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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. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 51
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    Click-Hiss-Click listened to the chorus, the shared language of the goblins. Shapes formed in her mind, a map of the sights her southern forces saw of the tallskin caravan. Soon, she saw a full map, one which she could travel in three dimensions through with her imagination, as if she were there in person and able to fly.

    She gazed upon the tallskins, some clad in the metals they stole from the earth, just as they had stole that earth from her kind. She saw a scalethief with them. Perhaps none epitomized the nature of the Usurpers as the hideous mammals which pretended to be as reptiles, stolen scales made from the stolen metals of the stolen earth.

    Her own mother once told her no other species possessed their situational awareness, nor the mental capacity to understand the experience. This was proof enough of their superiority over the Usurpers who lacked such minor mental talents.

    The traitorous voice in the back of her head asked the question she had never dared voice, never admitted to herself: If they are so inferior, why do they possess grand cities while the goblins hide in caves?

    She squashed that traitorous, heretical, thought with the practice of long decades, and converted it to further rage. For the answer was simple: the mammals stole their accomplishments from the goblins and other reptilians. All which the mammals possessed was stolen from the rightful masters of this world, or stolen from the world itself. Their weapons, their armors, their magics, all tools stolen from nature for they were too weak to fight on their own. Liars, thieves, traitors, Usurpers.

    She called ahead, sent the message along the chain of goblins which monitored the forest for foes, alerted her children to the opportunity for war. Dozens would die, such was always the cost of their conflicts, and in the coming weeks she and her daughters would breed constantly to replenish the lost. She placed her hand on her own gravid stomach. Her first clutch would be born in a matter of hours.

    Shouts of alarm and fear echoed back from the scouts circling around to harass the caravan into rushing unprepared into their hobgoblin ambush.Those that are not living follow behind. She fell into the mapping message of her children and grandchildren, witnessed the unnatural walk of dead tallskins. Then she recognized the source of the abominations, a tallskin of midnight hair and moonlight skin which rode atop a horse made of nothing but bone and black mist.

    "It is the Tainted One! It returns with more Evil than before! We can destroy it! Give us our orders, Mother!" Her children shouted through their ultrasonic language, their wills joined. They thought and felt as one."

    Almost all of them did, anyhow. "Back away!" She sent out her orders, as bile choked in her throat for her betrayal of her offspring and their holy crusade.

    "But, Mother! The abominations are worse even than mammals." The voice of Hiss-Spit-Click, the most dutiful of her daughters. "And mammals that ally with abomination are the most profane of all things!"

    Click-Hiss-Click trembled, for she knew her daughter was correct. Mammals, Usurpers though they are, were designed to exist within the world. Abominations were a blight born of mad gods, a pollution born in the diseased flesh of their wounded world. They should not be, should never have been. "No, do not act with haste."

    "No! This is the one that slew so many of our brave brothers, that turned us against our own, that murdered our sisters! Look, the Tainted One still keeps two of our sisters trapped in unholy slavery!" The songs rendered echoes of two of her grandchildren, their bodies desecrated by undeath and forced to carry tallskin weapons, no doubt to battle against their own still-living family.

    Her horde cried out to her, for her blessings to fall upon the abominations, to sacrifice themselves in the Most Holy Duty of destroying the tallskins and their abomination slaves. She could not give the order, however. "The Black Spirit was untouchable. It will spread its taint as it did before!" Their greatest shamans were not enough to cleanse the land last time, and it looked to be stronger now than before.

    "Then we must fight all the harder to atone for our failure! Slay the Tainted One! Destroy the necromancer before it grows too strong for us to stop!"

    "They march upon the scalethieves' land. Let them destroy one another." Her body shook with rage and disappointment as she lied to her family, her gods, her duty, and herself. She knew the scalethieves would not turn upon the Tainted One, for they supported its evil.

    To atone for her failings, Click-Hiss-Click hugged herself, dug her own claws into the meat of her shoulders, and flensed herself. As fast as her flesh stitched itself back together, she dragged her claws through it yet again. She wailed in the forests, screeching as she both hugged and mutilated herself in the name of futile rage.

    Suggested Listening

    Once in dwarven lands, Elruin's skeletons moved around and ahead of the caravan in the night, to dissuade the goblins. She would never know how effective her ploy had been, as the dead took position to protect the living child as if planets orbiting a star.

    Calenda took a stance, facing the Elruin. "So, up for a little more training?" It was to Elruin's benefit as well as her own to teach the girl how to defend herself in direct combat.

    "Okay." Now that she'd had some training in school, and experienced the brutality of war for herself, Elruin understood the necessity in learning to fight to protect herself. She sang to her magic, focusing all her strength into her defensive magic.

    Cali bolted forward, avoided Elruin's clumsy slash of her stiletto, then struck outward at the girl's face. She stopped at the last second, before she broke Elruin's nose. Even if she was inclined to give the girl a repeat of her own childhood, she didn't have the healing magic to make it work. "You need to learn to move," she said. "I know, your nature is in part that of an earth mage, but time mages don't have the same resilience. If you don't learn to evade attacks, you'll be picked apart by fighters like me or annihilated by a fire mage."

    "Sorry, Sis, I got a better theory: kill everything that looks at you, before it has a chance to look at you," Scratch said. "They call that 'preemptive defense'. The best kind of defense."

    "You remind me of my family."

    "Thank you."

    "That wasn't a compliment."

    "It wasn't a sincere thank you, either," Scratch said. "You ladies have fun, but not too much fun. I've gotta go next door and help the college girl study for her test again. Oh, and if you wanna encourage Elruin to get stronger, have her try casting spells on you instead of against you. I've seen what a time mage can do with the walking dead. The effects are hilariously violent. But, well, test it on the puppets first. Wouldn't want to break a doll like you."

    Calenda waited until she felt certain Scratch was out of earshot before she spoke, just to avoid admitting that the ghost had a point. "So, do you think you could use your magic to augment the dead?"

    "Maybe?" Elruin's purple eyes turned black. "Show me how you do it. Slowly."

    "Alright, it's been some time since I got back to basics." Calenda took a slow but unnecessary breath, one of many exercises that no longer mattered for her but were ingrained in her habits. A slow draw of power was safer and more efficient than rapid burst power, but speed trumped power in combat more often than not. She started to revisit that theory, now that her body was no longer living. Maintaining maximum strength would rip living muscle to shreds, but as life conspired to remind her, she was no longer a member of the club.

    For now, she went through her warm-up routine, shifting from footstep to footstep and hand position to hand position while Elruin watched her routine with rapt attention.

    Elruin began to hum, and as she did, the army of dead men began to emulate Cali's motion both physical and magical. Calenda continued to move, Elruin kept the corpses moving as well. Cali heard them, felt them, and then she touched the strings that made them move. Most were born of Scratch's corruption, outside her control, but one of them was her own victim, sacrificed on the alter of the vampiric shard she had to rely upon before getting her gloves. She tugged at those strings.

    Elruin changed her song, relinquished control to Calenda, who now watched herself through the dead man's eyes. "This is going to take some getting used to," Cali said through two sets of mouths. Or tried to, at any rate; the zombie's vocal chords were not as well preserved as her own. "I... think... I can... use this." Cali's voice was halting as she sorted out which body was her, and which was the enslaved corpse.

    She pushed her energy into the body, used it to follow her own dance, then without fear of her own wellbeing, she began pushing the body past what had been her breaking point while alive. She felt her real body grow weaker as she burned through reserves. "How's this look, Ell?"

    "It's beautiful," Elruin said. Then she sang in earnest, amplified the song within the corpse, and began to adapt her Delirium and Empowerment magic to fit the structures she witnessed. She constructed a new variant, one which did not need a mind to enrage so long as it possessed a magical structure she understood, as with the undead.

    "Wait! Too much!" Calenda shuddered as the anger in the magic started to wash back into her. "I will not be controlled!" She forced the body to punch a nearby boulder with all the strength she could muster. The zombie shattered its own arm, splintering every bone from fingers to elbow in addition to numerous other broken bones in the shoulders and ribs from the velocity and power of the force. The stone itself withstood the blow with numerous cracks, but otherwise in one piece.

    "Sorry!" Elruin rushed to her sister. "Are you hurt?" In the background, the zombie collapsed to the ground, its dead flesh destroyed by the overwhelming magical energy which had been pushed into it.

    "I'm fine!" Cali brought her hand up to her head. "I'm fine, really, sorry for yelling. After going so long with my emotions muted, it caught me off guard. But maybe we should call it a night?"

    "Okay," Elruin offered a timid smile. "Sorry."

    Cali smiled back, then wrapped an arm around Elruin. "Don't be, this is going to be incredible next fight we get into. I should apologize for breaking your dolly, now off to bed with you. I think we've had enough excitement tonight."

    Suggested Listening

    Cali and Elruin were last to enter the city, long after the others so that they weren't seen as part of the group with the refugees. The extra secrecy probably wasn't necessary, since it would take time for the former captives to find a means to return to Engeval territory, but the more steps they could take to obscure their actions from Claron, the safer they felt.

    As soon as they entered the city, Lemia found them. "In spite of my earlier objections, I did what we agreed and gave all the money we took off the bandits to the refugees. Every coin. Go ahead, Truthsay me."

    "You did a good thing." Elruin gave Lemia a hug to make her feel better since she lost the vote. "We gave the money back to the people it was stolen from." Not quite accurate, but as close as they were going to get under the circumstances.

    "I guess so. I just wanted to get something out of bandits trying to kill me besides the warm fuzzies, y'know?" Lemia gave Elruin a return hug. "Besides your new toys, of course."

    "Oh, we got quite a bit more than that," Cali said. "Shielding sarite is expensive stuff. More importantly, with that much of it, we can use it to hide us from just about anything. Monsters won't detect us, espers will overlook us, and anything short of a minor god will be unable to find us with magic. Notice how nothing attacked us on our way back? Our lives in the wilderness are a thousand times easier, as long as we don't have too many people with us."

    "How many is too many?" Lemia knew about shielding sarite, but she hadn't realized it could be used when not on a wall. "It can't work as well as it does when stationary, can it?"

    "No, it's not as good as on the walls. I'd say we can hide about thirty sapient beings. Animals and other things follow different rules, but are usually less visible than people. A group our size will be invisible."

    "Good to know." Lemia still have been happier to keep the money and let the refugees have the excess carts and other supplies, but the promise of fewer monster attacks was worth the risks they took in the siege. "So, did Scratch tell you I found a nearby ruin I think is full of treasure?"

    "He also mentioned one that might have a weapon we can use on Claron," Cali countered.

    "He has no idea, he just said it was once a home of scary magic, refused to elaborate at all. Unless he told you something he refused to tell me?" Lemia waited a moment to see if Calenda had more information to provide. "I found what must have been a front line fortress against the desert invaders. It has to be full of magic weapons, and defenses that could hold up against a full magic beast siege. If we take it, we'll have a permanent base of operations."

    "If any of it still works," Cali said. "If the centaurs didn't take it with them when they abandoned the place or died. If looters didn't steal everything of value before our grandparents were born. There are too many unknowns."

    "Still better odds than this 'well of void magic' that Scratch says he can't explain or predict but is certain must still be there."

    A pair of silmid interrupted the conversation. This pair wore the robe uniforms that were the only clothes the girls had seen any silmid wear. "You are Esra, correct? Our council needs to speak wi' you."

    Cali sighed. "Take Rin to a bath, see about shopping, I'll meet back up with you-"

    "Our apologies, priestess, but we were told to bring you and your companions. It is a matter o' urgency."

    Calenda considered for a moment the possibility of a trap, but if it were it was already too late. Even if they had the strength to fight their way through dozens of dwarven and silmid warriors, somehow open the gates, and escape into the wilderness, this city was protected by two beings of power equivalent to Lyra. They lived or died at the sufferance of their hosts for the time being. "If it's as essential as you say."

    Suggested Listening

    The trio followed the silmid guards, neither of whom admitted to any knowledge of what the meeting was about, save that the highest members of the council would be there. They were led deep into the city, toward a massive growth almost identical to the one Lyra crafted.

    "It even feels the same as Lyra," Cali said as she stared up at the branches. Somewhere in those leaves, a pair of incredibly powerful dryad nested. If nothing else, they could feel safe from Claron while here in this city. Now if only they could feel safe from the city's guardians.

    "It smells like Lyra, too," Elruin said.

    The inside of the great tree was different, as hollow as the Lyra's creation, but there were no rooms or flooring. The many silmid in the building scaled the trunk to get to the platforms where they needed to go.

    "We head downward," the guard said. Roots seemed to have shaped themselves into a long, winding, narrow that leading deep into the heart of the earth.

    As they went down, they found that natural light faded to nothing, yet they could still see thanks to an omnipresent blue glow that seemed to emanate from nowhere. Cali smiled at the familiar presence of edible moss dangling from the roots now above them.

    "More than Lyra, this place feels a little like the shelter," Lemia said. "It serves a completely different function, but something here was built by the same architects that crafted the ruins Arila was set atop of." The centaur-demons that Scratch had spoken of, if he spoke truth. That the monstrous slavers of every child's horror story, the ones that it appeared were once real, were also the crafters of such wonders still proved difficult for Lemia to grasp.

    "Communication magic," Elruin said. "The artifact sends a message. I bet it can be heard anywhere in the world."

    "Such insight in one so young," an elderly voice said. "Perhaps it could reach across 'e world, but it can speak only to its sister constructs."

    Now that they had reached the bottom, they could see the vast room, and the numerous silmid and dwarves which had been awaiting their arrival. "Honored Elders," Calenda clasped her hands together and bowed, an act which her companions imitated. "To what do we owe such honor?"

    "Oh, don't encourage 'em," one of the elder dwarves said. "You're loyal to a 'oreign crown, no 'alse platitudes, i' you please. Now let's get on wi' 'is war meeting."

    "War meeting?" Calenda blinked. "You're getting involved?"

    "Not as such." A silmid of solid white said. As she spoke, she moved her hands over the shapes of the artifact. "We merely pro'ide the means."

    Suggested Listening

    Magic burst from the stone device, warped around it, then the light shifted until they stood in an ancient but well maintained stone building. Several examples of centaur art stood, carved into the walls, with a man and woman in finery standing in the middle of the room.

    Calenda dropped to her knee, head down. "My liege!"

    Lemia dropped a moment later, followed by a confused Elruin a moment after. She had never bowed like this before.

    "Rise," the woman- the queen- said. "We owe you too great a debt."

    "As you command." Lemia rose to her feet, followed again by the other two. "To what do we owe the honor?"

    "I'm afraid there is little honor to offer." The queen put her hand on the elbow of the man next to her. "I admit, I was skeptical at first when your accusations against my step son were brought to our attention. Recent events leave no doubt that either he or a convincing impostor has conquered Arila, and much of the northwestern edge of the empire. Thanks to your early warning, the eastern half the empire remains free for now."

    "We did as any loyal member of the empire would do."

    "So many would claim, but when time comes to do, far fewer rise up to do so. We are in your debt, Priestess Esra." The queen smirked, for she knew that 'Esra' was a false name, or rather was the name of a priestess of olden times stripped of her title and executed by a corrupt and jealous high priest who lusted after her. No member of the church took the title, save as an obscure warning to those rare few who knew the tale, as any competent religious advisor to the crown would. "And we must put ourselves further in your debt."

    "What do you require of me, My Queen?" In spite of her death, and the theoretical ending of her oath, Calenda was still devoted to her service. She could not, however, drag her companions into the situation with her. "Though I am afraid there is little I can accomplish."

    The queen once again looked at her husband, before she spoke. "As of this moment, you are the only apparently loyal free agent we possess. You see, this pretender claiming to be Lord Claron has incredible power. He, or his agents, seem to know whenever we try to act. By means unknowable, he appears before any force we send out, and destroys them with his inhuman power."

    "You fear spies?"

    "We find it unlikely," the queen said. "Or, if he has spies, they are the least of his abilities. It is not just that he can attack any of our forces. Somehow, he has routed all of them, sometimes on opposite sides of the empire, within minutes of one another. Such power, perhaps he is the 'Chosen of Enge', as he so claims?"

    "I refuse to accept it. Whatever his power, it does not come from our god." Cali's nails dug into her palms hard enough that they would have drawn blood, were she still able to bleed. "If he was truly Chosen, he would not need to conquer. Every High Priest of the empire would have known and proclaimed his station."

    "Well spoken, and the same conclusion our advisors reached," the queen said. "His claims aside, there is no deception in his power. He can find any of my agents, even the ones that none but I know of, yet in spite of all his efforts, he has been unable to locate the young child standing next to you."

    Cali took her eyes off the floor for just a moment. "I'm sorry, my queen?"

    "My agents may have been caught quickly, but some were loyal enough to send what information they could," she said. "We know he seeks a child necromancer of pale skin and black hair, one which was defended in Arila by the dryad known as Lyra. The reports say your name is Elruin?"

    "Go ahead, Rin, there's no point in hiding it now," Calenda said. Whatever else was afoot here, the girl's cover was blown. It would be miracle enough to hide her own status as deceased.

    "I'm Elruin," the girl kept her head down. She had never been taught how to address a queen, before. "My liege?"

    "Do you know what this pretender to the throne wants from you? Or why Lyra defended you? Might it be her influence that protects you from being found by his magic?"

    "Lyra lived with my big sister Cali... Calenda, and Rena, who looked after her. They're both dead now." Elruin had enough tact to leave out that this didn't stop one of them from being in this conversation with them. Her sadness that Rena died was genuine, however. "Lord Claron said he was going to sacrifice me to Enge. I don't know why, but I don't think Enge wants me to be sacrificed or he'd have told the priests."

    "Knowing his goals, even if we don't know the reasons behind them, is still useful," the queen said. "Which brings us back to your goals. You are now the only people who can act with impunity outside of the walls. Do you have any plans for stopping the pretender?"

    "We... may have one or two," Calenda admitted.

    =====

    Freakin' 4k word chapter... *that* is what made this update so late...

    Elruin, making friends and influencing people, sometimes even in conventional ways.

    One little trick added to Midara games (in part to avoid power leveling) is that a great many encounters- especially combat ones- will simply stop happening after a certain level of "Reputation: Power" points are acquired by the party. Obviously, the threshold rises with the strength of the foes, but it seems appropriate that eventually foes (especially sapient ones) will learn that you run from the necrololi. Also, in an effort to emulate "not goddamn stupid enemies", the AI in Midara will actively target the weakest foe, and won't use attacks that fail to cause damage. At least, not more than once. The enemies *will* hit the characters that can least afford to be hit with the strongest attacks they have, constantly. Because that's how a smart fighter acts.

    There are very few villains in my stories. There are mostly people with strongly conflicting opinions. Not always, because history is rife with monsters who really are fucking evil, but they are exception rather than rule. Most monsters do what they do believing they do the right thing, that's what is most terrifying about them.

    Funny thing is, the goblins, in being so convinced that the silmid were on the side of the tainted, never so much as considered warning them of the undead, thus Elruin's crimes go unknown and unpunished.

    If you're envisioning Elruin making zombies do the Thriller dance, that means I'm not alone. I'd even call the ability 'Thriller' in the game, if I wasn't afraid of being sued by the Jackson estate. They gotta have, like, zero money left at this point.
     
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 52
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    "We can't tell you." Elruin spoke out of turn, fearing that Cali might say something dangerous. "What if Claron has a way to hear through his magic?"

    The king and queen were less concerned with the possibility of the magic being intercepted than with the potential of spies, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. The fact was that the child said nothing they had not already considered.

    "My apologies, my queen, Elruin is young, and has no talent for indirect deception." Calenda, however, did speak. "Ell, we all recognized the risk, the plan was for me to provide a series of half truths and whole deceptions, in the hopes of sending Claron on some fruitless chase through the wilderness while we pursued our true goals. For example, I might have fed them a story of a hidden monastery with the other Eye of Enge. Claron has one, and no doubt would stop at nothing if he knew where to find the second."

    The queen nodded, a dainty tilt of the head that hid all of her emotions. "Perhaps it is better this way. The pretender appears to have skill in the courtly process, and knows the lies you choose can reveal a great deal about your plans. Of note, the Eye of Enge still sits upon its Pedestal. Now I believe we would be best served ending our conversation here."

    "You are most wise, my queen." Calenda, who still had her head down, bowed even further. She kept her head down until she felt the ripple of energies from the ancient artifact release their hold on the area, and the dryad energies washed it all away. Now they stood once again in the presence of the dwarven and silmid leaders.

    Suggested Listening

    "I'm sorry," Elruin said.

    "Don't worry about it, Queen Laris was right, there's no way Claron would have been fooled anyway." Cali hoped her smile was reassuring. "This way, he won't be able to guess what we were saying by what wasn't said. All he could learn, now, is that you made it somewhere safe. I would almost advocate we remain here, where it's safe, but for the stuff that the queen didn't say."

    "I don't know this court garbage, but I read a little between the lines," Lemia said. "It has to do with that 'Second Eye of Enge' myth, right? Wait, it's not the myth, is it? There really are two? I suppose it makes sense, eyes tend to come in pairs."

    "They come in a trio, in this case," Cali said. "Which is where the icon representing Enge comes from. There is no official doctrine as to whether the so-called 'Eye of Enge' artifact is really one of Enge's lost eyes. It is, however, an artifact blessed by our emperor, and one believed to have a long lost twin."

    "Does your queen know 'ere's a second arti'act?" A young looking silmid asked. If she was in this group, she was an elder and thus quite old in spite of her youthful appearance.

    "I'm uncertain, but she must be under significant political stress at the moment," Cali said. "She never called him Claron, just 'the pretender'. If I had to guess, it is because Lord Claron is King Velan's son. I'm sure it pains both of them in their own way."

    Lemia now recognize that the conversation was never for their benefit, but for the silmid elders. "Wait, does this mean the other Eye might not have a requirement that the wielder be 'Chosen'?" While the Eye of Enge was far from alone in being enchanted to serve only a select few, there were many artifacts with no such security measure.

    "That, and so much more!" Cali looked at all the silmid; they had their own traditions and practices, but they still worshiped the ancestral god which protected their homes and was their homes. "It means Claron knows he's not Chosen! He knows he can't take the true artifact, or it would destroy him as it destroys all pretenders. He could at any time walk up to Engewal, request the right to touch the artifact, and if he was truly Chosen, it would acknowledge him, and all the kings of Engeval would be his to rightfully command by Enge's own law. What purpose would his barbaric war serve if the empire was already his by divine will?"

    Some of the silmid and dwarves began to speak amongst themselves, in their own language.

