1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. For a trial period of one week, allowed avatar size has been increased to 256kb, up from 51.2kb. During this time, if the forum seems to be loading slow, drop by the topic in the Announcements & Rules sub to let me know.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. QQ will be down for upgrades starting at 2030 EDT. Please be prepared and save any work.
    Dismiss Notice
  5. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  6. To the many new members following Mr Zoat to our forum, I would suggest a quick read of our Rules. Don't worry, it's not a long post. Pay special attention to Rule 8. We are deadly serious about it.
    Dismiss Notice
  7. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice
  8. To make things official, I have added a proper description of the method to appeal a moderator action in the Rules thread.
    Dismiss Notice

Midara: Requiem [High Fantasy Necromancer fun]

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

Loading...
  1. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2015
    Messages:
    1,773
    Likes Received:
    18,103
    Excellent update as always.

    I assume Cali has at least altered her voice amongst other stuff to hide her identity and undead nature?
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 64
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Priestess Erena locked eyes with the necromancer, the first time they'd seen one another since she came into the church a dirty homeless peasant-girl following Priestess Calenda like a lost puppy. Erena knew the girl was dangerous then, but had no idea how dangerous until much later. How time changes the world. So it was with more satisfaction than might be considered holy that she answered the girl's request. "I'm afraid the church can't help you."

    Elruin gazed right back, not knowing the thoughts in the priestess' head. "Why?"

    Lemia took the news less well, and stood with her hands clenched. "If this is about us snubbing your useless church, then that just proves we were right."

    Priestess Erena offered a serene smile, knowing full well it would do nothing but infuriate the apostates further. "Not at all." She felt full confidence that a Truthsayer would know her words to be fact. "We cannot tell you anything to help, for there is nothing to tell. Bloodmold is and has always been a deadly plague which resists all known techniques of healing magic. It is common knowledge that only by killing the mold first can you hope to heal the patient. And as I understand it, the abomination runes make it impossible to cleanse the mold without killing the host."

    "So you're telling us that the only method is killing them."

    "I know little of the nature of this accursed magic, but if there is a method, it must be in defeating the runes, for there is none with bloodmold you don't already know." Priestess Erena turned her eyes down. "I will pray that Enge might bless us with a better answer in this time of need."

    "Yeah, you do that, I'll go do something useful." Lemia turned and walked away.

    Erena considered making an impolite quip asking what that might be, but that would have been petty. Instead, she allowed the young woman to storm off, before addressing the necromancer. "It is good that you're not as impetuous as your advisor."

    "You have my apologies." Elruin clasped her hands and bowed. She was not known for her spiritual devotion, but there was no reason to be rude. "Please, is there nothing you've heard of which might help? Even rumors might lead us in the right direction."

    "I am reminded of a tale in Origins which tells of King Emarik, who sought immortality by having his body transmogrified to gold. Which, I suppose, would be immune to both necromancy and bloodmold." Erena wondered for a moment if she was, perhaps, too soft-hearted, then continued. "It was not long before the king was melted down and divided amongst his once-loving children. It is a warning, that those who would twist nature to their own will shall suffer unspeakable fates for their hubris. Bloodmold, horrid as it is, was born of nature. This abomination magic is the enemy of nature, so it is there which will be vulnerable."

    "As you wish." Elruin bowed again. "I believe we are done here."

    "Go with Enge," Priestess Erena said, then prayed in silence long after the necromancer left. Enge had not moved to action when the blasphemer claimed to be Chosen, nor did he seem inclined to act now with this foreign invader using the foulest of magics conceivable to attack his children. Were the world in better condition, she would make the pilgrimage herself.

    Elruin found Lemia pacing outside the church. "I think she was telling the truth."

    "I know, I know, I'm just frustrated. I guess it was too much to think there might be a solution more merciful than 'burn everything that so much as breathed in the presence of these poor people'. I hope you didn't have to humiliate yourself too much on my behalf."

    "Priestess Erena told me the story of King Emarik." Elruin ignored Lemia's huff of disdain. "It did get me thinking, however. Maybe there is a way to transform people, kill the mold, then turn them back? The runes are easy to deactivate, if not for the mold shielding them."

    "Only thing I know that'll transform a body without killing it is some forms of sarite, but that will kill weak people faster than the mold. And I guess some dragons have venom that can turn a body into stone, but I don't know if there's a way to reverse the transformation. I also don't know how either trick would react with bloodmold or taint runes. They might be cured, or they might explode like they do when exposed to fire magic."

    "Then we must wait for the experts to learn what they can of the runebone magic."

    "I have some thoughts about that, myself," Lemia said. "Didn't it seem to you that this sort of runebone magic is exactly the sort we found in that book in Sonhome? More advanced, but based on the exact same principles?"

    "It did." Elruin looked down at her armor, crafted of that very technique. Which tied in all too well with her pets' ability to extract life essence. All of them were connected, in some way she couldn't begin to understand.

    Suggested Listening

    Lord Garit finished the incantation pulse, which reverberated across all of those in witness, then took a breath while waiting for those amongst them to recover from the alien sensation of the magical wave. "As you can see, it's a complicated alteration to your magic, one with notable deficiencies in speed and power, but it will allow you to bypass the body and strike the bone directly with any other applicable spell, including many variations of detection spells."

    Elruin frowned, considering the nature of the spell. It worked quite well, but it came with one notable drawback. "Am I wrong, or does this do nothing to save those who have bone runes?" She spoke to Lemia, but Lord Garit was the true target of the question.

    "Lady Elruin is astute in noting that, indeed, this will do nothing to protect those with bone runes. If the victims don't carry bloodmold, or some other as yet unrevealed surprise, then healing magic will still break the necromantic runes, but if they do, then the mold will likely kill the victim. We cannot save everyone, so we must devote our efforts to protecting ourselves and our allies first. Such is the nature of war."

    In short, Lord Garit as well as all of the priests, nobles, and scholars in this meeting had consigned those people to their deaths. Elruin took a slow breath, then nodded. "I understand, we have a responsibility to our charges." It didn't sit well with her, however. "As such, I will be going to seek out the creator of these abomination runes. I will make it tell me how to stop the runes, then kill it."

    Calling a person an 'it' was a dire insult, but appropriate when referring to an abomination mage; they were not seen as human. Perhaps this made Elruin a hypocrite, considering her own use of the undead, but she felt there was a difference between her dollies and carving up living people to use as biological weapons, although she knew she was alone in that opinion.

    "Lady Elruin, do you believe that is wise?" Juna took over for her brother, as this was no longer a conversation that could be had without direct address.

    "I know I'm immune to the bloodmold, as was Priestess Esra." Perhaps volunteering Cali was wrong, but it was a good excuse to get her as far from the twins as possible for the foreseeable future. "I should be able to find other allies with similar immunities. Perhaps amongst the dwarves, their natural fire magic should protect them. I've controlled and destroyed the undead numerous times before, I can do it again."

    Lady Juna's eyes narrowed. "If you can find the source of the runes, or recognize it when you do. It would be terribly shortsighted of us to let you leave under such circumstances, with little hope of success."

    "I have developed a spell that can let me see some fragments of a dead body's memories." She looked at the scholars present; such techniques were unusual, but she wasn't alone.

    For Lady Juna, there was but one response to such a claim: "Show me."

    Suggested Listening

    Elruin stood before what was left of the runic bones, then began to play to the bones of the dead as the bones played back, singing the song of the last important memories of their lives.

    He walked alone during a dark night, hungry and uncertain of where his next meal might come from. In his desperation, he looked at the houses. Surely there was one which wasn't so well guarded. He smelled then the soaking warmth of fresh bread on the air.

    She held her son close, as the morks yipped and chattered in the darkness. They were fools, these men entrusted with their lives. They left too late, insistent that there was still time even after all the delays of making certain her carriage was cared for. "It's not your fault," a voice whispered to her.

    He stared down at the moonlight reflecting from the water, allowing his last few tears to drip out into the darkness. She rejected him, preferring instead that useless fop of a merchant's son. He put one foot on the ledge, then heard a woman's sobbing in the distance.

    The scent led him down an alleyway that, were he paying attention, he never would have went. No sane man dared go to the darkest corners, for that was where the men who were real criminals would go to hide from the law. He was hungry, so hungry.

    The morks scattered before the kind voice. A strong voice that reminded of her father, back when she was a little girl and he was strong and healthy.

    "Mommy?" Her son resisted, but not for long. "Where are we going?"

    "Somewhere safe."

    She disappeared into the forest, the caravan guards unaware that she had left until they heard her screams.

    He followed the crying girl's voice. Surely, this was the voice of a goddess, for no mortal being could make notes so beautiful. He was half correct.

    The thing crawled out of the darkness three rotten limbs at a time. Sometimes arms first, sometimes legs, or a face, or a different face. Rotting flesh, exposed bone, and the stench of diseased flesh. Across its body oozed sores that pulsed with life, somehow, within the tainted flesh of undeath. They stood, watched, but did not struggle when it reached for them.

    Their eyes saw this horror, but their minds saw a kindly old woman willing to aid a starving man, a strong and reliable father worthy of the trust only a child could have, a lonely maiden who should never have to know heartbreak.

    They screamed, their flesh burning in agony as the thing carved open their limbs and extracted their bones. Then, it took bones from its own abundant collection of limbs and replaced them. Living gel consisting of unknown life was stuffed inside them, to hold the bones in place and seal the wounded flesh. It would not last forever, but it would last long enough to serve its purpose.

    Their minds only a full stomach, a loving embrace, a gently caress.

    The things carried them to new destinations to unknowingly deliver their secret payloads, cradling them as a parent cradles a child, as a spider cradles its cocooned prey. Meanwhile, its other limbs went to work carving a new set of runes into the fresh bones.

    Elruin watched both in disgust, as the mind and body told two opposing stories, until she lost control of her music and fell back into Lemia's arms. "It... they..."

    "Shh, you're safe, you're here with us," Lemia whispered. "Take your time, when you're ready to tell us."

    "It's... they were attacked by a composite corpse-thing with dozens of limbs and multiple heads and a body made of at least ten different people." Elruin took her time, as memories faded away like dreams within dreams. "It took out their bones, and replaced them with its own."

    "At least I won't have to caution the Guard to not accidentally kill someone innocent," Juna said. "Consider it standing orders to destroy crawling corpse horrors on sight. How does a thing like that hide?"

    "They have magic, probably miasma in origin. They used illusions of smells and sounds and attractive faces that were exactly what the victim wanted to see in order to lure them."

    "Undead with magic?" One of the exorcists scoffed. Later he might have to be chastised for speaking to a woman the way he did.

    "Not necessarily." As far as Lemia was concerned, if he got to speak to a woman that way, she got to speak to him the same way. That it helped deflect suspicion from the possibility of, say, an undead priestess healing people on the outskirts of town was also important. "It could be more runic magic, set to broadcast a lure spell following preset conditions. All the monster would need to do is follow a series of rote instructions built into it by its maker. The level of skill would be significant, but hardly impossible."

    "Some of their memories were erased, but only from their minds, not their bodies." Elruin stepped away from Lemia, to stand on her own strength again. "It only controls them until the thing is done."

    "Then we're dealing with a dangerous necromancer with perhaps the most subtle of magical spellsets." Lady Juna considered her options. "I'll work out more specific details later, but for now adjust our roster to ensure there are at least two inquisitors at the gate at all times, and make certain all our compulsion wards are checked twice daily."

    As defenses went, they were good ones, but they were a defensive strategy alone. "Lady Elruin, we can't afford to part with any Inquisitors, but if you need some soldiers or specific equipment, I'm willing to listen."

    =====

    Priestess Erena is both right and wrong... bloodmold isn't a part of nature, but it was born by the use of healing magic to defy natural illness and disease, so it serves the same lesson. Yay unnatural selection!

    One of the paths in this story results in Elruin helping Erena make a trek up the mountain to Enge's caldera where... eh, I won't spoil it.

    Inventing myths is remarkably fun!

    Oh, and I misspelled "nobles" as "nobiles"... I find this amusing, so I share it with you all.

    A little levity is nice after getting your first taste of a freakin' Plaguebearer, right? They might very well be the thing I most look forward to seeing in Video Game format. That or perhaps spells like Voice of the Dead or Artificial Synchronization cutscenes. Or Clackybones nomming faces. Or Squishybones being carried by Elruin. Or the nightmare squirrels.

    Actually, there are a lot of things I want to see in video game format.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 65
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Elruin flushed another burst of magical power through her armor, this time taking it to the same extreme that she had used while driving off the bloodmold. With nowhere to go, the energies wrapped back upon themselves in a storm of death energies. She watched a few of her professors step back, their eyes wide in the face of her power.

    "As you can see, the enchantments and treatments are holding strong," Lemia said. "If anything, their stability improves as they're exposed to further negation energies. In addition, they both insulate and amplify Elruin's natural power, improving her defensive options while not hindering her in any way, save the brief period of time where she has to empower the leather. In short, a perfect tool for her style of necromancy, and one which has proven itself in field testing."

    "It is certainly an... unconventional... methodology." Professor Abrax watched the process without so much as flinching. "Under normal circumstances, I would be remind you that weapons of war are for the Acolytes, at which point some of my colleagues might argue the point that every aspect of this design is defensive or utility in nature, thus meeting the letter of the requirements if not the spirit." She looked at said colleagues, daring them to disagree. "Personally, I find such claims to belittle the College's role as an institution of knowledge, and lends credence to those who feel we are little more than weapons manufacturers."

    She closed her eyes and sighed. "However, it has been made clear to me that these are unusual times, and I find no glaring faults in your technique, only your subject of design. You have met and surpassed your prerequisites. As such, I will not force the matter to vote, and officially recognize you as an Artisan. You will find the paperwork finished by the time you return."

    Lemia bowed, hands clasped. "You have my grati-"

    "However," Professor Abrax continued. "If you want to be recognized as a Master at any point while I still draw breath, I strongly advise your final project be an instrument of learning and peace, not military function."

    Now Lemia cringed back. "Yes, Professor."

    "And while you're here, Lady Elruin, I believe that other than your alchemy course, you have satisfied your professors' requirements. We will advance you in all other disciplines, and register alchemy as incomplete. We've deal with many situations where students had to take time away from their education, and have learned the longer they take to return, the worse they perform in the future. I advise you to keep that in consideration."

    Elruin nodded and clasped her hands as well. "Yes, Professor Abrax. Thank you."

    As soon as they left, Lemia looked up and breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought we would never get out of there."

    Elruin looked down. "I'm sorry you got in trouble for making me a gift, instead of doing something else."

    Lemia laughed, and gave Elruin a pat on the back of her hand. She would have gave Elruin a hug, but the armor was still charged with a great deal of necromantic power. It seemed stable, but Lemia wasn't confident enough with her work to bet her life on that belief.

    "No, I should be thanking you for the excuse. Truth told, I barely squeezed by the practical requirements of the discipline, and it was only by applying the necrotempered techniques that I could meet the 'novel application of the art' requirement. Armor for necromancer was my best hope to pass. Without you, I would have had to wait another three months at the earliest to get my license."

    Elruin smiled at her. "Oh, then you're welcome."

    "Yes I am." Lemia left out the part where she had only planned to go for the status of acolyte, for the purposes of making her career as a basic potion-crafter.

    They made small talk while walking back to the Shelter, for there was little for them to speak of. Erra understood that they might not return for some time, if ever, and that for the time being she was in charge of Elruin's odd little estate. Lady Juna and Lord Garit knew their path of travel, and everyone was ready to act as they needed. All they needed was their last pieces of equipment, and Elruin's pets.

    Suggested Listening

    "Nona, Deci, Mort, come!" She shouted into the smaller tree that her pets had chosen as their home. Soon, the three jet-black squirrels ran down the tree to their accidental maker.

    For a moment they sniffed at her, uncertain of her new armor, but they found its necromantic aura to their liking and climbed into their positions on her arms and shoulders, in order to lap at the excess power within the armor.

    The two girls walked to the front gates with only the equipment they could carry on them. Thanks to their current sarite, neither of them had need of a horse, and they had little use for ostentatious supplies.

