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Those Blessed with Talent

Discussion in 'Questing' started by Darkened, Feb 26, 2015.

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  1. Threadmarks: Index/Character Sheet
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Character Sheet

    • Name: Little Bee
      Sex: Female
      Age: 11
      XP to Level: 9/30 Current XP: 4

      Level: 6
      Class: Leader
      Specialty: Bestial Adept
      Rank: A-
      HP: 55/55
      MP: 23/23
      Condition: Crippled, Weakened

      Attributes:
      Stamina:
      (13) 22 ******
      Strength: (3) 5 *
      Agility: (9) 15 ***
      Affinity: (6) 9 ****
      Perception: (15) 21 ***
      Luck: 87 ****
      Charisma: (13) 28 *******
      Intelligence: ??

      Color Code: *= Will not grow automatically, **=Slow Growth, ***=Average Growth, ****=Fast Growth, *****=Great Growth, ******=Genius, *******+= Cheating

    • Skills Learned Automatically by leveling up.

      Active:
      Blood Bond: Exchange blood with a willing beast to mix your natures and forge a lifelong alliance.
      Tiger Claw 1: Transform your hands or feet into sharp claws, receiving the same damage bonus as an ordinary iron sword. Activate again to shift back. 5MP
      • Petrifying Claw: Gives your claws the appearance of reddish stone, and adds a small chance to petrify enemies with a successful attack. +50MP when activating Tiger Claw.
      Grasping Vines 1: Transform your hair into reddish green prehensile whips that can be grown by spending 1HP/10cm. Vines can be moved as you will, but greater length makes control more difficult and their use may be difficult without training.. Activate again to shift back. 20MP
      • Agile Vines: Gain Whips with a fixed length that can move far more quickly and add a small part of agility as a bonus to damage +5MP when activating Grasping Vines
      Nourishing Blood 1: Transfer any amount of HP to an ally at a 1 to 1 ratio. May have negative effects if used on humans 3MP


      Passive:
      Monstrous Bloodline 2: The blood of monsters flows in your veins. You may safely forge two blood bonds without fear for your life.
      • Bond 1: Shadow Leopard
      • Bond 2: Carnelian Serpent Vine
      Same Soul, Distant Selves: Retain intuitive awareness of your blood bonded pets' general location regardless of distance.
      Inspirational 1: Grants a small boost to all allies within a few yards. Its power varies with charisma.
      Battlefield Awareness 1: Intuitively sense the locations and conditions of all enemies and allies within Perception/2 yards.
      Beast King's Fierce Gaze 1: The bestial adept's gaze holds viciousness, cunning and pride befitting a king amongst monsters. Boosts your effective charisma by ten percent with regards to non-humans.


    • Skills learned immediately once purchased from the list available to your class/specialty


      • Active:
        Analyze 2: keen perception allows you to divine the level and abilities of monsters and people: 1MP
        Friendship Bond: Make a show of mercy toward a weakened beast to temporarily bring it under your command. Effects fade after two days' time, though some monsters may continue to follow you of their own will. May never be reused on the same monster. 1MP (Committed)
        Rampaging Blood 1: Awaken the bestial nature lurking within your blood. Agility, Strength, Stamina and Perception increase dramatically. Reason is inhibited and HP constantly decreases while this skill is active: 10MP
        • Chimera: May be used when activating Rampaging Blood. Engage all known transformation skills for free at the cost of doing significant long-term damage to your body once Rampaging Blood ends.

        Passive:
        Comprehend 1: Grants a basic ability to comprehend the moods and natures of beast type monsters.
        Cat's Eye: Increases Visual Acuity and allows you to see normally in all but total darkness.

      • Basic Skill Tree
        Analyze 3: Extends the amount information obtained when using Analyze: 1MP (20XP)
        Roar 1: Use a loud roar to send weak-hearted monsters fleeing in terror. 5MP (10XP)
        Comprehend 2: Allows you to completely understand a beast's mood or motivations.(40XP)
        Communication: Allows you to flawlessly convey simple concepts to anything with the senses to understand. 1MP (10XP)
        Order: Tiger's Charge Method: Shout a command to temporarily add charisma to the attack damage of all allied beasts. Very short duration 10MP (30XP)
        Order: Turtle's Shell Method: Shout a command to temporarily add charisma to the defense of all allied beasts. Very short duration 10MP (30XP)
        Order: Wolf's Pace Method: Shout a command to temporarily add charisma to the movement speed of all allied beasts. Very short duration. 10MP (30XP)



        Feline Skill Tree
        Falling Grace 1: Decreases falling damage. (10XP)
        Swipes 1: Launch an incredibly fast flurry of swiping attacks with a claw weapon. 10MP (20XP)
        Plant Skill Tree
        Entangle: Wrap enemy in durable vines. (60XP)
        Poison Lash 1: Strike out with a quick whiplike blow that has a moderate chance to poison enemies. 5MP (30XP)
        Regrowth: Consume HP to passively regenerate even severe limb damage and crippling effects. (100XP)
        Shadow Element Skill Tree:
        Shadow Affinity: Increases damage dealt by and decreases damage received from shadow attribute skills. Those who learn Shadow Affinity may never learn light affinity. (30XP)
        Earth Element Skill Tree:
        Earth Affinity: Increases damage dealt by and decreases damage received from earth attribute skills. Those who learn Earth Affinity may never learn Air Affinity. (30XP)

        Life Element Skill Tree:
        Healing Affinity: Increases effects of healing skills used and received. Those who learn Healing Affinity may never learn Death Affinity. (60XP)



    • Skills not specific to your class, learned through diligent study followed by spending XP.

      Active:
      None

      Passive:
      None

      Studied:
      Pickpocket 1-5: Attempt to steal an item from another being (20XP)
      Open Lock 1-2: Opens locked doors and chests (10XP)
      Presence Concealment 1: Sneak around enemies without being seen. (30XP)
      Spear Proficiency 1: Slightly increases damage and accuracy with spears. Adds 10 to affinity for purposes of equipping spears and 5 for any other polearm. (30XP)
      Herbology 1: Allows you to understand the properties of common plants, medicines and drugs (20XP)
      Red String Sight: Allows you to see bonds of romantic love as thin red strings. 10MP (90XP)

    • Skills obtained and raised automatically by meeting certain criteria.
      Active:
      None

      Passive:
      With Unworthy Hands: Know by sight when you won't be able to use an item.
      Basic Literacy: You can read, a little.
      Navigator: You have an easy time making mental maps and tracking your location. You'll never become lost or forget the landscape under normal circumstances, and you can sense the path to the nearest bastion of civilization even deep in the wilderness.
      Reckless Hero: You've done the stupid and the impossible. Receive a significant damage boost when attacking an enemy more than twice your level.


      Personal:
      Transcendent Thoughts: Chaotic spirits influence your mind, making you prone to erratic behavior and rendering your intelligence attribute completely immune to any detection skills. All intelligence based skills are reassigned to other attributes instead.

      Variant Bloodline: Increase Monstrous Bloodline's rank by 1 for all purposes. Does not effect the rate at which monstrous bloodline improves. Evolves into ??????? when Monstrous Bloodline reaches its natural maximum rank



    • Practice Spear: A long sturdy, slightly sharp stick sized for a child. (Affinity 0 Needed)
      Basic Health PotionX3: Recovers up to 300HP over a few minutes. High alcohol content
      TorchesX4: Easy to light
      Magic Whistle: Blow it to call for help in the forest
      Cage: Great for keeping a small fox trapped if you can find one in the first place.

     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  2. Threadmarks: Pets
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Companions


      • Name: Autumn Shade
        Sex: Male
        Age: 2
        Level: 5
        XP to Level:
        24/30 Current XP: 124


        Race: Feline
        Species Shadow Leopard
        Rank: B+
        Element: Shadow
        HP: 25/25
        MP: 12/12

        Attributes:
        Stamina: 12 ****
        Strength:
        11 *****
        Agility: 20
        ******
        Affinity: 1
        *
        Perception:
        14 *****
        Luck:
        32 *
        Charisma:
        18 ****
        Intelligence
        : 1 *


        Color Code:
        *= Will not grow automatically, **=Slow Growth, ***=Average Growth, ****=Fast Growth, *****=Great Growth, ******=Genius, *******+= Cheating

      • Skills Learned Automatically by leveling up.

        Active:
        Presence Concealment 1: Sneak around enemies without being seen. 2MP/Minute
        Swipes 1: Launch an incredibly fast flurry of swiping attacks with a claw weapon. 10MP
        Blur 1: Step into shadows and conceal your location, blending with the darkness, obscuring your position and gaining a powerful bonus to evasion until exposed to direct light in sufficient quantities. Must be activated in deep shadows, but can be maintained anywhere besides brightly lit areas. 5MP/minute


        Passive:
        Cat's Eye: Increases Visual Acuity and allows Autumn to see in all but total darkness
        Falling Grace 1: Decreases falling damage.
        Shadow Affinity: Increases damage dealt by and decreases damage received from shadow attribute skills. Those who learn Shadow Affinity may never learn light affinity.​
        Shadowy Body 1: Darkness empowers you. Gain +3 to all stats when in sufficient darkness. Does not effect HP or MP.
        Rending Claws 1: Autumn's Claws and Fangs are as sharp and durable as a low grade iron weapon.


      • Skills not specific to your class, learned through diligent study followed by spending XP.

        Active:
        None

        Passive:
        Tracker 1: Enables the user to follow a trail, given a sample to smell and pierce through some weak stealth skills.

        Studied:

      • Skills obtained and raised automatically by meeting certain criteria.
        Active:
        Poison Claw 1: An attack that with a moderate chance to inflict poison status. Life elemental 5MP

        Passive:
        Blood Bonded Beast: Allows the beast to better understand its master, grants improved reasoning abilities beyond an animal's thoughts, allows studied skills to be obtained more easily, ????

        Sole Survivor: Through luck, Autumn survived when others did not. Allows Autumn to evade the next attack after being reduced to critical condition. Refreshes whenever HP is filled completely.

        Personal:
        None





      • Name: Mountain Peak Blossom
        Sex: NA
        Age: 9
        Level: 8
        XP to Level: 25/30 Current XP: 97

        Race: Plant
        Species: Carnelian Serpent Vine
        Rank: B
        Element: Life, Earth
        HP: 45/45
        MP: 28/28
        Condition: Hungry

        Attributes:
        Stamina:
        27 ******
        Strength: 11 *****
        Agility: 3 **
        Affinity: 2 *
        Perception: 6 **
        Luck: 45 **
        Charisma: 17 ****
        Intelligence: 2 *

        Color Code: *= Will not grow automatically, **=Slow Growth, ***=Average Growth, ****=Fast Growth, *****=Great Growth, ******=Genius, *******+= Cheating

      • Skills Learned Automatically by leveling up.

        Active:
        Drain Blood 2: Latch onto an enemy and drain their HP at a rate determined by stamina 3MP/minute
        Drain Spirit 2: Latch onto an enemy and drain their MP at a rate determined by stamina 1MP/minute
        Nature Mimic 1: By holding still it's possible to pass as an ordinary plant to most basic awareness skills. 5MP to activate.
        Harden 1: Momentarily grants the user's body the toughness of stone. 5MP
        Slumber Powder 1: Creates several flower buds that douse a nearby enemy with a powerful sedative. 10MP


        Passive:
        Healing Affinity: Increases effects of healing skills used and received. Those who learn Healing Affinity may never learn Death Affinity.
        Stone Affinity: Increases damage dealt by and decreases damage received from earth attribute skills. Those who learn Earth Affinity may never learn Air Affinity.​
        Regrowth 1: Consume nutrients to passively regenerate even severe limb damage and crippling effects or to extend its shape. Consumes HP. Maximum size determined by stamina.
        Heart Striking Instinct: In lieu of sight this skill enables its user to acquire information about its surroundings. Range and detail provided vary with perception.


      • Skills not specific to your class, learned through diligent study followed by spending XP.

        Active:
        None

        Passive:

        Studied:

      • Skills obtained and raised automatically by meeting certain criteria.
        Active:
        None

        Passive:
        Blood Bonded Beast: Allows the beast to better understand its master, grants improved reasoning abilities beyond an animal's thoughts, allows studied skills to be obtained more easily, ????

        Tiger Lily Grace: Permanently increases agility by one rank.

        Personal:
        None




      • Name: Quiet Willow
        Sex: Female
        Age: 59
        Level: 38

        Class: Servant
        Specialty: Housekeeper
        Rank: D+


      • Name: Stone Soul
        Sex: Female
        Age: 28
        Level: 44

        Class: Healer
        Specialty: Combat Medic
        Rank: C+
        Element: Life

      • Name: Miren
        Sex: Female
        Age: 14
        Level: 18

        Race: Ogre
        Species: Dream Ogre
        Rank: C+
        Element: Light

      • Name: Laughter
        Sex: Male
        Age: 19
        Level: 13

        Class: Chef
        Specialty: --
        Rank: D+

      • Name: Soft Crash
        Sex: Female
        Age: 25
        Level: 16

        Class: Inventor
        Specialty: Thunder-Calling 'Hero'
        Rank: C-
        Element: Lightning

      • Name: Rocky Ox
        Sex: Male
        Age: 11
        Level: 7

        Class: Warrior
        Specialty: --
        Rank: D

      • Name: Green Stone
        Sex: Male
        Age: 62
        Level: 43

        Class: Hunter
        Specialty: Groundskeeper
        Rank: D+

      • Name: Summer's Night

        Sex: Female
        Age: 53
        Level: 31

        Class: Servant
        Specialty: Cook
        Rank: D
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
  3. Threadmarks: Tutorials
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    • Level is the most basic representation of power. Measured between 1 and 1000, level denotes 'fulfillment of one's potential'. In practice, those beyond level 200 are shockingly rare, and even the oldest and most powerful masters and legendary monsters do not rise higher than 500.

      Together with rank, a person's level is the most vital key to understanding his power at a glance.

      The 8 attributes govern one's raw ability, and how well one may use those raw abilities to shape magic. Those who wield power through agility tend to fast spells reliant on quick movement and thinking. By contrast, charisma based magic is largely social, influencing attitudes more than anything else.

      Attributes are ranked from 1 upwards. Higher rank denotes a faster rate of growth. An attribute of 1 is unlikely to rise without dedicated training, while a warrior with an attribute of ten might hit the maximum possible value before even reaching level 100. In practice, even B ranked warriors are unlikely to have their highest attribute above 5, and only S and SS ranked monsters have attributes rated above 7.
    • Ranks represent increasing power. Largely fixed across one's life it becomes possible to use skills like Scan, Analyze, Insight or Eye of God to read a person's status only for those older than 10, leading to the belief that the soul is in flux until that moment of crystallization when one's rank, class attributes and specialty are determined.

      A person's rank is a simple measure of potential. It is commonly thought that Rank is comparable to a container, while level is the water that fills it up. Even a small bucket may hold more than an empty lake from moment to moment, but none would doubt that the lake can hold more than a bucket, no matter what happens to the lesser container.

      In practice, rank is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It simply measures the gestalt ability of a given adventurer. In general, one's rank is fixed from the moment it is first seen, however those who, through instructor or skill book, manage to learn rare skills or obtain unique event skills may manage to raise their rank.

      Within each rank, a + or – may denote something that is strong or weak for its respective rank. However, the gap between a C+ and a B- is still larger than the gap between C and C+.

      E – Those of the lowest rank. Either peasant classes with next to no skills or classless adventurers incapable of leveling up in the first place. This group includes roughly 70% of the population. E ranked monsters are fairly rare and unusually weak.

      D – Better than E rank, D ranked people may be peasants with rarer skills or possess basic ability in one of the other classes. Low on potential, they are nonetheless capable of improving themselves and learning weak magic simply via gaining experience at life. D ranked adventurers include roughly 25% of the population. Most common monsters are D ranked.

      C – C rank can be seen as the local elite or the upper class. A C ranked warrior can naturally rise to the level of a master simply through fighting. The elite of society generally fall within C rank which includes but 5% of humanity. C ranked monsters are powerful threats capable of destroying a small village alone.

      B – B ranked people are natural geniuses. Possessed of powerful or unique skills, rare specialties and incredible stats, B ranked warriors are natural superhumans. In the tens of millions of people in the Empire, there are perhaps 5 thousand B ranked people. B ranked monsters are 'bosses' or rare and powerful beasts that can threaten entire parties of adventurers easily.

      A – The A ranked are unique legends and anomalies whose names spread across the empire. In the entirety of the empire there are perhaps a few dozen A ranked warriors. The majority of those at A rank are those who began at B+ and managed to raise their attributes through diligent training or happenstance. Perhaps 1 in 10 A rank adventurers were born with such affinity. A ranked monsters are unique and terrifying creatures that can menace entire regions

      S – S rank is one given solely to powerful monsters, confronted either by entire parties of A ranked adventurers or by hundreds of others working in concert.

      SS – The rarest class of sacred beast and the most terrifying monsters possess an SS rank. The appearance of an SS ranked creature is enough cause to muster an army. The four directional guardians are the only known living monsters to occupy SS rank.

      ?? - Naturally the great gods and the founding emperor must have possessed ranks higher than even SS.


    • Classes are divided into several category. Martial classes are those associated with various roles in combat, whether large or small scale. Artisan classes are used for those who create items or knowledge and Utility classes are a broad category encompassing all other classes. There is also a 'peasant' class that denotes the absolute weakest classes which possess no particular strengths or skills. Likewise, religious doctrine states that a “deity” class exists above the three categories and is reserved for heavenly beings.

      • Martial classes are the rarest, and in general, the most well regarded within the Empire. Even low ranked martial classes can join the various guilds to work as mercenaries or rise within the army by displaying good judgment in place of skill. At their height a martial class of the A rank may be worth thousands of ordinary soldiers, capable of reversing the course of a war or conquering a nation single-handedly.

        The vast majority of those with martial classes fall into:
        Warrior: Those who specialize in melee combat above all else
        Scout: those that specialize in stealth, evasion and self-sufficiency as well as travel
        Archer: those that use ranged combat from magical to conventional methods
        Leader: those most proficient at assisting their allies, commanding and influencing large battles,
        Healer: those who excel at defensive and support skills

        Exceptions exist

      • These are more diverse than martial classes. Artisan class people are more common than martial but less than utility. Accordingly even a D ranked Artisan class can earn a stable income, while a C or B ranked artisan might make a fortune. The works of A ranked artisans are priceless heirlooms possessed of potent magic.

        Some common artisan classes are:

        Smith: Those who specialize in creating works out of metal
        Artist: Those who specialize in creating works of primarily aesthetic value such as paintings or sculpture
        Writer: Those who use the written word to sway others
        Inventor: Those who design and create new works of science
        Scholar: Those gifted in researching the laws of magic or nature
        Farmer: One capable of shaping plants and animals through various methods

      • Utility Classes generally possess the lowest prestige apart from peasants and those without any class at all. The most common utility classes, servant and merchant, provide very little in the ways of bonuses at most tiers.

        However, an A rank merchant would almost certainly possess skills that could sway the fates of countries rather than battles.

        Almost all utility utility classes are:

        Servant: Those who excel at simple, primarily domestic work.
        Entertainer: Performers and musicians that dazzle onlookers
        Merchant: Those skilled at the art of buying and selling.



    • Within every class, there are an uncountable number of specialties. In general, if a class denotes one's general approach, specialty describes a method.

      While both the brawler and the monk are warriors reliant on unarmed combat, the brawler prioritizes incredible strength first and foremost, then uses charisma to intimidate foes. By contrast the monk relies on agility and perception to deliver quick targeted strikes using the chi skill tree.

      Likewise, the sorcerer that uses intelligence to create large scale chant-based magic, the sniper which uses perception and long bows to strike from incredible range, and the 'Improvised Weapon Master' that uses incredible agility and strength to grab and throw anything as a powerful weapon are all archers of potentially equal skill.

      The Strategist, Devil Summoner and Beast Tamer are all basic variations of the leader class with quite different abilities.

      Unlike one's class, it is notionally possible to change or evolve a specialty, though the method of doing so has long been lost.

    • Chiefly, growth happens through experience points. Upon completing tasks, slaying monsters or solving difficult problems, a person with a class will earn XP, a reward from the heavens themselves.

      Experience has two functions. Firstly, earning XP will raise your level automatically at various thresholds. However, simply raising your level will only provide the most basic skills of your class and raise your attributes.

      XP may also be spent to increase your skills directly, or occasionally to raise an attribute. Spending XP this way does not slow the rate at which one levels. Or rather, the total amount of experience you have earned in your life determines your level, while each point may be spent in several ways.

      Not all skills are equal, and the cost to learn or raise a skill with experience varies. Likewise, it is generally not considered valuable to raise attributes with experience. The cost to raise attributes one is not talented in is generally prohibitively expensive. And, while attributes where one has talent are far cheaper, their growth will generally be sufficient without spending XP.

      Lastly, a person may grow in strength through event and personal skills. These rare skills are secret techniques bestowed by heaven merely for meeting certain criteria. They may not be trained or improved with experience, and vary wildly in strength. For anyone cursed with little potential, learning rare and powerful event skills is the only sure way to increase their ability.

      At their weakest, event skills are trinkets and curiosities. The Pearl Diver skill serves only to incrementally increases the length of time one may hold their breath underwater.

      At their strongest, event skills such as General Mu Zen's Celestial Dragon Slayer, can permanently raise someone's potential with multiple attributes, bestow elemental affinities and allow someone to learn rare skills usually learnable only be powerful monsters.

    • All magic is accomplished through skills.

      In practice there are four categories of skills, Core, Supplementary, Studied and Event.

      Core Skills are the basic components of a class, such as the Presence Concealment almost all scouts possess. These are learned and improved solely through leveling up. On one hand this means that these skills require no dedicated investment, however it is also impossible to push these skills beyond their normal growth pace.

      Supplementary Skills are those class based skills that many members may choose to avoid depending on their personal goals. These skills are still natural talent and require no training to learn or master. A person merely needs to spend the necessary XP to learn a Supplementary Skill once they meet all prerequisites, though incredibly harsh and focused training may allow one to improve a skill without spending XP.

      Studied Skills are similar to Supplementary Skills, however they fall outside the purview of one's class and as such may not be mastered through intuition. Generally Studied skills must first require a student to work with a skill book or instructor to understand the skill and then spend XP to accelerate the learning time from years to days.

      Event Skills are a reward from the heavens for meeting certain criteria. These may vary from "Dive to the bottom of the depths of Lake Xia" to "Strike the killing blow against the SS+ monster Handsome Monkey King." Naturally the latter's skill would be far far superior to the former.

      Lastly, Personal Skills are a subtype of event skills unlocked for 'being yourself'. Very rare, their effects can vary dramatically. Personal skills may not normally be learned, but personal revelations or character growth may cause one to evolve.

      In principal, the right Studied or Event skill may allow a person to rank up, particularly if it synergizes with their abilities or removes a key weakness.

    • The Empire is the greatest country in history.

      Its Emperor is a descendent of heaven and a living demi-god incapable of error.

      Supporting the Emperor, the Four Imperial clans are the strong pillars of society, bearing the sacred blood of the royal family.

      The Eight Great Noble Clans descended from the first Emperor's closest advisers are the strong backbone of the country. Their righteous and talented descendents govern the many cities of the empire into prosperity.

      The Celestial Conquering Army, led by the Four Great Vanquishing Generals fills the empire's sacred task of expanding its territory and bringing its enlightened rule to all.

      The guilds solve problems for common people of the empire, working for the happiness of their fellow citizens.

      Citizens, from the first rank of nobility and elite warriors to the 12th ranks of E rank peasants are blessed with knowledge of their place and their destiny. Everything is as it should be.

      The Four Imperial Clans are:
      1. Qin
      2. Tang
      3. Song
      4. Cheng

      The 8 Great Noble Clans are:
      1. Mu
      2. Han
      3. Tan
      4. Yin
      5. Di
      6. Liu
      7. Yuwen
      8. Zeng

      The current emperor is Qin Yu, but it's illegal to use his name.

    • You know, like Fire and Lithium and stuff.

    • Monsters are any non-humans capable of movement that possesses a character sheet. For example, some plants will register as items, but a plant monster will always have stats, a rank and a level when viewed through successful analysis.

      Strictly speaking all animals are monsters, but common usage does not include unranked animals in the category.

      Monsters can roughly be divided into four categories

      Beasts: Are living monsters that are not devils. Whether a plant, bug, animal, fungus, etc any organic lifeform is a 'beast' type monster.
      Spirits: Are those monsters that lack a physical form. Elementals, ghosts, spirits, etc are all spirit type monsters.
      Artificials: Are created monsters that are not, strictly speaking, alive. The zombies a necromancer raises, a flying sword or a clockwork monstrosity that moves under its own power.
      Devils: Are intelligent monsters. Generally any creature that is both non-human and capable of speech is a devil instead of, or in addition to, one of the other types.

      Some monsters fall into more than one category. A lich is both a devil and an artificial monster, as it has human intelligence and a non-living body. A panther that had part of its body turned to stone might count as both artificial and beast.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2015
  4. Threadmarks: A New Wind Begins to Blow
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    You've been on the streets since mom got knifed by some drunk bastard who thought she was a whore. You were four then, and now you're ten. You've spent six years picking pockets, begging whatever poor saps you can find and...

    [ ] Running with a gang to watch your back. You need friends to get by on the streets.
    [ ] Making it alone. Gangs are nothing but trouble. Trusting anyone in the Lower City's a great way to end up on a cart with a collar on your neck
    But you're ten now, you have to go and get scanned. Oh sure, you know a few kids who thought they could get away or just never learned what day it was that some jackass tossed them into this shithole of a city. Some made it a few weeks, but the guards always got 'em in the end, they always do, and then the kid went anyway with a little extra beating and maybe a few broken bones as thanks for making the city guard work for once.

    So you go to the squat gray building, statues of the four sacred beasts lining the doors to show it's all official and everything. Even you know about the Rebellion 15 years ago, and how it changed everything for the lower city. There's always been kids on their own or whose family can't afford a home that's all proper and stuff. So they built some fancy little place to analyze everyone. No one wants another upstart, and you guess they figure the best way to do that's to make sure they find any kid who might be some B ranked general by the time they're 20 and make sure he grows up all happy and trusting authority.

    From what you've heard about growing up, your soul's gone all weird or something since you're ten and that means you're level 1 now, though you definitely don't feel any different. Some bastard with the right active skill can just take a look at you and know all your stats just like that, can look at you and know just how pathetic a brat you're going to be for the rest of your life.

    It makes you

    [ ] Scared. You've wanted to be good, but face the facts, 9 out of 10 are just Ds or Es, ain’t worth feeding or smartening up. At best you could be some foot soldier or merchant, but you're from the lower city so best ain't going to happen.
    [ ] Excited. Here it is the moment where everyone realizes how awesome you are, sees that nice sweet C+ or, if you're lucky enough to be a true genius, B-. All those doors that shut whenever people see your dirty face and bare feet will open up all nice and proper.
    [ ] Both: You know you're supposed to be special, you're awesome, but.. Yeah, the analysis guy or whatever might lie or get it wrong, that's all. He's working in lower city and there's no way anyone worth a damn would be.​

    So you go, let them hand you some fancy marker with all sorts of squiggles and writing on it. You think it's a number, but you haven't tried to learn reading in 6 years so you're not really sure. The lady working out front argues for a bit, wondering how a girl as small as you could really be ten.

    The guard making sure no one walks off with those fancy statues says something about a street brat that can't be bothered to go grab an honest meal in the kitchens. Of course he thinks that no one would starve in the Emperor's city. Idiot.

    You almost let slip how a little tiny brat like you'd never get into the kitchens, that only the proper beggars can manage most of the time, the ones who look pathetic enough or honest enough or tough enough that the guards—and the other residents of Low Town that spot 'em leaving—don't think they'll steal or don't think it'll be much fun to give 'em a good trashing for 'impertinence.'