    Calenda tried to listen as the debate grew more divisive and chaotic. "We should leave." She stepped toward the exit tunnel, and the long walk up. "The longer we stand here, the more they remember how they feel about outsiders."

    Lemia and Elruin deferred to their more experienced teammate. "I don't speak silmid, but even I could tell that it's getting unpleasant. What happened?"

    "I can only speak a few words," Cali said. "The word 'liars' came up more than once. I think some of it was because we we hid our identities. More was their general distrust of outsiders, however. Something about how we ran off and came back with more dead men's treasures. The usual 'humans are unthinking war machines who only come to us when they need us' rhetoric. What it comes down to is that they don't trust us, and our actions didn't contradict their prejudices."

    "Then, what, if we stayed here and helped them out, they'd be more inclined to help in the war against Claron?" Lemia asked. "And then they have the nerve to say we're the ones who don't care unless we need something from them?"

    "But if we stayed here, then those bad men would have been able to do awful things to those poor people, and the puppies," Elruin said. "We did the right thing!"

    "We did a good thing." Calenda put her hand on Elruin's shoulder, to comfort them both. "But not necessarily the smart thing. On the other hand, the silmid have little choice but to get involved to some extent, just not as enthusiastically as hoped. And we did profit from destroying the bandits, even made some allies that Claron would never expect."

    "Maybe it's better if we don't work too closely with the silmid, anyway," Lemia said. "We're different than them, perhaps even incompatible. I have yet to see any silmid playing with dollies, you know."

    "You're right," Elruin said. She was still a little sad that they couldn't have the silmid helping them, but not if it meant she'd have to destroy Mister Clackybones again. She would never let another of her wonderful horsies die again.

    "Now, let's go plan our trip. If we leave the carts behind, take only what we need, and avoid distractions, we can make a hundred miles a day with a hard march. How far are we from the well?"

    "I can't speak for weather, but it's easy terrain. Even if we have to be careful not to get seen. No more than three days," Lemia said. Once again, Cali was lying, and so was Lemia. Their target took them almost straight up a mountain, and with the benefits of sarite and undead labor, they could travel far more than a hundred miles in a day.

    "Good, I'm meeting up with Katek, she's buying anti-poison and acid shards for you and Elruin and stocking up on food. I want you to pick whomever of our refugees seems most trustworthy to look after our equipment. Hire a few of them, we should only keep the useful hardware, let them have the clothes and other less useful stuff. Let's see if we can't get rid of the excess animals and carts, give them away to the merchant caravans if we have to, it's better than paying to feed animals we can't use. I want out of here by tonight."

    "Great." Lemia hated traveling at night, but she reminded herself that the beasts of the wilderness were just as happy to hunt during the day. A thought which did nothing to improve her opinion.

    By the time Lemia arrived at the entrance where the refugees remained, she found a handful of other human merchants were eying their camp and the people still there. She took a breath, reminded herself that they were not in human lands, then walked toward the men. She would pretend it was like talking with silmid.

    As it turned out, she needn't have worried, when Mato stepped away from the group to greet her, smiling for the first time since they'd met. "Lia!" Mato then gestured at the men. "These are my cousins!"

    This was better news than the alternative that they'd somehow broken a law or offended someone. "Good. I'm glad for you." To her surprise, Lemia found she was speaking sincerely. Mato had been a great deal of help, in spite of the misery she'd been through. "Say, does that mean they can help us?"

    Mato glanced back at her family. "Uh, first, can I ask a question? I know you said you were mercenaries before, why did you risk your lives for us?"

    "Truth told, we didn't," Lemia said. "Our clients lost family to the bandits, we were paid to take blood for blood, nothing more or less. We didn't realize there were living prisoners until the battle was over."

    "Oh," Mato looked back. "Uncle Nel said that was probably it, but I guess I was expecting something a little more romantic. Like, our families came together to hire heroes to save us."

    "Sorry, as far as I know that only happens in fairytales," Lemia said. In half of those fairytales, the captives were found dead. "But on the off chance you find a bunch of families who want to chip in to get a rescue done, be sure and let us know." Lemia wasn't certain how the rest of the team would feel about the mercenary deception, but it was the best lie she could come up with, and it was true from a certain point of view.

    "Don't take it too hard, Matty, such is the way of the world." The eldest, and thus presumable leader, of the men came forward. He was in good health, though his hair had grayed enough that he was probably the father of the other men. "But their actions were more heroic than most, if they chose to bring you to safety without being hired to do so. I'm sure they weren't expecting to have to guard you from the wilderness for the whole trip. Managing caravans is difficult enough when it's full of trained workers rather than traumatized children. And then to give you the goods the bandits stole, instead of keeping it for themselves. "

    Lemia bit her tongue. "We got what we came for, and more." They did get sarite and magical equipment, after all. "Why compound suffering with suffering? Well, aside the bandits, may they be forgotten."

    He then addressed Lemia directly. "You have my undying gratitude, not just for finding my cousin and removing the bandits from the road, but for restoring an old man's faith in humanity. The world is made better by your efforts."

    "If you truly mean that, then we could use your help," Lemia said. "Our team likes to travel light, and we have little need for most of these supplies. If you could take them off our hands, that would be wonderful. Don't worry, we're not looking to profiteer, but you will have to take the people we rescued home. We don't have the time or resources to get these people back to human lands, and you do."

    The older gentleman gave his cousin a meaningful look, and did some calculations in his head. The cost of the extra animals would be a little steep, but decent quality clothing was hard to find and easy to sell, so he would still do better than breaking even. In addition, it wouldn't hurt to have extra wagons around, just in case. Not useful enough to pay for, but not a burden either. In fact, he could ease the burden on himself by calling in a favor or two with the other traders coming through. Each had their own routes to the more civilized corners of the world, which could be closer to these kids' homes.

    "I'd be happy to do my part," he said.

    "My team will be glad to hear it."

    Later on, Cali smirked at her. "Now we're your team, huh?"

    "Hey, I got the job done, didn't I?" Lemia crossed her arms. "And whose team do you think this is? And don't say yours, just because you're the one who knows how the military side of things are run."

    "The military. The political. The religious." Lemia took her thumb and started placing fingers on it as she listed. "The economic."

    "And I handle all our alchemy, or did you forget your new gloves?" Gloves which were left outside the gates, buried with a small army that dug their own mass grave. "Besides, I'm the one who located our next mission objective."

    "Yeah, but we voted to go to the one you didn't want," Cali said. "By that argument, Scratch is the leader."

    "Can I be the leader?" Elrun asked. "I promise to give you lots of hugs and let you play with my dollies whenever you like."

    "She does represent most of the team's firepower," Cali said.

    "Sure, why not?" Lemia said. "The twelve year old is now in charge. Makes about as much sense as everything else we do, and you are more than half of our firepower."

    "Thank you, I shall endeavor to lead you to the best of my ability." Elruin said with the seriousness that only a child could muster.

    "Live up to that promise, and you're already better than half my commanding officers." Cali ruffled Elruin's hair. "Now go to bed. We'll be heading out early, and part of being a good commander is getting enough sleep."

    Elruin beamed up at her. "Okay!" She gave Cali a hug, then crawled into the nest to take a nap.

    "You've been a big sister for a few months, and already you're better at manipulating small children into doing as they're told than most parents are by the time their kids are her age."

    Suggested Listening (Warning, this one's rather unpleasant)

    The sun was still below the horizon, though perhaps that was because the horizon was well over their heads. "And we've arrived at the bleeding anus of the world!" Scratch announced, as if he was a tour guide.

    "Should we make the corpses start wiping?" Lemia asked. Aside a distinct lack of vegetation, she saw nothing special in about this place. More to the point, she felt nothing special, which was rather the opposite of her expectations when promised a well of exotic magic unlike any she had ever experienced before.

    Clackybones slowed to a stop, responding to Elruin's trembling. "Get out." A quiet, pleading whisper. "Get out!" She put her hands over her ears in a vain attempt to block the discordant, hateful, unacceptable song tearing through her mind. "Get out!" She screamed at the offending distortion, cried out with the power of Requiem, and drove the twisted music back with a violent force of will that staggered Calenda and left the mindless undead crumpled to the ground.

    "Knew you'd feel it first," Scratch said.

    "Merat!" Lemia ran to Elruin, but was driven back by the tornado of necromancy trying to drive back an unseen foe.

    Ketak, too, was forced to admit she could not safely approach the chaotic negation magic. Perhaps long enough to kill the child necromancer and shut off the mage's power, but not enough to rescue the girl.

    Elruin's heart hammered in her chest, every fear she'd ever known amplified by a thousand lifetimes crushed down on her from all sides. Her magic, her mind, her soul, nothing but a fragile egg crushed not by a careless girl's slippery fingers, but by the power of a world that sought nothing more than its destruction. Keep singing. Nothing else matters. Keep singing. Elruin mumbled her song, a frantic defense against the wrongness of this terrible, horrific place.

    Then the others began to recognize the horror, as they gazed over the precipice of reality, and knew that what lay on the other side was a cloying emptiness that threatened to peel away their souls.

    "This is Void magic?" Lemia closed her eyes, desperate to find pattern in the emptiness. She found nothing, but Elruin struggling to drive it back, to construct a reality around herself. Lemia reached out, grabbed the notes and bent them, reinforced the necromancer's instinctive magic with pattern and law. Ketak contribute as well, warmth and heat, interactions between interactions, a fundamental 'atmosphere' for them in the astral emptiness.

    Calenda was last to recover. Lacking a true connection to the flesh, her experience was different and alien to the others. In some ways pleasant, and that enjoyability allowed her to be drawn deeper than the others before Elruin's cries drew her back. She granted motion to the pattern, allowed it to dance within its own song. A floor to stand on.

    Soon, far sooner than they had expected, they built their shell of stability against the maw.

    "Not bad," Scratch said. "Most of the time, I have to drag everyone out one at a time, so they can recover and do it on the second try. Also change their pants."

    "You knew this would happen." Lemia glared at the floating creature, the only one of them which hadn't contributed to the shield, and hadn't needed to.

    "There will be plenty of time for recriminations later," Scratch said. "For now, you've awoken one of the inhabitants."

    The air shook, crack, broke as if it was a pane of glass. Stained glass, the whole of reality nothing but a fragile colored portrait, hiding an unknowable vastness behind it. A long, amorphous pallid limb slid through broken window. Its eyes, all eight of them, looked in every direction as if unable to comprehend their world any more than they could recognize where it came from.

    "Ooh, and a thaumivore on the first try. Magic's worse than useless against them. They'll suck it right up and be that much stronger for it."

    Another tendril slid out, then a third, until it plopped out on the ground, a writhing ball of giant white worms and eyes. Now, the countless eyes began to focus on the one other anomaly in this broken place: them.

    =====

    That's the thing about magical artifacts that kill the unworthy. They don't need a security system. Just a janitor that doesn't mind cleaning up after some fool gets the Raiders of the Lost Ark experience.

    Fun fact about that music the end... it's actually a close approximation of what dolphins hear when the military points its sonar at them, cranked up to decibels that give their brains the Raiders of the Lost Ark experience...

    And this is the story's first encounter with Void magic. If you're getting Lovecraft vibes here... that's intentional...


    VOTERS: Put together a combat strategy. No, punching Scratch repeatedly for being an asshole is not actually a valid strategy.
     
  3. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

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    GTFO then beat Scratch until everyone feels good about themselves again.
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 53
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening (Warning, still unpleasant)

    "Everyone get back!" Elruin shouted, then she gave orders to those that did not need to hear her to obey.

    The dollies had to go in first, to protect the people. Elruin knew this, though she still hated to sacrifice them. She sang her song to the closest human corpse, using her newest spell to bolster its strength and speed. It charged spear-first into the mass of tendrils that she could not yet decide if was a single creature, or a mass of worms that got themselves tied in a knot. Perhaps there was no difference, where this thing came from.

    The beast howled when the spear pierced it, though it was impossible to guess whether it did so in anger, pain, or joy, or explain how it could howl at all without a mouth.

    The magical augmentation of the sacrificial doll melted on contact when the tendrils wrapped around the doll. For some inexplicable reason, the taint which let the doll be puppetted remained. Elruin changed her notes, the doll released the spear and began to hack away with its arming sword even as the creature attempted to strangle and crush the doll.

    "We can't rely on augmentation or magic weapons!" Lemia launched one of her incendiaries at the beast. Flame erupted across the creatures surface, causing it to cry out again.

    Ketak's scales began to shimmer as she drew together her magic. A simple, minor spell that provoked the flames to burn hotter. "Merat na!" The flames dimmed a moment later, and the tentacles started to rub the flame away. "It even feeds on indirect magic!"

    "What part of 'thaumivore' confused you?" Scratch asked. "It eats all magic it comes in contact with. Except taint, it seems to instinctively avoid taint. Good show, though, I always wondered what happened if the magic was added after the attack."

    Meanwhile, Elruin's other zombies began to encircle the beast, pelting it with arrows.

    It dropped the drained corpse, then began to roll forward, propelling itself by means of tendrils toward Elruin.

    "It's coming after the strongest source of magic!"

    Clackybones jumped back, then bounded away, moving more like a deer than a horse. The tendril blob gave chase, moving far faster than anything its shape had a right to move; it would catch Clackybones soon.

    "Circle around the archers!" Cali shouted at the retreating necromancer. "Enhance them!"

    Elruin trusted Cali's judgment, and made Clackybones turn. If she rode a normal horse, which required guidance from its master, she wouldn't have had the time to spare to cast her spells, but Clackybones was tied to her thoughts and mind, allowing Elruin to time her actions for the exactly right moments to enhance one zombie after another.

    "Gimme that!" Ketak yanked a spear from one of the zombies, it didn't seem to notice. She gripped the arrowhead, concentrating her power upon the tip until the metal began to glow red, and the wooden shaft caught fire. "Entek ne! Cheap trash!"

    Arrow after arrow struck true, then the creature gave up on Elruin's retreating source of magic and engulfed another skeleton. Once captured, it released its bow in order to use its sword. Moments after the energy had been drained, the corpse was forgotten in favor of the next nearest zombie. The released zombies were still whole, and in fact left unharmed aside the magic stripped from them, and some small burns from the flames of the alchemical weapons Lemia hit it with.

    "Stop enhancing the zombies!" Lemia shouted. "It's using the magic to heal itself!"

    Now that they had distance, Elruin could see it was true. Her lifesight didn't work on this thing, save to show a featureless empty blob where some living force should be, but with natural eyesight she could see the wounds stitch themselves together.

    Then the burning spear sank into its side, quenching the red glow in monster fluid while steam that was once its blood rose into the air. "Hah! I knew I could beat its trick! Someone get me a weapon that's not magic or cheap garbage!"

    Even with the burns and cuts, the creature kept moving from zombie to zombie, stripping them of power.

    "Persistent little bastards, ain't they?" Scratch sat in the air, watching the show. "Fun to watch, 'course I ain't gotta worry about 'em eating my face like you do."

    "I swear if I die, I'm going to come back just to ruin your afterlife!" Lemia launched another bomb at the creature. As far as she could tell, it didn't like fire of the natural variety.

    "No thanks, sounds too much like being a parent."

    Having consumed all of the magic on the skeletons, the creature refocused on Elruin, and began to chase her along yet again. Meanwhile, the zombie troops picked up their bows and returned to the strategy they had used before.

    Calenda waited until the chase came close to her, then she threw all of her power into her own augmentation and jumped over the pair. When she was directly above, she threw a sword straight down at the creature, impaling it through the center mass and pinning it into the dead soil below.

    It oozed apart, then began to roll away with but a small pool of brackish white goo left behind on the blade. Now that Calenda was flaring her power, it decided she was the more desirable target and began chasing after her.

    Cali threw her knives at the creature while continuing to flee. "Why won't this thing die?!" As fast as she was, the tendrils allowed it to move faster still.

    Scratch, still floating above, laughed at the unintentional joke. "Better run, I'd be real upset if you died. Again."

    Elruin fired her death bolt so that it sailed past Cali, and exploded into a shower of necromantic energies. It was harmless, more illusion than actual power, but it did distract the beast long enough to let Cali gain a few precious feet of distance before it returned to the chase.

    Then it fell over, twitched, and deflated.

    "Is... is it dead?" Lemia took a step back, in case it sprang up yet again. Everyone else followed her example.

    "Not quite, give it a second." Scratch floated down above shapeless mass in time for it to release a loud, foul-smelling blue gas from some unspeakable orifice. "Heh, that never gets old. Now it's dead."

    Suggested Listening

    Lemia coughed and covered her face. "Ugh! Kill me so I don't have to breathe anymore!"

    Elruin pulled her dress up to cover her nose. It didn't help. In spite of the stench, she began to sing, and play her violin. Their defensive bubble had been damaged in the fight, and she feared the unshielded void far more than any aroma. She changed it, twisted it further, to smooth the cacophony into something that wasn't about to drive her mad.

    Ketak looked around as only she and the dead weren't reacting. "We dwar'es don't ha'e a sense o' smell like yours. I don't 'ink it's toxic, whate'er it is."

    "Give me one good reason I shouldn't torture you to your second death!" Cali shouted at Scratch. It required taking a breath of the horrid air, but she was dead so it was limited to the one breath.

    "Woah, don't you think that's moving too fast? Maybe we should have dinner first, catch a show, some forepl-urk!" Scratch had no features to look surprised when Calenda reached out and gripped him with her hand, then began to squeeze.

    "I've. Been. Practicing." Cali answered the question everyone thought, and replaced it with the question of how she could practice to catch something that didn't have a physical form. "Now talk, ghost."

    "First, I'd just like to say that is totally unfair," Scratch said. "Second, none of you were ever in real danger. Third, this is our key to beating Claron."

    "Never in real danger?" Calenda squeezed harder, causing Scratch's body to distort and bulge through the gaps in her fingers. "It was running around sapping magic from everyone!"

    "Right, sapping magic, not life force or anything else that's permanent. Worst thing these guys can do on their own is give you a hangover. Granted, it's the worst hangover of your life, but it doesn't kill. Besides, they die in a minute or two on this side of the void hole. I think it's for about the same reason humans don't do so well underwater. It was all in good fun, and you were never in any real danger. As long as you're here, at least. These things are nothing compared to some of the horrors out there. Lucky us, most of them are too smart to come over here where they know they'll die."

    "Right, the other side." Now that the danger had passed, Lemia was curious about the void. "What is that thing?"

    "Not a damn clue," Scratch said. "I once had a scholar try to explain it to me. Best I got is that it's what happens if you walk in a direction that doesn't exist."

    "A... what?"

    "Well, we got up and down, left and right, back and forward," Scratch said. Meanwhile, Cali had relaxed her grip enough for him to slide out. "Then there's the magical directions, inward and outward, or something to that effect. Or that's what the mage said to call it, something about the relationship between the self and other. Then there's Void. Which is none of those things. That which cannot exist yet does. I admit, I feel a certain kinship. I suspect I'm not the only one here who does. Right, Calenda?"

    "No!" Then Cali hesitated. "Well, maybe it feels a little less alien to me. It's... still wrong, though."

    "So are we," Scratch said. "And before you ask, no, I can't tell you what relationship Void has with Taint, if they do at all. I've taken every necromancer I've ever worked with to a void-hole, save a handful who died before I got the chance. Some devoted their lives to studying them, if any found answers they neglected to share them with me."

    "Who made them?" Elruin asked. She'd stabilized her song to one of mourning for the pain of the world. "Why would anyone cause something so horrible?"

    "That'd be the Kiara, the Goddess of the Void. Or, as I like to call her, 'the bitch who fucked the world'. What you're looking at is one of the holes she did it with. There are hundreds of them across the planet. For those strong enough, you can theoretically climb in that hole, fight your way through all the freaks on the other side, then climb back through anywhere anywhere. But none of you are anywhere close to that strong. As to why she did it? Couldn't tell you, she lived and died long before I did."

    "A shortcut, perhaps?" Ketak suggested. "Or seeking resources. We dwar'es do it, why not a goddess? What incredible secrets might be on 'at side?"

    "I've never heard of a Goddess of the Void before," Calenda said. "She's not on any of the divine charts, controls no element, and I can't imagine an Ancestral God having such power."

    "She wouldn't be," Scratch said. "She was a Living God. The most powerful mortal to have ever existed, stronger than any of the High Gods, perhaps even stronger than The Seven, but a mortal still. She lived, she wielded power enough to shatter a world, she had some offspring, and then she died like mortals tend to do."

    "A few minutes ago, I wouldn't have believed you," Lemia said. "But that was before I witnessed hole leading in a direction that doesn't exist. It... truly is bleeding, isn't it? This wasn't meant to exist, it's a wound."

    "A wound, infected with disease," Scratch said. "Which we are going to use to kill Claron."

    "How?" Cali asked. "This... thing... is tough, but you said yourself that it can't kill."

    "No, it can't, but it doesn't need to," Scratch said. "I got a look at Claron's power, most of us have. He's not weak, but he's relying on the Eye of Enge to empower him. Strip that power away and I'm sure you can kill him now. Nothing in this world strips power quite like a thaumivore. Especially when the victim bleeds energy like Claron does, we'll have at least two or three of the nasties climbing out of that hole. Then when they've sucked him dry, we carve a few extra holes. And the best part is, there's only six or seven beings on the planet who know enough to explain it after the fact, let alone see it coming, and none of them are Claron."

    "It could work," Cali admitted after a moment. "Luring him here might be tricky, and I can't imagine how we're going to explain how we killed him. They'll know it wasn't through raw power, none of us have that sort of city-breaking strength. We'll have to do a lot of planning."

    "Details you can worry about later," Scratch said. "The first question is, does Elruin want a new extra-abomination dolly, or would you kids like to see what void sarite looks like?"

    "Couldn't we just, I dunno, lure more of them out to die?" Lemia asked.

    "Yeah, but I don't know how many are that close to the hole," Scratch said. "More than two, less than six, that's my best guess. We kill off too many, and there won't be any left for Claron. Of course, after Claron's dead, we can do whatever we like with the remains."

    =====

    This is one of those important chapters. For several reasons.

    Also... I just recently discovered this Max Ablitzer guy. I now feel the desire to go back and change all Elruin oriented themes in the story thus far to his works.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 54
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    "I don't know why you continue this resistance." A casual brush of his hand elicited a hiss through the clenched teeth of his half-sister. He dragged his gloved hand down Juna's jaw, leaving a trail of broken skin, cooked flesh, and smoke behind. "Then, you always were a little off. Perhaps the rumors are true, perhaps you enjoy my ministrations?" He moved down her neck, her chest, soon he'd crest over her breasts, the first overtly sexual step in this drawn out process.

