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[The Beginning of the End] [Derby]- Chapter 10: Entering Munich
2020.09.18 17:37 Samara_Buckley_Derby[The Beginning of the End] [Derby]- Chapter 10: Entering Munich
Summary: Fighting immortals is a sweetheart job for someone obsessed with the afterlife. Dying on the job, however, is cutting it too close. However, Julian's curiosity with the great beyond pushes him a little too far, back to the land of the living and cursed with a newly damned soul, just like the immortals he's sworn to fight... First chapter --- Previous chapter here!! Cover art --- Rate me on Royal Road! Espionage may as well have been Matti’s middle name for how well he took to it. It wasn’t, of course. That honor went to the dubious name Casimir, probably after someone important, which he’d have learned if he’d had ever thought to grill his parents. He hadn’t, not in the sixteen years he’d lived under their roof, nor in the following four years of school. And he certainly hadn’t asked when he started sniper school nor since officially enlisting. He hadn’t spoken to them since. Too dangerous. And dangerous was how Matti liked it. He was yet to have a real reason to believe his life was in danger and until he felt that, he had no problem pushing the envelope. Which is why he was perched in the back of a helicopter heading out to Munich on a mission intended to intercept one of the deadliest immortals at an active civilian airport with nearly two dozen soldiers, some of whom were legally dead, while most were shoot-on-sight traitors. Could it get any better? “Find anything, Matti?” a cool voice asked in his ear. “Clear for now, Pooja.” He gave the Colonel a reassuring smile and she nodded, returning to the cockpit. Last names had never suited him and as a renegade, he wasn’t obligated to use them. It was easier to empathize with an Amy or Markus than with a Brown or Khan. Knowing the name they heard from friends and family humanized them and that was important when lives were on the line. They usually just thought he was being cocky and rude and he had no need to dispel that theory because, as a renegade, they were going to think he was an arrogant prick anyway. It wasn’t even really a lie, so… The helicopter they all sat in—Matti, Julian, Pooja and her two operatives, Kyline, and her squad—was borrowed from Omicron HQ. No way could Schmidtt’s usual helicopter fit the nearly two dozen agents, so Pooja had pulled some strings. There was enough room to comfortably walk around, especially with the others mostly strapped in, a fact that Matti gladly took advantage of, roaming from window to window, popping up his binoculars to scan for any aircraft that might be flying under the radar. He’d been disappointed so far. In between his little lookout sessions, he’d make small talk with various operatives. Pooja didn’t like chatting when on a mission, Kyline hated his guts, and the other scientists he usually hung out with were, for obvious reasons, not here, so ‘various operatives’ mostly meant Julian. “Gotta admit, when you said you had some questions for me, I wasn’t expecting this,” Julian said after Matti’s third round. “Am I boring you?” Matti tilted his head. Julian laughed, always a good sign. “No. But unless this is some weird renegade interrogation tactic, I don’t know why you care about my favorite breakfast food.” Matti gave him a cool look. “I’ve watched you very carefully since joining the Fleursurgents. I need to make sure your answers align with what I’ve seen.” It was a terribly blatant lie, but not one Matti really cared about guarding. If Julian chose to see through it, good on him. Reality was, Matti just liked getting to know his charges. Julian squinted. “Fleursurgents?” “Come on. Fleur Insurgents is a mouthful and there are a ton of repeated syllable sounds there. It’s only natural that you should work a portmanteau in there. Saves time.” “Lotta big words from someone with a STEM degree. Maybe you should have gone into linguistics.” Julian grinned, and unless it was Matti’s imagination, seemed to relax a bit. Matti lifted a shoulder. “Linguistics wouldn’t have gotten me a job here. Besides, I didn’t go to an English speaking school.” “Clearly, or you’d have caught the better portmanteau: Infleurgents.” This took Matti aback quite a bit, because Julian was absolutely correct. That one was far superior. “I take my hat off to you. We’re now the Infleurgents. Clearly your English skills make mine look paltry.” “Well, it was my first language.” He shifted in his seat, probably trying to make the helicopter seat feel more comfortable. “You said a linguistics degree wouldn’t have gotten you a job here. Did you know about this place when starting college?” There were a few options for how an AngelThana operative might have gotten involved in the organization. A bulk of the scientists were poached from the public facing front: a nanotech organization that privately manufactured weapons and also somehow did some work with biotech. It was often scrutinized for guzzling research money and turning out rather few results but that was kind of the point of a public facing front. It’s just that the public didn’t know that. Hence ‘front’. Then there were military poaches, outstanding soldiers who were approached at the conclusion of their official government military contracts. Outside of these poached soldiers, AngelThana rarely allowed for transfers to military units if the employee hadn’t been with the company for a minimum of three years, which explained why the minimum age of active combatants was 21 and not most military’s standard 18. Then there were the nuts. AngelThana sent representatives out to anyone who found out about the immortals organically, whether from personal experience or obsessive web research. That’s how Matti got involved. He’d spent the greater part of his childhood chasing down conspiracies online because that’s about all there was to do in a northern European village, population: twelve, where the sun came up twice a year. He’d discovered some paper trails and various web footage that showed the same few people involved in a host of different terrorist attacks across the globe, a conspiracy he was surprised no one else pointed out. It turned out no one pointed it out because AngelThana scrubbed the internet from all information of the immortals, with a rather impressive tech division. This was originally what they scouted him for until pretty much everyone realized he was a crap hacker. By that point, he’d requested a transfer to sniper school and anyone involved agreed it was for the best. Most of the people on the helicopter had been in the second boat, sniped from their own government’s military. On the books, they were ‘security’ officers. Julian was, as with most scientists, from the first group. He’d been scouted because of his academic work and pressured into taking the job with AngelThana. “My official transfer to the internal department was about a month into my onboarding on the face department.” Julian had that glint in his eyes that the PhDs always got when they were about to launch into a lecture, and Matti braced himself. “The day they pulled me in and explained that honest to god immortals existed, well I thought I’d gone crazy.” “Really? You didn’t think they had?” Julian shook his head. “No! I’d always suspected so when my theories were confirmed, my mind was blown. It was like falling into a dream I’d had.” “Lapinksy! Back on your post. You’ve had weeks to make idle chit chat. This is not the time.” Pooja’s scolding turned all the heads in the chopper to Matti, who smiled back at her, jumping to his feet in a solute. “Copy that, Colonel.” There would also be time for idle chit chat later, so he had no qualms with resuming his watch. “Alright we’re approaching our drop point,” Pooja announced, some few, uneventful hours later. “We’re officially on non-essential cargo pickup, so keep that in mind. Grace, prep your unit, but I want them down and out of sight until signaled.” Kyline saluted in acknowledgement, her face rigid. “The cargo pickup is scheduled to happen at eight hundred hours, so we’re here plenty early and should be able to get all of you off before they load us up.” Pooja began walking up and down the aisle of the ship, making eye contact with every single person on board. “I’ll be staying on board to handle the loading, with Schmidtt and Lapinksy. You’ll take your orders from the Sergeant and in the case of her incapacitation, your chain of command will fall to Agent Xing, Agent Jha, field medic LeDuc…” The chain of command was something they’d all been briefed on but redundancy may as well be synonymous with procedure because whenever someone said ‘follow the proper process’ it meant they wanted to you use enough fallbacks and extraneous measures that you probably could have accomplished three times your goal if you’d just checked something once or twice. But for all their traitorous nature, the Infleurgents still followed their god damned processes to a T. Whatever. Matti didn’t technically need to know who to listen to but unfortunately for his ego, the chain of command usually made too much sense to ignore, so he rarely did. The helicopter touched down at a tiny regional airport in the early hours of the morning, probably close to five hundred hours, as light as a feather per Schmidtt’s usual. He radioed in their arrival to the incognito convoy that was bringing whatever equipment Pooja had maneuvered into being their ‘target’. They reported that they were still about two hours out, which Schmidtt confirmed on radar scans. “Copy that, we’ll be waiting.” Then Pooja looked up at Matti. “Give us a visual perimeter, make sure the area is clear of personnel or civilians.” She turned to Kyline. “At Lapinsky’s signal, take your men to the far parking lot. The convoy was instructed to leave one truck behind so that we could unload our cargo. Which…” She waved a hand at the soldiers, “is all of you. So stay out of sight until Grace gives the command. Understood?” A host of salutes confirmed comprehension. Matti eyed Pooja and tossed her a slightly more casual salute before slipping into the night. For once, the lack of complications wasn’t boring. The presence of civilians would have dramatically slowed down the offloading, suspicions from the convoy would have just caused drama, and if any of Kyline’s soldiers had been spotted, it would have really been disastrous. All told, Pooja’s plan went without a hitch and soon Schmidt was flying away with whatever cargo they’d used as an excuse to hide their illicit actions. Matti sat in the back of the remaining convoy truck, squished with the others. These things were supposed to seat a dozen. While Matti, Julian, Xing Luli, the Iota agent, were slim enough to count for half a person, they simply had too many people on board for the drive to be comfortable. But comfort wasn’t a requisite so no one complained about being cramped too much. The real issue was the lack of space to put on their disguises. AngelThana lacked the resources to intensely scrutinize every security cam feed on the planet to scan for faces that matched certain criteria. So the group didn’t have to worry too much about being spotted by the sophisticated software needed to match their specific face shapes and retina scans. But that didn’t mean they could slack off. They’d still need to play dress up to fool any AngelThana member who happened to be casually watching the MUC feeds in their downtime. There were precious few people on board who knew enough about hair and makeup to make a convincing change to faces, so each agent had to wait quite a bit for their turn. Something to change complexion, darken or bright eyes, maybe thicken the look of facial hair. “Do me dirty,” Matti said as he pushed past Private Amelie Silva for his turn. He scrunched his eyes closed in preparation for the assault on his face. “Don’t do that with your eyes,” Pooja said, as he heard her swishing around some bottle of something probably wet and sticky. “It’ll make it uneven.” Pooja, along with Henri LaForge and Edmund Howard, was one of the only confident enough with her makeup skills to do anything convincing on the soldiers. “Hold still.” A bright light blasted his eyelids as another of the soldiers shone a flashlight at him. “We should have brought Sofia,” Matti said, trying hard not to move his mouth. “She could make every guy in here a girl and vice versa.” “Matti keep your mouth shut or you’re going to look like more of a mess than you normally do.” After a far too long period of getting paint slathered and smeared on his face, his nails and hands squished, his hair pulled tight and hidden under a wig, Pooja thrust an armful of clothes in his hands. “What do you think?” The question was a little too amused for Matti’s liking and he cracked an eyelid to see the private holding the flashlight was openly smirking. “He did say he wanted to be a girl. Think you did a mighty good job there, Colonel.” The other eyelid snapped open. “I need a mirror. Now.” Pooja held up one and Matti stared at himself. He wasn’t a girl, probably. Not technically. But he also saw where the private was coming from. “Pooja, you know ‘scene’ hasn’t been in since the early 2000s, right?” He twisted one of the silky, unnaturally platinum locks around a finger. “We’re active members.” She shooed him to the side to start her next victim. “So our looks need to be a bit more dramatically changed. Us and Blake. If you’re going heavy makeup, you have to make it look intentional. That’s why you have the eyeliner. You’re now Alexi Petroff, 16 years old, so you’ve got to look like it.” “Great. Back to being an edgy teen.” He didn’t really mind the look but it was far from comfortable. “What dramatic bit are you doing?” “Inaya Hasmi, 34, traveling with my husband Tahir.” She pointed a bit away where Vikas Jha, the other Iota agent, was getting minimal makeup work done. “I’ll have a bit of work done but most of my face will be hidden.” “Lucky. Would be nice if we all could just go the religious veil route.” Matti tapped at his face to see if his makeup had dried. Pooja cocked an eyebrow. “Would have made us all the more likely to be stopped by airport security. Don’t need to increase those odds. Alright, you’re done Shanti.” “Fucking most disgusting thing I ever got on my face,” he grumbled. “Shut up, Shanti,” Matti said, almost absentmindedly. The private needled him with a glare before moving on. “We kind of switched colors,” Julian remarked as he settled down next to Matti. The previously sandy haired man now had cropped dark crew cut, so convincing that Matti couldn’t imagine how his real hair had fit under it. His previously green eyes were now blue, much like how Matti’s blue had changed to green. “Who did yours?” Matti asked. “LaForge. Man did theatre through his entire education. I guess it shows but god my head feels like it’s about to explode.” Julian’s hand hovered near his scalp as if itching to itch it. “Not a finger!” shouted LaForge from about eight feet away where he was twisting Luli’s hair into a tight ponytail. “Or I’ll cut it off.” “Would he get back?” asked another private. Julian’s body sagged as his hand dropped. “Here they go.” The questions, jokes, and jabs flowed through the truck, lightening up the mood at the expense of Julian’s. “You’re not a fan?” Matti asked. “You can’t deny, there are some good questions in there.” “Yeah but they don’t want answers, they just want to snicker.” Julian sighed, crossing his arms. “But I’m starting to learn to tune it out.” Even Matti had to admit that, after two more hours of the soldiers coming up with increasingly stupid puns, it had gotten old. He fiddled with his rifle, knowing that it would soon be locked in a very special crate, the kind that AngelThana routinely used to smuggle weapons through airports, past border patrols, and into government events. Matti didn’t like departing with his beloved rifle but there would be no keeping it on him. The sun had long risen now as the truck pulled into a long term parking lot, advertised as being ‘mere kilometers from MUC!’ From there, the group split into teams, each with their own mission plans. Pooja took Vikas, her husband, and the two headed the short walk to the public transport. Six of the soldiers, all dressed as spring breakers, flooded to the closest rental car place. Matti checked his ID and the instructions on his phone giving him a rundown of Alexi Pertoff. “I’m traveling with my father and girlfriend, huh? Haven’t had one of those in a while.” He looked up at the remaining operatives. Shanti and Henri were brothers, Amelie and Edmund were also dating. A few others were traveling solo. Then his eyes fell on Luli, Pooja’s Iota agent. She fixed him with a long once over. “We’re dating?” she asked. In all fairness, she probably wasn’t much older than he was and with the high ponytail with a red streak in it, the loose bangs around her face, and too much eye makeup, she could absolutely pass for 17 or 18. “I guess so. Which just leaves… dad.” He grinned as Julian looked down at his ID. “Ah. Pieter Pertoff. 38” He looked up at the two agents as the remaining operatives sped off on their predetermined methods of transportation. “Never thought much of having kids…” “God I must be like, the biggest disappointment to you.” Matti examined his nails, which were all black except for a red nail on each middle finger. Then he looked up at Julian’s tight crew cut and the lines on his face, artfully exaggerated by LaForge’s handiwork. Luli laughed at the start contrast that couldn’t hide enough of a similarity between the two men to hint at their relation. “Alright then, team,” she said. “Let’s get our car and get to the airport. We’ve got an invasion to stop.” Julian's got this, right? He can keep his cool and stick to his role... right? Find out later today!
2020.09.18 08:16 OculusfluffySteamfluffs by Oculus (xpost from fluffybooru)
Originally posted on: https://www.fluffybooru.com/post/view/58039 https://preview.redd.it/dgs158n1kun51.png?width=550&format=png&auto=webp&s=a35926cb48f68530383320e90f8717c144bb0f3d STEAMFLUFFS ~or Steampunk Fluffies~ By Oculus ~CHIMNEY~ >You are Chimney >You are a fluffy >You are given the name Chimney by your owner, Oliver >Oliver is an orphan. Oliver never knew his father, and his mother died at childbirth. Word around the boys is that he’s the son of a common whore >at the age of six, Oliver was scouted by the Master Sweep to work for his business, sweeping the many chimneys and vents in a burgeoning London >it is a hard job but, with no parents, and without a cent to his name, working as a sweep is the only way Oliver can eke out a living >Oliver remembers the first time he went up a chimney >A boy two years older than him, a veteran, recommended going in completely naked, as the clothes would only drag him down. Oliver balks at this idea > the space was thin, as he used his knees and hands to slowly worm his way up >with brush in hand, he keeps sweeping away the cakes of soot in the chimney, following the instruction from the master >surviving the first ordeal, Oliver comes out >Coughing. With tears in his eyes >but alive. He hadn’t fallen, and he had been careful >it was during his third sweep that Oliver met you >The Master had been tasked with cleaning the factories owned by Hassenfeld Biochemical >the chimney of this particular factory is long and arduous >more than one boy was needed to clean the chimneys, and there were nooks and crannies that had to be taken care of >the briefing was unusual as an official from the enterprise was also present >with top hat, clean clothes and gloves, he was clearly a gentleman. And he seemed to be talking to the master about something >it seemed like a minor oddity at first, but the reason behind this became clear later on >The chimney of this factory was filled with vents, all of which were caked in soot, and aside from the main chimney, which had to be cleared, some of the younger boys had to crawl into these vents >it was in one of these vents that Oliver noticed an odd peculiarity >horse hooves, in the soot >Oliver had seen horses, but he could not imagine how a horse could fit itself into a vent >and not too long after he pondered that, he discovers you >a grey coloured fluffy, but blackened by the surrounding soot “H-huwwo nice yung mistah. Fwuffy am scawed. Fwuffy nu wan twubbwe, onwy wan nummies an’ pway.” >Oliver should have screamed or cried. Or anything unexpected, given the bizarreness of finding a miniature horse in a vent. And one that was talking “What a most peculiar thing.” >but Oliver had read a book about a talking horse. And that same book also mentioned the island of Lilliput, and its miniature denizens. >not knowing the book to be fiction, he takes it that this horse belonged to that island of Liliput “Pwez! Nu huwt fwuffy!” >you cover your eyes with your hooves “Don’t cry, you poor thing. You must be a long way from Liliput." "Wha' am Wiwiput?” >Strange, thought Oliver. The creature knows nothing about that island. >No matter >In an act of kindness, Oliver carries you, as he clears the final bit of soot ~ “Ah, splendid job, Mr Gamfield! I see that your boys have managed to recover a few of our fluffy ponies.” “Ponies? By jove! Are you telling me that these miniature babbling creatures are horses?” >indeed, Oliver was not the only who found a pony in the chimneys and vents >some of the other boys had found similar fluffy ponies in the chimney of the factory “Indeed! We have been experimenting with these creatures as a means of augmenting the labour force. As you know, the young boys are needed to run the vents, but some of the vents are particularly tight and hard to crawl through. Then, I received word that some of our subjects had escaped into the chimneys of our factory. Considering their survival, and how their fluff has helped soaked up some of the soot, I can see the potential in providing your boys with our lovely ponies.” >Oliver is holding you in your arms. He feels a bit curious >in a rather independent fashion, Oliver raises a hand and asks “Can we keep these ponies?” >The Master was about to lower Oliver’s hand forcefully and chastise him, but the official stops him >with a smile on his face, the official says “Of course! The fluffies are for you to keep." >he then turns to master sweep "As a matter of fact, Mr Gamfield, I would like to offer a minor proposition. Something that can help you and your boys earn a bit more than the paltry amount you get for clearing soot.” >And so, every boy in Gamfield’s business now has a fluffy pony >including you, who now belongs to Oliver >the work is difficult, and you have to run the vents that Oliver can’t, to collect the soot in your fluff >then return to the base, where you are washed down by a washerwoman, and quickly dried, before going up the vents again to check for blockages “Nu wike wawa.” “Be still, you little rapscallion!” >as the mistress washes you down, Oliver is currently reading a book regarding identifying blockages >lately, the Master has found a new job and occupation for the boys to take up >aside from the usual chimney sweep business, the development of the analytical engine in recent years has seen the implementation of more elaborate and complex structures in London. > the vents have started to be more complicated, to reflect the clockwork and steam machines integrated into the architecture >aside from clearing soot from chimneys and vents, there is now a business in looking for leaks in steam vents, as well as identifying blockages in said vents >its hard work >but every day, after a long day at work, the boys are given their pay >with you in tow, Oliver takes you to the soup kitchen, where he manages to buy a bowl of soup, and a bit of bread >it is not enough sustenance for a young boy "Please sir, can I have some more?" >the cook eyes Oliver, feeling a little furious >but, and despite being washed down, Oliver's clothes still have the charred remains from the chimney >and he is holding you in his arms "You're one of Gamfield's boys, aren't you? Your lads did a pretty good job on one of the warehouses. Here's an extra piece of bread for the good work." >the additional morsel is barely enough for one boy >but Oliver still divided the bread between the two of you, and make sure you get your fill of soup and bread "Fank 'ou, daddeh." >as you slowly nibble at the piece bread, drenched in soup, you contemplate on the day that Oliver had found you >unbeknownst to Oliver, you were actually part of a contingent of rejected ponies that were going to be sent to the incinerator >the biochemical factory that chimney boys were cleaning also doubles as a breeding mill, with much of the breeding down in the bowels of the factory >the mares held at this mill are all belong to the third to fourth generation of Hassenfeld Biochemical, or Hasbio's, continued fluffy breeding programme >currently, the programme has managed to sustain the breeding and sale of high quality fluffy ponies that can be kept as pets >however, every litter of foals always has a runt, as well as a few fluffies of an undesirable colour, notably the colours of grey, brown, mottled green and so on >on the day that you were supposed to be incinerated, a careless worker had forgotten to lock the cage some of your kin were housed in, and the lot of you scampered away into the labyrinthine maze of vents within the factory >obviously, the factory workers were prepared to chase you down, and have the lot of you exterminated >but one of the Hasbio officials has noticed a potential purpose for you lot >as you keep chewing at the piece of bread, you can feel Oliver rub the back of your head, then your face >despite having little in the world, he cannot help but beam as he sees you appreciate the morsel of food >the two of you then return to a workhouse, where both of you retire for the night "Fwuffy wuv 'ou, Owivah." "I love you too, Chimney." >clutching you in his arms, both of you fall asleep ~ ~ZWEISTEIN~ >You don’t really have a name >Some have called you “Zweistein’s Monster” >But one thing is certain >You are a Progenitor >you live a simple, but mundane life >in the shed that Zweistein owns, you sleep, you wake up >graze and ruminate >day by day, the doctor and assistants assess you for your mental and physical health >and then, you sleep again >Donovan Zweistein is a kind man >he is also a brilliant man >and one of the most captivating discoveries, a decade or so ago, was the full and complete development of the Difference Engine by Charles Babbage >and its successor, the Analytical Engine >these mechanical devices, intricate and byzantine, yet beautiful, are capable of computations and formulas far beyond the understanding of the average man >and its application in modern science cannot be underestimated >in fact, one of the first discoveries utilizing the Analytical Engine, was the complete sequencing of various animal genomes >something that Zweistein has been involved in >this discovery has motivated Zweistein >for Zweistein is, himself, contracted to Hassenfeld Biochemical >you have been many things, in many lives before >but your strongest memory was as a horse >a Shetland pony, owned by Donovan >miniature yet proud. Loyal and strong >and very, very fluffy >and one day, you died >you cannot remember how. Perhaps it was an accident. Or perhaps it had been an altercation >whatever the case, the life had been taken from you in a snap >Donovan was heavily affected by this