    But it's a guard saying this, even if it's a fat one who probably couldn't chase you worth a damn, and if you say anything, he might just throw you out, then get you beaten for trying to dodge the scan. So you smile and grin like you're some idiot that don’t know anything about anything, then make a gesture at him when he's not looking.

    Too soon, they call you in. You haven't quite toughened up your heart yet enough for this. Some skinny, worn down gray-robe, who can't afford the proper purple trim to look like a real official, looks at you through a pair of glasses and tells the guard that there's “No way a rat this small could possibly be of the appropriate age.”

    Of course the guard apologizes, then tells gray robe to get on with it and promises he'll take you out back and 'treat you right' if you're wasting all their important time. Get on with it, like your entire future isn't worth five minutes of this guard's time. Still there isn't much the robe can say to that, so he waves at you with a hand and mutters a quiet “Analyze”. You've seen thieves in the lower town, and sometimes better guards too. The good ones wouldn't bother to say the name just to use a skill, but a talented official wouldn't be down with the muck and the beggars in Lower City either.

    You don't see anything, but it's not an obvious magic, instead Gray Robe's eyes get kinda droopy and far off as he reads something only he can see.

    “Name:”

    [ ] Little Bee
    [ ] Uncrushable Wild-Flower
    [ ] Pebble
    [ ] Write-in
    It scares you that he can just look at you and know all that, but the gray robe doesn't care about that.

    “Age: Ten. Gender: Female, not that you'd know it looking at her,” bastard, “Highest and lowest attributes:”

    Attributes are your basic raw abilities. What you're voting on now is your potential. Your high attribute will scale very quickly as you level, while your low attribute will barely increase at all. Intelligence may not be chosen as either your high or low attribute. Any attribute may pair with any class. With the right specialty, there will be a way to use them, though some attributes are more easily paired with some classes than others.

    Magic, if influenced by an attribute, may use any of them depending on the skill in question. There is no dedicated magic attribute.

    Stamina- Determines HP and MP. Enables someone to act for longer without succumbing to exhaustion.
    Strength- Influences damage, accuracy, as well as how much weight you can carry and use.
    Agility- Influences accuracy, movement speed and defense
    Affinity- Slightly adjusts MP, Determines what magical items and equipment you can use, and
    increases your compatibility with them.
    Perception- Determines what you can notice both by strengthening senses senses and your ability to interpret them. Slightly influences drop rate.
    Luck- Influences both defense and HP. Increase drop rate for rare items as well as events. Helps with all actions.
    Intelligence- Influences reasoning ability. You may not pick this as your high or low attribute.
    Charisma
    - Allows you to influence others and hide your intentions.

    [ ] Your high stat is _____________; your low stat is ______________
    Well, that's sounds right. If it was anything else you wouldn't really be you would you? But now it's gotta be the important bit. You hold your breath. Here's the moment where he tells you you're worthless, a peasant or just entirely classless.

    “Cla...” he pauses, rereading. You try to hide the shakes in your hands. That's good right? He wouldn't get all surprised if it just said 'nothing' or 'peasant.' You fight back the urge to scream in joy, to dance like mad, to do anything that might come crashing down when he decides it's just something in his throat and you're E ranked after all.

    Then he takes a deep breath, then looks at you again, focused, awake, “Scan” he says a second time, more forcefully. So he messed up the skill? Lost it before he could grab your class, your stats and your rank?

    “Name, age, gender, class,” he takes a deep breath, “Class:

    Classes divide into several categories both in terms of how 'good' they are, and what they do. Yours is a martial class, which is to say a class that will be most relevant to combat situations rather than crafting or daily life. Each class is very broad, and most people with a martial class have a specialty as well as a class which governs how you approach your class' focus.

    The most common martial classes are:
    Warrior: Those who specialize in melee combat above all else
    Scout: those that specialize in stealth, evasion and self-sufficiency as well as travel
    Archer: those that use ranged combat from magical to conventional methods
    Leader: those most proficient at assisting their allies, commanding and influencing large battles,
    Healer: those who excel at defensive and support skills

    [ ] What's your class?
    -[ ] (Choose from above)
    -[ ] Write-in (Subject to GM Approval, will be counted as another if it falls under that instead)
    You collapse to your knees, not ever trying to stop the tears and snot and mucus and stuff that seem to be leaking from everywhere. You don't really know how good or bad or whatever that is, but it's not a peasant tier class. It's not 'no class' at all. You have a future now. You'll be able to join a guild or the army. If nothing else you could sell yourself into indentured servitude for a few years, earn enough money to buy admittance to the sixth or fifth rank of citizens and work as a merchant or something.

    You can be a real person, a true servant of the emperor. No one will beat you or starve you now. You're valuable.

    [ ] And you're never going back there.
    [ ] And won't everyone be excited to hear about this!
    You're so excited, and his voice drops to such a shocked whisper, that you almost miss the last part of his scan.

    “Rank... That's, Rank: A-”

    Any thoughts about anything flee from your head. The guard stares at you, eyes wide with shock. The scanner doesn't even sound like he believes himself. You don't either of course. It just doesn't happen. People aren't that talented. Maybe a once in a generation hero might be a B+ or something and work their way up if they can find the right event skills or learn something particularly nasty and be a legend. And of course, as little as you know about them, you know that an Imperial Prince, chosen by heaven, probably has to have something somewhere around A. But no one real, no person like you starts out higher than C. Even B's a dream..

    The scanner speaks first, “It has to be a mistake of course. Maybe a personal skill that defeats simple scanning skills? incredibly rare, but more likely than..” he hesitates. Of course he would, it's his job to note down what your class and abilities are for the official census, but he can't just write A-. They'd execute him for forgery or incompetence or something.

    At length he glances at the guard, then sighs, “We'll need to bring her into the inner city of course. Experts more skilled than I should be able to see the truth of the matter at any of the more central offices.”

    So that's it... But... a personal skill? You've heard of those, unique abilities someone has for being them instead of from their class. But, they're rare as hell. Even a gutter rat like you knows General Zen has one of course, but you don't know of anyone else that does, and Mu Zen's a living legend.

    Then the gray robe really actually looks at you for maybe the first time. He winces and looks back to the guard.

    “Take that thi.. her to the nearest relatively clean inn and arrange for her to be washed. I doubt she knows what a bath is. Have her clothes burned as well. We'll have to arrange something, but it would be far better to walk the streets naked in the real city than wear those rags. Shave her head as well, I shudder to think about what's living in that hair.”

    You glare at him. The bastard thinks you're stupid! You totally know what a bath is, and you went swimming a month ago! So what if the lake's got a bit of trash and mud in it? It's water so that counts, doesn't it. Besides, it's just unnatural to be too clean, like you think you're better than folks or some kinda smarmy fancy noble whose never had to work.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  5. Threadmarks: Gales Spiral Through the Capital
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    You don't want to talk about the bath, either of them, or the fact that the guards, and a few of the workers at an inn hold you down and shave your head like you're one of those monks you've seen passing through the lower city now and again. Worse, the new clothes they give you, a plain brown robe and a cap to cover your bald head, itch. They're too clean, too bright. You can't help but look around every chance you get. You're dressed as a mark and that's never good. Still the guard next to you stops anyone else from approaching. No one from Lower Town's going to pick a fight with a guard if they can help it.

    You see Crazy Bird looking at you from an alley. The question in his eyes is clear. For a moment, you want to call out to him, then a guard glances his way and he's gone. It's just as well. You won't belong to that world from now on. Any of them would take the chance to get out just as much as you, and you're not going back.

    The Gray robe joins, not bothering to introduce himself. He argues with the guard, but eventually you find yourself being dragged up to the real city. You've never been inside the red stone walls that ring the Imperial City. No one from the Lower City could get through, though the whole of the Lower City's built up a stone's throw from the real city. Today, with a guard by your side, respectable people clothes and Gray robe greasing the way, you have no problem getting into the city. You're lead to another city office, one fairly close to the gates. It's much nicer. The four guardian statues are real marble, and the building looks downright pretty.

    It doesn't even have more than one guard on duty though. How the hell would they be safe if anyone tried to rob the place? Inside, the gray robe spends only a few minutes talking to a secretary, before you're led into an office. There, gray robe with fancy embroidery seems surprised to see Gray Robe. The two talk for a few minutes, after which gray robe tells him to just look at you.

    Embroidered Gray Robe doesn't need to say the skill name, or do more than look at you for a few seconds. Once again, he speaks out your name, age and other personal details, his eyes widen as he reads the rest.

    “Attributes, Strength: 1, Charisma: …. 7!? and...”

    [ ] You have 21 points to divide between your 5 remaining attributes. No attribute may be below 2. Raising an attribute from 5 to 6 costs 2 points. No attribute may be raised above 6.​

    “Class: Leader, Specialty:”

    Divided into categories for easy comprehension of the range of the class.

    And fine, have a shape-shifter if people want to go that way.

    Monster Tamer- Those that recruit and tame powerful beasts
    Aura Master: uses psychic abilities and passive auras to influence others, bond with and strengthen monsters (Key attributes: Charisma, Perception)
    Bestial Adept: Fights side by side with monsters after befriending them. Adept at cooperation and capable of taking on a variety of monstrous abilities and appearances after learning them from her allies. (Key attributes: Charisma, Stamina)
    Charm Painter: Capable of using ink and paper to construct powerful monsters out of next to nothing. (Key attributes: Charisma, Affinity)
    General: Specialized in commanding armies or squads rather than single parties. Focused on incredible scale rather than strength of effects
    Geomancer: capable of casting powerful spells to alter the battlefield rather than its inhabitants (Key Attributes: Intelligence, Affinity)
    General Write-ins are LOCKED (The odds of an immediate bad end would be too high.)
    Hero: Those who mix leadership skills, support magic, combat and everything else to help enhance their party from the front.
    Tyrant: Charismatic warrior that leads from the front, intimidating foes and rousing allies to obey. (Key attributes: Charisma, Strength)
    Heavenly Champion: support specialist with strong defensive abilities and a variety of healing and support magic to protect his allies. (Key Attributes: Charisma, Luck)​
    Necromancer: Those who command the dead to fight for them rather than living soldiers
    Piper of Hamelin: Possesses musical ability that can cause the dead to dance and control rodents and children. (Key attributes: Charisma)​
    Trickster: Those who use traps and trickery to weaken enemies even as they strengthen allies.
    Quick-Fingered Lute Master: manipulates uses song and trickery to support their allies, confuse enemies. (Key attributes: Charisma, Agility)
    Beguiling Trap-Master: masters deception and misdirection as well as prepared traps and tools used to weaken the enemy before the battle even starts. (Key attributes: Charisma, Affinity)
    Tactician: Those adept at leading small parties of other humans from the rear. Specialized in pure support over any diffusion.
    Wild Hearted Temptress: Uses beauty and song to inspire foes and drive enemies to the point of madness. (Key attribute: Charisma)
    Azure Mountain Path Sage: Possesses keen insight into tactics, eyes that pierce through any deception and read the battlefield perfectly (Key attributes: Charisma, Perception)​
    [ ] What specialty are you? (Write-ins subject to QM approval)​

    Embroidered Gray Robe doesn't seem to believe his own voice, but he continues despite himself.

    “Rank A-. Skills, Base: Inspirational as standard. Supplementary: None. Studied: None. Event: None... Personal, there is one! 'Transcendent Thoughts: Chaotic spirits influence your mind, making you prone to erratic behavior and rendering your intelligence attribute completely immune to any detection skills. All intelligence based skills are reassigned to other attributes instead.'”

    He writes this down as he speaks. Then Embroidered Gray Robe stops and casts scan again, muttering about mistakes. It looks like he made one, but that doesn't seem to make him trust his evaluation any more.

    [ ] Actually, your stats are a little higher than he read the first time.
    -[ ] Assign 2 more stat points.
    [ ] Actually you have a second personal skill.
    -[ ] That's offensive in nature
    -[ ] That provides a passive boost to your abilities
    -[ ] That allows you to move with shocking speed
    -[ ] That gives you a new mode of perception
    Embroidered Robe casts the skill twice more, then he sends Gray Robe and the guard away, writes a note to his secretary he won't explain, and drags you deeper into the city.

    Your next destination is a park in the most central parts of the city. At its center stands a ten floored tower with weird-sorta roofs around each floor. It's surrounded by gardens and several long wooden buildings.

    He ignores the pagoda and drags you into one of the wooden buildings. Then he stands politely outside of a rice paper door and announces himself.

    “Official of the Seventh Rank in his Eternal Emperor's Service, Laughing Crow to see Lord Han Wei.”

    You startle at that. Only nobles are allowed to have a name like that, that puts their family above themselves. You've never even dreamed of meeting someone so high up. And even a street brat like you knows the Han clan is one of the Eight Great Noble families.

    This is more than you ever dreamed. You're still waiting to wake up and discover that you just fainted after they told you that you were a classless E rank. As Laughing Crow the room, you pinch your way too clean flesh as hard as you can.

    No, you haven't woken up yet. Soon enough, Laughing Crow orders you to enter the room, waiting outside himself.

    The man inside is thin as a bamboo shoot. He wears robes of the finest gold and purple, and a tasseled hat that marks him as a scholar. On his left hand is a plain gray glove, hiding the mark of his rank and class as only citizens of the highest ranks are allowed to do.

    You don't know anything of manners, but you kneel on the floor and bow as deeply as you can, hoping he won't have you beaten for wasting his time.

    Lord Han Wei takes only a second to scan you, before whistling faintly to himself.

    “Get up girl, you're only making a fool of yourself. There's no need to bow like that to anyone short of a Clan Leader or royalty, much less the mere third son of a branch family, besides, your talents are such that there are very few you will need bow to”

    Blushing, you stand, though you don't meet his eyes. Maybe if you keep staring at the floor he won't realize how red you're blushing.

    “The question, of course, is what to do with you. In the entirety of the empire there are only a few dozen individuals at A rank. No one would predict that a child of no account or status could join their number. There are many who would regard such, particularly a charisma specialist like yourself, as a threat rather than an asset.”

    He wants something, he's leading you somewhere, trying to scare you, just like any member of another gang bragging about what his kin are going to do to you when they find you. Here and now, you're really really scared.

    Han Wei pays you no mind. He's clearly a man used to talking at people instead of talking with them, “Naturally, you could dispel these worries in a variety of ways. You might join the army. While usually no youth younger than fourteen, much less a girl younger than fourteen, would be accepted, it's only logical that exceptions might be made in your case.” Han Wei, idly moves to his desk, sorting through a few papers as he continues to talk.

    “Of course, I doubt a street rat could manage army discipline, and while the army would push you to develop incredibly quickly, but I doubt they could truly provide you with the resources or troops you would need to succeed. At least, they would not do so before you demonstrated merit beyond your raw ability. Without such tools, it's all but impossible to believe that you would be able to flourish.”

    That doesn't sound terribly good. On the other hand, even if you couldn't easily earn high status, you could still level up a lot in the army, and probably quit later.

    Han Wei keeps the same carefully dismissive tone, “You also might sell yourself into servitude. The imperial family, any of the great generals or the noble clans would be delighted to purchase the contract of one so talented. You would have little say in your future, but once the term of your contract expired, you would be free to dictate your own affairs, and few would question your loyalty. Of course, I doubt one of your potential has any desire to live as a mere servant and you would have next to no say in your affairs.”

    A second bad option. Well, you doubt they'd abuse you, and they probably wouldn't waste you on domestic tasks, but selling yourself could trap you for seven or even fourteen years. Still Han Wei seems to be exaggerating here. He's selling you, building up your alternatives as worse before showing the good option at the end.

    Now Han Wei leans in, his eyes and his voice betraying that he's far too eager to bite up the prey standing before him, “You are, additionally, too young for marriage. However, it might rather easily be arranged that a child of your unknown lineage is discovered to belong to a long lost branch of a major clan. Naturally you would be adopted promptly to rectify this grave injustice. Only the clans might give you the proper fixtures needed to develop your potential, or merely to enjoy life as befits your status if that is your inclination. I believe it is the wisest course, and my own Han clan would be delighted to adopt you, youngest sister.”

    And what he's not saying is that the clan's going to want you stick with them forever, let them control your life in a hundred small ways and get a lot more than their money's worth out of you... But... to advance to a citizen of the third class in a day? You'd enjoy power and status beyond anything you ever dreamed of, the offer sounds almost too good to be true.

    But, it's a bit too close to a gang. They promised to take care of you too, and didn't mention all the fighting or the covering for each other or the problems until later. You could run... Pass up the status and the authority and privilege of the Imperial City and try to go it alone. It wouldn't be too hard to make your case today and start running, even if you don't have any gear or skills yet. You're A ranked so what can a few monsters in the wild do to you?

    Well?
    [ ] Time to enlist in the army
    [ ] Indentured Servitude is only a few years of your life in exchange for status, connections and a small fortune
    [ ] Adoption is a big commitment, but you could be noble, practically a queen in your own domain, one step removed from the godlike emperor!
    -[ ] But is the Han clan really your best option?
    [ ] Nope. Money-bags never have anything good in mind for street trash like you. Start running now and never look back..
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  6. Threadmarks: Canon Omake: An Old Friend
    redaeth

    redaeth Stubborn pedantrist

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    Have an omake, to convince those voting for Bestial Adept to consolidate the vote and for more to vote for it! Cause it looks like we might be going the necromancer path otherwise.

    Old Friends

    Little Bee knew the value of having companions. They watched your back, made sure those bigger then you couldn't crush you beneath their heel and gave you someone to huddle against in the cold nights. She even liked several of them. Little Crow and the way he snickered at another's misfortune, Uncrushable Wild Flower and her sheer refusal to give up and her wicked gift with a knife. Even Gentle Bear, who was not gentle at all, with his roars of defiance against the larger gangs often scared them away before he attracted the guard.

    But sometimes you wanted to be alone with your thoughts, to be quiet. So Little Bee would retreat to the dark corners and simply sit there with her eyes closed and ignored the world around her. It was during those times when she met the first thing she could truly call a friend. She had brought her small meal of the day with her and was slowly eating it when she felt the tug on her hand. A ragged eared stray, tail straight, and bristling and feral golden eyes stood before her. Hunger had driven it to attempt to steal her meal.

    Overcome with an impulse Little Bee shared her meal with the cat. The skeletal ribs, the matted fur, the glazed and glittering eyes. The snarl of its teeth. All spoke of something on the edge of death. If she didn't share her food this little cat would die.

    There was enough death in the Lower District.

    So she shared her meal, and her next meal and her next. And though her stomach grew leaner and her hands shook, she did not begrudge the loss. The cat began to fill out, only slightly but it took running her hands on its length to feel its ribs. It's fur became less matted, and shined in the sunlight. She named it Hungry Shadow and she and it hunted together for rats in the rafters and alleys.

    Then they would retire to their quite corner and share their meal. Hungry Shadow purring in her lap.

    Little Bee was not big nor strong. She had a glib enough tongue to get food from the sometimes generous merchants that plied their wares here. Or fast enough to grab something and run when they were not. But above all else she was perceptive. She could smell trouble approaching their gang before any of the others, and she often could spot guards a full block away and inform the rest in hurried whispers. It was said by those around her she shared the eyes and ears of her cat who shadowed her every moment.

    She saw them before they entered, and it was only that that saved them from a beating. They gathered up their meager belongings, and scurried through the small cracks the larger guards would not be able to follow. They would scatter and meet up in another such hovel. Only in this case Little Bee was unlucky, the guard had taken the time to station sentries around the back exits of the ruined building and she ran straight into him. White Owl was a scourge to the children of the gangs, he beat them badly enough to break bones and open flesh. He delighted in the power he had over them and spared no time in showing them how worthless they were.

    Laughing he picked her up by her knotted hair and Little Bee yowled in pain. White Owl slapped her once to shut her up then clenched his fist to deliver a proper blow when she screamed higher. "I will see your filth gone from this glorious city." He promised with a baring of his teeth. "Die."

    It happened in a flash, a snarling Hungry Shadow jumped from the low overhang and landed on White Owl's face, who let out a scream as sharp claws tore at his throat and eyes. Little Bee was dropped and running away as fast as her feet could carry her.

    The last thing she saw as she turned the corner was Hungry Shadow hitting the wall and falling limp, as Little Owl cursed and clutched his wounds.

    Later Little Bee sat in a dark corner and slowly ate her meal of the day, tears dripping from her eyes.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Howling Faster And Faster
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Adoption, the third rank, it's amazing! Beyond anything you could hope for. You want to speak up, to accept before Han Wei can think about what he just said and take it back. The words catch in your throat. Nothing's ever this nice.

    Once when you were little-littler-Brown Eyes thought it would be a good idea to rob a guard. He, the guard, not Brown Eyes, was half asleep at his post, drowsily making conversation with a woman at a nearby food stall. Better he'd been stupid enough to bring a big purse fat with coins into the Lower city. It was too good to pass up. So while all of you watched, Brown Eyes, who'd had the quietest cleverest hands of anyone you'd ever met, sneaked up behind the guard, yanked his purse and ran. Just like that Brown Eyes—all of you—were going to be rich.

    The sleepy guard's partner practically bumped into Brown Eyes before your friend made it five steps. Then the yelling started and clubs came out. They smashed Brown Eyes again and again. They kicked him and spat on him and beat him while Brown Eyes cried and apologized and begged them to stop. You watched him scream, ignored as passer-byes did their best to avoid the beating. Hearing this noble's offer, the only thing you can imagine is the despair and betrayal you saw in Brown Eyes' when he finally realized none of you were going to come help. Nothing in life is this good, and you don't want to go like that.

    “I...” you stop yourself in time. Is it really safe just to tell this powerful man no? You doubt he's used to hearing the word. Of course, you can't lie to him that easily. He might have you beaten or killed for the offense and no one would care. Okay Little Bee, there's got to be a way out of this. He's played pretty loosely with you until now, so maybe he'll be willing to give you just enough rope to save yourself.

    You frown and try to talk all fancy, “I... I am not very smart or anything and this is a really important decision, so could I have some time to think about this and decide tomorrow or something?” You're careful not to promise anything, a return here or an agreement.

    The Lord looks you over, weighing his options. Will he push harder and risk alienating you or let you go for now. After several minutes he turns toward a nearby shelf and begins to page through various texts.

    “Give me your hand,” Lord Han Wei's tone brooks no argument, so you extend your left hand, wondering if he's going to do anything to track or restrain you from leaving.

    “Reproduction Method: Flesh, permanent, violet.” There's a brief pulse of light and head heat. Then he lets go of your hand. What was (relatively) unmarred flesh on the back of your hand now sports a tattoo you recognize. Oh sure, you've only actually seen the large dots for E rank, the simple lines for D and occasionally a C ranked triangle with some fancier squiggles inside to tell everyone what class a person is.

    Your pentagon will mark you for life, showing any observer what rank you are at a glance. It also shows that you have been tested and entered into the census. You guess the three vertical lines are meant to be clawmarks or something for a monster tamer, but you're not really sure at the end. You stare at it, marveling. That's you, Little Bee, A- rank Bestial Adept.

    Then you come back to reality. You'll need to get some kind of glove or wrapping. You're not a noble or anything, so anyone could demand to see your mark, but you've spent 10 years living by being small and unnoticeable. There's no way you're going to broadcast this more than you need to.

    “You may leave. I trust,” Han Wei speaks with the tone of someone who'd never even think of trusting a street rat like you, “that you will make the proper decision. You may return when you have done so.”

    And you're dismissed. Bowing deeply again, you step out of the room without showing Han Wei your back, then run as far away from that building as you can get as fast as you can.

    Of course this leaves you alone in the inner city. You've never been here before, much less been here without anyone watching over you and making sure your hands stay where they're supposed to say. Even if the guards wouldn't stop you at the gates, getting this close to the center would just be asking for a beating or worse... Except now, your hand is marked like a real person's, your clothes are nicer and you're disgustingly clean enough to blend in with all the rich types around here.

    Part of you wants to run straight to the slave markets near lower city. The army's too risky, and 7 or 10 years of indenture at some rich idiot's house could net you a lot of safety growing up without the ties or traps that joining a family would have. Most importantly, you'll be safe. Whoever could afford to have an A ranked indentured servant would have to be powerful enough that Han Wei wouldn't risk offending them. Right?

    But what if they grab you before you get there? Even when you level up, your physical stats besides stamina won't get that good. Right now, nothing's worth mentioning. Without even what gains you will get, you don't have any chance at stopping anyone Han Wei might send after you to make sure you accept his offer.

    And, even if he doesn't have someone watching you to make sure you don't go for another clan or the army or the slave markets, can you really just leave this part of town so soon? You can practically hear all the coins jangling in so many purses. There's so many sights you haven't seen before. Big swathes of green parks growing right next to buildings! There's not even a piece of trash in sight and no one looks dusty. No one watches their back.

    The houses are all new, with wide streets so people can ride horses, or carry rikshaws or use anything else that's just as amazing, without running into anyone. You almost have to explore, don't you? What kind of person would you be if you didn't?

    [ ] You've never been in the inner city before, how could you pass up the urge.
    -[ ] Just walk around for a little bit before going to the slave market to indenture yourself.
    -[ ] Well, so many heavy purses around, who'd notice if you palmed a few while no one's looking?
    -[ ] Actually, you want to go back to lower city and say a few goodbyes after all.
    [ ] No, you've decided Straight to the markets
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  8. Threadmarks: The First Hint of Thunder
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 2 No, you've decided Straight to the markets: (Xicree, Adyen)
    [X] 5 You've never been in the inner city before, how could you pass up the urge.: (Alexander, redaeth, hunter09, Pandemonious Ivy, BFldyq)
    -[X] 5 Just walk around for a little bit before going to the slave market to indenture yourself.:
    (Alexander, redaeth, hunter09, Pandemonious Ivy, Bfldyq)

    You could try to lift a few wallets, but without learning at least pickpocket 1, you don't think you'd have much luck at all. Especially since you see a lot of lines tattooing the hands of passer-byes, and even the odd triangle. No one up here is showing a dot that'd tell everyone else they're trash. Really though, if you're honest, the reason you don't make a grab has more to do with how strange and wonderful upper city seems than anything else.

    The people are so clean and carefree. People walk around alone without looking suspiciously at everyone else. The children you see all have adults around, whether a noble's brat walking with obvious guards, or a merchant whispering quietly to his daughter. The buildings are all so new. High quality, painted wood with elegant slanted roofs. The colors match! You pass a shrine and whistle as people actually throw money into the donation box. In Lower City, not that you have many shrines, no one would bother. As bad luck as it is to rob a shrine, empty stomachs matter a lot more to most people than distant gods.

    Following the foot-traffic leads you to a wide paved street decorated with strange shops. In Lower city, the few merchants there are are devilishly sharp, ready to club or cut any grabby hands. Sure someone selling food might leave stuff out on a table or in barrels, but no one selling jewelry, not that anyone ever sells real jewelry, would put that stuff out where any hand could take it. It's so... easy. You're sure a few people will have enough perception to spot you, but a few decent thieves could make a fortune here in the upper city.

    You walk down the merchant's alley, marveling at everything from shiny stones like nothing you've ever imagined, to exotic furs, to real silks so fine they feel like air. The merchants watch you, but no one slaps your hand or shouts for the guards when you get near. A merchant selling roasted meat actually gives you some for free, and not the half-rotten or old stuff either. He does it just because your stomach's rumbling. Hah! The the sap would go broke in a day in Lower City. So what if he turns a little white when you grab the offered meat with your tattooed left hand; he's the freak who gives out fresh food for free, that has to be at least as rare as someone with your talent.

    So you laugh and marvel and maybe get a bit lost in this beautiful, alien, perfectly strange land you'd never believe was right next to lower city. And you almost miss the one thing that isn't so different. At first you think it's a coincidence, spotting the same person behind you 3 then 4 times. But as the minutes wear on, you're sure you've found a tail. He's dressed as oddly as everyone else up here, but calloused hands, narrowed eyes that keep glancing away whenever you try to meet them and a thick frame practically bursting with nervous energy give him away.