    He had no particular love of torture, nor any puerile interest in his sibling, but such was the burden of dealing with a rebellious city. She wasn't the one he was trying to break. If he was, he wouldn't have wasted time on torturing her. He was confident he could torture her to death a dozen times over without breaking her, but she wasn't the weak link in this chain.

    "Stop!" Garit shouted, struggling against the magic-suppression bonds which held him. "I'll talk! Just leave her alone."

    "Don't you dare." Juna gasped for breath. "There is nothing. He could do to us. That will compare to what I'll do to you if you talk." Her statement was made with utmost sincerity, for she hated nothing so much as a traitor. She glared, as defiant as ever, at her elder brother. "You may as well kill us now."

    "Careful, I might take that as a challenge." A minuscule pulse of power heated the glove again. He would have to limit the damage, so that the healer could fix her before permanent scars were left behind, at least ones of the nature that numbed her flesh against further pain. He held little hope that this would be the session where the pair broke. They might try to pretend it, to feed him lies, but soon the lies would be dismissed and he would be that much closer to the truth.

    "Elruin!" A soldier was wise enough to shout her name as he entered. Then he fell to one knee and kept his head bowed low. It was bad enough that people knew that he resorted to torturing his siblings, he would have preferred no one knew the method used. He had power to spare, but legitimacy would continue to be a struggle until Enge gave him his final acknowledgment. "We have a lead. It comes from Morks, but appears credible."

    Juna's head tilted up just a little. Fear, concern, all were obvious to Claron in watching her features. She was the fighter, but she lacked the social finesse of her brother, and that was also part of why it was her that he targeted for torture.

    That she seemed nervous suggested they might know something about the girl's movements, something which they feared morks might discover. This, more than anything, gave Claron confidence that this was the moment he'd waited for. "Uewatsu, to me." He braced myself for the wave of cold discomfort that came with rift magic. He waited, then grew impatient. "I meant immediately."

    Suggested Listening

    "I am an old woman." Her cane came through the hole in nowhere before she did. "Children these days, no respect for their elders." Her faded, tangled purple hair covered her face, and her black cloak covered most of the rest of her body, but the wrinkles on her hand showed she was of advanced age. "What do you need of me, my lord."

    He ignored her sarcasm and disrespect. Let his siblings think whatever they liked, for they would never speak of it to the public. He turned his attention to the kneeling soldier, chosen for discretion as all his messengers were. "What did the morks reveal?"

    "Little, my lord," he answered. "They claim they intercepted a message from a child necromancer, sent to Enrest. They claim to know where she's hiding, and her future plans. Two of their number wait there, for you to bribe them for the rest of their knowledge."

    "Enrest?" Claron kept one eye on his siblings as he pretended to consider the situation. "They must have fled to dwarven lands, Sonhome is the most obvious possibility." They provided no specific tell, so he decided they didn't know the reason the girl was there aside from the obvious.

    "It will take some effort for me to open a gate for your armies of that distance."

    "No, it would be a fool's errand." Claron knew of Sonhome's guardians, and had little desire to learn their capabilities. If the morks knew what Elruin's plans were, he had reason to believe the girl would leave the city at some point, or that he could use the knowledge to find her other allies. "Take me to Enrest."

    "As you command."

    Claron hated going through portals, and the stomach-churning distortions that came from moving from one place to another in the blink of an eye. He remained tall, proud, but had to take several seconds after his translocation to avoid losing the contents of his stomach. Instead, he took stock of the two morks waiting before him. One was old, scarred, a true veteran. The other was smaller, a female.

    "You came." "Such power." "Unlike any we've ever seen." "But the child of ebon hair and purple eyes." "The girl who sings of death." "She who smells of grave soil." "She eludes you." "We can tell you where to find her." "We can reveal her secrets."

    "Five head of cattle." Claron's patience for mork chattering lasted as long as it took for him to recover from the stomach-shredding magic he subjected himself to. "Fifteen more if your information reveals her exact location and plans."

    The pair looked at each other. "Double it." "Yes, double." "Valuable child." "You need her." "You need u-rk"

    Claron's eye socket burned as he called upon the magical artifact which held the will of his god. Before they could say another word, he had a hand on each of their throats, squeezing their larynges shut. "Here's an offer. How about if I don't execute the both of you for wasting my time?" He loosened his grasp.

    "Northwest of Sonhome!" "They found magic!" "A way to escape from Engeval." "A magic portal." "They could go anywhere in the world." "They prepare even as we speak!" "No time to hurt us!" "Hurry hurry!"

    "Cowards." Claron shoved the two beasts, each weighing more than a horse, away from him. "Uewatsu, does this sound familiar to you?"

    The woman remained on the other side of the portal, but her voice carried through. "It is... plausible." A painful, interminable pause followed. "There are still old gates, damaged but functional. One lies in the direction they describe, but I know not how they learned of its existence. Few living mortals remember the secrets of the Isylan empire, I know of all of them by name, and not one has contacted the girl."

    "Living?" Claron considered the claim. "What of the dead? This is a necromancer Enge has set us on a quest for, after all."

    "I know little of the art, but I suppose it is possible," Uewatsu said. "Or perhaps the dwarves saved more ancient records than I had been led to believe. Here, let me show you the gateway."

    Light shimmered in front of his face, as a one way portal was constructed in real time. Uewatsu's cooperation was unreliable at times, but her abilities were unlike any he had ever heard of before. Soon he was looking down upon an empty, all but lifeless patch of soil and rock. He recognized the black haired girl in a moment. She sat upon the ground, playing a violin.

    Nearby, a dwarf worked on carving a stone which looked to have been dragged to the location not long before. A man stood nearby, erecting a wooden post.

    "They're trying to lure me into attacking directly, playing on overconfidence."

    "I do not see it," Uewatsu said. "Though I admit military theory was never a talent of mine. But do enlighten me, for the sake of scholarly curiosity."

    "On the surface, it seems like they're unawares. Perhaps setting up for the ritual to exploit this portal." he said. "One step beneath the surface, you can see that the earth near the boulder was disturbed, freshly dug. I bet they hid a nasty surprise there. The pillar is at least half illusory, another weapon in disguise. And the girl's violin is a known magical weapon. She's not relaxing, nor is she engaged in active ritual, she's drawing power together for a battle."

    "I see, clever."

    "Imbecilic and transparent," Claron muttered. "I refuse to believe anyone who could elude me this long would make such amateurish traps. Which means these traps are meant to be seen, in order to hide a real surprise that I cannot see. How dangerous is this gateway?"

    Uewatsu took her time to answer, as usual. "It's of little direct danger, so long as one is not fool enough to attempt to traverse the gate without a rift mage to guide the process. One might find himself caught between worlds, unable to return to this realm. A sailor lost at sea until he drowns in the waves."

    Not for the first time, Claron questioned the wisdom of using Uewatsu's portals to move across his empire. Enge's empire, he reminded himself. "Interesting, and can they control the gate to capture or otherwise trick me into stepping through?"

    "I can't imagine how," Uewatsu said. "Even a proper rift mage could not force the gate to move. Any being with such power could slay you in direct combat, without need for tricks and traps. And it's impossible to walk through a gate without attuning yourself to it first. A process that is both slow, and voluntary."

    "Then the gate is their method to escape, if their traps fail," Claron said. "They hope to kill me, or if not then they hope to trick me into revealing a weakness they can exploit later. Can you track them through this gate, to the point were they exit?"

    "With ease, but I hold my doubts that they shall ever emerge. Without power equivalent in strength to your own, they would never be able to fight their way through to the other side. There is but one fate for those who enter the rift unprepared."

    Claron clenched his fists. He needed Elruin to prove himself to Enge, and it was never made clear what would happen should Elruin die without being properly sacrificed. Perhaps Enge would accept that as sacrifice enough, or perhaps he would be branded a failure and see his blessings stripped from him. It was not a gamble he wished to take while options remained.

    The idea that the child acquired a power to rival his own was dismissed as irrelevant. If she had, then he had already failed in his quest and it would be better to die on the battlefield than wait for the day Enge grew impatient with his failure to get results.

    "Open a voice rift to Renar. Now." He was the one Claron hated most, for his unfettered ambition. He was also the most competent of all the Ghosts of Sorvel, and the most well liked.

    "My lord?" The man was alert, attentive, hungry.

    "We found Elruin's location," Claron said. "She's attempting to flee using a source of magic similar to Uewatsu's. Are your men ready?"

    "In your service, always." True, but only for the moment. Claron was well aware that the first thing Renar would attempt with Elruin would be to take the child to Enge himself, and perform the sacrifice first in the hopes that Enge would transfer the title of Chosen.

    "Then go, and know that Enge is always watching." As am I. If Elruin's trap failed, then it would be a simple matter to wait for Renar's double-cross. If her trap succeeded, then Renar would die and he would step in once the trap had been sprung.

    =====

    A/N- Claron's still an ass. Yep. But like all good JRPGs (and most of the bad ones), there's the bad guy, and then there's the real bad guy. Chrono Trigger's something of an 'edge' case... Turns out the giant world-killer asteroid monster was more like a space ship, and the real Lavos lived inside it, but still...

    Larynges is the plural of larynx. I did not know this until today.

    And a chapter with two Gundry pieces... that's how you know we're nearing a climax.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2019
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  6. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

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    That and the edge-lord level foreplay
     
  7. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    I feel at some point communication fell apart here... are you joking, or is one of us using the wrong definition for 'edge lord'?
     
  8. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

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    There were multiple instances of first person text for some reason?

    aside from, or besides

    boulder
     
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  9. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Yeah, I lysdexia'd out for a bit and forgot I'm writing the story in third person, thought I caught all my errors and fixed them.

    I was so fucking wrong.
     
  10. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

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    Tis a joke
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 55
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    Elruin heard them gate in, but she said nothing. She drew her violin tighter, added a couple notes, an alert that meant nothing to their spies but meant everything to the dead which surrounded Elruin. Calenda's eyes snapped open, though there was nothing for her to see from her position. Scratch watched from the carved indentation of the stone, and the mindless corpses began to stir as their mistress readied their programming.

    Everyone moved at once, a storm of blades and death.

    Renar let his own soldiers charge in, each a trained assassin equipped to evade and strike with deadly precision. If they had been ordered to slay Elruin, then the girl would have died there, clutching her violin as she bled out. Instead, their orders were to fan out, test defenses, and ensure she could not escape.

    Those defenses were discovered immediately, hunting spears burst from the ground the moment Renar's men were in range. Eight traps triggered, two men wounded, with spear barbs caught in their flesh.

    On the defense, these soldiers were the perfect foe against the slow, predictable actions of the zombies. They danced back, like a wave breaking upon a rocky shore. Their speed, their precision, and their ability to coordinate was second to none in the empire and had been since long before Claron had begun leading the Ghosts.

    It was, perhaps, the worst imaginable matchup against those who did not think, did not feel, and did not die. They launched a volley of sensory bombs at the emerged foe. Light magic, shadow magic, emotion distortion spells, and alchemical poisons, were deployed. While it was certain that any foe would be able to ignore perhaps half of the different attack strategies, no living thing they could imagine would be immune to all of them.

    So they could be forgiven for their moment of hesitation and surprise when the zombies, obscured by the smoke and magic, pelted them at close range with their bows. Twenty good soldiers reduced to twelve healthy, six injured, and four dead.

    Renar bolted forward, deflected two arrows with bare hands, and shoved a knife up under the helm of a zombie. He twirled, avoided two attackers who'd switched to their arming swords and dodged another arrow. A moment's distraction, brought on in part by the confusion that these men were willing to fire upon their own in close quarters, was enough that he failed to realize the man he'd impaled was still fighting.

    From the safety of the viewing portal, Claron watched the scene. "Undead? She's Tainted as well?" Claron tensed and relaxed at the same time. Tensed, because the abominations were more dangerous than most would ever realize.

    "I suspect this is why she must be sacrificed." Uewatsu voiced the source of his relief. "Enge recognized the abomination, where no others could."

    Claron had always followed the teachings of Enge, but he was often less than flawless in his devotion. He viewed his god as a symbol uniting the empire, one who brought stability, and whose teachings allowed civilization to survive. Only after his revival did he begin to recognize that Enge was a personal god, with goals for his faithful. Then, upon the day of his resurrection, he was given the command to murder a child.

    It was a cruel test of faith, one which Claron undertook while hoping that Enge planned to spare the girl in the end. Now all doubt and guilt had been taken from his shoulders, for he knew his task was right and good. "Truly, Emperor Enge is the wisest of all gods." Never again would he question, for he had been shown that even when he could not understand the reason, his god did.

    Suggested Listening

    Elruin adjusted her song with a twirl and a drag of her violin. She drew up a storm of darkness and called on Calenda to answer with her fog cloud. The battle would now be fought in darkness. Sooner than they had desired, but her undead were growing sluggish from the damage the remaining soldiers had inflicted upon them. If she didn't give them every advantage she could, then Claron would not need to show himself to defeat them.

    Renar stumbled forward in the inky night, fast enough to spare himself from a fatal injury by little more than an eyeblink. The blade drew a line of blood along his back, as the magic of his armor could not counter the strength of Elruin's augmented undead, only mitigate them.

    The two zombies in front of him acted in concert with them, to exploit his wounds and vulnerability. He gritted his teeth and planned, if not victory, then to take these things with him before he fell.

    A light pierced the fog and necromantic shadows even as it mended the bloodied gash in Renar's back. Once again, he had faced death and been spared. "Asceli?"

    "You didn't think I'd leave you to die here?" Asceli drew her hands together, then allowed her power to explode outward, burning away the necromantic energies they were fighting, and with it the bodies began to collapse, their motivational power scoured from existence. Elruin was forced to look away from the woman, as her life energies flared like the power of the sun, blinding her senses. So long as she was on the battlefield, Elruin could not rely upon lifesight.

    This was the opportunity Ketak had been waiting for, although she had expected it to come when Claron arrived. A spear guided by the killing instinct embedded in Ketak's sarite caught Asceli's shoulder. She screamed and fell, spared from bleeding by the cauterizing heat of dwarven magic.

    With many of her dollies destroyed, Elruin changed notes yet again. The tangled ball of dead tentacles, until now inert as the taint spread, burst from the ground with a speed surpassing any other doll she possessed thus far, and entangled one of the unprepared Ghosts. The living thaumivore sought to capture and feed, but the dead one knew only the desire to serve its mistress and kill in her name.

    "Merat ne!" Renar drew upon his speed enhancing magic and met the dwarf in a direct collision. His first slash took her eye, and the second would have cut open her throat if she had human anatomy. "She's a healer!"

    Ketak brought her arms up, shielding her face with her metallic forearms while giving her own regenerative magic a chance to mend the injuries. "I know!" The human insistence that healers were a special caste, not to be harmed on the battlefield, was not shared in dwarven tradition. To them, you downed the most dangerous opponent first, and there was nothing more dangerous on the battlefield than that which allowed other enemies to stand back up again.

    "What is that thing?" Claron asked.

    "It appears to be one of the beasts from within the rift." Uewatsu fought the urge to giggle at the absurdity of the scene she was witnessing. "They're little threat, no more intelligent than a rodent. It must have found its way through the rift, then died. They can't live long in our world, and lack the comprehension to realize it. In the rift, they are little more than prey animals."

    "Then the abomination spreads her taint even to the things from this other world?"

    "It certainly appears that way."

    "How much difficulty would I have in killing it?"

    "As it is, now, I suspect it's no greater than a weak chimera. A challenge for some, but not a match for your strength even before being blessed with the Eye."

    Claron nodded, and continued to evaluate the beast in battle. It proved capable of holding its own against the two remaining warriors which Renar counted amongst his elite forces, but all they could do was fight it to a standstill, rather than defeat it. Still, even accounting for its status amongst the undead, if the things within the rift regarded such a beast as a prey animal, it would be wise to take Elruin before she attempted an escape.

    Meanwhile, Ketak and Renar continued their clash. The problem facing Ketak now was that she was hopelessly outclassed by this maneuverable enemy. She attempted to claw for him, but it allowed him to get close and slash at her face, which forced her to draw further back and shield with both arms again.

    With most of the undead devastated by Asceli's magic, it was left to Elruin and Ketak to fight what remained of the Ghosts of Sorvel. Elruin continued her song, dipped into the essence of anger and played of rage and unmitigated hate. Unseen by the few remaining foes, Lemia did the same from her place of hiding within the hollow stone 'statue'.

    Ketak stayed on the defense while her foe's attacks grew wilder. Magic overtook his resistance, induced emotion overtook his reason, and he ceased to be a true threat to her. His new berserker strength was quite the sight to behold, but without precision he could only hammer at her steel scales like a rampaging toddler.

    Meanwhile, she turned the heat up both metaphorically and literally. Her scales began to glow, and light was distorted by the energy radiating off of her body, yet her foe did not feel it. His body, stressed to the maximum, began to fail. In a few moments, exhaustion would overtake insanity, and he would be unable to stop her killing stroke.

    It was a good plan, one Renar might even have praised were he thinking clearly, and then he was. He fell back, using his superior speed to escape the dwarf's plan.

    Behind him, Asceli climbed to her feet with the spear still inside her. "Don't count me out just yet." Golden fluid dripped from the spear, and where it touched the ground flowers bloomed in dead soil. "I see now, I have little choice. I want you to know I love you, and I'm sorry."

    "Asceli?" Renar spared a glance, just a short one, at his partner.

    She ripped the spear from her body. She almost stumbled from pain, one of many things her regenerative power did not protect her from, her burden to bear. She held the weapon up, then thrust it into the ground.

    Necromantic power burned away against the bubble of purifying light, air lit on fire by the opposing energies canceling one another out. Elruin screamed in agony when she discovered her power was lacking. Blinded and weakened by creation, it was all she could do to continue singing, to protect Calenda and Scratch, a desperate attempt to cling to what remained of the plan.

    "Good job!" Renar encouraged as best he could, but he had to keep his eye on the dwarf. While he wouldn't consider the two of them evenly matched, he had to admit that a fight between them would not end before the rest of the battle was decided. If she was going to fall back, then he was willing to take the opportunity to recover in Asceli's healing power.

    What nobody had expected was the second burst of magic Asceli fired at Elruin.

    Elruin screamed again, but softer, for her lungs had yet to suck enough new air to vocalize her agony. She had never experienced such pain before, as nerves long dimmed by her necromantic power lit again. As if she had lived a life where all her circulation had been cut off, until now when it was restored. Her body lacked the experience, the neurological language, to understand what was happening. All it knew was that it was dying.

    Renar jumped in front of Asceli, gripped her hand to prevent her from firing a third burst of power. "What are you doing!?"

    From his position watching through the portal, Claron almost shouted the same question. Instead, he gave a command. "Open a rift for me. Now!"

    Lemia, too, left her hiding place. She knelt in front of Ell, leaving her back as a target to Asceli. She wasn't worried, Asceli was using was pure creation energy; lethal to a true necromancer like Elruin, power traded for power in equal measure, but for most people it would be uncomfortable at worst.

    "Killing that thing before it's too late!" Asceli pulled her hand out of his grip. Her next blast was blocked in part by Renar, and in part by Lemia, but even with two bodies to absorb much of the energy Elruin still shook in an agony she lacked the strength to voice.

    "We're winning!" Renar tried again to capture her, but failed. Asceli was stronger and faster than him, a fact he never saw before. "We can capture her for Enge!"

    Lemia fumbled about for solutions, before coming to the one answer that might work. She took a breath, then began to siphon power out of Elruin not unlike the vampiric magic Calenda was relying upon. Sapping creation energy was easy enough, but sapping it from Elruin carried numerous risks. She couldn't ask Cali to do it, without risking both of them dying.

    "And then what? Do we let Claron have his 'divine' reward?" Asceli moved again, but now Ketak had joined in attempting to run interference. "I joined the Ghosts for freedom, not to trade one slave master for another! If Enge is going to turn a man like him into a god, then Enge i-"

    She stopped speaking, and looked down at the blade coming out of her chest. It burned so hot that the healing energy that made up her blood boiled off of the metal. Her blood boiled, her flesh melted, and her bone turned to ash.

    "No." The last word she heard was spoken by Claron's commanding voice. "I think that's quite enough of this farce."

    =====

    Claron makes for a great villain- willing to get his own hands dirty, but smart enough to send henchmen in first. Also, sorry for all the cliffhangers, but that's just how climactic scenes write themselves. Also, 2300 word chapter. That's quite enough, I think.

    Renar and Asceli are both significant characters and ultimately recruitable along the Ghosts path. One of the few romances you'll see in this story, too. Renar, in particular, is a candidate for going undead voluntarily.
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 56. End of Act 2.
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    Claron watched the assembly of enemies to the empire. Of them, the only one he had any real respect for was the girl tending to Elruin. She, at least, had the mental faculties to continue trying to save the child while the others stood still. Since he needed her alive to fulfill Enge's command, they shared a tangential goal for the moment.

    The rest stood there, watching him, rather than trying to overwhelm him with everything they had before he had a chance to get his bearings. It wouldn't have made a difference, nothing they could do had any hope of overcoming Enge's blessings, but even futile action deserved respect. "My apologies, did I interrupt something important?"

    "Merat ne!"

    Claron closed his eyes, when the series of explosive chemicals Renar relied upon went off in his face. Another might have considered the open betrayal to be more contemptuous than inaction, but Claron disagreed. At least betrayal was action, the act of a dishonorable warrior was better than the cowardice of a loyal boot-licker.

    He drew upon his power, a whirlwind of flames blossomed around him and reduced the desolate landscape to ash. When his eyes opened, he stood in a circle of blackened glass. Renar, his few remaining soldiers, the undead, all gone. Only the dwarf remained to keep him company. He could have killed her with this attack as well, but that would risk destroying his prize, and with it his status as Champion of Enge.

    "Still standing? I'm impressed." That she survived was little surprise; the entire dwarven bloodline was tied to forge magic. Once, he resented them for being born with the power he had to work so hard to attain. Then he pitied them, for they were lazy and ignorant of the value of training one's personal strength to its pinnacle. Now, they were irrelevant before Enge's blessing. "Are you going to fight?"

    "No, I know when I'm beat." She slumped, used her overlong arms to hold herself up. Her glowing hot hands sank into the half-molten soil. "Will it disappoint you i' I don't make some speech about how I'll ne'er surrender?"

    His chuckle was genuine. "That's quite alright." Meanwhile, he kept his good eye on Elruin, and the woman struggling to heal her. For all his power, he had no ability with healing magic. The Eye would restore his own flesh and magical power in the rare event that he suffered injury to begin with, but he could do nothing to stave off another's death.