loss, and wept for your soul for ages >Donovan is a brilliant man, and he has been working with the sequencing of the genomes, as well as various chemicals >and, fueled by his memory of the time he spent with you, along with a hypothesis funded by Hassenfeld, Donovan is about to do a most daring, and possibly profane, experiment >he has taken the body parts of various animals >the feathers of a selkie chicken. The sinew of a boar. The ears of a rabbit. >the blood of a guinea pig. The blood of an orangutan. The blood of a dog. >and the brain of his Shetland pony >suspended in a preservative until this right moment, he has now removed it, and placed it within a skull he had fashioned for this purpose >affixing two bolts to each side, and wiring the body that has been stitched together, Zweistein waited for a violent rainstorm to come, while setting up the conductor >and like Prometheus bestowing fire upon humanity, a flash of lightning sears through the sky, and starts up the beating heart >when he first saw you, he at first felt disgust at you >a wretch >a miserable monster he had created. >Zweistein held up the curtain of the bed; and your eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on him. Your jaws opened, and you muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled your cheeks. >And for a few days, you could only manage a simple, silent cry, your first words “Wan…. Die….. wan…. Die….” ~ >your routine as a progenitor is simple >you graze the fields >you speak with your master >but there are times when your master has need of your one talent >as his hands dig into your thick fluff and massage your back, your mind goes back to the days following your awakening ~ “Wan…. Die….. wan…. Die….” >Zweistein is a bit concerned >the readings from the engine were supposed to be right >and he had already ran the tests on simpler reactions with the chemicals on the other bits >however, when put together into this being that has been stitched together from the various parts, the chimera wasn't responding >was the brain affected, by years of stasis in the fluid? Were the parts all rejecting each other? >it would be the case, but the introduction of certain chemicals was supposed to keep that in unison together ideally >ideally, that is the key word >Zweistein is at his table, frustrated. His hand is on his forehead, his posture slumped, looking over the compilation of notes, and the readings from the analytical engine >in the background, the engine could be heard, as it clicks and clacks away, processing more genetic data for the doctors studies "Wan... die..." >oh god, how he wished this bastard would shut up >in a fit of frustration, the doctor grabs a piece of paper, crumples it up into a ball, and throws it at you >looking at the crumpled paper, the roughly spherical shape registers a memory in you, speaking to the part of you that once had a life as a canine >and for the first time, you manage something new in your vocabulary "Wan.... pway?" ~ >the mare is primed >she is a bit nervous >but Zweistein received the mare from a colleague of his about a week ago >a telegram that had been sent prior to the delivery revolved around a discussion he had regarding the exposure of genetic material from an older source to a newer bloodline, but from a different progenitor >and this mare was a descendant of that different progenitor >Donovan had already administered a hormone to her half an hour earlier >the mare, once frightened by the sight of you, is also in heat “Fwuffy nu wike dis… bu…bu… fwuffy wan speshuw huggies….” >to ease the mare, Zweistein places a blindfold over her >upon seeing the mare, her rear exposed to you >the one instinct in you, unique to all heterosexual life forms, reacts "H….huggies….” >your virility is strong, a reproductive organ that the doctor had carefully developed >as you mount yourself upon the mare, your virility penetrates the mare’s organ, as the unmistakable sounds of sex filled the stable “Enf… enf…. Enf.” >the mare, still blindfolded, is frightened. But being in heat, the act is still consensual, and she is largely unaware of who, or what, is mounting her “Fwuffy a-a-am scawed… b….bu….. feew guud….” >over time, her fear gives way to pleasure "Enf... enf... enf...." >and you release >the mare collapses. Exhausted, but satisfied >as for you, Zweistein slowly guides you aware from the mare, and back to the shed, where an assistant will massage you, as well as examine you further >in time, the mare will give birth to a fresh set of fluffy foals, this time with DNA from a Progenitor >you have previously fathered a generation of fluffy ponies, which have, in turn, fathered their own generation, carefully managed and monitored by the company >and now, you have procreated with the descendant of a similar progenitor, exposing new genetic material to that line >for your efforts, Victor provides you with a meal that a part of you remembers “Sk-skettis…” >as you slowly eat the dish, morsel by morsel, Donovan strokes your mane >proud of his virile, yet bizarre, abomination ~ ~DOLLY~ >You are a fluffy >But you are not any ordinary fluffy >You are Dolly >You are the property of Laura Hassenfeld >Laura is the Daughter of Sir Percival Clayton Hassenfeld the Fourth of Haddockspike Manor >Sir Hassenfeld is one of the current proprietors of the Hassenfeld conglomerate >it was under Hassenfeld that the company had created its famous Biochemical subsidiary >and, more importantly, he had overseen the creation, and propagation of Hasbio’s Fluffy Pony product >You are Laura’s pride and joy >after years of extensive breeding and artificial selection, specific pedigrees of fluffies have been bred for the gentry >well-trained and well-mannered, you represent the heights of man’s mastery over the natural order, as a talking animal companion that distinguishes itself from a mangy dog or uncouth cat >you have been with Laura ever since her twelfth birthday, and she has always cherished you >and then, one day, the incident happened >while ice-skating at a lake, your mistress, in an act of poor thinking, decided to carry you across the ice >you, being the judicious fluffy that you are, refused >but that didn’t stop Laura >nor did it stop the bumbling Norwegian who crashed into the two of you >Laura survived, as did you, but the weight of the man’s body, as well as the blades of the ice-skates had damaged your legs, to the point that they could no longer be used >the veterinarian who attended to your wounds put your chances of survival as being slim >even though you did survive amputation, the loss of your legs indicate that you would be entirely dependent on your owners for the rest of your natural life >the veterinarian recommended euthanasia, to spare you the potential misery >but Laura refused this >she had grown overly attached to you, as a fluffy, and could not bring herself to see her fluffy die in such a manner >it just so happened to be that Laura is familiar with technology >while not well-versed in the scientific fields of biology, let alone biological engineering, Laura has a fascination for clockwork and steamwork >despite receiving training to be a gentlewoman, her father had allowed her study the mechanical sciences, provided it was as a hobby >this, however, has allowed Laura to tinker with various devices in her own private laboratory >one of the first things she attempted to invent for you was a wheeled sedan of sorts >placing you within the seat, the steam engine came to life, which startled you "SCREEE! NU WIKE! NU WIKE! Mummah, git fwuffy away from buwnie munstah!" >suffice to say is that it took quite the grace period before you could get used to this particular sedan >Laura is currently working on a device that while powered by steam, has our legs, and can actually be controlled by your muscles >that is one of Laura's pet projects >her other pet project has been working on your other set of legs >the ones you mainly use >your body, thus, is a complex thing >you still have your own brain and mind >but, and to accommodate the loss of your legs, your mistress added these weird clockwork legs >covered with a wool that matches your fluff >the legs are connected to an analytical engine on your back >because the legs are clockwork, and thus, inorganic, you cannot control your legs >to be able to walk, or just do about anything, your mistress has to insert a punch code to allow you to move ~ >You are currently at a tea party with your mistress >being a member of the gentry, Laura has to entertain the various guests that visit the Haddockspike manor >these can range to friends of her fathers, to her own childhood friends and fellow ladies "Have you heard Laura, of the business going on down in Leeds?" >that was one of Laura's friends >its late evening. The three one of you having a light evening meal of tea, biscuits and scones "No I haven't Catherine. What is going on in Leeds?" "They're building some sort of port at Leeds." "A port? But there's no body of water there." "Not for vessels, Laura. It is for airships. More people are traveling by balloon these days, and the government is seeing the need to create facilities designed for this mode of travel." "So, a port for aircraft. Like, an 'airport'?" "You could say that yes" "Dowwy tink dat big bawwoons am siwwy." >like all fluffies, you speak fluffspeak >but your fluffspeak has an air of elegance, noting your social status "Oh, is that so, Dolly? Why would you even consider that?" "Dummehs tink dat dey can fwy wike biwdies. Dummehs hab nu cawe for da huwties dey may git ib dey hab huwties from faww." "From a fall? Don't be crass, Dolly." >feeling a little bit concerned about your insistence on trying to have a conversation about a subject far beyond your understanding, Laura whispers into your ear the one request you dislike "Bu' now? Fwuffy nu wike, mummah.” “Please, Dolly. I always like it when you do this. And I think Catherine here hasn't seen you do this before.” >you want to refuse >but Laura pouts >she has this incredibly cute face that makes it impossible for you to deny her "Otay mummah." >you sigh, resigned to your mistress's decision >Laura then places you on the floor, arranging your legs such that they're no longer at rest, but are 'standing' on all fours >Laura proceeds to insert the punch code into the miniature analytical engine located near your abdomen >you "stand" on your prosthetic hind legs >you "raise" your fore legs >within the mechanical body attached to the legs, a music box plays >mimicking a stiff ballerina, you jerk through the motions, and mimic a part from Swan Lake >Catherine is laughing, remarking at the little ballerina display Laura is making you do “Your fluffy is the most precious thing! I wish my fluffy could do that!” ~ >it is night time >Laura and you have retired to her bedroom >she has removed your clockwork legs, and has currently placed you on your favourite pillow >she is stroking your mane >you puff up your cheeks, as you voice your protest “Mummah am a meanie! Fwuffy nu wike dancies!” “I’m sorry, Dolly. Would a hug make things better?” >as she embraces you, you feel a little better >you hate the dances. You hate the fact that you cannot control your legs >and you hate the fact that you are like a literal pillow >but seeing your mistress’s smiling face is worth the trouble ~ ~SWIFT~ >You are Swift >You are the fastest fluffy alive >you are the daughter of the fluffy pair of Whisper and Wind >your life has always been about racing >even at a young age, while raised with other show foals in the aristocracy, you always wanted to compete with others >this competitive spirit contributed to you being picked for the first fluffy races sponsored by Hassenfeld >and true enough, you won those races >some had have considered you to be as fast as Mercury >the suffragettes, knowing your gender, insist you are more like the goddess Iris >but there is one thing that you always wanted to do >and that is to conquer the air >your wings are useless, but that never deterred you >when you were a foal, you kept jumping, while flapping your wings >you got hurt a few times, and stopped after a while, but you never stopped dreaming >it is a good thing that your owner is none other than Captain Sullivan >the captain is a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force and has experience with the Airships of the British Empire >in recent years, and thanks to the development of better technology, they have mastered the creation of flying dreadnoughts >in addition to having the greatest fleet of passenger airships on the planet, the Empire also boasts the strongest air force >even the newly reunified German states have yet to compete with the might of the British Empire in the air >the captain often takes you aboard airships >the two of you are currently heading towards Calais, and are halfway through the English Channel >you are currently aboard a passenger airship. Thanks to improvements in airship technology, the craft is like a cruise liner, but held afloat by the giant helium blimp above it >the captain is wearing his flight jacket, his military uniform underneath it, as well as his signature aviator goggles >you too are wearing similar goggles, though the only other thing you’re wearing is your leash, and a rather odd mechanism strapped to your back >an inquisitive noblewoman notices that the captain has a cyan fluffy pony as she remarks “Upon my word, Captain, I had no idea that you owned one of these fluffy ponies!” >the captain smiles >he lifts you, and presents you on the table for the woman to see “Pweashure to meet ‘ou, faiw wady!” >even though you speak in fluffspeak, you maintain the courtesy that the captain has taught you, as you do a little curtsy “How polite! Better than those ragamuffin fluffies in the seedier areas of London.” “She’s magnificent, isn’t she? I purchased her as a showfoal from a while back. Said to be of good pedigree.” “She’s a Waggytail, isn’t she?” “That is correct, my lady. A Waggytail, one of the purebreeds from the Colony of New Zealand.” “How old is she?” >before the captain can answer, there is a loud shriek near the starboard of the airship deck “……my dolly!” >a little girl cries, as her favourite doll is swept by the wind >seeing this as an opportunity to act, you gallop off the table, and head straight out >the captains runs for you, but you’re a bit too fast >as you reach the railing, and with a quick moment of your hooves, you bring the goggles down to protect your eyes >and, within seconds, you jump off the ship >some of the people cry out, fearing the infamous stupidity of the fluffy pony >but they astounded by what they see next >although your actual fluffy wings are useless, Sullivan is also an aeronautical engineer >and his knowledge of aircraft also includes knowing about gliders, and ornithopters >while the wingspan of the fluffy Pegasus cannot support flight, the natural weight of the fluffy, as well as the similarity of the wings to bird wings, led Sullivan to test out a theory >one that worked, one fine day >within moments, the spring-loaded mechanism on the back of your body unfurls a strong set of canvas wings >these artificial wings are controlled by the muscles in your natural wings >and with grace, you reach for the falling doll, and grab it in your mouth >then, using the momentum gained from the free fall, you swoop up! >you can reel the rush of air going against you, as you enjoy that thrill of being able to defeat gravity, even for a temporary moment >and safely land on the starboard of the ship! >the crowd cheers! A flying fluffy – whoever would have thought such a thing? >as you return the doll to the little girl, she smiles, and pets you on the forehead >Captain Sullivan comes to see you >he is prepared to scold you later for pulling off such a dangerous stunt, but, at the same time, he does marvel and appreciate your daring “Fwuffy hab nu guud wing pwaces. Bu’ daddeh gib speshul wings, and fwuffy can fwy!” >alas, you can speak only in fluffspeak as you address the crowd >that, and despite your talents, you’re not that bright “Captain, how long has Swift been able to fly?!” “I have trained the little lass on this mechanism for a little while now. The Air Force is doing more research and testing on pegasi being able to fly with the aid of these mechanisms. Of course, the average Carpdime tabby fluffy wouldn’t be able to fly, but we’ve had some success with purebreds like the Waggytail.” >Captain Sullivan looks at you with pride, as you prance up and down, enjoying the attention >for the moment, you do not know what is going on in the depths of his mind >for the Captain, as well as the other higher-ups in the air force, have been looking at training similar pegasi to you as a means of carrying ordnance >as a potential weapon of war, dropping bombs over the enemies of the Empire >and given your unwavering loyalty, and your ability to accept orders without question, you would make a fine weapon of war >but for now, you are a happy fluffy pony, who just saved a little girl’s dolly ~ ~WORLD’S FAIR~ “Welcome to the World’s Fair in London!” It is 18XX. The British empire under Queen Victoria reigns supreme throughout the world in all the fields of science, technology and even the arts. To commemorate Great Britain’s status as a world power, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce conceived of this fair as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. The fair took place at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, and featured participants from around the world, from America to Japan, to come and display the technological and artistic marvels of the new age. The successful invention of the Difference Engine in 1824, along with the Analytical Engine, has seen a rapid development of the Empire, thanks to combined power of its navy, and its fleet of rigid airships. In addition, the existence of the analytical engine has seen the beginning of an Information Revolution little more than a century after Industrial Revolution. One of the devices being exhibited at the Fair is a prototype of an Analytical engine that combines information received by telegrams, with improved jacquard looms, to develop a potential international network of information. And of course, one of the bigger influences that the invention of the analytical engine has is on genetic engineering. The Hassenfeld Company has a few exhibits at this fair, to showcase the many developments of the company across its subsidiaries. But the most attention has been given to its well-known Biochemical subsidiary, which is at the current forefront of genetic engineering in the 19th century. It is, after all, the Hassenfeld Biochemical company that has invented the fluffy pony, with the invention being attributed to a collective of daring biologists across Europe, all under Hassenfeld. Dr Zweistein does not like the crowd of onlookers gawking at his creation. Nor does Zweistein’s Progenitor. At twice the height and size of the average fluffy pony, Zweistein’s Progenitor is a beast that, while having the fluff of a fluffy pony, and a mouth and shape matching one, moves at a sluggish pace. A chimera of different animal parts literally stitched together, some wonder how this beast can stay alive, not to mention procreate. “D…daddeh? Fwuffy nu wike…. Tuu many hummehs…” Zweistein keeps patting his creation, and whisper in its ear. “They’re not going to hurt you. Be calm.” Earlier, Zweistein had administer a sedative to keep the progenitor docile. Thankfully, it has worked, though the doctor is a bit concerned that his creation is still aware of its surroundings. Though faint, the doctor can hear a soft mumble from a rather scared fluffy. "M-munstah....." ~ On the other side of the fair is Oliver with Chimney. The master sweep, having managed to earn a little extra from the new service he provides as a repairman, in addition to chimney sweeping, is now able to take some of his boys to see the Fair, though in groups. “Su many bwightie pwaces, daddeh!” gasps Chimney, as Oliver himself is taken in by the sights. Of course, Mr Gamsfeld is also here on official business. While the fair has its own engineers, Mr. Gamsfeld has the additional task of making sure the vents and machinery on display at this fair go without a hitch. But it doesn’t hurt to let his boys have at least one great pleasure, before they go back to their miserable lives of sweeping chimneys. Swift is having the time of her life. There is a fluffy pony talent show going on, and Swift is one of the fluffies that was entered for the competition. Aside from a rather instinctual ability to use her canvas wings properly, Swift is able to show her other talents, including being able to balance a plate on her head and body, and later, break the record for the number of times a ball can be bounced by a fluffy pony on its head. Swift is in the limelight, and she is loving it. And then, she meets her rival. Swift has met Dolly before. Laura’s elder sister is the fiancé of Captain Sullivan, and, occasionally, the two fluffies have met together, whenever Captain pokes his head around Haddockspike Manor. One would think that, with fluffies being social creatures, they would naturally bond. “Oh. It am onwy, Swiff, da wuffian. How uncoof(uncouth).” “Nu! Dowwy am a dummeh!” The relationship between Swift and Dolly is a bit complex. But for today, they must put aside their differences. Laura’s Dolly has garnered attention too. Her work on mannequin legs is part of a larger project in developing clockwork prosthetics for the disabled. And today, after months of preparation, the two fluffies are on the stage. Standing on their hind legs, the two fluffies perform a choreographed cake walk, occasionally bringing their forelegs together. The crowd claps, as both fluffies bow before the audience. Upon the falling of the curtain, the two fluffies blow raspberries at each other. “Dummeh!” “Wuffian!” ~ Oliver is currently in the garden next to the Crystal Palace. The crowds at the Fair have been packed and yet, remain oddly organized. For the poorer fairgoers remain at one end of the grounds, followed by the working and middle classes in the centre. Further on up, the gentry and aristocrats mingle around in a part of the garden cordoned off from the rest off the riffraff. In a reflection of the social strata of London, there is a clear but unspoken demarcation between the lines. Although Oliver has been enjoying the fair, he is still reading from the book that Glamsfeld had provided him. Despite working as a chimney sweep for many years now, Oliver has developed an interest in engineering, as well as the technical arts. He hopes to get better at the art of fixing difficult clockwork and steam engines. It is perhaps this focus that prevents Oliver from noticing that Chimney saw a Monarch butterfly. Like an excited puppy, Chimney races after the butterfly, trying to catch it. As he does so, he starts to get buried in the crowd. Oliver, sensing an absence, turns around, and notices that Chimney was running away. “Chimney! Wait!!” Chimney keeps running, oblivious to his surroundings. As he keeps running, he slowly passes by the various professions in London. Whore, Chimney sweep, worker, foreman, soldier, journalist, lawyer, teacher, engineer, businessman, officer and eventually, gentleman. “Haha! Fwuffy git yu!” But of course, the butterfly flies away, high above the crowd. Chimney looks left and right. Seeing the men in top hats and coats, and woman in elegant dress, he realizes that he is very, very lost. Most fluffies would cry in this instant. But Chimney, and with a little daring, walks to the nearest fluffy he can see in a nearby tent. “Huwwo pwetty fwen! “ Dolly is currently seated on a pillow in a special tent that Laura has rented for herself. After the rather exhausting dance her mistress had made her do, she is getting a much-needed reprieve on her favourite pillow. She is just about to sip some tea from a teacup when she heard the loud babbling coming from another fluffy. And judging by its accent, it is clearly not well-trained. “Wut ‘ou wan? Dis nu pwace for ‘ou,” asks Dolly. “Pawdon fwuffy, nice miss, but whewe am Chimney Daddeh?” If this was any other fluffy of the gentry, particularly a snobbish one, Dolly would turn her head up in the air, and continue her drink. However, Dolly, feeling a little empathy for a humble fluffy of the working classes, rings a bell next to her. This activates a minor electrical signal, which triggers a buzzing in the pocket of her master. Laura comes in and sees the fluffy on the ground. “Well hello there. I take it you’re lost?” ~ Oliver is currently outside the cordon and is facing a copper. “Go on about your business lad. This is a restricted property.” “But kind sir, my fluffy pony wandered into that area!” “None of my business, young lad.” As he says this, Laura comes past the cordon, carrying Chimney in her arms. “Chimney!” “Daddeh!” As boy and fluffy are reunited in a heatful embrace, Oliver looks to Laura in gratitude. “Thank you, miss!” “You’re welcome, young man.” For a moment, their eyes meet. Oliver, with his grey eyes, and his face holding some remnants of soot, with his hands, covered in callouses from climbing the chimney walks. Laura, with her blue eyes, and dainty hands, which have, at most, been exposed to clockwork, but without much risk. “Laura! Your sister is looking for you!” The captain’s call breaks the brief stare both parties had, as they return to their respective places in society. The one thing that Laura remembers is the book that Oliver is reading, and remarks to herself that the boy is reading a slightly outdated manual. Her own hope is that she can provide a more relevant and updated manual, should the two ever meet, unlikely as that may be. For Oliver, he has met the most beautiful woman in his life. However, knowing her to be a member of the gentry, he is resigned to thinking that he might never meet her again, unless he can do better as a technician. As both parties resume their proper place within the fair, the sun slowly sets. However, the gaslights go up, and the light from the pageantry illuminates the evening sky. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKRHWT6xdEU
2020.09.17 19:41 Talen_KuriksonVorSeud: V.Human (Half-Gith) Psi-Knight + Hexblade : An attempt to Abuse Metabolic Control and Make a Fun Character
Morning all. Had an idea for a character that I've been fleshing out over the last few days. I saw the Metabolic Control feat in the Psionic Options Revisited UA release, and I really wanted to find a way to abuse it and make a fun character for an upcoming game. We're starting at level 8, so I had a little bit of flexibility. Looking for thoughts, ideas, inspiration, and feedback. Thanks all!
Metabolic Control Prerequisite: Psionic Talent feature or Wild Talent feat You have refined psionic control over your body’s functions. You gain the following benefits: •Increase your Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20. •If your Psionic Talent die is available, you can take an action to channel your psionic power to nourish yourself for the next 24 hours, as if you consumed sufficient food and water for a day. When you take this action, your Psionic Talent die decreases by one die size. •If your Psionic Talent die is available, you can meditate for 1 minute, at the end of which you gain the benefits of finishing a short rest, and your Psionic Talent die decreases by one die size. You can’t meditate in this way again until you finish a long rest.