    Okay, you don't want to assume Han Wei sent him, because if Lord Han Wei really did send him then you're going to be in a ton of trouble. Besides, even upper city has to have a slaver or two, someone out to grab an unattached kid to make a few quick bucks. Well, you can deal with this. You slide into a shop, spend a few moments examining some spices and dash past the shopkeeper and out the back as soon as your tail looks away. The startled shopkeeper tries to say something to you, but you flash the tattoo on your hand, then hold a finger to your lips and he shuts right up.

    Before your tail can catch on, you're running. You don't have a clue where you'll go, but finding out can happen when you're sure no one's going to grab you off the streets and sell you; or worse, report you going to the slave markets back to Han Wei. Only when you're exhausted, even more lost and completely alone, do you start making your way out toward what you think is the city wall. The Imperial palace is really huge, and a bit higher than anywhere else in the city, so you just go down and away from that. Still, the sun's practically setting by the time you manage to work your way around the outer wall enough to find the slave market.

    +5XP

    It's near the gates, with Lower City's filth and dirt and everything out on the other side. What few buyers remain are way too well dressed and too well guarded for anywhere this close to Lower City, but no one would let the stink of the market any nearer to the emperor's palace. It's a normal, strangely reassuring place. You walk inside, smiling sadly at the beaten faces staring at you with sullen dead eyes. You feel pretty bad for the people penned up, or in covered cages for those too valuable to risk to the sun. But this is the first day of you're life you've been sure that that won't be you! Even if you're indentured for 10 or so years, you won't be property, just a servant on a long contract. You drag down a sleeve till it covers the back of your hand and try to find a merchant.

    Here you need to be careful. Indenture's different from slavery, even though they happen at the same place. For one, you'll be selling yourself at the market. You'll be getting most of the money, while whatever merchant that brokers the deal gets a small cut. But, once you're up for auction, what are you going to do if an unscrupulous salesman misfiles a little paperwork and sells you as a slave instead?

    No, the good news is that you're too valuable. At A rank, who'd be able to afford you but the wealthy, the kind of rich person that might hit the market back for hurting a favored servant? Besides, people will know and they'll want to know where you came from. The market might get away with stealing any ordinary kid, but they probably won't try that with you as long as you're careful.

    So you flag down a beady eyed man. You can tell he works here both because of his dress, as well as the way he spends all his time focused on what few buyers remain at this hour instead of the products. He walks toward you, faintly displeased that you'll probably eat up his chance at a real sale this late in the day, but not unwilling to talk.

    “I need to put myself up for auction, indenture not the other kind,” best to be straight up front, before he can get any ideas.

    You see his eyes shift away, looking for a real customer instead of a brat that won't fetch much at market. Then he mutters under his breath and analyzes you, couldn't even say 'hi' first? Then he sputters in shock, makes sure no other merchant is paying attention to him and does it again. You're getting tired of all the repeats, but you bear with it. Ah, now he's all smiles and introductions, pulling you into a covered tent, the kind of shaded place where they negotiate sales, as well as where they keep the valuable products: those trained as entertainers or craftsmen or even rarely warriors rather than simple E ranks, the kind of people too valuable to leave to die in the sun.

    “It will,” the merchant, whose name is Shouting at Storms squeaks out, “take a few days to get everything sorted with the auction. There are always a few interested buyers, looking to purchase high profile servants. Our most discerning customers never come in person unless there's a specific product for sale that interests them, and one of your caliber will naturally require a chance to choose between competing offers rather than any standard contract.”

    You frown. You want to get the best deal there is, the most protections, the highest profile owner and the most pay you can. But, the longer you wait the longer the market, or anyone noble looking to get a better grip on you, has to play around. And you're pretty sure word's going to reach the Han clan, Han Wei in particular. You've ignored his offer of adoption now and dodges his minion, and the bastard might hold the insult against you.

    Shouting at Storms doesn't pay any attention to your indecision. You imagine someone like that gets even more used to shutting off whatever parts of his heart want to help others or show decency than anyone trying to survive in Lower City.

    “Of course, we-I'll be willing to provide you with accommodations, my own in fact,” hah, the greedy merchant just wants to keep you, and the price he'll get from your auction, all to himself. Still, a bed sounds nice and, having seen what the real city has to offer, you have no desire to walk back to Lower City outside the walls. Besides, there's something nice about having people bending over backwards to put you up nicely rather than chasing you away with brooms or kitchen knives.

    [ ] Insist on an auction tomorrow. He'll have the morning to spread the word, and the most interested buyers might send someone to bid, but it won't really give anyone time to plot or arrange anything special
    [ ] Have the merchant sell you the day after tomorrow. News will have time to circulate, and you'll have to wait through tomorrow night, but you shouldn't run in to much any trouble on the day of the auction.
    [ ] Have the merchant wait till the end of the third day. You'll run in to some risk, but three days should really let the news spread enough for anyone interested to come. You'll have a lot of choice on employers.


    And:
    [ ] Take the merchant's accommodations. He'll have somewhere decent enough and it will keep you close to the market. The guards inside the walls are also probably a bit harder to bribe if anything does happen.
    [ ] Anonymity is your best security. You should stay in the lower city where you know the streets and won't be so traceable.
    [ ] Write-in
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  9. Threadmarks: One Unlucky Girl Caught in the Storm
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [4] 2 days (Garahs, hunter09, Pipeman, rcnr)
    [7] 3 days (Serous, john doe, BFldyq, Wawv, redaeth, Dark Ness, Xicree)

    [9] The merchant's house (Xicree, Dark Ness, Redaeth, Wawv, BFldyq, rcnr, Pipeman, hunter09, Garahs)
    [2] The streets (john doe, Serous

    Three days should be enough. Shouting at Storms wants to wait weeks, but he's a greedy merchant and you figure that the longer you wait, the more chance someone might fix the auction or just snatch you out of your bed. So you hold firm at 3 days and you also tell Shouting at Storms that you're looking for more than just money, and you're not going to sell yourself to some freak just because he's willing to pony up higher coin.

    The merchant's a little confused at that, then catches on. He explains that even though it's called an auction, what'll happen is a bit different from just highest bidder wins. For an indentured servant, the terms of the contract definitely matter, so you'll have complete discretion in who to pick, even if they offer to pay you nothing at all beyond room and board. You and Storms share a shudder at that.

    Shouting at Storms also explains that you won't formally get sold until the big auction at the end; but you'll still be expected to show yourself at the market every day, let buyers examine you so they can make offers, etc. In practice, the real auction's just one last chance to push the price up again through competition. It's also, Shouting at Storms warns, a great way to anger many influential people if you pass up a big offer for a small one just because of who the buyer is.

    Then Shouting at Storms leads you to an inn that looks too nice for anywhere this close to the walls. You guess merchants at the Slave Market or those who aren't planning on staying long need somewhere to stay. He makes you wait outside while he goes in and shoves some brightly painted up woman out. Oh, so there are things the greedy merchant likes besides money. You ignore his girl and step inside. She's too healthy and well dressed to be anyone you'd have met outside the walls.

    Of course she shouts a few insults at Storms, tells him that she's not going with anyone that likes 'little stick figures' instead of real women and shoves off. In the gang you'd probably chase after her for that and give her a good thrashing, but you're not in a gang anymore, so you don't have to stand up for yourself like that now.

    Then you steal Shouting at Storms' bed and kick him out of his own rooms. It feels nice and all nobleish to have that kind of power for once.

    You fall asleep on the softest bed you've known since you were four, dreaming of whatever possibilities the future might hold.

    Shouting at Storms wears his smug like a badge of honor as he leads you through the market. A few merchants try to ask him things and are summarily ignored. He sets you up in a small tent, off to the side of the market proper and explains that people will come to inspect you today, buyers and gawkers alike, and all you have to do is sit still quiet and pretty. Great. At least you're under the tents.

    The morning passes relatively quickly, Shouting at Storms hovers around, vanishing only for short minutes to vuy a half-starved brat away from some woman who looks enough like him to be the brat's mom. The morning passes quietly, a few people walk by or talk to Storms before asking to see your hand or just casting analyze. In the early afternoon, a confidently beautiful merchant comes to complain that Storms' hogging you to himself. You watch her flirt until Storms finally musters up the will to tell her to get out, so he can greet another potential buyer.

    It's strange. You're used to being ignored. Now people come into the tent to stare at you, looking at you but almost never talking with you. They see you now, all these servants of the powerful and the wealthy, but you don't feel any more human than when people used to pretend you didn't exist.

    A few are different. An old weather-beaten man with a friendly smile tells you that he represents Lady Yuwen Xiao. He gives you a strange spicy-sweet candy like nothing you've ever tasted. He smiles indulgently as you eat it and then promises you a lot more if you'd come with him to visit his lady this evening.

    Right, any kid stupid enough to go with a stranger just because they got a bit of candy deserves to end up on the markets. You want to tell him to go screw a goat, but you're trying not to push away buyers and everyone knows nobles are always a little strange in the head, so it might be for real. Instead you tell him that your poor mother left you in Shouting at Storms' care and you wouldn't dare disappoint her by going off on your own.

    The old man looks at you for a bit, goes to talk with Shouting at Storms and then leaves dejected.

    No one bids, but Shouting at Storms doesn't seem worried when he has you wear a heavy cloak to leave the market without being identified. You're lucky enough, you hope, to slip away without attracting any attention.

    The second day is far busier than the first You guess people needed time for news to spread. Shouting at Storms stops letting anyone into your tent if they don't look rich enough to be a real buyer and only the the actual bidders get to come in alone. The old man returns, and tells you that Lady Yuwen has decided, provisionally, to offer you an annual salary of 10 gold coins, education, all your necessities and a single beast from her menagerie if you'll work for the lady for 7 years.

    That's a lot more tempting than any candy, but you're not going to jump for the first offer. As the old man leaves he shares a harsh exchange with another person you recognize. Fuck. The muscular guy who was following you in the market steps into the tent.

    “Hello,” his voice carries just a hint of irritation, “again” wonderful.

    “Hello sir? Have we met before?” You keep your eyes low. In a few years and a dozen levels you'll be able to kick anyone's ass. Now these bastards are scary and powerful and they could ruin whatever hopes you have. He ignores your comment

    “My lord Han Wei,” the man's smirk is rather cruel, “Wishes to inform you that he is rather displeased with this foolishness. However, he understands the fo... follies of youth,” you don't think the thug knows what follies means, not that you do, “and he'll let you change your mind and accept adoption until the end of today.

    Otherwise he said that he'll pay 10 copper coins and basic necessities for 10 years of heavy labor without restrictions.”

    Asshole. Not that you tell the thug that. You've dealt with guards in lower city for years and you know how to tuck your lip and pretend you're beaten. Instead you nod quietly and let the thug stomp out. Still, after that kind of offer there's no way in any hell you'll go back to Han Wei alone and trust him not to hold a grudge.

    After that you start getting enough bids that the less memorable ones start to fade away. Lord Liu Wei is looking for a companion for his son and wants to offer you a 10 year contract. A rich merchant doesn't seem to get the difference between indentured servant and adoption, but he comes himself and he seems nice enough for someone with money. A servant dressed far more ostentatiously than anyone else so far loudly informs Shouting at Storms hat Lady Tang Hu is looking for a personal servant. Tang, that's an imperial clan! She comes right out offers you 50 gold coins every year, to prepare a low level monster ranked at least B+ as well as education, clothing appropriate to your station and all your basic necessities.

    Shouting at Storms seems quite pleased by the time the day ends. Aside from the encounter with Han Wei's representative, you are too. He tells you that the third day will be short, enough time to let any latecommers take a look at you before pushing on to the auction proper.

    Then the third day comes and things change. The stream of new offers dries up and all the old ones seem to melt away like good dreams. Tang Hu's servant comes back first thing in the morning to withdraw his offer. The kind merchant from yesterday does the same soon after. Where the second day left you amazed and hopeful with every new guest, there's not a single new offer in the first several hours of the third. You think you start to cry a little when Liu Wei's servant comes to retract his bid as well. At least he apologizes to you personally and hints at something going on in the background when he tells you that his master lost interest in buying you. Of course a few bids are left standing: Yuwen Xiao's and Han Wei's are the only really notable ones. Even though Yuwen was your first bid, you don't think she'll stick it out either.

    When you're sitting down to chew a piece of bread and sulk, some brat even has the nerve to sneak into the tent from the back! You're worried at first, till you realize that he's your age, with smooth unscrewed skin, fancy—if decently dirty—clothes and a glove on his hand that marks him as a noble. You bow, fighting the urge to glare as he circles around you.

    “Wow!” there's enthusiasm in his voice, “So you're the girl everyone's talking about, aren't you?”

    You resist the urge to say something sarcastic. You've angered one noble and now you're probably going to end up stuck serving him. You'll do nothing to anger this one, instead you nod quietly.

    “Oh come on, don't be like that! You're charisma based so you have to be outgoing, that's the way it works.” The noble boy's tone is teasing, but his eyes don't hold a shred of malice. No, you look at him and all you can see is terrifying innocence.

    “Just go away,” you manage to creak out eventually. You don't think the boy's as insecure as Han Wei, to come after anyone who dares disagree with him.

    “Oh come on, where's the fun in that little sis? Anyway, I've come to bid on behalf of myself, because really who wants to hire someone without meeting them and you seem like you could be fun.”

    “Fine,” despite yourself you let a thread of hope enter your voice.

    “Hmmm, well if you don't want to just join the clan then, yeah, I'm sure I can talk all those grannies in the Mu clan into giving you food and books and stuff for 5 or 7 years, and hmm... Oh! Yeah, I'll help you hunt down whatever monsters you want to capture for pets. Hey don't laugh! I may be small, but I'm a strong man of the Mu clan you know I'm sure we can tame some kind of grown up X+ rank 7 Torments Infernal Dragon God or something if we try at it!” He pats a nonexistent bicep like he has something to be proud of, and smiles like X rank is an actual thing that exists, “And umm... I don't have much money today, but I'm sure I can get at least a few silver together every year, maybe 20 or so?”

    Wonderful, this brat's best offer is almost as bad as the one Han Wei made to insult and humiliate you.

    “Just go away,” you manage, staring at what has to be the Mu clan's idiot stepchild. Is this brat really related to General Mu Zen? Trying not to cry, you shoo him out of the tent.

    “Okay! So that's a yes, right? I'll see you at the auction then?”

    –-----------------

    You do, in fact, see him at the auction. Yuwen Xiao's old servant and Han Wei's thug (along several of Han Wei's thug's cudgel toting friends) are the only others who bother to show up. Shouting at Storms stares awkwardly from the small stage the Slave Market has for such events,

    “This is rather unexpected,” you can see the hope draining from his eyes as a bead of sweat slides down his neck, “But as it's ten minutes past the assigned time, I'll start the bidding. The current highest offer is Yuwen Xiao's” he inclines his head toward the cheerful old man.

    “Would anyone care to make another bid?” Shouting at Storms' voice is filled with a desperate wild hope.

    Lord Mu waves cheerfully but silently at you from the audience. The old man keeps staring at Lord Mu somewhat nervously; Han Wei's thugs move closer to the entrance. No one speaks.

    Shouting at Storms looks to you, misery making its way across his face.

    “Then your decision?”

    [ ] Han Wei. 10 copper coins a year, no education, hard labor. At least you won't have to worry about escaping him.
    [ ] Yuwen Xiao: 10 gold coins a year, your pick of the beasts from Yuwen's menagerie, education and unclear duties.
    [ ] The Mu Clan's idiot brat: 20 silver a year, an idiot will help you find pets, education. You'll have to be this weirdo's friend?
    [ ] Reject everyone and try to make a run for it. You'll have to dodge Han Wei's thugs and Lady Yuwen Xiao might hold it against you.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2015
  10. Threadmarks: Seeking Shelter from The Rain
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Shouting at storms watches for a few more minutes, allowing the silence to continue. Then he whimpers oddly at you before recovering himself and sharing a few quiet words.

    “So, Yuwen Xiao? I don't know what happened to drive the price so low, you could have expected at least 50 gold a year,” you know exactly what Shouting at Storms doesn't, but there's no point in telling him that. You got someone high up mad and now he's taking it out on you.

    You start to agree, but you can't bring yourself to say the words. You probably should go with Yuwen; but something about the way her smiling servant tried to buy you with a few pieces of candy, set you on edge. You've seen a few people in the Lower City who liked to smile at you street-rats, give them treats and sometimes offer to take them somewhere. It never ended well. Maybe you could go with her if you knew why Yuwen Xiao actually wants you, or what she plans for you to do, but without that information you can't bring yourself to trust enough to sign this contract.

    Han Wei doesn't even bear thinking of, which leaves... You look at the idiot, wonderful. Hopefully he can actually pay, and his clan actually backs up the contract. Then again, you can't imagine that the big clans just let their brats wander around anywhere without a watcher normally, so there has to be something special about the idiot.

    You smile at Shouting at Storms, then shake your head.

    “I'll take Lord Mu's offer.”

    The merchant stares at you as if you're some strange and terrible beast. He takes a deep breath and then positively hisses at you, “You do realize that it's only one fiftieth of the money that Lady Yuwen's offering?”

    You nod, “The, umm, other perks? of the deal look good enough?” you're not a bad liar, you just haven't leveled enough to be a good one yet. Still, you made your announcement loudly enough and the idiot's already bouncing up to the stage, vaulting onto it with ease to approach Shouting at Storms. Miserable, the merchant takes Lord Mu to a prepared table.

    The old man stares at Lord Mu for a few more moments, then shakes his head and departs. Han Wei's thugs amble slowly out. You wish you could trust them to leave for real.

    Then Lord Mu pulls you over excitedly and shows you the contract. Damn. You don't think the idiot would have it in him to trick you like this, but... you can only read a few of the characters on the paper, nowhere near enough to understand what you're actually going to sign. For all you know Shouting at Storms swapped it for a slave deal or something.

    “Do we need to use something like this?” you do your best to keep the uncertainty out of your voice as you glance between them.

    Shouting at Storms gives you an odd look, “Without the contract there wouldn't be anything to hold either party to the terms of the deal. Perhaps if you were in a position of equal power, it might be unnecessary. Please just sign already.” the merchant seems wan and apathetic, infinitely less willing to come to your aid than he was before the auction. Your request to have him read the contract to you dies on your lips.

    You could run, turn and dash out of the tent and the city and leave it all behind. Sure it's dangerous out there, but you're a beast tamer and you can work out something or... No, Han Wei's thugs would grab you, you're sure of it. You're trapped now, and no matter what the contract actually says, signing can't be worse than not signing. So you sigh and write the characters for 'little' and 'bee.' At least you know those. Shouting at Storms snaps the contract off the table, rolls it up and hands it to the lord in exchange for a very small purse.

    “Now please leave so I can forget this whole unfortunate process.” Shouting at Storms sighs miserly and begins counting. Lord Mu, or should that be master now—nah, impossible—smiles at you then thumps you on the back with surprising strength.

    “Cool! Now, let's go, I can't wait to show you the estate, there's so much stuff there and then we can plan a trip and...” he may be your 'master' for the moment, but you still manage to drown him out, while bowing your head and nodding thoughtfully at his every word.

    He stops at the tent's exit, “Wait a second, I'll go and check to make sure those nasty guys aren't hanging around.” 'Master' walks out of the tent, and you watch the entrance carefully, ready to run. If they are waiting, they might be stupid enough to attack Lord Mu then grab you. You jump as thunder crack's the sky and raindrops begin to pound on the tent's roof. Behind you Shouting at Storms mutters a few quiet curses.

    A heart-pounding minute later, Mu walks back inside, soaked and no less cheerful.

    “It started raining, but I think they're gone!” he smiles cheerfully, then taps his chin thoughtfully, “But a genius like me knows better than to trust to that kind of thing so, how are you at running?'”

    “That's...” without waiting for an answer, Lord Mu grabs your hand and pulls you out the door into the frigid rain.

    “Come on, faster, faster!” he giggles madly as he charges into the storm. You do your best to keep up, stumbling across muddy streets and slippery stones as he pulls you up toward the inner quarters of the city. Trying to spot any of Han Wei's goons, you manage to stumble and trip into a wall, dragging Lord Mu down with you.

    Laughing like a maniac, he pulls you to your feet and charges forward. “Oh come on Little Bee, just pretend there's a monster chasing us, like a big cat or an angry dragon,” it's not hard to picture a city guardsman behind you, face red from alcohol and thoughts of violence as he tries to hammer another urchin for the fun of it.

    Even if you've never met a guard in love with his job enough to work through a storm like this, the thought still spurs you forward, past Lord Mu, who shouts encouragement even as he speeds up to pass you again. You've been running for your life since you've been on the streets. It's no fair at all that this snobby little crazy lordling is in better shape than you are!

    +10XP

    Eventually he slows to a walk, waterlogged enough that there's no point in hugging a building or waiting out the storm under an awning. Your master leads you skipping through the storm laughing and panting (him laughing, you panting) to the entrance of a massive fortress. A pair of spear-carrying stone-faced guards stand outside the outer wall, ignoring the rain as best they can.

    “It's kinda small” you stare at the massive stone building, just shy of a castle. Its roof is ornate. Angry dragons stand, flashing bright gold on black in the brief illumination from the storm's lightning. Small he says...

    “But land in the city is really expensive or something, I don't really pay attention to any of that money stuff, but they say we couldn't buy anything bigger or awesomer unless we were the emperor.”

    The guards move to bar your way, stare at Lord Mu's muddy rain-soaked face for a few moments and rush to push open the thick iron gates.

    “The young lord returns!” both shout at once, solemn, then they slam the gates behind you.

    Lord Mu leads you through the courtyard, walking slowly now despite the rain. Well, you're already muddy and wet (And you already had a bath this month too!) so you might as well see what you can. The gardens are amazing. Trees and flowers and even a small pond stand around the three storied wooden building at the estate's center. Everything is arranged just so like someone actually spent time deciding where to put all the weeds! A few smaller outbuildings dot the estate. Are.. are you really going to live here? It's almost too much to believe. It's too big, too open too unlike the squat crowded tenements and back-alleys teeming with beggars in Lower City.

    Gently Lord Mu pulls you into the building properly, standing cheerfully inside a stone entryway where guests can remove their shoes, “I'm back, and I brought a great souvenir!”

    His obnoxious voice shatters the building's solemn quiet. Presently an older man with spectacles steps smoothly out from a side room, “Yes, you were expected days ago, when those guards that were meant to be accompanying you arrived and...” he looks at you. You try desperately to hide behind Lord Mu.

    “Did you have someone kidnap a monk in training?” the older man must know Lord Mu because he doesn't sound unbelieving, just exasperated, “Nope! This is Little Bee, she's...”

    The older man slaps his palm against his face, “Oh, everyone knows who that is. Please next time just have your guards raid a monastery. Easier to explain and less of a headache for anyone involved”

    You glance between the two, then dip your head nervously, “A-are you going to have him throw me out sir?”

    The man shakes his head, “Unfortunately in this matter, I lack the authority to overrule my childish cousin. I am Mu Gan. I expect when he gets bored and forgets about you in a few weeks you'll be remaining here, and you're really too talented to leave as a normal servant.”

    “HEY!” Lord Mu shouts, “Little Bee's interesting and a friend so I won't forget her at all!” Mu Gan ignores his younger clan-mate with a look of long suffering.

    “Winter Breeze, Veiled Tiger,” two identically dressed young women step forward, wearing simple robes of black lined with elegant strands of gold, “Please assist the young lady in bathing and changing her clothes. Young Lord Mu and I will be explaining this situation to the honored elder.”

    Lord Mu nods, then kicks off his shoes and hops onto the wooden floor despite the fact that he's dripping wet, “Ooh, Gramp's around? Cool!”

    Mu Gan and the servants just sigh, then follows Lord Mu inside. Hmph, not like there's anything strange about getting a bit of mud inside a normal house. And just like that you find yourself alone with two servants, two fellow servants. They look at you for a moment, you raise a hand and try to wipe the mud from your face. One goes to fetch a towel.

    Winter Breeze and Veiled Tiger are both professional, if way too forceful when you object to the bath. You might be able to get away if you bolt for the wilderness now! Everything inside passes like a dream, as you're pulled doll-like from strange happening to stranger happening inside this devilish house. By the time you snap out of it, you're dressed in the Mu clan's colors: black with gold trim, waiting to be called in to meet the clan's elder.

    You don't have a clue what's going on, aside from knowing that the man one rice-paper door aside from you is one of the most powerful people in the world, one of the few at the very top of a great clan. All you really know is how powerful he is, how you need to be on your best behavior and that you're about to be introduced to a man who could have you killed on a whim. It's your last chance to run.

    “Enter.” the voice is old, and stern, lacking any noticeable warmth.

    Quietly you slide the door open and step into the Mu Clan's audience chamber, bowing deeply.

    “Hmph, show me your face girl and sit. I'm too old to cramp my neck staring up at anyone.”

    Hurriedly you raise your face and drop yourself down on a cushion, then you bow deeply again for being so inelegant about sitting down, promptly remember that he told you to show your face and sit up tent-pole straight.

    The clan elder sits across from you, rain-soaked idiot ruining a cushion at his left hand and exasperated Mu Gan at his right. He's small, pruning with age. The old man seems practically dwarfed by his robes. They're a dozen shades gold, unadorned save for the outlines of black dragons circling around like vultures waiting to devour a soon to be corpse.

    “You know,” the man gestures at you with his pipe, “Han Wei convinced all of us to have you killed. Charisma at 7 stars is simply too dangerous he said, a resource sure, but a treasure that none of us would want our enemies to have. Better to buy you cheaply and push you on one deadly task after another, use you up and let you die before you can get uppity.”

    You glance at the idiot, he yawns then waves back at you before dropping his hand to his side. No help there. Mu Gan seems an impassive wall.

    “Han Wei may be an overlarge boil that badly needs a good popping, but he is right from time to time.”

    You tense, as if you could really escape from the Mu clan's headquarters within the capital. You made a mistake, you should have run, should have left the city as fast as you could once you realized how talented you are. Monsters out there? Wolves would have made better masters than anyone here and now you're going to die without ever getting to live and...

    “However, the young master,” the clan elder reaches over with his pipe and shoves the wet idiot, “seems to have decided otherwise. And, Han Wei needs to have a plan blow up in his face every now and then. It's no good if we all dance as he wants now, is it? the old man laughs, it's a painful, brutal sound like claws dragging across stone.

    “So you're the Mu clan's little monster for the next seven years. Any questions girl?”


    [ ] No. You're just going to shut up and sit very quietly and hope they forget you exist.
    [ ] Yes (write-in)
     
  11. Threadmarks: New Life, New Friend
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    It's difficult to converse when you aren't sure where to look. The elder told you not to bow, but you can't just look someone as eminent as him in the eye. You settle for keeping your gaze just a little bit downward and hoping he doesn't yell at you again.

    “Yes, I have some questions... sir” you've never talked to a noble before the past few days, but there have been times when a guard actually deigned to talk with you for something. Mistakes earned a beating, so you guess you're pretty good at the whole respect thing!

    “Well?” the elder snaps, “Out with it, some of us are old and in need of sleep.”

    “Ah, umm, right sir!” you can't wait until you level up enough for your charisma to come in, “What will I be doing for the Mu clan sir?”

    It's the idiot who speaks up, “Well, for now we'll be getting you trained, helping you learn a few skills and leveling you up enough to qualify as my minio... OWWW” the elder raps the idiot's hands with his pipe. You wouldn't have expected him to move so fast given his age. Maybe he has a martial class?

    “Anyway,” Mu cradles one hand in the other, “For now we'll be training you and seeing what you can do. Umm, you're supposed to be my personal servant according to the contract, so that means you have to be my friend and accompany me whenever I want it! Also, we'll probably have tons of other random jobs for you, but those are boring so I'm not going to bother remembering anything like that and neither should you!”

    You glance to Mu Gan, looking for any sane confirmation of the idiot's words. Gan's head moves up and down ever so slightly. So that's more or less right. Well, could be worse. On to the hard question.

