... I credit Gundry's music, the man's a genius. I know, I mostly link to the Fiechters, but that's because their music more generally fits the tone of Requiem, not because Gundry is in any way less than them as a musician.

    Realpolitik through the eyes of a 12 year old farmgirl.

    That's another thing to put on the game design notes. Give everyone else all those little lifelike movements they do in games these days. Don't bother programming them in for Elruin. Like Wednesday Addams, but not done for comedy.

    Also, next chapter we finally have dinner with the twins.

    And sorry for taking so long to get this up, today. Lots of crap and I've been feeling under the weather. Time for me to pass out and die. Maybe in that order.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
  22. Desdiv_Eight

    Desdiv_Eight Possibly a Destroyer, [ a Tug-Boat in disguise.]

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    It's going to turn out that the inquisitor stuff about the deads bollux ain't it, after all, the skeleton in the beginning of the story was very much alive, if only at first.
     
  23. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    That would be major spoilers. :p

    Not by any traditional definition of "alive", but I get your meaning. However, sapience neither proves nor disproves the prevailing theories of the undead in the setting. After all, the spirits of volcanoes can be sapient, too.
     
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  24. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

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    rather than

    dressed in a

    were

    Extra space there. I tried indicating it with a background color change, but that doesn't seem to work properly. The change is visible in the editor, but not in preview.
     
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  25. Desdiv_Eight

    Desdiv_Eight Possibly a Destroyer, [ a Tug-Boat in disguise.]

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    I feel like seeing a Las Plagas or a G creature in this setting would make everyone vomit out of their own ass.

    Imagine if Skeletor walked out, he'd basically be the most powerful threat to the universe in this setting.
     
  26. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    I admit I'm not terribly up with the lore... but no, I'm pretty sure those would be scoured from existence, if they even had a chance to form an outbreak in the first place. Even a low level battle mage would have stomped anything I've seen in any of the RE games. Though I stopped paying attention after 3, so I have only a basic idea of what pops up later.

    Honestly, Elruin would have no trouble in the first RE games. Requiem kills viruses faster than just about anything else, at a range of a couple dozen meters. A walking field of "out of context problem" playing the violin.

    These people have had millenia to adapt their magic specifically to fighting actual magic plagues and supernatural forces... to the point where there are no mundane human-vector diseases left on their world (stuff that doesn't rely on human hosts like the salmonella, tetanus, and e. coli are still around, but everything from smallpox to the common cold has been eliminated). Viruses and parasitic worms are easy for them.

    Of He-Man fame? A universe where many characters (including the main villain) are canonically of a power level that trades blows with Superman? Granted, they'd lose, but so did The Hulk... the MotU setting is absurdly powerful even by comic book standards. Skeletor, hammy clown that he is, is a legitimate "punch the ground, kill a city" grade powerhouse... be like trying to fight The Hulk, except that Midara has a lot of mind and emotion mages, so they have a chance against Hulk.

    Midara's not a setting which treats casual city-breakers as minor problems. Mind control parasites, yes, but not city-breakers.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
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  27. Threadmarks: Chapter 1, Episode 20
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening (still)

    Elruin remained close to Cali while the scourge and guards made certain that there was nothing left of Mister Clackybones. There wasn't, Elruin made certain of that, and she hated them for it. She hoped all of this would be worth it. "Did... did I make a good impression on Scourge Nerys?"

    "I think so," Cali said. "She wouldn't have been discussing which academy you wanted to go to if you weren't talented. This is the first time I met her, and necromancers are hard to read at the best of times. Speaking of, the College, huh? I hadn't taken you for the scholarly type."

    "I used to borrow Kasa's books to read when I was done with chores since nobody wanted to play with me," Elruin said. "Some of them were hard, I'm not as smart as Kasa."

    Cali knelt down in front of Elruin, keeping her hands on the younger girl's shoulders. "Kasa was not smarter than you." Elruin nodded, since this seemed important to Cali. "When you get older, you'll learn that there's a difference between education and intelligence. There are many, many things out there smarter than Kasa which don't read a lot. Such as pond slime."