    "Reminds me of the last time we left the city," Lemia said. "Except without the farewell party."

    Lady Juna awaited them at the gate. "Leaving light, I see." She looked over the pair, including a moment to consider the fuzzy red-eyed magical monsters which Elruin had collected. They seemed well enough behaved. "Where's your priestess?"

    "She intends to meet us en route," Elruin said. "She went to get our dwarven ally, who should be immune to bloodmold. We should meet somewhere near Engewal. Perhaps we'll find some evidence of the monsters or necromancer along our path. I promise we'll be careful, but I suspect we won't find anything of value until we reach Seyid. Until then, it's best if we travel light and move fast."

    "You remind me of Calenda more by the day." Juna held out a small pouch. "You'll find a couple mind shielding sarite, along with an official Arila house seal. I don't advise you use it casually, but it may help you in dealing with local politics. But be careful, it will make many of them even more distrustful. Seyid is more plainsmen than Engevali, especially toward the northeast."

    "You have my gratitude." Elruin nodded before leaving.

    Soon after leaving, Elruin extended her arms toward a tree. "Up!" Her trio of necromantic rodents scampered into the branches, serving as an extra layer of protection from the threats of the forest.

    Further out, Elruin began her song, and called to her the dead she had hidden in the ruins which once stood in this land. During their time of preparation, they made certain their entourage would be waiting for them.

    Void tendril-beasts, or their skeletal remains, pulled themselves through the soil and into the open air for the first time in over a year. It was for this reason that Elruin had to travel light, for no living being in Arila save those out here now would tolerate the methods she would use to hunt this evil necromancer and the horrors he built. They, too, climbed into the trees, where their natural agility and unnatural stamina would allow them to assault any threat.

    She would have to wait to see her beloved and long-neglected Mister Clackybones II, who was with Cali, Scratch, and Ketak, taking their own route to meet up with them.

    Lemia watched the display, then started to chuckle.

    Elruin tilted her head. "What's so funny?"

    "Oh, nothing, I'm just remembering the first time, when we found those bandits." Lemia stopped laughing, and returned to looking ahead on the trail. "I was so afraid, I thought we were going to die. Now, I almost want to find another group just to see the look on their faces."

    Elruin looked ahead as well, thinking back on the monsters that no longer scared her, but then her mind returned to the ones which still did. "I think if there are bandits out here now, they will need us to protect them."

    Lemia's smile vanished, and the forest seemed darker than it had the moments earlier.


    =====

    It's actually quite possible for Lemia to fail (delay) her Artisan recognition at this point (or even to have walked away with just the Acolyte recognition), but the voters have been quite diligent in the 'education' votes. It cost them in other areas- the failure to bother researching their "void" shards will be a plot point later on, the Eye Collectors aren't nearly as strong as they could have been, and nothing of note was dug up from the undercity- but they did focus on alchemy enough to unlock Elruin's Ultimate Armor early (it'll receive upgrades over time) and the scholar path grants the greatest undead control numbers. If I did (do) my job right, all play options should be more or less valid.

    Speaking of, the scholar rankings are... complicated and as much political as they are practical. You start at Student, then Apprentice, then Acolyte, then Artisan, then Master, in recognized ranks. In order to advance to apprentice, you just have to have someone licensed say you're ready to move on (and, really, the difference between the two is just to make older students feel superior to younger ones), but Acolytes and beyond are evaluated and given license (and guild membership) to sell goods by a select group of Master ranked members... not unlike a lawyer's Bar Exam. Under normal circumstances, it's a matter of completing a set of courses and creating a magical item of a certain scope of power and stability. Unusual circumstances may require a vote made by five masters of that field.

    In order to be recognized as a master, you need either a unanimous vote of five other masters, or a vote of seven with only one dissenter. Requiring the sample be of certain function rather than another is the school being pretentious, but the professor *does* have the sort of influence to make good on her threat by speaking to Lemia's evaluators in the future. That said, having a license is not in and of itself a measure of skill, same as in our world.

    I built the system from articles I found about medical licensing done during the late medieval period. I'm pretty sure this resulted in a Frankenstein monster cobbled together from multiple different centuries and nations on opposite sides of Europe from one another.

    Seyid is pronounced "see-id".
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2019
    The Unicorn, Mr. Tebbs, azqs and 2 others like this.
  4. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2015
    Messages:
    1,773
    Likes Received:
    18,103
    Dig the music you provide for the scenes.
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  5. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Thanks. I put an embarrassing amount of effort into finding good music.
     
    Valor likes this.
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 66
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Two days of travel later, the teams found each other near the southeastern edge of the Engeval mountains. These were tough lands of foothills and deep gulches carved by heavy storms. Scratch made direct contact first, by virtue of being able to ignore all terrain.

    "Look at you," the ghost said while floating above like some sort of arbiter spirit. "That is classy armor, for a classy necromancer. Lady Elruin na Cali, your dear, deceased, big sister would be proud of you."

    "I can hear you," Cali came around the bend on Mister Clackybones. "And I can strangle your nonexistent neck."

    "True, but can you fly?"

    "Don't test m-woah!" While Cali threatened Scratch, Mister Clackybones began to trot toward Elruin.

    Elruin ran up and gave the bleached skull of the mare a hug. "Mister Clackybones. I know, I missed you, too. I'm sorry I couldn't see you for so long. I'll try to do better from now on, I promise."

    Lemia and Calenda shared a look, before Cali reached out and rubbed Elruin's head. "Thanks for letting me borrow your horse, she was very well behaved. Oh, and Ketak wants you to send a couple of your dollies back to help her. There's a river not far back that she needs help crossing. Oh, right, and she's got some sarite shards to give you."

    "Hey, to be clear, those are my shards," Scratch said. "I earned those helping clear out goblins, and I am the one gifting them to Lady Elruin. Especially that time sarite, I think House Cali owes me an official title for it."

    Cali either sighed or growled at the ghostly provocateur, and even she wasn't certain which.

    Suggested Listening

    Elruin heard the screaming song moments before pain radiated from her back. She slammed face-first into Mister Clackybone's neck, which would have caused further injury if not for her superhuman resilience. In her back was an arrow, white light pouring off of it for a few moments before it was blown out like a candle by her own power. The spell dissolved, but after the projectile severed her spine

    "Cover Ell!" Cali reacted first, and rushed to where the source of the attack had come from. Lemia was as capable of healing magic as she was, but Calenda knew she was their best option to stop the attacker from killing them all ahead of time.

    Lemia and Ketak rushed to Elruin's side, preparing their own sets of spells to stop arrow attacks. Earth and air magic twisted around them, concealing the three of them and, with any luck, stop future projectiles. With the opponent undetectable to their eyes and magic, there was little else they could hope to accomplish.

    Then the resonance shifted, distorting the light and air around her until a jumbled swirl. "Lumusis!" She shouted, her words were so muddled that she couldn't recognize their meaning. Then she realized it wasn't the world being distorted, but her own mind. She stopped, turned around, and began walking toward Elruin, still laying atop Clackybones.

    I'm sorry, I can't stop it! She tried to shout, tried to scream, but not a sound came from her mouth. As part of training all members of the Scouts are exposed to mind control magic, so that they can get some experience fighting the magic, but never before had she been puppeted like this. The magical energy cost for taking absolute control of a body was fatal to most mages, so the majority relied on far more subtle methods, and the few who thought themselves above the slow method found themselves dead in short order.

    She did as her training bid, and flooded her body with her natural magic, not to retake control of her body, but to make control too expensive for the puppeteer to maintain. As with most forms of magic, it was easier to break the caster than it was to break the spell.

    More important in this situation, however, was that it alerted everyone that something was wrong with her. Black mist roiled and blended across her native blue-green light like a storm at sea as seen from under the waves, and it would be a small miracle if they didn't attract monsters from the beacon of energy she had turned herself into.

    Or would it? She was no longer alive, so perhaps the monsters wouldn't find her energy so appetizing. Such were the thoughts that ran unbidden through her mind while she lacked all control of her body. At least her puppeteer didn't know how to use her speed and agility, so she walked toward Elruin, and bought time for the others to react.

    "Cali?" Lemia took a step back, uncertain of of the situation. Her short time as an adventurer had not prepared her for such magic.

    Scratch, however, had been around longer and seen more stuff than everyone else in the team combined and multiplied by ten. He dropped down in front of Cali's face. "So, I'm about to possess you again. You know the drill, this time without the Faustian bargains and I can't kill you."

    "No!" Elruin gasped. "Taint. Not safe." She hummed a few short, painful notes, and Clackybones began to trot away faster than the controller could make Cali walk.

    Scratch backed away, for he still didn't understand the nature of Calenda's construction, and had to defer to Elruin's judgment. If he had to save the little necromancer by destroying Calenda, he would do so without hesitation, but it appeared to him that there was a less drastic solution that would hold up for the time being.

    Calenda felt the control slacken, leaving her paralyzed rather than attacking. A relief, until Clackybones began to buck under Elruin. Weak at first, but growing in wildness with each alteration of the notes. It's not a mind controller, it's a necromancer. In her time with Elruin, the girl had never once exerted upon her the power that a negation mage could exert upon the unliving. She was not prepared for this.

    "Fine!" Scratch flew away from Cali, and into barely controlled horse monster. It calmed, then froze. "Now can one of you do something!? These guys just disabled three of us and we don't even know where they are!"

    "Get Elruin off the horse!" Ketak commanded. In spite of her solitary nature, she was an experienced commander and veteran warrior. "Work on healing her. If we're fighting necromancers, we're going to want her fighting before... Merat!"

    The whip-like tendril bones of a void monster began to roll toward them, moving in slow, jerky motions.

    Lemia began taking Elruin from her saddle. "It's not a skilled necromancer! If it was, we'd be in a lot more trouble!" Which served to explain why they went for Elruin first. With her unable to give commands, the enemy necromancer could take control.

    Ketak took a step forward, facing off against the void monster. It lashed out with tendril that was more annoyance than threat, far from the machine of death that it was before. Ketak swatted it away with her sword that had once belonged to Claron. She could have burned the corpse to unmoving ash if she wanted, but that would have given the necromancer reason to take control of another of the stationary corpses and revealed the full extend of her strength. There was a time for every strategy, and now was the time to be underestimated.

    Meanwhile, Elruin helped as best she could to be laid down on her stomach by Lemia.

    "Jeez, Ell, what is with you and arrows? Next chance we get to upgrade your armor has got to be anti-projectiles." Lemia spoke to calm herself as much as the wounded girl, while working out how to extract the arrow and heal the wound. "Huh, this wood is alchemical. Probably how it cut through your defenses. I'm going to be here for a while, but at least I can use this to heal you through your armor."

    While Lemia worked with minor bursts of healing to halt and undo the internal bleeding, Elruin dragged her violin up near her, then set the bow on it. She couldn't speak, but her arms still worked, so she could play. The disjointed strings of music did not amount to much, but they shattered the chains holding Cali with but a few moments of effort.

    She would have to trust her elder sister to handle the rest. She closed her eyes and struggled to catch her breath.

    Calenda moved the moment she was released, having gained a reasonable idea of where the controller was hiding during her time trapped. With her magic, a general idea was all she needed.

    First, the forest exploded into a cloud of dust, as she dumped a massive amount of power into the lifecycle of the plants. The area blossomed into pollen and flower petals, blinding better than her fog cloud ever had, for it even worked against lifesight and choked the lungs of most things unfortunate enough to breathe the reproductive spores.

    The best part was that she could still see through it, to an extent suitable for combat, so she was prepared when a humanoid attacker came out of the woods at her. He felt her, and didn't bother trying to play a long game against a guisarme. He got close, swung again and again with pair of short swords that forced her to back away, unable to get the distance to exploit her weapon, or close enough distance to use her gloves.

    It reminded her of her practice sessions with Juna, who exemplified the art of turning a full offensive assault into the best defensive strategy. In comparison, this opponent was an amateur, but an amateur in comparison to Juna was still a skilled enough frontline fighter to force Cali back a step with every swing, each one a little closer to hitting home than the last.

    At this rate, she could lose before buying more than a minute, until she felt her strength increase with the power of Elruin's music.

    Elruin continued to play her violin while still laying on her stomach. The shaft still wedged in her back, but her body as restored as one could hope for without removing the weapon. It was sloppy, imprecise, and ugly, but it was enough.

    "No!" The attacker shouted. "NO!!!" With a burst of power that exceeded what Elruin had granted Calenda, he began assailing his opponent until a minor mistake left Cali missing a forearm, and her guisarme on the ground in two pieces.

    Ketak moved to intercept, but she was not an agile fighter the way Calenda and this attacker were, so she found herself watching in horror as Clackybones rammed into the man in order to shield Elruin from harm.

    Lemia turned her attention away from healing in order to generate a burst of disruptive magic of her own. One of the few offensive spells an aspectless mage could cast, that of dismantling the structure of another spell. In this case, the numerous enchantment spells which their foe relied upon. It wouldn't hold forever, but for a short time it could render an enemy without magic protection.

    It failed, and Clackybones was bisected.

    "Amplify his spells!" Elruin gasped upon giving the command. She began to work her violin, desperate to eek out what little power she could.

    Lemia hesitated for but a moment before deciding to pray Elruin knew what she was doing. She began a general spell which would improve the power supply available to an enchantment, and by doing so give it a temporary increase in power. Destructive over the long term, but in the short term it could make the difference between life and death.

    Then Elruin changed the nature of the spell, infusing it with her own necromantic power. That spell then changed the enchantments on the assailant, turning them into spells which worked by siphoning necromantic power from the environment instead of more general magic. Power which Elruin was supplying in greater quantities than any normal human could survive.

    He reacted fast, forcing all of his enchantments to deactivate and dissipate before the necromantic power scoured any semblance of life from his body.

    Then he stumbled, swayed, and fell sideways.

    Suggested Listening

    "Four below, he's a boy." Calenda stood over the kid, looking down as sweat ran from his face like rainwater. He was, at most, a year older than Elruin, though with his soft green skin and yellow hair, age was the only thing they had in common. "Sylvanesti, at least half, with the pointed ears."

    "M-my sister. Give her back." He tried to sit, stand, call on any magic he might have left, but all he could do was lay and gasp. He lacked even the strength to use magic to kill himself, so long as Lemia kept maintaining an antimagic effect over him.

    "Sister?" Calenda said. "I've seen three Sylvanesti in my entire life, and that was years ago."

    "Liar. Necromancer. Abomination. Kill. All."

    "Don't get too attached, Sis," Scratch said. "He's seen far too much for us to let him go, we have to kill him."

    "Why?" Elruin looked from her position on the ground. For now, she was stable, if still paralyzed.

    "Yeah, the look in those eyes, that's the look of a fanatic. Betcha money our abomination prey took his sister, and now he's out for revenge. He'll never believe we're not allies, either, mortals can't tell the difference between one army of walking dead and another. Kid's got skills as a mind mage, too, so we can't hold him forever, we can't change his mind, and we sure can't let him go."

    Cali couldn't believe what she was about to say, but she said it anyway. "What about your oathbond magic?"

    "In his condition? Great way to add a resident to the doll house. But maybe you should do it, what with the missing arm and all."

    "N-no." Somehow, the child found strength enough to lift his head off the ground. Then he fell back and began convulsing.

    "What now?" Cali stood back, and moved to place herself between the boy and Elruin.

    "Fairie dust." Lemia recognized the symptoms, there weren't many from the slums who didn't.

    "What?" Elruin kept looking at the boy, whose life energies began to surge to superhuman levels in some areas while dimming to less than the soil beneath them in others, fluctuating back and forth in a chaotic, nonsensical pattern that was sure to kill him.

    "It's a drug," Cali said. "Small amounts give a boost to magical power for a short time, but this kid overdosed himself to fight us."

    "Well, then I retract my statement, we no longer have to do a thing but hide the body. Unless we we still want a new doll."


    =====

    Not quite early like I hoped, but it is a 2500 work chapter to make up for the lack yesterday.