    More, the woman trying to save her was doing so with some exotic fundamental magics that felt rather fragile to him. Until that situation stabilized itself, he had no choice but to watch and wait. The opening salvo established his dominance, and now that none of them were likely to lead an attack that risked Elruin's death, he was content to bide his time.

    Suggested Listening

    "Ell, c'mon, you can make it." Lemia muttered as she made another cautious attempt to drain the excess power.

    Everyone, even mages with those aspects, made the mistake of believing creation and negation were synonymous with life and death. This was not true, for life and death at the core was a fragile balance between all elements, more fundamental in nature than anything else. Treating an excess of fire aspect was not so simple as adding more water in spite of their opposing positions, no more than a man could breathe underwater if the water was boiling.

    Right now, Lemia's problem was finding a way to drain off creation energies without running the risk of disrupting all other aspects of Elruin's already bizarre elemental balance. The usual solution of diluting the excess power and bleeding it off into the atmosphere was not an option, because creation magic had a nasty habit of sticking to itself, forming 'clumps' of magic. A great property if you wanted to create, but endless frustration for those trying to negate it.

    At first, she tried to absorb the energy into herself, but that plan was dismissed in heartbeat. Elruin's native energy would kill any living thing, even those attuned to her. Meanwhile, the creation energy made it impossible to use any of the undead as a vent.

    Then she felt it, the void in reality, bubbling just beneath the surface of this wound in the world. It couldn't be that easy, could it? In desperation, she took the other option, and began to force the creation energies in the direction which did not exist, into a place that was not.

    To her surprise, it worked. The power vented... somewhere... to her perception it looked like it faded into nowhere, but without the telltale signs of dissipation into the environment.

    Elruin gasped, taking her first proper breath in minutes, while Lemia continued to find the worst damaged spots and vent them out in as controlled a method as she could. It was sloppy, destructive work, but she felt confident that it would result in a full recovery.

    Which, she knew, was what Claron waited for. She grabbed Elruin's violin and the dagger which served as a bow thanks to magic. "Ell, take them." She had to move Elruin's hands to the instrument. "It's time. We need you. Please."

    Suggested Listening

    Elruin trembled, forced herself to move with what little strength was left in her ravaged muscles. Lemia felt the distortion of her song on the fragile seams they stitched over the wound, as she undid the very thing she helped to build in the first place.

    Lemia also felt it when Claron moved toward them. She cringed, knowing she was about to die. The plan had never been for her to be out on the battlefield, but she made that choice in order to save Elruin. At least she felt confident that her future zombie self would appreciate all the effort she'd been put in to maintain her figure.

    Claron was uncertain of what the necromancer thought she could do in her current condition, but he knew he'd have to stop it. She seemed fond of her friends, so to him it seemed the best strategy would be one similar to his errant siblings. Capture the healer, and threaten her in order to make Elruin stop fighting.

    He stumbled forward due to surprise and imbalance, more than actual harm, when a dwarf leapt on his back and tried to dig her claws into his throat. He jabbed his elbow back, hitting the hard steel scales of Ketak's stomach and sending her flying back. Her claws did draw blood, leaving six paper thin lines of crimson on his face and neck.

    Ketak paid dearly for the minor damage she inflicted, her ribs broken and some internal organs bruised. The inch-thick steel plates had a dent in them. She was down, and Claron's next strike would have been enough to kill her, but he had other concerns.

    The rift cracked, and the things on the other side spilled out. They had been drawn by the echoes of a reality as alien to them as their reality was to the people fighting on the other side. They had no understanding or care about the motives of these magic-rich things, they knew only their own desires, instincts built by long eons of evolution to survive within the void where starvation was the greatest of all threats.

    The first three which broke through were greeted by a burst of magical flame hot enough to melt steel, but it was magic, and so to them it was pleasure and sustenance, strength which would allow them to persist for years in a realm that measured time as outcome rather than function.

    Claron reacted swiftly to the realization that the things from the rift were not stopped by his magic, but he lacked the ability to explain why. He did, however, know someone who could. "How do I fight these things?"

    "Top... Maj..." Uewatsu's message was broken, unclear. She felt a moment of surprise that would serve to amuse her through long years of boredom to come. She focused on the task at hand, and constructed a far more robust communication portal. "They. Eat. Magic."

    "Why didn't you tell me before!" He drew back his power, in order to rely on his combat prowess. With a swipe of his sword, several of the monsters' limbs fell to the ground, twitching and leaking their ichor. Once he was granted his true status as Enge's Champion, he would need to reconsider his relationship with the rift mage. First, however, he had more pressing concerns.

    They moved to engulf him, and he continued his steps backward, not falling back, but keeping his distance while he learned the strengths and weaknesses of these creatures. They were fast, and against a normal opponent they might be considered tough, but they were weaker than most chimera and possessed abysmal, swarm-like tactics more appropriate for a hive of bees than a large organism.

    With each swing, step, and parry he took a limb. Blood loss caused them to slow and collapse. One fell, then another, then a third and fourth and fifth.

    He was so caught up in the pressure of combat without the advantage of the Eye that he didn't spot the human threat from behind until the metal had pierced his spine, then twisted inside.

    "Die!" Renar kept pushing, both the dagger and his whole body against Claron's back, to drive him into the beasts he seemed so keen on avoiding.

    Claron reacted on instinct, flaring out with his magic to slay his former companion and drive the blade out. Too slow, for the thaumivore tendrils had fallen upon them both, and so his magic mutilated Renar, but failed to kill him.

    Now wounded and covered in the magic-sapping creatures, it was all Claron could do to hack away at them, taking one limb at a time until they began to weaken and die around him. He stumbled from the pile of corpses, wounded and exhausted, but alive.

    Elruin now stood on wobbly legs, still playing her violin, but now it was just the pair of them. He allowed the Eye's power to return to him and begin the slow, agony-wracked process of mending his wounds.

    "It was a good trap, but it's over now. You lost." Claron walked toward her, knowing full well that he couldn't run without ripping his healing wounds open again, an act which was potentially fatal with a death mage so close. Even a Champion of Enge had limits. "Surrender now, and I'll have no need to continue hurting your allies."

    The healer stepped in front of the girl. "How 'bout you cut off your own dick and sit on it?"

    Claron said nothing. He wondered why he expected any decorum from those who would work with abominations. His flesh continued to stitch itself together, gaining in speed as the worst damage was undone and it began work upon the superficial. More confident, he began a swift march toward the two standing mages.

    The ground beneath his feet erupted in an explosion of mud and stench of sulfur and tang of incense. His eyes burned, and he coughed on the poison now seeking its way into his body through his lungs. The Eye of Enge took its 'attention' away from the remaining wounds in his back, and began the process of fighting the deadliest herbal toxins the wilderness had to offer.

    The mixture had been measured for the maximum possible slow and long term harm in mind. Several ivies for their contact poison, wolfsbane to disrupt regeneration, and ten times the lethal dosage of hemlock, for certainty's sake.

    That Claron remained standing, that the worst side effects of this brutally lethal chemical weapon was coughing and eye irritation rather than seizures, coma and death was testament to the magic protecting him. Magic which had been severely drained by the thaumivores.

    Then, finally, Calenda got her chance to act. She pounced upon the wounded, blinded, poisoned and exhausted Claron and grabbed for his face, then began to sap energy away from him, while doing her best to pull the Eye of Enge from its place in Claron's skull. If she could disrupt contact for a mere moment, the damage inflicted on him would be lethal.

    Claron knew this as well as they did, and he still had power and speed to surpass Calenda. He grabbed her arm, pulled it away from her face, and tried to pull her off of him entirely.

    Necromantically augmented biology, driven as far as Elruin could push her, proved inferior to the Eye of Enge. Calenda screamed when her forearm snapped like a dry twig. Grunted when an elbow smashed her ribs much like it had Ketak, but unlike Ketak Cali did not require her organs for survival.

    Elruin stopped her song. "Stop hurting her!"

    Claron noted the cry, but he couldn't afford to not fight back against this zombie which was sapping what precious strength he had left. He hammered her again, busted her other arm, smashed her skull, and once he got an arm free he swept the blade across her torso.

    She fell to the ground in five separate pieces, her necromantic pattern flickering, then Claron brought his sword back around to deliver a final strike.

    Elruin screamed with inarticulate rage, tears dropping as she ran for the only family she had in this world. This was Claron's plan from the beginning, even if he hadn't realized he could use one of the undead to achieve it until that moment.

    He caught the flailing, foolish child by the arm, batted her stiletto away, and then with a short series of practiced twists, had both the necromancer's arms pinned behind her back. He didn't want to damage her any more than he had to, for fear that shock would be enough to finally kill her. "Come with me!"

    Elruin stared down at the dismembered Calenda, while Claron began to drag her away. Calenda needed help, needed her help, or the necromantic structures would shatter and she would be lost forever. "Let me go!"

    Claron didn't waste his time dignifying her demands with a refusal.

    Then the scream changed from desperation to unforgiving rage. The solid black of her eyes spread outward, across her face, down her neck, over her clothes, every inch of her body bled necromantic power.

    Frost spread across Claron's fingers moments before they shattered from the cold. He stared down at the child for the brief moment with his one good eye as half his body froze while the other half burned. All the heat of his body forced away from the necromancer until it erupted from his back. He dropped dead, not comprehending where it all went wrong.

    Euwatsu, still watching the show from the privacy of her secret chambers in a hidden corner of the empire, began to giggle and clap her hands. "So soon!"

    Then she stopped, remembered herself, and the lives lost this day. Claron had died doing what he believed to be right, but she knew from experience history would not remember him as such.

    She bowed her head. "Claron was a good man, a hero, and his death is a tragedy. The greatest of all tragedies that he was born to this world which needs monsters, not heroes. He will be remembered longer than he can know."

    She dismissed the portal, set the Eye of Enge down on her desk, and sat in her chair. Then she allowed herself to cry. She was indirectly responsible for more deaths than she could keep track of, but this was only the second time she inflicted the killing blow.

    Moments later, she smiled again and jumped back to her feet. There was far, far too much work to do, and for the first time in a long time she was excited to see what came next.

    =====

    Yeah. A lot of people really wanted Claron dead. How could you tell?

    Funnily enough, Claron's also an ally in the Ghosts path. Or, a potential ally and father figure for Elruin, at any rate. He never becomes a recruit option, but Ell can absolutely help put him on the throne (in which case, he replaces the king and queen during Act 3), or assist Renar and Asceli in their plans to stab him in the back. It's a major choice of that path.

    I kinda like imagining a player completing one path of the game, then going back and playing through another path, only to find that the people they came to know and love, or love to hate, all switch roles. Then the player has to kill former friends.

    Not all of them in quite the matter of killing Claron. Hemlock is a brutal poison. Also incredibly common. Know all those large white discs of flowers you see growing in rural ditches? Kinda smells like carrot leaves? That's hemlock. Don't eat it. Or smoke it. There are less horrible ways to commit suicide out there. All of them, for example.

    On a minor side note, I have had to tell every spellcheck I've ever used that "ichor" is a real word.

    On a more important side note... don't expect an update tomorrow, possibly for the whole weekend. I got a massive amount of work to do around here IRL, and I'm going to need to make my voters vote on a number of different things before I can get to work on the epilogue of Act 2 and starting chapter of Act 3.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2019
  13. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 57
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    The moment Claron fell, Elruin stumbled to Calenda. "You can't die." It was a whisper, a command, perhaps the first prayer the girl had made with complete sincerity in her life. What power she had left went to her song, bolstering Cali's energies as best she could. Next, she extended her power to all of the necromantic energy remaining on the battlefield, the tainted corpses of the butchered undead, the taint that remained from the dollies which Claron incinerated, and what residual power remained in the stitched fabric of the void hole.

    It was energy enough to restore the dying spark of power tying Cali together. Then Elruin stopped singing, grabbed Cali's arm, and stuck it against the stump just above her elbow. "Don't worry, you'll be okay. I'll fix you."

    "Ahh!" Calenda hissed in agony as her arm began to restitch itself to the rest of her flesh, a process forced along by Elruin's magic.

    "Sorry, I'm doing the best I can." Elruin kept humming as she warped Cali's flesh, melding it back together on string of sinew at a time, and began the process of fusing the bone. Now that the limb was reconnected, the necromantic glove would be able to supply some minor amount of strength. Elruin reached for the other limb.

    Calenda smiled. "Don't know what you're talking about, I feel fine." Perhaps the most obvious lie of her life. The nerves still attached to her were working, but the same could not be said of the pain-ignoring process the body used to put itself in shock. "Gah! Okay, but I can say I've been through worse." That much was true, though it hadn't happened often.

    "The next part will be worse." Calenda had been bisected along the stomach, and now that meant Elruin had to go through the process of stitching all of that back together. "Sorry."

    "Hey, you're not the one who cut me in half." Calenda grit her teeth in agony as the process started with her spine, then worked itself forward. "Make him apologize!"

    "Too busy being dead to apologize," Claron said. "HAH! You should see the look on your faces! If you weren't already dead, I bet you'd have shit yourself!"

    "Scratch!" Cali clenched a ball of claylike soil, then chucked it as best she could at Scratch's new puppet. She impressed herself with her aim, with a solid blow to his face.

    The puppet smacked his lips, an act which resulted in some of the mouth to break apart, dangling chunks of frozen flesh held on only by some small amount of pliable skin. "Mmm, tastes like my last girlfriend." He waited a moment. "Speaking of, I just found the reason Claron was an insane egomaniac. Specifically, it's what I didn't find." He gestured at his crotch with both hands. "Unfortunately, I've already shown you one void hole today, and I don't do repeat performances."

    "You degenerate reject!" This time, Cali found a rock in the dirt, and with a combination of skill and luck, she hit him in what passed for the good eye. "You didn't defy death! It took one look at you and left you behind!"

    "That may be, but I've some experience in how walking corpses deals with pain," he said as he turned away. "Getting angry works a whole lot better than trying to stay calm, as you now know."

    Cali hesitated, then looked down at where a line of natural tan now bisected her cosmetics-paled skin. "Huh."

    Suggested Listening

    "You're welcome. Now come help me deal with the trash, you're the only one equipped to do it right." Scratch gestured at the man who'd led the attack on their group. As of this moment, Ketak had him pinned to the ground, her steel claws pressed into his back. "Speaking of, we got a lot to planning to do now that Claron is gone and we've caught one of the Ghosts' other commanders."

    "Claron's dead, we won, what's left?" Lemia asked.

    "Do you think because the enemy general dies that his army magically vanishes? That they all surrender, knowing they face executions?" Scratch was finding it far too easy to exploit Claron's deep, booming voice in making his points. "What lazy hack writers have you read? Because real life don't work that way."

    "Hey, I'm an alchemical scholar," Lemia said. "When it comes to war, I'm supposed to build the weapons, not fight the battles. So, what does happen, now?"

    "It's going to be a mess," Cali said. "Cities that will need to be sieged out. More innocent people are going to die in reclaiming our cities than were lost when Claron invaded in the first place. Fortunately, we have one of their commanders."

    "Just kill me and get it over with, abomination." Renar didn't bother to look up. "Claron restructured our entire command system, now that he's dead there is no clear succession. The Ghosts are lost, Asceli is dead. You've won. And we both know I've seen too much to live. I think you owe me a clean death after I helped save that necromancer from Claron, or did your honor die with the rest of you?"

    "Honor, he says." Scratch crossed his arms. "Eh, this ain't my play."

    "Does he know anything we can use against the bad people?" Elruin asked. "You can make him talk, right?"

    Calenda looked at Elruin. It was true, if he spoke to an Inquisitor, or almost anyone outside of this select group, it would spell disaster. Torturing him would also be a waste, and not something she wanted to do. "He's too good for my brand of Truthsaying, best I can tell is that I can't tell, and torture is useless without magic to prevent lying. Scratch, want to take a new puppet?"

    "Sorry, he's outside of my power as well," Scratch said. "And I'm afraid he'll explode while I'm inside him. I promise it's less fun than it sounds."

    "Lucky you, quick death it is." Calenda knelt in front of Renar. She gripped his head with both hands, and used the vampiric shard to the fullest extent. Pain and pleasure blended inside her as the basic repairs cobbled together by Elruin were replaced with fresh, healthy, undead flesh. For a few brief moments, her heart beat again.

    Elruin looked down at the corpse, then began to sing to it. Flashes and concepts, longing glances he made toward Asceli when she wasn't looking, a hope for a better future than the one he had grown up in. She ignored those distractions, pushed deeper, sang of his friends and made his remains sing back. "They have a teleporter," she said. "An old lady. Uewatsu?"

    Claron's body laughed.

    "You know her, corpse?" Lemia stared at the maimed, bloodied eye sockets of a dead man that stood a full two feet taller than her.

    "I know the organization she works for, or I can make a good guess. And as a preemptive note, they're either insane, or are better at pretending to be insane than anyone I've ever met. They're trying to save the world."

    "Entek ne," Calenda muttered. "I've had enough of these crazy cultists who think they can make a better world by the power of happy thoughts."

    "Oh, you wish," Scratch said. "No, these guys are full-on deepest end of the death cults that other death cults call crazy. They believe the world is broken, and the only way to save it is by killing it, and by extension everyone on it. And every time anything starts to look like it's going in what most would call a good direction, here they come to kick it all down again."

    "Three above, four below," Lemia said. "Do you have any proof?"

    "You're the scholar, I bet you can find the patterns better than me. I've seen the aftermath of their 'projects' over the centuries. Seems like they find any empire that gets too big or stable, then set about sabotaging it from within. Fan the flames of rebellion, get them to destroy themselves. Or maybe I'm wrong, maybe empires inevitably tear themselves apart. I am paranoid, and proud of it, but I have been known to jump at shadows on occasion."

    "More than half of their forces are in Arila," Elruin said. While Scratch talked, she'd continued her violations of a dead man's privacy. "All the strongest ones are still in the city. They're weaker than they pretend, which is why they needed Claron."

    "Let's worry about that," Calenda said. "Suicide conspiracies which might not exist are secondary to an occupying army. I can make it back to Arila by nightfall, hopefully before they reorganize from Claron's death."

    "You think you can kill all of them?" Ketak asked.

    "No, I may be stronger than ever before, but I'm not that strong," Cali said. "But I'm not the one they have to be afraid of."

    "Gluk." A sickly wet noise popped from Claron's throat as the flesh of his esophagus collapsed inward as a squishy mess. Scratch poked his head out of his borrowed chest. "About time for me to ditch this body. Nice while it lasted. Speaking of, sarite. I'm guessing they're good if he only had two." He handed off a couple crystals to Lemia, then Claron's corpse collapsed like a marionette with the strings cut.

    "Oh, right, and the of Eye of Enge, no idea where it went or how to find it." Scratch said in his native form and voice. "I guess it was magicked to vanish when the user died. Or maybe it fell into the void, in which case it's gone forever."

    "That's a problem," Cali said. "Okay, we need to take Claron's body as proof he's dead. And his armor. I'll take the armor to Arila, but someone needs to deliver the body to Sonhome, keep an eye on it until the Engewal's royalty can send someone to pick up the body, and investigate the death site. Expect all sorts of Inquisitor nosiness."

    "I suppose I'll deliver the message to the queen. Always wondered what it'd be like to have royalty singing my praises." Lemia said. "I've got some experience dodging Truthsayers, and I'm pretty confident I'm strong enough to prevent someone from reading my mind without my awareness. But, should I show them the battlefield?"

    "They won't find anything here," Scratch said. "Long as Elruin clears the taint, maybe even if she doesn't. Void plays havoc on sensory magic. Worst part's going to be you having to swear in all conceivable directions that we didn't keep the other Eye of Enge. I doubt even the gods know where it is now. I know I haven't the first idea."

    "Is it safe to tell Engewal about the void-holes? These seem like the sort of thing the military would take advantage of."

    "As if they could," Scratch said. "Only a void mage can do anything with void holes other than get themselves killed. Tell them the truth, that you had a local guide of Fey origin who told you where to find the hole, and how it could be used to beat Claron. Lured him here with promises of Elruin delivered by morks. Then a lot of people died to kill him."

    "Fey origin?" Lemia looked at the insubstantial inky ghost.

    "Okay, a local guide claiming to be of fey origin, if that helps. Which is what I am doing right now, claiming I was fey once upon a time. Everyone knows we're fickle and impossible to predict and you can't trust anything we say or even our appearance. Keep asking me more questions on the subject and I'll keep lying until you give up. I'm also a dragon and God of the Sacred Phallus. Tell them I said that, too."

    "Ugh, I get the point," Lemia said. "What else?"

    "See if you can get bribes out of them."

    "It's not a bad idea," Cali said. "But don't act like you want anything. It's... one of those royal traditions. Talk about how happy you were to help, and how all you want is to return to school and live in peace. In effect, the first noble you accept a personal gift from wins the competition. Whenever they offer, suggest that instead of rewarding you, they provide supplies to help those suffering after the rebellion. They love that sort of humility."

    "Are you sure this isn't just you manipulating me?" Lemia crossed her arms. "Sounds an awful lot like what you'd say to trick me into giving up my just rewards."

    "Well, you could take an offer," Cali said. "But then you have a noble family which has marked its territory on you. You've been bought, at whatever price you get for yourself. Or hold out, and your value keeps climbing. Maybe you get a noble scion husband out of the gig. I never took anything from them, and I had Lord Garit doing everything in his power to marry me. Technically, he succeeded. Then I killed myself."

    She said it with a smile, but it was a weak one. Somewhere inside her now-cold body, she felt pain at the loss of the life she had, and the future that might have been. She made the right decision, of that she had no doubt, but some part of her yearned for a path where she could have had her freedom, and the stability which Garit represented. He would make a fine husband and a wonderful father some day, and now all possibility that she would see that day was gone.

    "Not so different than my last career, then," Lemia muttered. "I'll take your advice under consideration, but I am for sale with the right price."

    "Speaking o' price," Ketak said. "I presume 'is means 'e end o' our alliance?"

    Cali looked over at the dwarf. "Umm, it looks like it. Not forever, but for the time being. We have responsibilities to our home. You'll want your share of the sarite, I presume."

    "No, I got one better." Ketak lifted the very weapon which bisected Calenda not long ago. "Dwar'en work, per'ect set o' magic 'or a goblin hunter. I don't know where he 'ound it, but I want it back."

    Cali sighed. "I'd give you the same speech I gave Lemia, but it doesn't apply to nonhumans. We'll just have to apologize and say you insisted and we had little ability to refuse under the circumstances."