    Elruin smiled; Kasa hated it when people didn't think she was smart. "I'm going to learn all about how magic works, then I'll be smarter and more educated."

    "Well, if there's anything necromancers are known for, it's spending countless hours sitting still in dark rooms."

    Miracle of miracles Elruin managed to go the rest of the rather uneventful day without destroying yet another article of clothing, so with a quick cleaning spell from Cali, she was ready when time came to visit Lady Juna and Lord Garit's mansion. Once again, Elruin was impressed by the size of the building, though it didn't compare to the ostentatiousness of the church. The wall around the building reminded her a little of her farm, complete with the gentle hum of magical static from the defensive sarite fixtures.

    Suggested Listening

    Four guards, two of each sex, waited at the main gate. When Elruin and Calenda began walking down the path to the gate, they followed a well-choreographed routine that involved the men stepping back and the women stepping forward to have them greet the guests.

    "Scout Calenda," one of the women acknowledged them as they approached. "We were told to expect your arrival, please allow me to escort you."

    "Your assistance is appreciated," Cali answered. In truth, she'd walked these halls so often she could probably show the guards places they never knew existed, like the secret passage in one of the wine cellars where... well, no point dwelling on those memories. Social protocol, however, demanded they all play their roles. While the three walked into the building, another female guard exited the building to replace her. Everyone had a role to play in this dance known as noble society. Cali hated every second of it.

    The inside of the building was as well designed to impress as the outside, with walls of solid white stone the likes of which Elruin had never seen before. The crackle of fire-magic kept the building lit and heated, and made for a fascinating song in Elruin's ears. The whole building sang of fire magic, with an earth magic undertone. It was as if the twins were with her, already.

    The dining room they were led to was designed to impress, the sort that might be used to house visiting kings, not that Elruin knew anything about kings other than that they were in charge of all the nobles beneath them. Like most of the rooms she'd seen, it seemed to large for its purpose, with a table that was well made, but looked small compared to the floor it stood on.

    "Greetings, Lady Calenda and Miss Elruin," Lady Juna was standing and ready when they arrived. "I apologize for my brother. He wished to be here to greet you as well, but the matters of running the city do not always care for our wishes. Shall we eat first while we wait? I promise Garit would prefer it that way."

    "You know him best," Cali said. Were it other nobles, she might suspect some sort of political trap being set, a power play against the other, but the idea of them harming one other was insane. "Dinning while we await Lord Garit's arrival would be save time. These are busy days for all of us."

    Most people would never know themselves half as well as these two knew each other. When the pair plotted, they plotted as one against their rivals. Thus the salacious rumors. While they no doubt had ulterior motives in this invitation, it was going to be the sort that would involve the pair of them trying to lure Calenda and Elruin further into their camp. Power plays would only serve to harm that goal; the real trap would be honeyed words, gifts, and promises of alliances.

    The meal was excellent, dozens of foods to choose from most of which Elruin had never seen before. She ate enough that her stomach started to hurt from being over-full, and nobody tried to hog the meat for themselves since there was more than enough for everyone.

    Garit arrived not long before the meal was over, but said nothing as he took a seat next to his sister and claimed the remaining leg from some animal Elruin suspected was a bird. Since everyone else was almost done, he opted for that small snack, then Juna indicated to the all-female staff to clear the plates. Only then did social graces allow them conversation.

    "I'm sure my sister has apologized for me, but I express my regret and frustration nonetheless," Garit chose to start. "The aftermath of your encounter at the farm has had some... far reaching consequences..."

    Oh, here it is, Cali thought. While she puzzled out a careful way to navigate the metaphorical trap, Elruin cut straight to the heart of the matter.

    "Did I do something wrong?" Elruin asked. She came to the same conclusion Cali did, but didn't consider that it was part of a ploy rather than just her getting in trouble.

    "No, not at all," Lady Juna said. "In fact, you did better than anyone could have expected from one so young. The exorcist said there was no sign of taint left on the farm; the only evidence of undeath was witness testimony. Even many skilled necromancers couldn't accomplish that thorough a cleansing. Their one complaint was a lack of suspects to interrogate, but that's hardly your fault. Besides, we got enough information to act upon."