    It is Elruin's fate to suffer as all glass cannon builds suffer. It's a great build when you have a meat shield and/or the element of surprise. Not so much when on the receiving end of the ambush.

    Cali picked up a new spell in the downtime. Several of them, actually, but this one will bring sympathies to the baddie from every seasonal allergy sufferer. Pollen dense enough to block sight... ouch...

    Fairy Dust will be a narcotic that can be acquired in the game. It's description shall read "The dealer insists it does not contain the powdered remains of actual fairies. But it is still illegal."

    I like this chapter. And it'll be one of the interesting vote choices made by players. Do they try to save or kill this kid? Once again, a path where any number of outcomes are valid, but have specific consequences.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2019
  7. Valor

    Valor Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2015
    Messages:
    1,773
    Likes Received:
    18,103
    Naice chapter. I was starting to worry when Elruin dropped and Calinda lost an arm, but it seems to be turning out alright. The moral dilemma on the other hand, lel. Must be annoying for Scratch to deal with the inexperienced kids on that front.
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  8. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    I create the best typos. At least this one sort of makes sense?
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 67- Consequences
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    A quick forward: please be nice and give upvotes to today's music selection. The guy who made them is somehow even more obscure as I am, and I want give him a bit of a boost. No, he didn't ask me to, offer payment, or anything of that nature.

    Suggested Listening

    "Cali, you're hurt." Elruin's concern over the boy was a matter of curiosity over the strange magical distortions going on, which she now had an answer to. If he died, then it was his fault for hurting her and her sister. "I'm hurt, too. And Mister Clackybones."

    Calenda sighed, and with one last glance at this stupid kid trying to save his sister from the wrong foe, then went to help her own sister. She knelt down, and examined how the bolt entered her. It wasn't deep, but there was no way she could push in through the center torso mass without hitting something important, and risking Elruin's death in the process. Which made this a great deal more complicated.

    "Okay, I'm going to need you to hold very still and be a brave girl." She gripped the shaft, then with a burst of power snapped it off with about an inch sticking out of Elruin's armor. The necromantic energies revitalized her own wounded body in the process.

    "Okay, now help me roll you over so you're laying on my lap." Cali planted her knees in the dirt near Elruin, feet spread so she could sit on the ground. It wasn't the most comfortable position, but it would work for her needs. With only one arm, she needed Elruin's help.

    Elruin grunted in pain, but they did manage to get her in position. Now her back was on Cali's lap, with what of the arrow in the gap between Cali's legs. "Like this?"

    "Exactly like that, now this is going to feel strange, but hold still." Cali reached her one remaining hand down to touch the remains of the arrow. With some concentration, she found the fibrous plant origins of the projectile, and changed them with her magic. Working dead plant material was difficult, worse was the metal of the arrowhead.

    She concentrated on her earth magic, and through it the weak power she had over metal. It was enough to alter the arrow's composition to a material more akin to rubber, then to a gel, then to a substance not unlike water in fluidity, but retaining the other properties of wood and steel, including weight. The liquid fell out of the hole in Elruin's back, forming a pool of brown, silver, and crimson..

    "There you are, now all you need is a little time and you'll be fine." It was a good thing they found a regenerative shard that could actually work on the girl, though like all healing magic that it didn't work well when the weapon was still inside the body. "But stay still for now, that was in your spine." She looked over at the dead boy. Whatever his faults, he was quite the marksman. Her next glance was at Clackybones, also rendered lame by the severing of it spine.

    Elruin smiled up at her. "Thank you."

    "Hey, what are sisters for?" Perhaps not the best comparison, given their actual families' actions. "Well, you look healed enough to stand, just take it slow."

    Elruin climbed to her feet, cautious not to move her back any more than she had to until she felt more confident. "My legs feel funny."

    "That's normal, should pass in a few minutes." Cali had dealt with many spinal injuries in her career as a Scout. Sometimes she was known to treat one. "If you feel any pain, tell me. And keep your back straight, I don't want you bending for a few more minutes." Even as she gave those instructions, she made her way to her severed limb and what was left of her guisarme.

    "Oh." Elruin looked down at her violin, then with great care kneeled without allowing her back to bend.

    "Pity, I liked this weapon," she said as she grabbed her arm. With as much spare necromantic energies bled off from her improved gloves, she didn't need Elruin's help reattaching her body part, but finding a good weaponsmith to restore her guisarme was going to be a pain.

    Meanwhile, Elruin began to play for the corpse, to capture glimpse of the history that led him to be here. Flashes of a face, young, innocent, and with eyes of sapphire blue looked back at her amidst a chaotic jumble of anger, pain, and confusion. She stepped back, dropping the violin in the process. "W-what was that?"

    "That, oh Lady Elruin na Cali, was drugs. Even in death, they ruin you." Scratch drifted down from his vantage point above them. "With as much of the stuff as he sucked down, I'm surprised he hasn't melted. He was a tough one."

    "Oh." Elruin picked her instrument up for a second time. "If he's strong, then I can use him." She began to play again, twisting the necromancy in the atmosphere. In addition to doing what little was needed to finish repairing Cali and Mister Clackybones, Elruin let her song pass along and through Scratch, taking just a little of his taint along with that from the other undead, and adding it to the boy's body. She knew not to use her own soul to empower the undead, or it, too, would be infected by the taint, so she took existing taint, like using coals from an old fire to start a new one.

    "Ell? What are you doing?"

    Lemia watched on in horror while the body twitched, his fingers clenched, and he began to sit up. Muscles which had been charged with, then destroyed by, the magical energies in Fairy Dust, were now infused with necromancy and taint.

    Elruin looked at her new minion, who didn't seem any different than the soldier's corpse she had control over. "It's normal."

    Calenda, now holding both halves of her guisarme, approached. "Elruin." She trailed off, unable to find the words she needed.

    Ketak, aloof as she typically was, watched as well. She'd grown accustomed to the use of violent enemies and animals as tools, but to turn what was ultimately a misguided child into a tool did not sit well with her. She clenched her sword, and considered incinerating it as a mercy.

    "What?" Scratch looked at the people who were watching the new 'dolly' climb to its feet. "It's just a corpse, like any other. Even Claron wasn't special once he became a meat puppet. Now, let's get moving. We've got a necromancer to put into a grave and, maybe, drag him back out. Then perhaps do it all over again, they can be tenacious when they wanna be. We've let this brat waste enough of our time, already."

    Suggested Listening

    "Having trouble sleeping?" Cali remained in the tree, looking out across the irregular terrain. Here, where the trees became sparse, was where they would face the most dangerous leg of their journey. The largest beasts did not do well in dense forests, where humans could best exploit their natural agility and small size. In the mountains, and further out the plains.

    "I don't need to sleep, thanks to my sarite." Moments later, she stifled a yawn. "Besides, both of you are still up."

    Ketak grunted. She, too, watched the plains, but dwarven eyesight was weaker than humans. Instead, she devoted herself to hearing the forest around them; a sense humans were notoriously weak with. "Dwar'es are ca'e dwellers, we sleep in naps. Can sleep while walking i' we ha'e to."

    "You expended a great deal of energy today." Calenda kept looking outward, at the desolate foothills. The things out there were tough enough to survive where dragons hunted, and there was precious little for them to eat aside each other. They were the main reason Engewal never tried to expand the empire. "Your sarite's good enough to recover focus faster, or let you skip out on sleep, but not both."

    "I know, I know, I'm just having trouble sleeping."

    "Still thinking about that boy." Calenda couldn't say she was close to Lemia, but the two had worked together with the hospital and other tasks of the 'estate' over the last year and a half, so she was comfortable calling her a friend, and knew her moods.

    Lemia kicked a rock away, which failed to make he feel any better. What she wanted to do was scream, an act which might get them all killed, perhaps that's what she was hoping for. "I can't get him, what's left of him, out of my mind. I've seen more people than I care to count die to drugs, but with them, they were like slow suicides. They died to escape from themselves, it happens, it was their choice. He died for a cause."

    Ketak had seen such a thing many times in the past. Death was never easy, but the first death of an innocent struck people particularly hard. Especially when it was followed by what Elruin did. "He died a warrior, like many children have. It's a war out here, and there's never been a war without casualties on both sides." Perhaps it was her own conscience she was trying to assuage.

    "Then Elruin turns him into an abomination. Uh..." Lemia stopped, realizing what she implied. "Sorry. I think it's because you still act like you, so it's easy to forget you're not alive anymore."

    "Funny," Cali said. "As time goes on, I'm finding it easier to forget I ever was alive. I was as disgusted as you were, but without the heartbeat, or upset stomach, or even the ability to feel like I was going to cry. You ever been so passionately emotional about something that you knew was stupid, but couldn't help but obsess over even though you knew better?"

    "Yes, I have been in love before, and you're still not my type."

    Ketak remained silent. Not because she didn't care, but because had nothing to say. She had realized long ago dwarves didn't have the same emotional behaviors as humans, the idea of a sick stomach was alien to her, but the feelings of a walking corpse must be even more alien.

    "Imagine that, but the opposite. I know I should be upset with what she did, but I can't seem to find the fire to make myself care much. I've even begun to forget what hunger feels like. It's disturbing how comfortable I've become with not being disturbed." Cali kept looking out for threats in spite of the nature of the conversation. Besides, the full moon was beautiful on this comfortable summer night. "Speaking of, you've been spending too much time around Scratch."

    "I think it's Elruin who needs to spend less time around Scratch. I think we can lay most of the blame for this mess on his metaphorical shoulders. What I still can't understand is why he was okay with turning that kid into another of her 'dolls', but he was so opposed to doing the same to you?"

    "I don't know, but I think it's because I was made intelligent," Cali said. "Whatever else, Elruin didn't tamper with the boy's soul. She just borrowed some taint from Scratch's pool, and used that. I'm different, somehow. I was never much of a theologian, and from what I remember, what Elruin did in making me was impossible according to the church."

    "There are no answers in thaumaturgy, either, and I've been looking as hard as I can without crossing into 'ways to get yourself burned alive' territory. You are an impossibility there, too, near as I can tell. All I can confirm is that the act of creating undead by definition creates a permanent taint which is detectable and will ultimately consume the mage who does so. I guess it doesn't count if you're just spreading already existent taint rather than making it yourself, and also not for... whatever it is that you are."

    "I'm still undead." Now Calenda took her eyes off the terrain for a moment. "That boy knew just enough necromancy to slow me down, but it proved I'm as vulnerable to it being used against me as anyone else. An unscrupulous necromancer with the right skills could reach inside and rework my everything, even change my thoughts and beliefs."

    "Do you think that Elruin's done that to you?"

    "No." Cali looked back out at the external threats. "She doesn't have the sophistication to build the lie she'd need to build, and even after I died, I've given advice to her that she would have to have already known if she rewrote my mind. Advice she often ignores, as children do. If she inserted false thoughts into my head, why would they be ones that make me argue with her?"

    "But you're afraid she might, some day."

    "If you had asked that question yesterday, I'd have threatened to punch you, but now... now, I don't know. I thought I knew her better than this."

    Ketak considered now a time to speak. "Perhaps she 'ears she needs to. People do terrible 'ings in 'e name o' war, and we 'ace 'e most terrible enemy, one e'en more horrible 'an 'e goblins." It surprised her to hear herself say it, but goblins only violated and ate the dead, they didn't make them rise as weapons to slaughter their remaining family. "She is a child. Children need teachers."

    "I look back at the things I did at her age and let's just say I'm not proud of them." Lemia tried to see something in the black emptiness of the foothills, but the moon illuminated only small features to her eyes. "Remember what I said about drug overdoses? I sold to most of them, but here I am today, a successful professional Artisan. And I had to turn myself around, while Elruin has us to help her."

    "You're right, she's still young," Cali said. "I'll talk to her in the morning and try to get her to understand that it's not okay to turn innocent people into monsters. Please, promise me, if it turns out we're wrong about her and she changes me, that you will end me. And her."

    "I can't make that promise." Lemia hoped she wouldn't be judged too harshly. "I wouldn't know how to begin to accomplish such a thing. As you are, now, would even Lord Garit and Lady Juna be able to stop the pair of you? At best, I might be able to get Erra to have Lyra hunt you down. Even then, I'd never make it back to Arila from here."

    "I swear, one warrior to ano'er, I will 'ind a way to kill you both," Ketak said. "I' I ha'e to destroy mysel' to do so, 'en she cannot turn me into an abomination alongside you."

    "I understand." Cali closed her eyes, took a breath which achieved nothing. "Well, good thing I'm a Scout. Walking into impossible situations without backup is our duty in life. Why should it be different in death?"

    Meanwhile, undetected by the three women, Scratch observed from the ethereal realm. He had revealed to them his ability to cloak his taint, but had always been careful to remain detectable by other means before today. He learned long before these ladies were born to keep a few secrets. Now he had to decide what to do with this one. What he knew for certain was that Elruin must be kept ignorant of this murder pact. She couldn't be trusted to lie, not to her abomination amongst abominations of an elder sister.

    So he would do as he always did: observe, remember, and wait.

    =====

    That is one thick, juicy, plot.

    Sorry, I had to... You have no idea how goddamn many unintentional innuendos I had to rewrite in the first half of this chapter, and I needed to vent it somewhere. I must have deleted 'shaft' a dozen or so times, 'wood' at least that many, 'head' more than once, and 'thighs' once or twice. Maybe I just have a dirty mind.

    Eh, whatever, when Requiem Machinabridged comes out, the writers will (un)fix it, depending on who you ask.

    I was personally hoping for the 'good' route on this one (Not the stupidly good 'heal him and let him go' pick- by far the most moral option, not so sane- but the 'heal him and keep him captive while trying to talk him out of trying to kill the poor, lovable, but misunderstood necrololi' option). My voters went the complete opposite, skipping over the neutral 'bury the brat' path in favor of the blatantly evil 'interrogate the corpse, then add it to the doll pile' option.

    In an alternate timeline, the team would be talking to the kid and explaining their various reasons to accept Elruin's use of the undead. Now, instead, they must remind themselves of it... same topics, opposite direction.

    But, well, that's the way the game plays out at times. I'm here to write, not block options (save those that are impossible for in-game reasons).

    It just occurred to me- and will definitely be made into more direct themes in the final version- that this story has remarkable parallels to Pinocchio (more the original Collodi story than any of the remakes), only flipped upside down. It's Elruin's humanity in the balance, while she's turning real boys into puppets and risks the same happening to her. I guess this means Scratch is now a cricket. Awesome.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2019
  10. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2015
    Messages:
    222
    Likes Received:
    547
    To quote Wash from Firefly: this is gonna be interesting... *deadpan*.. Oh God oh God we're all going to die
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 68- Optional Superbosses
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Elruin awoke to Cali sitting next to her sleeping bag. The woman put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you feeling okay?"

    She sat up, wondering about the soft tone in Cali's voice. She decided that her back didn't hurt anymore, and the magic in her armor had repaired the leather overnight. "Yes. Is something wrong?"

    "No. A little." Cali looked off in the distance. "I want to talk to you about your new 'dolly'. Why did you turn that kid into a zombie?"

    "Because he shot me and cut off your arm." Elruin remained sitting, but scooted her way out of her bag. "Why?"

    "And it doesn't bother you that he wasn't a bandit?" Cali reached out and put a hand on Elruin's shoulder. "That he was a boy trying to save his sister?"

    Elruin considered the question for a moment. "No. He tried to kill me."

    "And he paid for that mistake with his life," Cali said. "It's sad, but all of us out here understand a single mistake means death. If we hadn't made our peace with that, we'd remain behind the walls. But we don't sign up to be turned into an abomination. Myself excepted, I suppose."

    "But we use my dollies all the time."

    "Never ones you made, yourself." Cali closed her eyes, trying to find a way to explain basic morality to a child whose family abandoned her to die. "Until now, we've been scavenging them, usually ones made by Scratch, or using animals. Turning people into zombies is bad, it's bad, and it hurts your soul."

    "You don't have to worry." Elruin still had trouble following this train of thought, but she thought she got it. "I didn't make it, myself. I used some spare energy from Scratch, so the taint never touched my soul."