    "Hey, if you don't mind associating with a Fey guide, I'll stick around," Scratch said. "Everyone else is going to be in the cities while I have to wait around outside, and killing goblins sounds like a good time. Also, you have a better chance of getting messages to my associates than I do if an emergency pops up."

    "Ell, can I talk to you for a second in private?" Lemia pulled the girl by the sleeve of her training uniform. It was a testament to their quality that the clothes survived the trials they had been through.

    "Okay." Elruin let herself be guided while Cali did the work of dividing resources between them and determining who'd take what with them.

    "How did you do that ice spell? Can you do it again? Or any other ice magic?"

    "I think so." Elruin tapped into her depleted reserves. As it wasn't a combat situation, she used the weakest variant she could and took time to keep it as inexpensive as possible.

    "But I know you use time magic, and I've seen you use rage magic from time to time. And now you have ice magic as well. How?"

    Elruin hesitated. "I don't know." She considered the song she heard, and could not for the life of her determine how she accomplished the use of ice magic in spite of not being able to before, and the assertion of all scholars that having direct access to more than three aspects was impossible.

    "During the battle, I was looking for a weakness in Claron's powers, some aspect of death that could counter the magic flowing from him." She thought back to the battle, and the defenses and healing Claron relied upon. "It was fire, with blood and rage aspects that I think came from his equipment. I couldn't stop him, none of my spells were more than an inconvenience against him."

    "One of his sarite was designed for the sole purpose of countering necromancy," Lemia said. She held up the crystal which would have been a beautiful counter to Elruin even an hour ago. "I think he trusted his natural fire and earth aspects to protect him from your other abilities. He must have learned what you could do from someone at the school."

    "I felt so helpless, so weak, and then he started to hurt Cali." Elruin drew closer to herself. "I don't know how, but something fell into place, and I could hear the song most suited to end him."

    "Which you still remember, like your other aspects?"

    "Yes." Elruin looked down. "It's new magic, I think I'll need to practice it if I want it as strong as my other spells."

    "We'll need to look into that, when we have time." Lemia put a hand on Elruin's shoulder, offering what comfort she could. "For now, you should keep your new aspect secret. Right now, anyone who tries to protect themselves from your magic is in for a nasty surprise. Better keep it that way."

    Elruin nodded at the sensible suggestion. "Alright."

    =====

    ... Scratch is in no small part inspired by a certain character from Planescape: Torment. You know the one. The 90s truly was the golden age. Don't get me wrong, there have been damn good games from other eras, but never so many in such a narrow span of time.

    Turns out, this is going to be a longer epilogue/next prologue than I expected.
     
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  14. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

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    Phew. So it's only going to be a time-skip so Elruin can grow older by a few years? Goodie.
     
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  15. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    That and because nothing of particular plot value's going to be going on. Ell returns to school (presumably, that's where the vote's going for now), stuff like that.
     
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  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 58
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    Lemia tried her best not to stare at Engewal's fortified entrance, but she had never witnessed such splendor before. Save, perhaps, the city-in-the-branches of Sonhome. What did they use to make white walls for a city this size? It couldn't be direct magic, such an expenditure of power to cover a city this size would be detectable from the other side of the planet. A pity Ketak stayed behind, she should have more expertise on the subject. Or was it racist to assume that because she was a dwarf, she'd know about stone construction?

    "The stone is from the ash of Emperor Enge, coupled with sand and limestone," their guide said. "Crafted through techniques taught to our ancestors. Then, as now, our god provided for us."

    Lemia offered a lopsided smile at the woman dressed in the finery of a royal guard. Her blue hair was short, kept in the style of a military commander, which reminded Lemia to some day ask Cali why she kept her hair long. "Was I that obvious?"

    "I can tell you're the scholarly type, if that's what you mean," she said. As usual, she was brusque, and bordered on the impolite. "However, it is part of my duty to tell all guests of the city about our blessed walls."

    Lemia chose to bite her tongue; there was nothing that could be gained in asking one of the highest ranking officials in the empire why she had such an attitude problem. Instead, she turned her attention to Elruin. "Ell? You're doing it again."

    The black energy of Elruin's magic leaked from her eyes like fire as she watched the walls. "Sorry." Elruin blinked, her eyes returned to their new normal. It seemed the whites of her eyes were now black to stay. "I can see why Claron was afraid to attack Engewal directly."

    "Assuming the claims that this pretender to the throne was, indeed, Lord Claron. You haven't provided much evidence."

    Again with this insistence that he was a pretender? Lemia bit her tongue, for there was no right approach. Of a greater concern than the conversation was the fact that there were multiple soldiers with them, some of the best Engewal had to offer, and all of them were nervous about the child necromancer with black eyes. It struck her as unlikely that they were a match for even one of them without special preparations.

    "Ylasa, sister, I feel you should add context." The male lead of their honor guard interjected. He bore a strong resemblance to his sister, a strong, tall man with somewhat effeminate features which Lemia found more attractive than she wanted to admit.

    He addressed his sibling in order to question their guests, maintaining the standards of polite society. "They cannot know the disruption caused when we heard the rumors that our half-brother, or an impostor claiming to be him, lead the Ghosts of Sorvel. Nor could they have realized that we were sent to identify the body, and mayhap we could have been spared some suspense if we were informed he was maimed to unrecognizability in a zone of distorted magic. I'm sure the lost Eye of Enge weighs heavy on your mind as well."

    "What Weran said." Ylasa didn't so much as look at them.

    Lemia could tell there was significantly more beneath the surface there. "If it is any consolation, the artifact wasn't one created by Enge. At best, it was a tribute. At worst, a forgery. Either way, no true treasure of the Emperor."

    "Oh?" Ylasa still looked forward, but she appeared to relax. "What makes you believe that?"

    "The fact that we're standing here," Lemia said. "We suspected from the beginning, when the dryad of Arila defied him, and none of the priests received the divine message of a Chosen having arrived. But the proof is that we, a handful of mortals, could overwhelm the pretender. Our traps and the warped magic zone did most of the work, but it could never have been enough to defeat Enge's power. So I must believe our victory is proof that Enge was not aiding the pretender."

    "So it would seem, on the surface," Ylasa said. "But there is much that doesn't make sense. That the pretender died to the hand of the very child he claimed he wanted to slay in Enge's name."

    "I'm no theologian," Lemia said. "Nor a military scholar. I claim little knowledge of the inner thoughts of generals, and would not dare question the mind of a god."

    "Sister, please, you cannot expect they would have answers even Lady Nalet na Enge could not provide? We will have to rely on our exorcists and inquisitors to take the information from the pretender's remains."

    "They will fail," Elruin said. Then she realized she was looking at Weran instead of Ylasa. "Sorry." She looked down with hands clasped together, as demure and quiet as possible. She would have to mind her manners better after her adventures in the woods.

    "How can you know that?" Ylasa asked. She chose to take advantage of the child's improper behavior to interrogate her some.

    "We used a lot of magic to attack him," she said. "When I killed him, it was with the strongest necromancy I could use, then I kept using it on him even after he died, to be certain he could never be brought back again. There is nothing left for an exorcist to find." It was true, even if she left out that the one who did most of the heavy lifting was Scratch.

    Lemia put her hand on Elruin's shoulder. "Maybe we should save this conversation for when we meet with the queen's advisors." These people were nervous enough as it was, and each one was amongst Engewal's strongest. Worse still, the more Elruin talked, the more they might learn about her abilities, which could be a disaster. "We have a lot to tell."

    "Very well."

    Suggested Listening

    Lemia could not have been more wrong. They were led to the palace, as expected, but instead of their 'honor' guard leading them to some isolated corner of the mansion where they would be interrogated for hours, they were greeted by the queen herself.

    "Your majesty!" Lemia knelt, doing her best to imitate what Calenda did before, but she dropped to hard. The tingling sensation in her knee on down would have to be ignored for the moment.

    "Please, stand. No need for formalities, call me Queen Amiris." She then smiled. "Well, I suppose there's some need for formalities. I would do away with them if I could, but even queens have their limits."

    "Yes, Queen Amiris." Lemia stood slowly, trying her best to hide the newly created weakness in her leg. The regenerative sarite would help her along.

    The queen looked at the young woman and child who helped deal the crippling blows to the rebellion. "You're the one who killed Lord Claron?"

    "Mother, is it appropriate to..." Ylasa started to interrupt.

    "Your father's not here," Queen Amiris said. "He may want to deny it, but everyone else in the kingdom knows the truth. Right now, he'll be with the body. Here's hoping he doesn't try something so foolish as resurrecting him. Such sentimentality is unbecoming of a king."

    Whatever opinions they may have had on the subject, nobody present was willing to contradict the queen. Ylasa did speak on another matter. "The necromancer claims it won't be possible to resurrect him, and indeed all attempts to reach his soul will fail."

    "Is that so?" Queen Amiris smiled when Elruin nodded. She would need to consult with her Archmage to determine how probable it was that a child would have power enough to block resurrection magic, but that was a task for later. "If true, you have done a greater service to the empire than you realize."

    "M... Queen Amiris, if I may?" Lemia waited for confirmation. "Is there any danger that the king might retaliate against us?"

    Amiris kept smiling. "You needn't worry, it simply means we'll need to maintain the official fiction that the pretender was impersonating Lord Claron. Perhaps he made use of illusion or shapechanging magic. Did you detect any such magic? Do you have means to do so?"

    "We have some means to deal with certain illusions." Sensing traps in all conceivable directions, Lemia chose her words knowing there was a real chance that everyone in this hall other than Elruin and herself were Truthsayers. "However, I don't believe anyone in our team ever witnessed the official Lord Claron with our own eyes. How could we spot a fake if we never saw the original? I can swear with certainty we fought a tall, male, forge mage with blue hair and normal copper skin like most of ours. Elruin, did you notice anything that could sort him from anyone else?"

    "No," she said. Remembering Scratch and the words he spoke, she elaborated. "I think I could tell if he was using magic to change his shape, so I don't think he was. Lady Calenda said I have a talent for sensing magic."

    "Even without illusions, what you say describes thousands within the empire." Queen Amiris didn't try to hide the approval in her voice. "Forge mages are the most common bloodline we have."

    "And if I'm honest, I can't swear he was even a forge mage." If the queen wanted plausible deniability, Lemia was willing to give it her best. Anything to keep an irate king from ordering their executions. "In the confusion of battle, it was impossible to determine where the man's power ended, and the artifact's began. It was more powerful than any artifact I have ever seen, including ."

    "Which means thousands could be millions" The queen looked at those few escorts entrusted to be at this meeting. None of them showed an expression, but that was the sign that was given if the truth was being spoken. "That is an interesting theory, I shall pass it along post haste. For now, let us get you into dresses for the ball."

    "A ball?" Lemia hesitated; the idea of Elruin in a social situation was hilariously bad. She latched on to what Calenda said of rejecting bribes and extracting charity for the victims of the war. "Are you sure it's appropriate to celebrate while there is a war going on?"

    "You would be correct, but the war is over," the queen said. "Your Priestess Esra delivered the news to Arila, and the Ghosts were routed within the hour. Lyra's new keeper is far more proactive than the former. Once Arila fell and it became clear their pretender wasn't going to come to save them, the counter-rebellions were merciless and thorough. Those that did not flee are either dead or in our custody. It was a crushing victory. Now come along, people are desperate to meet the heroes of the hour."

    So much for talking our way out of it. "When you put it that way, how could we refuse?"

    =====

    I recently learned concrete was invented either by the ancient Romans and/or Greeks (scholars aren't entirely in consensus, here) using volcanic ash. It seemed ever-so-appropriate to have that here. Tell me I'm wrong.

    In one of the "battle against Claron" scenarios (specifically, the one where the team heads straight for Engewal), they get to interact more with the royal family and there's even the potential for courtly intrigues. Ultimately, one of the royal number- the king, by default- uses a different Enge artifact to fight Claron, and dies in the process. Which serves as the catalyst to weaken Claron to the point that he can be killed.

    That's more viable with the "stealth/socialite" story route that my voters have shown no interest in pursuing... they like the "scholar" path. However, the socialite path wouldn't have resulted in gaining the "necrotempered leather" until later, and Elruin would have a smaller spell selection and weaker undead, if any at all (save Scratch... you have to go out of your way to not have him as a party member).

    Otherwise, the final battle plays out much the same. It's just a question of which characters that may or may not be friends and/or enemies die.

    No. Optimal. Paths. Just a game experience that molds to player decisions.
     
  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 59A
    TanaNari

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    Elruin stepped out of the changing room with her arms out, unwilling to touch the dress she suspected cost more than everything else she owned combined. The dark teal fabric became lighter as layers grew thinner toward the extremities. The billowing effect created the impression of a waterfall, or a fluffy and delicate flower. Elruin was afraid to use her lifesight, for fear even that minor use of magic would melt the gossamer cloth.

    "Oh!" Lemia was already outside, having changed into her own red dress long ago. It, too, was comprised of numerous layers, but it held together in such a way that they draped off her shoulders in a manner that accentuated her generous figure as well as covering it, topped off with a red ribbon in her hair. "You're adorable! I want to hug you forever!"

    Elruin smiled at the approval. "Don't, I'm afraid you'll break it."

    Lemia gave Elruin a pat on the head. "Then I can wait. Besides, we should get going." She turned toward the demure maidservants waiting in silence. "I imagine being late to your own party is a faux pas.

    "Please, this way," the older looking of the two said. Neither were near elderly, but both were years older than the two heroes they escorted. Soon, they found themselves coming around a corner into a large ballroom which was filling with people. They weren't first to arrive, but they were far from last, and they had people coming for them the moment the maids stepped aside so they could enter.

    Lady Juna and Lord Garit were the first to greet their arrival. Elruin missed the subliminal social interplay which determined it would be them, while the others stayed back far enough to be out of eavesdropping range. Lemia, too, took a step back. This was clearly not a place she should involve herself in.

    "I'm glad to see you're well," Juna said. "Look at you in that gown. You're the very picture of a fine young noblewoman. It brings me fond memories of the dances of my childhood."

    "Dear sister," Garit said. "I seem to recall you destroying those dresses in ever more elaborate ways, such as convincing our playmates to set you on fire. Much to the dismay of our parents."

    Juna's grin was mischievous, bordering on malicious. "As I said, fond memories."

    Elruin couldn't take her eyes off the burn scar trailing down Juna's cheek and jaw, before it vanished beneath her clothes. "You're hurt." She risked her lifesight for a moment, confirming that there was depth to her injuries. She had to be in a great deal of pain, with wounds so fresh and raw. "What happened?"

    "My traitor of a half brother..." Juna's cheerful act slipped for a moment. "But you needn't worry about me, it's a minor injury. In fact, I think I'll ask the healers not to touch the surface injuries. My face will bear carry the literal scars of our brother's betrayal, especially for our father. Let him look at me and be unable to forget what his favorite son did."

    "Oh, wrathful and wondrous sibling, perhaps it's better to move on to other topics?"

    "Ah, but of course, you were always better at pretending to be even-headed than I." Juna's smile returned, forced though it was. "My dear brother wanted to ask what became of his lost fiancée. Claron's people report she died, but other reports say you had a priestess with you, one calling herself Esra, who seemed familiar with matters of politic and war."

    "When I heard, I thought perhaps Calenda found a way to fake her death." Garit pushed the limits of social acceptability, in talking as he was, but he could always say he was speaking to Juna rather than Elruin. "I don't know why she feels the need to hide, now that Claron is gone. If she's avoiding me, I want her to know I won't ask anything more of her."

    "I'm sorry." Elruin brought her hands together. "Cali died from a magic weapon I built. Like Claron, she cannot be resurrected. Her last words were 'I choose to die on my feet.' She will be remembered."

    Garit closed his eyes, lest they see him cry. "As in life, so too in death."

    "Her absence will be felt by all," Juna said. "Which is the other reason we're here. This would be your first experience in royal court. You'll find many gifts and favors being traded about here, and we'd like to help you navigate the waters. Your position in the political order has become complicated. Between the death of Claron and the death of your mother, nobody's quite certain what to do with you."

    "Nonsense! It's quite simple." An older woman approached. Her red hair might one time have possessed the same vibrant red as Calenda's, but it had faded. In spite of that and other changes brought on by the march of years, Elruin recognized her well before she introduced herself. "I am Lady Aster, Calenda's mother. That makes me your grandmother, and so you are secure within our house."

    "Not as I recall." Juna's usual cheer carried a little edge to it. "My ever-so-studious brother, could you please confirm for me how the laws of succession apply in a situation such as this one?"

    "The children of non-inheriting children have no claim of estate, unless their parent or parents are made to be inheriting at a later date." Garit's words were stated with a practiced neutrality, as if reciting to a class, or the instructor. "It's a textbook case of broken lineage. I'm afraid all claims Elruin has of belonging to your house died with Lady Calenda."

    Lady Aster hid her displeasure a little worse than Juna managed. "Don't listen to them," she said to Elruin. "They both know claims can be established by any head of a royal house. Or re-established, as is this situation."

    "Not without the approval of the recipient," Juna said. She smiled at Elruin. "Which, I suppose, makes it your choice."

    Elruin didn't need to be asked, now that she knew Lady Aster couldn't do anything to punish her, like a real grandmother could. "You're a mean woman."

    Lady Aster's mouth fell open for a moment, before she closed it, glared at Juna, then marched away without another word.

    "I hope that won't come back to hurt us," Lemia whispered. "Antagonizing noble houses never leads anywhere good, in my experience."

    "I wouldn't make a habit of it, but in this one specific situation I think you'll be fine," Juna said. "House Andara was never a major player, I dare say Calenda was the only member of the line with any true talent, and her betrothal to my brother their last foothold on the national level. It hasn't helped that Lady Aster lacks the political acumen, or basic human decency , of her predecessor. Asserting a claim on Elruin was their last visible opportunity to matter in our lifetimes."

    Lemia looked at the back of the retreating noblewoman. "What happens to them, now?"

    "The usual," Juna said. "They're still a minor bloodline, and nobody can take that away. Their best will rise to a certain extent in the Guard or priesthood. They'll continue marrying into lesser houses, waiting like the rest for an opportunity to take center stage again. But the night is young and there are many players still in the game."

    Soon, a girl younger than Elruin, in a somehow even poofier dress, approached the group. She kept her head down, but held out a locket of woven gold. "Please accept our gift, in gratitude for stopping the pretender." The child spoke as if reciting lines, while behind her, a pair that must have been her parents watched.

    As emotional manipulation went, it was as transparent as it was impactful, and all of it flew over Elruin's head. "If you want to give gifts, it's better to donate to helping those hurt by the war. There are people injured and starving who need it."

    The child nodded, then returned to her parents as fast as her little legs could take her without tripping over her clothes. They seemed less than enthused when their daughter recited what Elruin said, but accepted it nonetheless.

    "Good answer," Juna said. "You managed to refuse the gift without rejecting the house making the offer."

    "We may have received some coaching," Lemia admitted. "Is this sort of thing common at these balls? And what's even the point?"

    "It seems to me it is all we do, every time we have a ball," Juna said. "The point is that the more wealthy and powerful houses test the lesser, learn their measure, and try to out perform each other in buying loyalties. They'll offer gifts to one another as well, but as a rule the act of accepting a gift is seen as an admission of weakness. If you need to be given a gift, you're not good enough to earn it for yourself."

    Lemia almost laughed, for this was a situation she had found herself in all too often. The difference being, the people she knew were more honest about their goals, and more violent in their methods. "You're very good at it, yourself." Lemia kept her eyes locked on Juna. "We accepted your help first, and now you're in a place where you can all but control who gets to make what offers to us. Even the major houses must admit you outmaneuvered them."

    "And you are a fast learner." Juna showed not a hint of shame, bragging, or condescension. "I'm glad little Elruin has someone like you to watch her back, I can tell she's going to need you. As much as I loved Calenda, she wasn't much better at dealing with politics than her mother. The difference being, her mother loves politics and hates people, while she hated politics and loved people."

    "I just find myself wondering what you get out of telling me all of this."

    Lady Juna laughed. "If you had asked me that question six months ago, I might have finished explaining it to you yesterday. The simplest answer, I suppose, is that I don't care what the game is, I want to find someone who can beat me at my best. Go ahead, ask my brother."

    "I'll take your word for it." Lemia focused on Juna, and avoided letting herself be distracted. "So, out of curiosity, what happens when you find someone who does beat you?"

    Juna shrugged, then turned to look at the crowd. "I don't know."


    =====

    In the interest of getting a chapter out today, I've split Ch 59 in half. Other half will be posted tomorrow. Also, I missed the twins.

    I've been learning lots about ancient Anatolian cultures. Apparently teal was their "little girl" color, the way pink is ours. At least, in some parts and times. I approve of dressing Elruin up like the adorable little girl she is, then giving her lots of headpats. If you don't agree, that makes you a terrible person.

    If you're wondering what's with all the half-siblings... courtly politics are a mess. TL;DR, King Vars was born to a rather low-ranking family, but the genetic lottery came up in his favor- something nobody realized until he was quite a bit older. First wife died in childbirth, Claron being the only child (long story short- trying to carry a child with a powerful bloodline goes bad for the mother if she lacks suitable magical strength of her own). Second wife was the queen. Juna and Garit were the result of their mother needing heirs of her own, but her own husband was sterile and so they asked his brother do the job.

    Political Eugenics, ain't it fun?
     
  18. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

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    FTFY
     
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  19. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 59B
    TanaNari

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    A number of offered gifts later, and the young heroines were beginning to find themselves growing comfortable with how best to redirect gift-giving into charitable assistance, between enjoying the drinks and watching the dancers perform.

    "We'll come back to visit you later," Lady Juna said. "You are the centerpiece of this ball, but by no means the only concern." She knelt down to Elruin's height in order to speak to her directly. "And I promise I'll see you again, soon. I want to see how much stronger you've become."

    Elruin clasped her hands together and nodded. "Be well."

    They watched the pair leave before Lemia turned to face Elruin so that nobody else could see what she was saying. "Why didn't you tell me Lord Garit was so handsome? And his eyes! I thought I was going to die every time he looked at me!"

    "He is?" Elruin tilted her head to look at Garit. "You were?"

    "Oh, right, you're twelve," Lemia said. "Forget I asked. In fact, forget I said anything. And don't tell anyone else I said anything."

    Elruin didn't get what was going on, but it didn't seem important, and they had other things to worry about. "Okay."

    Soon, a young girl approached, as had happened a few times throughout the proceedings. Unlike most of those relying on the child ploy, this girl was older than Elruin, and the man she represented followed close behind. "Greetings. I am Runa." She clasped her hands and bowed. "My uncle heard you are students of the Order of High Thaumaturgy?"