    Calenda allowed herself to breathe again; not for the first time, she wondered if she was too paranoid for her own good, and that her history with the twins was coloring her judgment unfairly. "Then it wasn't all lost when I let one suicide himself?"

    "Well, it didn't make the job any easier, Scout." Lady Juna said.

    "My apologies, General."

    "Don't be too harsh on Lady Calenda, sister. They're operating in small cells, so that no one group can identify any others, and scrying has only served to prove they have experienced espionage mages working for them. That team was not but the lowest rung of their organization, and if we took all of them alive, I doubt we'd know more than we now do."

    "You're right, brother, I'm letting stress get the better of me. Sorry, Calenda," for the first time since they were children, Juna addressed her without title. "You weren't the only one they went after. They timed a simultaneous strike on Scouts across the empire. Including you, twelve escaped. Five others are missing, and one is known to be dead."

    Now Calenda's suspicions went back into overdrive, wondering if the whole display was an attempt to make her amenable to her possible future husband, then hating herself for worrying about that instead of the lives that were lost. "Scouts are the ears of the Empire," Cali tilted her head down, to respect the dead. "They tried to deafen us before launching future attacks."

    "At the very least, most cities will hesitate before risking the Scouts and Guard on the roads," Lord Garit said. "Cut the farms from the cities, and they can act with impunity. And since it was such a widespread move, with so many possible advantages, we can't begin to guess their next move."

    "Do we know anything about their motives?" Suspicion of the twins notwithstanding, Calenda was a loyal soldier who had no intention of not joining this battle.

    "They believe they can spark a revolution," Lady Juna said. "Or at least, that's what their rank and file believe. Their leadership's smart enough to realize that's impossible, so the true goals can be anything from simple banditry to a higher noble hoping to humiliate rivals as a play for one of the thrones. They call themselves the Ghosts of Sorvel."

    "Merat!" Calenda didn't so much as look apologetic for the outburst.

    Elruin recalled the images from the dead man. "What's a Sorvel?"

    "Sorvel was a city," Cali said. "Before I joined the Guard, before you were born. Some insane cult decided that the walls were an evil plot to control the common people and make them dependent on the nobility. Someone in Sorvel, somehow, deactivated the Sarite barrier. It was a massacre. I never comprehended why they did it. They could have walked out the front gate and died in the wilderness, if they wanted. Instead they killed tens of thousands."

    "Utter ignorance," Juna added. "It got popular amongst scholars, who pointed to old maps and stories that proved people once lived without walls, without fear of monsters."

    "Myths," Cali said. "Fiction dreamt up by men who died a thousand years ago."

    "Not necessarily myth," Lord Garit said. "There's strong evidence monsters have become more powerful, or at least more common, in the last couple centuries. If that trend dates back thousands of years, then perhaps it's true that there was a time our ancestors lived without the walls."

    "Whatever the truth in centuries past, it's clear to anyone sane that we need the walls today," Juna continued. "But the cult believed that they could prove they weren't necessary, and thus would discredit the nobility. They proved the opposite, on many levels."

    "Sarite shields aren't just about preventing monsters from breaking in, they also prevent human energy from leaking out," Cali explained. "A scholar can explain it better, but it's obvious to any mage with magical senses that humans generate a unique sort of energy. A city of that size, with the bubble popped, was a beacon that called to every monster in the empire and beyond."

    "They got the shield restored." Garit's turn, now. "But it was too late. Within minutes, the first dragon arrived. Less than an hour later, other beasts broke down part of the wall. Another hour, and half the population was dead, while the strongest of the nobility did their best to organize a fighting retreat. Hundreds fought, died, so that thousands had time to escape. We all lost people that day. Friends, family, loved ones."

    "May they never be forgotten." Calenda spoke the prayer, the others echoed it. Even Elruin, who lived in a small farm that knew nothing of politics, knew the prayer for dead family.