    "That's not- there's more to spiritual wellbeing than whether it's been tainted by undeath. Look at Scratch and look at me. Save the lack of a pulse, the two of us are nothing alike."

    "Right, because your soul was insulated and preserved in whole form," Elruin said. "It never had a chance to be eroded and tainted."

    Cali sighed, then tried a different approach. "What if you swapped placed with the boy? If it was you who was trying to save me. It could happen, we know i'm vulnerable to necromancers, and we're about to face a style of magic none of us have ever seen before. By the end of this there's a chance that some of us, or all of us, will be enslaved by that necromancer. How does that make you feel?"

    Elruin's eyes narrowed. "I won't let that happen." The idea that someone might take Cali from her brought out the emotions which other approaches had failed.

    "I've said that many times about many things," Cali said. "I was right most of the time, but not always. We don't know that we're strong enough to stop this monster, and you've seen his victims, their memories, and the horrors they went through."

    Elruin fought back a shudder, thinking back on the people being carved apart by that composite undead monster constructed using magics she had never seen before and had little idea how to explain. "Right. He's bad and we're going to stop him."

    "How can you call him bad, while doing what is effectively the same exact thing to that boy? Killing people in self defense is one thing, but using their remains as weapons against your enemies? That's exactly the reason we're hunting him down."

    Elruin's stomach hitched, as she realized she didn't have a strong argument. Other than that the other necromancer was more skilled at the process, there wasn't much difference she could name other than the argument she'd repeating. "But he attacked first."

    "Which, again, is reason enough for his death," Cali said. "Not for what came after. Now, please, exorcise him so we can give him a proper funeral. And from now on, try not to make any more monsters, because I'm starting to think there's something more subtle than taint in play. Dodging side effects by spreading instead of creating is too obvious a solution, yet no necromancer has been known to walk away unscathed from what you did yesterday. Speaking as one of those abominations, and as your big sister."

    "Okay." Elruin still wasn't certain about Cali's argument, but something about making the dolly had upset her. Not unlike the first Mister Clackybones had. As she picked up Mister Squishybones, she decided that it didn't take too long before Cali was okay with her other dollies, so she could wait for now. It wasn't that good a dolly to begin with.

    Soon, they all stood around the funeral pyre of the boy whose name they hadn't known.

    "And may the fate which lay beyond be more merciful upon him than this world." Calenda finished the eulogy. "He will be remembered."

    "He will be remembered." Elruin said her part, but wondered who it was that would remember him. His sister was either dead, or had been converted into a weapon and soon would die by magic they had no means to reverse.

    Now that their path took them into the open, it soon became clear that they had far, far more immediate problems to worry about. Elruin's squirrels, lacking trees, found perches on her shoulders while she was forced to abandon Clackybones and her dollies in the distance, so that she wouldn't be identified for a different abomination necromancer and attacked on sight again.

    They still followed a series of deep valleys, relying upon Calenda's botanical magic to help them track a safe path through a wilderness where monsters feared to tread. In her head, Elruin bemoaned the fact that she couldn't move openly, for she felt confident Mister Clackybones could still outrun the monsters which resided here.

    In the distance roamed things which Elruin had read of in books, yet never given much thought. She had imagined that buffalo were little more than giant cows, yet the alert wild animals which wandered the distant plains bore little resemblance to the docile bovines she grew up with. They moved like an army, with their large males on the edge of the troupe, ready to defend the females and young with their massive curved horns and thick battle-scarred hide. As they grazed, their pack of hundreds moved as if a single animal, serving to frighten off the countless predators.

    Suggested Listening

    "Down!" Cali hissed, then dived toward them. "It's a dragon!"

    They dropped into the narrow, muddy, stream bed, not daring to move as they prayed the beast could not hear their hammering hearts. They felt it approach overhead long before they heard it, a storm of ancient, concentrated magic. This one passed overhead, its body the size of Arila's church, each of its six long, broad wings wide enough to block out the light of the sun, each made of flame so hot it burned blue.

    Elruin stared at the hardened, absolute, nature of its life force. Most living things were in their own way like waves in a lake, with energy dancing back and forth where needed or where depleted, an adaptive and ever-changing balance of energies. This dragon's metaphorical lake was frozen in the form of ice as strong as steel.

    It twisted and plummeted to the ground at speeds that felt far too fast for a thing so massive, then at the last moment righted itself, kicking air out beneath it in a clap of thunder that kicked boulders off the ground and uprooted one of the rare few trees existed in the decimated landscape. If any of them had been able to hear after the eardrum shattering explosion of air, they would have heard the dismayed angry grunting of the bison herd, struggling to reorient themselves after the attack.

    With exception to Cali, they were all too busy gripping their heads in agony to notice, or watch the dragon came away with one eight-ton bison in each of its ten powerful talons. The dragon, too, paid a price for its meal, as the muscular animals bucked their heads backwards and embedded their dagger-sharp horns into the thick hide of the dragon.

    It shook them, until death caused them to stop them from inflicting countless tiny wounds upon the giant predator. Then it turned and flew off toward the deeper part of the mountains, toward its home where it would eat and hibernate until hunger once again drove it out into the world to kill again.

    "Entek!" Calenda muttered, being the first to recover from the shockwave and pain. The others, thanks to regenerative magic, were beginning to get their hearing back when the creature had become not but a bright blue star shining in the noon sky.

    Lemia got her breathing under control, then rubbed her ears to drain the blood from them. "That was a dragon? I thought you said dragons were about as strong as Lyra, not... that thing was like a god!"

    "Some dragons are stronger than others." Cali kept her head just above their trench, looking in all directions at the predators and prey alike as they recovered from the disruption to their usual schedule. "Legend has it they can live forever, and never stop growing in power, but there can't be many as powerful as that one out in the world."

    "So, does that make us lucky or unlucky?" Ketak rubbed her head, still trying to shake off the experience. At times, the superior silmid hearing was more curse than blessing.

    "If we had time and were equipped for it, I'd have said lucky." Calenda considered cursing again. "It got cut up by those buffalo, which means blood. If we could get it back to Arila fresh."

    Meanwhile, Elruin was busy cooing soft nothings to her furry monster squirrels, who had been as upset at the humans but lacked the intellectual wherewithal to rationalize and speak of their fears. Instead, they hid in Elruin's arms, seeking comfort in the necromancer and her energies which sustained and healed them.

    "Even a vial of normal dragon blood is worth a small fortune." Lemia still rubbed her ears, and had started using magic to draw together some water from the air so that she could clean herself better. "We could have been rich."

    "I can track it," Elruin said. The fragments of dragon-energy radiated from the ground like stars of their own, distorting the area with strange magics. Even these small drops were second only to such beings as Lyra, and the magic powering Shelter's peace aura.

    "No, it's better that we don't." Calenda, too, felt the distorted magic, but she understood its consequences better than Elruin, because she had seen how such distortions worked. "Dragon blood is one of the components in making warped sarite. Unless you have the right protection, it can turn you into an insane monster, or any sort of other unpredictable events. Or you'll explode, that's possible. And that's normal dragons, not the sort of monster that eats other dragons."

    Those humans in the group could see, even at a distance, as those plants and animals unlucky enough to be close to the splatters of blood began to warp and mutate. Insects grew to sizes which could rival the bison, only to die moments later as vines wrapped around them, strangled them to death, and used their corpses as fertilizer. This was warning enough that they lacked the ability to work with such a dangerous substance.

    "Come on, after that, the predators will be spooked and afraid. We might even make it to Seyid before nightfall. Then we can consider ourselves lucky."

    =====

    My current voters are doing their best to turn Elruin into a sociopath (psychopath? Eh, an absolute monster, doesn't matter what the doctors would call it). Which is fine and dandy, the story is more than equipped to handle that outcome. Such is the joy of having a 'neurologically atypical' main character.

    Sometimes, I like reminding my characters that there are things above them on the food chain. And there are things above those things on the food chain. And then there's gods. Some of which are optional superbosses.

    Fun fact, the American Buffalo isn't actually a buffalo. It's a bison. Go figure. I'm also aware that real world buffalo don't get nearly the size of the things in this chapter. If that is your complaint in a world where something the size a small cathedral can fly, swoop the ground with enough speed and power to create sonic booms, and then right itself without exploding into something resembling undercooked pasta, then I don't know what to tell you. Physics as we know them are about sixteen widdershins toward blue, buddy.

    Dragons, like many reptiles, are cannibalistic. Part of what keeps their population down. It's not like they have any other natural predators.
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 69- Secrets
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Scratch allowed himself to drift away from the group, knowing full well what would soon come. He was surprised only that Elruin found him sooner than expected, and asked him outright.

    "What happened to the other necromancers you've been with?"

    He understood the girl was about as subtle as a god razing a city to the ground, but had expected the question to be lead up to, rather than the first words from her mouth. "Oh, they died. Welcome to mortality, there is only one way out."

    "How did they die?" Elruin crossed her arms, acting as she thought a mother should act when chiding a child. "What happened to them before their deaths?"

    Scratch wondered for a moment if someone else might find what she was doing to be endearing, or perhaps annoying, but he had little emotion aside his goals, and the willingness to sacrifice everything for them, including mortality. "Mostly violence, defiant to the very end. A handful locked themselves in libraries which would later become their tombs." He paused for a moment, having realized that these questions were her leadup, and finished with the answer which was the real question. "And a few took a walk on my side of the great divide. They, more than any of the others, were fools. No sane living thing wants to be what we are."

    Now the spark of scholar's curiosity lit in Elruin's eyes. Here she could pursue her concerns without realizing what those concerns were. "What are you?"

    "I keep telling you, I'm neither theologian nor thaumaturge." Scratch drifted along, just out of arm's reach of the necromancer. Though he acted like he was lounging in the air, he remained alert with senses not limited by physical organs.

    In the context of the conversation and their language, it was clear what they were speaking of. "I once told Cali I thought undead were made from resentment, hatred and jealousy of live, that undead aren't truly negation, because negation brings the end of emotion, while the undead have lots of emotion, all of it bad. Now, I'm not sure."

    "I'd say that's not far off, in a scholarly sort of way." Scratch said many times he was no scholar, but scholars fell short as well. How could one describe the hateful, cruel impulses that were so strong that even the combined forces of Life and Death rejected you? Humans had difficulty enough describing love, an emotion oft touted as hate's opposing equal, yet love was too weak to survive long amongst the dead, while hatred could power an abomination forever.

    Elruin walked along in silence, thinking her own thoughts until it became clear Scratch wasn't going to continue on his own. "What do you think the undead are?"

    "If I was forced to hazard a guess?" Scratch spoke just to buy time. Elruin was not going to drop the topic, which meant he needed a way to give her answers that didn't give her real answers. It was far too soon for her to know the actual truth. Then he switch to the language of death, unwilling to allow the living to hear what he was about to say. "I think we're like the void holes. Whether by accident or intent, we're wounds in the universe. Neither life nor death, nor any other traditional concept."

    Elruin considered his words, but wasn't satisfied. Theory was fine, but it wasn't getting her to the answer she needed. "Cali says you're dangerous, and it's bad for my soul. You said you've worked with lots of necromancers who used the undead. What happened to their souls?" She, too, switched to the language of the dead, trusting Scratch's judgment.

    "Once again, I don't know. I don't know what a soul is, or what it does, or if it exists." Scratch turned to face away from Elruin, or at least shifted his imprint of a presence in the living world to make it appear as such. "All I remember of death is a force ripping me apart while I fought to hold myself together. Memories and thoughts and feelings destroyed until only that small fragment of self that could not be consumed, the part which consumed instead, remained. If those are your soul, then I don't think there's anything beyond. No justice, no judgment, no arbiter of morality, what happens to the flame when a candle is blown out?"

    "Cali didn't mention anything like that."

    "She didn't experience it. You prevented the forces of death from ripping her soul, if you want to call it that, apart in the first place. She didn't have to fight for her existence, she didn't earn it." Scratch stopped, surprised at his own emotion. It had been a long time since he lost that much control, and as this conversation progressed the chances grew that it would happen again, perhaps to cataclysmic results.

    "I get what you're asking." He chose to cut his losses and hope that the closest thing he was willing to say to the truth was enough. "Did any of my past partners wind up tainted? Yes, I'd say a full third of them, most by choice and plenty by accident. And most of those who didn't died too soon. We are dangerous tools, same as the void and the things inside it. You should be careful with us, no doubt. That includes your dear big sister, whose only hold on sanity and that soul she so values comes from your protection. Can you shield yourself like you shield her?"

    Elruin considered the question, but her magic wasn't good for looking inward. "I don't know."

    "Then neither do I." Scratch drifted into the sky, and faded from sight. The conversation was over, but his next victim was going to suffer unspeakable agony to make him feel better.

    Suggested Listening

    There was little time to speak during the hard trek across the rough land. If not for healing and resilience granted to them by magic, Elruin and Lemia might have died to the brutal pace Cali and Ketak set for them. By the time they rounded the hills to get their first look at a Seyid city, Lemia was beyond caring and even Elruin's supernatural toughness was reaching its limits.

    The first thing which struck Elruin's eyes was the most obvious. "There's no wall?" Never before had she imagined such a thing as a city without walls. "Why don't they have walls?"

    "Out here, walls are useless." Calenda spoke down to her from a position along a narrow ledge of rock that allowed her to look over the hill at the threats of the plains. "Even the buffalo could knock down a wall, and they're amongst the least dangerous things you'll find here. The plainsmen survive by building bunkers and tunnels. The big plains monsters are easy to spot from a distance. They spread out their shielding sarite to hide much larger territories, then run for the tunnels if anything wanders closer. Now, Ell, I need you to get out of your armor."

    "Why?" Elruin looked down at her outfit, right at Decima clinging to her upper leg. Glowing red eyes blinked at her, before the creature felt shy and ran around to her back.

    "Because that runebone necromancer's been collecting from this region long enough that at least one of them came out looking for revenge, and it's going to be hard enough to get them to trust us as is. Best case, they suspect us and say nothing. Worst case, a truthsayer asks if you've ever made any undead. Believe me, you do not want a fight with the plainsmen. They're hard enough to work with when they're on your side."

    Elruin had started undressing as Calenda spoke, much to the annoyance of her three furry pets. While the nature of undeath and magic was a murky topic, she trusted her sister's judgment when it came to dealing with people. "What do we tell them?"

    "Most of us tell the truth; a priestess, a scholar, and a forge mage sent from Arila to find the necromancer that attacked us. Ell, you're a farmgirl I found along the way and had to take with us, because we couldn't turn back. Just try to keep the pet squirrels from causing any trouble. We'll tell them the things are a weird magic breed that can sniff out necromancy."

    "Let me tell 'em about 'e rats." Ketak gave the beasts a glance. "E'eryone knows silmid are masters o' magical animals. A sellsword dwar' wi' pets to track down abominations won't raise suspicions."

    Lemia smirked at the suggestion, while helping Elruin undress from her armor. "Isn't all of this a little too on the nose?"

    "As close as we can get, protects us from Truthsayers later." Cali scaled further up the hill, to make certain there weren't any nearby surprises. "Once they get to know us at least a little, we can talk to their leadership about our concerns. I'm just trying to keep us from being lynched on the outskirts."

    "Jeez, they sound like wonderful people," Lemia muttered. "At this rate I'm wondering why we're bothering to help them."

    "Truth, they're not that bad, once they get to know you. They just don't like strangers, especially ones who act like they think they're better than them. Speaking of, Ell, is there anything about my body that makes it so I can't eat?"

    Elruin, now removing the last part of her armor, considered her answer. "No, I don't think so. But it might be hard to get it out after."

    "Then I'm going to smell like a terrible drunk until we figure out a way. These people love their alcohol, and breaking bread is the surest way to make friends in their society. Especially if you bought the bread off them." Cali jumped down from her spot. "We're clear for the minute, now let's book it. Scratch... know what, you probably could sneak into the city, but if you do, don't come anywhere near us."