Loadout Stats (including feats/racials): STR 8, DEX 14, CON 12, INT 16, WIS 10, CHA 16 Race: Variant Human (feat: Telekinetic) Class: Fighter (Psi-Knight) 7, Warlock (Hexblade) 1 Fighting Style: Archery Main Weapon: Hand Crossbow Feats: Telekinetic (race, V.Human), Crossbow Expert (Fighter 4), Metabolic Control (Fighter 6) Cantrips: Create Bonfire (Warlock), Mage Hand (Telekinetic feat), Prestidigitation (Warlock) Spells: Hex, Protection from Good and Evil The idea is to be flexible with the hand crossbow, so that I can be either in melee or ranged combat, utilizing the Crossbow Expert feat and Archery Fighting Style to ensure the ability to hit (+9 to hit) and to stay safe (+2 AC from Shield, which I can wield thanks to Crossbow Expert). Additionally, the GM has let us have 1 common magic item and 1 uncommon magic item. For my common magic item I went with Ruby of the War Mage, so that I can still cast while wielding the crossbow and a +1 Hand Crossbow to add some extra consistent chance to hit and damage. The plan as I level up is to go 5 levels in Warlock for Pact of the Chain and 3rd-level spell slots, allowing me to heal far more with Second Wind, Short Rest healing, and magical healing from allies, and then utilizing the Darkness + Devil's Sight combo for some consistent advantage as well. The rest of the levels will be in Psi-Knight (up to 15 levels) so that I can gain access to Bulwark of Force, allowing me to shield most of my allies with Half-Cover in the combats that need it. I also plan on taking Sharpshooter as soon as possible to increase my damage more significantly. In the build, I've got 1 open Feat/ASI at the moment, and I could also replace 1 ASI with another feat if I can get 2 feats that increase CHA (for Hexblade goodness). Level 20 Stats: STR 8, DEX 14, CON 12, INT 16, WIS 10, CHA 20 BACKSTORY My name is VorSeud. I was born among the githzerai, but I have never truly been one of them. Something about my mixed blood weakened some of my natural githzerai gifts, and greatly accentuated others. When some of my Brothers, not brothers by blood, of course, but Brothers in the order, were harnessing the powers of their mind to read each other’s minds and to harness the chaos of Limbo, I was unable to hear their thoughts, and unable to form the order from chaos that they found so simple to manipulate. Meanwhile, while they struggled to lift more than a few pounds with their minds, I found I was able to fling masters across the room with ease. They could read thoughts with a natural ease, and communicate without words, whereas I could not so much as read even the most surface-level thoughts. Do you know what it’s like to sit in a room which is totally and completely silent, knowing that all around you a conversation is happening, seeing the looks of joy, laughter, fear, pain, sorrow, confusion, and more, passing across the faces of everyone around, knowing that each person can hear your mind, and not being able to hear anything? It’s like being deaf, I imagine. And in a way, I was, at least as far as they were concerned. I trained alongside my Brothers, though “Brothers” may not be the correct translation. I hear this word has “male” meanings, but our order welcomed all the children of the githzerai. I trained for decades, from the time before I can even remember, and all that time they spoke a language that was lost to me. I could throw them around on the practice grounds, sure, but when your opponent can read your mind it’s much harder to plan your moves. I tried, I really did, forced myself to expand my mind until I blacked out from exposure to the chaos of Limbo or began to bleed from the ears and nose for my effort, but it never did any good. My blood was tainted....is tainted, by the stain of my humanity. The elders would never tell me how I came to Shra'kt'lor; how my impure blood came to exist in Limbo; who my mother was; who my father was. Like my Brothers, I was raised in the monastery, studying philosophy and the teachings of Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith, our deity-king whose mind sustained our fortress cities in Limbo. As Shra’kt’lor’ians, we also studied military tactics and warfare, but the githzerai themselves are pacifists, so we studied to defend. Perhaps that was where things started to go wrong for me. We were supposed to be the faithful, the unquestioning, the moral defenders of law in the heart of chaos. I wondered, and asked, why we could not simply strike down evil where it lived, rather than simply waiting for evil to strike at us. The masters and my Brothers all gave the sort of answers we found in the teachings of Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith; platitudes of “right” and “wrong” which placed no moral imperative on us to act preemptively and which elevated to godliness the ideal of non-interference until after an atrocity had already occurred. I argued my point; researched the countless lives that could have been saved with more decisive actions; begged my Brothers and my teachers to understand the good we could do with our gifts, with my gifts, but they would not hear me. I suppose by the time I made contact with...whatever spirit or entity now emboldens my steps, I was already something to be feared in their eyes. My contact with the entity has not made things any better, I fear. The first time I felt the presence was just before the slaad attack. A man walked by me one afternoon, and I felt the most unsettling waves of nausea and pain as he did. Visions of his transformation into one of those demons swam through my head as he continued out into the center of town. I recognized him, though I did not know him well, as one of our outward scouts, returned recently from our outermost fortress city. His name was JedGher, and he had once trained my class in slaad tactics and signs, for defense of the city. Seeing those visions, I thought I must have been tainted by the chaos of Limbo, and I immediately sought my teacher, desperately hoping she could block the horrible forces while my mind recovered. She did help me, and I recovered, in time, but the next day there were reports of a slaadi attack on the central spire. Apparently a scout had returned and had managed to disguise, either intentionally or not, his infestation. JedGher, or rather, the slaad that had burst from JedGher’s body, had made it nearly to the throne-chamber of Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith before it was finally slain, and it left dozens of our defenders slaughtered in his wake. The next time I saw the visions was on a pilgrimage to the Floating City, religious seat of power for Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith. I was in a crisis of faith, then, having failed my trials to join the zerths. Though my psionic physical strength was nearly unmatched, my psionic mental abilities were abysmal, and I could not so much as convey telepathic emotions, let alone read the guarded minds of my opponents. It did not help that I relied too much on my psionic strength either, and in tests where psionic abilities were not allowed, the more agile or strong of my Brothers were easily able to overpower me. During my pilgrimage to the Floating City, I passed a man who I presumed to be githzerai. When he abruptly pushed past me, I had visions of an explosion of sorts; of death and fire and the loss of a nautilus vessel. I turned to stop him, but when I called out to him he dashed into the street and vanished. I looked for him, but could find no sight of the man. Two days later a nautilus vessel we had captured from the Illithids, with the intent to study and learn better how to destroy our age-old enemy, was destroyed by a doppelganger infiltrator. He was captured, and interrogated, where it was discovered that the creature had been hired by the illithids from whom the nautilus had been captured. Its mission was to destroy the nautilus if it could not be retrieved, and to kill as many githzerai in the process as it could. By that point I was sure that either Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith or Zerthimon himself must be sending these visions to me, that I might save our people from harm, and I began to take heed of them. I enlisted immediately as a rrakkma, intent to join the fight to take down our age-old enemy, the illithids, in all the planes they struck into. The visions allowed me to identify illithid hosts even before they had transformed and dispose of them. At first, my commander thought I had gone insane, killing an innocent, but when I finally convinced him to look deeper into the head of the woman, which I had pierced quite neatly with my crossbow, he saw the truth of my claims. I could not explain to them the nature of my visions, though I tried. The very idea that Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith or Zerthimon would want them to kill someone who had not yet committed an atrocity was anathema to their beliefs, but they could not argue with my results. I assume that clash of ideals is why they abandoned me here on this strange, immutable planet in the Material Plane. The people here are strange, though not so strange as I first thought upon my abandonment here. I despise their single-directional gravity, their lack of understanding of the illithid threat, the way they look at me, but I find that the visions have not abandoned me, even here on this place far from my home, and I find comfort that my mission continues. I have faith that my brethren will return for me, one day, when Zerthimon returns and asks for me or when Zaerith Menyar-Ag-Gith recalls me to our home, but until then my mission continues here. My next target is a woman, a girl really, who it seems holds grand plans of burning down the home of a rival suitor for the hand of a young man in line for great riches. I have seen the fires; how they will spread far beyond the home this girl means to burn to engulf the entirety of the servants’ quarters and all those within in addition to her target; I have seen the way she will gaze on the inferno, uncaring and indifferent to those lives that are “beneath” her. She dies, and I do not feel remorse. I gaze at her with the same uncaring, dispassionate gaze with which she gazed upon the servants’ quarters in my vision, and I watch as the light fades from her eyes. There will be no evidence of my passing, and they will assume that the girl was accosted by cutthroats in this alleyway. Exactly as I intended.
The air hung hot and heavy, both of the guards outside her door complained about the heat today, the streets of the river city Angsa didn’t serve as any source of relief to the senses, often crowded with people on their daily commutes, be it the iron mines or the port markets, the boisterous mass of voices often was overwhelming, worse yet the smells made many nauseous. She had been writing for some hours in her vessel’s main chambers, while she wrote on recent events, she could not help but feel tense. It was a feeling that she logically understood but still, it ate at her concentration, the words felt like they blurred together in a sluggish tone... She looked down at her scrolls, the script was written with care, each stroke placed with such diligence, many refused to believe that a novice scholar like her could even perform such a deed. At court, a rising star that burned many the wrong way, here she is in self-exile, thinking about how her words are grotesquely oversimplifying things. The careful strokes, out of place, the scrolls are too short, the ink is too thick and she stares at it with no solution. “Lady Seraxia...my lady you are spacing out once again!” said her assistant Zilya. Seraxia rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms, she took a sip of her wine before standing up, refusing to look at her work... “Zilya how long has it been since we last left this chamber?” She had lost track of time if all truth had been told, she was under imperial orders to complete her task, but yet… “It has been a little over a year, my lady, since her heavenly majesty granted you the honored title of Recorder, you zealously have been performing this duty with diligence my lady.” Seraxia pushed in her chair and walked around her chambers, she came across the tall mirror close by her wardrobe. Zilya moved close and picked up a brush. “My lady has been neglecting her care after she received the tragic news, it is my wish you give me the honor to tidy up her person.” Zilya bowed as she made her request. Seraxia’s raven black hair that normally was a silken waterfall looked tangled and out of place, the amber strands that proudly noted her Kobei heritage became a grimy yellow. Her eyes remained a rich hazel with her freckles splattered across the bridge of her nose and cheeks, her skin still smooth and without blemishes, but the lack of sleep and the crying had made her face puffy and bags under her eyes made her seem far older than she was. She placed her hand on her right cheek, slowly moving upwards and stopping where her ear used to be. “The Empresses trusted me with this task Zilya, even with their deaths, I must continue in the name of the mother. You have my permission, please return me to my normal grace, I wish to travel.” That took Zilya out of her usual complacent appearance and a deeply concerned expression came about. “My lady wishes to travel, but where to, it is too dangerous to leave Angsa.” Seraxia was all too aware of the dangers, the destruction of Faran took the entire kingdom by surprise but it was the flight of the Hima Clan and the arrest of Lady Izen that broke the illusion of stability, it opened up old rivalries and mistrust between the great families of the realm. “The year is 430SE (Second Era) but this is truly the first year to a new age Zilya, the Age of the country at war, our people are in grave danger, more than they would like to think... I will travel across the lands before this gets worse, gather the lords who will listen and we shall form a coalition. By order of Empress Su, I shall not fail, I can’t fail or all under heaven shall suffer! With that in mind, in this age my dear Zilya nowhere is without dangers, we will have to brave the coming storms.” Zilya smiled and began brushing Seraxia’s hair with gentle strokes. “My lady has the gift of speech, with words like that, who would not listen to your call for a coalition, the mothers of the realm are sure to answer the call!” “We shall go southeast toward the ruins of Faran, Hedeira is the closest safe settlement before we enter into Wa Province, I believe this to be a good place to speak with the remnant of the Hima Clan, Lady Osha will refuse me here, I have become painfully aware of that as of late.” “The Osha are a proud but fickle clan when it comes to their interest, without the throne, they would likely become more self-absorbed hermits than they already are, forgive my blunt speech, my lady!” Seraxia laughed, the humor in that jest was sweeter than the best wines to her. The pair talked well into the night, stopping briefly as attendants came by to drop off food for the women, Zilya often took small breaks to take naps as Seraxia packed her belongings and sometimes conversing with her guards, one of which was a man named Hikaru, a scion of the impoverished Yasha-Shisa Clan. Hikaru along with his sister grew up with Zilya and all are steadfast attendants of Lady Seraxia as well as close friends. His sister served as Seraxia’s guard when Hikaru could not be present such as when meeting with other noble ladies and when she is in the restroom. “My lady is certainly generous, Hedeira is likely the best place as you say for those fleeing Faran to regroup at, but how are we to travel there without getting caught up in the fighting, I am but an adequate warrior at best, I fear I cannot fend off so many troops.” Hikaru always humbly spoke of himself. “You and your dear sister will be captains of my guard, as we travel, take down our banners and display the banners of traveling mummers, at least we will not have to worry about the warlords, as we get closer to Wa Province, it should be clear that my insignia must not be displayed.” Hikaru moved his hand to his chin but then caught himself before completing his habit, having such a long beard, he often took to stroking it while pondering. For many, his habit was something to be looked over, but for Seraxia it was an annoyance. “I think if we take the riverboats, it would be faster and safer for the trip, not to mention that most of the warlords are unlikely to take the Oyo as the river can handle only so much traffic.” Zilya approached with her belongings wrapped around her torso via cape. “Come to think of it, perhaps going by boat is smart, we already have a fine vessel, might as well keep her for this journey, what of the crew, do we have ample supplies to keep them fed?” Zilya spoke up this time. “We can go to the markets as we leave Angsa, I can go with Mizu and bring what we need my lady!” The skin around her fingers was callous and torn, her shoulders had long lines of purple and red that contrasted with her pale skin. Zilya had carried their belongings since they fled the capital. All told, Clan Osakabe had a humble number of retainers, Hikaru and his sister Mizu being the leaders of her guard, Zilya being the head of the remaining servants. “No my dear Zilya, I think I should go with Mizu and do this myself, you should rally everyone up for our departure.” Zilya gave a bow and departed the chambers to complete her order. “I shall tell Mizu to come to your quarters my lady, if it pleases you, I will go now.” “Hikaru,” she said sharply. “I am here!” “Have her wounds healed, I mean, enough to…” “The healers tried everything we could afford my lady, Mizu won’t be able to speak again.” That put Seraxia’s mind into a dark place for a moment, she fiddled with her thumbs, this habit was something Hikaru knew well. “She does not blame you, my lady, we serve to protect you from harm, she lost her voice, not because you made this happen, but because she was protecting her lady and our friend.” “How do you know for sure?” Hikaru laughed and twirled the ends of his beard. “Because we are twins, we can read each other without words needing to be said, Mizu is after all my elder sister, it is my duty to know what she is thinking.” Hikaru and Mizu were identical twins born simultaneously, but Mizu was shielding her brother they say since it was her head that appeared first for that split second, they declared she was the elder. “Hikaru is a name traditionally reserved for a son who is seen as a loving and dutiful child, your parents had the foresight that I’ve read only the gods themselves could wield.” They both laughed for a moment and Hikaru departed the chambers, Mizu soon came in and was informed of the plan, as everyone retired for the night. Seraxia laid out a scroll and began to write down a new entry. The Second Era is well into its fourth century, since the arrival of the golden comet that marked the end of the long first era, the Second Era has been one of progress and reconstruction of many of the races on Kanui, the great civilization of the Yasser, the region we now call Yasserheim has been under the direct rule of the Imperial Clan, but not all have been progressive. Since the eight century in the first era, the keepers of the great gardens, direct descendants of the goddess Bian, who was manifested on earth as the Lady Yubare were tasked with bringing fertility and peace to the desert lands. Her children became the Imperial Clan and for one thousand two hundred years, the clan has been the reason that Yasserheim has prospered so. The past is looked on by many as a time of great prosperity, so enthralled with days long gone, they ignored the rising embers, consorts became power-seeking and a series of feeble royals led to a decline in power, manipulated by their attendants. My name is Seraxia Osakabe, by the will of Empress Su and I was appointed as the Recorder of the Court seven years ago, but unable to fulfill my duties due to my house arrest. The days at court grew cold, ministers schemed against each other and power shifted to the hands of the Great Mothers of our kingdom. Their allegiances proved convenient as they embarked only on their gains instead of giving the court their words. Great changes during the current Era have shaken the status quo. The Consort’s War almost twenty years ago showed just how fragile the central authority had become, the consort Maskaris to the Empress Rin lost his status as consort-emperor and rebelled to install his disinherited but talented daughter on the throne, though lasting fourteen months, the war devastated the southern lands and allowed for it to be invaded by the Empire of Tasila to our east while they were still embroiled in their Imperial Wars (376-412) Years later in the year 419, the Empress Rin died and her niece and her daughter assumed the thrones as Empress Ko and Su respectively, both in the middle years and mother of a great many children. To our northeast, the famous Lord of the Green Horn, Wolfgang Azincor, known as The Magnificient, declared Hegemony of Aquitaine. In 421 while campaigning he came across a young Huna girl name Leira Quihadi and raised her alongside his children, years later after being accused of murdering the Crown Prince of Tasila, the Empire invaded Aquitaine, thus starting the War of the Red Crown, eventually being declared King by his people. Simultaneously, his famous adventuring brother, Sir Jean of Azincor rallied tens of thousands to join his expedition to the northern islands of Misklos and before the year was done, conquered major portions of that island, declaring himself King of Matilas and all the while taming two dragons it is said, both not of our Asha Naki family but a different species altogether. We took the time to ally ourselves with the brother Kings, reconquered the south, appointing various new clans to administer and safeguard the region. Peace came to our kingdoms in 426, followed by raising issues amongst the clan mothers. King Jean the Conqueror sent one of his Princes, Crown Prince Alucar, and his wife Matahari, one of the dragons subdued during the conquest to initiate trade contracts with our kingdom. Matahari the dragoness, a member of their self-named people, the “Calcamul” dragons that can transform into a similar form as us and mankind, was a marvel to behold and unlike the Asha, these Calcamul were completely interested in mingling with their peers. Many refused to deal with the upstarts, citing abuses and ignorance of proper custom, a lowly Crown Prince should not be able to directly speak to their Majesties, while Empress Su was eager to secure an alliance and trade, Empress Ko opposed it. Some believed the young Empresses should take to gaining favor with the newer race, but tradition sees the Asha as sacred and divine, and an offshoot of the dragon race to be seen as inferior. The dispute even trickled down to the peasantry, many forming Ashanko gangs that often battled with Camulas over land disputes and other trivial matters, representing the two dragons, each side believes it would guide them to victory. Trade opened up and many including myself prospered from this increase of goods. The people began experiencing a variety of luxuries and pleasure goods never before seen in our lands, the social order long thought sacred was turned upside down and many regional clans began to speak in court uninitiated, claiming that this new phenomenon would lead to a loss of central power, meaning theirs. The Empress Ko agreed with these clans, while Empress Su favored the others, a rift in court formed on that day, although no one said so, factions formed, and the mothers of the realm vied for recognition and power while still subservient to the Empresses in name. I gave my personal opinions on such matters to Empress Su, told her how the realm cannot suffer such division, but she assured me all would be fine, her children were working to unify the parties as one. The Third of these great events came almost two years later with reported feuding in the southern regions, the Clans there long chaffed from central interventions and disobeyed orders to cease their private wars. They burned crop fields, their urban supports firebombed homes, palaces and the peasants refused to work during such conflicts, hoarding their goods and becoming beacons to be sacked. Lady Hima led a punitive expedition south and exterminated both clans, in her report she spoke of dark images and incoherent ramblings from the inner walls of the last castle, Yarbol Castle. The siege was brutal by all accounts and those that survived still today speak very little of their time, but Lady Hima wrote in a report, “The kingdom needs its majesties as the natural order depends on those who sits on the throne. I implore you to unite our people, a storm is coming but from which direction I cannot say, believe me, those of us that sieged Yarbol, a cold wind will blow through the capital soon, for the good of the nation, you must prepare or flee!” This is the 4th of Sengu Shizo, Four -Thirty of the Second Era, I am Seraxia Osakabe, Court Recorder, appointed by her holy majesty herself...I cannot fail. Seraxia looked at her work with a reassuring smile, each character had emotion and each stroke was perfect, at last, the solution was completed. She placed down her brush, wiped the beads of sweat from her brow, and raised from her seat and onto her cot. Her eyes drifted, unfocused, and blurry until it all went dark. The morning was much the same as the last, sweat fell onto the decks in chunks at such a rate that people often needed to stop for water along the route. The river Oyo was left in a suspended state of low hanging mist that seemed to cling to the surface, panicking whispers muffled by the mist formed pockets of sound and as they moved slowly forward, a breach would form and the crew would listen to the eerie voices. An occurrence that was fairly common on the Oyo, many of the sailors lived on the river all their lives, but today was strange as the fog never let up, thankfully most were guided by the current, some ships weren’t so lucky and crashed upon embankments and rock formations. “My lady, should we go back below deck?” asked Zilya, her friend wielded a massive feather fan while holding an umbrella over Seraxia, earlier she tried to fan her mistress but found it causing more harm than relief. “Not yet, someone must keep an eye for the docks and the captain is down below getting healed.” Zilya looked at the fog surroundings and then looked up at the sky, it too was smothered by the mist. “Lady Seraxia has been exposed to this snarring mist for five hours, I suggest we go below and change, we should be in Hedeira soon.” Seraxia gave in, her blouse was soaked with sweat, and the makeup running down her cheeks stung as it dried in the heat. As they entered her cabin, Zilya already had make-up and wardrobe prepared much to her surprise. “How long have you had this set-out?” She asked, truly the sense of time was distorted by the heat, Zilya smiled. “Since noon, but you are here now, get ready my lady, I believe it will be docking soon, the captain was on his way up when we were coming in.” “Right,” Sure enough, through the port windows, She could see boats chained and linked together in rows as the ship came to a stop. After getting everything settled, Seraxia as well the rest of the crew below decks emerged. The mist wasn’t nearly as thick, the docks at Hedeira were home to the Xhorau, or the river people for those that don’t speak the eastern dialects. Most people on this sweltering day seemed to keep clear of the docks, no port official nor harbormaster came to greet them as they unloaded the ship’s haul. The few Xhorau they saw were older residents armed with their blowguns but no one paid them any mind, they watched vigilantly over their surroundings, but never in her direction. “Strange, this place is normally packed with officials, Hikaru, hear my orders!” The advancing sounds of his boots came echoing from behind her. He donned full armor complete with his custom facemask, a blue and golden dragon’s muzzle with ornate fangs. He bent his knee and lowered his head in obeisance. “Scout ahead and find where everyone has gone!” A melody formed from the flexible strings of a zither faintly could be heard as she gave him her orders, the sound didn’t go unnoticed by Hikaru as he rose to his feet and searched around. The mist cleared more as Hikaru led Seraxia off the pier and near the civil registry complex, the white and gold tiled roofs were signs of prosperity in this region, but the complex itself looked abandoned. “The music is getting louder my lady, have Mizu stay by your side, I shall go inside and inquire about this business.” “There would be no need of that young sir, it is no danger to you at all!” A voice from inside said calmly. Hikaru opened the door, the air inside was freezing but relieving from the heat as well. Playing the zither was an ancient elf who appeared to be youthful in his movements despite the advanced appearance of his person. “I take you to be the Recorder, you are an Osakabe hmm, of course, you are.” The melody he played continued without missing a note, the ancient’s eyes were closed yet his head followed Hikaru as he circled the room looking for any signs of strangeness. He had a ruddy complexion in his skin tone and his hair shined a glossy silver despite being indoors, his ears were prominent and featured many rings of gold. His beard was short and well-trimmed but he had very thin eyebrows, and he bore an insignia banner on his robe. “Wait,” She stared at the insignia and it dawned on her. The ancient laughed as he finished the melody. “I am Master Komai, of the Kamalu, and you are Lady Seraxia, heaven indeed is boundless, we have finally met!” “Seraxia bowed and Komai was suddenly raising her shaking his head while giving a Tsk-Tsk to her.” “You have been without knowledge so long my Lady, it is improper of someone with higher status to bow to an inferior, please do rise.” Seraxia did as she was asked, she felt hot, not from the heat but anxiety. “Inferior-No, no never, you are my superior, not only in rank but in age, please-” she said with haste, the words tripped over each other and he rose his hand to her, his eyes still closed all the while and the zither still stringing notes as if he was still there to pluck them. “Your heart races faster than a falling star, my lady would breathe a while, I am sure you have questions friends, I shall answer.” Seraxia’s subordinates gave a bow to the master and sat as he went back to his zither. “I am the Imperial Tutor Komai of the Kamalu Clan, most have not seen my face or person in a little over five hundred years or so. This is because I was imprisoned in the capital, first under house arrest within the palace, then in the last seventy-four years within the diamond dungeons beneath the Forbidden Palace. Still, I performed my duty with the use of various castings and incantations, puppet clones, and even occasionally through nothing more than pieces of parchment.” He began playing a new melody, the notes sounded like thousands of birds were chirping in unison, the master’s eyes remained closed throughout their entire interaction but now they opened, his eyes were small but the amber color shined beautifully, age has done nothing to dim his internal youth, inside him burned ten suns. “How did you come to escape the palace Master Komai?” Zilya asked. “A thief who was wondering the prison freed many of those locked down there, including me, sadly in the chaos that followed the death of her majesties, I was unable to stay with my savior, but I foresaw our path shall cross once more in a few days. The stars above shift, changing always much like our beings, but if one can read the stars successfully, they can get a message unlike any composed on earth. In this message, I saw this temple in danger, so I made my way north.” “In danger?” Hiraku asked the melody missed a note, Komai lifted his hands and fixed some strands of his silver hair that fell out of place. “The Allauti has risen once more, but I sense that once again, brave souls have come forth to fight this great evil of heaven, this temple was intended to be a breeding ground, to turn the God Ninniku’s holy site into a fountain of blood and bone.” Hikaru rubs his beard and sat silent as Komai continued. “The mothers of the realm have gone feral so to speak, without a majesty, the mothers fall back onto their primal desires, old grudges resurface, many argue over a bowl of rice that is half full, debating its use. There have been of course many attempts to curtail the violence, Lady Izen was the Imperial Regent for all of six months, but the implications of her children as members of the cult that killed Empress Ko and her heirs. Before the gates of this holy place, you will see the bodies of the fallen Allauti who came to attack, the mist has been unusual many of you have likely noticed...” He continued to play the melody without issue. “This is a casting of my design, Veil of Purification, I prepared this for nearly a decade to fight these cursed souls, the river Oyo just happened to be the best place to cast it; this heat, while intense has another source, purification is more or less under the element of Fire, to clear the undead, one must need to burn them.” Seraxia had not thought of that, though the annals say that without an Empress, the land of Yasserheim would turn against those who live on it, she was never well versed in the combative arcane, much less holy magic. “So you’ve been combating the undead this entire time, why is it the inside of this building is cold?” she asked. The zither strings snapped, Komai looked displeased. “Because of course, I don’t like the heat!” the ancient Komai began laughing. He rose and began walking in circles, as he did so, the windows and doors swung open and the mist came inside, then as if he was the drain of a sink, the mist came to him, and then it was gone. “The people of this temple have been evacuated by servants of the god Koshin, I do intend for both parties to meet here so that we can discuss how to restore heaven.” “Master Komai, we would need to find a princess to even start such a task, this was the edict given to my Lady, her majesty had many daughters and many have yet to give up their imperial seals.” “I am well aware Zilya Aun, it just so happens I know the whereabouts of four of her majesty’s children and one more imperial descendant.” The group began murmuring to each other before the master rose up and then bowed to Lady Seraxia. “Most do not know of the Osakabe heritage, but I was the one present when your great grandsires were demoted from the clan as a branch family, Lady Seraxia, you must use this to our advantage to restore heaven, only then can we bring the late majesties wishes to reality, announce your place as an Imperial Daughter!”