    “And I also need to... could you please tell me what the contract actually says? I, it's not that I can't read but there's a lot of really difficult characters there so it just threw me a bit. I can totally read... some... a little... maybe?” The old man stares at you, while the idiot guffaws and Mu Gan maintains his stoic expression.

    Smooth Little Bee, you don't think any of them have noticed how incredibly terrified you are. Well, at least you've gone from too scared to shake to scared enough to tremble and stutter at this point... Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

    The idiot moves to answer, but the old man cuts him off, “You've signed, so it's not my responsibility to tell you. If knowing matters that much to you, then read it for yourself,” the finality in his voice kills your protests before you can argue.

    Mu Gan picks up where the elder leaves off, “I believe what the honorable elder means is that it would be untoward for a servant of the Mu clan to be unable to read. You will be educated in such and may peruse the contract to your own satisfaction at that time.”

    The bitter old honorable elder's pipe darts out to jab Mu Gan in the ear, eliciting a quiet groan of complaint from his younger relative.

    “I meant what I said, if I'd meant all that fancy talk, I'd have said so. Any other questions girl?”

    Okay, you can do this. You can definitely do this, “I'm really really really really sorry sir, but I don't actually know anything about the Mu clan. Umm, so...Ga’s Who are you?”

    For a moment there's silence, then the idiot loses it, falling off his cushion and pounding the floor, laughing like a hyena. You try to shrivel up and die in your fancy black clothes.

    Mu Gan just shakes his head mournfully as the elder stares at you for several blood-curdling moments. Then his lips twitch upward and he lets out a single barking chuckle.

    “Don't know me eh? It's been a good few decades since anyone's said that to me. I am Mu Feng, one of the three grand elders of the Mu Clan and the clan's head within the capital. That idiot,” he points at Gan, “Is my grandson Mu Gan; the other idiot—you sold yourself to him so ask him yourself.” Then the old man rises, and leaves the room through a side door without bothering to dismiss you. Mu Gan stares at the maddened 'young lord' for a few moments.

    “I don't think he's going to stop soon sir?” this serves to send the idiot doubling over himself, panting for breath between giggles.

    Gan shakes his head, “I will show you to where you will be sleeping. Usually a mere servant would not accord such attention; however, your unique situation merits correspondingly unusual treatment. You are not quite a member of the family, but it would be untoward to treat you as a mere servant. Show respect, do what is asked of you and we should be able to adapt satisfactory.”

    He leads you to a huge room—well not huge compared to the audience chamber or the mansion's bath or any even Shouting at Storm's room at that inn, but Mu Gan says this one's yours and you can't even imagine wanting a room this fancy for yourself! It has a small desk and a whole mattress laid out on real new rice mats. You can't even see a single bug or speck of dirt anywhere.

    You lie down, marveling at how soft and wonderful the pillow feels and fade to sleep. So what if you humiliated yourself in front of the clan. They know what you are and you won't ever do that again once you level up enough!

    Winter Breeze wakes you in the morning and explains that she's been instructed to teach you etiquette—as if you need to learn all that fancy stuff with your natural charisma—and reading, writing and math. Before that, she orders you to dress and assist her with preparing the morning meal for the mansion.

    You do your best to go along—but really why do they need to wash all the pots, they just get dirty again—and Winter Veil proves surprisingly willing to answer your questions or help you, right up until you say something perfectly normal that sets her off or earns you a chop to the neck.

    After breakfast you're brought to an unused room in the mansion to study until lunch. You're excited to learn to read like a real person instead of a street rat, but Winter Veil insists on manners manners manners first. So you spend the rest of the morning learning 80 million ways to address people of pretty much the same status. You explain to her that they're all lords anyway so you can just treat them the same, but this just earns you another thwack until you pretend to care about how differently you need to bow to a senior member of your own clan vs a slightly higher ranking guest from another clan.

    Then there's lunch. Delicious, delicious lunch. Sometimes you'll be sent on errands in the afternoon, but usually you just end up following the young idi—master around wherever he goes. As often as not this means standing at attention in the gardens while he dodges whatever he's supposed to be doing and takes a nap.

    Then it's dinner, more helping the servants clean, then sleep in your wonderful bug-free bed. Your days fall into a pleasant monotone as your lessons progress from etiquette to etiquette and some writing!

    And then you find the cat while you're coming back from delivering a message on behalf of the Mu clan to some fat merchant in the middle city. The merchant isn't important, but he is. You see the kitten growling hungrily as he tears up some trash in a dead-end side street in the market district. Amethyst eyes embedded in midnight fur stare at you for a second. He growls in warning, then darts deeper into the alley to hide.

    Well, you won't let it go at that! If it was a person that'd be fine. There's enough hungry brats out there that there's no point in bothering with them. But a kitten's just different, and a guard or merchant might hurt him if they see a stray. So you stomp through the trash and try to spot him again.

    The cat gives his best defiant roar at you entering his territory all big and human and scary, but you don't pay any attention.

    Instead you plop right down in the middle of the alley so he can't run past you, pull out a bit of spiced meat you swiped going through the market and take a small bite. You chew it slowly and loudly, moaning over how good it tastes even as the piece in your hand drifts ever so quietly toward the ground.

    The kitten thinks he's hiding, but you can see those hungry timid and proud eyes staring at the food in your hand, looking way too much like another cat you knew before. But he's too shy of people to jump for it. Good, people are scary.

    You listen to his stomach growling and move to take another bite, then quietly pull off a small piece and throw it a bit in front of you, where you can't reach easily. The cat waits till you pull back then lunges, sending trash flying all over your nice clothing and giving you your first good look at him.

    He's big for a kitten, black fur dotted with purple spots like nothing you've seen before. He's tired and ragged and dirty, but he still moves in such a beautiful way, a hunter even if he's a hungry one. You've never believed in love at first sight until now. Greedily the little monster devours the meat, then growls at you again and edges away. You throw another chunk that he snags out of the air. This time he looks to you expectantly, hunger winning out over caution. It's never smart to let anything win over caution, but you've been there before so you can't blame him.

    You lob a bigger piece of meat his way, then carefully move closer, humming softly as you place the last piece you have on your hand. Black claws and gemstone fangs descend to tear it from you in a single moment, scratching you lightly as they do. Then the cat leaps over your legs and out into the street.

    Pouting, you put up with Winter Breeze's shouting (well, quiet and ultra-polite stating really) on decorum and timeliness when you return and make sure you visit the same spot in the market again the next day.

    You don't see a kitten this time until you do hear him when you throw a few mouthfuls of meat into the alley to check. He pokes his head out and growls at you for more. Selfish of him, but you can't imagine holding anything against this beauty.

    On the third day he actually approaches, rubbing his bony body up against you and meowing adorably. You have the strangest feeling you understand how the crazy merchants up in this part of town feel every time you try to beg them for food. You reach down to pet your kitten ever so slightly too quickly and send him running, so you leave that day's food in the alley and go home.

    He's there, gluttonous as ever on the fourth day and you're more than happy to oblige. This time you move slower, letting him see your hand first before you start scratching him lightly. The kitten pulls away a bit, before accepting a bribe of food and allowing you to scratch him behind the ears. When you finally leave, he almost follows you out before a passing horse and cart sends him dashing back into his alley.

    You can't visit the next day, Winter Breeze is too upset with how you've been abusing your clothes and 'shirking duties' to give you a chance to slip out. But the idiot helps you slip out right after lunch on the sixth day without even asking any questions.

    You rush back to the alley, eager to find your friend. He doesn't come to great you this time. You place a few pieces of meat down on the ground and... nothing. Did he leave you? Did someone catch him and take him away or hurt him?

    You stoop to investigate the pile of trash the kitten's called home. A coppery red paw-print sends shivers down your spine. It's sickeningly wet and sticky to the touch. No. This isn't, it can't, not again. It's.. You tear through the trash until you find him.

    Your kitten mews pitifully and tries to swat you weakly with one paw as you approach. You see the red quietly spreading out of him. It's... It's not too big a cut and none of his insides are coming out, so he'll be fine? It's just a lot of blood. That can't hurt right. You reach down to feel out the wound, cradling your kitten's head in your arms.

    You had a cat before. He helped startle a guard and let you run and then you didn't have a cat anymore. And now you have another one and some bastard beat him or kicked him or hurt him and now he's lying on the ground dying again and you can fix this.

    They said you were A ranked, practically a god. Of course you can fix this. There's a way. There has to be a way. You won't let there not be a way.

    [ ] Try Blood Bond. That's meant to be used on injured monsters so it has to help, right?
    [ ] Write-in
     
  12. Threadmarks: You Won't Let This Happen
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 9 Maybe if you had a better idea what's wrong, you can fix it? (Buy Analyse 1): (wayne82444, drake_azathoth, Pandemonious Ivy, Garahs, Xicree, Raron, hunter09, rcnr, redaeth)
    --[X] 7 There's probably a doctor or something in the clan building, if you can stop him from bleeding too much, they'll be know what to do.: (wayne82444, Pandemonious Ivy, Garahs, Xicree, hunter09, rcnr, redaeth, drake_azathoth, Raron)
    -[X] 9 Try Blood Bond. That's meant to be used on injured monsters so it has to help, right?: (wayne82444, drake_azathoth, Pandemonious Ivy, Garahs, Xicree, Raron, hunter09, rcnr, redaeth)

    [X] 3 Try to find something to wrap the kitten's wound and find it some water to drink.: (Adyen, drake_azathoth, Raron)
    -[X] 1 But if it does, it would make you sad but only spur you to learn how to prevent it in the future.: (Adyen)

    First thing's first. You need to know how bad he's hurt if you want to fix this. You need power. You make the choice and focus, spending the XP. It's as simple as that. You can feel something indistinct within you change as the skill blossoms to life in your mind. You know how to use it, though not how it works. You reach down and focus. Power and the word rise to your lips and push out gently.

    Analyze!” Your voice echoes with more confidence than you feel. You can sense your MP declining, a solid chunk of your magic pouring forth from your soul to bring about a tiny miracle that leaves you a little empty inside. Before you, the words scrawl themselves into the air around the kitten, blocking off your vision and making it almost impossible to see anything else. If it wasn't for your reading lessons you wouldn't understand anything, not that your level of the skill gives you enough to really know what's going on.

    Name: ???
    Sex: Male
    Age: 1

    Level: 1
    Race: Feline
    Species ???
    Rank: B+
    Element: ???
    HP: ?/??
    MP: ?/?​

    B+? No, this isn't the time to think about that. You don't really have the perception to learn anything that useful. But, his HP's dropped into the single digits. You don't really know how bad that is or if you can help, but you have to try. After a few moments the information fades, returning your vision to normal.

    You don't have any more time to delay. You'll have to bond him. You bite your thumb, hard enough to draw a trickle of blood, then press it against Autumn's wound and try to call our your power. Analyze was an easy magic. It practically activated itself when you called out the name.

    And yet, no matter how many times you repeat “blood bond” nothing seems to happen. You can't even feel that sense of MP trickling away even though you know this is how the skill has to work. They're only words and you're not good enough yet to use this skill without anything more than words.

    The kitten, your kitten stares at you with glazed eyes, growling for a moment before laying its head down and allowing you to work. That pushes you over the edge, the bleak acceptance that it doesn't get better than this, that it's over, that he's stuck there and he's not going to get better. It's too close to home to tolerate, not when you've already decided that you will change things even if you need to become a god to do it. You take everything you have, every frustration, every sorrow, every memory of your last cat, of the way he stood up for you when no one else would and paid for it and you throw them into the skill with everything you have.

    Blood Bond

    Your power surges to life, filling you up and bursting through in a storm. It moves from resisting to pushing forward, raging through your veins like a storm and setting your blood on fire. It takes and takes and takes, crushing you, burning you and breaking you, pushing through your kitten and back out into you, changing you, adjusting you.

    You can hear your bones crack and shift, your skin melt in agony as your power does everything it can to throw you off, to make you give up before you can finish. You don't flinch.

    -5HP
    Feline skill Tree was unlocked in the Supplementary Skill List
    Shadow Element Skill Tree was unlocked in the Supplementary Skill List
    Tiger Claw has been learned

    At last the power fades, and you look at your pet? Companion? Partner? Family. You see him with new eyes, a hunter outside his element, a proud child lost and alone and scared and defiant, a creature of comforting shadows, quiet and sharp fast claws. He pushes himself to his feet, uninjured, and proceeds to climb up a mound of trash then turn to you and jump onto your shoulder, sending you careening into a wall.

    “H-hey!” the cat looks at you with an eye, then scratches your cheek playfully, as you try to catch your balance. Then he licks the scratch and purrs all innocently and nuzzles his head against yours while you try to stand without dislodging your rider.

    Aside from the fact that your thumb's covered in cat blood, you can't see a single sign of his injury any more. Still, better to be safe than sorry “Analyze

    Name: ???
    Sex: Male
    Age: 1
    Level: 1
    Race: Feline
    Species Shadow Leopard
    Rank: B+
    Element: Shadow
    HP: ??/??
    MP: ?/?

    Attributes:
    Stamina:
    ****
    Strength: *****
    Agility: ******
    Affinity: *
    Perception: *****
    Luck: *
    Charisma:****
    Intelligence: *

    The text, almost too close to read thanks to your proximity with the cat, explodes through your vision, sending you reeling. Still, his health went up back into the double digits. You sag a little in relief, then start to laugh while you pluck him from your shoulder into your arms. You did it! You did something. He was going to die and you didn't let him. It's such a strange wonderful feeling to really change something, to do something and have your actions matter, to be powerful instead of powerless. You could get used to this.

    And then you realize that the Mu clan might not really be happy with you for bonding a cat without permission, not that you wouldn't do it again.

    Choose a name for your new companion
    [ ] Autumn Shade
    [ ] Write-in

    And how do you plan to play this off to the clan?
    [ ] Just act normal! They won't notice you have a cat following you if you act like its supposed to be that way, right?
    [ ] Try to hide him? What the clan doesn't know can't hurt them...
    [ ] Let the idiot come up with a plan. He'll help, right?
    [ ] Write-in
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  13. Threadmarks: Victories? and Consequences
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 7 Autumn Shade: (Garahs, Xicree, Pandemonious Ivy, Ct613hulu, hunter09, rcnr, Wawv)
    [X] 2 Jade Shadow: (redaeth, PineTreeq)
    [X] 1 Stalks in Shadows: (Zum)

    [X] 2 Just act normal! They won't notice you have a cat following you if you act like its supposed to be that way, right?: (Ct613hulu, hunter09)

    [X] 5 Let the idiot come up with a plan. He'll help, right?: (Garahs, Xicree, Pandemonious Ivy, rcnr, Wawv)
    -[X] 2 Tell him the sob story about your OLD Kitty.: (Xicree, Pandemonious Ivy)

    [X] 3 Tell the young idiot how you rescued a B+ kitten from an entire pack of dire wolves and you had no choice but to bond with him so you and he could fight side by side and vanquish the rabid animals.: (redaeth, PineTreeq)
    -[X] 3 If he asks if that is true, tell him that it isn't. But it makes a good story right?: (Zum, redaeth, PineTreeq)


    “Autumn,” you pet his head, thinking of the few trees in the city: red leaves and long shadows giving you shelter from the sunset-purple sky in a heatwave in that season: “Autumn Shade.”

    The cat in question gives you a contented purr, accepting the name. Still, even if he is really high ranked, you might get in trouble for bonding Autumn without permission. You debate just trying to pass it off like nothing's happened, or appealing to Autumn's intrinsic adorability, but you think you're still a few levels short of being able to make either work reliably.

    So that leaves the Idiot. He'll help probably, and at worst whatever he does will deflect enough of the blame to him that they probably won't remember to come after you! You tuck Autumn into your robes as best you can and dash past the guards quickly enough that you hope no one sees, then make your way to the garden before Winter Breeze can find you for a lecture and catch your companion. You're in luck, the idiot's sleeping against a tree. You drop Autumn unceremoniously and shoo him into some shrubs so you won't shock the Idiot until you've gotten permission.

    “Hey!” you jostle him awake, earning an irritated glare that softens as soon as recognition sets in.

    “Shouldn't you be a bit more polite, like you are with gramps?” he grumbles. You... probably should to think of it, but it's so hard to match the various annoying etiquette lessons to the actual young master who still won't tell you just where he stands.

    “Hey sir?” you fire back.

    “Nah, that's weird. Anyway, what's up?”

    Now... how to sell this? You're a genius at charisma! Your status says so every time you check, so this can't be hard.

    “I rescued a kitten from a pack of roving beasts in the market district and ended up bonding him to save his life! Now we need to keep him hear to prevent umm... murderers! From coming to get him. ”

    “Just an ordinary kitten?” You expect the young lord to laugh it off, instead the smile falls from his face, and his gaze practically pins you to the ground.

    “Err, I learned analyze and that said he's ranked B+, it's something called a shadow leopard?”

    +5XP

    The idiot blinks, then shakes his head as that odd moment of tension fades, “Hahaha! As expected of my disciple! Though a Shadow Leopard... You really can't see one out of the Western Forest, and a kitten? Ooh, you stole it from some traveling merchant, right, and now... right, there was clearly a rampage through town where you saved it. Got it! If we set fire to the Western forest we could cause the monsters to flee toward the capital to make the story wo...”

    You deeply regret the decision to involve the idiot in your cover-up at all. On second though, you find the strange intimidating version of the idiot a lot easier to deal with.

    “I've been feeding him for a few days since I found him before, and he was hurt today and I decided I wouldn't let him die, so I didn't. I made him good again, and please let me keep Autumn, please sir?”

    The idiot scratches the back of his head, “It's weird when you actually acknowledge my authority. And of course you can! If it's a shadow leopard, then he's neat enough to be a part of the Mu clan's household. Just call him then leave all the details to me.”

    So you beckon toward the bush, and Autumn steps out as if he was trained to do that. Your cat shakes a few branches off of his fur and trots toward you, growling lightly at the Idiot to prove that Autumn really does have good taste.

    “Okay!” Young Master Wu stares at your kitten for a few moments, then smiles, “Just leave it to me and you won't have any problems about the cat or this week! I have a plan!”

    “A plan?” That's about the least reassuring thing he could say.

    The Idiot nods then grins, “Of course I can't tell you! That wouldn't be any fun at all!”

    This was definitely a bad idea.

    -----------------

    Winter Breeze isn't a very expressive person. You might even say her name is eerily appropriate. Thus, you're completely freaked out when she comes to find you in the garden where the young lord's instructed you to wait, pulls you into a hug and apologizes that she didn't notice. She even pets Autumn awkwardly for a few moments and tells him how brave he is.

    Then she pushes you away, wipes the concern from her face and tells you in no uncertain terms that if anything like that happens again you are to inform her, that the Mu clan takes such things personally and there's no need to trouble the young master.

    Then she tells you that it's been arranged for you to begin combat lessons earlier than planned. The clan was going to let you passively raise your level to 5 or so through small experience gains over time, but have decided to advance their proposed schedule, given your, and Autumn's, performance in recent events and any future risks of similar trouble.

    You do your best to nod and pretend you have a clue what you apparently went through this week, too worried to suss out the details from anyone.

    For the rest of the day people keep greeting you comfortingly, telling you that things will be okay or giving you small snacks and candy. You, well, it's hard to imagine how something that earned you all sorts of treats wouldn't be worth it, but you really wish you knew what the idiot actually did to get this reaction. Besides, Autumn is way too smug as he struts by your side.

    -----

    You yawn waking up, then stare in confusion at the small black and purple bundle of fur perched on your chest staring at you, his razor-sharp fangs edging far too close to your nose. Carefully, the little monster reaches out, licking your cheek, then goes statue-still as soon as he realizes you're awake and moving.

    In a moment your cat's halfway across the room, sitting proudly and pretending that he never did anything so common as lick you.

    Winter Breeze enters a few moments later and compliments you on being awake. Then she tells you that your morning chores have been suspended for the immediate future and urges you to follow.

    The room she leads you to is wide and covered with soft rice mats. Winter Breeze methodically removes her indoor shoes, walks to the wall and retrieves a short straight blade, halfway between a sword and a dagger. Light from the windows sends sparkling reflections streaming across the blade's all too real edge.

    “You may choose any weapon you like, then we will begin. Autumn,” why does she sound warmer when she talks about the cat than her precious junior, “should participate as well. Approach with the intent to kill.”

    Okay, so this is combat training then. You're A ranked! Obviously no ordinary person can stand against the flawless teamwork you and Autumn should share. So what if you've never trained Autumn, he seems to have a pretty good sense of what you want and you're fairly confident the kitten's clever enough to respond, no matter how low his sheet says his intelligence is!

    Choose a weapon
    [ ] Write-in, any common weapon can assumed to be present, or you may fight unarmed.

    Plans
    [ ] How to go about this?
     
  14. Threadmarks: Your First Dance
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    The spear: a wooden shaft with a spiky metal thing on top. As weapons go it's got reach, can be used as a staff or a club and is great for keeping people at a distance. More than that, spears are easy. There's not very much involved with figuring out that you jab people with the pointy part. They're simple to hold, simple to attack with and they'll let you work around the fact that your opponent towers over you. Against Winter Breeze's small but quick blade there's nothing you can think of that would be better, at least nothing you know about.

    So you walk toward the rack of spears and grab the first one you see that's around your size. Swirls of silver and gold blend together across the shaft, leading to a black tip so dark it seems to drink in the light. A blood colored pennant dips down from the top. It's flashy, bold and utterly extravagant. Perfect. Lifting it, a struggle, you turn to examine—analyze rather—Winter Breeze before the fight begins. A quietly whispered skill name and a single point of MP tells you her level if not much else else.

    C+ and 19... That's not as scary as it could be. At least you don't think it's that bad. Levels go up to 1000 so 19 can't be that impressive! It still sounds like an all but impossible wall. T-this is a punishment right? It's her secretly punishing you, it has to be! Cursing inside, you prepare to fall nobly on her sword, at least until she feels she's taken enough out of your hide for whatever she thinks happened before.

    You heft the spear, wobbling slightly, and start to walk toward the room's center, ignoring how off it's starting to feel to hold the weapon. Your arms practically twitch and you have to fight the urge to drop it. The midnight-black tip looks more like wobbly paper than anything impressive or deadly.

    “Affinity,” Winter Breeze notes with something almost emotive enough to count as amusement, “Should determine your weapon's quality.”

    Regretfully you put the awesome spear back and grab one a bit less over the top. Holding it doesn't give you the same sensation that it might tear out your soul, but you still sense a somewhat off feeling. You try again, and again until you're holding something that's little more than a (not particularly) sharpened stick made for training.

    Event Skill Unlocked: With Unworthy Hands: Know by sight when you won't be able to use an item.
    Well, at least you're getting something out of this incoming torture. As reluctant as you are to go get beat half to death, you're more worried about so you bend down and whisper instructions to Autumn. Your cat purrs solemnly, and follows you to the center of the room. You guess that means he understands.

    Winter Breeze lowers her knife for a moment, smiles at Autumn then bows slightly toward you. You mimic the gesture, before raising your spear.

    “Good. Begin.”

    For this to work, you need Winter Breeze's attention on you. With Autumn staying well behind, you step toward your target, thrusting out with the spear as quickly as you can. Winter Breeze allows you to approach, staring calmly until your spear is inches away from her, then she knocks the spear's tip aside with her short sword and steps forward, sliding the short sword up to rap your hands. As you fumble the spear. Then she stomps on your foot and gives you a light push. Instinctively you try to step back, but the fact that Winter Breeze has your foot trapped sends you crashing down hard.

    -2HP
    +1XP

    “Again. Commit less.”

    You bow then move into place before attacking again. This time you expect Winter Breeze to slip past your first attack and pull back your weapon after the first strike, turning to follow her frantically and jabbing again. Winter Breeze casually steps away from the first strike, and knocks aside the second. As you pull back the spear she steps forward. Her movements are odd, not so much fast as sudden as if you're sure she's moving one way and yet she ends up in another direction entirely.

    It lets her slip past your outstretched spear again and the hilt of her blade finds a new home nestled in your forehead.

    -1HP
    +1XP

    “Once more. Your advantage is reach, don't be afraid to retreat to maintain that reach. You have legs. Use them.”

    You rub your forehead and avoid looking at Autumn. You're not lasting long enough to give him a time to move yet.

    “Widen your stance, keep your weight toward your back foot.”

    “Huh?” you look down, then try to fix your legs only to find Winter Breeze's fist burying itself in your solar plexus.

    -2HP
    “Never take your eyes off the enemy. Once more.” her tone is emotionless, but you can't get rid of the faint sensation that you're being mocked. You sigh at that then quickly step away and try to assume a tougher stance.

    You draw up your stance again and resume your attack. It's almost relaxing. You try (and fail) to land even a finger on Winter Breeze while she floats around your attacks, letting you exhaust yourself and occasionally telling you to change your form, or slipping in to deliver one blow that could easily be lethal. A light poke at your throat, a solid strike with the flat of her blade in the ribs and any number of things that make you really nervous given how sharp her knife looks.

    Thinking about it carefully, it's not hard to understand how Winter fights. She uses the flexible short-sword dagger to parry, her impossible movements to close the distance and incredible precision to strike a single killing blow, waiting to strike until you give her some faint opening, or, failing that, until she makes you create one. There's a frightening efficiency in her methods that you almost have to admire... At least if she wasn't using them to paint you in bruises.

    -3HP
    +1XP
    -1HP
    +1XP
    -1HP
    +1XP

    Still, this works for you. You don't like losing, but if you are losing, you might as well use it. Autumn stays quietly on the sidelines, allowing you to focus her attention on you, waiting with a hunter's patience for his moment to come.

    hat's your job in the plan. And on the sixth bout the opportunity comes. Winter Breeze practically teleports out of the way of your attack, only to step into the path of an angry black ball of fur and claws that's not really happy about the woman whose been hurting his master.

    Autumn is a kitten. Eventually you're sure he'll be some awesome giant man-eating leopard monster thing that can eat people, but for now he's small and weak and not capable of doing much more than scratching someone. But anyone, no matter how graceful, would stumble a little bit when a cat charges between their legs right as they're stepping back.

    Winter Breeze slips half a step and you strike with everything you have. Your spear lashes out like lightning! You've got her! Winter Breeze bends forward, pulling her stomach away from the blow even as she grabs the haft of your spear mid-thrust and throws herself into the air. Somehow, though you don't see the throw, her blade manages to spin through the air smashing hilt first into Autumn's forehead.

    More dramatically she manages to bring her leg around in a circle, kicking you in the temple while she's upside down.

    -3HP (Autumn)
    -5HP

    She continues her flip, landing in a stance, gracefully holding your spear in a ready stance as you impact the ground with a lot less grace.

    You resist the urge to moan and you push yourself to your feet. You walk over to recover her knife, then move to hand it to her. Really, aside from that last one you've taken worse beatings. You're not going to let something this minor ask you to stop no matter how much she likes hurting you or how unfair it is to face off against a C+ ranked level 19 warrior. Winter Breeze takes it, but declines to return your spear. Instead she reaches into her robe and pulls out a single large silver coin, before pressing it into your somewhat confused hand.

    “You may have the rest of the day to yourself,” Winter Breeze states calmly. Then she presses her hand to your forehead, “Mending” and the pain of your wounds vanishes. She stoops to the whimpering Autumn and does the same.

    +5XP
    You stare at Winter Breeze. You don't want to say something, but generally healing and giving out money are really bad ways to bully someone, unless it's a prostitute and you hired them and... you end that train of thought.

    “I was instructed that should your performance exceed expectations you were to be rewarded, as well as given the rest of the day to your own devices. You selected an ideal weapon for the situation, made effective use of both your and Autumn Shade's abilities and executed a strategy that would have been more than sufficient against anyone near your own capabilities.” Winter Breeze remains as chilly as ever, despite her kinder words.