    "I'll stay out here, thanks." It felt good to lie, and he needed any excuse to take the edge off. "Wouldn't want to end up being some weirdo's puppet. I'll stay out here and see if I can find a cute new doll for Elruin when she comes back. Don't expect a dragon, but I think one of those buffalo would look nice with a tent on its back, don't you?"

    "Yeah." Lemia gave a dry chuckle. "Nice enough for a dragon to spot from miles away and eat while we're still on it."

    "You bring up a good point. In fact, you bring up a lot of good points, most of them teeth." Scratch drifted out of their hiding place. "Well, you kids have fun, I'll see if I can't find something worthwhile out here."

    "Just don't do something stupid and insane like sending an abomination into the city to stir things up and give Elruin a chance to show off, or I will kill you with my bare hands." Cali glared at the ghost, willing him to understand that she could and would make good on the threat if she had to.

    "Don't worry, I ain't some amateur. That stunt only works if you're already in a position of trust and you want to strengthen it." Scratch faded from sight, then began to snake through the ethereal pathways toward the city. By the time the others arrived, he'd already know where the mystery necromancer was hiding, how he operated, and every secret worth knowing.

    Then he'd do as he always did.

    =====

    I'm genuinely shocked by the number of readers who forgot the prior conversations this story has presented about the nature of the undead and how it applies to the Midara setting (like how their very existence is in and of itself a violation of the natural and magical order). Eh, I guess while there's been a pretty big look at the topic in both Ch1 and Ch2, Scratch wasn't saying much if anything... so here's a look at it from the inside...
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
  13. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2017
    Messages:
    61
    Likes Received:
    113
    It feels like there's something missing here? Calenda talks about lack of walls, Elruin asks "Why?", and then Calenda seems to answer a question that has little to do with walls.
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  14. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Yeah, that's me being a dumb this time.
     
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 70- Coral Village
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    "The necromancer's been here." Elruin drew her conclusion before they got in shouting range of the small Seyid town on the outskirts of Engeval's empire. Her bleak sight could spot the torn tapestry of life energy that came from the most blatant use of necromancy in combat, so long as the usage was fresh. All higher power spellcasting left such marks, but each was distinct and Elruin was especially sensitive to necromantic power.

    Lemia asked the obvious question. "The necromancer, or any necromancer of sufficient strength?"

    "The necromancer." The subtle but lingering hum of undeath clung to the area, singing of old death and impending sickness. "The whole city is covered in a small amount of taint."

    "Sounds expensive." Ketak marched ahead, playing the role of the soldier she'd have to convince those of Seyid she was. "He can't ha'e done 'at wi'out a reason, got any ideas what he's playing at?"

    "Terror tactics." Calenda considered what she would use such a field for, from the perspective of the undead. "First, if it's light, they gotta have exorcists who could cleanse it, but they're not. Were they killed? Does an attempted cleansing set off more surprise bombs? Second, even light taint should make it all but impossible to find actual undead via magic. Third, people have got to know it's there, and I can only imagine the effect that's having on the population."

    Before they made it to city proper, the terrain began to shift around them. Spears of rigid purple and blue stone sprung from the ground, surrounding and trapping them behind beautiful but jagged walls. Elruin's eyes widened, because the stone was alive, a construct of living bone that looked like rock. She was a moment from hitting the wall with all her power, fearing they were the teeth of some strange underground dragon.

    "State your business, outsiders!" Neither Elruin nor Lemia recognized the words, but Calenda and Ketak recognized the language of the Silvanesti.

    "How much Sylvanesti do you know?" Cali put a hand over Elruin's mouth, to prevent the child from mentioning anything about the strangeness of the magical trap they were in, and thus accidentally revealing the wrong secret. "Because I only know enough to tell them I'm a priestess and basic ranks." Once, that was all she needed, but without a sigil of her Scout status, she had no authority to leverage.

    "My apologies! We am Dwarf. Know little Silv." Ketak tried her best, which she had to admit was terrible, but it was better than Cali could do.

    "Noble Stone-Sister, what brings you to this city of Klent?" Another voice, this one speaking silmid better than most in Sonhome could. She also managed to identify the sex of Ketak, which wasn't easy even amongst the silmid.

    "My pardon, noble Leaf-Sister." Ketak slipped into the comfort of talking to one of her own in their native language, rather than the human tongue which had many sounds their mouths weren't equipped to make. "We visit in search of the maker of abominations."

    "To what end?"

    "That we might kill it, on request from the humans of Engeval." The year with Scratch aiding her in the slaughter of every goblin near Sonhome was the greatest compensation she could ever have asked for. Never before had she seen such beautiful slaughter. "Abominations have attacked as deep as Arila and Engewal, with here being the possible source. We see now the speculation was true."

    "Then you have taken arms as a mercenary?"

    "Never!" Ketak shouted, for it was amongst the greatest shame to be a killer for money, worse than any but traitors and those who exploit children. "I follow the Oath of the Flame, and work tirelessly to that end. However, it is human custom to pay those that kill in their name, and I see no reason not to gratefully accept all donations that go to the cause, even by those that believe it mandatory."

    "Then we have much need of your sacred duties, Stone-Sister." If the silmid speaking had any doubts about Ketak's claims, she had no reason to voice them. If she had taken the Oath of the Flame, then it was a religious responsibility to allow her to act, within reason. If she was a mercenary from the human nobility, then it was still at the command of a ruling authority.

    "Leaf-Sister, do you mind if we speak the human tongue? My companions are less familiar with the first-furs than we are with them."

    "Yes, o' course, I wouldn't want to make our guests 'eel ignored." The silmid changed her tone, and slower speech for less comfortable syllables. "Yet I 'ear the city might not welcome your aid."

    "We expected as much." Ketak switched to speaking human as well. "Howe'er, 'e longer 'ose in charge delay us, 'e more die to 'e necromancer's strange magics, including what 'e Arilans are calling bone runes. We bring a scholar to aid in teaching you 'eir defenses against such magics."

    The walls of colorful jagged stone shifted and sank into the soil, where it returned to appearing no more than part of the environs even to Elruin's sight, while several soldiers waited for them outside. Two looked much like Lemia; people of dark brown skin, hair and eyes, though both were male. Another, the only woman, had the same soft blue tones of the boy whose zombie she had been forced to dispose of that morning, and one was a silmid of red-orange fur, with a white muzzle.

    The silmid came forward, with the blue colored woman right behind her. "My apologies, but we must test you be'ore we allow you into 'e city. Rys will use a simple spell, it won't harm you, but it will re'eal i' you're one o' 'e necromancer's pawns."

    The woman, Rys, held up a large, bright pink sarite crystal. With a flash of energy, the group felt a tingle of energy that almost tickled, save for Cali who thanked her lucky stars that her body no longer had reflexes to scream or flinch away from pain. She remained standing, only because it was no different than collapsing in her current state of unlife.

    Meanwhile, three very angry squirrels hissed at the spell. "Shh, shh, it's fine." Elruin did her best to calm them down by petting them and holding her hands out as if to feed them, though she couldn't under the current circumstances.

    Lemia stepped forward, choosing to be confrontational while her friends recovered from the experience. "You lied to us."

    "No, 'e spell is harmless."

    "For normal people, sure, but if any of us had runebones, that spell would have set them off." Lemia considered the residue of the magic, and how it might respond once it made contact with bloodmold. "Then it... saps taint in order to manipulate blood by separating salt from water? I guess that's one way to cure bloodmold. I bet it does a lot of damage to the undead, too. But it's still a killing spell."

    The silmid closed her eyes, for them a sign of shame. "It is our best line o' protection. Li'es lost are a tragedy, but a greater tragedy is 'e li'es lost i' 'ey are allowed to continue on at 'e abomination's whims. Do you ha'e a better way?"

    Now it was Lemia's turn to feel apologetic. "Uh, we're still working on it."

    "Enou' o' 'at." Ketak stepped in. "Recriminations won't help anyone. We are here to 'ix 'e problem 'e best way, by bringing justice to 'e abomination and guarantee 'is ne'er happens again. Sooner we get started, 'e fewer ha'e to die."

    "You're right." Lemia bowed in apology to the silmid. "It has been a stressful trip, and I fear our job has only just begun. Can you please recommend a good inn for us to set up for the night?"

    "Yes, 'e silver spire, it's straight 'ataway." She pointed toward the southeast.

    It hurt Cali to walk, but she wasn't like normal undead, and understood how to push her body beyond what the typical abomination could. She'd dealt with far, far worse pain in her life. Besides, the soft taint in the atmosphere was able to restore her body as she moved. Soon, it only felt like she walking on two broken feet, rather than breaking every bone in her legs with each step.

    Suggested Listening

    "You know, I thought she was giving us the name of the inn." Lemia looked up at tower of silver colored stone. It was both majestic and natural, like it had been carved by water rather than the work of hands or even magic. "It's beautiful work, and the magic is so intricate, like it's being powered from within."

    "Their buildings are alive," Elruin said. Now that they were further along, she'd gotten a look at the rigid buildings of the city. She wanted to help Cali, but she had to be good and hide her magic. She comforted herself by noting that Cali's presence was enough to soak up the fragments of taint, so she didn't have to cleanse it outright.

    "It's called coral," Cali said. "It's a plant that grows in the ocean, and there's plenty of sylvanesti water mages in Seyid who use it to shape buildings similar to how the silmid shape trees. Still trying to figure out how at Rys woman controlled it using blood magic, if you've got any thoughts on that."

    "It's not a plant." Now that Elruin was close to the inn and had time to look, she was certain of it. "It's an animal. Or a bunch of animals, like ants, but they make their hive out of their own exoskeleton. It's like living bone..."

    They all stopped as they came to the same realization at the same time.

    "Good thing I wasn't planning to sleep tonight, anyway," Lemia said.

    =====

    This scene would have been significantly different if Ketak wasn't part of the team. And there are plenty of paths where she won't be, with only a few where Seyid territories aren't explored at this point.

    I really think that music transition is going to be amazing when done in the game as they realize just what an unscrupulous necromancer might be able to do with a city like this one.

    That said... you now get to meet a third unique culture with its own ways of doing things. Because oceanic living has different problems which require different solutions, and then turns those solutions into weapons- like using a desalination spell on blood. It's a universal truth of humanity. If it exists, we will find a way to kill something with it.
     
  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 71- Ugly Little Lies
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Ketak eyed the shore as she approached the temple. Its colorful spires against the night sky was perhaps the most beautiful merger of nature and engineering she had ever witnessed outside of Liselm. That beauty loomed overhead, made threatening by the knowledge that this monument might become their tomb and indeed murderer.

    Beside her, Xyka did her best to not upset the ebon squirrel that now sat upon her head. The silmid woman had seen stranger things than necromancy-seeking rodents in her life, but not often.

    It sniffed the air in front of the temple, and required all of a heartbeat to decide it didn't like this strange new location, and without Elruin it jumped away and went straight into a nearby bush.

    "What does that mean?" Xyka asked in the silmid language.

    "She doesn't like the temple. I presume this is where you keep most of your healers?" As was true of Arila and Sonhome, the talented healing mages were locked away in the center of the city, close to the wealthy and far from the threat of violence.

    "Yes." Xyka refused to look away from the glowing red eyes that stared at her in the darkness. As bizarre as thaumic breeding was, she never before encountered herbivores that looked at her the way predators looked at their prey. Weeks ago, she would have considered them the most unnerving creatures she had ever witnessed. Now she knew there were worse things in the night. "We lost several of our finest during the confusion of the first few days, and now the rest are cloistered away."

    "May they be remembered." Ketak resisted the urge to call the survivors cowards. She didn't know their stories or the burdens they bore. "But please, I need to speak to them. This place appears to be in less danger than we originally feared, but we must convince them that there is no choice but to begin purging the necromancer's influence."

    "If the necromancer's left this region alone, I'm afraid it might be difficult to convince them to act, but I believe I can convince them to hear your words." Any excuse to get away from the squirrels which would remain forever in her nightmares was a welcome one. "I pray you're prepared.

    Ketak took a slow breath, and considered her approach. Were she too forceful, the clergy might take offense and reject her, but if she didn't make clear how dangerous the situation was, she might be condemning what remained of the city's holy orders to the most gruesome of possible deaths. If only Calenda could be here. She was the one who knew how priests, or for that matter humans, thought.

    She had to hope things were going better with the others.

    Suggested Listening

    Calenda hesitated at the edge of the cemetery designed much the same as their own in Arila with a series of rune magic structures that were intended to block taint while doing more complex work. Such practices were a necessity of survival, not cultural preference.

    It was also clear from the onset that the system was nonfunctional. The visible runes were cracked and split, no doubt victims of the same attack which had been used on Arila, followed by an inability to control the border and prevent other corpses from being turned into weapons. As such, the area was busy with mages working to cleanse the area with the wards down.

    Two armed soldiers, both men, stepped forward with their spears pointed at Calenda. "State your purpose."

    Cali bristled at the commands these men issued. Did they have no respect for social propriety? "I am a priestess of Ecros, here on the authority of Engewal to track the necromancer responsible for the attacks on this city and others across the empire."

    The guards didn't relax or glance at one another. "You have no authority here, foreigner."

    Cali once again found herself at odds with her unliving nature serving to keep her less emotional than she knew she should be. "I wasn't aware Seyid declared independence in the last two weeks."

    "We should be so lucky," the one who hadn't been talking muttered.

    "We may be part of the empire, but that does not mean we answer to you. Unless Enge Himself has ordained you the new queen, you and your lieges can both go back where you came from and stay there."

    "At the expense of allowing innocent people, even perhaps your entire city, to die?" Not for the first time in her life, Cali considered taking their spears and planting them firmly in their sphincters. Like always, she restrained herself and soaked in disappointment.

    "You may not have heard, but it's too late to save the ones in here."

    "You may not have heard, but that's not an obstacle to a skilled abomination necromancer." Perhaps she could crack their skulls against the ground for a few minutes, nothing important would be damaged. Then she saw a black blur move past her vision and rush into the confines of the cemetery. "Mort! Return!"

    The hellsquirrel ignored commands and shot right past the guards, leaving behind an aura of confusion and uncertainty which could manifest itself in any number of ways, but almost guaranteed they'd forget they saw him in the first place.

    Shouts of surprise soon began within the cemetery as the various mages tried to deal with the bizarre, agile animal that fed upon their necromancy.

    "Merat ne!" One guard ran into the cemetery to figure out what was going on, while the other remained facing her, more agitated than ever.

    Cali crossed her arms as she watched the man who wasn't a threat to her even when he had backup. "So, instead of accepting my help, you'd rather wait out here while horrible monsters might be murdering the people you're supposed to be here to protect?"

    He hesitated, listening to the screams of panic and fear. One particularly shrill shriek made his mind up for him. "If you cause any trouble at all, I will make certain you hang to death!" He turned and ran into the cemetery as well.

    Calenda gave him a respectable head start before she ran past him like he was standing still, acting the part of a warrior expecting to find a fight. To her surprise, she did find a fight. Two dessicated corpses had started to move, and as they did Cali felt the tug of their energies. They were consuming absurd amounts of necromantic energy from the air, more than a human body should be able to withstand.

    Cali struck hard and fast, landing a bone-shattering flying kick into the closer of the two zombies. An act which the zombie didn't seem to so much as notice. She stepped back, uncertain of herself. "How?" She could have accepted that it wasn't destroyed, even that it remained standing, but to take a blow such as that without so much as budging an inch, was unbelievable.

    It seemed she wasn't the only one unable to understand, as the local exorcists unleashed spell after spell, any one of which would have left Calenda crippled if not destroyed, upon the undead to no effect. While in the midst of the necromantic firestorm, a fuzzy rodent basked in the energies and shielded Cali like the good boy that it was trained to be.

    The zombies began to move, going straight for the necromancers while passing her by. Useful, knowing that they didn't seem to realize she was there, but dangerous if anyone began to wonder why she was ignored. She hoped the others were having a better night than she was.

    Suggested Listening

    Lemia kept close to the younger girl, doing her best to appear to be her mother or older sister. "Don't try so hard to hide, you don't want to attract attention as an easy victim any more than you do as an outsider."