2020.09.16 23:08 StevenasaurusWe Are Operators Episode 9: Element E4 Part 2
3:13 PM Training Facility Aero kept his eyes closed as the hustle and bustle of the other operators around him in the precinct went on. Conversations, people checking their equipment, and the occasional sound of a gunshot from Jay's squad mate Eddron coming from upstairs constantly droned on as everyone waited for the vanguards to return from their scouting mission. “Captain,” Jinna's voice called. Aero opened his eyes. “Yes?” “Are you hungry?” Jinna asked as she brought out a ration bar from her pocket and presented it to Aero. “I'm fine, Jinna,” Aero said. “But thanks for the offer.” “Still, you should keep it,” Jinna said with a smile. Aero took the ration bar and put it in his pocket. “Thank you.” “So... Are you gonna tell us what's wrong?” Jinna asked. “Leave the poor guy alone, Jinna!” Chaser's voice called. Chaser came and wrapped her arm around Jinna's neck as if she were about to put her in a headlock. She left enough room for Jinna to breathe comfortably but definitely kept her tight enough so that her squirming couldn't get her out. “The Captain's problems are on a need to know basis. If you don't need to know, then you don't get to know; that's how it is with a chain of command!” Chaser explained. Aero was about to order Chaser to let Jinna go when he spotted Lukewarm and Yellow in the corner of his eye. “Hey! Let her go!” Lukewarm yelled. Lukewarm and Yellow arrived which prompted Chaser to turn to them with Jinna in tow. Chaser smiled and let Jinna slide out of her grip. “Jinna wasn't in any danger. Right?” “Yeah...” Jinna said while rubbing her neck. “If she was, she certainly wouldn't be looking as pretty as she does now wouldn't she? Although you know a thing or two about how pretty she is don't ya Lukey boy?” Chaser asked with a mischievous grin. “Shut up,” Lukewarm warned while pulling out his bow and swiftly readying an arrow, his cheeks starting to turn red. “Belt's not around to give you a good smack on the head so now's the perfect time to take the shot,” Yellow joked. Aero snickered. “Alright, guys, calm down. I'm fine if that's why you're checking up on me.” “I know it's need to know and all, but are we eventually gonna get the run down on what's got you down?” Chaser asked. “Eventually,” Aero answered. Chaser shrugged. “Good enough for me.” “Not for me,” Yellow said. “Come on, Captain. What's up?” Aero stood up and picked up his greatsword that was leaning against the wall before walking around the precinct with his squad following him. Eventually he came across Nearl who was approaching him. “Aero, I'd like to speak strategy with you for a moment,” Nearl called. Aero nodded. “Yes, ma'am. Everyone, go back to your business while I speak with Nearl.” Aero's squad bowed their heads and headed off in different directions while Nearl gestured Aero to follow her. He did as commanded and stayed behind her as she lead him to one of the interrogation rooms. At first Aero grew nervous about having to go back inside the interrogation room, but his anxieties were alleviated when he saw that Nearl had laid out a map of the battlefield on the table in the centre of the room. “With the guard precinct in our hands, I expect the enemy to form up all their remaining forces north to block our objective,” Nearl explained. Aero put down his greatsword so he could sit down and discuss with Nearl. However, he noticed Nearl was keeping an eye on it very obviously. Jay... you better have not... “Are you planning to move along the major avenue northeast?” Aero asked, trying to ignore Nearl's interest in his equipment. Nearl nodded. “The wide open space will allow our operators to move around freely. And if the enemy meets us, it will also provide a good space for our snipers and casters to attack the enemy.” “A major roadway like that will likely have lots of civilians around,” Aero warned. “We can only hope they flee the moment we approach. Although, that could mean the buildings on the flanks of the streets won't be an option if the civilians flee into them,” Nearl said. “Without the buildings,” Aero started, “I don't expect there to be much cover for us on the avenue. We don't have enough defenders to keep everyone protected.” “We'll know how much there is when the vanguards return,” Nearl said with a reassuring tone. Aero kept his eyes down on the map and crossed his arms. In the peripheral of his vision, he could see Nearl leaning against the door, looking hesitant. “I couldn't help but notice the initials on the crossguard of your sword don't match the name that was given to me when I was briefed on C1 and C2,” Nearl said. From the distance she was at, there was no way Nearl could've seen the initials unless she knew about it in advance. Aero gritted his teeth. “It belonged to someone else.” “From the looks of the craftsmanship, it must've belonged to a Kaizimierzian Knight,” Nearl said. She's leaning against the door so I can't leave... Jay... you bastard... As much as he felt he wasn't ready, it actually felt somewhat reassuring that he was going to get it out of the way now. After taking a moment to calm his uneasiness, Aero looked straight at Nearl. “Yes...” Aero said softly. “His name was Jaromir Antczak. You know him?” Nearl shook her head. “I've vaguely heard the name but never had the pleasure.” “He supported you all those years ago, before you were ousted,” Aero said. Nearl lowered her head and sighed. Her arms were crossed and her eyes fluttered for a moment before shutting completely. She stood silent for some time before raising her head back up and looking at Aero. “I can't imagine what happened after I left. The fact that you have his sword tells me he didn't make it out of the purges,” Nearl said with a solemn tone. Aero nodded, tears welling up in his eyes. “He was one of the few that didn't shut up when you left. He was sent on a suicide mission and was killed.” “What was he to you?” Nearl asked, giving off an impression that showed she knew the answer. “I was his squire,” Aero muttered. “I'm sorry,” Nearl said softly. Aero clenched his fists. “I never went back to the knighthood after that day. I just ran.” “It wouldn't have done you any good going back; they knew who you were and would never let you get knighted,” Nearl said. “The knighthood's only gotten worse ever since I left. No one wants to say anything now,” Aero said with a slight whimper. Nearl scratched her forehead. “Maybe it isn't worth saving in its current state.” “How can you say that?!” Aero yelled abruptly. “From the age of seven I devoted myself to the knighthood! It can still be saved!” Nearl held her hand out in front of her, staying Aero's rage. “Or it can be rebuilt.” “Rebuilt?” Aero asked. “My time travelling and being here at Rhodes Island have only strengthened my resolve for moving forward. There must be a new knighthood, one that fights for true chivalric ideals and for the rights of all, even the infected,” Nearl explained passionately. Could it be done? “Why not reclaim the knighthood and rebuild it from the inside?” Aero asked. Nearl sighed. “The Grandmaster and his senior knights have spent decades securing their positions; they will not give it up willingly. From a moral and strategic standpoint, it would be best to found a new order based on righteous ideals and rally the disgruntled people to overthrow the corrupt.” After all the years that passed, Nearl was still the knight Aero remembered her to be. It was common to hear to never meet one's heroes, but seeing her passion and sincerity still remain intact moved Aero to even more tears. Master, you didn't die for nothing after all... “If there was such an order... would you consider coming back to join it?” Aero asked reluctantly. Nearl paused to think about it for a moment before shaking her head. Aero looked down at the table and felt crushed at the reply. “Why not?” Aero asked. “I fight for all infected now,” Nearl declared. “A new knighthood may protect the infected in Kaizimierz, but what about the ones in Ursus or any other nation? There are people who need help everywhere and it's from Rhodes Island that we can reach out to all of them.” “That's noble... It was selfish of me to want you to come back. I was just... so nostalgic for those days,” Aero said, averting his eyes from Nearl. “Not entirely selfish,” Nearl interjected, “rebuilding the knighthood would save many others and help our people.” “Thank you for that,” Aero said, looking back at Nearl. Nearl smiled. “Those days, huh? Did you ever fight under my banner?” “When you rallied the knights to fight the rebel barons, Jaromir moved to answer your call. We were there when you avenged that slaughtered Elafian village and when you finally captured Casimir's fortress,” Aero answered, a brief smile returning to him. “You and your master have been around then. I'm sure he'll approve of where you are now wherever he's watching from,” Nearl said. “I think he does,” Aero said while wiping his eyes with his arm. “Just one more thing, did Jay tell you about this?” Nearl paused for a moment before nodding. “He did.” Aero grumbled to himself and clenched his fists. “He also told me to not go to you about this and wait for you to be ready to talk. He wanted me to know why you were so shy around me but also wanted you to speak to me when you were ready yourself,” Nearl said quickly. “Why'd you come to me then?” Aero asked, calming himself. “Because while this is only training, we're still in an active combat zone and I need all my operators on their highest effectiveness. You best be done dwelling on the past and be ready to fight now,” Nearl answered sternly. Aero stood up and clutched his chest where his heart was with his right hand, a standard salute for the Kaizimierzian Knights. “Like I said before: there's no need to salute. Get your squad ready to move; Fast Lane and Hoop have returned and I expect Jay and Belt to soon,” Nearl said. “Yes ma'am. Thank you... Nearl,” Aero said softly. 3:19 PM Training Facility Jay could feel his lungs imploding on themselves as he kept running with Belt right next to him. A crossbow bolt flew right past him and bounced off a newspaper box on the sidewalk of the avenue they were running down. Behind the two were several pursuing animatronics with crossbows that had suddenly moved to engage them when Jay was busy making a sketch of the enemy position. They had only recently caught up and began shooting as Jay and Belt were slowing down from exhaustion. “How much farther?!” Jay yelled, catching his breath between syllables. “Not that far! I can see the precinct!” Belt answered, looking unfazed. A crossbow bolt flew between the two of them. “Ah shit!” Jay yelled as he began running in a serpentine fashion. Belt continued to run straight and soon gained some distance while Jay maintained his evasive manoeuvres. “Jay! Just run straight! They're not accurate when they're running!” Belt warned. Jay did as suggested and ran straight but was unable to catch up to Belt as he still maintained his own pace. The suggestion however was good as the crossbow bolts were missing him or missing him just enough that he could feel the air of it whizzing by. “They don't lead their shots that good! When they're about to shoot, get a burst of speed and they'll miss!” Belt yelled back. “Easy... for you... to say!” Jay struggled to yell back. Belt began waving his arms in the air frantically. “Hey! Friendlies headed your way! We're being chased here!” Jay looked forward and could see the vague movement in the windows of the precinct. As he got closer, the vague movements became silhouettes which soon became familiar faces of snipers and casters pointing their weapons out the windows. On the second floor, he spotted Eddron pointing his pistol out of the window with a face that showed he was eager to pull the trigger. Jay immediately dived for cover in front of a car as a few shots from Eddron's pistol preceded the arrival of a barrage of arrows that all precisely struck at their targets. “Clear! Cease fire!” a voice called. Jay stayed down while his breathing regulated and his chest wasn't as pained. Before he could stand up, Belt's legs were in front of him and he looked up to see Belt offering a hand. “You can't run for shit, Jay,” Belt said while laughing. Jay took Belt's hand and stood up. “I'm not a marathon runner, I'm a sprinter.” “Come on, we only ran a few blocks,” Belt argued. “How many city blocks do they run in a 100 metre dash? Like one?” Jay argued with a smile. “Ah stop whining and let's go tell Nearl what we saw!” Belt said while slapping Jay on the back and leading him back to the precinct. As the two approached the door at the corner of the block the precinct was on, Nearl stepped out followed by several operators. Jay reached into his pocket and pulled out the sketch he made of the enemy formation. He unfolded it and presented it to Nearl when he stood in front of her. “The objective is a tunnel at the very far north. Just like you said, the avenue northeast and then heading north at the major intersection is the best way there. But it looks like every last animatronic still standing has formed up to stop us. It's a really good thing we dealt with this precinct now instead of later,” Jay reported. Nearl took the sketch and looked at it. “And what about the civilian animatronics?” “Most of them fled when we got chased by those crossbow bots. The way's pretty clear for now but they'll come back if things stay quiet for a bit,” Belt answered. “How did you get such an in-depth view of their formation?” Nearl asked. “I stood on a car and looked over the shieldwall. That's kinda how Belt and I got spotted,” Jay sheepishly answered. “Judging by how close their crossbows are to the shieldwall, I expect them to use a standard tactic in opening up gaps in their wall for the crossbows to fire through,” Nearl said. “We've got the firepower, but cover's not that good in the middle of the avenue. All we got are cars, lampposts, newspaper boxes, and other things on the sides,” Jay warned. Nearl nodded. “Then we'll have to split into two columns when we arrive at the intersection and advance along the sides in cover. Take a moment to catch your breath, but don't take long, I've already ordered everyone to move out.” Jay and Belt nodded as Nearl walked off to oversee a few other things. The next group of people to come out of the precinct was everyone in C1 lead by Aero. Jay looked away and pretended he was scouting something else as he could feel Aero's eyes on him. “Captain,” Belt called while saluting. “Everyone, move on ahead, I need to speak with Jay for a moment,” Aero said. Jay watched the operators in C1 walk by him while still feeling Aero's gaze on him. Knowing there was no escape, Jay turned around and faced Aero. The man's right hand was gripped tightly around the hilt of his greatsword as he approached Jay which only made him squirm. Oh god I regret everything! Aero gently placed his left hand on Jay's shoulder and nodded. “Thank you.” Jay didn't even get a chance to respond before Aero walked past him and joined his squad. He scratched his chin before looking at his hand and noticing it was shaking. Although, with the threat of an angry Aero gone, his hand eventually stopped. “Uh... You're welcome?” Jay whispered. “Jay!” Spark's voice called. Jay looked at the door to the precinct and spotted his squad leaving the building with their equipment. “Are you alright? You look terrible,” Spark asked with concern. Jay smiled and scratched the back of his head. “Oh I'm fine. Were you worried about me while I was out there?” “Of course I was worried!” Spark answered. She cares about me! “What would we do without our captain?” Spark asked abruptly. Aww man... “I totally saved your ass back there, Jay,” Eddron said with a smug grin. “You didn't hit a single thing; you're lucky you didn't hit Jay,” Meeka argued. “Whether you hit something or not, thanks for the covering fire at least, Eddron,” Jay said. “We're on the final stretch right? I can't wait for this to be over, I'm getting a little hungry,” Labcoat whined. Alabaster leaned his halberd against his chest and pulled out a ration bar from his pocket. “Miss Labcoat, you had two whole bars over the break. But if you're still hungry, you can have mine.” The last of the operators stepped out of the precinct which prompted Nearl to raise her hand for everyone to see. “We're all ready. Move out! Advance formations!” Nearl yelled. 3:28 PM Training Facility Jay tapped Alabaster on the back to halt him when he saw Nearl gesture for the captains to get to her position. Nearl's squad was positioned at the end of the wall of a building on the corner of the intersection of the avenue that lead north to the objective. Once his squad was halted and took a defensive position, Jay moved forward past C1 to Nearl who was kneeling with Aero. “The enemy's shieldwall is strong. We'll split up into two groups and advance on both sides of the street. With our advantage in snipers and casters, we can afford to engage at range to soften the enemy formation,” Nearl explained. “I can take my squad across the street,” Jay said. Nearl nodded. “I'll split my squad to take positions on both sides. Wave, Fast Lane, and Lyric, you're with Jay's squad for now. We open fire on my order.” Jay nodded and gestured Alabaster to come to him. After a doing the gesture a few times to get Alabaster to come, he eventually arrived with the rest of the squad. “Alright guys, here's the plan: we're gonna cross the street with some of Nearl's squad and move into range of the enemy shieldwall. From there, we hit them with everything we got to soften them up. Got it?” Jay explained. “Yep!” Labcoat acknowledged. “That avenue is too wide and open for us to just cross without being seen. The fighting will probably start as soon as we move,” Spark warned. “Yeah, you're right. With those shields, it's gonna be hard to see what the enemy's got going on behind them once things get going. Meeka, I want your drone in the air and getting a good view of the entire enemy formation,” Jay said. Meeka nodded and unfolded her drone that she was carrying like a football. “Got it.” “Alright, Alabaster, let's get moving,” Jay said while tapping Alabaster's back. Alabaster started moving up along the sidewalk and stopped once he was right next to Nearl. With two taps in quick succession from Jay, Alabaster started to sprint across the street. The rest of the squad along with several of Nearl's operators sprinted across the street to the right side of the avenue and took up cover positions behind cars, newspaper boxes, or Alabaster. Once the team was secure and Nearl was beginning to move on the other side of the avenue, Meeka let her drone fly in the air as high as it could. “They're moving a lot now. Crossbows are lining up behind the shieldwall,” Meeka reported. “They've spotted us. Move up along the cars,” Jay said while pointing forward. The operators stayed low along the cars as they moved forward. Ranged operators readied their weapons or primed their arts as the response from the enemy shieldwall was still silence. Suddenly, the shieldwall opened up with the animatronics tilting their shields forward, exposing animatronics with crossbows aiming them straight down the street. “Take cover!” Nearl yelled. Jay immediately got as low as he could as crossbow bolts either whizzed by or made loud thuds when they embedded themselves into cars. “Return fire! Hit the crossbows while they're exposed!” Nearl yelled. On Jay's side of the street, Spark, Eddron, and E4's caster Wave—a female Cautus—engaged the shieldwall. Bullets, strands of lightening, and crescent waves of destructive arts energy shot down the street from the right. Jay kept low but slowly made his way up to Alabaster who was standing at the final car of the line before a large gap between it and the next parked car. “Jay,” Alabaster called. “These are Ursus tactics, more specifically the guard regiments that handle domestic security. I know them well.” Training to fight an actual military seems above our paygrade. Why Ursus soldiers of all things? “Alright then, what's next after this?” Jay asked, not hiding the worry in his voice. “If they either take enough of us out or feel their crossbow fire isn't enough, they'll begin moving down the street to engage us in hand-to-hand combat. They'll advance in an orderly fashion with their shields which will make it hard for us to hit them,” Alabaster answered. Jay looked down the street and could see the ranged barrage barely making a dent in the shieldwall. Even after a few of the animatronics went down when a lucky shot got through the exposed portions, another animatronic immediately took its place. “My bullets aren't doing shit to those shields!” Eddron whined. “Well you're using rubber bullets!” Jay yelled. Eddron ducked down and reloaded his pistol. “Even if I was using real ones, I still think they wouldn't do shit!” “My lightening arts aren't doing much to those shields either!” Spark called. “Wave! What about you?” Jay asked loudly through the sounds of Eddron's gunshots. Wave was swaying her staff left and right, creating the crescent waves of her arts. “I can knock them over but I need direct hits for a kill!” “Nearl!” Jay called. Nearl didn't respond and was busy directing fire with Lukewarm and several of E4's ranged operators. Even after several attempts, the sounds of gunshots and arts drowned out his voice. He contemplated using his receiver to communicate, but even after being compromised, Nearl never gave the order to break radio silence. Labcoat pulled Meeka down when a crossbow bolt smashed the window of a car she was hiding near. “Watch yourself!” “Jay! They're bringing up a lot of guys with shields now!” Meeka reported as she regained her bearings. “Alabaster,” Jay called, “do you think they're gonna start moving on us now?” Alabaster closed his eyes whenever his shield shook from getting hit by bolts. “With us in two segments instead of taking up the whole street, the Ursus guards would exploit their numbers and advance straight through the middle and then surround both segments.” “That's not good! We have to warn Nearl!” Jay yelled. Jay contemplated running across the street but there were still a significant number of enemy crossbows still active. Biting the bullet, Jay put his finger to the receiver in his ear and tried to get as far as he could from Eddron, Spark, and Wave. “Nearl! I know you didn't give the order to break radio silence yet, but we're in combat! The enemy's getting ready to advance on us! Alabaster says they're using Ursus tactics and will rush straight between us to cut us off from each other!” Jay warned. “All operators! Begin falling back! Defenders cover the retreat!” Nearl replied. Alabaster took a prominent position at the front while everyone began moving back. The enemy crossbows immediately rushed out of the shieldwall and formed up into two firing lines with two rows each on both sidewalks, letting out a suppressing barrage by alternating fire between the rows. With the operators suppressed, Jay took a peek above the hood of a car he was hiding behind to see many of the shield and spear animatronics running forward down the avenue toward them. Jay looked back at Eddron, Spark, and Wave. “Aim for the shields! Forget the crossbows for now! We can't get cut off!” The ranged operators did as commanded and turned their fire on the shields who were already taking fire from Nearl's side of the street. As their flanks were exposed, many more animatronics fell from the ranged assault than before. However, there were simply too