    “Tactically the last bout was your victory. Physically it's obvious that you lack the physical ability or combat experience to win, and that Autumn Shade lacks the mass to attack properly or effective enough stealth capabilities to genuinely escape my notice. Likewise your form is sloppy, attacks are weak and stance was abysmal,” yay, such high praise. You do your best to smile and nod anyway since she might take the money back otherwise, “Short-term limitations such as these have little to no relevance to evaluating the soundness of your strategy. Likewise, your stamina should soon grow to the point where even a single blow wouldn't be enough to stop you, so I can't announce that 'dying' so many times for the sake of luring an enemy into one later victory was an unrealistic choice against most adversaries.”

    You stare at Winter Breeze, unsure of how to respond. It's not that she's usually severe, it's just that you've never actually heard her deliver a word of praise before. The senior servant reaches out awkwardly and ruffles your hair precisely once before turning and replacing the spear on the weapon rack. Then she leaves.

    LEVEL UP
    Stamina+3
    Agility+2
    Affinity+3
    Perception+1
    Luck+1
    Charisma+4
    Monstrous Bloodline increased to level 2
    How do you spend your free time

    [ ] Wander around town
    [ ] Go Shopping (You have 1S)
    -[ ] For something nice
    -[ ] For something adventurery
    [ ] Practice!
    -[ ] The spear
    -[ ] Another weapon
    -[ ] Something else
    [ ] Actually you'll take a nap in the garden
    [ ] Play with Autumn
    [ ] Study
    -[ ] Reading
    [ ] write-in
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2015
  15. Threadmarks: Changing Seasons
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    As much as you'd like to take the day and nap or play with Autumn, you want to know how to read more. The thought of having to sign something you can't understand again chills you to the bone. Besides that knowing how to read's how you get ahead in life. Maps, books, signs, whatever. If you can figure them out without needing clues then you can pretty much take care of yourself in the world.

    So you turn your back on the beautiful sunny day, march to your room and, with Autumn on your lap for spiritual support, start to pour through your instruction materials, scribing out every new character a few dozen times until you know it by heart. The work's agonizingly boring, but you persevere. Even with the reality of having money setting your imagination on fire, you persevere!

    Autumn lacks your patience for such things. At first he tries to follow you, staring curiously as you write each character and occasionally batting a pen out of your hands to 'help'. At least you like to think that he's trying for your sake and not just being a very bored kitten. Still, he eventually he slips off your lap, curls around your feet and closes his eyes. There's something about his gently breathing body and the monotony of your work that almost send you to join him.

    You grit your teeth and resist the urge. You're not the Idiot to nap anywhere for no reason! Eventually you make it. Autumn starts awake, dashes panicked into your desk then spins around dizzily before settling his gaze on you, straightening himself out and lifting his head high as if he had the most dignified awakening in history. Your cat glances disdainfully at your study materials, then walks to the door and threatens to start scratching it unless you let him out.

    If he wasn't so adorable about it, you'd be rather annoyed at the traitor. Still, you send him dashing out into the halls and resign yourself to study until the evening meal. It's boring, and a bit lonely, but you manage to make good progress.

    A new day rises and you find yourself, practice spear in hand, back to getting beaten by Winter Breeze. There's only a few XP this time. But leveling has made you dramatically faster and tougher, her 'gentle' taps sometimes don't even damage you at all. Autumn is helpful as ever, dashing in to distract or leap for her back whenever he can. At the end Winter Breeze heals you and sets you to work. It seems your free afternoons will not repeat.

    In the evenings you study. Winter Breeze shifts effortlessly from brutal combat instructor to severe teacher, though you note her occasionally nodding in acceptance when your reading progress seems to be going better than expected. Gradually the jumble of characters all around you starts to fade into something you can almost understand. You wouldn't say you can really 'read' yet, but you've traded a sea of strange squiggles with a few islands you can comprehend to well ordered patterns of word with the occasional squiggle.

    Sparring, chores, study, sleep. It's weird to live with such a routine life, never wondering if you're going to eat tomorrow, never wondering whose going to get nabbed by the guards or get hurt in a fight, knowing that Autumn and even the Idiot will be around.

    Gradually the seasons start to change. The leaves in the garden turn brown and red and it almost seems a dream that you were ever really hungry. The guards and other servants start to accept you as one of them, or at least stop treating you as a stranger.

    More significantly, you manage to level up again, after which sparring with Winter Breeze seems to stop giving you any XP at all, and you start to think maybe, a little bit, like you could call this place a home. That doesn't mean you let yourself relax all the way of course. You're not an idiot and you're not going to really trust anyone but Autumn.

    You rarely (never) see the old clan elder or the permanently exasperated and stressed Mu Gan for more than a few moments. Everyone else is pretty easy to deal with. Before you know it there's snow on the ground and you actually have warm clothing for once! One afternoon, after waking the Idiot up from his garden nap in a pile of leaves, the boy frowns and seems to think of something.

    “Right! We need to go find you a second monster soon, don't we? I did promise after all!”

    You're surprised he remembers more than last week, but you doubt anyone really took his words seriously...

    He mulls over it in whatever passes for his mind for a few moments before shrugging, “Impossible! It would be irresponsible to bring a kid into the wild, so, we'll have to wait until you're at least 12! And you should be at least level 5 10 so just to make sure you can take care of yourself.”

    That sounds nice, you guess, though you're a bit iffy on relying on the Idiot's help to find another friend. Maybe if he'd really tell you more about himself, but he always avoids the question or ignores you when you asks and it's starting to dawn on you that he might be doing that intentionally.

    “Anyway,” your young lord nods to himself, “What I'm saying is that we should have you do a real job! Something a little risky that'll get you some solid XP. That's to say, it's time for an adventure! It's gotta be an adventure!”

    You perk up despite yourself. Another level or two, and something that challenges you a bit. You don't think you could ever get bored of warm beds and three meals a day, but a little variety couldn't hurt. At level three you're already so much sturdier, faster and stronger than you were a few months ago. You feel like you could take on the whole world. (At least if Winter Breeze isn't included)

    “An adventure?” you ask tentatively hopeful. It's coming from him so this is probably an awful idea.

    “YES! An adventure. What I mean is that I had Mu Gan look up some easy stuff relating to the clan's business. Usually this would be delegated well below his level, but there's gotta be a few things we could have you do to get up par that aren't urgent. So I bullied him into tracking down a few jobs we'd have just given to low level adventurers anyway. I mean, we could have you spar more with others, but bringing people here, letting them steal you from me after I bought you to be my friend not theirs or just waiting while you go up by inches would be boring. I tried to have those stingy old men pony up to bring that Sword Saint Grandpa here, but they wouldn't okay it and the bastard wouldn't even respond to my letters asking him to come, or did Mu Gan get them before they got sent out... What I'm trying to say is that real experience beats practicing or actually studying things any day! And we can have someone watch you and training you up the right way is just boring!”

    You've gotten used to drowning out his words. They're probably exaggerated anyway, and not listening is easier than letting him get to you. Eventually he winds down.

    “Anyway, Winter Breeze says you're reading better these days, so pick for yourself!” And then he hands you several scrolls he seems to have been using as a pillow, brushes the dirt off his back, or tries, and walks inside.

    It takes you a while, trying to put together characters you know and figure out what they might mean together, or filling in those you still don't know, but you actually manage to understand most of the stack of 'jobs' the Idiot left for you.

    In conclusion, well, you guess they did come from him so you can't say you're that surprised.

    The clan wishes to restore an old manor located in a town they've recently begun to govern near the capital. Local villagers report strange noises and lights as well as numerous stories of ghosts. Someone needs to figure out the source.

    As always the army is short on several important supplies. In particular, certain rare herbs can only be gathered fresh from the great forest near the capital.

    A high level scout is needed to track the whereabouts and condition of the Great Northern Phoenix as it seems to be wandering from its traditional territory. It is urgent to warn the nearest city governor, Mu Len, if there may be a need to evacuate the region or muster the nearest army.

    Princess Daiyu's pet white fox died. The Mu clan wishes to procure a replacement for her upcoming birthday celebrations. While rare, the creature is very weak and found only in the forests near the capital. Additional rewards will be given for the adventurer who catches a fox deemed most appropriate as a gift.

    Event Skill Obtained: Literacy!
    Spear Proficiency 1 Studied!
    +33XP


    LEVEL UP
    Stamina+3
    Agility+1
    Affinity+2
    Perception+2
    Luck+1
    Charisma+3

    Same Souls, Distant Selves was learned

    What job do you pick:
    [ ] Spooky Mansion
    [ ] Gathering Herbs
    [ ] The Fox Hunt!

    (Will adjust Autumn's sheet tomorrow when I have the time)
     
  16. Threadmarks: Mission Start
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 3 Autumn Shade buys Tracker 1: (BFldyq, Raron, redaeth)
    [X] 3 Buy Analyze 2: (DOOMPOTATO, redaeth, derkan)
    [X] 1 learn Spear Proficiency 1: (drake_azathoth)
    [X] 8 Buy Comprehend 1: (DOOMPOTATO, BFldyq, redaeth, derkan, Sirrocco, wayne82444, Raron, Adyen)
    [X] 1 Buy Friendship Bond: (Bfldyq, wayne82444, Sirrocco)

    14 votes by my count, so >7 needed to grab a skill. You may still grab skills this update (or whenever)

    [X] 8 Fox Hunt: (wayne82444, drake_azathoth, rcnr, Sirrocco, Raising Kittens, hunter09, Raron, Adyen)
    [X] 6 Great Southern Phoenix: (DOOMPOTATO, BFldyq, redaeth, john doe, Kerfirou, derkan)

    [X] 2 If our affinity is enough for some armor (and we can convince someone to lend us some) that would also be quite handy.: (drake_azathoth, Sirrocco)
    [X] 2 Our effective affinity for spears has increased by 16. Can we upgrade our weapon yet? Having a better weapon would help if we happen to run into something dangerous.: (Sirrocco , drake_azathoth)

    A job that suits you... The answer's obvious really. Part of you lingers on the phoenix job. You really doubt you're misreading it that badly even if a few characters are wrong, but even the paper is different from the others. There's no way it's meant for you and part of you wants to respond to the idiot's efforts and take it just to see what he'll do.

    But, really, he's the Idiot for a reason, and you don't have a death wish. Instead, you choose the fox hunt. The mansion and the herbs don't match your skills at all, but it's a few seconds' thought to purchase comprehend 1 and...

    Searing pain races through your head, shifting something ever so subtly. Wincing until you can see again, you brush off a worried Autumn's gentle mews and make a show of smiling broadly. Reassured, the cat cheerfully follows you inside.

    “Here, this one!” you flourish your chosen job at him.

    Something flashes through his face as the young lord frowns, “Well, I guess that works, though it's a bit boring. Well, we'll get going tomorrow then!”

    You ignore the boring comment. He obviously wanted you to go die against a phoenix. Wait...

    “We’ll get going?” you know he's important, and probably has the type of personality to poke a poisonous snake in the mouth to see what would happen.

    “Of course! I couldn't miss out my precious minion's first real job now could I? Besides, they'll assign somebody real hardcore to watch me, so I'll know you have good protection in case something goes wrong.”

    You stare at him for a few moments, surprised, though you're not sure if from his uncharacteristic intelligence or the fact that he actually seems to care.

    The Idiot wanders off, thrusting the next few days into a blur of packing and last minute practice. And then you, Autumn Shade, the young lord, Winter Breeze, a silent attendant in a gold and black mask and several other servants and guards depart the city on the main road.

    The procession is a lot lower key than your lessons said it should be for anyone really important. There's only a single carriage for you, Autumn, the Idiot and that masked assistant. The rest are left to horses.

    Still, you've never been outside the city before and both you and Autumn find yourself staring at the grand expanses of greenery along the road. At least until Winter Breeze rides up next to the carriage and glares you into propriety.

    Even Autumn recoils a bit at that.

    “Okay!” The idiot nods, “Let's talk about what you'll have to do while we head there!”

    You nod, nervous as you are determined to prove yourself, “I just have to catch a white fox right,” something bears down on you from outside the carriage, “sir?” the last word slips out unintentionally.

    “Well, the kind you'll need is called the Silver-Tipped Fox. Below 100 years old they're an E ranked breed of fox, but like any fox, they'll grow a tail, trade a part of their level for a rank up and get stronger every 100 years they live. If they only have one tail you should be safe, and weak fox species have trouble living that long or something this uses too many big words.” the idiot nods sagely as he reads from a book his silent assistant's prepared.

    “Even though they're just E ranked, Silver-Tipped Foxes are really rare in the forests, and their perception is unusually high. Besides a lot of people try to catch them and you'd need a very good specimen to make a nice pet, so...”

    “So?” He's baiting you, you know it.

    “So it'll take several days at the easiest! And you'll have to go out all day, every day till you do!”

    “And?”

    “Naturally you'll be missing all the regular meals at the inn!”

    He grins cruelly, as if he expects you to be disappointed. Idiot as he is, you doubt he's ever spent a night in the cold. Any kind of roof or shelter at all is a luxury in your books. There's no way you'll let a few months in some cozy bedroom, with regular meals soften you up! So what if your stomach's already growling a bit!

    The look you show him is perfectly dignified. There is nothing forlorn in your stare, no hint of hopeless hunger whatsoever.

    You sigh as the group approaches the Dancing Dragon. The inn's a several-story tall building, solid freshly painted wood with a tile roof and real stone walls separating it from the forest's edge but not the road. From what you've been told it's pretty old and caters to the better-off adventurers, clan members wishing to render themselves more rested and dignified before approaching the capital proper as well as the occasional hunting expedition.

    The idiot hands you an ornate wooden whistle and tells you it's enchanted to notify your back-up if you get in trouble in the forest. Then a few servants hand you an empty cage and some dried meats as well as a compass.

    You stare as everyone but you proceeds to enter the inn. It's only around noon, so can't they at least let you have lunch first?

    Ears pressed to his head, your cat puts one paw toward the inn, then freezes still as you stare at him, before trying to rub against your legs.

    “Yeah, yeah,” traitor.

    With a not-so-loyal pet glancing back at the warm inn that smells of roasting meat, you march resolutely into the forest, training spear ready, eyes primed for danger and every fiber in your body practically shouting at you to bolt back to the safe warm building.

    Hah, like this forest's got anything on a dark alley in the Lower City! You're totally fine!

    Autumn stops regretting his choice as soon as he kills his first squirrel. The kitten bounds into a bush, then returns with a small bloody thing in his mouth. He lays it at your feet and stretches lazily, positively preening. You scritch his ears and let him roam close to you. Even if he hasn't learned tracking yet, the cat's reflexes and ability to fit into small spaces make him a lot better at flushing out anything.

    You'd love to see the Idiot's face when you catch a silver-tipped fox and bring it to him before the first day's up.

    Instead, you finally find your way back to the forest's edge an hour or two after dark. You keep your hand along the stone wall till you can get around to the inn's entrance. Though, it's not like a genius with six stars in stamina like you is tired or hungry or anything! You're just showing Autumn a bit of face and acting like you're as tired as he is. That's all.

    “HAH! Sneaking in here are you? Thought you'd be able to rob the poor innocent nobles here like that!” your eyes drift upward to see someone perching dramatically on the wall. She jumps gracelessly, smashing into the ground while she tries to bring a large halberd down through your skull.

    You raise your spear in time, even as you jump back, but the impact numbs your tired hands and presses you down. You let your gaze trail up the halberd's haft, taking a better look at it's wielder. A pony-tailed girl only a little bigger than you grins triumphantly. You can clearly see the square tattooed on her hand that sports a simplified drawing of a sword inside.

    “Your plan may have been clever, but you didn't expect to run into the genius prodigy of the Adventurer's Guild, did you? Come on Whisper, let's show her what for!”

    You spot another boy, rather chubby as far as you can tell, sitting on the edge of the wall with his head in his hands.

    Analyze” you ready your spear and step back through the door.

    Name: Peach Blossom
    Sex: Female
    Age: 14

    Level: 7
    Class: Warrior
    Specialty: Willowy Dragoon
    Rank: B​

    That's... bad, but you can manage as long as the boy doesn't interfere. No way you're backing down here. No pony-tail bitch gets to push you around and you haven't stolen anything important in months!

    Autumn's warning growl sends you spinning around into the barrel-chest of what's either the biggest man you've ever seen or a fairly hairless bear. One hand reaches down to close around your robe and he plucks you away from the halberdier with more ease than you could lift Autumn.

    “And what have we here?” his booming words sound a little bemused as he looks at pony-tail.

    “A bandit!” Her reply is as quick as it is vapid.

    He nods seriously, “A bandit is it Blossom. And, now, what can you tell me about this bandit?”

    “She has a stick and she likes cats!”

    “And her rank, level?” the almost-bear's tone is endlessly patient.

    “Hah! There's no way I'd know that!” gently you're set down and pushed aside as he walks forward and plants his fist solidly on Peach Blossom' head.

    “O-ooww!” wimp, “What'd you do that for?” She drops her weapon, to grab her head and sends it smashing down on her foot and hops backward in further pain. The bear ignores her unimaginative curses.

    “Whisper?”

    The boy speaks hesitantly, “She's umm... her clothes are gold and black which makes her...”

    “A bandit!” even you ignore Peach Blossom this time.

    “Related to the Mu clan,” you speak up instead, finding your composure at last and delivering the comment with all the scathing honesty 18 points of charisma can net you. Peach Blossom wilts.

    “And her rank?” the bear nods at both of you. You smirk at the girl and wait for her chubby companion to answer.

    “I don't know?”

    The bear sighs, “Honestly, letting a pair of chicks out of the nest without even a single analytic skill or a hint of strategy between you. Little Bee, your rank?”

    So he read your rank before you saw him? You didn't catch him using the skill, but you didn't hear him sneaking up on you either.

    “A-.” you answer smugly, as Autumn puffs out his chest at your heels, “And Autumn Shade's B+ so he's totally better than you too!”

    Peach Blossom, rather than answering, turns toward the Bear, “OWL! You hate lies, don't you! So hit her for once instead of me! It's not like some cushy noble brat uses their head for anything anyway!”

    “Hmph,” the arrogance in your tone surprises you, but you've been in your stare of stare-downs with rival gangs before and there's no way some pretty bint with no more than half a feather for a brain gets to call you soft, “Like it's my fault you can't even use a basic technique like analyze,” you tap your hat, “I learned it when I was ten,” not that you'll admit you're still ten, “Besides, me a noble? I'm not wearing a glove,” you flash your pentagon tattoo, “so how could I be a noble?”

    Then, before anyone else can take back the stage from your—admittedly weak—quip, you gesture for Autumn to follow and strut past the gaping girl.

    The bear—Owl, chuckles at that, then turns a little more serious, “And what's a young A ranked little fledgling like you doing out in the woods all on your lonesome? You do have to admit that a precious little thing like you can't be up to any good by yourself. Come on, let Uncle Owl lend you a hand.”

    You hesitate. You could be honest with the group about your mission. The girl at least is B ranked, and if she's an adventurer then both of the others are probably with the guild too. But, if others are looking for a fox, then you might not be the only young genius looking to use this job to get experience...

    Open up?
    [ ] Write in
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2015
  17. Threadmarks: First Blood
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 4 Buy Tracker 1: (redaeth, Ct613hulu, hunter09, PineTreeq, wayne82444, Sirrocco, Garahs)
    [X] 7 You were sent into the forest to gain experience on your own, instead of just through lessons. You haven't had much luck though. Nothing you've encountered could trouble Autumn, let alone you.: (wayne82444, Sirrocco, redaeth, Garahs, Ct613hulu, hunter09, PineTreeq)

    “I was sent to the forest to try to gain practical experience.” You decide skirt the truth, “But.. nothing's really been able to challenge Autumn, let alone someone as awesome as me!” Maybe you're laying it on a bit thick, but some part of you wants to gloat to Peach Blossom as much as you can.

    Owl reaches over to muss your hair, not that it's grown back for that to do any damage. “And what,” he asks, “have you encountered exactly?”

    “Very little!” Before anyone can point out the inaccuracy of your words, you thumb your nose at the halberdier and march past the group toward the inside of the mansion.

    The Idiot's up late, drinking something that smells awful and trying to get a few servants to join him. Amidst the commotion, both you and Autumn manage to slink by without earning his attention.

    Morning comes again, and with it comes Autumn hopping onto you chest to wake you up. Glaring at your cat, you stumble into your clothes and walk into the inn's common room. Owl glances up from the idiot's eyes as both go silent. Then the big man snorts and lumbers out.

    The Idiot smiles at you, while you try to figure out what he's doing awake this early in the morning. Then he wobbles a little and shakes his head.

    “Back so soon, It's gotta...” he stumbles, trying to find the words, “Huh, what time is it?”

    “Six?” it's not like you have any means of checking the time.

    He blinks, “That early, you gotta be out at least till...”

    “In the morning.”

    “Oh,” he bursts into giggles, “There's a sack or something somewhere with food... I'm just going to be here napping. Have fun.”

    Fun, right. You find the sack he's talking about and venture outside into the predawn light. Beach Blossom and her partner look to be heading out as well. The girl looks at you and sniffs, then shifts her gaze away. Fine by you.

    “Come on Autumn,” you push past them, ignoring Owl who looks like he might want to say something to you, “we have work to do.”

    “This area's known for relatively low levels amidst its beasts. But there's still more in these woods than you can handle,” Owl looks to be addressing the two junior adventurers, but his voice carries just a bit too much, “Be careful, pay attention to your surroundings and don't be afraid to run if you need to.”

    That's... grim. You're not sure if he's trying to warn you or just very big and loud, but you take his words to heart anyway.
    Still, even though you find yourself jumping at every shadow (and find Autumn jumping into every shadow) the forest doesn't seem to hold any serious threats all morning.

    Early afternoon, however, finds Autumn leaping into a bush to stir up any prey, only to find that the bush isn't that fond of him. Leaves stretch into thorny brambles as they wrap the cat, pulling him in, hooking his flesh and wrapping your kitten, choking him while the bush swells to twice your size.

    For a moment you hesitate, waiting for the suddenly moving bush to attack you. Viney tendrils lash out weakly, but you have no problem jumping back to avoid them. Dashing forward in their wake, you plant your spear firmly in the thing's center.

    Unfortunately your thrust does practically nothing besides give the vines a chance to wrap around your weapon and try to pull it in. Despite how thin they look, they have no trouble tearing it from your hands. Rather than get pulled in, you abandon the weapon and jump away.

    You glance at Autumn. Your kitten growls weakly pain but keeps struggling as best he can. Thorny vines dig into his flesh, pulling him further into the bush and scratching a hundred tiny wounds into his fur. You tense to jump after him, then hesitate. You can't give up on Autumn and run, but, you need to be smarter.

    “We have this,” you feel less hopeful than you try to sound, “So just hold still for a second. Analyze”


    Level: 5
    Race: Plant
    Species: Baby Treant
    Element: Life
    Rank: C-
    HP: ??/??
    MP: ??/??

    Resistant to bashing and piercing damage


    Your skill hasn't given you any notes like that before. Whatever, you can worry about that later. Level 5, so two more than you. Communication, on the other hand, isn't giving you much on the treant, almost like it's barely even aware of what's going on. But it hurt Autumn, so it pays.

    “Tiger Claw”

    Black fur sprouts across across your arms, and you fingernails stretch painfully into small knives. Now you don't need to rely on stabbing or punching. You step toward the plant and hop back as it attacks almost exactly the same as the first time. Then you dash in, swipe and retreat. The brambles offer next to no resistence to your claws, but you can see them slowly growing back in your wake. No helping it then.

    With a roar you throw yourself into the vines, slashing wildly. Each swing of your arm brings you down hard into the brambles. Every step you take lets them get further and further around you, wrapping tightly, dragging their thorns across your flesh.

    -2HP
    -1HP
    -1HP

    You don't have the training to dodge, or the reach to attack consistently and stay out if its way, but you do have enough HP to hit it more than it hits you. For every gash, every tear, every stabbing pain you cut another dozen brambles. Sap, blood and crushed berries coat your claws and you let out a roar, or maybe a scream as you keep cutting. Brambles curl around your face and you slam your eyes closed and duck your head, doing your best to keep the thorns from hitting anything. Every strike hurts a bit more, comes a little slower as your arms scream for you to stop.

    -1HP
    -1HP
    -1HP
    -2HP
    -1HP
    -1HP
    -1HP
    -2HP
    -1HP

    You don't.

    Eventually the plant stills and shrinks, thorns retracting from your abused flesh and letting you get to Autumn. Quickly you deactivate tiger claws, letting out another scream as thick fur and sharp nails fade to crushed bleeidng soft hands, and pull Autumn Shade to your chest.

    +15XP

    You only have one MP left, but it's worth it to be sure Autumn's okay, “Analyze”

    Your cat's familiar status appears, telling you the kitten still has a solid 7 HP left. He wasn't moving as much into the thorns, so you guess it didn't hit him as many times, or perhaps it was more focused on trying to stop you from hurting it. Either way you spend a solid few moments hugging and petting your wounded cat before grabbing your spear and your bag.

    “I think,” huh, the forest floor's swaying from side to side a bit, “I think we should go home for the day.”

    Before you can enact this brilliant plan, a loud crashing sound has you spinning to face the darkness. Nervously you raise your spear, only to relax as a famili... stupid looking pony-tail comes into play.

    “I'VE GO....” Peach Blossom lowers her halberd as recognition dawns, “Oh it's just you.”

    Irritation fades to worry as she finally realizes how bad you and Autumn look, “You don't look that good.”

    you bite back the retort about how perceptive she isn't. No weakness.

    “Hah, I'm fine! This much damage is nothing for someone with my rank!” Hopefully she doesn't notice that you're propping yourself up with your spear a little bit.

    “Hmph” Peach Blossom steps forward and, oh so gently, pokes one of the biggest scratches on your cheek, “I get that you have that whole stuck-up 'genius' thing going, but a rival character's supposed to stop pretending and quietly accept the hero's help in times like this!” her smile's a little dazzling, and only slightly smug, “Besides, helping everyone is what adventurers are here, so let's get you back to the inn.”

    Behind her you see the chubby boy from before, Whisper, running to catch up, “Is it... Oh, are you okay?”

    [ ] Accept her offer
    [ ] Go on your own. What's the worst that would happen
    [ ] Tell her you'll go back on your own, then blow the magic whistle as soon as you're clear.

    Autumn's level will be up tomorrow.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Bleeding Out
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 11 Accept her offer: (drake_azathoth, PineTreeq, Xicree, Jiven, wayne82444, Raron, Glasbowl14, Frakir's brother, redaeth, Sirrocco, fitzgerald)
    -[X] 7 Flirt jokingly about being the love interest not the rival.: (PineTreeq, wayne82444, Raron, Glasbowl14, redaeth, Sirrocco, fitzgerald, Xicree)

    -[X] 1 Yell at her that she is the rival, not you: (Frakir's brother)
    [X] 1 Tell her you'll go back on your own, then blow the magic whistle as soon as you're clear.: (hunter09)


    [X] 6 Buy Analyze 2: (drake_azathoth, PineTreeq, wayne82444, Glasbowl14, redaeth, Sirrocco)
    [X] 7 Buy Cat's Eye: (drake_azathoth, PineTreeq, wayne82444, Raron, Glasbowl14, redaeth, Sirrocco)


    “Fine,” you do your best to make your acceptance sound magnanimous, but the fact that you're swaying unsteadily on your feet takes away from the effect. That or the treant was poisoned, “but, I'm not your rival!”

    Peach Blossom sticks her tongue out at you, out of either genuine spite or some unseen playful side, “Are too!”

    You take her arm, leaning on her abruptly as you start to move forward. The treant must have been at least a little poisonous, “Nope!” you giggle a bit, “I'm more the love interest type.”

    Definitely poisoned. There's no other explanation for why you'd say that. None whatsoever. You're going to blot it from your mind now.

    Stumbling forward a bit, you grab Peach Blossom's sleeve and pull her with you. Autumn limps by your side.

    “I-I'm I'm err. That's, I'm, bwah?”