    "But, then they were," Cali muttered. "Others still believe in that insane idea, claim that Sorvel was sabotaged, and the nobility called in the monsters as a plot to destroy their fictional paradise. It's illegal to speak such opinions today, but there are sympathizers across the Empire. It looks like these Ghosts of Sorvel are an extension of that insanity."

    "Oh." This was all far too complex for Elruin to wrap her head around. She knew what it was like outside the walls, and while strong people like Cali were safe enough, she couldn't imagine how any member of her family could have survived even a single Mork, let alone the pack that targeted her. "What should we do?"

    "That's sweet of you to offer," Lady Juna said. "But nothing you need worry about. We're the adults, trained warriors and the nobility which exists to defend the people against the wilderness. We'll fight the Ghosts. You complete your education, so that in a few years you'll be strong enough to fight alongside us."

    "Alongside, my sister says," Garit chuckled. "With your talent, it would be better to put her on a separate battlefield. Power like hers gets a specialized team built around it, an entire unit with her name. We'd only meet when the fighting was over to see who got the high score."

    Elruin didn't blush often, but with her pale skin it showed as clear as sun. "You think so?"

    "Of course we do," Juna said. "Why else would we take such an interest in your education? Speaking of which, we heard you talked with the Academies, which school gets the honor of training our favorite future dragonslayer?"

    "The College of High Thaumaturgy," Elruin answered. She thought she saw a flicker of disapproval from the twins. "It, umm, I want to learn about how magic works, then I can use it better." She left out the part about wanting to find a way to have dollies without taint, so people wouldn't want to break them anymore. "And maybe I can make new really smart friends."

    "I suppose that is where I'd recommend you go, if those are your goals," Garit said.

    "You're certain you don't want to train with The Order of Enge? Or even the Naval Academy?" Juna asked. "The College is good for producing scholars, but with your power you could be an irreplaceable warmage."

    "She still might, dear sister." Lord Garit put his hand on Juna's elbow. "It would mean working harder, and making an... exception... for her at the barracks training hall, but it would not be so difficult to see to it that she gets proper training with combat magic."

    "At the cost of her studies," Cali amended.

    "I'm certain the headmaster won't mind too much," Lady Juna slipped into the role of supporting her brother's plan like it was a glove. "After all, a mage so young cannot be expected to keep up with advanced magic theory regardless of natural talent. Once, perhaps twice a week of high power training won't hold her back any notable amount."

    "Speaking of our help," Garit added. "I talked to Rig, he said you never visited his shop."

    Elruin put her hands over her chest. "Thank you, but it didn't feel right to take gifts." Cali's warning made sense, however; after all, the two were trying to sway her choice of schools even though she hadn't accepted presents from them. How much worse would it be if she had? "I want to do it on my own."

    "Well, you are in part an earth mage," Lady Juna said with a smile. "Would you believe us earth mages have quite the reputation for being stubborn?"

    Elruin didn't know that, but to her knowledge Lady Juna had never lied to her. Besides, Cali said nothing to contradict her. "Yes."

    Having gained the answer she expected, Juna continued. "I suppose that leaves an unanswered question. What do you think your third aspect is?"

    "Third?" Up until yesterday, Elruin didn't know she had two Aspects, or indeed what an aspect was. "Are you sure I have one?"

    "Of course you do."

    "It's possible, my sister, that you're letting your other aspect cloud your judgment some," Garit said. "Not all mages have two aspects, let alone three."

    "Ah, but all the strongest do." Juna kept her focus on Elruin while answering her brother. "You're so obviously a necromancer it hurts, so we can rule out true earth aspect. I bet you're an ice magic."

    "But I don't know how to make ice?" As far as magic went, she was always willing to hear ideas.

    "Well, it does do making ice, but that's one of the less popular spells. I like to call it Hypothermia magic. Ice mages are famous for slowly sapping the mental and physical strength of an enemy, even stealing their life energy to fuel their own magic."

    "And you're so convinced she's not Blight or Miasma?" Garit asked.

    "Blight?" Now Juna took the time to act shocked for her brother. "How could you imagine this sweet, quiet girl would be a Hate Mage? But it's true, the ability to drive people insane with rage or create flame powered by the victim's own magic is amazing. Do you have magic like that?"