many and a large number of them managed to run past the defensive positions and begin wrapping around until everyone was surrounded. In a menacing display, the shield animatronics lowered their spears so a wall of thorns preceded their shieldwall. Everyone stayed still for a moment as the animatronics didn't move, simply waiting with their spears pointed out. Eddron, Spark, and Wave resumed shooting at the animatronics, but there were fewer gaps in the enemy formation and the ones that did fall were easily replaced by another. “We need someone that can make explosions or something!” Eddron called while shooting his pistol. Wave and Eddron began to adopt a new tactic where Wave would use her arts to knock down shields or enemies to expose gaps in the shieldwall so Eddron could shoot through. Spark also quickly got in on the action which took down a sizeable portion of the enemy. However, the animatronics adapted and reinforced their line and had the ones at the back row support the ones at the front, preventing them from falling from the force of Wave's arts. Alabaster started taking several steps back while Fast Lane and Lyric—E4's male Sarkaz guard—fell back to Jay's position. Jay in a panic tapped Alabaster's shoulder. “What happens now?!” “They'll choose which side to attack and crush them while keeping the other busy before finishing off the other side with everything,” Alabaster warned, a hint of fear in his voice. “Meeka! Which side are they focusing on?!” Jay called desperately. Meeka looked at her drone feed. “They're bringing up lots of shield guys for the other side of the street!” “Meeka! Where are the enemy crossbows?!” Spark yelled. “Still where they were! They're not doing anything!” Meeka answered. “What're you planning,” Jay asked. Spark climbed up onto a car and immediately shot out a great strand of lightening and let it run along the backs of the enemy shieldwall on Nearl's side of the street. Jay rushed to Meeka's side to see the damage Spark was causing with her rear attack. On the drone feed, plenty of animatronics collapsed which alleviated the pressure as Jay could see Nearl, Aero, and Belt putting in the most effort to hold back the encroaching mob while Chaser and several other E4 operators stayed back to protect the medics. Jay could see some of the animatronics in the shieldwall on his side of the street moving forward and readying their spears. He rushed to the car Spark was standing on and grabbed her to pull her down. In his haste, he wasn't careful and she ended up falling on him, causing her to land on his stomach which made him groan in pain as it felt like a really bad punch to the gut. Spark immediately got up and looked back at the five spears that thrust forward at where she was previously standing. After taking stock of herself, she helped Jay sit up while keeping his head low. “Thanks,” Spark said. Jay coughed while keeping his hands over his stomach. “No problem.” “Jay!” Nearl's voice called on his receiver. “Are you in danger of being overrun?!” Jay put his finger on his receiver. “No, ma'am!” “Break out of your encirclement and open us an escape route!” Nearl commanded. “Yes, ma'am!” Jay replied. Jay looked around at the shieldwall surrounding his side of the street. After their attempt on Spark, the enemy was beginning to advance on them, favouring the sidewalk as the parked cars provided a makeshift wall. “We gotta break out somehow,” Spark said. “They don't have that many on us, maybe we could try to rush out and break their line,” Jay said. Meeka crawled over and showed Jay the drone feed. “It doesn't look good on Nearl's side. They're running out of space with all those spears pointed at them and closing in.” “If we focus everything on those guys blocking the way behind us, we could break the encirclement and encircle them back!” Spark suggested. Jay nodded. “Sounds good. But how do we do that?” “We get Labcoat mad,” Spark said. “Are you kidding?” Jay asked. “We haven't used that in a long time. How do we know she won't turn around and kill us?” “Think you can break through on your own?” Spark asked. Jay reluctantly shook his head. “Alright, but I'm gonna ask Labcoat if it's okay first. Labcoat!” Labcoat crawled over to Jay, dragging the claws of her gauntlet along the sidewalk. “What do you need me to do?” Labcoat asked. “We need you to get mad,” Jay answered bluntly. Labcoat's eyes widened. “What?” “We can't break out of here. We need you to do what you do best,” Spark said. “I dunno guys, I've been working on getting a handle on being angry lately, but it still might not be enough; I might turn on you guys,” Labcoat warned. “We'll give you a good ol' slap and then quickly get behind you so the first thing you see is the enemy. Will that work?” Spark asked. Labcoat shrugged. “I don't know.” “No time to waste, Nearl needs our help now!” Jay called as he stood up and rushed over to the part of the shieldwall blocking their rear. “Everyone form up on Jay!” Spark called. Wave and Eddron stopped engaging for a moment and joined Jay while Alabaster covered Fast Lane and Lyric as they retreated to Jay's position. Labcoat walked to the front of the spearhead the operators were forming and took a deep breath as the spears from the enemy shieldwall got closer. Jay got in front of Labcoat and looked at her, receiving a reluctant nod from her. “Let me stand behind her, if Miss Labcoat cannot control herself and turns on us, I will use my shield to protect you,” Alabaster declared. Jay smiled. “That's real brave of you, Alabaster.” Jay raised his hand to give Labcoat a slap but hesitated, even with the tips of the enemy spears getting dangerously close. Damn it! I can't bring myself to hit a girl, especially when she's got a deadly weapon that could kill me really quickly! Suddenly, Spark stepped in front of Jay and gave Labcoat two slaps in quick succession before pulling Jay behind Alabaster. “Ah! Bitch!” Labcoat exclaimed. “I thought Jay was going to do it?!” Labcoat immediately turned around and raised her gauntlet at Alabaster's shield, prompting a whimper from him. However, she immediately stepped out of the way of an incoming spear and let out a ferocious battlecry at the animatronics before turning to them and charging them instead. “Oh thank god she's fighting the enemy! Move forward!” Jay called. Labcoat grabbed a shield and pulled it away from her so she could claw the exposed animatronic. Taking advantage of the gap before it could be filled, she dived in and mercilessly dug her claws into anything around her, making an even bigger gap. Jay charged forward with his spear and dug it straight into an animatronic that was turning to respond to Labcoat. Other melee operators joined in and soon the encirclement was broken with Eddron, Spark, Wave, and Meeka rushing away from the fighting to set up a firing line. Jay looked behind him and saw the animatronics advancing on him from the other side of the sidewalk were charging forward. “Go! I will handle them!” Alabaster yelled while he turned around and stuck the shaft of his halberd into the slot of his shield and planted it on the ground. With Alabaster holding the enemies trying to advance along the sidewalk, everyone spread out along the avenue and formed a new battle line while a way out opened for Nearl's team thanks to ranged fire. Operators from C1 and E4 poured out of the gap while Nearl was the last to leave, swatting away spears and shields alike with her warhammer. Without the enemy encirclement, it was an actual battle between two sides instead of a trap. It was hard to move around with the dozens upon dozens of shattered animatronics laying on the ground; operators and animatronics alike almost tripped over the wreckage of the once formidable enemy shieldwall. The enemy animatronics started to fall back and form a new line from one side of the street to the other. Labcoat tried to run after them alone but Jay was able to catch up with her and get a few pats to the back of her head. “Did we win?” Labcoat asked as she turned around and inspected the wreckage. “Almost,” Jay said while pointing at the remaining enemies and catching his breath. With the enemy shieldwall rebuilt, everyone hesitated and waited as they watched the massive wall of shields and spears. Even if they wanted to move, many of the operators looked tired from the sudden burst of fighting and were catching their breath or covering others that needed to. “Ranged operators! Get on the cars!” Nearl yelled. The enemy had gave enough ground that they were a respectable distance away from the closest cars to the operators' battle line. Spark, Eddron, Lukewarm, and E4's ranged operators climbed onto cars and started shooting at the shieldwall or crossbows still holding back. “There's not that many of them left! We get these guys and the crossbows and we're clear!” Meeka called after looking up from her drone feed. Arts, arrows, bolts, and bullets thrashed the enemy line. While the shields held well, the few shots that shot over the shields were able to hit the animatronics standing behind the front row. “Watch for crossbow return fire!” Jay warned. The ranged operators immediately got on their knees or moved onto the hoods of the cars they stood on to prevent the enemy crossbows from getting a good shot on them. As more and more spears dropped, Jay could see Chaser rolling her shield on wheels to the front of the operator battle line. “Captain! I think it's about time we do that thing I wanted to try!” Chaser yelled. Aero ran up to Chaser. “Now?” “Come on, Captain, you always said in training we didn't need it but I think we need it now,” Chaser argued. “What's your plan?” Nearl asked as she approached. “We take my shield on wheels and push it as hard as we can right into that shieldwall like a wrecking ball,” Chaser explained with a smile on her face. Jay watched the enemy animatronics attempt to have the ones at the rear hold their shields up high to protect against ranged attacks. Their inability to have a shield up along the entire line was a good sign. “The enemy line's gotten really small. I think it could work,” Jay said. Nearl nodded. “Clear a path through the wreckage for Chaser's shield!” Defenders moved forward while the ranged operators continued shooting so everyone else could start dragging away the destroyed animatronics. Within minutes, a lane had been cleared to the enemy shieldwall. “I need some really strong operators to get this thing moving!” Chaser called as she readied herself on the little platform behind her shield. “Belt! You're up!” Aero yelled. Jay waved at Alabaster. “Alabaster! You too!” “Everyone be ready to move as soon as Chaser's shield launches at the enemy,” Nearl commanded. Alabaster and Belt put down their weapons and each grabbed a side of Chaser's shield. “On my command,” Nearl said as she raised her shield. A sudden golden light burst out of her which almost blinded Jay and forced him to close his eyes and cover his face. Even before he could open his eyes, he felt reinvigorated, not needing to catch his breath anymore and the aches in his arms from all the fighting he did had dissipated. Nearl pointed her warhammer at the enemy. “Now!” Alabaster and Belt ran forward with Chaser's shield in tow. As they gained more speed, Chaser's shield began to lag behind the two of them which started to make their ensemble look like a slingshot. When they were close enough, Belt yelled something which made him and Alabaster immediately stop and push Chaser's shield forward to launch it at the enemy. “Charge!” Nearl yelled as she ran ahead. Jay went after her followed by everyone else. Just as planned, Chaser's shield smashed through the shieldwall and created a large gap that was immediately exploited by the snipers and casters. The enemy began falling back to reform a new line but had become disorderly due to their lack of numbers. More and more gaps formed that were also shot through by the ranged operators. “Snipers and casters! Focus your fire on the enemy crossbows now!” Nearl ordered as she was the first to arrive at the enemy line and engage. Jay let out a yell as he charged forward with his spear. He was only able to run it into an enemy shield but kept the animatronic busy enough for Labcoat to run past and claw it in the side. The enemy battle line had finally collapsed completely and the snipers and casters were finishing with mopping up the crossbows. Soon, the battlefield was clear as the remaining animatronics either retreated or were a pile of scrap metal at the feet of the operators. “To the objective! Advance formations!” Nearl called as she moved forward with her squad. Jay hastily gathered his team back into their advancing formation and followed E4 and C1 to the tunnel at the end of the avenue that lead to the other side of the battlefield. The moment Eddron—who was at the rear of the formation—stepped into the tunnel, a buzzer sounded which signalled the end of the exercise. Along with the buzzer was a green light that turned on above a door at the end of the tunnel. Everyone began clapping, cheering, and patting each other on the backs. Jay collapsed his spear back into a baton and put it in his pocket before wiping the sweat off his brow. He looked around at his team who were all relieved the exercise was over. “I definitely got more than you,” Eddron boasted to Spark. I doubt it, but you've definitely gotten a lot better at shooting, Eddron. Spark rolled her eyes. “You really think so? I defi- You know what? I'll let you have this one.” Atta girl. Way to deal with those competitive impulses of yours. “That was actually quite exciting,” Alabaster said, “I'm glad we made it through.” You definitely got a little scared throughout this whole thing, but you've definitely come a long way, big guy. Jay looked at Meeka and smiled. “Your drone was very helpful. You did a good job.” “Thanks,” Meeka said softly as she hovered her drone in front of her so she could take it and fold it back up, her cheeks starting to turn red. Looks like she's starting to care. Labcoat took off her gauntlet and sighed from exhaustion. “I wonder what they've got in the cafeteria tonight.” Heh, always thinking about food. At least she's taking the junk food restrictions well now. Jay couldn't help but smile. Today's exercise was the most intense and difficult mission they ever took part in, especially since both sides used actual weapons and yet they prevailed. As a bonus, they most definitely made a great impression on Nearl and her squad. Still, he did have a strange feeling about having to go up against tactics employed by actual armed forces. He wanted to wave it off as some sort of challenge mode in training, but the regulation of diets and formation of Element E4 gave him the sneaking suspicion this wouldn't be the last time he would encounter military tactics. “Hey, Jay,” Spark called. Jay turned to Spark. “Yeah?” “Thanks for saving me back there,” Spark said with a smile. Jay shrugged while adopting the coolest expression he could muster. “Anytime.” There's a chance! A softer-sounding buzzer caught everyone's attention as the door at the end of the tunnel opened to reveal Dobermann stepping out with a clipboard. “Impressive for a first run,” Dobermann started, looking over a few sheets of paper on her clipboard. “You took a bit longer than I would've liked but I am satisfied with how the element worked together to overcome the odds we put against you. I want you all to run the operation again, this time, take a different route.” Ah shit, here we go again. Groans of displeasure came mostly from the reserve operators. “No complaints! Let's get back to the starting area!” Nearl yelled.
100+ Villain Concepts Have you ever had an idea for a villain, not fully fleshed out, but with a cool appearance, backstory or abilities that you just can’t get out of your head? Feel free to contribute here! I’m sorting out credits so that everyone gets credited with their respective ideas, but for now, if you want to see who came up with who, visit my original post. Also, I might plan to use some of these for my campaigns, so if the name Olivia Ravafiel means anything to you, please go no further!
A black dragonborn warlord with part of his face melted away by acid to reveal muscle and sinew, kinda like Two-Face. Perhaps this was due to a deformity in his draconis fundamentum, that made his acid breath hard to control, or vice versa. Perhaps this was the work of a rival that he vowed to one day destroy. Maybe he hides this deformity behind a mask or visor, or broadcasts it to his victims, terrifying them before their inevitable demise.
A teifling assassin, cursed with hard-to-control teleportative powers, that had the tip of his tail cut off. He replaced it with a poisoned war barb, to whip around and stab people with, and learned to control his power and use it to his advantage. His name? The Nightcrawler. (I’d recommend giving him misty step as a bonus action.)
An Oblex that lives in the town’s sewers, puppeting the townsfolk
An insane doppelgänger con artist with a complex Scooby-Doo-esque plan in mind
A reclusive but kind old wizard-druid who loved animals and nature, and lived in the catacombs under a small village’s chapel. Despite his creepy home he was well loved among the villagers, and often helped the clerics tend to the wounded and sick. One day he stopped turning up above ground. People say he had been studying something he refused to talk about. Unbeknownst to the village, the man had discovered a book of dark magic and arcane research. The book slowly started to corrupt the old man’s mind as he tryed to learn its secrets, and with it his goals and means to achieve them. Years later, the catacombs have been sealed up for decades, and everyone thinks he’s dead, but some say they hear, now and again, tapping noises. Someone... or something... is digging!
A bandit lord that’s been experimenting with hemomancy (blood magic) to create unethical new spells
A False Hydra
A crazy gnomish artificer that designed (and now haunts) a Death Trap Manor (bonus points if it has rooms that move like a Rubik’s Cube)
An awakened farm animal seeking to spark a revolution and have its revenge on its handlers
A kind old wizard, possibly with memory problems, who unknowingly became a lich. The PCs are sent on a noble quest to slay the evil Lich-King, and find this old man that wants to help them. Later they come across the Lich’s lair, only to find out the old man is the lich.
As an added twist, all the evil stuff said to have been done by the aforementioned “Lich-King” or his minions, is actually being done by a dragon or other villain trying to frame the old wizard. The wizard, after the realization HE’S the lich, and there’s no way he would do this stuff, helps the players defeat the real BBEG.
The Black Swan: Your players have been hunted by (or were hunting) this legendary assassin for a while now. Perhaps they were employed by the BBEG, perhaps they sought revenge for a past slight, etc., etc. But whatever the reason, it’s all come down to this... The sky sparkles with stars over the cityscape, a crisp night-air breeze drifts from the open window. There is an unnatural whoosh of air. One player stirs in his sleep, opening a single eye. It widens in horror as the tall siloheutte fills the window. The figure’s wings flare, looking every inch an angel of death as it’s plague doctor-like mask scans the room. Beady black eyes glint from behind the mask, the knife gleaming in the moonlight... Two of them are dead before they even draw their weapons, and the rest are quickly and brutally dispatched... The last one struggles to get up, but his calf was slashed horribly. In desperation he seizes a lantern and smashes it in front of him, setting a fire between him and the assassin before swinging the shattered lantern at their mask’s beak... the assassin takes the blow unflinchingly, the glass shards tearing a gash across it. As the mask falls to tatters into the flame, the adventurer recoils at the sight of his killer’s true visage: that of a beautiful white swan. The mask’s “beak” was a real beak. A swan aarockroa. As the adventurer drifted into unconsciousness, the Black Swan tore into his flesh, beak and blade working in unison, he manages to utter, “You aren’t black...” ...A drunkard stumbles out of a nearby pub, as he looks up from vomiting, he spots a black shape moving across the sky, just as he passes out he hears the words “Fire! Fire on the top floor! Fire!”.... (Sorry for the creepypasta, this is just how I visualize this villain going about things. If you want my advice, have a mystery; someone’s been brutally murdering adventurers all over the city, the building’s they’re found in burned down.)
A humble peasant that fights off adventurers that think they can just tramp all over his land take what they want. The more and more adventurers he just manages to defeat, the bigger the stockpile of magic items, weapons, loot, etc. from them he collects. More and more adventurers come to get this growing pile of loot, and Humble Peasant is forced to build up defenses, tame rare creatures as guards, make traps, etc. Eventually he realizes he’s created the ultimate dungeon and no one will ever leave him alone now. Cue mid-life crisis.
A Triton TidecalleMage, who has succumbed to the whispers of the Lurkers in the Deep. Now they seek the downfall of the Triton Kingdom to further their Masters Plans.(Underwater Adventures need love too.)
A Eladrin Rogue, who has worked for several Enemies of Party, but always manages to get away and is incredibly smug about it. They just enjoy killing beloved NPCs and cause property damage.
A Hobgoblin Warlord Artificer, who has equipped his soldiers with all kinds of Steampunk-Gear. They is hoping for World Domination(although a decent sized city would be a good start), while working on their biggest Projekt: An Iron Colossus.
A Bugbear Chieftain who killed their Hobgoblin Commander and took over the Legion. Their surprising Intelligence and Wisdom has bought them the Loyalty of the entire Legion. Even the lowest Goblins feel appreciated. Now they conquered the nearest Town.
A Goblin Masterthief who leads the towns Thieves Guild. Thanks to their discrete Methods of communication, almost the entire guild doesn't know their Leader is the proprietor of the "Stone Sheep" Inn by the town gates.
A Copper Dragonborn Town Guard who takes bribes and works together with the Thieves Guild. They do this purely for the money.
A Duergar Mercenary Captain who works for any villian who can pay their prices. They are exiled royalty of his people and wants to amass riches to prove themselves.
A horrifically ugly half elf Sorcerer. She has a crooked noise, terrible skin, patch hair, etc. She is absolutely obsessed with beauty and uses magic to charm individuals she finds beautiful to follow her and worship her for her beauty. She often walks around with glamours and will go great lengths to avoid seeing herself.
A golem that has become sentient, murdered it's creator, disguised itself as it's creator, and is making more bothers and sisters (golems) to take over the country by murdering and switching places with random NPCs
The spirit of an ancient tyrant, who was imprisoned inside his armor .
An ancient pharaoh who has risen from his ancient grave, to claim the lands that once belonged to him
An industrialized nation, ruled by highly militarized necromancers, who after fusing technology and magic, they've managed to raise a powerful army of undead beings prepared for combat.
A powerful gang of pirates who travel across sea, sky and land, thanks to their magically enhanced ships.