    “It was a joke.” You pour every inch of personality you can muster with your wounds into making the words as flat and self-evident as obvious. It seems to work.

    “R-right! A joke, of course. Hah, yeah. I'm not into girls at all! Nope, zero interest! Especially not midgets like you!”

    You've seen how older people get a bit crazy and stupid whenever the opposite sex comes up, but there's no need to go that far saying she's not, wait, midget?!

    “I'm perfectly average sized for my age!” at your feet Autumn gives a pained yip of agreement.

    “I didn't know you could could have a class before 10...”

    “!” only anger keeps your mouth from dropping open. Instead you take a deep breath and give her your best cold stare, “Yes, we all know you're awful at that whole thinking or noticing things thing.”

    Peach Blossom frowns, “So are you saying that I should have known you weren't ten yet or that ten year olds are that tiny....”

    You... you don't have any way to respond to that. The conversation lapses to an awkward silence as you return to the inn.

    --------------

    Peach Blossom refuses to let you go alone until you've reunited with the Mu Clan's staff. Winter Breeze is quick to treat Autumn's injuries, and only slightly less quick to tend to yours, though Peach Blossom insists on staring at all of you suspiciously the whole time. Finally after you've recovered she gives you a quick smile, then dashes back outside.

    As eager as you are to go back outside, since you've exhausted your MP that leaves you the rest of the afternoon and evening to recover and eat all the wonderful food at the inn. Not that you're getting soft or anything! You'd totally be fine going back out there and squeaking out another level, but it'd be bad form to outdo everyone else so much, after Peach Blossom helped you, so you won't go pass them just yet. That's all.

    Still, the young master pulls you aside after you've told the details of your encounter, dumping a few small glass vials in your hands and small bundle of sticks.

    “Here!” he grins cheerfully, “Three health potions and some torches!”

    You eye the vials carefully. You don't know much about potions because they're the kind of thing you couldn't even hope to see in your life until a few months ago. Hesitantly you pull the cap out of one and take a sniff, wincing as the smell of potent alcohol washes over you and the room spins a bit.

    “Oh right,” the Idiot nods thoughtfully, smirking like he was waiting for just that reaction, “The most common class that can easily make potions is a disti.. disti....” he drums his fingers along his chair, takes a swig of whatever he's drinking and perks up, “Right! alcohol-maker thing! So cheaper health potions can usually get you pretty drunk if you're not careful. You probably shouldn't take them too quickly if you don't want to pass out, and they won't work quite instantly either.”

    “So, if I take them I'd be as bad as you for a while?” the question slips out despite yourself. Autumn bats his nose with his paws as if trying to push out the smell while you re-cork the potion.

    “Well, you'd be drunk, so you'd expect to make pretty bad decisions, act erratically and emotionally, fall asleep in random places and have really awful reflexes,” he considers for a few moments, “And I have pretty good reflexes!”

    You're tempted to follow up, but Winter Breeze takes that moment to step into sight and you're not stupid enough to say something rude to the boss that where she can hear, no matter how much she deserves it.

    “Oh, and the torches should be good for any plant type monsters and scaring away some others,” so wonderful he gave you those before you got attacked by a giant bush is the response you don't say out-loud.

    ------

    HP and MP restored, belly stuffed and only a little bit pained from Autumn's wake-up call, you're ready to face the new day!

    You glare at the predawn light for a little bit, then buy Cat's Eye and upgrade Analyze. No surprise attacks today! The world stings for a moment and the shadows around you brighten visibly, though they're still oddly drained of color compared to the well lit inn behind you.

    “Come out fox... Please? I just want to be friends... Come on... Nice and easy,” There's no reply, no matter how much of the forest you run through. You really hope you find one before you're 80.

    Autumn continues to investigate bushes, often batting them to check for movement before 'bravely' jumping in this time around, and you just use your best enhanced vision to look for anything that's moving or unusually white.

    Abruptly Autumn tenses, crouching and growling angrily at a solitary shrub. You hesitate for a few moments before realizing that those thorns look very familiar.

    After a quick analyze to verify that it's another treant, you step far back, light a torch and toss it in. For a few moments the plant seethes, vines lashing out in every direction, desperately trying to grasp the torch and throw it out, only to come up more and more burned in the process. It's... pitiful actually, and a bit sad. But you don't think the plant's really smart enough to qualify for pity, and you need the XP.

    +8XP

    Sadly, it's not quite enough to level. Perhaps you earn less when you use a surprise attack like this. Autumn waits a few moments, then jumps into the plant's ashes, hopping up and down before dancing back toward your feet, purring contentedly while smearing ashes all over your legs.

    Once more in the early evening, the cat spots a treant in advance, his tracker skill having given him more than enough warning to identify the monsters before triggering them to wake up. You only hesitate a little bit before lighting a torch and lobbing it in. If you don't level you won't be able to protect anything, and this is an easy way.

    +8XP

    LEVEL UP
    Level 4
    Stamina +3
    Strength +1
    Agility+2
    Affinity+2
    Perception+2
    Luck+2
    Charisma+3

    Battlefield Awareness 1 was learned
    The rush of power, of clarity, flowing through you fills you with sweet bliss. Daylight's long gone, so you march back to the inn. This isn't so bad! The forest should be scared of you! Little Bee the mighty tamer of beasts, terror of living shrubs, err... moving shrubs!

    --------

    Another day, another adventure. You great the adventurers as you depart, smiling despite yourself as Owl compliments you on the level, and march out into the dark woods, loyal cat at your side, spear in hand and nothing that can scare you.

    Sitting in the tree to enjoy your lunch and ignore Autumn devouring whatever small animal he's caught on his own, you can't help but sigh sleepily. You could definitely get used to this.

    It really is relaxing. You run a hand through the soft vine hanging down from the tree, smelling the crimson flowers slowly spreading out across its length. It really is soft, even if the sap that's leaking out wherever it brushes your skin is sticky and oddly red almost like it's blood—you shove yourself to your feet and try to push away, tearing at the long snakelike tendril that you only now realize is wrapped around your neck and slowly pulling out your blood.

    It's hard to move, and the vine's thoroughly resilient, turning almost to stone whenever Autumn sinks his teeth or his claws in. Okay, think carefully, don't panic. Don't drift off and let the sweet painless darkness take you either, no matter how tired you feel. First thing's first.

    You twist your neck, embracing the pain that moving vine seeps up more blood and put the flowers firmly in view.

    Analyze


    Level: 7
    Race: Plant
    Species: ????
    Element: Life, ????
    Rank: B

    Condition: Starving

    You put the rank and level out of mind for a second. Even if you're doomed you won't go down without a fight, “Autumn! Torches” you can't get free enough to reach your bag, but the cat dashes to it, biting a strap and throwing it to you. You fumble the catch, your hands are already going a bit shaky, and pull out a torch. You just have to... to... You bite down on the inside of your cheek, faint pain bringing consciousness back, right. Light the torch and burn it off you even if it hurts.

    [ ] Do it.
    [ ] No, you can feel something pulling to you, a faint sense of connection. Your blood mingles with its sap, you might be able to bind whatever this is.
    [ ] Write-in
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2015
  19. Threadmarks: A Greedy New Friend
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Blood Bond

    Desperation and the sheer amount of blood exchanged between you help the skill activate on your first try this time, tearing through you into the desperate hungry creature wrapped around your neck. It leaves you emptier than before, drifting for one brief and terrifying moment as the alien thoughts at the other end of the offered bond consider. Even with comprehension you can barely grasp the factors it weighs. Hunger, growth, soft sunlight and fertile red soil. Risk, danger, fire and cutting and constant movement. You let the vine coil tighter around you, choking the last gasps of your life. Acceptance; the circle completes itself.

    And everything that poured out of you and more rushes back in. You feel yourself growing flexible, limbs dissolving into twisting boneless vines, veins stretching into networks of roots able to rebuild you from the smallest surviving speck. Simultaneously you feel harder, compact, immovable. You can feel Autumn changing, melding, becoming more like a flower even as the vine becomes more like you.

    The unsettling, agonizing sensation of two opposing natures as one gradually fades. You clench and unclench your hands, marveling at the fact that you're human; joints and bone and blood. Gently you run a finger along the length of your newest family member, careful to avoid any of its delicate crimson flowers. Gently you pull it away from your neck and set it down on the ground. Your clothing is positively soaked, but at least you don't seem to be bleeding any more.

    The vine is decidedly snakelike. Its main body is only a little thinner than your arm and perhaps twice as long. Countless Fragile twigs and tendrils extend outward from the central body, none more than several inches long or thicker than a finger. Seven petaled flowers blossom across its length in all shades of crimson. Despite the fact that the creature has no eyes or mouth, a pair of quiet gray flowers amidst the red and green give one end the pretense of a head. Methodically it coils into a circle and raises its head into the air like a serpent rising from the ground. It brushes your hand affectionately, then wraps around your arm and winds around and upwards, heedless of its broken petals and the fact that it's leaving you dangerously unbalanced.

    “Heavy! Too heavy. Carry yourself.” Your protests merit only a comforting nudge on the cheek as the vine settles. Autumn growls a little at his junior stealing Autumn's resting place, but the vine pays your kitten no mind at all.

    “Oh fine, just this once, but this isn't going to happen.”

    Permission is rewarded with a dozen flowers blooming in joy.

    Anyway, you could keep hunting, but you're feeling a little dizzy and you don't want to waste a potion if you don't have to.

    ------------

    “Hmm, no fox again today! Well then, a few questions!” Oddly, the Idiot's the only one who greets you as you enter the inn. There are plenty of servants around, but even Winter Breeze is just staring at you oddly. How is the idiot still drunk?

    “What, err, how may this servant help the young master?” You're not sure if the room's swaying because you're wobbling around carrying a too-heavy pet, or because you refuse to waste an expensive potion when you can just walk back.

    “Whose blood is all that covering you?”

    You glance downwards at yourself. There's more than a little red. “Probably mine?” You fight back a yawn, and the desire to fall down here and let everything fade to sweet darkness.

    “Oh, well, I guess it's not a problem if it's yours... What's with the necklace?”

    “It's cute, B ranked and the poor thing was so hungry it snuck up and tried to eat me; so, I tamed it!”

    No one seems to muster up a response tot hat.

    “Just because I'm from the slums doesn't mean... doesn't mean I can't like flowers you know!” Well, you've never paid them that much mind before, but they're growing on you a bit.

    The Idiot nods as if what you're saying is the most sensible thing in the world.

    “Last question, you do realize it's sucking your blood right?” He points down to your chest where a bit of blood

    You stare down at your neck, then glance down your top where the plant's extended a few tiny vines to siphon off blood where you couldn't see.

    “Bad flower. Bad!”

    The tendrils sheepishly pull away and the little glutton wilts in pitiable shame.

    “Nope, not falling for it. I need most of that blood. Don't give me that look.” Two brilliant gray flowers stare up at you, the picture of innocence, “Well Autumn may beg a lot and turn traitor for a dried fish,” your cat huffs indignantly, “but he almost never attacks me without permission and he never just drinks my blood.”

    Autumn gives a soft purr filled with smug superiority. Your vine droops low, the head retreating appropriately abashed.

    “Good, now I think I'm going to...” the room tilts sideways, and there really is a lot of blood where the vine stopped sucking just now. Ah, it's so nice and dark.

    -----------

    The devil laughs and howls and dances with the storm. His voice is the screaming wind itself; his feet strike the earth as thunder; his blade crashes down, swift as lightning and just as lethal.

    Today they brought forces worth an army, enough to hunt a true monster. But monsters don't think, don't plan. They can be predicted, guessed, tricked. An army this small isn't enough. But still, not even the devil should find it this easy. The devil, despite its laughter and screams, seems relaxed, utterly at peace as if it was enjoying a pleasant stroll.

    A kinder beast might grant such poor desperate enemies a few last words, a moment to realize their own failings, or a chance to make their peace with death. But the devil doesn't care at all for the lives and deaths of such small souls.

    A few are are different: wolves hiding amongst the sheep. A pyromancer reveals herself to set the devil aflame, turning his arm to ash for the few moments it takes the devil to heal. A guardian blocks one blow, then another, then a third without dying. An assassin manages to escape his sight almost long enough to escape. To these talents, the devil extends a moment of respect. Instead of killing, he crushes. Dozens of skills activate as one, enhancing the same attack in a way that shouldn't be possible. There is nothing sudden or fierce about such attacks. A sword flickers forward and a dozen yards behind the devil, the pyromancer falls, her throat slashed open with utter precision.

    Finally the last warrior fades, never quite understanding what beast they provoked, and the forest is silent, save for the devil's gentle humming and the fading pitter-patter of a quieting storm.

    -----------
    It's dark and quiet when you wake up and you're not sure what time it is. A glance around reveals that you've actually beaten Autumn awake for once. The cat's plopped down on a bed of flowers, head to toe, silently chewing on a piece of vine trapped below him.

    Shakily your vine extends a tendril toward you, begging for help. “Hmph, you have four levels on him. He can't bully you at all if you don't let him, and I'm still mad at you for before, no matter how hungry you are.”

    The branch dries and crackles away. You only last a few more minutes before you crawl over and wrap your arms around both kitten and snake.

    “No blood sucking, got it?”

    The plant's head bobs up and down in response. You mostly trust it this time.

    For a while you lie there, listening to the sounds of the rain on the inn's roof, enjoying the warmth of Autumn's fur and the soothing fragrance of your newest companion's petals.

    Eventually Autumn cracks an eye open, stares at you for a little bit and takes a swipe at your nose as if to say that crawling into bed with you is his job not the reverse. You let the kitten go and rise up to follow the little king. You guessed someone must have bathed you and cast a few healing skills since you're a lot less blood-stained and a lot steadier on your feet than yesterday.

    The young master's just entering the inn as you head downstairs. He's soaked in rain and mud from head to toe and clutching a strange stick a good deal taller than he is.

    “Oh, good morning!” he pauses to crack open another drink and down it in a single swallow, “Anyway, one of the scouts I brought with us was saying that something dangerous happened a bit deeper in the woods and it looked really flashy! So catch the fox today and we'll leave in the night.”

    You frown, “But...”

    The Idiot's face goes oddly serious for a moment, before blooming back to a drunken smile, “You found a new pet, and it's probably a pretty good fit since you both seem so obsessed with food,” someday he'll pay for that, “So we won't be able to get you another bond anyway for a while, so that means it's time to be lazy again! It'd be good if you find a fox, but the princess is just a spoiled brat anyway,” like he can talk,” and it's fine to fail if you're still leveling up.”

    You're not sure if he's disappointed or pleased at this outcome. Still, you're not happy at the thought of coming here, running around in the forest for days and then just giving up.

    You'll find one today for sure! Even if you have to change up your tactics.

    What do you name your new pet?
    [ ] Mountain Peak Blossom
    [ ] Fragrant Ruby
    [ ] Write-in

    It's your last chance. How do you go about things?
    [ ] Ask the adventurers to help
    [ ] Set some kind of trap (Give details)
    [ ] Just wander around like before
    [ ] Write-in
     
  20. Threadmarks: You Found a Fox
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    This is it, your last chance, and you're not going to let pride get in your way. After her help yesterday, and because Owl knows just whose backing you, you're not that worried that the adventurers could really mess with you if it turns out they are on the same job.

    Still they're not Autumn Shade or Mountain Peak Blossom, and that means you can't trust them all the way. The Lower City's taught you that any trust is a gamble, so you make sure to wait next to the Idiot for them to come out. If he says he saw you arguing with them and they do try something, then no one will hesitate to blame them with the Young Master's word against theirs.

    Eventually Owl shows, and Whisper soon after. Perfect! It's not like you care what Peach Blossom thinks, but you'd rather not have her needling you just because you're nice enough to give others an excuse to show off their knowledge.

    “Good morning!” you're nervous, so you greet them twice as cheerfully. Owl smiles and ruffles your hair, cocking his head to the side as the vine around your neck reaches out to push his hand away.

    “A new pet? I don't think I've seen that species before,” the big man's voice carries a faint whiff of curiosity as he strokes Blossom, allowing it to wrap around his finger and try to siphon off some blood.

    “Yeah, isn't he adorable?” And, it seems, incapable of getting through Owl's thick skin. Dejected Mountain Peak Blossom droops away from the big man, “Anyway,” best to strike before his attention goes elsewhere, “I'm just a little curious, you know the forest really well, right?”

    Owl nods, “Anything you need to know about it?”

    “Well, I heard there's a lot of foxes, and I thought since they're just so adorable, it might be best to catch one for a new pet... but I haven't had any luck,” you give Owl your best innocent smile, one orders of magnitude more effective than you could have mustered a few months ago.

    The big man ruffles your hair again, “Silver tipped foxes was it?” dammit, “Well, I think they usually keep their dens near water. They're fairly good at detecting predators and hiding for their rank, but they don't have the endurance to track down most prey or travel as far to get nourishment.”

    You hesitate, it sounds solid, but you know nothing about nature at all. Owl could be giving you bad information, and no one else here might know.

    “I s there anywhere in particular nearby?”

    Owl hesitates, deciding whether to lie, or just whether to tell you anything at all? “There is a fairly large river if you head southwest far enough, but more powerful beasts tend to lurk around as you get farther in. It might be best to stay closer by.”

    The job isn't worth risking your life for, and you don't know if you can handle things alone. Besides, Owl might be lying. Still, there is one way.

    Peach Blossom's sleepy face poking out of a room is all the push you need. You raise your voice and project all the brash confidence you can, “Well, unlike someone I could name, I'm not afraid at all of going deeper into the forests!”

    For a moment Peach Blossom stares at you, then something ignites in her eyes, “Hah! As if! Anything my rival can do, I can do better!”

    Are you really getting this charismatic that quickly? No, judging by Whisper's sighs this is more to do with how easy Peach Blossom is to push around. She really wouldn't last a day in Lower City.

    “Prove it,” a child could pull one over her.

    Peach Blossom glowers at you, “Fine!”

    “Then today we'll go together all the way up to the river. The first one to back off loses.”

    Whisper buries his head in his hands. The Idiot chortles through his drink and Owl shakes his head sadly, and like that it's settled. If Owl's intel is bad, he'd be sending Peach Blossom to the same place, you have a companion and, best of all, you don't have to admit you don't want to go any further in alone!

    ------

    You clutch your spear tightly and try not to look nervous. At your side, Peach Blossom does the exact same thing with her halberd. You haven't seen anything yet, not even another baby treant, but the deeper in the forest you go, the darker and quieter the woods gets. Which isn't to say you're scared of course. There's no way someone whose lived in those slums would be scared at something small like th—

    You spin, spear at the ready only to realize that the noise you heard is just the wind blowing through some leaves.

    “It should be close, right?”

    Peach Blossom smirks at you, “Scared?”

    “Of course not!” the way your loud voice penetrates the forest's quiet makes you regret your words. Peach Blossom glances around, but nothing comes out after a few minutes.

    Autumn's ears perk and the cat dashes ahead, flitting silently through shadows. You and Peach Blossom share a glance then dash after the cat, not quite as quietly. Soon you too can hear the faint rush of water. You've made it.

    “Haha, see, not scary at all!”

    Peach Blossom nods, “Yeah, even a kid like you could do this without problems. So, let's hurry up and go back, okay?”

    You let the comment pass this time, there are more important things to worry about, “Anyway, I want to find a fox, so if you can spot one before me, I guess I'd have to admit that you're better, and since we did come all the way here, we might as well look.”


    You won't, but she doesn't know that.

    Autumn stiffens as the river comes into view. It's a wide stream, clearer than any water you've seen before, and shallow enough that you could wade through it. More importantly, something is moving through the brush at the far bank.

    Quietly you point to Peach Blossom. Then you tap Mountain Peak Blossom into wakefulness. If it's going to hang around you, at least it can contribute.

    Seeing everyone ready, you take a deep breath and whisper out your skill.

    Analyze

    Level: 17
    Race: Fox
    Species: Three Tailed Steel Tipped Fox
    Element: ???, ???, ????
    Rank: C

    Known for its sturdy fur

    Your breath catches in your throat and you take a step back. The fox's head moves, as it turns and leaps, crashing through the undergrowth to land firmly in the stream.

    It's stands taller on four legs than you do on two, with teeth large enough to tear off your arm or through your throat. Three tails longer than you are tall float behind it, shining brilliant silver in the sunlight.

    Well, you found a fox. Now let's see if you can survive it.



    [ ] Blow your whistle
    [ ] No, you can do this.


    [ ] Rough plan of action?
     
  21. Threadmarks: Foxfire
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Before anyone can do anything, you grab the whistle and blow for all you're worth. There's no sound, but you can feel it pulse and you drop it back into your pocket, lifting your spear up. You're not fast enough. Reacting to the whistle, or just because you stand out the most in the group, the fox lunges toward you in a steely blur.

    It crashes into the ground in front of you, studying you with hungry, intelligent eyes, before its paw arcs out lazily and sends you crashing to the ground, three bleeding gashes torn in your stomach.

    -6HP

    And then something rockets past you and a pony-tailed cannonball smashes the fox upside its head. The fox staggers, and spits out a mouthful of blood even as Peach Blossom stumbles to the ground, catches herself and readies to fight.

    “Lure it into the woods!”

    Autumn can use stealth and its large size could hurt the fox between the trees. Besides, time spent running is time for help to arrive, if anyone's coming. The foxes tails spin out, elongating and hardening, but Peach Blossom slips between them gracefully, then turns and kicks off the ground, dashing into the woods with a single out of control leap.

    Autumn dashes into the shadows, and you follow as quickly as you can with Mountain Peak Blossom around your neck. While chasing, you manage to catch the fox with analyze, trying to focus on its elements and its HP, but the skill doesn't give you anything you didn't see before.

    For a moment you think Peach Blossom's going to escape. As impossibly fast as that fox is for its side, it might as well be moving still next to Peach Blossom's jumping speed. Except... She can't turn while she's jumping. There's a staggering crack, and then a groaning sound as the tree Peach Blossom hit crashes to the ground.

    “Owwww....” she compounds her mistake by dropping her weapon and bending to grab it while the Steel-Tipped Fox opens its mouth and spews a stream of Blue Flame toward your dragoon.

    Analyze” You pump your legs, dashing forward as fast as you can, but there's no way to block off the Flame.

    “Eh, Ah wait a second...” Impossibly fast, Peach Blossom bends out of the way, diving into a roll and smothering the flames that catch on her shirt. For all that she looks fine, Peach Blossom doesn't stand up again, curling into a ball and screaming as she clutches her arm.

    “Peak, Grow and Harden as much as you can! Hey ugly, over HERE!” orders transform into insults as you throw your spear ineffectually, catching the fox in the flank and sending it spinning to face you. Good, she's annoying, but you can't let Peach Blossom just die like that. Thorns puncture your skin, draining precious blood to fuel Mountain Peak Blossom's growth.

    -10HP


    The Fox inhales, blue sparks lighting up its teeth as Mountain Peak Blossom plants its roots in you and explodes into a flurry of vines and flowers. Before you can worry that they'll burn up, the vines solidify, vibrant greens turning stone gray. You try to throw yourself out of the way of the flame, and stagger backwards instead, Mountain Peak Blossom's sheer mass. The fire catches both of you dead on.

    You think you're going to die, but the firm network of vines protects you, wrapping you in a stony egg as they start to melt under the intense heat. Oh so gently, Mountain Peak Blossom extends a single flower to brush against your cheek, then pulls away entirely, more growth pushing you back away.

    No, no. You can only watch miserably, tears forming at the corners of your eyes as your adorable little glutton burns to ash.

    Uncaring of the monster looming before you, you jump toward Mountain Peak Blossom's reduced body, blotting out every ember you can and standing over it. Y-you wanted it to help protect you, but it's family, it can't die for you, leave you behind like that. Hastily you grab a health potion and smash it, pouring out the contents of the vial onto Mountain Peak's twitching vines.

    Then you lift your eyes to meet the Fox, staring it down with everything you have. It's too fast, too strong, too tough. You can't kill it, but you don't need to. How many more seconds do you need to last for help to arrive? Ten, twenty? A minute. You'll make it, somehow. Snarling, you step forward. You seem to have lost your spear at some point, but you'll do this with your bare hands if you need to.

    For a second the fox hesitates, stepping back beneath your presence. Then, in that moment of distraction, the black blur that's been biding its time for a single decisive blow—just like the great hunter you know he'll be some day—appears out of thin air. Autumn dashes past the fox's side without stopping, sickly green light trails from his claws. Surprised, the fox can't even begin to react as a paw sinks into his fur, light pouring through it. For a moment you can almost see that poison pouring into the Fox's blood-stream, weakening it, sapping it to an inevitable grave. You've won!

    A cornered beast is the most dangerous. Autumn pulls to a stop to face his prey and the fox's tails swell, steel tips flashing into massive metallic drills that spear into Autumn from each side before the kitten can even hope to dodge. They bat Autumn to the ground, pulling away dipped in dark red blood. Autumn doesn't get up.

    You look at them: Peach Blossom whose never been really hurt before, burned. She might be able to use the arm again. Mountain Peak Blossom is more black than it's green or red. The health potion seems to be seeping in, but the flower doesn't even have enough energy to drain your blood and heal itself. Autumn: a bloody mess in a small crater on the forest floor.

    You've lost friends before. You've been hurt, been bullied, been beaten. But it was supposed to change. The last months have been nice for the first time in forever and you won't let things go back to the way they were. Some tamer you are, some leader, to end up like this. You raise a claw, and bring it down. Something snaps inside you. Rampaging Blood was learned. Chimera was learned

    You step forward slowly, your hair stretching to whip the fox's fail. It turns toward you snarling, then falls to a hesitant yip, before lashing out with a blast of flame. Slow. You lift your paws to shield your face and barrel straight through the firestorm, tendrils lashing out to either side, wrapping the fox's mouth and slamming it shut. It struggles against you, strength against strength and learns how weak it is. And then you're there before it. Stony claws lashing out, again and again. Cutting it, hurting it for everyone it's taken from you. Your fingers jam. The claws aren't quite growing right, but you keep slashing, keep cutting until your arms won't move any more. The fox struggles away, steel fur giving way to stone as it struggles to move. One more to end this. One more step.

    The world comes crashing down around you as you sink into the arms of a masked man. When did he get here?

    +30XP


    -----------

    (Aftermath will come in a day or so. Going to update character sheets and call it a night.)
     
  22. Threadmarks: A Question
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Event Skill Gained: Reckless Hero
    Event Skill Gained: Navigator

    The wooden ceiling in front—above—you isn't the inn's. Is this the Mu clan's household? Something moves at your feet, and a ball of black fur jumps at you angrily, covering your face in soft licks.

    You try to say his name, to call out, but your mouth doesn't seem to move properly. You try to lift an arm to pet him, but your hands are a mass of bandages.

    “He hasn't left your side all week. Neither of them has.” You don't think you've ever heard Winter Breeze that quiet, or that caring. It's not a reassuring sound.

    Soft green vines stretch out around you, hugging you close as happy flowers smother what parts of your face Autumn isn't hogging.

    “You were the most injured. Your vine was almost recovered by the time we got it back to the inn, and Autumn Shade's injuries could be treated with simple healing skills. The adventurer girl seems to be recovering as well, though it may take some time before...”

    There's something you have to say to Winter Breeze, but no matter how much you move your mouth, you can't seem to make anything more than a faint wheezing sound. Your lungs burn. She's saying something, but you can't quite make it what it is. Autumn looks worried.

    -----------

    It's dark and Autumn's snoring at your side the next time you open your eyes. You raise a hand, slowly, to pet the kitten, to make sure he's alive and wince at at a pain that feels like serrated needles being hammered through your bones.

    “You'll only hurt yourself if you try to move.” the voice is light and airy and utterly inhuman. Whoever it is is standing past the head of your bed, somewhere you couldn't see without rolling over or sitting up and turning.