    Elruin wanted to ask how she could both look like she wasn't dangerous and look like she wasn't weak at the same time, but she lifted her head a little in the hopes that would be enough. It seemed like everyone had a different way of doing things, and not a single person ever showed her what they were.

    "This is where the necromancer is taking his victims," Elruin said. The air all but screamed the song of undeath, a song muted, distorted, and echoed by the coral buildings. Magic warped much as canyon walls warped sound.

    "I know." Lemia didn't need Elruin's absurd sensory abilities to draw the same conclusion; she only had to look at this part of the city.

    The poor district in Klent was, in many ways, the opposite of the one in Arila. Instead of small shacks strewn about like debris after a storm, these impoverished people lived in massive and well-organized coral boxes, stacked atop one another like colorful bricks. In a city like Arila, people might have thought these large, sturdy buildings were a sign of wealth and power, but one look at the residents' faces would disabuse them of the notion.

    People here were alert, watching one another and the strangers in their midst, asking the universal question of the slums: who are my allies, who are the threats, and who are the victims? Outsiders, by definition, could not be allies; anonymity made them both the quintessential victim and threat. Yet not a single local thug approached to cause them trouble or drive them out of 'their' territory, not a single member of the well-meaning community warned them away. These were a people who had given up, they were all victims of a far more dangerous power.

    Elruin looked around, as alert to the mystical elements at play as she was oblivious to the human. "That way." She looked in the direction she was certain contained some fragment of undeath, but heeded Lemia's reminders not to point or show any obvious body language.

    Lemia's heart jumped in her chest, wondering what to do. They were as protected as anyone could hope to be, but the idea of confronting a necromancer with the skill and brutality this one had shown brought her back to the frightened little girl she thought she'd outgrown long ago. "Perhaps we should go get the others, first?"

    "No." Elruin's eyes somehow shined darker than the night's sky. "It's here. I can hear it, it's making another weapon."

    "Three above." Lemia forced herself to breathe. "Lead the way."

    Elruin set Decima down. "Hunt!" Then ran after, following her own path rather than relying upon the squirrel to lead her. As strong as the animals' instincts were, they were not as sharpened as Elruin's ability to trace magic. Decima was helping, however, by absorbing some of the ambient necromancy which allowed the abominations to hide in the city.

    The streets became more narrow, as they pursued the source of growing necromantic power in the dark, changing from rigid right angles to a series of labyrinthine curves and dead ends that grew ever closer to resembling the oceanic environs which coral formed in nature. Even in the day, these streets would remain dark. Even without a monster, these streets would reek of blood and offal.

    Then they saw it. Standing over six feet tall, it was a mass of bodies twisted together as if made of wet clay rather than living tissue. Sinew and tendons draped from countless that moved in spite of not being connected to anything.

    At its feet, a man, a woman, and two young children sat smiling, naked save for the blood which coated them. All had serene smiles on their faces, while watching the man hold open his own thigh muscles as four rotting arms shoved a rune-marked femur into the bloody mess of his leg. Then, somehow, it cast a healing spell on the flesh, forcing it to stitch back together without sign of the original wound.

    Lemia gagged, but didn't lose her stomach this time. "It's like..." she didn't complete the sentence. It was like Calenda, taint hidden even as they looked straight upon it, able to cast magic in spite of the fact that undead should not ever be able to cast magic.

    The thing's six heads looked straight at them, each an echo of love. A concerned mother, a childhood confidante, a trusting younger sister, a doting father, a loving husband, a young son. "You are lonely." "Empty." "Pain. Suffering. Loss." "Come to me." "I will make you happy." "We can be together." "Forever." "Always." "Be part of me." "Let me be part of you."

    The girls received fantasies tailored to their own psychology, but in the end they weren't that dissimilar from one another. Their mothers were affectionate, they knew their fathers, they beheld innocence unlike any in their real childhoods. They were offered a life of happiness, even if it was short and full of comforting lies.

    =====

    This is a horror sequence, and they split the party. Heh. Also, I kinda want a nightmare squirrel of my own. Y'know if they wouldn't drive me insane then feed upon my corpse.

    Yeah, I know, same song, three times. That is a function of the situation in this story at this time. I think one of the best things about horror games is their ability to twist the expected, and this is me dipping into that pool a bit.

    Besides, I don't know if it's physically possible to find a piece that better suits the atmosphere I'm building than this one.
     
  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 72- Uglier Big Truths
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Ketak stood at the shore of the temple, considering the sky while giving occasional check on the glowing red eyes which watched her. The joke was on the death-eating rodent, for her eyes were more than capable of seeing its sleek fur in the darkness. Dwarven vision may have been inferior to humans in the daylight, but come darkness and they lost none of their acuity while humans were all but blind.

    By the time Xyka came out, the moon had risen then vanished behind the clouds that promised rain on the morrow. Her eyes glowed white with electrical energy as she recited all the profanities of the four languages she knew under her breath as a private litany.

    Ketak knew the answer, but needed confirmation. "The cowards refuse to act, right?"

    "Like root worms!" Xyka shouted, confident nobody else would understand silmid or the significance of the insult. Root worms were both a preferred snack to silmid and nasty parasites which would often kill the trees by boring into the roots and bark. Their claim to fame compared to most grubs was an unparalleled ability to hide and flee from predators. To be compared to one was a high insult.

    Ketak growled and considered going up to the temple doors and carving through them. The temple was defended, true, but she could do a great deal of damage, perhaps enough to convince them that there was no safety in hiding.

    She chose not to, for she had better sabotage in mind. "Nona! Come!" She extracted the small bead containing infused necromantic power from her pocket. It was too weak to be useful in and of itself, but these squirrel-things favored them as treats.

    Nona's tail twitched, then she bounded out into the open in spite of the unpleasant smell of the temples.

    Xyka took a step back and looked at both the squirrel and the concentrated necromantic fragment. "What are you planning to do?"

    "Don't worry, it won't hurt anyone." Ketak left out 'this time' from the statement. "Nona, glow!"

    The fuzzy ball of insanity took a moment to consider her situation. On one hand, this strange person was giving her orders rather than the pack-leader. On the other, there was a treat waiting, and she liked treats. As with most things in a squirrel's life, her stomach made the decision for her. Her red eyes turned black as she generated a pulse of necromantic power. A beacon of fear and death energy that would be felt by any nearby mages, and disrupt other magic.

    "Good girl." Ketak held out the treat while doing her best to ignore the cloying power of death radiating from the animal.

    Nona stopped her performance, because while she'd obey for treats, it would be for no longer than she had to.

    "There, they'll notice that in the morning, then maybe they'll reconsider." Her mission a failure before it began, Ketak began to walk away from the temple.

    Xyka looked back at the residue left behind by the freakish rodent. It wasn't like abomination magic, but it was a thing of palpable harm that would require a great deal of work to cleanse from the temple. It could be days before it was safe to reopen the temples to prayer. "I should be arresting you right now."

    "On behalf of those cowards? Hmph. We both know our loyalties are to our people and what is best for them. Perhaps a few days without the distraction of collecting donations will remind the human religious leaders of their own oaths."

    Invoking the silmid contempt for human greed was a cheap ploy, but an effective one. "Let us hope so, stone-sister."

    "My companions won't be done for a while." Now that they were further from the temples, Ketak deigned to stop and consider her next move. "I don't suppose there are any good places for drinks around here?"

    "Good for proper alcohol, or good for information and networking with other mercenaries looking to kill a necromancer for profit? We have both, but they're not the same place."

    "Of course not," Ketak muttered. "Why would anything be that convenient?"

    Suggested Listening

    Calenda observed the zombies for a moment. Fueled by the ambient necromantic energies, they could survive any physical attack Calenda could dish out, and there wasn't many options which a botanical mage could use against the undead. She went for the one she had, tracking the ground for a suitable chunk of stone, and forcing it to rise from the ground.

    Then the fresh zombies began to act, guided by a series of thoughts and emotions not their own. The nearest necromancer screamed for a total of half a second before his larynx was crushed by a zombie, followed not long after by the other three beginning to cast a series of spells meant to paralyze and cleanse the undead.

    Cali ripped the stone up from the ground, putting all her strength into lifting the rock that was twice as heavy as she was. Holding it not unlike one might cradle a baby, she picked up a running start while using her magic to reinforce and strengthen the ground so that she didn't sink down to her knees in the soil.

    At the last moment, she brought the stone up and then slammed it right down on the back of her target's head. A crack resounded as both stone and skull were tested against one another. A conflict that neither could win. The stone cracked through, leaving two large chunks on the ground next to the zombie and a spattering of small stones and brain matter.

    "They can be overwhelmed!" Her shout of encouragement was more meant for herself than her temporary allies, for even as she said it she came to realize it was wrong.

    It spite of its head being burst open like a rotting cantaloupe, it showed no sign of being slowed. Meanwhile, the mages redoubled their efforts to slow the monsters by any means necessary.

    It was only thanks to Mort that Cali remained standing in spite of the exorcism, but the zombies had power to spare. It seemed to her that they were benefiting from something not unlike Elruin's ability to strengthen and shield her undead against other magic. Calenda took a step back, away from the certain failure that was about to occur.

    She closed her eyes and issued a prayer to Ecros. "It is the warrior's burden than some must die in the name of victory. They are the mothers and fathers, who throw themselves into the predator's jaws so that their children live on. In those children, they will be remembered forever." She then opened her eyes to watch these poor brave men die at the hands of the dead. She would see to it their last moments meant something.

    One, less brave than the others, broke ranks and retreated for the gate. An act which earned him special attention from the still whole zombie, which chased him down far faster than a middle-aged scholarly mage could hope to outrun.

    Cali noted that the zombies acted in concert; its cohort didn't so much as glance at the fleeing exorcist. Instead, it waited for the others to turn their attention away for a moment before it struck from behind and ripped the throat out of the stronger of the remaining mage. Cali added to her mental library that they used advanced tactics as well. Stronger threats were targeted before they went for the weak. Then the undamaged zombie caught the final victim and crushed his skull in an imitation of what Cali had done.

    Now that their only company was the dead dead, the pair still seemed disinterested in Calenda. Mort, on the other hand, was still alive, and the zombies began to chase after the squirrel which, being a squirrel, ran straight up a nearby building to the safety of the roof. The zombies pursued, then split up to try to deny their prey an escape route.

    All of this was important tactical knowledge that could be used in future battles, paid for in blood and screams.

    Now, as the undamaged zombie began to use its fingers to claw its way up the wall, it was time for Calenda to act. She gripped the climber's shoulders and dipped into her vampiric sarite shard. Black lines began to creep across her hands and arms as what remained of her blood converted to an inky ichor made of raw necromantic energies.

    Used against people, it was a means to sap magic to replace her own dwindling supply. Used by people against the undead, it was a particularly horrific suicide. Used in this situation, it provided Cali with an almost ceaseless pool of power to draw upon.

    Using the zombie's power against itself, Calenda twisted and squeezed its neck, breaking the spine as she slammed the thing into the ground like a rag doll. It grabbed at her, but it had half the power it did moments ago, while she had the other half and her own magic on top of it. She slammed it into the ground again and was rewarded with the sickening crunch of a jawbone collapsing inward. The next shattered the skull.

    Then she gripped its arm and ripped it from the socket, slammed her knee into the spine to break that as well, then kicked backward into the chest of the oncoming zombie behind her. Despite using far less force than she had expended against the first, the second was propelled back with its chest caved inward. Not enough to destroy it, but the half-dismembered zombie still moved as well.

    There was a solution to this problem, though not one she was eager to enact. She grabbed the zombie's leg, shoved her foot into its spine hard enough to snap its bones like dried twigs, and separated another limb.

    The next few minutes were disgusting work at best, but it was easier with her newfound strength than it ever could have been before.

    She looked at her hand, at the black veins and arteries that now traced themselves across her body. She had no doubt in her mind that her face was as covered as the rest of her. Once again, part of her humanity died, and she became stronger for it.

    She took a running start and jumped over the wall of the crematorium, an act which was easier now by far than it had been but a few minutes ago. She pulled up her hood and hoped that and the darkness would hide her features enough.

    No longer could she afford to be seen by normal people unless there was something Elruin could do to return her to normal.

    Suggested Listening

    The composite horror fed its illusions to the pair, and experienced what might have been shock when Elruin began to sing. Whether the credit belonged to their protective sarite, their natural strength, or the ad-hoc abattoir disrupting the effect, was a question for later. What mattered now was the illusion had little more impact than a pleasant daydream.

    It meant nothing. To Elruin, at any rate. She lifted her violin, gave herself to the power of requiem, and swam in the complex magical tapestry that was this, the most advanced necromantic construct she had ever witnessed. It was a complete being, a true soul, built from the ground up. It was not a native undead like Scratch, nor an insulated soul in an undead body like Calenda, but something which shared properties of both and a great deal more. As if it was a soul born undead.

    Lemia's reaction was more appropriate for the manipulation and violation of memories, fantasies, and emotions on a fundamental level. She fumbled for her ammunition through tear-blinded eyes, all other emotions abandoned in favor of rage and disgust. Aim enhancing magic coupled with the size of the monster deserved more credit than Lemia's aim, but the thing blossomed into alchemical flame.

    It stood watching its own flesh burn away as Elruin pinned its necromantic muscles with her own superior control of the element.

    They could not, however, control its psychic death-cries. Unable to speak words, it pleaded with them using idea in pure form. Flashes of a thousand possible lives rang out across the area, granting pasts that never were and promising futures which could never be.

    It offered a world of unparalleled, impossible happiness. The happiness it yearned for but could never have, the happiness it brought to others. The only thing it wanted was to bring joy into this bleak, merciless world. It pleaded for the life it did not possess. It did not, could not, understand why they sought its death. It felt, it thought, and that made it all the more dangerous.

    The inhabitants of this slum came rushing in, unaware of why or what they fought for, but they would fight nonetheless. Rocks began to bounce off of Elruin, thrown by the very people they were here to save. She ignored them, she had to, for if she stopped playing, then their target would escape.

    "Elruin!" Lemia was stopped from helping when three people grabbed onto her, pinning her arms. One of them was the blood-covered man who had not long ago stitched himself back together.

    Elruin returned to her music, this time to cover the area in darkness to hide her from the swarm. An act which was proved futile, for these people were not seeing her with their eyes, they were not seeing her at all. They were seeing the illusion fed into their minds by the undead creature. She looked at the faces of people a few feet from her, smiling at her as if she was their long lost daughter.

    Nobody had ever smiled at her in such a way before in her life.

    If she lost control of the monster, it would kill them all, so she grew more desperate for a means to fight back. Its mind alteration magic was stronger than her own, and to use raw negation risked granting the monster more strength, so she blended her ice magic into the song. People fell as they neared her, their bodies robbed of strength and warmth.

    A flash of black lightning erupted from Lemia's own armor. Elruin's armor wasn't the only tool she'd built, and her own armor came with a cheap imitation of Elruin's defensive power of choice. People screamed in agony, but the smiles never left their faces as they continued to cling to the very thing which was stripping their life away.

    It stared at them from sockets of eyes melted by heat, uncomprehending of why they tried to hurt it. It wanted them to feel joy, but they wanted it to suffer. So it pushed harder, pressed their minds and lifted the concept of sarite from their minds. Evil, hateful stones which stole happiness from those which carried them. The solution, then, was to take the stones from these poor people so they could be happy.

    So it showed its beloved family the secret of the evil sarite, so that they could save these unfortunates, and its family moved as an army to protect their one true source of happiness.

    Elruin changed her song again, attacking the illusions the creature had created. Every stroke of her violin was a blade slicing the strings which bound their minds. It was a terrible strategy, one which required breaking them free one at a time while they swarmed in by the dozens. They would run out of space to move long before the slums ran out of people the monster could throw at them.

    "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!" Lemia continued to struggle to free herself from the wounded and dead. She launched one more projectile toward the monster, this one infused with pure creation energy.