A changeling serial killer named “Smiler.” They exclusively kill servants of the good aligned gods and then dress up and pose their bodies in a way that mimics that god’s physical description. The twist is that the mask they wear (white porcelain, vacuous eyes, unnaturally wide smile) actually contains the personality of Smiler and the changeling is an unwitting host. Smiler is actually a serial killer from ages past who served one of the demon lords and whose soul now inhabits the mask. They attempt to fully possess anyone who finds it or tries to use it thus continuing their killing spree across centuries.
A priest of a forgotten god, who's Family used to live in luxury, being the vhosen ones of said god. Their whole Town got destroyed by extremists of another Religion in their past, and prayig to their god is now forbidden. Now the only one left of their Clan, they have to pretend to be a cleric of a local deity in order to make a living and to prevent being hunted down. The local deity ist the one of the extremists who burned down the priests home, and they long for vengence. They want to bring back their old god to it's former glory, and have already prepared a blood ritual in secret. Every person in the small village they are in got marked with an invsible rune, and will be sacrificed once the ritual is complete.
A mad gnome artificer in love with a necromancer. The couple spends their time tinkering with ways to augment undead creations with cybernetic limbs and organs
an Awakened flock of carrion birds such as ravens, crows, vultures, etc. They’re a hive mind, secretly plotting to start a war so the eating will be good
an ancient vampire, centuries old, who is dicking around with the political factions in a large city because he’s bored
a Jack-the-ripper style serial killer, who seems to be following the steps to a dark ritual. Is he mad or is there much more danger here
a real estate developer who has figured out a way to legally seize all means of production in a town, making him/her the de facto ruler
a barbarian warlord, scarred by a wizard’s spell and determined to save the world from the dangers of the written word
a madder-than-usual but incredibly charismatic Kua-toa street preacher who has figured out how to channel other species’ beliefs into god generation.
a mindflayer who claims to be exposing the lies about his species (that they’re from the far future, that they’re from the Far Realms, etc.). But are they telling the truth or are they up to something even more subtle?
an elvish gourmet who has developed a taste for sentient species
moonbeast who has lost its “moonstone”
one of the party’s former enemies, returned as a revenant. It has a year in which to get its bloody revenge on them and will stop at nothing to do so.
a dark circus cult, making its own freaks for their freak show
a powerful religious group which is slowly falling into evil. They have churches and followers everywhere and even the country’s ruler is an adherent. Gradually, their methods and tactics become more and more vicious and bloody. Has their god become corrupted or are there darker force at work within the church?
a sentient and predatory “leak” from the Far Realms that seems to be doing what it can to expand and force its way into the Material Plane. It’s normally invisible/undetectable due to its abnormal physics at work, but its influence can be seen in warped objects, mutated people and animals, unnatural growth of weird plants and fungi. Think “Color Out Of Space” but with an agenda
a fallen godling or demigod whose followers were on the losing end of a religious inquisition. It no longer has the income of faith necessary to keep it as a deity and desires that more than anything. It’s willing to do whatever is necessary to get back to Celestia.
an artificecleric of a mechanical deity who has figured out the way (special prayers/words in a lost language) to hack the Modron hivemind and ultimately reality itself
Stubs, a seemingly inept and clumsy goblin scout. The party is positive they’ve killed him multiple times, yet here he is again, seemingly keeping pace with them levelwise.
The PC's deceased spouse. Their love for the PC led to them refusing to pass on. They will attempt to take the PC away so they can be together, forever. In death, they have become far more manipulative and subtle than they ever were in life.
A dragon, out to protect the world from an extradimensional invader. He is attempting to conquer the world in an effort to bring everyone together against the alien- which is actually not hostile.
Fate itself. One of the PCs is destined to bring doom upon the land, and unless they figure out how to cheat fate or bring about the prophecy in a non-destructive way, terrible things will ensue.
Leader of a crime syndicate who has developed an immunity to poisons. Often has fun confronting their posioner(s) by sipping the food/drink and trying to dicern the poison based on taste. Takes a liking to those who come up with new concoctions.
Scratches, a Cranium Rat Swarm who taunts the players telepathically, refuses to leave highly populated areas, and refuses to expose more than one or two rats at a time. It uses Command and Dominate Monster to make life miserable for the party, and thinks honorable combat is stupid crazy talk. It dominates guards into attacking the party, arrest them, etc. It dominates people into assaultring them or accusing them of crimes. It Commands nearby people to strike at them or scream or dive into harms way, anything to cause problems, hurt people or the party, all the while calling them fools for not joining the collective under its illithid masters.
A military general leading a medium sized militia. Not happy with the outcome of a war years past, they plan to “finish” a battle that’s already over.
The leader of a deadly cult. He has convinced hundreds to sacrifice themselves to a false god, and he plans to convince thousands more.
A simple baker, who sells poisoned food to the townsfolk. Whether through dumb luck or their own genius, it’s almost impossible to trace the string of illnesses back to them.
A greedy religious leader, funneling donations to the church into their own pockets. Lately the donations have turned less voluntary.
Deep in an alchemist’s forgotten laboratory lies a brain in a jar. The brain’s original owner is long dead, but it’s psychic influence spans miles. It’s built an army of less intelligent beings, from wild animals to the undead.
A gnome druid who was made fun of by his tinkerer pals. He retreats into nature, building a nature army to return to the city to get his revenge.
A lich whose body was destroyed by past heroes, but his phylactery was merely damaged. After some time, his head and one arm regenerate, attached at the neck. He is now carried around by a Goliath bodyguard, as he pursues means to regain the rest of his body.
The Black Winged Maiden - This beautiful black winged Aasimar had his sense of justice distorted by the BBEG and see herself as the savior of the this world (because of her wings or just for being an Aasimar) and see the PCs (or PC) as impostors that should be eliminated. She even could be arrogant with normal people, but she should be very obsessed with the PC (s). In my campaign she was the nemesis of a PC and a very good lancer user. Also made her wings a bit more powerful, granting not only a very good mobility but also a extra defense.
A military general leading a medium sized militia. Not happy with the outcome of a war years past, they plan to “finish” a battle that’s already over.
The leader of a deadly cult. He has convinced hundreds to sacrifice themselves to a false god, and he plans to convince thousands more.
A simple baker, who sells poisoned food to the townsfolk. Whether through dumb luck or their own genius, it’s almost impossible to trace the string of illnesses back to them.
A greedy religious leader, funneling donations to the church into their own pockets. Lately the donations have turned less voluntary.
Deep in an alchemist’s forgotten laboratory lies a brain in a jar. The brain’s original owner is long dead, but it’s psychic influence spans miles. It’s built an army of less intelligent beings, from wild animals to the undead.
Kay'ren: A ruthless thug that, upon entering any establishment, will immediately demand to speak to it's proprietor. They will then loudly and aggressively complain about things that never happened or that annoy them about said establishment. They refuse to leave unless they receive complimentary services and physically witness the termination of several employees. If confronted and forced to leave, they will immediately begin destroying any and all products within reach and then fall to the ground wailing until the guards come to slap them on the wrist and escort them to their VERY fancy carriage.
A man who came into his necromantic magic after his wife died. He delves ever deeper into necromancy to find a way to bring her back as she was, not a mindless husk or a bloodthirsty monster. So he decides to do some good while buying himself time. For the low price of a year of your life he will bring the shade back for an hour. For your soul he'll shove the shade into a corpse and bring your loved one "back".
A person who believes that everyone on the world is them. Therefore in order to experience everything life has to offer they go about "helping" themselves with all the various ways on can die
A group of thugs who carry the weapons and wear the uniforms of a military unit of the distant past, led by a charismatic commander with the personality of a commander of the distant past.
A flea which was subjected to a size-changing magical effect and grew to twice the height of a person (a la Monster In Paris), and is leaping all around the city scaring people. Perhaps it is savage and animalistic, or perhaps merely kindhearted and misunderstood.
The Horsemen - a BBEG and three lieutenants, all in the vein of the biblical Four Horsemen. The party need to travel the land to acquire allies and artefacts to defeat the Horsemen one at a time. The Horsemen have divided up portions of the land and subjected the residents to their own brand of horrible hellscape - Pestilence, Famine, War and Death.
In a politically charged city a Young Noble girl told a lie to get out of trouble. This could be political, religious or some other nature. A group of evil advisors then used this to start a civil war, and the chain of events were too far gone for the girl to admit the truth. She is now used as a symbol for this revolution and has no choice but to play along.
Reginald Run-Ragged: A greasy-looking guy wearing red greasepaint and fake horns. He’s convinced several people that he is a devil, and won their souls through hard work and creative interpretation of the wording of bargains. His ambition is to accumulate enough souls to ascend as a diabolical divinity, and has a squad of effectively powerless warlocks from past bargains to do his bidding.
Prioress Esmerelda: Head of a remote nunnery with suppressed sorcerous talent that’s slipped out of her control as she’s gone senile. The nunnery and everyone in it is caught in repeating the fractured dramas of Esmerelda’s misremembered life.
Mustn’t-Tarry Bitterberry: A folkloric bogeyman of the region, a fey killer exiled from the Wild Hunt for his sheer brutality. Likes to kidnap people, or find people wandering the woods, and set up elaborate and deadly pursuits that always end with him lopping off their head as a trophy.
The CEO emissary for an eldritch horror. He has used the vast knowledge of the elder brain to introduce futuristic technologies which have made him an incredibly wealthy businessman. Everyone celebrates this man as a genius and hero, but they don't realize that the smog and tarmac make the perfect habitat for eldritch horrors, and having a long lived, subservient populace makes for an excellent livestock pen.
A warlord turned conquering emperor that had gotten in way over his head with a devil that he made a deal with.
The inventor of the firearm, come to arm the serfs and lead a bloody revolution against the bourgeoisie.
A world famous bard that has taken grave insult to a minor slight someone in the party has made about them. They now use their vast influence and the power of public opinion to make the party's lives a living hell.
A socially awkward dragon with severe anxiety and acid reflux. Every time someone has come toward his cave he has belched fire on them and is far too nervous to set the record straight.
The headmaster of an adventuring school. His philosophy of "laws are made to restrain the powerful" has churned out very well trained, well optimized, strike teams of murderhobos who fix problems, but cause even bigger problems.
2020.09.16 17:27 Samara_Buckley_DerbyThe Beginning of the End: Chapter 11: Entering Munich
Summary:Fighting immortals is a sweetheart job for someone obsessed with the afterlife. Dying on the job, however, is cutting it too close. However, Julian's curiosity with the great beyond pushes him a little too far, back to the land of the living and cursed with a damned soul, just like the immortals he's sworn to fight... Subscribe to UpdatesCover art First ChapterPrevious ChapterNext Chapter Espionage may as well have been Matti’s middle name for how well he took to it. It wasn’t, of course. That honor went to the dubious name Casimir, probably after someone important, which he’d have learned if he’d had ever thought to grill his parents. He hadn’t, not in the sixteen years he’d lived under their roof, nor in the following four years of school. And he certainly hadn’t asked when he started sniper school nor since officially enlisting. He hadn’t spoken to them since. Too dangerous. And dangerous was how Matti liked it. He was yet to have a real reason to believe his life was in danger and until he felt that, he had no problem pushing the envelope. Which is why he was perched in the back of a helicopter heading out to Munich on a mission intended to intercept one of the deadliest immortals at an active civilian airport with nearly two dozen soldiers, some of whom were legally dead, while most were shoot-on-sight traitors. Could it get any better? “Find anything, Matti?” a cool voice asked in his ear. “Clear for now, Pooja.” He gave the Colonel a reassuring smile and she nodded, returning to the cockpit. Last names had never suited him and as a renegade, he wasn’t obligated to use them. It was easier to empathize with an Amy or Markus than with a Brown or Khan. Knowing the name they heard from friends and family humanized them and that was important when lives were on the line. They usually just thought he was being cocky and rude and he had no need to dispel that theory because, as a renegade, they were going to think he was an arrogant prick anyway. It wasn’t even really a lie, so… The helicopter they all sat in—Matti, Julian, Pooja and her two operatives, Kyline, and her squad—was borrowed from Omicron HQ. No way could Schmidtt’s usual helicopter fit the nearly two dozen agents, so Pooja had pulled some strings. There was enough room to comfortably walk around, especially with the others mostly strapped in, a fact that Matti gladly took advantage of, roaming from window to window, popping up his binoculars to scan for any aircraft that might be flying under the radar. He’d been disappointed so far. In between his little lookout sessions, he’d make small talk with various operatives. Pooja didn’t like chatting when on a mission, Kyline hated his guts, and the other scientists he usually hung out with were, for obvious reasons, not here, so ‘various operatives’ mostly meant Julian. “Gotta admit, when you said you had some questions for me, I wasn’t expecting this,” Julian said after Matti’s third round. “Am I boring you?” Matti tilted his head. Julian laughed, always a good sign. “No. But unless this is some weird renegade interrogation tactic, I don’t know why you care about my favorite breakfast food.” Matti gave him a cool look. “I’ve watched you very carefully since joining the Fleursurgents. I need to make sure your answers align with what I’ve seen.” It was a terribly blatant lie, but not one Matti really cared about guarding. If Julian chose to see through it, good on him. Reality was, Matti just liked getting to know his charges. Julian squinted. “Fleursurgents?” “Come on. Fleur Insurgents is a mouthful and there are a ton of repeated syllable sounds there. It’s only natural that you should work a portmanteau in there. Saves time.” “Lotta big words from someone with a STEM degree. Maybe you should have gone into linguistics.” Julian grinned, and unless it was Matti’s imagination, seemed to relax a bit. Matti lifted a shoulder. “Linguistics wouldn’t have gotten me a job here. Besides, I didn’t go to an English speaking school.” “Clearly, or you’d have caught the better portmanteau: Infleurgents.” This took Matti aback quite a bit, because Julian was absolutely correct. That one was far superior. “I take my hat off to you. We’re now the Infleurgents. Clearly your English skills make mine look paltry.” “Well, it was my first language.” He shifted in his seat, probably trying to make the helicopter seat feel more comfortable. “You said a linguistics degree wouldn’t have gotten you a job here. Did you know about this place when starting college?” There were a few options for how an AngelThana operative might have gotten involved in the organization. A bulk of the scientists were poached from the public facing front: a nanotech organization that privately manufactured weapons and also somehow did some work with biotech. It was often scrutinized for guzzling research money and turning out rather few results but that was kind of the point of a public facing front. It’s just that the public didn’t know that. Hence ‘front’. Then there were military poaches, outstanding soldiers who were approached at the conclusion of their official government military contracts. Outside of these poached soldiers, AngelThana rarely allowed for transfers to military units if the employee hadn’t been with the company for a minimum of three years, which explained why the minimum age of active combatants was 21 and not most military’s standard 18. Then there were the nuts. AngelThana sent representatives out to anyone who found out about the immortals organically, whether from personal experience or obsessive web research. That’s how Matti got involved. He’d spent the greater part of his childhood chasing down conspiracies online because that’s about all there was to do in a northern European village, population: twelve, where the sun came up twice a year. He’d discovered some paper trails and various web footage that showed the same few people involved in a host of different terrorist attacks across the globe, a conspiracy he was surprised no one else pointed out. It turned out no one pointed it out because AngelThana scrubbed the internet from all information of the immortals, with a rather impressive tech division. This was originally what they scouted him for until pretty much everyone realized he was a crap hacker. By that point, he’d requested a transfer to sniper school and anyone involved agreed it was for the best. Most of the people on the helicopter had been in the second boat, sniped from their own government’s military. On the books, they were ‘security’ officers. Julian was, as with most scientists, from the first group. He’d been scouted because of his academic work and pressured into taking the job with AngelThana. “My official transfer to the internal department was about a month into my onboarding on the face department.” Julian had that glint in his eyes that the PhDs always got when they were about to launch into a lecture, and Matti braced himself. “The day they pulled me in and explained that honest to god immortals existed, well I thought I’d gone crazy.” “Really? You didn’t think they had?” Julian shook his head. “No! I’d always suspected so when my theories were confirmed, my mind was blown. It was like falling into a dream I’d had.” “Lapinksy! Back on your post. You’ve had weeks to make idle chit chat. This is not the time.” Pooja’s scolding turned all the heads in the chopper to Matti, who smiled back at her, jumping to his feet in a solute. “Copy that, Colonel.” There would also be time for idle chit chat later, so he had no qualms with resuming his watch. “Alright we’re approaching our drop point,” Pooja announced, some few, uneventful hours later. “We’re officially on non-essential cargo pickup, so keep that in mind. Grace, prep your unit, but I want them down and out of sight until signaled.” Kyline saluted in acknowledgement, her face rigid. “The cargo pickup is scheduled to happen at eight hundred hours, so we’re here plenty early and should be able to get all of you off before they load us up.” Pooja began walking up and down the aisle of the ship, making eye contact with every single person on board. “I’ll be staying on board to handle the loading, with Schmidtt and Lapinksy. You’ll take your orders from the Sergeant and in the case of her incapacitation, your chain of command will fall to Agent Xing, Agent Jha, field medic LeDuc…” The chain of command was something they’d all been briefed on but redundancy may as well be synonymous with procedure because whenever someone said ‘follow the proper process’ it meant they wanted to you use enough fallbacks and extraneous measures that you probably could have accomplished three times your goal if you’d just checked something once or twice. But for all their traitorous nature, the Infleurgents still followed their god damned processes to a T. Whatever. Matti didn’t technically need to know who to listen to but unfortunately for his ego, the chain of command usually made too much sense to ignore, so he rarely did. The helicopter touched down at a tiny regional airport in the early hours of the morning, probably close to five hundred hours, as light as a feather per Schmidtt’s usual. He radioed in their arrival to the incognito convoy that was bringing whatever equipment Pooja had maneuvered into being their ‘target’. They reported that they were still about two hours out, which Schmidtt confirmed on radar scans. “Copy that, we’ll be waiting.” Then Pooja looked up at Matti. “Give us a visual perimeter, make sure the area is clear of personnel or civilians.” She turned to Kyline. “At Lapinsky’s signal, take your men to the far parking lot. The convoy was instructed to leave one truck behind so that we could unload our cargo. Which…” She waved a hand at the soldiers, “is all of you. So stay out of sight until Grace gives the command. Understood?” A host of salutes confirmed comprehension. Matti eyed Pooja and tossed her a slightly more casual salute before slipping into the night. For once, the lack of complications wasn’t boring. The presence of civilians would have dramatically slowed down the offloading, suspicions from the convoy would have just caused drama, and if any of Kyline’s soldiers had been spotted, it would have really been disastrous. All told, Pooja’s plan went without a hitch and soon Schmidt was flying away with whatever cargo they’d used as an excuse to hide their illicit actions. Matti sat in the back of the remaining convoy truck, squished with the others. These things were supposed to seat a dozen. While Matti, Julian, Xing Luli, the Iota agent, were slim enough to count for half a person, they simply had too many people on board for the drive to be comfortable. But comfort wasn’t a requisite so no one complained about being cramped too much. The real issue was the lack of space to put on their disguises. AngelThana lacked the resources to intensely scrutinize every security cam feed on the planet to scan for faces that matched certain criteria. So the group didn’t have to worry too much about being spotted by the sophisticated software needed to match their specific face shapes and retina scans. But that didn’t mean they could slack off. They’d still need to play dress up to fool any AngelThana member who happened to be casually watching the MUC feeds in their downtime. There were precious few people on board who knew enough about hair and makeup to make a convincing change to faces, so each agent had to wait quite a bit for their turn. Something to change complexion, darken or bright eyes, maybe thicken the look of facial hair. “Do me dirty,” Matti said as he pushed past Private Amelie Silva for his turn. He scrunched his eyes closed in preparation for the assault on his face. “Don’t do that with your eyes,” Pooja said, as he heard her swishing around some bottle of something probably wet and sticky. “It’ll make it uneven.” Pooja, along with Henri LaForge and Edmund Howards, was one of the only confident enough with her makeup skills to do anything convincing on the soldiers. “Hold still.” A bright light blasted his eyelids as another of the soldiers shone a flashlight at him. “We should have brought Sofia,” Matti said, trying hard not to move his mouth. “She could make every guy in here a girl and vice versa.” “Matti keep your mouth shut or you’re going to look like more of a mess than you normally do.” After a far too long period of getting paint slathered and smeared on his face, his nails and hands squished, his hair pulled tight and hidden under a wig, Pooja thrust an armful of clothes in his hands. “What do you think?” The question was a little too amused for Matti’s liking and he cracked an eyelid to see the private holding the flashlight was openly smirking. “He did say he wanted to be a girl. Think you did a mighty good job there, Colonel.” The other eyelid snapped open. “I need a mirror. Now.” Pooja held up one and Matti stared at himself. He wasn’t a girl, probably. Not technically. But he also saw where the private was coming from. “Pooja, you know ‘scene’ hasn’t been in since the early 2000s, right?” He twisted one of the silky, unnaturally platinum locks around a finger. “We’re active members.” She shooed him to the side to start her next victim. “So our looks need to be a bit more dramatically changed. Us and Blake. If you’re going heavy makeup, you have to make it look intentional. That’s why you have the eyeliner. You’re now Alexi Petroff, 16 years old, so you’ve got to look like it.” “Great. Back to being an edgy teen.” He didn’t really mind the look but it was far from comfortable. “What dramatic bit are you doing?” “Inaya Hasmi, 34, traveling with my husband Tahir.” She pointed a bit away where Vikas Jha, the other Iota agent, was getting minimal makeup work done. “I’ll have a bit of work done but most of my face will be hidden.” “Lucky. Would be nice if we all could just go the religious veil route.” Matti tapped at his face to see if his makeup had dried. Pooja cocked an eyebrow. “Would have made us all the more likely to be stopped by airport security. Don’t need to increase those odds. Alright, you’re done Shanti.” “Fucking most disgusting thing I ever got on my face,” he grumbled. “Shut up, Shanti,” Matti said, almost absentmindedly. The private needled him with a glare before moving on. “We kind of switched colors,” Julian remarked as he settled down next to Matti. The previously sandy haired man now had cropped dark crew cut, so convincing that Matti couldn’t imagine how his real hair had fit under it. His previously green eyes were now blue, much like how Matti’s blue had changed to green. “Who did yours?” Matti asked. “LaForge. Man did theatre through his entire education. I guess it shows but god my head feels like it’s about to explode.” Julian’s hand hovered near his scalp as if itching to itch it. “Not a finger!” shouted LaForge from about eight feet away where he was twisting Luli’s hair into a tight ponytail. “Or I’ll cut it off.” “Would he get back?” asked another private. Julian’s body sagged as his hand dropped. “Here they go.” The questions, jokes, and jabs flowed through the truck, lightening up the mood at the expense of Julian’s. “You’re not a fan?” Matti asked. “You can’t deny, there are some good questions in there.” “Yeah but they don’t want answers, they just want to snicker.” Julian sighed, crossing his arms. “But I’m starting to learn to tune it out.” Even Matti had to admit that, after two more hours of the soldiers coming up with increasingly stupid puns, it had gotten old. He fiddled with his rifle, knowing that it would soon be locked in a very special crate, the kind that AngelThana routinely used to smuggle weapons through airports, past border patrols, and into government events. Matti didn’t like departing with his beloved rifle but there would be no keeping it on him. The sun had long risen now as the truck pulled into a long term parking lot, advertised as being ‘mere kilometers from MUC!’ From there, the group split into teams, each with their own mission plans. Pooja took Vikas, her husband, and the two headed the short walk to the public transport. Six of the soldiers, all dressed as spring breakers, flooded to the closest rental car place. Matti checked his ID and the instructions on his phone giving him a rundown of Alexi Pertoff. “I’m traveling with my father and girlfriend, huh? Haven’t had one of those in a while.” He looked up at the remaining operatives. Shanti and Henri were brothers, Amelie and Edmund were also dating. A few others were traveling solo. Then his eyes fell on Luli, Pooja’s Iota agent. She fixed him with a long once over. “We’re dating?” she asked. In all fairness, she probably wasn’t much older than he was and with the high ponytail with a red streak in it, the loose bangs around her face, and too much eye makeup, she could absolutely pass for 17 or 18. “I guess so. Which just leaves… dad.” He grinned as Julian looked down at his ID. “Ah. Pieter Pertoff. 38” He looked up at the two agents as the remaining operatives sped off on their predetermined methods of transportation. “Never thought much of having kids…” “God I must be like, the biggest disappointment to you.” Matti examined his nails, which were all black except for a red nail on each middle finger. Then he looked up at Julian’s tight crew cut and the lines on his face, artfully exaggerated by LaForge’s handiwork. Luli laughed at the start contrast that couldn’t hide enough of a similarity between the two men to hint at their relation. “Alright then, team,” she said. “Let’s get our car and get to the airport. We’ve got an invasion to stop.” Julian's got this, right? He can keep his cool and stick to his role... right? Find out tomorrow! Previous ChapterNext Chapter