    "We are," Elruin said.

    "She is," Lemia corrected. "I... may have burned some bridges before I left. I'll have to find a different line of work."

    Runa looked back at her uncle, who smiled and nodded. She then turned her attention back to the pair. "My uncle is one of their alumni. He has lots of friends in the school, and knows all the teachers, if you need help. He also wants you to know he's helping the recovery effort by donating two healing runes, one to Arila and another to Danul."

    Lemia almost swallowed her own tongue. "Two healing runes? How did he get two?" As a concept, runic magic was not difficult, a skill expected of all Archmages, but it was expensive due to the years it took to build self-charging magic artifacts that were stable and could generate a complex spell without human guidance. It was a labor requiring years from a master of the craft, but not as many years as it took to turn a human baby into a proper mage.

    "Uncle makes them." Runa puffed up with pride. "Might you take them back to Arila when you go, it would ensure they get to their destination safely, and faster than we could make arrangements."

    "I see." Lemia looked at the older gentleman with a more critical eye. He had the look of a scholar, a man who spent most of his life indoors with little natural light or exercise yet possessing of wealth and privilege. "It would be an honor and privilege to guard such works."

    The scholar smiled, then tapped his niece's elbow. "We are glad they will help. We hope you accept our personal offer as well. I'm told the professors can be persuaded to look away from some transgressions, if one asks the right way."

    Ain't that the truth. Lemia bit her tongue. "If someone knows the right way to ask Dean Meris not to have me arrested for running off with his prized magic sword, it would be appreciated."

    "And access to the upper class labs?" Elruin asked. "It's hard to do important studies with all of the new students." That she was one of the new students was lost to nobody.

    "I believe that can be arranged." Runa looked back for her uncle to give a confirming nod. She then clasped her hands together to show gratitude. "I'm glad we were able to help you as you've helped Engeval."

    Elruin clasped her hands together in response. "As we walk."

    Soon, another woman approached them. This one was unusual for being near Lemia's age, if perhaps a little younger. Too old to head a noble family, too young to be an adorable proxy for her elders. She was an attractive girl, with the telltale blue-toned hair of the upper class, though hers was a dark navy blue. "Greetings. I'm Prilla. I apologize for bothering you, I'm not here as a representative of a major house, but we heard you were a scholar?"

    Lemia relaxed and smiled. "I wouldn't call myself a scholar yet, but perhaps some day."

    Prilla smiled back, though still nervous. "I thought so. My brother, Orsol, was hoping to speak to you. As a potential suitor. He will understand if you refuse, we can hardly compete with some of the other houses, but if you value a partner who values knowledge, there is no finer in the kingdom."

    Lemia looked in the crowd, and didn't take long to spot the young man who must be Orsol. He had the same deep blue hair as his sister, and when she looked his direction he hurried to look away. He didn't quite measure up to Lord Garit, but he was attractive, as all nobles seemed to be. The advantages of good breeding, easy living, and healing magic on demand, showed for everyone in the room. If he was the scholarly type, she could see herself enjoying his company. Until he learned anything at all about her past.

    Elruin had other concerns to voice. "What about our research?" The nature of what their work would be focused on with Taint, Void, and an ancient map artifact. All of which held complex and dangerous secrets they couldn't afford to share with others, for reasons which varied from greedy treasure-hunters to zealous heretic-burners.

    It was enough to push Lemia into a decision. She took a slow breath. "I'm sorry, Prilla, you're operating on a misunderstanding."

    "It's fine, we knew it was unlikely you'd be interested." Priscilla began to turn away.

    "No, that's not the problem. You're fine, and I'm sure your brother is as well, which is why you shouldn't waste your time on me. I'm nothing special. It was Elruin, Esra, and Ketak who did the fighting, while I was bookkeeping and finding useful herbs. I come from peasant stock, with a bloodline to match. I can't even claim virtue, I sold that to pay my way into school. A fact I'm sure it won't take long for the gossips to uncover. Better to keep your family name out of my history."

    Prilla considered the implications of her statements. If true, it was best to deny ever having spoken to this woman for purposes outside polite expectation. "Your candor is appreciated." She raised her voice so the nearest people could hear her. "I'll make certain our family helps the recovery effort." Prilla then hurried to her waiting brother, no doubt to share the news that he asked out a prostitute.

    Elruin watched the interplay, with no understanding of the subtext or what it had to do with donations. Donations were good, they're why she came to help in the court so why did Lemia seem so sad? "Are you hurt?"

    "Nothing I hadn't expected," she said. "But for a second there, I thought I could pretend things were different, and I was different."

    "Why would you want to be different? If you weren't you, what would you be?" Elruin squeezed Lemia's arm with her hand, the closest thing she could risk to a hug while wearing her fragile dress. "You're smart, and nice, and have lots of friends to help you."

    Lemia smiled at the child who managed to be optimistic despite a laundry list of horrible events in her past. "You're right, no sense in worrying about it. If I hadn't made the choices I made, I would be in the slums, and if I met you at all, it would just be a glance in the distance."

    As the evening wore on, gift offers gave way to preemptive promises to contribute to the recovery efforts to spare themselves the rejection. Such was the nature of the game, sometimes, that those who played their hands last had the advantage of learning from the failures of those who came before. In the end, only two of dozens had won specific favor, but only Lady Aster had been outright rebuked.

    When the ball began to draw to a close, it was Queen Amiris who made the final move of the evening. Her outfit was purple and gold, with her husband next to her wearing silver and red in an opulent imitation of a military uniform. Everyone grew silent the moment they realized the situation.

    "Esteemed colleagues, honored guests." Queen Amiris projected her voice well, and made no indication of which label applied to which attendee. "Today we celebrate victory, but with heavy hearts, for the loss of many good men and women. Friends, family, and strangers."

    In the pause, the crowd responded. "They will be remembered."

    "And we look into an uncertain future, knowing we face a time of rebuilding and healing both ourselves and our kingdom. In the name of that goal, I propose we acknowledge the heroes who stopped the pretender, by granting them titles befitting heroes."

    "So say us both," her husband stated the moment she went silent. Even, perhaps especially, the queen had to follow social protocol about appearing to command the men in the audience. By giving his voice, it was now acceptable for her to continue.

    "We shall grant them lordship, with all the prestige that comes with it. Do any here object?"

    None did, for this was standard protocol. Many of them had witnessed these mud heroes be granted the title, to see them marry into a larger house in time. A lordship without a grant of property meant nothing, save the right to be known as Ladies. Their personal holdings were not at stake, for even the royal family could not grant property they did not own the rights to. Lady Aster might have tried, but she was not of a house in high enough standing.

    Juna stepped up next to the pair, knowing the song and dance far better than the newcomers could. "I'd suggest you take the titles," she whispered. "Thank Queen Amiris. No need to kneel, not now."

    Lemia took a breath, then stepped forward knowing everyone was watching her. "Thank you, your majesty. I... don't know what to say."

    A polite series of nods were made throughout the hall, including by the queen.

    "Now if you like, I can give that useless title some meaning," Juna said. "Still more token than value, but a place to start, and a House to call your own."

    "Can you?" Elruin asked. As she understood it, a house title would require a claim of land ownership. A piece of property would be a great place to put their equipment, a private library and alchemy lab, and a home for her dollies. "I'd like that."

    As if waiting for the signal, Garit spoke from the side of the room. "I believe my mother, Duchess Hida na Arila, has an announcement to make." He then leaned down, and began the process of aiding an older woman to her feet.

    Duchess Hida was not an elderly woman, but she bore the stress of health problems which was beyond mortal magic to cure. The act of rising to her feet taxed her strength, and it was all she could do to ignore the pain in her abdomen. "I have instructed my son to make the announcement for me. Thank you." That was all she could do, before sitting down again.

    Garit waited for his mother to be comfortable again before he delivered her message. "In honor of her service to Arila, in slaying the pretender, as a healer who aided the poor, and saving lives during the occupation of Arila, House Arila has chosen to bequeath a portion of its land, the section known locally as 'The Shelter', to Lady Elruin. And with it, the right to claim the status of Minor House."

    Elruin looked wide eyed at Juna. "What do I do?"

    "Well, you'll be expected to look after the Shelter. As the only ranking noblewoman with a connection to Lyra's new caretaker, you'll be expected to maintain positive relations with her. And within certain limits, it's up to you to determine how the Shelter is run from now on. In truth, it's a symbolic act, since the land has no taxable value and nobody expects Lyra or her priestess to hurt the city."

    "What do I call my House?"

    "Anything you want," Juna said. "Most name the house after a founding member, a favored line of a religious text, or an ideal to strive for. As long as you don't pick an existing House name, you can do almost anything. You needn't decide now, some Houses have existed for decades without choosing an official name."

    Elruin didn't need time to decide. "House Cali."

    "A fine ideal to live up to," Juna said. "I know she would have been proud to know you'd carry her name forward in such a noble manner, as I am proud to be the first to acknowledge Lady Elruin na Cali."

    It was all Lemia could to not break out into laughter.


    =====

    Unlike Lemia, the audience is free to laugh as much as they like.


    Oi vey... in the "outline" of the game, these last three chapters take up twelve total lines. Just "list of choices, outcome of choices"- and a couple "tags" for event chains in the future. In my disaster of a notebook. Each line has translated to almost 400 words at this point. The rest of the page covers what Lemia does if Elruin's not around to influence matters. Including a secret stat for Lemia's self-confidence in taking Orsol up on his offer. Which I have been tracking in the background.

    Did I mention this game is going to be consequence heavy as fuck? Well, maybe not quite that consequence heavy. I mean, the consequence of fuck is potentially 18+ years of child support and/or HIV.

    The difference between temporary and permanent runes is the difference between taking notes for a test, and writing an entire textbook. Technically they do the same thing, but one only covers one situation, while the other covers all of them. And, as with notes and textbooks alike, some are of higher quality and difficulty than others. Healing is amongst the most difficult.

    ... I admit, I was a little sad that the vote to discourage Lemia accepting her potential suitor. On the plus side, I love making my characters miserable, and everyone who hates romance subplots in fantasy stories can rejoice the dodged bullet.

    And for the exactly nobody who asked what was up with Garit and Juna's seemingly invisible mother... now you know...

    If Elruin didn't come to the party, Garit and/or Juna would have found her at some point back in Arila.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2019
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  20. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

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    Ah, Lemia... Lel. I take it she's capable / powerful enough to survive carrying the children of most Noble Houses, even with her 'peasant' bloodline? A mother dying in childbirth because the child's bloodline/innate power is a rarity, right? Elruin for one is hilariously powerful and her mother was so 'weak' she needed to sacrifice her lifespan to cast even limited magic.
     
  21. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    That is a solid maybe. A lesser house, with her current augmented-by-murderhobo strength, she could survive. The greater houses- not so much.

    Although technically speaking, it's not "power" that determines greater or lesser house, it's ability to influence politic, maintain holdings, and recruit desirable members. But power makes it an awful lot easier to do those things, so the two end up lining up far more often than not.

    Dying is somewhat rare. Injuries resulting in sterility or other permanent health problems... far more common. There are other factors, often dealing with "compatibility" of magic types which can influence results... trying to carry to term a child with a legitimate "opposing" lineage to your own (rare, but does happen) is much more difficult than carrying one of identical lineage, though it tends to end in miscarriage more often than death in childbirth.

    I was wondering if/when someone would mention that Elruin broke the hell out of this rule. Spoilers. Plot related. But have a bragging right for being the first to catch it.

    Also, technically her mother wasn't directly sacrificing lifespan, that sort of casting is much more advanced. She was sacrificing health, casting from HP as it were, but if she stopped, she could recover to normal, in as much as any middle aged woman with years of poor health decisions can recover at any rate.
     
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  22. Threadmarks: Chapter 2, Episode 60
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    "You did WHAT!?" Calenda shouted loud enough to attract a glance from the people in the distance. That, or it was Lemia laughing nonstop as Elruin delivered the news. Cali chose to believe it was the latter.

    "I got a House, and I named it after you," Elruin said. "Lady Juna said you'd be proud."

    "Worst part of being dead," Cali muttered. "Everyone starts to imagine they can talk about what you would or would not have wanted. Funny how what they think you'd want is what they want."

    Lemia managed to get her giggle-fit under control. "Look at it this way, you couldn't have asked for a more convincing method to tell everyone that you're no longer amongst the living. Your beloved adopted sister said you were dead point blank to Lord Garit and Lady Juna, while who knows how much lie detection magic was in the room, then to honor your memory she names her fresh-minted noble House after you."

    "I would have preferred you turn down the titles in the first place. Didn't I tell you not to take gifts from the nobility? I meant all of them." She knelt down in front of Elruin. "I was trying to protect you from their world. Now that you've taken a title, that means you're part of their system, which comes with obligations. From now on, you'll be expected to show results to prove you're using your holdings well, oaths of loyalty. For you, in particular, that means they can and will make you serve the crown one way or another."

    Elruin looked down. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize."

    "Guess there's no point fighting the system, they always get what they want, and there's not much we can do about it now." Cali stood. "Now we need to plan what to do with your so-called estate." She made a gesture at the ramshackle assortment of buildings.

    Elruin looked around. "I was told I have to talk to Erra. Lyra's my responsibility, too, since she built her tree on my land."

    "It seems the gods of fate are determined for you to lead an interesting life." Calenda chuckled. "Let's go find Erra."

    As they walked, Elruin asked a question that had been bothering her for a time. "Umm, what's a wolf?"

    Cali's face scrunched in thought while she walked. "I don't know. I think they're some sort of giant rat monster, but I've never seen one. In old myths, they hunt in swarms and eat livestock, or even people when they get a chance."

    Suggested Listening

    Before they made it to the tree, Lyra came out to meet them. She flitted down from the tree and touched the ground like a leaf. Cali stepped back when Lyra looked at her. Lyra sniffed the air, then ignored her and went straight to Elruin and dropped a pile of small white crystals in front of her. They resonated with life energy, condensed and contained in shards that were not sarite, but served a similar function.

    "Oh, the crystals we found with the monsters..." Cali trailed off when Lemia reached back into her hair and withdrew three black balls of fluff. "Those. Don't get too close, they're more dangerous than they look."

    "They're so adorable it hurts." Lemia stepped forward, only to jump back when the tiny furballs looked at her, their eyes glowing like hellfire. "Gah!"

    They squeaked at her, with a deeper tone than one would expect for such small animals. Fragments of fear magic emanated from their shared song, not enough to overcome Lemia's resistance to magic, but she didn't need active magic to make her wary of the unnatural beasts.

    Meanwhile, Lyra began handing them all off to Elruin, who scratched one's neck while the other two climbed up her arms. "Aren't they cute? What are they?"

    "I don't know, but we found them in the rafters of a barracks that Claron's people set up in. We tried to burn the nest, but Lyra's taken a liking to them. They have some nasty darkness oriented magic, drives people insane, and then they, well, harvest them."

    "Harvest?" Lemia began using her own magic to observe the animals. These babies weren't much, but she could see how the magic clung to them and transfused their bodies. Insidious stuff which would over time warp the native aspect of the environment into what appeared to be a rage-oriented elemental state, which might drive people insane without any direct action on their part. As they grew, so too would their strength. If they retained a natural squirrel's reproductive rate, they could become a serious threat.

    Then she realized what the pile on the ground was. "Are those eyes?"

    "They were." Cali inched toward the pile of crystallized human eyes. "Infused with life energy extracted from Claron's dead soldiers. Near as I can tell, this is what they eat. Two died before we figured that out."

    "Oh," Elruin sounded sad. "Poor babies." She looked down at the pile of eyes, observing the condensed and chained life force being used like fertile soil to grow into the necromantic energies the squirrels fed on. She could do that. She began to hum, and drew her well of power into a cupped hand, as if holding a small pool of deadly black fluid. Soon, the three surviving babies came down to the 'pool' and began to lap away at the energies.

    Lemia shuddered when she realized there must have been thirty eye-crystals in the pile, then true horror dawned on her. "Uh, tell me I'm imagining that magical undertone."

    "I thought the same thing, but without having her nearby I couldn't be certain. And now I was hoping you'd tell me I was wrong. Or at least could explain to me why these things have Elruin's resonance all over them."

    Lemia swallowed, considering her training. Hybrids and chimera were not her specialty, but she'd taken a class on the subject. "Well, it's possible for magic to infuse into living things, causing spontaneous conception. It's... how spirits sire demigod offspring in the first place. But it's unusual, especially if it's not deliberate, but it is known to happen. Ell, what did you do?"

    "I made a squirrel help me kill the bad men Claron sent," she said. "It did a really good job."

    "Does this mean you're taking them away?" Erra stayed a safe distance away from the fuzzy harbingers of madness and death, even though they seemed docile enough and Lyra would slaughter anything which was a threat to her.

    "We'll figure something out," Lemia said. "But if Elruin keeps them fed, I don't think they'll have a reason to hurt anyone. Magic chimera tend to be smarter than their origin species, too. Maybe they can even be trained."

    Elruin smiled at them. "I'm a squirrel mommy!"

    "I tried to get Lyra to get rid of them, but she just put them in her hair and acted like that was enough." Erra inched closer, not taking her eyes away from Elruin's new pets. She feared she was being rude to the girl who had done so much to help them, so she tried changing the subject. "I heard you helped kill Lord Claron, and then went to the capital?"

    Suggested Listening

    "I have a House, now!" Even as she spoke, Elruin continued to provide supernatural nourishment to her new pets. "I have to make sure you and Lyra behave."

    "She means we were granted honorary noble titles." Lemia may have been speaking to Erra, but she couldn't take her eyes off of the squirrels, either. The things were somehow even more unnerving than their accidental creator. "And House Arila gave her the Shelter as an official holding. Seeing as your tree mansion is here, we need to talk."

    Erra looked around. "I'm sorry, I've still not found much time to study noble protocol."

    "You can join my House!" Elruin stepped toward Erra. "I named it House Cali, after my big sister."

    Erra stepped back. "That's actually quite touching. I'm sure Lady Calenda would be proud if she could see you now. I think it would be nice to help honor her memory."

    Meanwhile, a few feet away, Cali wondered if it was possible for a dead woman to develop a nervous tic. "As Lyra's keeper, it's better than you don't join. Lady Elruin has attracted quite a lot of attention lately, and the church feels safer if Lyra is seen as theirs, rather than belonging to any specific noble house. Officially, of course. Unofficially, we'll have to work together a great deal if we both want to stay here and make the Shelter a better place for everyone. But, well, you're the one with the real power here. It may be Elruin's estate, but it's your home, and as we've seen, there's no force in Arila which can make Lyra do anything she doesn't want to."

    Erra relaxed. "So, what were you going to do with your new estate?"

    "We can make a farm!" Elruin slowed her feeding of her new pets, now that they seemed to be going to sleep in her palms. "With lots of nice crops to feed the city and make everyone happy."

    "A farm, without any animals to work it or space enough to feed said animals, or ability to stop people from sneaking in during the night to steal the nonexistent animals and crops." Calenda sounded less than enthused.

    "Actually, it might work," Lemia said. "Can't do much about animals, but with Lyra and some botanical magic, we could get something decent going. Let anyone try to steal food meant to support the poor within the nonviolence field. Or just let these squirrels play in the fields, that'll scare 'em off. And if we drop the 'food' crops for alchemical plants, it might even be profitable. As long as Lyra's around to boost growth speed."

    Elruin looked at Lemia. "I thought you said farming here would be bad because it would drive away the community."

    "It would have," Lemia said. "But Claron made a bigger mess than the farm ever could have. When the chaos settles down, everything will have changed. With our help, maybe we can make that change be for the better."

    "I don't know how well it would work, but at least you'll have something to show your chosen overlords that you're trying." Calenda sighed, then looked out at the shanty town rebuilding itself amongst the temporary blockades which Claron's people built. Either moving into the shacks, or tearing them apart for construction material.

    "Would a hospice be an option?" Erra asked. "We have so many who can't make their way to the wealthier part of the city where they build the respite houses."

    "That could be done," Cali said. "Or a small chapel, which would all but obligate the church to station a handful of the priesthood here permanently. Then they'll deal with the healing, instead of us volunteering to handle the task. No sense in going for both, however. We don't have infinite space."

    "I say hospice," Lemia said. "If the church wanted our support, then they should have supported us against Claron. Cowards. Besides, Lyra is a beacon of nature magic, she doesn't need the church."

    Calenda couldn't object overmuch. "It will take more work than that, and you know it. If you want to establish a hospice without the church, it will require time and effort on all our parts, to avoid looking ineffectual."

    "Or we make it look like we need the church," Lemia countered. "And I'm not sure how they'd respond to some of our other projects. Like going back into those tunnels, or whatever we're going to do with these squirrels." She left the more objectionable projects unspoken.

    "Will you have time, between that and dealing with school?"

    "I think I'll be fine. With the sarite I have, I don't need to sleep anymore and can even use some to cast healing magic." Lemia smiled at how convenient things were for her, now. "And more important, the deans sent us a letter, explaining that they understand the difficulties of running a noble house and were willing to be accommodating to our unique circumstances. Oh, and if you can believe it, Dean Meris is claiming he gave me his prized sword, so that I could use it to help stop Lord Claron."

    Cali frowned. "Well, that is convenient. Speaking of messages, our other allies sent one as well. They say they cleared out a major goblin nest. Nothing of value but a large supply of weak sarite. We should send a message back about this whole 'House Cali' mess. Do we want to go collect the sarite, or donate it to Sonhome in the name of your new house?"

    "You mean House Cali?" Lemia said, then basked in Calenda's glare.

    =====

    Lady Elruin na Cali, mistress of the nightmare squirrels.

    If Ell went with Cali instead of Lemia, there would have been additional squirrel (their official bestiary name is "Eye Collector"- guess what game they're inspired from?... I will have their creature description listed as 'fuzzy harbingers of madness and death'...) babies, and more eye crystals. In any case, now that Elruin has a Clackybones, and the Eye Collectors, the collection of adorable abominations has almost grown to completion. We just need to add 'Alice'.

    NOW we are finally at the end of this mess. A string more votes, then a major timeskip and we can get an older Elruin and her Eye-Eaters. Don't expect an update tomorrow, this is a major thing.
     
  23. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

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    Adorable and horrifying. Christ.
     
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  24. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Aren't they just?

    [​IMG]

    Now help get me attention from a game developer so I can make those burrow into a man's face.
     