    The bomb burst into a storm of energy that dimmed all the remaining necromancy in the area. An angry squirrel screeched and retreated for cover in a pile of garbage, while people gasped and screamed when their bodies were wracked with energy every bit as destructive as negation, but one which stripped them of the happy lie they had been given.

    Insulated as she was by her armor, Elruin didn't feel the pain of the bomb, but it did cost her the use of requiem long enough that the monster could retreat into the darkened alleyway, leaving misery and death behind as was the whole purpose behind its creation.

    It was now on them to deal with the aftermath.

    =====

    Here's hoping the giant chapter is apology enough for not getting one up in the last few days. This is a big section with a crapton of moving parts, requires more planning than most.

    This thing's going to be a fun boss fight in the game. Grapple strategies are going to be a significant threat (at least against squishy mages like Elruin and Lemia), especially when ganged up on (Anyone familiar with Dwarf Fortress? Basically, a cleaned up version of that combat system). Disarming, also a major problem. And in this fight there'll be waves of mind controlled victims coming in to make things all the more frustrating. Especially those angling for a 'good' playthrough which tries to save as many innocent lives as possible. Evil playthrough... a bit underwhelming, really.

    Cali's fight would have gone a lot easier (re: survivors other than herself) if someone thought to equip her with an item that can cast healing spells. C'mon, this is a fantasy RPG... if there isn't at least one boss that dies to healing items, what's even the point of making the game? Bonus points if one of the characters dies to curative items. Right, Cali?

    On the other hand, this just gave Cali a permanent stat boost. That's a plus, right? She'd get it anyway, it's almost impossible NOT to get the augmented undead powerup during this point of the story one way or another. If not to proper party members (getting here without any dead allies can be done), then to Elruin's dollies. To get through this section without any undead at all requires deliberate player choice.

    In any case, you know the end game is approaching when characters start getting "upgraded forms". Elruin has her Armor of Death mode, and now Cali is a Super Zombie.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 73- Past and Future
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    NOTICE:

    From now on, there is no longer votes guiding this story. Doing the behind-the-scenes mechanics was always a resource sink, adding about 2-3 hours to the workload of the story every update. I was fine with that... but only when I could actually get people to participate. Which has always been difficult, and only getting worse with time. Now hopefully I'll have more time actually writing and more motivation to do so without struggling to get people to participate.

    I am also ending the Requiem project at the end of Book 3, and not writing Book 4, because of this. I'll be moving directly to Midara: Paradox upon the completion of Requiem's third book (aka- this one). Because Requiem just plain was not designed to be a novel, because Open-World RPGs by their very nature don't work well with linear storytelling, and I don't want it to be me guiding the story down my own personal railroad.

    Paradox, however, is very much designed to be a linear RPG. I can novelize it on my own without any difficulty. It also has a princess, some lesbians, an enslaved demon, and an Undead Dragon God... so that'll be fun...

    Upon the completion of Paradox, I will then consider attempting to revisit the Requiem project (hopefully with a larger fanbase that can sustain the necessary voter base- and a rule that Elruin can't follow the same core path in the second 'Let's Play'). If I don't have the necessary base by then, I'll just move on to other Midara titles.

    Okay, now let's get to the actual story.

    =====

    Suggested Listening

    The sick-sweet stench of tainted necromancy hung in the aether like the stink of cheap bordello perfume and the odors it failed to hide. It was choking, oppressive, magic which clung to all surfaces of the physical and spiritual world. "Got hand it to you, you old hag, you sure know how to set a scene."

    "Why, Scratch, I do believe that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me." Aether-space twisted as it was violated into a form it was never meant to be by forces that did not belong in this universe. An ancient woman, far older than even her bent and gnarled figure suggested, stepped without moving into a place where flesh was never meant to exist. "But I'm afraid Kalla deserves all of the credit. She has quite the formidable mind."

    "Coming in person?" Scratch continued drifting, watching the mortal side of the metaphysical coin. Besides, there was no point in pretending he needed to look in order to see with the likes of her, they'd known one another far too long. "That isn't like you."

    "Ah, but why wouldn't an old woman want to visit her dear friends as she nears the end of her long life?"

    "Hmph, old friend she says. I've spent my entire afterlife with the sole purpose of seeing you join me in death." He allowed himself a cold, cruel chuckle. "But now that I think about it, perhaps I am the closest thing you've got to true friendship. But for the sake of 'friendship', what do you mean the end of your life? You never believed any of the others could kill you, and I know you don't think this one can."

    "Not a ghost of a chance." Uewatsu cackled at her pun. "Kiara fought death itself, and it was death who died at her hand. I am every bit my ancestor's equal, well outside the power of some silly farmgirl playing with dolls. But what I know doesn't interest me so much as what you believe. You think she'll break the cycle, don't you?"

    "It's a cycle that needs broken. You should never have been."

    "Ah, old friend, I see you still avoid the subject when someone touches a nerve." Uewatsu laughed some more. "I'm not like all those children you've manipulated to their deaths and beyond. Your tricks don't work on me."

    "I don't know." Scratch gave up on the possibility of getting away without answering. That didn't mean he had to tell Uewatsu more than the absolute minimum. "But I think she has a better chance than anyone has had in a long time. She's accomplished quite a bit for someone so young."

    "The creation of that half-undead freak of hers, you mean."

    "You tip your hand, crone." Scratch faked confidence, not because he thought it would fool her, but because it was expected of him. They all had their roles to play in this charade of a universe. "You've been watching quite close if you recognized Calenda for what it is. Which means Elruin's surprised you, too."

    "Oh, it's not so difficult to spot if you know how to look." Uewatsu's grin exposed gums without teeth. "And while her trick is new to you, It's not so special. I bet most of them could accomplish it if they thought to try and had a suitable volunteer. Maybe I should kill off her other allies, see if she's close enough to do the same for the others."

    "You wouldn't dare. Now leave Elruin alone until she brings the fight to you."

    "Relax, old friend, I know the rules to this farce." Uewatsu never stopped smiling. "My puppets play with empires, your puppet plays with dolls. So has it been for a thousand years, so shall it be for another thousand. But I sense that Adageyudi will involve herself soon. You know how she feels about rules."

    Scratch faded into the background for a moment as he lost concentration. Adageyudi was worse than Uewatsu, if only because Uewatsu could be trusted to pretend she had a scrap of sanity remaining. The others were far less reliable. "It... has been quite some time since Ada made an appearance." He didn't dare ask Uewatsu more information on the topic, for fear of provoking the half-crazed hag into doing something everyone else would regret. "Have a message you want to relay to your counterpart?"

    Uewatsu flexed her magic, twisting reality so that she could untwist it and return herself to the physical world. "Let her know that if I see her, I will kill her myself."

    "I'm surprised at myself for expecting anything else." Now alone, Scratch returned to observing the world of the living as it brushed against the world of the dead.

    Suggested Listening

    Elruin watched the thing retreat, then looked at the death which surrounded her. She counted thirty-seven victims of this battle, but only nine survivors. Most of them were killed by her power, because she had no other way to fight off the swarm of people while trying to save the city from the abomination.

    Lemia sat in a corner staring out at the carnage, cheeks soaked in tears. "I'm sorry," she muttered to herself over and over, a frantic prayer from the closest thing their world could have to an atheist. "I'm so sorry."

    Elruin drew up her violin, playing a song to the dead, to death itself. She found the flickers of taint and dismantled them note by dissonant note, until she hoped she had cleansed the alleyway of the risk of undeath. This thing, whatever it was, shared Scratch's ability to cloak its taint. As she played, she dove deeper into the complexities of the necromancy involved. It was miasma magic, of that she was certain, but it went even deeper still into forms and structure she had not so much as considered before.

    What caught her by surprise was the discovery of the song beneath the other songs, whispered echoes of the void portal she had used as a weapon against Claron over a year prior. Scratch called the undead wounds upon the universe, and this more than any other thing confirmed that belief. While she still knew nothing about how the two were related, there was no longer a doubt in her mind that they were related.

    With little left she could accomplish in that regard, she turned her attention to the dead which littered this cramped and dark alleyway. She slowed her singing and relied upon her bleak sight to reveal what it could. As her song faded, the sobbing and vocalizations from the victims took its place.

    It was clear from first glance that there were those who could recover on their own, and those who were beyond saving by any means, not a single emergency case to worry about. How they would deal with explaining the bodies was a question for another time.

    A woman and two children who were still in real danger took precedence. "They have runebones."

    "How do you know?" Lemia's question was guided by reflex. All parts of her higher reasoning was occupied by the innocent lives who had died by her magic. She imagined their life energy clinging to her, bolstering her strength the way all those monsters she killed had. She choked down the urge to vomit.

    "I know what to look for, now that I saw the monster."

    Lemia forced herself to stand. "W-what do we do, now?" She worked her magic into a sphere of light, then a moment later willed said light from existence. She was happier when the bodies were part of her imagination and assumptions, rather than seeing the dead around her.

    Elruin looked over at Lemia, then generated a light sphere of her own. It wasn't the simplest of fundamental spells, but it was well within her skill range, as long as she didn't need to perform any combat magic at the same time. Now that people could see, the crying began anew. These were their friends, family, and neighbors laying amongst the dead. Some fled the moment they could see an escape route, while others stayed because they feared the thing in the dark which this terrifying girl seemed to have the power to drive it off.

    "You have runebones in you." Elruin approached the three people, while the woman did her best to hide her children behind her. It was a touching gesture of a life that Elruin had never experienced.

    "R-runebones?" This dark-toned woman glanced around at the others, uncertain of what to do. It was difficult enough for her to remember what had happened not long ago.

    "I don't know what your people call it, but it's how the necromancer has been attacking the city." Lemia still couldn't take her eyes of the corpses. It seemed insane to her that she could still speak, let alone answer questions. The last two years of explaining magic to Elruin must have ingrained the behavior into her.

    The children cried and pulled themselves closer to their mother, who struggled to hold herself together for her children. "Don't tell them!" She looked around at the others, begging all of them for silence. "They'll... do you know what that spell does?"

    "Yes, it agitates the necromantic runes, and sets off a chain reaction-"

    "Ell, she didn't mean the particulars." Lemia cut in, reminded of the other reason it was always her doing the explanation. "We know that it kills, and it can't be a pleasant way to go, but it can't be worse than what happens if the runes activate in a normal situation. That's what she means."

    "Oh." Elruin thought about it for a moment, while observing the runes. "I can stop that."

    "You... you can break the curse?" It was more than she had dared hope, that these young people could remove the curse, but they were the ones who found the monster and drove it away.

    "Not remove, but I can prevent it from activating as long as I remain nearby." In that regard, it was much the same as what she did with Cali, but much simpler and less complex, yet also less stable. "Maybe with time, we could find a way to stop it."

    "But... but, aren't you hunting that monster?" She clutched her children tighter. "We can't follow you."

    Lemia shuddered, still watching the corpses. Perhaps she could make some step toward atonement by helping this family? "We could set something up, so that you'll be safe even when she's not nearby. It won't be much, but it's the best anyone can do right now. We... have to go back to the inn, anyway. We need Cali and Ketak if we want to destroy that... thing..."

    The poor woman's smile was forced, but genuine. "If- if you can save my daughters, then I'll do anything."

    "We should go now," Elruin said. "Before anyone finds you." She began walking away, stepping over bodies as was needed.

    As they made their retreat from that place of gore and terrible memories, Lemia searched for some way to apologize for her failure. There were no words she could find that didn't sound like they'd make things worse, but still she tried. "I'm... I am so sorry we couldn't save your husband."

    "I never saw that man before in my life." She looked back at the bodies, one being that of her not-husband, then turned her attention to the backs of her daughters' heads. "Their father died long ago, but that... thing..." she trailed off, unable to finish her train of thought.

    They walked for several minutes before she found what she wanted to say. "I don't know how much was its lies, but he seemed like a good man."

    =====

    Scratch is fun. Uewatsu is fun. Adageyudi will also be fun when she shows up.

    And the plaguebearer is one of the most fucked up things I have ever written.
     
  19. Threadmarks: Chapter 3, Episode 74- Sanity is Overrated
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Suggested Listening

    Calenda arrived home long before the others, and so spent an inordinate amount of time hiding in a nearby alleyway, petting the ebony furball. "If I'd known you were so soft, I'd have done this sooner. I think I was trying to distance myself from this carnival of death that's replaced my life, and you were an easy representative of it. Sorry."

    Mort showed no indication that he comprehended her words, but he was the only ear she could speak to in this moment of confusion. For his part, he appreciated the necromancy-laded scratches that were almost as good as his owner's.

    "I was trying to pretend away what I am." Cali looked at her hands. "No chance I'll be able to do that, again." Even after burning a great deal of power sprinting half the distance of the city, she still had enough power in her that her veins and fingernails matched the color of the squirrel she was scratching. There was so much of it in the atmosphere that she couldn't expend enough of it.

    "Think if I hit myself enough times, I'll be able to drain off all the excess energy?" Cali looked into the glowing red eyes in the darkness. "Stupid question. If it was that easy, someone else would have fixed it before we got here."

    Cali felt the field of necromancy shifted in response to Elruin's presence well before seeing her. The experience was nothing new to her, but she had never before been able to do it at such a range. She spotted Elruin's guests in tow while looking for an angle to approach without being seen by onlookers.

    Mort hopped off her lap moments later, and scaled his way down the building, leaving no secrets to who his favorite was.

    Cali tried to sigh, but she'd forgotten to breathe beforehand. Instead she increased the intensity of the magic which flowed through her veins in place of blood, a series of pulses like that of a heartbeat. Elruin looked straight toward her, confirming that the girl's range of detection was at least as good as her own improved abilities.

    Elruin stopped to talk to Lemia for a moment, buying enough time for Mort to reach her. Lemia went on with the woman and children, while Elruin waited until they were out of sight to start approaching Cali's location.

    Cali hopped down into the dark streets, and took a deep breath before stepping into enough light to allow Elruin to see what she'd become. "Awful brave of you to walk into a dark alley alone like this, what if I was the necromancer?"

    "I knew it was you." Elruin stood observing all the changes in Calenda's pattern, then decided that her sister needed a hug. For a brief moment before she could adapt, Cali's new power numbed her skin. "Your song's changed, but it's not different. Like the same melody using different instruments. Besides, we saw the monster and you're nothing like it."

    "You found the monster?" Cali wouldn't consciously realize it for some time, but knowing she wasn't like them made her feel far better. She returned Elruin's hug, while remaining conscious that her strength was far greater now than it had been. "Where? What happened?"

    "After we went to the poor side of town, I sensed..."

    By the time Elruin finished, Lemia was coming back outside. "They're inside, now what was s... four below!" Lemia's hands went to her mouth. "Cali? What happened to you?"

    "I made a desperate choice, and these are the consequences." Calenda drew back the cloak she wore to reveal that the alterations across her face and neck. "It's not all bad, I have to be at least twice as strong as I was before, but do you think you can redo my disguise?"

    Lemia moved close, hesitated, then touched Calenda's skin. "I... maybe. Right now part of me wants to take some of your skin for study. Your body is almost like it was made from necroleather." Even as she spoke, the dyes spread across her skin, this time far thicker than they had been before.

    "I have enough enemies trying to take chunks out of me, don't you start, too." Cali forced a smile. "Besides, there were two zombies just like me, but without the intelligence, you can carve one of them up. They're tough, but stupid and not indestructible. We'll see if Elruin can't take control over one to study later."

    "This necromancer's abilities are unbelievable, most would call them impossible." Lemia glanced over at Elruin, knowing full well the girl had similar capabilities. "We saw a spellcaster undead. It wasn't rune magic, but a true undead mage. And now we learn the necromancer can make necrotempered zombies. Tell me the truth, do we stand a chance in hell of winning?"

    "Yes!" Elruin crossed her arms, trying her best to convey seriousness. "It has some clever tricks, but now that I've seen them I can do it, too. This is nowhere near as powerful as Claron, and we killed him! He's only scary because he keeps running and hiding from us. All we need to do is catch him and we can beat him."