2020.09.16 08:20 TheLizardQueen84Tabula Rasa Ranch: Spooky Luna (Part 1)
"All things must change to something new, to something strange." -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow I used to feel like I needed to share my side of the story to keep the facts straight. Now I don't care what others choose to believe. The need to warn others offered a job at Tabula Rasa Ranch outweighs the non-disclosure agreement I signed. The company refuses to disclose the true inner workings. The owner remains the same. She hires on new employees due to the quick turn over from frequent quitting or untimely demises. As a cover, she has someone else in the spotlight as the new owner of the ranch. Tabula Rasa Ranch has remained out of the newspapers and headlines because of major payoffs over the decades. It isn't in the headlines like the infamous ranch in Northern Utah. The newspaper in Kanab left out the exact location my best friend disappeared in and only alluded to it being on a hike in Zion National Park. It was on the privately owned land the park had permission to cross to get to the infamous Arches. My hope is to caution others from crossing through the private land. It isn't worth traipsing through to see the stunning Arches. Camping nearby the private land isn't a good idea either. I know the idea of exploring a national park during the coronavirus is tempting, but following Hop Valley Trail through the land the park can't obtain is advised against. Over the years newspapers have been making a big deal out of buying out the private land, but the fight for it is an illusion. More people are aware of the operations of the ranch, but unwilling to divulge the details out of fear of losing out on money for the upkeep of the park. Springdale is another small, sleepy town in Southern Utah, nothing to write home about. It rests on the eastern side of Zion National Park. I park in the lot of a small shopping center littered with nail and hair salons, inexpensive takeout, clothing stores and tourist traps. I exit the car and pluck a white flower from a decorative pot beside the sidewalk. I slip it through a pin holding the right side of my back for luck. The set of stairs leading up to the second floor turns halfway up. I take the opportunity to withdraw a pale blue flask from my purse and indulge in a long swig to calm my nerves. Next, a cinnamon breath mint and sprayed of perfume over my clothes for extra measure. I shake my gloved hands in an attempt to relax, inhale, and climb the stairs. The suite encompasses the entire small second floor. The windows are covered with long curtains and the glass door is shielded with white blinds. Only the suite number is etched on the front door. I press the door bell on the divider between the door and windows. The door opens a crack a few beats later. I smooth my hands over my black and white plaid dress pants. A man clears his throat from the space separating us. A long silence evades before the door swings open to reveal a tall man standing aside in a wide foyer. He wears a white button-up shirt underneath an expensive gray vest and ironed matching slacks. His dark hair is tied back in a low ponytail. He holds the door open. I enter the air-conditioned suite, despite every cell in my body encouraging me to flee. "Luna Luster?" the man asks, closing the door behind us. His smile is sardonic as he extends his hand. "Was your mother a hippie misplaced in time or did you change your name yourself?" I tilt my head and try my best not to let my face sour. I stare at his waiting hand instead because his rude remark makes it easier to evade contact. His cologne is earthy and expensive, full of hidden motives with notes of sandalwood. "So original." "I take it you get the question a lot. I'm the vice president of Tabula Rasa Ranch, Ambrose Reed." He shifts uncomfortably in the stark silence and lowers his hand. "Please follow me to the office. Would you like a cup of coffee?" "Uh, sure." I trail behind him through a narrow hallway and pass an open living room. There's two closed doors to the right, three on the left-hand side and the second door on the left is open. The hall ahead of us displays a spacious kitchen. We turn into the open room on the left. The office is white and void of personal photographs or sentimental items. Five bright abstract framed paintings grace the walls. Ambrose stops at a light stained wooden table with a fancy coffee machine and condiments next to the door. I stand on the pristine white carpet, knotting my fingers together. "Have a seat. How do you like your coffee?" "Black. Two sugars." A side of the cherry wood desk rests against the wall with a plush chair underneath it. An open laptop, clunky landline phone, and two coasters are on the desk. I sit on a white plastic chair across the desk. I shift in the chair in an attempt to distract myself before the interrogation begins. Ambrose places a black mug on each coaster, then seats himself in the swivel chair. "Thank you," I say, but don't pick up the mug. "Why are you wearing gloves?" "Off the record? I'm a germaphobe." He nods, seeming to accept the answer and takes stack of papers from a drawer. He starts with typical interview questions that blur together in a flurry. What was your first job? What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses? Can you tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult person? So forth and so on. All the questions I'd heard since I'd started working at sixteen years old whirl by until there's red flag. "Tell me a little about yourself." I stare at him. "I'd rather not, but I kinda need this job." He doesn't respond for a minute and stares at the laptop screen with a deep frown. "What can you tell me about the gaps in your employment history?" "Pardon me?" "You didn't include your paid work on the side with the Salt Lake City Police Department. You cited government work as a forensic botanist before some unlisted department work." Ambrose pauses to gauge my expression. His wide-set eyes dart to focus on the laptop screen. "We were very thorough before offering a follow-up interview." "If you consider a faceless phone call an interview." "A mere formality. I was against requesting a callback, but the owner wanted an interview for some reason. She greased a few wheels to find out why you didn't include your work in the achievements of your resume." "It didn't seem relevant," I say, smoothing my hands over my pants to keep from wringing them together. Mentioning being able to see lingering spirits would end the job interview. Most of Kanab already think I live in cloudcuckooland. I know it's because of my unwanted gifts. Revealing the information would make a fresh start redundant. The locals are kind enough to gossip when I'm out of earshot. It doesn't stop others who spin tales composed of a few gems. Newcomers think of me as the child abandoned by her mother, raised by her grandmother and aunt. Spooky Little Luna ostracized herself from others by revealing details and thoughts. No one spread the news about my perfect grades or talent with art but spoke of my brittle and barbed tongue. It didn't deter my friend, Byeol, from spending every free moment with me from the fourth grade on up. Only her death parted us. Several dead-end jobs in the city forced me to move back to Kanab. Still, it doesn't look good for Spooky Luna to live with her aunt without a job. It makes people chatter and wonder after each local job didn't work out and my paper trail of employment doesn't help. "A thorough background check revealed a few things. You became an independent consultant without any prior experience with investigating. The owner wanted to know the duties you performed during your brief stint at the department. It would make more sense if you were working as a forensic botanist with your degree." "I am unable to provide the information you want. I signed a non-disclosure document." No need for him to know I'd lowered myself and passed myself off as a psychic to the Salt Lake City Police Department. There were plenty of photos in the newspaper with me in the background of police officers. I was paid as a consultant on the books. The department only used my services when backed into a corner. Sometimes I gleaned details off of spirits or things I'd noticed with my extra keen eye. It was easier to pass my gifts off in the guise of a psychic than telling the truth. No one wants to hire a woman who claimed to see fragments of the dead or photogenic abilities. If I divulged my gifts, Ambrose might write me off as crazy and end the interview. "Which is something my employer values." At a loss for a response, I lean forward to pick up the steaming mug from the desk. The familiar beverage soothes my nerves with each careful sip. Ambrose shuffles through the papers. He studies a paper before resuming. "What do you know about this location?" "I've been going to Zion for most of my life. I'm from Kanab, after all. I've only gone through the land briefly on a hike and to reach a nearby campground." "There's been some whispers." A chill runs down my back. The whispers could only be about one thing. The news didn't point out where the disappearance occurred and didn't detail about the encounter. It did however elude to the police suspecting my involvement in my best friend's disappearance and my following stint in a mental institution. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, divert my eyes away from his and sip on coffee. It's difficult to resist the urge to spy on his thoughts. Ambrose leans back in his chair and watches the screen for a long time. "What do the new rumors said?" I hesitate. "I heard about the new owner taking more of an interest in the ranch a few years ago. The rumors about the park trying to purchase the land isn't anything new." His face remains blank and unreadable as he assesses my response. I set the coffee back down, pick up my purse, and stand up. "It's been swell. Look, I'm sorry I wasted your-" "How do you feel about being recorded on a daily basis for liability purposes?" Ambrose interrupts. "Are you recording now?" "The founder is on a one-way voice chat to give her input. The recording is for future records, should you pass the final interview." "Wait, if I take the job, I'm going to under surveillance at all times?" I ask, sitting back down. "For liability purposes." "The salary Miss Giles offered on the phone would make more than recording worth it." I pause before continuing. "Listen, am I under surveillance for my history with the police department? Or for forensic botany? Or-" The landline phone rings once and Ambrose picks it up. "Are you sure?" Ambrose pauses for a long time. "Yes, ma'am. I understand. Thank you." He hung the phone up with a tight smile. "It seems you're hired, Miss Luster." I can't conceal my smile. "When do I start?" "Monday. I'll email you the rules and directions to the ranch. You need to move in by tomorrow afternoon so you have the weekend to get settled. Stop by the main homestead with your belongings. The furnished living quarters are due to depth. I'll have your bunker assignment along with some clearance badges you'll need for your first day. You'll be shadowing Orion Rist during your first week here. He'll have your work schedule. Your job will initially consist of watching live and unrecorded security footage. You'll take notes until you're familiar with the protocol and land." He pauses, looking me over. "The dress code is casual, within reason, of course." "Do you like it there?" He seems taken aback by my query and searches my face before responding. "The gig pays well. The employees are a colorful bunch and you'll never get bored." Ambrose opens a drawer, sets a stack of a stapled of papers and slides them across the desk in my direction. "Look over the pages before signing, please." The two pages consist of a non-disclosure agreement. I carefully look over the contents before I sign at the bottom. The next page is a suspicious injury waiver, but promises an on-site emergency center. I sign it after memorizing the document. Health care kicks in immediately, not in a standard ninety days most jobs require. It gives me a brief pause. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. Ambrose stands up and crosses over to me. I join him, unsure of where it was going. He reaches for my hand and envelopes his warm one with mine. I can smell the cologne wafting off him. "Welcome to Tabula Rasa Ranch, Miss Luster." Worst of all, the gloves fail to do their job and his thoughts flood in with the forced handshake. I don't know why Miriam is thinking about hiring her. Are you kidding me? She communed with spirits and helped the police department? What a load of bullshit. She has to be some kind of hack or fraud. I bet she falsified her so-called degree in forensic botany. What if she murdered her friend? Ambrose's thoughts are a mix of Korean and English. I'd learned from my best friend growing up so we could have a language our peers couldn't break. It rarely comes in handy in Utah, but it ensured an unbreakable code. "Cheer up fuckface. You might like me in due time." I twist my hand away from his. Ambrose's face warps in surprise. I pick up my purse before he can get the last word in and head for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow." I exit the suite cursing under my breath. I retreat to my old but trusty black Dodge 1971 Charger. I toss my purse on the passenger seat, fire up the engine and a song by The Damned fills the speakers. I screamed in frustration over picking up on his thoughts. Fucking gloves didn't do their job. It's always hit or miss if the gloves are thick enough to keep inner thoughts from invading my space. I open my purse, take out the flask, and indulge in a five-second gulp of vodka. The burn almost pushes away Ambrose's toxic thoughts. Key word being almost. Nearly an hour later, I stop in front of a two-story house on the outskirts of Kanab. I smile at the sight of the youthful fifty-year-old woman sitting on the steps. Her dark hair is pulled up in a loose bun at the nape of her long neck. "How did it go?" Aunt Chloe asks, standing up with a warm smile. "I got it!" We retreat inside and Aunt Chloe brews coffee as I secretly take a long swig of vodka. I fill her in on the information Ambrose gave me but keep out hearing his thoughts. She catches me up on her day while making two turkey and tomato sandwiches with chips for an early dinner. After dinner, I escape for the basement to pack. My blue pitbull, Poppy, barks when I open the door. Flora marks my legs and cries for attention once Poppy finishes greeting me. I spend half an hour paying attention to them before packing. It takes three hours to pack everything I want to take to the ranch. A few iced screwdrivers help sleep arrive. In no time I fall asleep surrounded by Poppy and Flora. It's around noon by the time we finish loading the trailer attached it to the car. It is filled with boxes and crates of records with Aunt Chloe's help. We push the last heavy box into the trailer when something thuds on the tin-top several times. My aunt exits the trailer to explore. I shrug it off and resume stacking the smaller boxes around in a more stable order. "Luna. You need to see this." She warns me to watch my step and holds a hand out to ensure a stable landing. Several dead crows are splayed around the car with bent, broken wings. Small pools of blood leak from beaks and half of their feathers are scattered around them. The stench is reminiscent of roadkill roasting on the side of the road for at least a week. We back away from the trailer to see how far around the dead birds are. I count thirteen birds in a circle around the car and trailer. "Luna, we need to go see Gracie before you hit the road. She said she had a dream about you the other night. I don't think your taking the job is a good idea." "And live off your pension? Even the local deli rejected my request for an interview. I was lucky to land this job and it pays well." "Sometimes it isn't worth it. You can find a legitimate job online and work from home. Try to find someone in town hiring. Have you gone through your savings?" "I tried that. There's no such thing as pennies from heaven. Besides, I tried in Kanab and St George. It seems my reputation precedes me. No one will hire me because they think I'm too spooky. I have enough bread to live comfortably until I die, but only if I die next Friday." Aunt Chloe tucks her loose hair behind her ears and sighs, knowing it's a fight she can't win. We let Poppy loose and carry Flora's crate back into the house. My aunt drives us to Gracie's in her faded black truck in about ten minutes. 'Gracie's Apothecary' is lit up in cursive neon letters on top of the small store, and stands out in the dim afternoon. Our footsteps echo on the steel steps to the wooden door, where the name is embellished on a clear window. The familiar tinkle of the bell does little to set my mind at ease, but the strong scent of lavender incense helps. The apothecary is a slender ten by ten space. A beaded curtain leads to more merchandise in the back of the store. Bright yellow walls have shelves lined with labeled wire baskets. Pegged supplies hang below them. A little woman in her late sixties with long, curly white hair greets us with a bright smile. She inquires about how we are doing. Aunt Chloe tells her about the dead crows, picking up a mesh shopping basket along the way. "That is troubling. Are you sure you want to take the job? You could work here part-time." Gracie says, frowning. "The dream I had didn't indicate anything about the job being a bad choice. At least from the context of it." "I need to do something. I've been going stir-crazy. You don't want to hire me and drive away people, trust me." "Nettie?" Gracie calls back into the office behind her. "I need you to take over while I help Chloe and Luna." A pretty and thin, dark-haired teenager pops her head out and stands behind the register with a nod. Gracie leads us to a section with a variety of sage bundles in baskets on one of the tables below the shelves. Aunt Chloe collects large bundles of white, blue and black sage. She sets the bundles in the shopping basket, asking if Gracie has any other suggestions. Gracie's wrinkled forehead pinches together in thought. She selects up a light brown, medium bundle of sage that smells a bit peppery. "Desert sage is for cleansing and purifying, protection, and inner strength. It draws in pleasant thoughts, relieves headaches and anxiety," she explains, handing my aunt the bundle. "Is there anything else for protection?" Gracie picks up a greenish-brown bundle with a woodsy and fresh scent. "Cedar recalls ancient forests and invokes their protection and wisdom. Smudging this carries a medicine of protection. You should cleanse your new home upon moving in to invite unwanted spirits to leave. It can help protect you, the place, and objects from unwanted influences. It's the most aggressive cleansing smudge." She invites us to sit and talk over a cup of tea. We pass through thick purple wooden beads concealing an archway to the back section of the store. We seat ourselves at a small round table with three chairs. Gracie starts up a pot of loose leaf tea on a hot plate on a counter nearby the small table in the corner of the room. "I thought it was unusual that you showed up in my dreams last night," she says, sitting down and facing me. "You were sitting on the bench in the front, drawing on a sketchpad while I was working. You came to show me the exterior sketches of the shop for a new launch of the website. I didn't see anything ominous." I frown. "Nothing symbolic in what Luna was wearing?" Aunt Chloe asks, leaning forward. "She wore a black band shirt and had on Gemma's necklace. Luna didn't have anything on out of the ordinary." "Other than smudging, what can we do to protect her?" "I can find some talismans, charmed stones and candles after we have our tea. There isn't much else I can do because I'm not sure what the threat is. What did the land feel like? I mean from walking on it years ago." The kettle whistles and Gracie prepared a tray. I try my best to describe the heavy aura of the land, only to receive another frown. She carries the tray with three cups of tea on saucers, cream, and sugar to the table. She places our cups on saucers in front of each of us. I fiddle with the dark purple tassels on the edge of the table cloth as Aunt Chloe insists that my taking the job is a bad idea. I fail to mention the lengthy non-disclosure document or injury waiver I signed earlier, but there's no reason to raise anymore red flags. The broken and bloodied wings of the crows scratch at the back of my mind. My aunt touches my arm gently, bringing me back to earth. Gracie points out the tea is cool enough to drink. I stir the mostly clear, tinted green tea. It soothes my throat as the pair catch up on town gossip and Gracie fills my aunt in on her own life. I trace the golden rim of the painted floral teacup, peering at the vortex of swirling tea leaves falling to the bottom. Aunt Chloe nudges me after the conversation falls silent. "I have a bad feeling about everything, but doing nothing is making me feel worse," I say. I take a few more sips of tea until I taste bitter tea grits. Gracie's eyes narrow on my hand holding the teacup. "Are you right-handed?" "Yeah, why?" "In the dream, you were drawing with your left hand. Your right hand was hidden under the sketch pad." "I don't know how to draw with that hand," I say, shrugging. I drain the cup and hand it to Gracie. She turns the cup upside down on the saucer I was using and studies the leaves. Reading my tea leaves is a redundant task because I know how to read my own, but it seems to thrill the old woman. Damp tea leaves surround a bird with spread wings. "I don't know if there's anything I can do to help you," Gracie admits, unable to take her eyes off the grim omen on the saucer. "What does it mean?" Aunt Chloe leans forward. "It's a deadly omen, sometimes attached to death. It isn't too surprising with what happened this morning." A chill runs over my body as I rise to my feet. I excuse myself, explain that I need a few more supplies, and leave the room with the shopping basket. I select a few bottles of essential oils, incense, more sage, and some stones. A bar of protective soap of black pepper, cedarwood, cypress, and lavender go into the basket as well. The duo join me and we walk to the register. Gracie applies the family discount and sees us out the door. She hugs me for a long moment and requests an email every so often. We stop by the grocery store for a cooler and ice, along with enough dry and refrigerated food to last for at least two weeks. We make our way back to the house shortly after. Half an hour later, the sky has dark clouds over the sun as Aunt Chloe begs me to stay. She refuses to let me leave until I wear Grandma Gemma's pendant. It's a dark emerald stone in an oval pendant on a thick golden cord that rests below my chest. I've hated the eyesore since I was thirteen and am often forced to wear it for extra protection. I load the animals into kennels and leave despite my aunt's pleas. It starts raining on the nearly hour long journey to the entrance of the ranch. Grey clouds cover the sky to the point where it looks more like night. I follow the directions to the eastern fenced border. The shadow in the booth at the entrance opens the chain-link gate after I wait for a minute for them to clear me. I follow the muddy road for a quarter of a mile until the main homestead appears on the horizon. Ponderosa pines line the sides of the road, separated by small a spaces of tall grass and sage. A tall athletic man waits under an umbrella by the front steps of the main house. He has on a shirt advertising 'The Pie' in Salt Lake City, an unzipped basic gray hoodie, and worn black jeans. His age is indeterminate, somewhere between twenty-five to thirty-five. I turn off the car lights and engine, unrolling the window. His stride is quick and purposeful. He leans down, flashing a bright set of teeth. "You must be Luna Luster." "Indeed." "Ambrose had to leave the office for an emergency," he explains. He pauses to study my face and bursts out in a chuckle. "You didn't get off on the right foot with him, did you?" I grimace. "Is it that obvious? He wasn't very welcoming, to say the least." "Give it time. He'll loosen up once he sees your value. Sorry, I've been rude. I'm Orion Rist." I shake his extended hand. The gloves keep his unwelcome thoughts out. "So, your access badge is on the way and we'll take a photo once it arrives. My bunker is right next to yours. Can I hitch a ride?" "If you don't mind holding a cat crate." I motion to the passenger seat. With a nod, he circles around the car, opens the door, and lifts Flora's crate. He sets a tote bag down on the middle console, sits down with the crate, and buckles in. I start the engine and music floods the car. I reached to turn it off, but he stops me. His bright eyes met mine. "I don't mind The Stooges." Then he directs me down a small muddy road west of the main house and urges me to stop after half a mile. "Did Ambrose