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  25. Threadmarks: Death of a god (Begin Book 3)
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Suggested Listening

    "One century," Kalla muttered. She looked out at the decimated, desecrated, landscape. "You were given over a century to consolidate, to grow your power, to become a god, and you squandered it indulging your cowardice and perversion."

    "I am a god, demon!" He shouted at the sky, but did not try to seek out her position. With the complex series of sarite defenses on his sedan chair, he was insulated against all forms of magic save the small amount of communication magic needed to command his deathless army, and enough light to see out. It was more expensive than a small castle, but when coupled with his own personal sarite that eliminated his need to eat, breathe, or sleep, not even the power of a god could reach him.

    At the necromancer's behest, armies began to converge upon her. "I have slain the mightiest of dragons and enslaved them to my will! I am legion, and you are but one woman!" From within his personal fortress, he could command his armies forever, until the entire world stood in obedience to him.

    Twelve hundred and thirty nine arrows rained from the heavens, as she counted each one. No passion, no fury, just the lifeless actions of those who had died but could not rest, riding upon griffin steeds as dead as they were.

    Kalla looked upon the creatures, her heart moved to pity. They were victims of this coward who thought he could command her element better than she. He who imagined himself a god of the undead while hiding behind them and treating them as nothing but tools. "How many have you slain, to fight me? So many lives taken, so many futures extinguished, for the sake of one man's kingdom."

    "You of all beasts would lecture me on morality?" He kept working his power, gesturing with his hands as he selected each of his swarm and set them upon the necessary path. The plague-bearers were useless in such a battle, but he had archers and siege weapons and griffin riders to harry her until the dragons could be wrested from their slumber. Even dead, they proved difficult to control, but they were amongst the strongest forces he possessed.

    "I will lecture you as much as I desire." She respected his tactical mind and control, but otherwise despised this degenerate. "Do you know how many griffins remain in this world? Before you, there were seven hundred. Now there are less than seventeen. Their species will soon be extinct, and their deaths are on your hands. I, for one, have never been responsible for ending a species."

    "For a self-proclaimed goddess of death, you care far too much about life. That is your weakness, and through it you shall die."

    "Heh!" For a moment, she felt genuine humor. "You remind me of a younger me. A much younger me." With a single act of power, she carved a hole through his sarite barricades, and split his miniature fortress-prison open to the light. Before he could react, she was standing before him, and had her hand around his throat.

    With his windpipe blocked off, he couldn't shout while he struggled, but struggle he did. With a gesture of his fingers, as pulling on puppet strings, he used his Control Revelation to beckon his soldiers. Unquestioning, and swifter than any human, they struck her from behind with their swords and axes. Magic weapons infused with temporary power by the man before him, they had power enough to scratch her gown.

    "Which is a problem for you." With her wings, she batted them away. Weapons forged of dragon bone scattered to the four corners of the world, while their less-sturdy wielders exploded into a cloud of dust. "I don't like myself very much." She squeezed harder, cut off the blood flow to his brain.

    Soon he would die a dog's death, and then she would have to decide what to do about his army. On one hand, the swarm of the walking dead had its uses for future projects, and she could do so while circumventing the taint of her soul. On the other hand, it was a walking fountain of the highest order of taint, far too unstable to control for any length of time. This was a resource that would need to be used soon, or destroyed.

    Distracted she was by her thoughts, she did not recognize the upsurge of necromantic power within the swarms of the dead. A single child, flesh covered in scars, charged at her exposed back.

    She noticed the movement, her senses were far too good to be surprised by such an obvious weakness as not paying attention, but she did not recognize the power beyond that movement before one of her smoke wings was torn open by claws able to carve through the spiritual.

    For the first time in centuries, she felt pain. Unprepared for the sharp agony and all that came with it, she cried out and dropped the necromancer she had been strangling rather than slaying outright like she should have.

    Moments later, another slash of claws removed a second of her flailing wings, then the child zombie was upon her, each slash carving through her enchanted clothes and taking her blood with them on the way through.

    Panicked, she used her teleportation magic to take her and her alone into the upper atmosphere, well above the height where griffins could fly. Covered in enough blood to hide her nudity, she gasped and shuddered. These wounds were deep, and resistant to what little healing magic was available to a negation-aspect being such as herself.

    She had never been so close to death as she came today, not since she faced her current master and lost. Once again, she was reminded that for all she claimed she wanted death, she feared what lay beyond. She observed the army below, rallying around its commander, the corpse-child. Kalla had damaged it during the fight, but it was the focus for all the power of an army of the dead, the locus of the taint.

    It was a clever ploy, what this necromancer had done in creating a sapient battery of undeath and then using it to power his army, rather than chaining an army to himself as so many other fools had done. It had not been enough of a divorce to protect his soul from the taint, which then reduced him to this deranged dead soul residing in a living body, and thus rendered him worthless to the world, but it was enough to spare his flesh from the price paid for the birthing of undeath.

    He might even have achieved the immortality he so desired, if not for one small miscalculation. Still reeling from his near-death experience, the necromancer had no chance to react before his own creation ripped his heart from his chest, with the merciless efficiency Kalla knew she should have exercised the moment the madman crossed the line.

    "Still haven't overcome your suicidal streak, I see," a voice said from nowhere and everywhere. "That one got closer than any in a long, long time."

    "Still haven't done me the favor of being swallowed by the pit, I see." Kalla glanced at the purple cloak billowing in magical wind that kept its user afloat.

    "It found log ago that I am not to its liking." In spite of the insults, the two were the closest thing to friends of anyone in this conspiracy. The others shared a mission, and little else. "Give me a moment."

    Void magic had a special influence upon the world, for it was the magic that defied reason and sanity. Little in the options of a void mage showed that difference quite like their healing spells. Paradox warped Kalla, twisted through her, and in a moment the events of the past were erased and replaced. Her blood returned to her insides, her organs restored, her wings, adrenaline, even her clothes no longer bore a single clue that she had been wounded. Where causality was concerned, the injuries never occurred, although she would remember them for a long, long time.

    "Is it safe for you to use that spell so casually?"

    "Here? On you? Yes." The purple clad figure looked down at the army of the dead mulling like a termite nest that had been kicked over. "What do we have here?"

    "Another failure," Kalla spat. "He thought himself a god, but in truth all he accomplished was creating a god, then controlling it for a short time. If our task were so simple, we would have been done long ago." She continued to observe the 'queen' of this hive, a single once-human mind unable to make sense of the thousands of eyes which it controlled. "Still, the birth of an artificial god is an interesting phenomena. Now, what brings you here?"

    "Your project at Chiron's Citadel has reached a surprising conclusion. While the subject had been using native undead for some time, or relying upon an allied ghost to carry the taint from one victim to the next, she recently constructed a fresh zombie with her own power."

    "Another?" Kalla spared a glance at the void mage. "Why didn't you destroy her? Do you have something else in mind?"

    "She purified it at the same moment. It was made from love, a true desire to save another from an unjust fate, with the consent of the victim. The soul remained whole, and the taint has been harnessed. The construct even retains its ability to use magic and sarite."

    "What?" Kalla's heart jumped in her chest. She long ago learned the word 'impossible' was spoken only by fools who lacked understanding, but this was beyond her own understanding. The critical difference between her and the fools was her ability to admit she was imperfect. "I had not realized such a thing could be done. Undeath without degradation."

    "This has happened a number of times, though I'm not sure you were with us last time. The years run together. No, the taint remains, and if nothing shatters their bond beforehand, the zombie's purification will last so long as the necromancer herself survives, then it will return to the usual pattern."

    "Fascinating." Kalla kept her focus on studying the young god below. "How are things progressing?"

    "They're not. Your project ended, the necromancer and her allies were victorious." She held out the glowing magical sphere that was called the Eye of Enge not long ago. "It contains much for you to study. But we need a backup plan, soon."

    Kalla accepted the trinket. "You know, I think I have just the plan. How long do you think it will take to build a portal that can transport fifty thousand walking corpses halfway across the world?"

    "Ask no small favors. I'd say I should be ready in two hours."

    "I'll be done in half that time." Kalla dropped to the ground. With a thought, she ensnared the undead, crippled them. Now that she understood the nature of the tiny god and the single once-mortal brain which served as its core grip in the world, she had nothing to fear.

    It still tried, oh how it tried, but the dead child was no match for her in power, and certainly no match in skill, experience, or strength of will. With the tainted hive enslaved, Kalla approached the dead man who thought himself immortal. It wouldn't take long before he stood again, another mindless drone within the swarm, serving the very thing he once enslaved.

    However, that would not serve Kalla's purposes quite so well as he could if he retained intelligence.

    Kalla dipped into the magical recording of the memory sphere, and sampled that of the child called Elruin, and her purified zombie. The technique was sloppy, and the process contained many emotional and spiritual requirements which Kalla could not meet under this or, she suspected, any other circumstance. How could she cast a spell that required love and innocence? Still, she cobbled together something resembling an equivalent.

    First, she insulated the corpse from the hive, then granted some small amount of strength to the slain necromancer. His own will to live, his fear of death, and his hatred of her in particular, did the rest. The fragmented remnants of his soul dug their way into his corpse, reclaimed his damaged mind, and revived the dead flesh.

    Meanwhile, she reprogrammed it, edited its thoughts, and gave it something else to hate. A child of twelve who had accomplished in her scant years more than he had in over a century.

    Unable to speak, but no longer having reason to, the new horror began to gesture to the god that it had birthed, and had turned around and birthed it in turn. An ouroboros of death.

    Kalla rose into the sky, unnoticed as the hive began to reorganize itself, and stabilize what remained of its sanity. "Now, let us see how she fairs against a god."

    =====

    Remember when I said these guys clearly had no plot relevance at all? Well, they still don't, I just really wanted Kalla's theme music to make a showing in the story again. Am I doing April Fools correctly?

    I might have caused some confusion by using the word 'hospice' in the last chapter- I'm using the (slightly more) period-appropriate version of the word that served as inns for pilgrims and places to tend to the sick or injured who can't afford their own personal physician. Not the modern (created in the 1960s) version of the word that basically means 'deathbed care'. Which was probably called 'hospice' because nobody likes the word 'deathbed' listed on their resume.

    Speaking of old-time words, sedan chairs are those things you see with a bunch of slaves carrying a small box with royalty sitting inside in a comfy room. The smaller, one-person, version is known as a litter.

    And everyone who's ever played a horror game knows that the child zombies are always the most dangerous. Always. Doesn't matter if it's surrounded by things the size of buildings, the microzombie is by far the greatest threat.
     
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  26. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 61
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    "Now that you have stripped the sarite of all its unique aspects, it will lose cohesion. Much like salt, you may have to grind it some to fully break it apart." Professor Abrax's own shard fell apart, as did Elruin's, but some students had to take the time to apply their pestle and mortar to the crystal. "You'll find that as the quality of the shard grows, so too does the difficulty of breaking it apart. Part of why we practice using the weakest shards available. Remember, keep a careful feed to the powder, or it will sublimate."

    Elruin suspected the true reason had more to do with expense than convenience; weak shards were cheaper by a wide margin than their more powerful counterparts, since the weak shards were only good for low level alchemy. Still, she maintained the slow burn of magical energy needed to sustain the particulate sarite, a process requiring more control and power than one might expect. Three of her classmates, all years older than her, failed the process.

    "Now that you have the sarite stabilized, work the energy lattice into the powder while slowly adding it into your tincture," the professor droned on as if she hadn't given these exact instructions a dozen times in the last few weeks. "Remember, it is a simple recipe and weak powder. You're being judged on stability, not power."

    Elruin concentrated harder on her potion, because everyone in the room knew that statement was directed to her in particular. Her control had improved, but work this delicate was like trying to touch a spider's web without shaking it. Her grades would be far better if they allowed her to use a stronger brew, an opinion she expressed once or twice, but it seemed the teachers didn't approve of cheating while the whole class watched.

    Her vial lit up as the plant matter bonded with the sarite powder, creating something with its own unique properties. In effect, using what little life remained in the tea-like water to create a semblance of life that could contain magic, but not much more. Once again, it was too bright, with more power than the juices within could sustain. Within a day or two, it would separate and the energy would bleed off. The goal was a potion that could last for months.

    She reached for another shard, knowing there was little point in fighting the inevitable.

    Before she even began, an exhausted looking woman appeared in the door of the lab, along with one of the school's guards. "My apologies, Professor, this is an emergency." In spite of the subservient language, the guard did not take subservient posture. Her guest, however, did. "She was sent to collect Lady Elruin, claims there's a bloodmold outbreak."

    Suggested Listening

    Three other students lost their concentration, and in doing so ruined their projects as well. In a civilization with easy access to healing magic, the magic-resistant bloodmold was one of the few remaining diseases that most healers could not deal with. Many refused to try, for it was all too common that the fungus jump from patient to doctor, claiming another life in the process.

    While the students muttered in fear and shock, Professor Abrax remained calm. "You swear this to be true?"

    The woman, which Elruin now recognized as one of the caretakers for the children staying in the shelter, held out one of the few official seals of House Cali. To use a House seal without permission from an official of the House was a crime resulting in enslavement or worse. "I swear only that Lady Erra's told me to deliver the message."

    Elruin had begun to move before the woman finished speaking. "My apologies, Professor, but it is an emergency." If it was a bloodmold infection, then it was a threat to thousands within the city. Specifically, anyone lacking the magical fortitude to survive burning the infection out of the body would die. If it wasn't, then there was an emergency Erra and Cali felt worthy of starting a city-wide panic over.

    Another of Erra's regular assistants at the Shelter, Rika, ran toward her in the hall. "Lady Lemia said she has something for you, and you should meet her in your dormitory before going to the Shelter."

    "I need my sarite, anyway," Elruin said. Most of it wasn't applicable under the circumstances, but she had a couple shards that could boost her speed, more than enough to make them worth the side trip. She gave a glance to her servants. "I'm sure the guard will be here soon, tell them what you know." She didn't wait for their response.

    The two women, older than her by years, bowed their heads. "Yes, ma'am."

    Elruin ran through the hall, but by now the news had begun to spread so nobody stopped her. She found Lemia in their dorm, holding a black outfit up.

    "What is that?" Elruin went straight for her sarite, Lemia could answer while they worked.

    "A gift for you," Lemia said. "I was going to save it for your birthday, but under the circumstances it might be better to have it now. I made it from necroleather off those hand monsters. It's got a reserve of necromancy that should amplify your magic and protect you from other magic, especially creation aspect stuff. And I even managed to work some self-mending magic in there."

    Elruin turned to look at the sleek leather combat armor, similar in form to that which Cali had worn when the first met. She stripped out of her outer clothes, then put on the new armor with Lemia's help. The absolute black of the armor contrasted against her pale skin, and served to emphasize her status as a necromancer and as a warrior and nobility, with her house crest stamped onto the left shoulder and proper sarite pouches stitched within. "It's beautiful. Thank you so much."

    "Hey, I wouldn't even be able to make something like this without your help." Lemia handed the outfit over. "But, umm, I'll need it back in a few days. Not forever, but you're wearing half of my grade."

    Elruin laughed. "Okay. Thank you again." Now when she ran, she had her sarite to speed her way through the school, and then the city proper. The armor felt incredible, as its magic blended with hers and restored her focus and strength in addition to amplifying her power. She tapped into her skills to amplify the strength of her sarite, pushing her speed to the point where she might have matched a natural horse at full gallop. Nowhere near competitive with Cali, or any of the other elites of the city, but enough that it would surprise anyone who expected her to be yet another backline necromancer.

    She arrived at the shelter in record time, with little of her strength expended on the journey, but the news had spread wide already. Around the quarantine hut, a crowd carrying torches stood. They were agitated, but not one approached the house. They could not approach to burn the building, for the nonviolence aura would not allow it. They would not approach for any other reason, for fear of the bloodmold.

    Near the shack stood Lyra, whose incredible power made it difficult for Elruin to look within. Still, she could sense Calenda, two adult women, and a young, dying, boy. Another life force was in there, inhuman, but more potent than most people. She knew Erra would be nearby as well, but couldn't spot her in the crowd.

    Lady Marela approached Elruin the moment she slowed near the edge of the crowd. "Lady Elruin." Like most of Calenda's family, she had little love for the necromancer who had embarrassed their family so thoroughly. "This is a quarantine zone."

    Elruin regarded Cali's older, less pleasant, sister. Almost two years ago, she had been intimidated by the tall, bulky soldier. Now, she could see the difference in their strength, and Cali had explained the gap in their political station. It was by technicality that Marela didn't have to bow to her when they met. Besides, there were too many people here for the few guards who had arrived to control the crowd for long. At some point, probably soon, someone would think themselves around the peace field, by convincing themselves the people in the shack were already dead.

    Suggested Listening

    "A quarantine on my estate." Elruin brought up her violin and bow, then drew the first sharp notes. "It's my problem to fix." Power surged within her, drawing upon her emotions then refined by her instrument. Darkness roiled around her, as she changed the notes to support the delicate process of marrying life-destroying necromancy to protective earth magic.

    Whether she was afraid, or hoped the bloodmold claimed her as a victim, Lady Marela stepped aside, and watched the girl pass without objection. Elruin walked forward, black energy seeping down her arms and legs like ink spreading on paper while people scrambled to move out of the way. They abandoned all plans to torch the building, for fear of what the lady of the estate might do to them if they tried.

    When she got closer, she recognized that Lyra had shielded this area, warped the wind such that the almost-invisible infective particles drifted inward instead of spreading outward. She had heard bloodmold was virulent, but this seemed excessive. "Thank you, Lyra."

    Elruin lashed out with a burst of necromantic power, burning away much of the living dust that carried the deadly parasite within. Now that she knew it would die when exposed to her magic, she stepped into the protective wind tunnel. When done, she would need to burn the soil around the quarantine house. It was odd, that there were no animals in the dirt. The bugs, even the worms, had fled or died before she arrived. She suspected it was Lyra's doing.

    "Lady Elruin?" Cali asked from behind the door. "Please tell me that's you." Within the building, a gasping series of weak sobs could be heard.

    "I'm here. You can open the door."

    "Good." Cali moved the barricade she put up. "I've been doing what I can to stave it off, but I'm not equipped to fight this stuff." She held up her hand, covered in blood red slime. "I don't think it can truly infect me, but it's doing damage. Don't worry, I'll be fine."

    Elruin stepped into a scene from a horror movie. On the ground, near a corner, lay a blob of red goop which looked more like bright strawberry jam than a fungus. The only hint that it might have once been a person was hair and clothes which the plague hadn't subsumed.

    In the beds on the furthest side from the dead woman, three people were in various states of infection. The worst was a young boy, both legs freshly amputated, and a deep, throbbing red color just beneath his skin. Each vein was visible, with the same red goo as the corpse, but it pulsed with a soft glow each time the boy's heart beat. It struck Elruin as not unlike the vampiric sarite which Calenda used, but instead of death feeding on life, this was life feeding on life.

    The other two, one of whom was a nurse who helped the sick, had smaller infections creeping up their hands and showing around their lips and eyes. Their pulses of light were brighter, more regular, as the disease had not yet ravaged them as it ravaged the boy.

    "Do you have a strategy?" Calenda asked. "We usually used fire mages for this, if we could find one brave enough to chance it. It'll be better to get your mistakes out of the way on me first. I'm more resilient than they are."

    "Right." Elruin got to work, flushing Cali's skin with the softest of necromantic touches; she needed a procedure that could work on humans, not zombies. It died fast, on Cali, who provided it no source of nourishment. To her shock and surprise, the corpse-blob began to dim as well. "It... shares life force?" She had never so much as heard of such a thing before.

    "Will that help us kill it?" Cali asked.

    "Maybe. How did this happen?" Elruin pointed her hand at the blob, then spread her fingers. A wide-spread wave of necromantic energy scoured the fungal pod, and its pulsation ceased. All three patients screamed in agony as the remaining bloodmold attempted to siphon off more life energy to protect itself from the necromantic barrage.

    Confident she had the basics down, Elruin moved to the boy. All but insensate, the poor child cried tears of bright red while Elruin worked and Calenda talked. She hated to admit it, but Professor Abrax's insistance upon pinpoint precision and flawless execution were paying off in this delicate operation where a single mistake might kill the patient.

    "The boy came in, carried by his mother," Cali said. "I healed the mother, and she seemed fine, but her son got sick." Cali looked back at the pile of bones and rotting tissue. "She hid how bad she was hurting, I think, so that we focused on him. By the time I realized it was bloodmold, it was too late for her and I had to amputate his legs to slow the infection. I don't know how or why it got to visible symptoms on the rest of us so fast."

    Elruin adjusted her necromancy to ignore human essence as much as possible, while targeting bloodmold as best she could. "It's feeding on life energy, including that of the healing magic we use in the hospital. Or it was, something's blocking it now. Lyra, I think."

    She stopped speaking in order to delve deeper into the diseased life energies of this poor child. She burned away the mold as she could, throughout his body, but there was so little else left in him. "Get ready to use all the healing magic you have on him, in a second. Cut open his stomach and dump the healing potion in if you have to."

    "What? Why?" Cali moved into position, ready to obey in spite of objections.

    "Because I have to kill him if I want to save him." Elruin sang to her power, and let out the black vortex of energy. Attuned as it was to the bloodmold, it still left the other women screaming, and it was enough to stop the boy's heart. A moment later, she siphoned all that energy back to herself, while holding the boy's soul in a shell which could not be breached by the usual ravages of death. "Now!"

    Cali obeyed, and poured healing magic into the dead body. The brain was alive, and the damage was light within the core of his body. The difficulty was in sparking life in the blood, but after a long minute he gasped and began sobbing.

    Elruin relaxed her grip, and allowed the soul to rejoin the body it had grown to be an intrinsic part of. "I... think we did it. Please help the other two." Elruin stepped out of the building, then began to look around. Still she wore her shell of pure death magic, a show of power as well as a precaution. She began the act of burning everything. When she was done, not a single fleck of dust or blade of grass lived within fifty feet of the women's hospice building.

    "The bloodmold is gone." Now that they were safe, she allowed the necromantic 'ink' to fade back into her body, leaving behind her natural pale complexion, then addressed her prestigious guest. "Lady Juna, how long have you been observing?"

    Juna smiled at the girl who just kept surprising her. "A few minutes. I almost went in when you flooded the whole complex with necromancy, but I decided to wait to see how you did. It appears your strategy worked out for the best."

    "What would you have done?" Elruin looked back at the building. "This is the first I've ever seen bloodmold, I had to improvise more than I'd like."