    "Too bad dark purple skin is almost unheard of, it's the only skin color that'd hide your new... uh... look." Lemia changed the subject away from the necromancer, knowing full well that Elruin's confidence was based on any number of flawed assumptions, not the least of which was her belief that she, who was having trouble on basic potion magic, was a match for a mage whose technique was superior to that of many achrmages. "We should go inside, maybe I'll be able to cobble together something more effective with my full kit."

    "What about your guests?" Calenda, too, allowed Elruin to keep her illusions that this fight could be so easily won. What they encountered thus seemed closer to a probing strike to harass and test the enemy for weaknesses, rather than a proper engagement, or so her instincts were screaming to her. If this was the necromancer's idea of a harassment campaign, then open war would be a slaughter.

    "Don't worry, they're already asleep," Lemia said. "I made them take a poppy tincture and sent them to bed. It's potent stuff, the building could catch fire and they'd sleep through it. With any luck, it'll help them forget what happened tonight." She doubted it, but considering the dreamlike nature of the illusions, there was a chance. After tonight she felt the need to embrace what little hope she could find. The alternative was to collapse into despair.

    Several minutes later, the three of them were sitting on the floor while Lemia did her work on Cali's disguise. "Alright, I think that'll hold. I had to include sarite powder to maintain the charge and keep the necromantic energies from decomposing the dyes. Mages will notice if they look, but you can play it off as a form of camouflage and ward against magic. They might ask why you don't just use magical armor, but this is a lot cheaper than armor and is keyed against necromancy, so it makes sense in current context."

    Calenda considered it for a moment. "I'll claim it's a religious practice."

    "Huh, you didn't strike me as the heretical type."

    "Ecross teaches that one must adapt and grow, to change who we are into something better in order to overcome the challenges in our lives. This is adaptation, and thus I honor the teachings." Calenda closed her eyes, longing for the time when those words brought her comfort and strength. "Unorthodox though it might be. Now that I'm taken care of, how do you plan to help those poor people in our bedroom."

    "I can protect them, just like with you, but without the dying part." Elruin stopped to think about it for a moment. "Although if they did want to be like you, it would make it a lot easier. And now that I know how to make these necrotempered zombies, they could even-"

    "How about if we call that a backup plan, and look for something that doesn't involve them following you around for the rest of your life?" As ambivalent as Calenda was on her current state of being, sure knew she had no desire to encourage Elruin to create more of her.

    "I don't see the problem," a young girl's voice said from the ceiling. "Simple transposition is all you need."

    Suggested Listening

    Calenda rolled to her feet before the voice finished with 'don't'. "Who are you? Show yourself!"

    Everyone else was slower to ready themselves, and still getting into a defensive position when a head with long purple hair stuck itself through a hole in the ceiling which hadn't been there a moment ago. "Hiyaaaa!" She screamed, then landed with a thud on the ground. "Oww! What did they make this floor out of, rock?"

    Elruin watched and heard the girl's complex, alien, song, while pair of black squirrels climbed up her legs to seek shelter from the noisy intruder. "She's not a child, even though she looks like one."

    "Cute game you're playing, but it's not fooling us." Calenda wished she had a decent weapon to threaten her with, but she hadn't had a chance to fix the guisarme and her basic throwing knives no longer held much meaning against anything close to her strength. "What are you?"

    "Oh, poo, you're no fun." The girl climbed to her feet and rubbed her behind, even though she landed on her head. "I'm here to give you a hand, and you're being terrible hosts. What happened to putting out a nice pot of tea, and talking about how great it is to see each other again? Did your sense of hospitality die with the rest of you?"

    "Her name is Ada. She doesn't mean any harm, which makes her all the more dangerous." Scratch came up through the floor in a much more graceful display than their other surprise guest. He gave a meaningful nod to Calenda. "Hey, Sis, lovin' the new look."

    "Scratch!" Ada jumped toward Scratch, arms spread as she ran through the spirit and hugged open air. "It's been so long!"Your new friends are quite rude, you know. Not like you at all, you're my favorite because you're always so polite!"

    Scratch looked at the others while floating behind Ada's back. "You heard the crazy lady, be more like me, I'm a regular Prince Charming." His amusement was feigned, for he knew better than most that they were one wrong word from utter disaster. "It ain't their fault, lots of mortals get on edge when people drop in without sending word ahead."

    "But I did! And they were ever-so-grateful and thanked me for..." Ada stopped for a moment. "Oh, that hasn't happened yet, has it?"

    "Totally understandable, happens to the best of us." Scratch looked at the others. "Isn't that right?"

    "Sure, I forget things that haven't happened yet all the time," Lemia said while backing toward a possible exit. She'd seen more than a handful of the unhinged during her years in the slum, but none of them held the sort of power this girl had. She wielded void magic the same way Elruin wielded necromancy; an intrinsic bond that was as natural to them as walking was to normal people.

    "You, too?!" Ada appeared behind Lemia without any indication that she was moving. "I'm so glad to hear that! I mean, not that it happens to you, but sometimes it feels like I'm the only one in the world that has that problem!"

    "Gah!" Lemia jumped and twisted the wrong direction, then back around to face Ada while the madwoman kept rambling. "Uh, sure, now can you remind me why we, uh, are going to thank you?"

    "Oh, yeah, I asked you why you don't just transpose the rune magic onto, uh, her." Ada pointed at Cali. "The magic won't hurt her."

    "Transpose? I don't know what that means..." Lemia considered her words, and their implications. "... Yet?"

    Ada rolled her eyes. "Why can't causality learn to keep up? Look, it's easy, I'll show you. Hey, necromancer." She pointed to Elruin. "Blast me, right now! Don't worry, you can't hurt me, nobody can. Well, one person can, but I think she's asleep right now."

    Elruin hesitated for long enough that Scratch took initiative. "Don't worry, Ada knows what she's doing, for a certain loose definition of 'doing'. This won't hurt anyone." He left out the word 'important' at the end.

    "Alright, if you're sure it won't hurt you." Elruin brought up her hand, and put a conscious effort into reducing her power to the weakest possible blast before she fired upon Ada. A moment later, Calenda gasped as she received a fresh dose of 'clean' necromantic power. Elruin turned her head to look at her big sister. "You made me hit Cali?"

    "No, I transposed Cali and myself," Ada said. "The spell hit me, but it's her essence that felt the effects."

    Lemia caught on fastest. "So if we transpose the runebone victims with Cali right before we set them off, then they'll hit her instead. But since she's already dead, it won't have any impact! That's brilliant. There's just one problem: I can't cast that spell."

    "But you have sarite to cast it with!"

    "I do?" Lemia recovered. "Are you sure that's something that's happened?"

    "Yeah, it's right here." Ada lifted one of the crystals Lemia carried that came off the void tendril-monsters between her finger and thumb. "See?"

    Oh. "I, uh, learn how to use those later."

    "C'mon, Ada, you can't expect mere mortals like them to keep up with the likes of you," Scratch said. Later, he'd explain to Lemia how he'd saved her, complete with a description of how she was going to repay him. "Surely there was a time when you needed time to learn things?"

    "Ugh, don't remind me." Ada put her hands over her blushing face. "Fine, I'll do it slow and you watch."

    The next ten minutes were a lesson for all of them in the gulf between their talents. Ada's impatient desire to skip past the learning process became ever more apparent, but in time she did manage to show Lemia how to harness and attune herself to void shards while Cali and Elruin stayed on the sidelines trying to comprehend the jumbled mess of magic that was Ada's power.

    "And now that you know how to transpose, I better get those sweet cakes you're about to promise me."

    "I..." Lemia hadn't so much as thought about sweet cakes before Ada brought the subject up. "Sure, I know a great bakery. Just be sure to visit after I buy them, or we might go through this mess all over again."

    "Again?" Ada shook her head. "And I thought I had it bad. But I gotta go now before they find out I've been visiting. Tell Uewatsu I'm gonna eat sweets until I get so fat that I can't see my toes!"

    This is why there are rules! Scratch considered his options, torn between the possibility of making himself look suspicious to the others, or risking the confrontation start too soon and end with him dying for real. His best chance was that they'd imagine it was more of her rambling lunacy.

    "They?" Calenda dashed his hope that nobody would think too much of the madwoman's words. "Who's 'they'?"

    "You don't know? It's the guys playing with you."

    "You're getting confused again," Scratch tried in vain. "Nobody's playing with us. Yet." Perhaps he could play off the choice of words as him cooperating with Ada's delusions.

    "I'm quite sure they are, because they found a crazy necromancer and moved him here, and the crazy fire dude who thought he was a god, and the... uh... oh, right, I guess I'm not supposed to talk about that. Bye!" Ada fell through the floor, into another of her magic generated holes in reality.

    "Huh, well that was g-urk!" Scratch was interrupted from his attempt to dive into the ground by Calenda's grip on his head.

    "Now where do you imagine you are going?" Cali pulled him away from his refuged and held him at eye level. "Start explaining, before I become the first person ever to murder a ghost."

    "Sorry, sis, others beat y-ouch! Okay, fine, I'll tell you what I know!" He lied to her face, while formulating the more complex web of half truths and whole fabrications he needed to weave together to hold the deceptions together. "It ain't much, but remember that death cult I mentioned way back when?"

    "Something about them wanting to kill the world, right?" Calenda scoffed, making it clear she didn't buy it. "We both know that a group like that can't do what these guys seem to have done."

    "Okay, look, they have a better reason behind their goals than I made it sound. But, let me ask a question that explains it. How people do you know are twins, or triplets? How often do you see single children being born at all?"

    "I don't know, single children are pretty rare, maybe one in fifty births?" Calenda looked over at Elruin for a moment. "Ell was a singular birth, are we supposed to believe that's their motive? Killing single children?"

    "No, they're not that discriminate, and their goals run deeper," Scratch said. "Here's another question, how long do human women stay pregnant before they give birth?"

    "Assuming they don't get pregnant again while already pregnant? Almost a full season. This is common knowledge, and I don't see what it has to do with anything."

    "Because it's not normal," Scratch said. "Even two hundred years ago, triplets were more rare than single births are today. Six hundred years ago, and single children were more than half of all births. I'm told that long ago, back when things were stable, it took nine months for human babies to be born, and twins were only one in every eight births. Other animals were also slower. Still faster than humans, but not this much faster."

    "Let's pretend I believe you." The problem for Calenda was that she was starting to believe it, if only because nobody would believe such an outlandish lie. "Why? And what does this have to do with the cult?"

    "The buildup of life magic, somehow." Scratch knew he had to keep that a secret, whatever else he revealed. "I don't know how or why, I don't think anyone does, but life magic has been growing in strength for thousands of years. A little more, a little faster, every generation. This death cult is... trying to reverse the process. By killing lots and lots of people, monsters, and animals. I think they have some sort of more complex strategy, damned if I know what it is." He was damned, and he did know, and they could not be allowed to find out.

    "And this is where we come in?" Cali asked. "Why?"

    "What part of 'I don't know' do you not understand?"

    "Then start guessing!" Calenda squeezed, inflicting what she hoped was pain on the annoying ghost.

    "Okay! Fine! I'll guess." Scratch writhed, putting on a good show. "They don't act all the time, they do things in cycles, so I'm guessing there's some sort of ritual component. Or maybe they work like nomads and pick a new place to wreck every few years. The world's big, maybe it takes centuries for them to run out of new places and go back to the old ones."

    "And what does this have to do with them messing with us?" Since Lemia couldn't threaten Scratch, she relied on Cali to do it for her.

    "I! Don't! Know!" Scratch shifted some more. "Maybe they're hoping to spark an undeath wildfire? That'd keep a land nice and cleansed of life energy for a long time while they move on to a new project. Or maybe, being a death cult, they like to study necromancers? The only thing I can say for certain is that nothing survives their attention, be it people or nations, they don't leave living witnesses."

    Pity there weren't any gods who could control Ada, or Scratch would have prayed to it that she didn't show up again until it was too late. But if there was a god that could control Ada, he could have prayed to it to fix the real problem.

    Calenda relaxed her grip and allowed Scratch to escape. "It... makes more sense than I care to admit. Tell me, what's your role in this tale? And I don't want to hear you say you have none."

    "If I have my way? I'd like to march up to them start carving away every part of them that they don't need to survive, and then leave the rest in the sun to dry. Unfortunately for me, I've yet to find anyone strong enough to stop them. Except maybe Ada, and she wouldn't kill a goldfish. Unless she was trying to keep it alive, then all bets are off."

    The whole time, Elruin had been listening, and imagining how these people had been killing people for so long. If they were responsible for Claron, then they were also responsible for Cali having to die and all the other terrible things that they saw.

    "Then I'm going to get strong enough to stop them."

    =====

    For those who don't know their historical medicinal practices: tinctures are drugs dissolved in alcohol, and poppy extract is basically morphine. I'm told it carries quite a punch.

    Ada is batshit insane, but it's not her fault she's dancing to the tune of a different time/space. Umm, well, to be fair it *is* her fault, but not completely.

    And I cannot for the life of me believe this story lasted this long without a single person mentioning that it seemed strange that almost everyone in the story was either a twin or triplet

    Sorry for the delay. Part of it's spring cleaning, part of it's my 'other' job, part of it's me having sleep problems (I'm a chronic insomniac, I'm told I have been since I was a toddler, but the last couple weeks have been brutal), and part of it's trying to get my footing in converting this from 'quest' to 'normal story'. And part of it's that this is a 4k word freakin' monster. Oi.

    That said, I'm seeing the signs of burnout by frustration, so I have changed to canceling (this iteration of) Requiem early. I simply cannot write this story as a story, due to the nature of the outline and all those possible paths I'd love to explore but can't in a single sitting. Paradoxically, I'm being caged in by too many options. I'll be putting up an official "ending post" soon to go into real details, but this here is the last chapter of my Requiem for now. I fully intend to do a reboot, but I have no idea when.

    I am, however, glad I got to reveal (some of) the Big Bad's motivations in this story. That'll keep people guessing until I get around to finishing the story.

    Because I am a bastard.
     
  20. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2015
    Messages:
    222
    Likes Received:
    547
    Sad to see this end, I really like the concept. And it sounds like not only are the game mechanics themselves are a part of the world's culture, but an overarching foe the same way Mars is in The Martian
     
  21. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    I'll try again, when I can maybe hopefully have a bit more of an audience that will actually post.

    Part of the culture and part of the very laws of reality in the setting.

    What you're looking for is the "Man vs Nature" archetype of conflict.
     
  22. Mr. Tebbs

    Mr. Tebbs Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2015
    Messages:
    222
    Likes Received:
    547
    Technically, I guess? I always thought of the old naturalist genre as a human dieing from being ill prepared for the wilderness. This seems more like an actively hostile environment like the inside of a nuke reactor, the bottom of the ocean or space. IE an entire industry is required to keep someone alive for more than a few seconds
     
  23. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,456
    Likes Received:
    87,679
    Well, true, but Man vs Nature also includes natural disasters, wild animals (that may or may not be magic), and potentially ocean travel, even back as far as The Odyssey... so Mars is just another variant amongst many.
     
  24. Roomie

    Roomie Sexually Identifies as a Yeti

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2018
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    9
    Started reading this yesterday, sad that it won't finish. Elruin may be the most adorifying thing in existence. Would you be willing to do a summary of how book 4 would end when you finish this arc, or at least how it could end?

    Also the legal system in this world is kinda hilarious. Reminds me of alicization, getting xp is illegal, getting geared up is illegal, anything that would break the profit loss on adventuring is illegal. Anyone who manages to find a loophole will be given a noble title and have their time wasted until the gains they've made are meaningless or they misstep and get executed for existing. The nobles really do have the system down pat.
     
    TanaNari likes this.
  25. wichajster

    wichajster Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2017
    Messages:
    108
    Likes Received:
    141
    Argh, I just found this story as it got cancelled due to lack of audience.

    I want just say that I would be happy to read more and learn what the heck is happening with the world (it is far future and initial start was similar to our real world, right?).

    I am especially curious just how metaphorical/literal is the broken globe on the cover.

    *goes to Find all threads by TanaNari*
     
    russianhydra, Roomie and TanaNari like this.
Loading...