    "I don't think so." Though as she thought about it, perhaps she could use a person's own energy as fuel. It wasn't something she could do now, however. "What's miasma do?"

    "Well, it has some illusion tricks, but mostly it's good for poisons," Lord Garit said. "Coughing, hallucinations, asphyxiation, and death. Worst part is, they're hard to identify and counter, so by the time you know one's there, men are dying around you."

    "I don't think I can do that, either." All those magics sounded powerful, and scary. All her magic was scary, but that magic sounded extra scary.

    "Don't worry about it," Cali said. "I didn't figure out I had water magic until I was years older than you. And even if all you have is time and negation, that's more than most people ever get."

    That made Elruin feel better. "Thank you."


    =====

    A/N- Another damn 3k word chapter. I really need to stop doing this to myself.

    Pond slime isn't known as the most educated of the algae family. Not sure which one is, probably sargassum, but I know it's not pond slime.

    Shoutout to all my lurkers who visit all the time yet never say a thing. Come on in, the water's fine, I didn't even pee in it this time. And the pond scum is at the local library.

    ... Is my story an allegory about communism, global warming, refugees, or Trump? A nod to Dwarf Fortress (complete with tantrum spirals)? Or perhaps an Attack on Titan ripoff? You decide! Actually, it's none of the above, the truth is I was fourteen and wanted a cool story about monsters and people fighting them. For an RPG with random encounters. I think it's aged remarkably well, but all resemblances to real world events are coincidental.

    Or, to quote Mark Twain: "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

    There's no specific rules as to which title one refers to someone who has multiple titles, and most acknowledge the title they personally consider most important- or the title the person they're addressing prefers, perhaps. The exception being that on-duty military must always refer to other military members by military title (which may or may not also be rank), which is a "military discipline" thing rather than cultural norms.

    I was legitimately surprised everyone jumped on the Thaumaturgy vote- not just majority, but unanimous. I could have swore "assassin school" (sneaky ball of death), "ranger school" (tanky ball of death), and "blaster school" (even deadlier ball of death) were all going to beat "research school" (nerdy ball of death). Though when spoken aloud, 'nerdy ball of death' does sound pretty adorable. Note to self, make that an achievement.

    There are actually dozens of possible outcomes from the decisions made in the last several chapters (and this one), starting with the eight possible choices of training with the twins, which provided a possibility of eight different rewards (one from each for 0 to 3 training events with each). All the choices, and which school gets picked, and what was done around town, have direct impacts on how Elruin's received and how well training goes at any and/or all of the schools in question.

    It is, indeed, possible to get Elruin into the Order of Respite. Difficult. Arguably only worth it due to a companion picked up on that path and none of the other. But totally possible.

    And we're not done yet, there's still a handful more choices to make to determine how the adorifying necrololi develops (in the near future at least- there are plenty of other choices that have an impact later on). In the end, there's no optimal choice, and no path can show everything.

    And this is just one of the Faction routes she's following. There are quite a few others, including the one that's now impossible where she eventually enters a romantic relationship with Arden... but that door has been closed on this route, by the time they meet in person, it will be too late.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
  28. Desdiv_Eight

    Desdiv_Eight Possibly a Destroyer, [ a Tug-Boat in disguise.]

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    Gaze, young one,

    For this is the power which would Destroy God.



    Enjoyed the new chapter too.
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  29. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

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    The introduction of the college topic was a bit abrupt. Unless I missed something, the alternatives weren't mentioned anywhere? There was a vote on the quest side which listed possibilities, but not shown here?


    too

    Dining

     
  30. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    I thought "academies" was mentioned often enough... it's plural, which means there must be more than one academy, which implies she'd have to choose one to go to. The College (of High Thaumaturgy) is one of the academies. I guess I could spell it out more clearly, but I didn't think it was that much of a leap to make the connection.

    Maybe it's a linguistic thing... words like "Academy", "University", and "College" are more or less synonymous where I'm from, save that "Academy" can also have meanings other than advanced education... but in the context of the story, it was clear that's what was being talked about.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
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