    Juna considered how to phrase her statement. "As per the best experts' teachings, I would have kept a steady supply of healing magic on them, extended my natural resistance to heat to the patients, and then heated their bodies to the point that it cooked the disease out of them. I've never tried it before, but I'm told it works about half the time on peasant bloodlines. It's the best we have."

    Elruin considered what she saw of the disease before she eradicated it. "I'm not sure that would have worked in this case. I think this version of the disease was changed, somehow."

    "You're not the first who's come to that conclusion," Juna said. "We need to have a conversation, in private."

    =====

    Touching. Necrololi. Don't!

    And now we start Chapter 3 in earnest, with Elruin about to turn 14. A time skip of a year and a half, where there was little important other than the necrololi's power grows.

    Fine control is not one of Elruin's strong suits. Her power is more "Ball of Death" than "Fine Scalpel of Death". Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, it's just not something Elruin has much talent in.

    And, yes, there's a need to be this strict about potion quality. The ones that break down completely are safe enough in that they're easy to identify... but if it stabilizes into a wrong form... well... there is a fine line between medicine and poison. Same holds true of most magic items. Some exception made for the ones that are meant to be poison. Destruction is usually much easier than creation.

    Speaking of, bloodmold. In this world, the first two letters in MRSA stand for "magic resistant". Scary stuff. Primary strategy with bloodmold infection is "let the victim die, then burn the corpse". Sometimes they skip the first step. Thing is, like with our superbugs, they can't be immune to everything, and Elruin's brand of magic has an effect closer to chlorine than penicillin. Juna's brand is fire. Not 'closer to' fire. Literal fire.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
  27. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

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    Just a red blob withclothes, oof. An attack on Necrololi's estate is what I'm guessing. Testing out the waters.

    Discontinued sentence here.
     
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  28. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Magical plagues... even more fun than political eugenics...

    I post this story on three sites, and this is the only one that pulls this shit on me.
     
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  29. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 62
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Elruin clasped her hands together and bowed as was expected of her as a vassal. "Please give me a moment to check on the patients, first. I wouldn't want to put anyone at risk."

    "Be as thorough as you need. In fact, if you need anything, just tell me. Preventing an epidemic should be your top priority, as it is mine." Juna began to follow behind Elruin as she approached the hospital building. "I'd like to meet your priestess as well. She's an elusive one."

    "She is, but I can always rely on her to be there when I need her." Elruin pretended not to be concerned. "Is the bloodmold dead?" She asked through the door. "Lady Juna has requested an audience. It seems there's more to the disease than we know."

    "It appears to be, Lady Elruin." It was rare for Cali to use her title, but these were rare circumstances. "I think we're safe, yet I must advise caution. It might be wise for us to remain in quarantine for a time, on the possibility that you were less successful than we hoped."

    "I agree." That it was a convenient excuse for Cali to avoid the direct eye of Lady Juna and perhaps her brother played no small part in the decision. "How is the child doing?" He was still alive, Elruin could see that much, but alive did not mean well.

    "He's unconscious, and if the gods are feeling merciful, he'll remain so for a long while," Cali said. "When he awakens, it will be to the news that he lost his legs, an arm, and his mother. With time, maybe a month or two, we'll be able to restore his limbs, but nothing short of a god can bring his mother back now. Speaking of, although we should remain in quarantine, I would beg you make room for us elsewhere. The smell in here is terrible. Then we should burn this building."

    Elruin didn't want that poor child to wake up with his mother's desecrated corpse still in the room with him, either. "I'll do what I can." After assuring Cali, Elruin dipped into her magic, and the practice she had with sound manipulation, to amplify her voice. "I need four quarantine shacks built next to one another over there." Elruin pointed to a spot a safe distance from the well of necromancy. "Then burn this building. If you're not here to help, then leave before you're drafted."

    "I believe I count as already helping." Lady Juna smiled for a moment, before adding her own orders. "Guards, see to it that those who lack a reason to stay are cleared out, or feel free to make good on Lady Elruin's threat. This is a place to aid the sick, not to make a spectacle of their suffering."

    With the possible plague averted, people would have cleared out on their own, but the reminder of social propriety and potential punishment sped the process along. Meanwhile, Elruin found Erra near the edge of the crowd, alongside Lemia.

    "Is it true, everyone's safe?" The worry that Elruin was lying for the benefit of the crowd was plain on Erra's face.

    "Not everyone," Elruin said. "By the time I arrived, it was too for one, and another is in for a difficult recovery. I think our people will recover soon, though. Lady Juna needs to talk to me, now. Lemia, you should come with. Erra, please keep things stable while we're gone, since the priestess must remain in quarantine until we're certain it's safe. We won't go far, in case I'm needed to purge the bloodmold again."

    "What will we do about the medical supplies in the hospice room?"

    "They'll be useless, after I cleansed the room," Elruin said. "We'll have to make up the difference with more herbs from the garden, later, but once word spreads that there's bloodmold here... we might not see patients for a while."

    "Unless there are others in the city who've been infected," Lemia added. "If they hear you've even managed to slow it down, they'll come to us first." She clasped her hands and bowed to Lady Juna. "My apologies, but the established nobility has a bad reputation when it comes to diseases like this one, which extends to the church and the Order."

    "A deserved reputation, I'm ashamed to admit." Juna allowed herself to be led along with no further commentary on the state of trust between peasant and nobility.

    Elruin took them to the small building they constructed to hide themselves from prying eyes and scrying magic, as well as to help prevent more of those freakish hand-things from crawling up the tunnel Lyra built for them. Their small collection of shielding sarite wasn't much, but it covered a small building well enough for most purposes. "I hope it's safe enough here."

    Juna looked around at the building that was more storage shed than proper meeting room. "You never cease to surprise me. Most people I know would have sold those shards the moment they got hold of them, and trusted the city's protections to be enough. I always knew you were going to be something special some day."

    Elruin smiled, taking the compliment for what it was. "You said something about others thinking the bloodmold was strange?"

    "I did." Lacking chairs, Juna chose to sit on a chest containing some of the unreadable centaur tablets. "We've seen several outbreaks. They began in the northeast, and began to spread almost immediately. Which makes little sense in its own right; bloodmold sprouts in small clusters, often in graveyards where former victims were buried. It moves slow, and kills fast. While this stuff is spreading faster than should be possible, and kills slow enough to let victims get through city checkpoints without anyone noticing there's anything wrong, and we can't find any shared spot the victims went that might have the original mold."

    "You suspect it's being spread as a weapon, don't you?" Lemia caught the implications before Elruin. "Is it the Ghosts of Sorvel, again?"

    "Yes to the first, no to the second. If the Ghosts had the sort of skill and knowledge needed to control and change bloodmold to this extent, they wouldn't have fallen apart so easily after Claron's death." On mentioning her brother, Juna touched the scar still on her cheek. "We think this is being done by some other force, one which comes from the plains."

    "Is this why you've been restricting trade to the northeast?" Lemia hesitated for a moment. "What? I kept in contact with the merchants we met in Sonhome. It's a good way to stay aware of the world around us. They didn't mention any plagues, though there was something about seeing monsters none of them recognized. They thought they were chimera, but I'm beginning to suspect it's related."

    "And I thought we had our leaks under control," Juna said. "They're called chamrosh, which until now had only been found in the plains to the north. If they're migrating south, it's because something even more dangerous is driving them south."

    "Are you going to ask me to investigate?" Elruin considered the disruption that would cause to the remnant of her school year.

    "I was going to have you deal with the outbreaks," Juna said. "While Arila has been spared until today, other cities have lost good people. Engewal lost two of their finest healers, including one of the six in the empire capable of resurrection magic. As well as four medical necromancers who attempted the same trick you did, and one of my half-siblings who attempted the same trick I almost did. This plague, whatever its origins, is by far the strongest of its kind. Did you learn anything of value in fighting it?"

    "I'm not sure." Elruin considered what she witnessed, and how best to explain it to Juna. "I'm not a medical mage, but according to the priestess, it grew faster and stronger when exposed to healing magic, which I think is normal for bloodmold."

    Juna nodded. "This one seems able to do more than most, but that is one of bloodmold's defining features."

    Elruin considered how to explain it without revealing her lifesight. "I did notice it seemed to share its strength with the rest of the plague. When I hurt the infection in one person, it withstood more than it should have, but the disease around it also suffered. Like it was just parts of a single creature. When I changed to hitting all of it at once, that's when I saw real progress."

    "Interesting," Juna said. "I'll relay that to Engewal. The healers might be able to use it. What else did you learn?"

    "Nothing." Elruin bowed her head. "I apologize, I wasn't thinking about how I might have to describe everything about the plague to you. I was too concerned with killing it to study it first."

    "Where did it start in the body, how did it spread?"

    "Umm, the hands?" Elruin guessed. "It was in the fingers and hands of the women, and I guess in their eyes."

    "Normal bloodmold starts in the lungs or stomach," Lemia said. She hadn't studied much on plagues, a fact which she was fast coming to regret. "It will only start in other parts of the body through open wounds in the skin. Unless it's been festering secretly in the body for quite some time, or it's found another way to spread."

    Outside, screaming started.

    "Merat ne!" Juna rolled to her feet and jumped through the door, choosing to smash it rather than take the extra half-second to pull it open.

    Elruin rushed out next, followed after by a much less enthusiastic Lemia. Outside, Cali was struggling to fight with her own nurses whose eyes were now the pure red color of living bloodmold. Behind them, the blob that had once been a woman, and another which was a dismembered little boy, struggled to crawl after them onto the fresh battlefield.

    "But I killed it!" Elruin shouted. Then she looked, and realized the mold was, in fact, still dead. "Necromancy!" Somehow, using methods Elruin could only guess at, someone had found a way to bring the fungal goo back as a zombie without needing to be within detectable magical range. The technique was either more subtle or more powerful than anything she'd ever heard of outside a theology lesson to accomplish such a feat. "It's undead!"

    "Then we both know how to deal with it." Juna didn't wait for an acknowledgment as swords of pure flame manifested in her hands. Her first strike took off the heads of both nurses, then set their corpses ablaze like they had been coated in lamp oil. Juna then plunged her weapons into the both and his mother, a second death more merciful than the first.

    Elruin began to sing, to strip and purge the taint born of this strange, unliving, weapon. The taint fought her, resisted every step of its cleansing like a feral beast backed into a corner, like the occasional swine at the farm which realized it was being led to the slaughter. It attempted to flee, to hide, until it exhausted the tattered remnants of strength and burned itself out, the last remaining wisps chained and shattered by Elruin's control.

    Only once before had she seen such a obstinate will to live from the force of undeath.

    Juna stood there, holding her breath amidst the smoke and flame of four burning bodies. Her eyes were on Calenda, rather than the carnage around them.

    Elruin said the only thing she could think of to draw attention away from elder sister. "It was intelligent."

    Juna looked up at her. "What?"

    "The mold, or the taint which controlled it, was sapient. A true genius loci, and one too old to have begun here. We're facing an abomination necromancer."

    =====

    ... Maybe the "opening sequence" chapters are a mistake. Reveals like this one are a little less impactful when the readers already know the score. Eh, I've never been a fan of those sorts of cheap tactics anyway.

    Back near the beginning of this story, one of my readers said something about how this setting would be destroyed in a crossover with Resident Evil (specifically, the setting's Las Plagas). I wonder if anyone still thinks that...
     
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  30. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 63
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    An aura of flame still dancing around her, Juna looked around at her guards with a barely hidden disgust. She had fought, Elruin had fought, and this priestess had fought, while they stood and watched. When the adrenaline wore off, she would ensure each and every one of them considered death by undead fungus more desirable than the ire of their commander. "Is it dead for real this time?"

    "I believe so." Elruin, too, remained in her ebon war mode. "It was an interesting trick, but one that I think can only work once. At least, to that extent."

    "How did an undead taint sneak into the city?" Despite reassurances, she had no intention of lowering her guard a second time.

    Elruin thanked whatever power it was that gave her power, for the calming effect of her own shielding was all that kept her from panicking at the risk of revealing the secret that was what she did with Cali. "It wasn't undead before it died. It's... it's as if the fungus was infused with magic. Like a living potion, if that makes sense. When it died, it set off a series of preconstructed enchantments. There was no taint until that moment."

    "But how would one go about building an abomination spell into bloodmold?"

    "I don't think it was." Lemia remained hiding behind Elruin. Unlike the others, she didn't trust her magical abilities to defend her from this thing. "I think it was inscribed into the bones of the victims. Uh, I'm a geometric revelation. We're sensitive to shape and positioning, and something about that child's body looks wrong. I mean, aside the obvious stuff."

    Meanwhile, Cali was doing her best to inch away as well. If Garit had been here as well, she wouldn't have bothered, but Juna was far more impulsive and prone to distraction than her sibling.

    "I'll check." Elruin brought up her hand and struck the bones with her power. They crackled with power, then began to move, for a half second before Elruin stripped the necromantic energies from the region. "I don't know how, but someone etched runic magic into their bones. I think it was a trap for me."

    "Not you," Lemia said. "Remember, Lady Juna said these were happening all over the place. Considering necromancers are the best equipped to defeat other necromancers, I think this was meant as an opening strike. It didn't matter if the victims were alive when the necromancer purged the bloodmold, so long as their magic hit the bodies it would activate."

    "I saw the scars on the boy's legs." Now that Calenda had managed to get to a safe distance, she was willing to add her own experience. "The maker of the enchantment would have had to have opened up his legs for hours, first."

    "If I may, Lady Juna," Lemia said. "The royal scholars need to know of this. I think these... living timebombs... can be detected once they know how to look."

    Suggested Listening

    "I can find them, even subtle necromancy should cause a react... entek na! The cemeteries! They use necromancy!" Elruin dipped into her magic again, activating her sarite. "Warn the other cities! Lemia, scholars! Lady Juna, sorry, emergency!" With sarite empowerment, she got a solid head start before the others realized she was moving, with Calenda a half-heartbeat behind.

    "Soldiers! Remain on guard. Nobody enters or leaves without my permission." She tossed a bronze disc at the ground near Lemia's feet. "Get whatever scholars you think you need to get. Anyone who has a problem can discuss it with me."

    Calenda caught up with Elruin the moment they were out of eyesight from Juna; as much as the young necromancer had improved, she still wasn't a match for a battlemage like Calenda was when alive, let alone the enhanced abilities that came from her now familiar unliving status. "Please, tell me that was theater for my sake. They couldn't create undead through mortuary defenses, could they?"

    "I don't know!" Elruin kept moving in the direction of the cemetery. "If one of those runes get there, they might!"

    "Merat na!" Cali picked up pace. "If I get too close, the mortuary spells will notice me."

    Elruin considered her options. "I can handle any fighting." She wasn't certain that she could, but she felt confident she could hold the line until help arrived. "Try to make contact with Scratch. If anyone's seen this before, it's him."

    "Go to the poor section, first. Weakest defenses, fewest guards, most bodies." Cali turned around after giving her advice.

    Elruin slowed right before reaching the mortuary, enough to make certain the guards saw the House crest emblazoned on her new armor. It didn't stop them from pointing their weapons at her, perhaps because she was wrapped in necromantic energy that made her look like an enemy rather than an ally.

    "Official city business. Where do you put the bodies?" Healing magic was powerful, but it had limits, so one could expect several natural deaths per day in addition to the occasional murders, suicides, and accidents which were inevitable in a city the size of Arila.

    The woman guard stepped forward, her weapon still at the ready. "My apologies, Lady, but we received no word of official business here, and you're not part of our command change."

    "There was an attack by an abomination mage," Elruin said. She allowed her death-shell to melt away, revealing her face. "We stopped the attack, but it might come here next."

    The guard hesitated, no doubt considering her position if something went wrong one way or the other. She settled on the argument that even were Elruin lying, there was nothing they could have done to stop the little necromancer who had better equipment and more raw power than they had. "This way, ma'am."

    Due to the lack of space and perpetual risk of taint or other magical corruptions, cemeteries in Engewal were comprised of bricks made from the cremated remnants of the dead. A practice so common and widespread that nobody so much as considered the concept of burying whole bodies. The crematorium building itself was not far from the poor section of the cemetery, itself near the poor side of town.

    How the brick was treated after depended upon the wealth and traditions of the survivors, but for the poor they were oft used in the construction of small, ornate memorial rooms as lined the open space of the cemetery while the wealthy took the bricks home with them, to be placed in small memorial shrines, or whatever decision was made. Sometimes, entire rooms were built of a family's long-forgotten dead.

    Elruin felt the twisting distortion of death magic colliding with undeath in this sanctified place meant to deny any spell that might threaten the fractured remnants of souls that stayed with their bodies for some brief time. "We're too late." She returned to running toward the source of the distortion, only to slow when the two forces cracked against one another like a man breaking his hand by punching another's jaw hard enough to break it as well.

    Several of the bodies began to move in a slow, halting process that was the weakest of any undead spawn she had ever seen. Slow enough that the morticians working with the bodies managed to undo the taint with their own talents without need for Elruin. These were professionals, educated in the tasks they were assigned to a degree which exceeded Elruin's.

    Given time, perhaps a matter of days, the taint might have grown to be a threat to the cemetery, and then the city, but she had no doubt that everyone of merit within the city felt what happened here, and those tasked with defending the city were en route, expecting a much greater threat than what was born here.

    So Elruin began to sing, helping to purge the taint, while doing what she could to mend the damaged enchantments of the cemetery. Whomever was tasked with fixing this mess would be at work for a long time dealing with magic far more complex than that which she was accustomed to.

    As soon as the immediate calamity was dealt with, one of the church exorcists approached her. A man, but under the circumstances social decorum mattered less than making certain a disaster had been averted. He looked at her emblem, then gave the polite nod of one noble greeting another. "Lady necromancer. I am Exorcist Kale ne Mer."

    "I am Elruin na Cali." She had no specific title to go by, which put her at the social disadvantage on all notable levels.

    "Lady Elruin, I find it unlikely your arrival here was coincidental." The tone was calm, the choice of words stilted by a need to choose neutral words, asking nothing of the other while seeking to trade information.

    Elruin chose to make things easier by speaking to the woman soldier who had followed behind her. As an assigned defender of the cemetery, she was every bit as entitled to the warning, and without the social barricades. If a man just so happened to overhear the conversation, so be it.

    "I'm sorry I didn't arrive in time to prevent this. I also didn't expect a result like this one. The magic we encountered was... complex, and new. Lady Juna is warning other cities, and we're already seeking to pull together the city's scholars to study the technique used. All we know for certain is that it used runic magic carved into the bones of still-living people, which will then convert any standard necromancy into taint."

    "I'm no scholar." The guard looked at the Exorcist, as if seeking an opinion before speaking further. "Please, tell me what I can do."

    "First, separate all bodies, and make certain none are exposed to any necromancy. It might be wise to chain them down or lock them in cages." The ability to break through steel bars was beyond most undead. Even Calenda would have great difficulty doing so. "Second, be especially wary of those with diseases, the ones we faced were infected with bloodmold, perhaps to trick a necromancer into cleansing the bodies and trigger the runes." She decided not to mention it worked.

    "What will you do?" The guard asked.

    "I need to check the body which carried runes first, then other incoming bodies. I'm certain Lady Juna will have more specific instructions for everyone later, once we know how the magic works. It's not my place to assume what she'll command."

    "As you wish, Lady Elruin. I'll lead you to the morgue."

    Suggested Listening

    "The good news is that the attacks failed, and we know why," Lady Juna stated for the assembled group of nobility and officers. "The bad news is best explained by my brother."

    "To start with, the techniques used are sophisticated, third-generation enchantments." Garit paused to let the audience consider what this meant, which left Elruin to sit and guess. "Fortunately, they were designed using different magical traditions than our own. It means the enemy's magic is unfamiliar to us, but also that our magic is unfamiliar to the enemy."

    "In short," Lady Juna added. "We have the same disadvantage, and now it's a matter of us learning their techniques faster than they can can learn ours. With the failure of their sneak attacks, we're in the stronger position."

    "Our scholars are already hard at work redesigning our protective wards to detect and counter the living-weapon techniques shown." As much as Garit liked his sister's enthusiasm, he was less fond that he was always the one to deliver the bad news. "Until then, however, all cities will have to close their gates until we can adapt our defenses. The entire nation is to be treated as if it's under siege."

    "Against the undead?" High Priest Rodar stood, as the only person in the city of equal rank to the Duchess, he had the right to question them. "If we allow the taint to fester, it will reach the point where there's nothing left for us to protect!"

    "Correct, and we won't," Garit said. "We know the enemy infects victims with bloodmold because it absorbs creation energies, which the necromantic runes are vulnerable to, and need only the time to design a form of creation spell that can bypass the mold. We will not spend some indeterminate time hidden while the enemy grows. In a matter of days, we will be ready for our counterattack, and until then we will help prepare your Houses as we can for the war against an abomination threat."

    Plans were discussed, revolving around a twin strategy of adjusting the sarite shields and preparing magic to counterattack the undead. Elruin bit her tongue, for she knew not how to explain what they were facing without admitting to knowledge of undead which could hide themselves from detection. More, it meant a real threat to Cali and Scratch as the magic was changed.

    Once she had some privacy, she asked Lemia the question which had plagued her this entire time. "Umm, when Garit said Third-Generation enchantments, what did he mean?"

    Lemia looked down at the ground. "It means, this magic has been used in war, already."

    "What? How can you tell something like that?"

    "The basic theory is this: whenever you design an enchantment, or any spell, you're building it in a safe box, like at the College. Then you use it, and discover it doesn't perform quite how you expected, so you redesign it with failsafes and tricks to protect it from failure, that's a second-generation design, and most mages stop there. Third generation designs are when an enemy counters your design, so you redesign it again to stop the enemy's magic from stopping your magic. Combining taint runes with bloodmold, for example."

    "So whatever is behind this has won a war using it, before."

    "Or were driven out after failing," Lemia suggested. She didn't have the heart to make herself believe it, however.

    The pair spent the rest of their walk home in silence.

    =====

    Punching people in the face is not a good idea. Even if you know how to hit right, you can do some serious damage to the hand bones. Aim for the stomach instead: it's full of important and pain-sensitive organs, but lacking the bone defenses. Unless you're fighting zombies, in which case you're probably better off not being in melee range.

    And, incidentally, yes, I've gone to at least third-generation with almost every spell and enchantment in the game- 'what does this do', 'how would you counter it', 'how would you counter the counter'- I can't begin to guess how many cycles I go to.

    Sometimes. Obviously, a spell that's only good for repairing damaged clothes won't see more than just a first generation consideration. It isn't meant to be used in combat, and only mends clothing.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2019
    The Unicorn, azqs, Nyaa and 1 other person like this.
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