    “You shattered almost every bone in your right hand. It looks like you kept trying to cut it even after it was already turned to stone petrified it. You weren't hitting quite so strongly with the left, so the damage could be treated normally. You also swallowed a substantial amount of smoke from the beast's fire. Your lungs aren't expected to recover naturally, and your vocal cords are burned well past the range you could use them normally. On the other hand, transforming your hair, as much as your body couldn't afford to lose the energy elsewhere, did allow it to grow out nicely.”

    You try to say something rude, but all you manage is an agonized rasp.

    “Those are the relatively easy injuries to treat.”

    You try to stretch a leg out, to push yourself around, but the limb in question only twitches weakly. The voice continues.

    “It's a pretty interesting case though. Have you ever wondered how you acquire skills? There's no skill that lets you do so. You have no ability that allows you to see your own status, yet everyone learns eventually, even if they never get analyzed. Reading and writing creates an events skill, but speaking does not. You don't need a skill to digest food. It's something of a contradiction.”

    You want to tell him to get to the point, but you can't even move enough for a rude gesture. Desperately you turn to Autumn, trying to nudge the cat.

    “They won't wake up until I allow it to be so. I suppose what I'm saying is that after base skills, studied skills, supplemental, event and personal skills there's still another hidden category. Perhaps you could call them fundamental skills or hidden skills, or simply innate potential below that of skills, I don't particularly care.”

    You don't need the lecture. You need to move, to be told that it's all going to be okay and you're going to be talking and laughing and playing with Autumn again, lecturing Mountain Peak for sneaking sips of your blood even if you're always going to cave to him.

    “In this case, that fundamental potential is what pushed you past your limits. It's not like it's a power that came out of nowhere, just another mystery in the A ranked street rat. For whatever reason, you acquired skills you shouldn't have normally been able to acquire, you pushed yourself well beyond your limits, evolved faster than you built up the support to evolve yourself, and you're paying the price. You've spread yourself too thin, weakened the fundamentals of your body beyond their ability to recover with ordinary help.”

    No, no. This isn't happening. It's not! Still, a part of you's happy to pay this price if it means that Autumn and Peak made it out okay.

    “Eventually, with basic treatment, you may be able to move again, to walk with a cane. Running is probably impossible, much less combat.”

    No, the voice wants something. It's not some mysterious stranger here to taunt you for no reason. There's an out, there has to be.

    “It's nothing worth taking pride in, but the resources I can bring to bear, the resources this little clan of mine can pull aren't anything you could call ordinary or basic though. If I decide to do so, a complete recovery wouldn't be difficult, but that's honestly a bit boring. I mean, if you're going to fix something you should at least make it better then before. Strengthening your body so the next time you have no choice but to push past every sane limit, past the limits of even your massive potential, you'll be able to recover on your own, that could be fine. However...”

    There's a but there. You can hear the playful hesitation in the voice. What's the cost? As long as it doesn't hurt Autumn, doesn't hurt Blossom, you'll pay it.

    “However, we're talking about making you a real monster you know. Is that really what you want?”

    Yes, of course it is. What could you need more than the ability to take care of yourself, to protect your family.

    “Monsters fight. They're attacked. It's not that monsters happen to be those that triumph over impossible odds, but that impossible challenges come about because people are scared of monsters. You want to be stronger to protect the things precious to you? That's a joke. Being strong just creates more risk. If you want to protect, to have a nice life, a quiet peaceful fun life, then it's no trouble at all to set you up in a quiet little mansion somewhere, give you staff to push you around. You'll never lack for anything, never have a single responsibility you don't take for yourself. The Mu clan will hide you away, use your name to scare a few people into line, hold you up as a bluff every now and then, and no one will ever find you. You'll be free to take in strays and raise them happily, learn a craft or an art, to fill your days peacefully and happily with your family. That's probably the better path. It's the nicer path really.”

    You want to shout no, to turn it down, but you can hear the kindness in this strange voice now. This isn't a hypocritical offer, not some trick to make you scared, no test. It's a way out, a way to get past your talent, to know that those close to you won't get hurt again because you're not strong enough to face the problems you make. It's tempting.

    “Actually, umm, hmm... phrasing it that way, I kinda want to go cripple myself now. I mean, all these 'go to this parade' 'help fight off an army' things are kind of troublesome. I never wanted to get strong! I mean, seriously, you desert the army, because you just want to go off on your own and see the world, run around for a while and have all kinds of fun little adventures that just happen to make you a tiny little bit stronger and then happen to come back in time to kill one little dragon and suddenly you're everyone's hero and... Err, can we just pretend I never got sidetracked here? This isn't meant to be about my trauma.” the voice coughs.

    You really really want to react to that, to shout at him to get back on track.

    “Anyway, I'm offering you a choice. I'll heal your left arm enough so you can write, and you'll be able to write it out. I don't want an easy answer here, a yes or a no. I have no right to talk whatsoever about leaping into things, but I want to know your reasons. And then you need to choose. Do you want a quiet little country mansion, enough healing that you'll be able to talk a little if not shout? Or should I help turn you into a real monster, even though it's a path where someone close to you will die, where you won't be able to save everyone. Both decisions could be kind of fun you know. They'll give you a brush and some paper, so think about it and write.”

    You wait for the voice to say anything else; but, silence is your only companion for the rest of the night.

    ---------

    Autumn crawling up your chest manages to wake you this time. It hurts, but you're still too happy he's fine to hold anything against the kitten. Looking out the only window you can see, it looks like it's early afternoon.

    You lift your unbandaged left hand, roll onto your side and awkwardly at the brush left just in reach. Then you think, long and hard. You're still not great at writing, and using the wrong hand makes it come out even worse, but you give the stranger an answer before sleep can claim you again.

    Well
    [ ] Peace Weakness Safety
    [ ] Strength Loss Adventure

    Why?
    [ ] Write-in
     
  23. Threadmarks: An Answer
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] 14 Peace Weakness Safety: (Jiven, wayne82444, Fredo, rcnr, DOOMPOTATO, Pandemonious Ivy, Raron, al103, Frakir's brother, Sirrocco, LeoAbogos, john doe, Arkeus, mkire)

    [X] 8 I am hurt, unsure, and lack confidence. My body is a ruin and it's my fault, even if I don't regret my decisions. I want to rest, to relax, to live life without worrying I will die tomorrow, for the first time in my life. When I return to strength, and I will, it will be on my own terms and as a result of my own efforts- so I can feel confident in it. The quick power of an A- did not help me immature as it was. I want security more than power. I want to be a person for at least a little while after being trash my whole life, and before being a monster.: (Fredo, rcnr, al103, Frakir's brother, LeoAbogos, john doe, Arkeus, mkire)


    [X] 3 I can see my sheet, and recovery on my own is not only possible, but within reach. I do value strength, and I will fight for it, but I will not sacrifice my friends and allies on the altar of my desire for it.: (Sirrocco, DOOMPOTATO, Pandemonious Ivy)
    [X] 2 I don't wish or have need of your help. Even if I did the price you ask is too high. Becoming a monster for sake of being a monster is no life at all. I'll recover using my own power.: (Jiven, Raron)

    -[X] 1 Your offer to fix me right away is extremely tempting, but I think I should learn to heal myself instead. I already have the skills I need to fix most of my problems, I just need the XP to get them. If I learn to heal myself then I expect I can keep those I care about safe easier than if I just let you heal me now. It will take longer, but I will be stronger for it. I think Autumn Shade and Mountain Peak Blossom will benefit from taking the extra time to get stronger too. I am worried about what will happen to Peach Blossom and the idiot while I recover, but even if you heal me now I can't be at their sides to keep them safe constantly. On the other hand if I learn to heal now then if they get hurt I can help them get better after the fact. Even if I am weak for now I will get strong enough to protect the people I care about.: (wayne82444)


    [X] 13 Strength Loss Adventure: (Glasbowl14, ToggyWog, Anaerobie, PineTreeq, BFldyq, Minion #Q, redaeth, unsafejakal, derkan, Falconis, fitzgerald, JENTHULHU, theweepingman))

    -[X] 5 We know that strength breeds danger, not safety. It's been shown to us, again and again, from Han Wei to how we have seen the stronger people were the harder their duty and expectations were. But we are prideful. If Autumn Shade or Moutain Peak blossom truly wanted simple safety, it would be different, but they are prideful, too. We want to be something, and not just retire quietly before we ever knew what could have been. There is a reason we chose to be an indetured servant and neither adopted nor gone to the army: we want to be our own person,yes, we are very prideful... but we also know our limits. What separate someone foolishly trying to grasp the heaven to someone succeeding is accepting other people's help. We could, definitely, try to recover on our own. It is probably possible, there are skills, not too far away, that could hopefully facilitate such, but there is a limit to our arrogance.: (fitzgerald, JENTHULHU, theweepingman, Falconis. PineTreeq)
    -[X] 2 Beside, even our pride dislike being used as a bluff.: (PineTreeq, Falconis)

    [X] 3 Being hidden away does not guarantee safety. It relies on outside forces staying the same so that our benefactors remain powerful enough no-one would dare challenge them or the thing they use to bluff with. It relies on luck that nothing powerful and uncontrollable wanders through. The world is not so predictable that not causing trouble guarantees safety. And if trouble ever does come calling, than it means you get to watch what you care for die because you decided ignorance and weakness for temporary bliss was a fair trade.: (Glasbowl14, ToggyWog, derkan)


    [X] 1 I've been weak all my life, weakness is not safety. Peace is not safety. Should trouble come looking for us my friends will do their best to protect me. And they will fall without my help. They will die. I will lose another friend. I will not lose another friend while I run away because I'm not strong enough. Never again. If the price I must pay is becoming a monster, so be it.: (redaeth)




    [X] 1 You know loss and fear. There are old companions but you went here for change. And your pride wouldn't allow you to back off now in the beginning. So old man show off what you can do. Bring it on ! We both now it can't be enough to face all the challenge.: (Anaerobie)

    [X] 1 life is made of choices and I have already made mine. long ago I was a forgotten child and though I was with others, I was forever alone. I watched others then and I learned something, strength has no effect on who you are. Those that you say would hate and fear me for being a monster are the same that would have kicked me aside before without thought. But there were others who despite being stronger acted differently giving food and shelter to stay together as family. strength can make one into a monster, and in that sense all adventures are monsters. but it does not have to, choices matter as well, I am sure you will be generous if I t ake the other path but I will be unable to choose. The reason why I denied the nobles first offer of adoption was because I wanted time to understand the choices that I will make and now I think I am just beginning to. I am an adventurer I understand that perceptions will change as I grow, but growth is part of life. If I chose to runaway at the first defeat I don't think I would like the type of person that I would become. Not when I can find people who can understand and accept me for who I am even if others consider me a monster. : (Minion #Q)

    You can't decide. You want to accept the offer, to start walking again, to get stronger, strong enough that this won't ever happen again. You know that weakness isn't safe, no matter whose protecting you. You've been getting shit on your whole life to learn that much. But... it's just as obvious strength isn't safety either. Han Wei wouldn't have cared much about you if you weren't quite as talented. You wouldn't have even been in the forest at your level.

    You fumble the brush, spilling ink all over a note that wouldn't be any good anyway.

    You're proud, too proud to accept weakness, but not quite too proud to accept health. You want freedom, to decide your own fate, to live as you want, but.. neither choice gives that. You can become a monster on that voice's terms or live as a cripple on his terms as well. No matter what you do, you'll be dancing on the palm of his hand. At least the strength he offers could show you a way off.

    You put down the brush then crumple the paper into a ball as best you can with one hand, then start again.

    Regrowth could help you. Get out of debt, earn 100 more XP and suddenly you could heal yourself, slip the leash and be truly free, but you won't really. They'll be watching you, waiting as the years catch up and pass you by. You won't have any choice. You fought once and lost and now, can you really just run away?

    You start to rewrite the note again, then jab the paper as you read what you've actually written.

    You messed up. You don't regret anything you've done. If this choice is the price for Autumn's safety, for Mountain Peak Blossom's, then you'd definitely pay it again and again. All your talent, all your power, it didn't help at all in the forest. The quick boost didn't do anything about the fact that you're still a child, You you won't let them bury you forever, but your strength is hollow.

    And the kind of strength that voice was talking about won't fix it. Sure he could modify your body, train you to the point of exhaustion, show you how to get just all the right skills, but you'd be his puppet. Could you really trust that power that came only because you listened to someone else, that came because you threw away the chance to be a person without ever seeing what it was like?

    You need security, comfort, freedom to be a person before you give up to the inevitable and become a real monster. You want—need—to face this on your own terms, to overcome your own heart. Even if you can barely walk, even if you can barely speak, you'd have paid that price in a heartbeat to get out of the Lower City. Why should it be any different now?

    In a year or two, after you've really lived, then you can push back, recover, become strong. Even if you'll depend on the Mu clan for now, even if you won't be able to stretch your wings and fly out, you'll be able to build yourself, to see something you haven't seen before and be a real person instead of some gutter-trash or a baby monster. You choose peace, for now, but not forever. Shouldn't you have at least that much?

    You write it down, cross it out, then write it down again, wishing you felt half as confident about the messy words full of scratched out mistakes as you make them sound.

    And when you're done, when it's finally almost something you think might be the right choice for you, the brush drops from your weary hands and sleep claims you.
    When you wake, your note, the brush and your failed attempts are gone.

    Winter Breeze steps gracefully into the room, her face drawn in genuine anger for the first time since you've known her. You want to apologize, for messing up, for failing, for getting hurt, but she sits down at the edge of your bed and gently runs her hand down your cheek.

    “It's alright,” she says in a tone that tells you nothing is right, “I.. I have to tell you. It's been 'decided' that the Mu clan will not spare the expense of restoring your body,” her face blanches as she realizes what she's said all her austere masks cracking out of something strange, pity? Affection? It's not really something you've seen directed at you from any eyes other than Autumn's before now.

    “You are to be removed from the capital after your body has been restored as much as possible with the staff in this building. I have been ordered to tell you that you are unlikely to return.”

    Actually growling, Winter Breeze stands up and begins pacing your room. You want to tell her that it's okay, that you choose this, but you can't manage any words at all. Instead you reach out with your better hand and grab her wrist, holding it comfortingly.

    “It's not fair,” she says at last, “It never is, but it shouldn't be this unfair.” and then your first teacher flees, though you're not sure how anger at your circumstances means she can't stay with you a bit.

    The next days pass in quiet and boredom. Aside from the doctor who comes to visit on occasion, Autumn and Mountain Peak Blossom, no one comes to visit you. The Idiot's vanished for all his promises, Winter Breeze can't stay in your company for more than a minute without fuming, or worse trying to be so kind and meek and helpful that you can't even recognize her. Even if you love Autumn and Mountain Peak Blossom far more than you love yourself, it's not fair to them to make them stay here with you like this.

    As the days turn to weeks, and then months, you slowly regain functionality. You learn to eat with your left hand, manage to sit up again, then to walk. You're hideous now, as you learn when the bandages finally come off, with most of your lower face and chest covered in burns and even your less arm a mass of scar tissue. You've never been vain, but you hope these go away when you learn regrowth.

    Autumn tries to be supportive, but the kitten isn't built to stay still. As time wears on, he spends more and more time around the estate and away from you. You don't begrudge him his nature though, you wouldn't want him to stay cooped up forever just because of you. Mountain Peak Blossom is more supportive. With a bit of your blood, the plant is perfectly content to stay with you, soaking in the sunlight and just being a quiet source of strength.

    He's there when you finally manage to speak, painfully and slowly, and so quiet no one but you would really know, but it's progress.

    As winter fades for spring, you find yourself recovered enough to walk for longer periods of time, and your lungs have recovered enough that you can hold a short conversation. You relish the achievement, almost as much as you relish the small amount of XP it earns.

    And then, a full year after you learned your class, you're packaged up in a carriage and sent off to the country in the night. You can't say you're sad. Without the Idiot being himself, without Winter Breeze pushing you to grow, or the other servants oohing and aahing over you, the Mu Clan's estate is just a cold empty mansion. Even if they're sending you away to be buried, you're sure you'll be able to start living again in the new place.


    Let's talk about mansions! Choose 3 of the following features to have at your estate.
    [ ] A library: Your estate has an extensive library, unusual for a country mansion.
    [ ] Gardens: The gardens are large and beautiful, growing both flowers and many delicious vegetables. Mountain Peak Blossom might like it there.
    [ ] A Town: No estate is truly that far from a settlement, but yours is practically in a town. There will be plenty of ways to slip out and interact with children your own age, if the locals will let you.
    [ ] Staff: All estates will have a few staff members and someone to see to your health, but this one has a good deal more than just a few servants to manage, including a few your own age.
    [ ] Orchards: Your estate is famous for its apples. Autumn would love running through the vast orchards.
    [ ] A Lake: There's a beautiful lake nearby, teaming with fish.
    [ ] Write-in: limited to reasonable things.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2015
  24. Threadmarks: Departures and Arrivals
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    The Mu clan isn't just going to hide you away a few days from the capital. The carriage is bumpy, each little pebble on the road sending a new flavor of special pain into the lump of meat that used to be your arm. Naturally there are few to no breaks, no real chances to stretch your still unsteady legs, lest you be seen and noted traveling somewhere. At least you're getting good enough at eating with your left hand.

    Only once does the carriage really stop in anything resembling a town. You're not allowed to leave of course, but you do gain a traveling companion. A hooded woman slips into the carriage carefully, keeping silent with her hood tucked low until the carriage is well past the town where you left.

    Analyze” months without being able to talk, and a voice that stays weak and trembling even now have made it easy to be quiet, though you still can't quite get the knack of using any skills silently. Still, the woman perks a little as you read what little information the sheet gives.

    Name: Stone Soul
    Sex: Female
    Age: ??

    Level: ??
    Class: Healer
    Specialty: ????????????
    Element: Life
    Rank: C+

    Only when the town is well out of sight, does the woman let out a sigh. “Ugh, kid, never get involved with men. Don't even talk to 'em. You won't get what I mean till later, but trust me, they're good for about one thing total and even that's more trouble than its worth.”

    You give a level, sullen stare, “I'm not an idiot, I know what sex is.” the words are quieter and more strained than you'd like. You haven't gotten as many chances to talk as you really need to recover all the way.

    The woman sighs again, pulling back her hood to reveal a beautiful heart-shaped face with plump lips and wide, innocent looking eyes that contrast far too much with her tone, “Hasn't anyone ever told you to be respectful to your elders and your doc? Fuck it, show me the arm. Come on, even if we have all day, there's no reason to hold off.”

    You blink at that, a little taken by her unexpected brusqueness, after everyone's been stepping on eggshells around you, it's almost nice to have someone talking so normally.

    Slowly you lift your right hand to her outstretched palm, wincing as she grabs your wrist and runs her other arm down the bandaged length, gripping tightly at points. Then she drops it painfully to give you a once over. Her hands moving around rudely to press your neck, your sides and generally feel you up in a rather disconcerting way.

    “H-hey” you can't help but exclaim, “What are you some kinda perv?”

    Stone Soul just whistles softly, “Wow, I mean, wow, you really fucked yourself up kid,” she sounds impressed as much as anything. It's enough to wipe the budding smile from your face and send Autumn growling at your feet. Sullenly, you cradle your right arm and turn away from her.

    “Oh come on, you can't even handle a little bit of beside manner? Toughen up kid, the world ain't gonna pull any punches just because you're a useless cripple you know.”

    The words are awful, but there's no real cruelty, and there's something pleasantly familiar about Stone Soul's complete lack of decorum, it makes you remember the few good days and nice faces you saw in the Lower City.

    Despite the bumpy carriage, the woman stands up and presses a softly glowing hand into your forearm while leaning over and planting a quick kiss on your forehead. There's a sudden flash of heat and the pain in your arm fades to nothing.

    “Aint gonna do that all the time you know, cause you gotta toughen up sooner or later, but really, a woman's weapon is her smile! Just, eh, never smile at a man. Nothing good comes of it,” Stone Soul sighs again and shakes her head irritably.

    “So, you're like that,” you say it without any intention of being heard, but the healer across from you stiffens and the color drains from her face.

    “LIKE HELL!”

    -------------

    The next few days are the best you've had in months. Somehow the way Stone Soul is so matter of fact about your illness, treating you like you're not made of glass, even as she ruthlessly pokes and prods your body and casually insults you, are beyond comforting. You're not up for talking much, but even your neglected voice starts to get enough practice. Autumn can't decide whether he likes how happy you seem or hates the woman for making you angry all the time. Mountain Peak Blossom—the glutton—likes her because she's not squeamish about feeding the plant whenever it wants.

    Stone Soul's not exactly quiet and you manage to pick up that she's apparently in the army and she got in trouble when she tried to stop sleeping with her commanding officer or something and he wasn't quite happy that she wanted to end it all of a sudden just because he proposed marriage. You're not sure how that ended up with a young talented C+ healer several steps under Mu Zen's command needing to run away just as you were heading off and needing a doctor, but you're not complaining. You guess it's like Stone Soul says and adults go all crazy over a little bit of sex.


    --------

    All good things end sooner or later, and as great as it is traveling with the foul mouthed healer. On the eighth or ninth day of the journey, Stone Soul perks right up and gestures outside, “See all those trees, I think they're yours now.”

    You stare outside and marvel. Beautiful trees stretch in almost uniform lines as far as you can see.

    “Really?” you can't keep the doubt out of your voice.

    “Like hell. They're the Mu clan's even if you're going to be the little princess in charge here. And it's not like you're going to be out here picking. That town we passed through a day ago'll be the ones handling everything really. You just get to stand around look all rich and silly and act like its your doing that a single apple manages to come out outta this Windy Hill orchard.”

    You ignore Soul's sour tones and opt to stare out at the orchards. Autumn looks at the gentle shade, at squirrels darting between the trees without a care in the world, and then up at you, his tail wagging like some rotten little puppy.

    “Later,” At that, Autumn slinks down to nap sullenly on your lap. The increasingly heavy kitten ignores your every effort to wake him up and sending Stone Soul into a tizzy of laughter.

    Mountain Peak Blossom jostles your neck, just to tell you that it'd never be so bratty and also just to suck a little tiny bit of blood. Captivated as you are by the—your—orchards, you barely care about the blood loss. Stone Soul's right there to heal you if you need it after all.

    Still, it's not like you're really going to be playing around here that much at all, is it. You thump one of your almost useless legs angrily and wait for the estate proper to come into view.

    Near the center of the orchard, the trees give way to a small grassy hill with a small fence and a wide mansion atop it.

    “Nice digs,” Stone Soul whistles in admiration, mirroring your thoughts. As the carriage pulls to a halt, Autumn bolts awake and begins pawing angrily at the door. You stretch out and work at the door handle until you manage to get it open. Then, wincing as your legs creak, you grab your walking cane and step down out of the carriage, practically stepping into a line of servants dressed in black and gold robes.

    As one all 6 of them bow to you, then the thin elderly woman at the head of the line steps forward, “This servant is honored to welcome the mistress. As the head housekeeper here, this servant hopes you can find it in you to forgive these humble servants our clumsiness. It's rare that any from the Mu clan deign to truly visit this quiet summer estate.”

    Her tone is formal and painfully deferential.

    “I'm not a clan member,” you squeak out against the wave of courtesy directed at you. Quiet Willow examines you calmly for a few moments, then bows even deeper, “Of course, this humble servant is aware of the mistress' circumstances. No offense was intended.”

    You edge away a little. You can deal with Peach Blossom or the Idiot or Stone Soul, but something about Willow's armor of courtesy is just off-putting. That's not how people are supposed to talk to you. Willow reminds you of an older Winter Breeze a little, and the similarity hurts after how that turned out, but Winter Breeze would face you with iciness, but never such frosty etiquette, no matter how much Breeze would demand you act with the same.

    “Would the madame care to survey her estate?”

    Any escape you can take to avoid talking one on one with this woman. One of the other servants stifles a giggle seeing your pained face and you shoot the woman a glare which earns you nothing but a cheeky smile.

    “Please introduce everyone then.” You do your best to sound like a noble, but you don't think you quite make it. Willow nods quietly and gracefully extends you an arm to help you walk more easily.

    “In order of seniority, allow me to present Green Stone, and Summer's Night,” Quiet Willow gestures at a man perhaps a few years older than Willow and a rotund woman with streaks of gray in her hair. Both bow low to you.

    “Green Stone is in charge of the grounds and oversees the orchards while Summer's Night is in charge of the food.” You smile uneasily as you greet the two and quickly move along down the list to the woman who laughed at you earlier.

    “Soft Crash,” you stare at the name, “is in charge of repairs on the estate, and is to do no other modifications, unless you deign to permit such of course.”

    “I'm sure the new mistress is definitely intelligent enough to appreciate my genius, aren't you kid?” The woman in her mid-twenties—is her hair singed—smiles at you and gives you her best pleading look, then freezes as Quiet Willow stares her down. You mumble a greeting and move on.

    “Laughter,” a boy of perhaps 16 bows his head low, “Is Summer Night's assistant. I hope his skill with fish to Mistress' taste.”

    “Tch, can we just get this over already,” you stare at the next girl, marveling at her rudeness, then her strange looks. Her face looks young enough, but it also looks like it's made out of copper, actual copper. It's not like she's very tanned or has brownish skin; it's actually almost shining. What's more the girl's hair is a messy cloud of yellow and sea-green spikes. Your eyes catch on the heavy collar the girl's wearing and freeze. A slave.

    “I will have words with you later Miren,” Quiet Willow's tone drips acid as she stares at the girl. Miren? You've never heard a name like that before.

    “Screw it, I came like I promised. I'm not going to pretend like I'm here by choice,” acting cockier and prouder than any of the worn beaten souls you saw at the pens, Miren glares you down with death in her eyes, then turns and storms away.

    Analyze” as if you could resist using the skill.

    Name: Miren
    Sex: Female
    Age: 14

    Level: 18
    Race: Ogre
    Species: Dream Ogre
    Rank: C+
    Element: Light


    HP: ??/??
    MP: ??/??

    Quiet Willow's fists tighten in controlled rage before she bows deeply to you, “This servant humbly apologizes for the behavior of that... thing. Honestly, scarcely better than a wild animal.”

    “What is she?” She was definitely human looking, but she has a race instead of a class?

    “Devil” Stone Soul answers calmly, her serious expression betraying her shock, “They don't like to mix with the empire much, and but there are a few groups that trade at the border from time to time. The empire will send a few companies to wipe out any tribes that get too proud every now and then. I ain't ever gone, but it's never easy.”

    The last servant, a small girl who looks younger than you—and you're still small for 11—and way too adorable for her own good, shuffles her feet after Miren's tantrum.

    “And this is Rocky Ox, the youngest member of the staff.”

    You wince, “How'd a girl who looks like that get that kind of name?” Autumn slips around and rubs against the girl's knees. Stone Soul glances at you, then at the girl, then doubles over in laughter.

    The girl blushes beat red and stomps her foot, “What about me is supposed to be girly?” You glance to your healer, who nods between chuckles. You'd never have guessed.

    Quiet Willow misses her chance to admonish Ox's behavior amidst a sudden coughing fit, then steps forward, “Would Mistress care to see the mansion? The journey must have been tiring. This humble servant has taken the liberty of seeing some food prepared.”

    The meal is incredibly awkward, with Quiet Willow, Laughter and Summer's Night standing obediently to the side while you and Stone Soul eat.

    Afterward, you're shown to your rooms on the first floor, and then moved when Stone Soul insists that you be set on the top floor instead because it's 'good for you' to limp up and down the steps. The bitch.

    Still, a real bed is nice after days in the cramped carriage and you fall asleep curled around Autumn as soon as you lie down.

    A quiet yelp, and the sound of tearing vines startle you awake. Miren's standing over you, one hand pinning Autumn Shade to the ground while the second wrestles through Mountain Peak Blossom's thorns and vine to wrap around your neck.

    “Oy, princess or whatever you are. I'm only going to say this once, so lets see if your ears work a little better than the rest of you, got it?”

    You want to shout, to call for help, but you saw Miren's level earlier, she could crush you before anyone arrived. Giving her your best glare, you nod and quietly ready yourself to trigger chimera and tear her to shreds if you need to.

    “I don't care what you think about me. I'll play the good little toady in public, but don't fuck with me, and don't fuck with Rocky either. He's my toy, got it?”

    You're prepared to bite back a retort when you realize that her arm's shaking. Is she scared? Of you? You're not sure why anyone would be, and it's kind of a nice feeling to be scary. No, if you were a slave, taken from your family and then told you belonged to some strange noble girl with weird animals, you'd be pretty scared too.

    So you hold back your first angry words and reconsider. Autumn doesn't really look that hurt.

    How do you react to Miren?
    [ ] Agree for now. Then turn around and tell Willow as soon as you're not alone.
    [ ] Agree for now and keep it secret. She's just trying to take care of herself... and Ox for some reason.
    [ ] Refuse! So what if she's scared or bad things happened to her, it's not like she's the only one.
    [ ] Refuse! The streets have taught you that if you give anyone an inch ever, they're going to just walk all over you. How can you let the staff do that?
    [ ] Write-in
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2015
  25. Threadmarks: Getting to Know Them
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    [X] That's not how this works. First, don't fuck with people and their family when you're asking for a favor. Second, if you want anything then you apply yourself, prove yourself, to earn it. I'm not giving out free rides.


    This is a dominance play: a way of pushing you down and showing that whatever the collar she wears, Miren's the top dog. Caving would be the worst thing you could do here. Instead you bare your teeth and growl at the ogre while your dark hair flashes into angry green vines.

    “That's not how this works,” your voice is frozen cold and as commanding as you can make yourself sound scared out of your mind, but you don't let that show. Miren doesn't look that perceptive, so it's as likely as not she doesn't know your level and condition.

    Your assailant tenses, more and more visibly worried. She gambled big on this, came out swinging as aggressively as she can; but nothing good happens to her if she goes through with any of those threats. You don't give her time to find her ground.

    “First,” the word sounds as indisputable iron, a claim of fact so self-evident that even doubting would be absurd, “You don't fuck with people or their families when you're coming to beg for a favor. I haven't done anything to you. I haven't hurt you, I haven't even thought about you at all,” your words are brutal and harsh. That's right, to those snobs up there, a street-rat like you were or a slave like Miren isn't even worth hurting.

    The world doesn't revolve around her, and even if she came here to stop you before you could start thinking about her, you can still hammer this home, push her even more into the wrong. She tenses a bit, chastised. That's right, Miren seems big and scary and she out-levels you by a mile, but she's not really that much older, and you don't think her scars could be that much worse.

    Miren opens her mouth to respond, to take back the initiative. You don't let her.

    “Second,” you try to soften your tone, wincing as your weakened throat catches and you dissolve into coughs. No, Elder Mu Feng wouldn't let a weak throat or sickness stop him from being absolutely in charge of a room and you won't either. You channel the weak old man and wear your infirmity as proof of your authority.

    “Second, if you want anything then you apply yourself, prove yourself, to earn it. I'm not giving out free rides. If you want me to leave you alone, show that you can be left alone without running off or starting a fight or making problems.”

    Miren tenses, tightening her grip around your neck almost to the point of choking you. Despite Mountain Peak Blossom's efforts to stop her, the ogre's terrifyingly strong. She could snap you like a twig. You don't let the panic reach your face.

    “Show me that you're not a dumb brute, that Quiet Willow is wrong about you and then we'll talk. Is that understood?” For a few terrifying moments, Miren tightens her grip to the point where you genuinely can't breathe. She stares at you, desperately hoping to intimidate you, to make you look away, to give her a sign of submission. You manage not to flinch.

    Finally the pressure eases and the ogre pulls herself free of Peak as if the plant isn't there.

    “Yeah, yeah. Geez you're ballsy,” there's a hint of scorn in Miren's words, but you let it pass for now, “Like I said, just don't fuck with me and I won't cause you any problems.”

    You let the slave save a little face and tacitly ignore that she's downplaying what she just did by a wide margin. Autumn Shade growls, tensing to leap until the door's shut behind Miren. You stare at her till you're sure she's gone, then sink back into your bed gasping for air. You've seen a lot of punks on the street that never learned when to duck their head and turn away from the guards, but Miren takes the cake. What kind of slave threatens her owner during their first real meeting? Fuck, are all ogres that crazy?

    --------

    You sleep in after the journey, but of course Quiet Willow makes the chefs just stand around waiting for you to arrive. Worse all of them are subtly staring at your hair. You managed to fall asleep without turning the tentacles back yesterday and now it's draped down to your ankles again.

    Stone Soul wanders in while you're eating, hung-over like someone sneaked into her room last night and strangled Soul until she promised to do whatever they wanted. She won't admit it to you, but it's not like you never managed to filch some awful-tasting liquid when you were with the gang. After that, Quiet Willow insists on taking your arm and walking you the grounds at length. Autumn follows, yipping at your heels while Peak hugs your neck for its own late breakfast.

    Most of the estate is fairly boring in a classy expensive kind of way. The library is beautiful though, with stacks of dusty books and scrolls piled around on all sorts of shelves from floor to ceiling. The titles are full of words you haven't learned yet, but you can't sense any kind of rhyme or reason in the way they're laid out.

    You're not sure if Miren is avoiding you or Quiet Willow. Twice you catch her turning away before Quiet Willow can lead you by her. The one time you do she dips into a polite enough bow though, so you guess you must have made an impression.

    Finally, just before a quiet lunch of delicious sweet fish cooked with apples, you finished Quiet Willow's approved tour of the grounds.

    Soft Crash approaches, politely but eagerly, and insists on showing you 'something cool' in front of Quiet Willow's disapproving eyes. Partly out of curiosity, but mostly just to get past Willow, you allow Soft Crash to lead you outside into a small shack near the back. She stops outside, letting go of your arm to work the door's lock. Then she throws it open with a flourish.

    “This,” she says with such excitement that you can hear the exclamation points in her words, “is my workshop!”

    Something crashes to the ground inside and your quick step back turns into an awkward fall, your weakened legs failing to catch your weight in the shock.

    Wincing silently, you push Autumn's considered nuzzling away and accept Soft crash's apologetic hand up.

    “S-sorry about that! Really ma’am. It won't happen again, I didn't mean to shock you like that, I just wanted to show off a little and..”

    “It's fine.” You push out the words through clenched teeth. She's ages older than you, so why are you the one calming her down?

    Then she pulls you inside and all your irritation vanishes. You stare at the strange interlocking grooved wheels made of metal, a crank that's slowly unwinding and a small pot of water whose steam seems to be spinning a small wheel.

    Bold brush strokes around the walls mark the places where Soft Crash wrote down plans she couldn't wait long enough on to find paper.

    “W-what is all this?” you pick up a round metal tube and stare through it.

    “It's my class! Umm, I mean, inventors tend to have a skill called insight that gives us ideas from time to time depending on our specialty. Usually it's enough to work, but, no one's ever heard of mine before, and I can't really put anything together that works yet, but...”

    She begins to dig through the mess of half-finished projects, pulling out a metal box with a crank at one side and begins to wind it, producing a flurry of miniature lightning bolts dancing around the sides of the box.

    “I'm sure it's going to be amazing when I actually make something that works... It's just..”

    “Just?” you meet her eyes curiously.

    “Well, just one little accident and now Quiet Willow's cut off all the money that the owner sends and refuses to let me do anything, and I was hoping maybe you could talk to her for me and....”

    An owner? If even the Mu clan's resources haven't heard of Soft Crash's specialty it has to be something really rare, though her rank shows that it can't be that powerful. Still, between her and Miren and now you, someone's been sending interesting people here. The Idiot?

    You push the thoughts aside, not because the thought that you've been put away and forgotten like a broken toy hurts. It's just that Soft Crash said something a lot more immediately dangerous.

    “One little accident?” you narrow your eyes. Mountain Peak Blossom slips a few curious tendrils toward Soft Crash.

    “Eh, ha ha ha, did I say something like that? I mean, it was a pretty small fire really, if you look at it on a national scale.”

    Only the fact that Soft Crash pulled you here and you don't have your cane keeps you from walking out of the shed as fast as you can.

    In the evening Quiet Willow cuts your hair to something a little more manageable, then Stone Soul examines your arm and your body at length. She doesn't share any observations with you though.

    And then you get up in the morning and drift around aimlessly. There's no training, no responsibilities or goals. You spend your time freely as you wish. A day passes peacefully, then another. You count the rare XP you earn as surely as any inmate counts down the end of their sentence.

    How do you spend your time? (Choose 5)
    [ ] Play in the orchards with Autumn
    [ ] Relax in the sun with Mountain Peak Blossom
    [ ] Try to get to know one of the servants
    -[ ] Who?
    [ ] Reading in the library
    -[ ] Whatever book catches your fancy
    -[ ] Choose a topic to study
    [ ] Try to talk Stone Soul into teaching you some basic first aid
    [ ] Visit the nearest town (takes two slots)
    [ ] Write-in
     
  26. Threadmarks: Settling In
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

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    Your second full day at the mansion is spent somewhat lost. The tours are over, everyone's returning to what little business they have and trying to incorporate you by being studiously polite and deferential while changing their habits as little as possible. After a morning spent trying to figure out what you're supposed to do, you give up.

    Quiet Willow would probably glare sternly if she catches you laid out on the grass like this, Mountain Peak Blossom spilled out to his full growth to make a blanket around you, stretching hundreds of flowers toward the pulsing sun. Somewhere in the distance Autumn is chasing a butterfly, but you don't pay it much attention.

    Until the forest it was rare to get a chance to just sit and do nothing. In the Lower City it was always a battle to survive, to pinch your next meal without getting caught, to fight off a rival gang or watch your back from your own. Then it was training or errands or pushing your own studies along till you could actually start to read. Then you were recovering, a prisoner in your own body, Now you're free. The staff won't listen to you exactly, no matter what they say, but they can't really get in your way either.

    And yet, you have nothing to do. No goal, besides recovering eventually maybe. All the freedom you could want only cost an arm and a leg, but you don't even have a clue what to do with it now that you have it.

    So you join Peak in the sun, watching the clouds and relaxing. It probably won't become a habit, but you do kinda see why the Idiot likes it so much. Mountain Peak seems to enjoy actually really getting the chance to drink in the light.

    But even though walking hurts and the sun does feel pretty nice, you've been cooped up in a bed too long to stay with Peak forever. On the third day you finally decide to go for the library. You spent so much time learning to read, you figure you should actually try it once or twice. Plopping Peak down in a window-sill you grab a book at random and huddle up with Autumn in a corner of the library.

    Let's see... Tax Records... Maybe you could have chosen something better, but you might as well. You open the book and page through the summaries of the orchard's harvests and the estate's income and expenditures for a few minutes before dropping the book aside as you start to drift off. Honestly, how do they manage to make having people give you money for no reason sound boring?

    You try a book of maps. The pictures are interesting to see for a little while, but there's nothing outside the empire. It is strange to realize how boxed in your home is though. You'd always imagined that the empire just kind of stretches forever into some vague lands that are maybe part of it and maybe not at the edges. Instead it looks like the empire's more or less grown as far as it can. There are a few foreign countries on the maps, but the empire's borders are mostly blocked off. The sea to the south, the great Jungle to the west, mountains to the North and the something called the dragon-Sands to the East. Only at the corners of these features, and a little into the Dragon Lands or beyond the mountains are any other countries listed.

    The next few days pass in disappointing quiet. You try to approach Rocky once or twice, but the younger boy's always at Miren's side, playing around, and Miren avoids you like the plague. Maybe you could push, but it just isn't worth it. Amongst the other servants, you're treated with respect, but largely ignored. All in all, despite Quiet Willow's insistence on decorum, the estate's like a ship without a destination. No matter where it drifts or what the crew does, there's no real meaning in any of it.

    Maybe two or three of the older servants would be necessary to keep the estate in good condition, oversee the harvests and generally keep everything working, but the rest, you especially, are purposeless.

    Soft Crash is the easiest to approach. She's proud of her lab and cheerful enough in a clumsy way, and she needs your help to get the resources to do much work on things. A few quick words as to how curious you are about what she does and you're dragged back to her little shack faster than your weakened legs can keep up.

    You thought the tour was interesting, but the way Crash sits you down and starts truly explaining what she understands of her own creations is fascinating. She barely knows what most of them do or how, but her lecture has no beginning, no end and no pauses in its enthusiasm.

    “This is my lightning box! The insides' really rough so when we spin the crank it gathers energy from something somehow and you can see it making little sparks without needing any MP at all,” she'll say before dropping the item in question and showing you an automatic gear-kite that should be able to fly but can't actually. Despite her presentation skills, Crash's creations are fascinating, half-built terrors that you can't help but feel could be truly monstrous if she could actually make them work.

    “Would it be alright,” you finally manage to interrupt as the day winds down, “If I started helping you with things a little?”

    Soft Crash pauses to catch her breath, then frowns, “Well, I don't mind, I'd be really really happy even since all the others just ignore me or run away, but Quiet Willow probably wouldn't like it...”

    “So you're saying that if she doesn't have a problem, you won't?”

    You both pause to watch as Autumn nudges a contraption lying on his nose then jumps as if burned and darts behind your legs.

    “I guess, but she never likes it when I experiment as is and you really probably can't run away that fast,” Soft Crash lets out a long suffering sigh.

    You ignore the run-away comment for now, and give her your best confident smirk, “Just leave it to me.” Indentured servant or not, they've decided to treat you like a noble for now, and that means they have to deal with it.
    ---------

    Today's book is a collection of journal entries. All sound much the same.

    I met Star Dancer speaking in the Lower City last week. A few of the boys dragged me out for a bit of sport and we happened upon one of her rallies. At first we thought to disrupt the event and give those uppity fools the thrashing they so richly deserve. But she was every bit as beautiful as they say. It was not in her face, or her curves, though both suited my tastes perfectly. Rather it was the way in which she moved, so sensual, aggressive, passionate, sexual. Those old men told us all to stay away, as if any commoner, no matter how highly ranked, could put me under her spell. She saw me in the crowd and smiled. I knew that smile was for me, though Mao, fool that he is, insists she was smiling at him. The riff-raff around her refused to allow either of us to approach and I fear that giving them the beatings they so truly deserve might make seem a bore before that beauty. I, unable to see a common harlot as I wish? It's beyond ridiculous.

    But there is nothing common about her. What a pity that she needs to die. All those old men who wouldn't even know how to use a women if they had one can think of nothing but how to kill her. No, that's not the way to treat such a beauty at all. Assassination will be far too cruel.

    I will lure her with gifts and trinkets, tokens of my affection until she follows me into a gilded cage. Star Dancer, my songbird, will learn the error of her ways. She is just a commoner, no matter that her beauty outshines the sun. Commoners are simple creatures at heart. I will feign sympathy to her cause, and in time she will fall into my arms like the sweet thing I know she is. I know she cares for me, whether she knows it or not, and everything will be so right once she leans on my arm, concerned with nothing more strenuous than what to wear to tonight's party. I am sure a mother of such rank will lend my children the greatest talents.

    Yes, I am sure I can show her reason.”

    -From the diary of Cheng Lao, three months before his execution following his failed attempt to assassinate his own grandfather. No clear proof has ever been offered that Star Dancer actually requested the murder in question.


    ---------

    “I've decided,” you announce during breakfast, “that I shall begin to participate in Soft Crash's work.”

    You don't direct the words at anyone, but you can almost hear Quiet Willow stiffen behind you.

    “Madam, this humble servant must strongly...”

    Ignoring her protests, you leave the table and, cane tapping rhythmically into the floor, move to the library, “I believe I will begin this afternoon.”

    Like that it's decided. Who'd have thought Winter Breeze's etiquette courses would be useful? You smile at the memory, then let it fade from your face as the person herself floats to mind. Grabbing Autumn in a huff you bury yourself in the first text you grab, even if it is a history of the economic influence of apples in the Southern Empire.

    ----------

    Soft Crash's lab is fun, even if the work is demanding, made only more so by the sheer confusion of Soft Crash's directions. You thought she was a bit absent-minded before, but the inventor slips into a trance almost as soon as she starts working. From there it's you trying not to trip over Autumn while you try to grab “That thingamajig, no not that one, the bigger one” or “The windy thing”.

    You almost quit that first day, as you stagger back toward the House, more carried by a slowly growing and shrinking Peak than actually walking under your own power. But Miren stares at you in the distance and mutters something to Rocky. You only catch the word Princess, but that's enough to keep you going out of pure spite, at least once Stone Soul affirms that you aren't hurting yourself.

    Still, eventually you start to catch on, finding the things Soft Crash tells you to grab at first, actually building simple projects under her direction. You don't really understand the meaning of what she's doing or why, but the workshop starts to feel familiar and productive. At least once Autumn inevitably knocks something over and spooks himself to preening outside the door, pretending he's standing guard and definitely not too nervous to enter the workshop whatsoever. Dealing with the workshop, or maybe getting used to dealing with it, does manage to net you a little XP at least.

    +3XP

    Still, as nice as Crash is, she's not actually that great at conversation when she's working, and Quiet Willow's retaliation for your decision to join Crash seems to fall solely on the inventor's shoulders, keeping her busy whenever you're not in the shed together.

    ------------

    General Mu rose to prominence very suddenly. Initially regarded as the failure of the sinking Mu clan, he famously deserted the army a mere year after joining. No clear history has ever emerged of these times, though it's believed he fled North beyond the empire's boundaries. A mere 7 years later, the C ranked scout returned anonymously having jumped from the bottom of C to a height of talent rarely seen in the empire. It is believed that he hid in the capital for months without revealing himself before heading south to see the coast.

    No indication has ever emerged whether the general knew that the dragon would appear or if it was simply by chance. Considering his famous luck, Neither possibility may safely be dismissed. Regardless, the general's presence truly saved the vastly outclassed forces as they tried to prevent the dragon's rampage. Somehow attracting the Southern Guardian's attention, the great dragon-slayer proceeded to flee over the ocean, the enraged beast chasing at his heels. What happened during the three days they fought is unknown, but the general returned carrying the dragon's fang and a potent event skill as proof of the maddened guardian’s demise. How even he fought the beast so effectively in the middle of the ocean where the Storm Dragon lived is an unknown that none has answered to this day.


    ------------

    Stone Soul's the only one who really interacts with you freely. As a member of the army she isn't a servant, but she's not a noble either. In a sense she's a guest, a distinguished professional in a noble field staying on the owner's invitation. Quiet Willow can't lecture her, but her status isn't so high that the servants need to walk on egg-shells around Stone either. It leaves you insanely jealous.

    Of course Stone Soul just laughs at you then flicks your nose when you tell her that.

    Finally you work up your courage enough to expand your activities by one.



    “Could you teach me a little?” you ask as Stone Soul slowly re-bandages the club that used to be your right arm during yet another examination.

    “You've haven't grown,” she notes oddly, pursing her lips

    “What?”
    Stone Soul shrugs, “You're not getting taller. Well, it's not that weird considering how badly you fucked up your own body squirt. Still, to be stuck as a midget forever...”

    You pale at that, “There's something you can do right? It's not permanent?”

    “Well, best to probably wait and see. Get outta debt XP-wise and see how your condition changes from that, then maybe give it a bit more time to see if you start sprouting up.”

    “Sprouting?” you fantasizing of growing as quickly as Mountain Peak, until everyone has to crane their heads up to see you instead of the other way around.

    “Well, you're a weed.” She plucks a blossom Peak's attached to her wrist, “Got leaves and everything, and weeds sprout.”

    “Ha ha ha, but... seriously, about teaching me?” You push the news about your height aside. There's nothing you can really do about it for now.

    The doctor cocks her head to the side and then nods sharply, “Sure: There's only one use for a man and 90 percent of 'em ain’t even good for that, so just stick to girls instead and save yourself all sorts of problems. You're not drunk 'till you can't walk straight anymore but stop once you're good and drunk. And what happens in Qujing stays in Qujing. You're gonna forget all that in three years when your tits come in and your brain turns to mush, so there ain't much point.”

    You stare at her, “Teach me ME-Di-CINE, the thing you can actually do well at. And you're one to talk about messing around with men you shouldn't.”

    Stone Soul ties off the bandage, just a little too tightly then reaches over, uncorks a foul smelling bottle of something that shouldn't be fit for human consumption, downs a swallow and proceeds to thoroughly ruffle your hair.

    “Aren't you just adorable. Anyway, I'd like ta teach you, but I don't really want to teach you.”

    You glare, “What, you're so busy getting drunk alone in here you don't have the time?”

    She sticks her tongue out at you and points to a series of jars over a burner, “Ain't nothing to kill for a few levels, so I'm studying my way up instead. Besides, even if I don't have any supplementary or base skills that deal with making medicine, I am a doctor you know, so my affinity for studying that kind of thing can't be too terrible, and if even you're being all productive out in that shed, then I can't lay around all the time can I?”

    You stare at all the beakers curiously, “And it's really not just an excuse to drink all your failed experiments?” Stone Soul's fist comes down lightly into your forehead.

    “OWW”

    “Pain's good for you. There, I taught you something mediciney, now scram.”

    Grumbling, you leave Stone Soul's room, even as Mountain Peak Blossom tenderly rubs a bud against your cheek in something sympathy. Like you'll let one conversation stop you!

    --------

    Today's book is an old volume on beast-type monsters. You're really curious if you can find anything about Autumn.

    Feline beasts are among the more common races. Almost uniformly carnivores, they're well known to be deadly predators in a pack or alone, possessing high agility and above average perception nigh-uniformly. While the common wild cat is a weak species that rarely rises above E rank, there are also several incredibly mighty felines as well, such as the ancient S+ ranked White Tiger whose rampage disturbed much of the empire's west a mere 30 years ago.

    ….

    While far from the strongest feline, and certainly amongst the rarer, the Shadow Leopard may hold the distinction of being the most common truly powerful feline. Hovering at the upper tiers of B ranks, the Shadow Leopard possesses incredible physical abilities. At home in the Eastern Jungles the Shadow Leopard is a stealthy predator which moves in large matriarchal packs, using stealth to surround larger prey before taking down even some A ranked species that can be found in these dangerous habitats. Naturally attuned to shadows, the Leopard's most distinctive ability is the natural ease with which they can move instantaneously between any two dark spots. The more powerful examples of the species may use the skill Cheshire to freely teleport a single paw or fang to strike effortlessly at any location within the creature's sight. All but the strongest of the strong will endeavor to avoid even a single shadow leopard, lest the wounded's calls summon a dozen others out of the shadows.


    -------
    The harvest brings more to do. Picking season has the entire village, young and old coming out to the orchards near the estate, with all the older staff supervising, all the younger staff forced to help, Stone Soul trying her best to learn to make hard cider and you strictly informed that it's too dangerous to be out and about.

    Naturally, those instructions are promptly ignored. Miren can go help, and even Rocky can and you're pretty sure that one-arm or no you could still take Rocky easy, especially with Autumn and Peak with you.

    At first the village children stare, and a few of the adults look at Autumn—whose getting so big that his head comes up to your hips when he sits—nervously, but a few quick words that you're from the city and you got sent out here to recover from injuries have all the adults oohing over you and all the children giving Autumn far more petting and praise than he deserves.

    Still, no one lets you help much until you transform your hair and start tearing apples from trees with as many vines as you can. A few of the village girls shriek at that, then get jealous for some reason when you forget to shrink them to the right length before changing back and find your hair's down to your ankles again. Weirdos.

    Still, it's nice to have proper kids to talk to that aren't weirdo ogres or the Idiot. It's been too long since the Lower City and the village brats, soft as they are, aren't so bad at all. You just wish they'd stop spoiling Autumn rotten every time he does something a little bit cute to beg for a treat.

    Playing with Autumn Shade amidst, well, the autumn shade, is the most fun you've had since your injury. The cat will hide or slip away along the shadows while you slowly direct the village children on where to search. Usually your proud kitten will avoid them entirely, even if he keeps getting bigger.

    -----------

    Today's book is different than the others. A bored Autumn tore through the tax records, knocking over a shelf and revealing a simple leather-bound journal buried in an indentation in the floor. As soon as you picked it up you actually earned XP just for finding it. Still you gave Autumn your best Quiet Willow lecture (it isn't half as painful from you though) and then cleaned up the mess as best you could before you sat down to read.

    +2XP

    The army's annoying. Annoying. Annoying. Annoying. Annoyyyiiiing! I'm writing the word a lot to give an accurate summation of how annoying it is in case future me ever forgets and thinks coming back might be a good idea.

    I was so relieved when I found out my class. So what if I'm a rare breed of scout? At C rank I'm just weak enough to be useless to everybody, and that means I don't have to follow in my oh-so-excellent brother's steps at all. I wish. It seems that I've been selected to join my brother's troop, to give him support from the lower ranking soldiers. Have I mentioned this is annoying?

    Anyway, we're going to do practice in the Northern Mountains. I'm thinking of deserting and leaving the empire and the whole annoying clan behind me. Annoying. Annoying, annoying, but running off on my own could be kinda interesting. All romantic and stuff isn't it!

    My fourteenth year, the third month.


    This could be interesting.

    -------------------

    It's near the end of the season, when what few apples haven't been picked are starting to go sour and the crowds that have been coming to the orchards have slowed to a trickle when the event happens. You're playing tag with Autumn, or rather, limping after Autumn while the cat occasionally deigns to let you catch up. Naturally Mountain Peak Blossom is hiding in the branches above, just waiting for that puffed-up kitten to take a few more steps to the left and see whose going to get the last laugh.

    Then you hear a scream, followed by loud sobs. Looking in that direction you see one of the village woman arguing furiously with Green Stone. As quietly as you can, you limp over. Both turn to face you.

    “Is something wrong?”

    “I can't find Spring Moth, my son.” You try to remember the brat. You think he was a year or two older than you, but you haven't played with him much or at all.

    “It's nothing you need to worry about Ma’am,” Green Stone shakes his head just as the woman speaks. For the moment you ignore him.

    “When did anyone last see him?”

    “A few hours ago. Him and a few other children were talking about heading to the Western part of the orchards to play and they haven't come back.”

    “Like I said, they probably just wandered off, and they'll be back before you know it. There isn't anything worth worrying about around here anyway,” Green Stone's voice is reassuring, but there's a harder glint in his eyes.

    “So there's no danger in looking then,” you slip in. This could be a chance, to earn some experience tracking them if nothing else.

    “Ma’am, there's no need for you to do that, and it's getting pretty dark you know. Just because the orchards are safe doesn't mean that there can't be anything sneaking in, especially this time of year, and there is your condition to think about.”

    You clench your good fist, resisting the urge to shove the pentagram tattoo in his face. You picked this path. You have to live with it.


    [ ] Insist on going, see if the woman has anything Autumn can use to track her son.
    [ ] Give up, they're right, you have no business doing this.
    [ ] Just send Autumn by himself. The cat's a fur-brain, but he's smart enough to follow a trail and get them home.
    [ ] Bring a few others with you?
    -[ ] Who?
    [ ] Write-in
     
  27. Threadmarks: Current State of the Quest
    Darkened

    Darkened Experienced.

    Joined:
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    Ugh, sorry to do this, particularly over a week after I said the update would be out tomorrow, but I'm currently aiming for the weekend. If that doesn't happen, it's possible that I won't be able to get an update out till the end of the month.

    Between the move, a sudden heatwave (and my AC being broken) catching a cold, then work getting crazy, the past week has been... hectic, shall we say. I'm not sure if things will calm down before I'm in the States, but if things actually stay relatively on track I should have an update out by Saturday at the latest.

    After that it'll probably be another week or so, but the good news is that, aside from Jet lag and setting up the new place, I have a month's vacation. I'm currently aiming to make up for lost time around then and hopefully get back on a pace I can be happy with.

    This quest is important to me, and I am simply not willing to even consider dropping it at present. The delays are not a sign, in any way, of lost interest versus real life rudely intruding on my hobbies.

    I apologize for the delays and hope to have something out as soon as I can.
     
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