tell you anything about the living quarters?" "Nothing aside from underground." "Subterranean bunkers. We're safer underground. You're in bunker thirteen and I'm to the right in fourteen. Come on." Orion picks up the tote bag and exits. He sets the crate back on the seat and runs to my side with the umbrella out. I join him and walk through the mud until we reach a concrete path. Heavy, unnatural energy I'd encountered upon driving through the protected land grows stronger. The path leads down to a steel door six feet below ground, built out of place in, covered by bushes and trees. Orion holds the umbrella over us as he punches a code into the security pad beside the door. Leftover energy vibrates and bounces off the exterior. It's stronger than the energy from crime scenes I'd been on in the past. The open door exposes stone steps, illuminated by bright bare bulbs in a concrete ceiling. Orion folds the umbrella, hangs it up on a hook on the wall by the door, and encourages me to follow him. We descend the stairs twenty feet and arrive at another steel door with a security pad. "I'll write the code down for you," he said, punching a code in again. Fluttering and frantic flaps accompany the blackbirds flying out of my new home. Wonderful. The flurry of birds fly by too fast to count. And odds are, there are thirteen. We wait indoors for around thirty minutes for the rain to cease. The next half hour is spent hauling in boxes and crates through thick reddish-brown mud. I follow Orion back to the car for his tote bag as the sun sinks into the earth in thick crimson trails and morphs into a deep purple. The security pad at the first door glitches briefly and rejects the correct code a handful of times. I wrinkle my nose as putrid waves swept through the air. It's a mixture of strange sweetness combined with spoiled meat and rotten eggs. Orion frantically tries other codes, only to be met with obnoxious beeps in error. "I think you'll learn to love the solitude." Orion's voice sounds from behind us. My hair stands on end and skin prickles. The voice sounds like a slightly off version, echoing something he'd said earlier. My heart thuds heavily as I feel the air constricting around me, making it harder to breathe. I feel so dizzy, the entire situation feels like an out of body experience. Orion grabs my shoulder before I turn around, holds on and resumes entering codes. My mind is racing too fast to include his internal thoughts. The security pad beeps again, but in a higher octave. The cool air from the stairs whooshes over us. We're safe behind the closed door in seconds. Orion's burst of obscenities are cut short by heavy thuds on the metal door. Our heels are on fire as he tugs me down the stairs like a rag doll. The code on the second door works on first attempt. He pulls me in and I nearly crash into the mudroom wall. "Ambrose?" Orion pales as he calls into the walkie talkie he'd drawn from his waistband. I use the opportunity to catch my breath. The intruder continues to slam into the door upstairs. Orion punches a code into the interior keypad by the door. A steel section slides in front of the door with a loud chirp. The door is armed, the system announces in a digital woman's voice. Orion continues to curse between calling into the walkie talkie and failure to make his satellite phone work.. I shallowly exhale, knock my boots off and open the mudroom door. Poppy jumps up, sending me against the wall as she greets me. She stops once I scold her breathlessly. I struggle to force Orion's frantic thoughts away from my mind and collapse on the white leather couch in the living room. Poppy whines next to me, staring at the open mudroom door. Orion rounds the corner to sit down beside me. My voice shakes with every syllable. "So, what the hell was that?" "Only a taste of what lives on the land." Orion grimaces. "I'm not sure you'd believe me, but it's better that you didn't see it." "Try me." "Like I said, it's safer underground. You know how it repeated something I said before? It had to be listening for the last half hour. They don't usually come out until sundown. Do you know much about this land?" "Did you live around near the park about thirteen years ago?" I answer, trying to steady my voice, but everything shakes like a leaf. "My name was smeared across the papers when my best friend disappeared on Hop Valley Trail." "That's why you look familiar..." Orion stares. "I remember a bit about it." "The smell was similar to what was out there." I clasp my shaking hands together, leaning toward the ground. I attempt focus on slowing my breathing to draw my attention from the heavy pressure on my chest and sharp collarbone pinch. My skin feels heated and my arms tingle. Orion rubs my back slowly, but I pull away the moment his thoughts flood in. He removes his hand. She's seen one before. Is that why her friend disappeared? "Are you alright?" Orion's voice is filled with genuine concern. "Is there anything I can do to help?" I shake my head. "I've been drinking and can't take any medication." Orion lowers his voice to a more soothing tone as he instructs me to breathe in and out slowly, step by step. He stops after a few minutes and I raise my head. My cheeks still feel numb and I notice a bright red rash on my exposed arms. "My sister has severe anxiety. If you can't take a pill, can I make you a drink?" I nod and point to an unlabeled box on the bar counter adjacent to the cramped mini-kitchen. There's the bare essentials on counters and a fridge. Orion opens the box labeled 'juice', locates glasses in another box and lines the bottom of the glasses with ice from the cooler. He returns with a bottle of whiskey, two glasses already filled and hands me one. He sets the bottle on the glass coffee table in front of us. I guzzle the whiskey down so quickly he looks astounded. My insides feel warm and fuzzy. "Gonna be able to hang in there?" I nod. "It looks like we're down here for the night. I tried to get access to the hallway connecting the bunkers, but it glitches as well." I rub my chest in an effort to alleviate the pressure, but it doesn't help much. Heavy thuds from above can still be heard. "It'll stop eventually," he reassures. Orion eyes the labeled boxes by an impressive television center with the works near the left wall. "Can I set up your record player and put something in to dull the sound? Maybe you can try the grounding exercise." I nod and agree to the exercise after refilling the glass and lean back on the couch. I notice the walls are a cheerful blue mint. Two black and white floral photographs are on each side of the tall entertainment center. The center has a giant flatscreen television in the middle with a rectangular drawer below and equal sized bed empty self above. Three empty cubes line each side. There's a tall pothos plant in the corner to the left. A golden weaved basket contains a folded white throw is front of two square, white and gold pillows. It takes him about ten minutes to set up the record player and speakers in the entertainment center. He thumbs through a crate filled with vinyl, selects one and cues up a familiar Pink Floyd album. It dulls the thudding to an almost ignorable level. By then my heart and breathing is back at a normal rate. Orion sits down beside me, refills his glass and leans forward on his knees. Flora rubs against my legs, staring up with big blue eyes and meows loudly in concern. I rub behind her huge ears and tell her I'm alright. She crawls into my lap, purring. I continue petting her because it grounds me. "We're lucky we made it in. Hopefully the wire is still transmitting and someone can hear us now," he says. "The one Ambrose said we have to wear at all times?" "Yes. There's no point in setting yours up tonight since I'll be with you for the night." Past the living room, there's a card table resting against the wall with four plush, mismatched flea market chairs around it. A cramped mini-kitchen with the bare essentials is directly across from it. It leads to a tight hallway with an open door to a small bathroom to the left, a closet to the right and a door straight ahead. Orion seems to know my train of thought when I frown. "There's a pull-out bed inside the couch." "Why does the system secure both doors? There's really no access to the hallway? Isn't that a fire hazard?" "Yes, I've pointed it out to Miriam in the past. She promised fix it, but it hasn't been at the top of her priority list." "Miriam?" "The woman behind the curtain. Ambrose received a call part way through your interview, didn't he?" I nod. "Miriam listened in on my interview as well. I've never met him and I've been here for a year. You'll see her on the video call during the meeting on Monday." An uncomfortable silence hung in the air, but his distorted thoughts still go directly through. Imagining a brick wall sometimes muffles others' inner thoughts, but requires a lot of energy. Moving boxes and the panic from earlier has left me drained. Images don't accompany Orion's flurry of inner workings, sparing me from the usual dull headache. It's still like a punch in the gut after blissful internal silence, aside from my own thoughts. It shouldn't have been out in the daylight. Miriam hired her for another gift. There's always a motive. Almost everyone has a gift. She's going to quit and leave her boxes packed. Can't blame her. This place is a damn trap. I cross to the kitchen and rifle through the cooler. The homemade soup is in a container near the top. I offer Orion a bowl of butternut squash soup and he accepts. He resumes trying to reach someone over the walkie talkie as I busy heat the soup on the stove in a sauce pan. His thoughts aren't heard with the distance, but leaves me wondering about what I heard earlier. I set two bowls of soup on the coffee table, change out the ice in our glasses, then sit down next to Orion. We eat our soup and listen to the music. Once I finish the bowl, I refill the glasses with whiskey. There's only a moment of debate before I dare to out myself. "What's your gift?" Orion sets his bowl down. "Huh?" "If everyone has a gift, then what's yours?" "How-" Orion's brows furrow. "Did Ambrose tell you?" I laugh hard. "You can hear me?" "There's ways to dull it. Mainly why I didn't want to be touched. It's not something I want to happen, but I can't help what slips by." I hold a gloved hand up. "Ambrose thinks I'm a germaphobe. I was hired for my degree in forensic botany. So spill, what's your dirty secret?" The whiskey bottle on the coffee table scrapes against the glass as it slides from the middle to the left side. I stare at it for a long time, then gazed up at him. "Really?" "Runs in the family, but I'm mostly here for security monitoring," he says with a shrug. "How does the landowner know who has gifts?" "Rumors, sometimes therapists can be paid off and institution records. Miriam has a computer genius on staff for all sorts of things. You were likely hired because of your mysterious consultant title for the police department. I think she bribed my therapist because the doctor ghosted me shortly after I was approached for a job interview." Orion steeples his fingers. "What is forensic botany exactly? Identification of plant life?" "In a nutshell. More like the study of plant material from crime scenes. Sometimes I can understand where and when a crime was committed. What do you do here?" How often is there an encounter?" I motion at the door. "Whenever someone new starts, it makes an appearance within days, but not usually this soon. Maybe it has to do with your history on the land. Why would you return?" "My friend's body was never found. Then there's the money." I rolled my eyes. "Know how to play gin rummy? I can some gin and tonic. We can play until we get tired." "My grandma taught me. I can turn the record over while you make the drinks." Orion and I keep ourselves busy with a mixture of movies, records, gin rummy, cooking, drinks and getting to know one another. The security system chimes around noon on Monday and jolts us out of the two day lockdown. System is disarmed. Opening hallway door. I apologize to Flora as I pick her sleeping form off my lap. Her whining meows are dulled once I close her in the bedroom. Ambrose is standing in the open door frame when I reach the living room. His eyebrows pinch together as Orion quietly fills him in on the events. I wait for the conversation to end before offering them a cup of coffee. He enters the bunker and the door closes behind him. Ambrose hangs a large tote on a golden antique coat rake next to the door. He double takes at the sight unexpected sight of me in a soft yellow pajamas and large pastel purple octopus slippers. "Hell of a welcome to the ranch, huh?" Ambrose continues without an answer. "Under the circumstances, you'll work side by side with Orion starting tomorrow morning. You'll both be paid for today for the hassle, but Orion will take you on a tour of the ranch." Orion and Ambrose sit across each at the table. I bring three mugs and the freshly brewed pot over. They pour coffee as I return with an Girl Scout cookie flavored creamer. "Miriam has rescheduled the biweekly meeting for tomorrow. We'll be doing team building exercises as well," Ambrose continues, pouring a cup for himself. He informs me that he has my audio equipment and other electronics for Orion to set up. The cinnamon toast flavored coffee is strong and kickstarts my system as Ambrose stresses the importance of keeping the batteries charged on all devices. Orion listens, sipping his coffee and gives me amused expressions as the bag of wind goes over the list of rules I was emailed days ago. I nod every so often, until Ambrose drains his cup and excuses himself. Orion sets up the charging center for the walkie talkie, satellite phone and wire. I change into something more suitable for four-wheeling across the land. Orion wires me in, then I take an uneasy step to explore the land I started to fear over a decade ago.
2020.09.16 06:29 KingWraithXSpin Off Concept: A series based around the rise of the next Dark Lord!
Hi, aspiring author and life long Harry Potter fan. First time posting on this sub. So this is a writing exercise I do with other sub Reddit’s. It’s basically elevator pitch fan fiction if anything. I pitch an idea that seems plausible and sticks with the canon. I know it’s odd, but I find it fun and I hope to entertain people during quarantine. Also a quick thank you to all the Harry Potter fan fiction writers. Especially those were active during 2012-2015. Your writing is one of the major factors that pushed me into wanting to be a writer. So thank you and never stop writing! With that out of the way here’s my concept: It would be the antithesis to Harry’s story. I considered a Tom Riddle story, but he’s pure fucking evil and that’s hard to empathize with. So this is a story set during the modern era, retconning the Cursed Child. The story would follow Virgil Lord, a member of an Old Wizarding family, that was driven out of England for crimes in the 1800’s. Several generations have sworn an Unbreakable vow to never speak of their families history. They are told the full history on their 17th birthday, and then are forced into eternal silence. For extra measure they changed their names when arriving in America (this will be revealed later but take your guesses). It took 300 years, but they were able to rebuild their fortune and regain prominence as an American Magical Family. They specialize in the sale and mass production of magically modified Muggle objects (flying cars, Private Portkeys, Bottomless trunks, unbreakable glasses, etc). They’re legit, respected, and are surprisingly humble. A far cry from their British Ancestors. As for Virgil, he would be considered a Squib if it wasn’t for his burst of accidental magic. It could be something as a small as turning their dog purple, or something as extreme as turning a street into water. Everytime he touches a wand it explodes. He’s loved by his parents, Tolliver and Daria, but through bouts of accidental Legilimency (Mind Reading), he knows he’s an embarrassment to them. So for the first 10 years of his life, he’s confined mostly to his house in Merlin County, a private Wizard community located upstate New York. He’s left with a team of nanny’s, tutors, chefs and doctors the majority of the time. His wing of the castle is warded with dozens off protective spells, to keep his bouts of accidental magic from affecting the rest of the family. His only friends are his chef Ms. Spring and his Goblin tutor Mr. Warcal. His older siblings, Hugo and Wanda, more or less ignore him when they’re home, treating him as if he was a Squib. The young socialites were already 3rd years at Ilvermorny, and more interested in becoming the Wizard equivalent of Influencers. Virgil’s hope is that he’d be able to go to Ilvermorny once he turned 11. He counted down the days until he would get the letter. On his 11th birthday, one of the few instances he got to spend more than a few hours with his family, an eagle delivers his letter. His family crowds around him as he opens the letter. The letter starts shaking violently in his hand, before finally exploding, screeching out: “DENIED!” In the envelope there is a lengthy letter explaining that due to Virgil’s erratic magic and the Protection Against Potential Obscurials Act of 1930 or PAPO Act, they not only denied his enrollment, but also banned him from ever stepping foot on their grounds. Enraged and offended, over the next few weeks Virgil’s parents send numerous letters to the School Board, offering millions of Dragot’s to let him in. The laws are, unfortunately, iron clad. Virgil is left heartbroken and for the first time, willingly secludes himself in his wing. The Lord’s begin to apply to every major wizarding school around the world. Most of them, quickly denied. Except one, Hogwarts. Due to the administration of Hermione Granger-Weasley, low level magic users that would once be considered Squibs, were now allowed to attend Hogwarts. So, Virgil and Mr. Warcal goes school shopping in Robin’s Corner (Modernized, American version of Diagon Alley, kind of like a high end mall). They get the essentials, books, a pet eagle that he names Solo, and has his robes ordered from Diagon Alley. Finally, he goes to get his wand. Which, of course, ends horribly. Ever wand he tries to use explodes. After going through 30 wands and nearly blowing up the building, the wand maker stops giving him wands. He gives him two buckets of old wands that he can burn through, and hopefully one MIGHT work. On September 1st, Virgil portkeys to Hogwarts, saying goodbye to Ms. Spring and Mr. Warcal. His parents gave him a quick goodbye and a portkey the night before. They thought riding on a train was “undignified and outdated” so had a long distance portkey custom made. Within seconds he’s transported right next to the line of first years, puking his guts out on an older, red haired boy. The boy tries to attack him, but his quickly held back by his friends. Embarrassed, he quickly tries to hide himself within the crowd. They of course make it to the main hall, with the red haired boy, a Prefect by the name of Louis Delacour, glaring daggers at Virgil. They of course get a formal welcome by Professor Slughorn (aka Mister Can’t Be Fired), who of course is scouting for the children of affluent, and exceptional wizards. The Sorting ceremony commences, and finally when it gets to “Virgil Lord”, the room erupts in chatter. As Virgil makes his way up to the Sorting Hat, words like “Squib”, “Obscurial”, and “Hermit” catch his attention. He prays that he gets into any house but Slytherin. He takes his seat and the hat is put on his head. The hat is silent for a few seconds, before telling Virgil that it’s been a long time since he’s had “One of you” in this chair. Virgil pleads with him to put him in anything but Slytherin. The Sorting Hat only replies with “trust me”. “SLYTHERIN!” The color drains from his face and the room goes silent, and Virgil awkwardly makes his way to the Slytherin table. All the students from every house give him death stares and he sits down at an empty spot on the far end of the table. You see, in my version of the post Deathly Hallows world, everything that happened in the original series dug a bigger hole for Slytherins. The hatred had gotten extremely volatile. Being sorted into Slytherin was painting a large target on your back. Hell, there was even talk for a few years to completely get rid of Slytherin, but was eventually shot down after lengthy debates. Over the next few weeks, things were pretty bad for Virgil. Due to parents concern he‘s an Obscurial and no one wanting to room with him, a small subsection of the dungeons, far from anyone, was converted into his dorm room. Being used to isolation, this didn’t bother him. When classes started, that’s when his trouble began. Everytime he attempted magic, his wand would shatter into a million pieces. He could do the written work and most potions, but just could not cast a single spell. In one instance a girl’s hair turned to icicles. This alienated him even more, causing many students, especially Gryffindors (courtesy of Louis). His shoe laces would be hexed together, his books would fly out his bag, and his robes would temporarily be turned a bright pink. He talked with his family when he could, them usually being to busy to stay on the line for more than a few minutes. Ms. Spring sent him cookies and Mr. Warcal would send him the occasional book. He usually found himself eating with a werewolf named Franklin and daughter of former Death Eater double agents Georgina. They never spoke, just enjoyed being around people not trying to make their lives hell. It all came to a head during their first flying lesson. Virgil was of course having trouble controlling his broomstick. He tried to command it and it wouldn’t move. A group of Ravenclaws watched him, throwing pebbles at his head. One of them through a much larger rock at his shoulder, leaving a deep cut. Virgil screamed in anger and pain, causing all the brooms to go flying into air, and quickly fall to the ground, breaking into pieces. In shock, Virgil was quickly rushed to the Medical office and patched up. Virgil decided to skip lunch and dinner, choosing to avoid people for the weekend and confine himself to his room for as long as he could. Upon entering his room, he noticed a black envelope with a green trim around its edges. Confused, Virgil opened and read the letter. In it was a lengthy letter from a man referring to himself as “Mr. Graves”. The letter primarily consisted of Mr. Graves empathizing with Virgil’s situation. Far from home, seemingly surrounded by enemies from all sides, and not fully understanding his power. He reassures him that things will not always be this way. He offers to talk to Virgil when can, and to leave any letters under his pillow. The letter ends with: “Your Friend, Mr. Graves” Inside the envelope were two pages torn from a two different books. The first one is a guide on how to brew potions without the use of the wand, and another with simple protection spells that can be done without a wand. Virgil writes a letter and leaves it under his pillow. The next morning, his letter is gone and is replaced with another Black envelope. Over the next 3 weeks, Mr. Graves and Virgil are constantly exchanging letters. Anytime he put a letter under his pillow, A black envelope would appear. It got to a point where Virgil would stop between classes to leave and retrieve letters. They talked about a variety of things. Wizard history, forgotten spells, potions far too advanced for any Hogwarts student, and various ways the Virgil could protect himself. There were a few times Mr. Graves would send Virgil pages on wand control, but they never worked. The protective spells definitely made his life easier, but his correspondence with Mr. Graves made him feel HEARD for once. Stranger or not, it was nice for him to finally have a friend. One night after dinner, Virgil excitedly went to recover a letter. In it contained an emerald key and a list of instructions. The letter referred to the key as “a gift that will lead to another gift.” It instructed him to blow a hole into his left wall, and to continue from there. Virgil hesitated for a few moments, wondering if this was some elaborate prank. He decided to grab a wand out of his bucket and try to cast a random spell. The wand of course exploded and the middle of the wall exploded. To his shock, a thin, winding staircase was behind the wall. He cautiously made his way down the dark stairway, the wall reforming behind him. Torches with bright green fire light up as he made his way down the stairs. At the end of the stairs was a cold room, with obsidian floors. It was the size of a baseball field, with large black gate in front of it. At the top the gate, in jagged letters was a sentence the made Virgil’s heart drop. “The Library of Salazar Slytherin” ——————————————————————- That’s the end of part 1. I’m sorry I kinda got carried away with the story, because I am very bored lol. I hope those who read it enjoyed, and if y’all want I can make a part 2! Also I would love to see if someone can guess who Virgil’s ancestors were! It’s the last thing anyone would expect but I’m curious!
2020.09.15 23:12 SabatonBabylon[OC] Chronicles of the Siren War [Chapter 63]
PreviousFirst ----- A/N: Please consider supporting my writing efforts on Patreon. You can follow this story and be alerted when new chapters release via fanfiction.net. No, this story is not 'off hiatus' yet, but I pieced together some text I had written a while ago and the rest over the last few weeks and it would seem a crime to withhold it from you all. I do not know when Chapter 64 will be here. I'm sorry. ----- “Hiryuu! HIRYUU!” Soryuu sobbed, gasping for air as her eyes burned with the warm salt of tears. From the very first moment of her existence, the instant her cubes had resonated with her hull, she had felt a presence at her side, striding alongside her through hell and high water. That presence was suddenly gone. For the first time in her life she was truly and utterly without her stupid, loveable, brawler of a sister. Surrounded by burning oil and sinking ships, cries for help from survivors, and the impending battleships of the Union, honor ceased to matter. Nobility in death was well and good when meditating on morality over a cup of tea with Lady Kaga. It meant nothing as she watched half of her sister’s ship sink beneath the waves, the second half soon to follow. “On your knees and hands on your head, unless you want to end up like her,” a stern voice ordered from her back. Soryuu turned to find a raven-haired bombshell walking towards her, her stockings and deep blue uniform singed and torn. Her rigging even featured a disabled main battery, but every other gun was pointed straight at her. “Y-you?!” she spoke as the Union battleship continued to advance across her flight deck. “Do what I say, unless you wish to die in service to the generals who just abandoned you,” the battleship insisted. The carrier attempted to launch a couple of cards at her, but Pennsylvania already had her guns aimed and at the ready, firing the moment Soryuu moved her arms. She gasped in pain and fell to her deck as her ears rang and her head swam with stars. “Why? How?” she wondered futilely as Pennsylvania loomed over her, rigging pointed at her head as she brushed the hair out of her eyes. “The older sisters always seem to have some fight in them it seems. You have two options, rabbit. Surrender to Commander Andrew Thorson or suffer the death you so richly deserve,” the battleship laid out the terms clearly. “Just do it then,” Soryuu whispered sadly, looking across the sea at the Tennessee. Only the tip of the Hiryuu’s bow could be seen anymore. “I suppose some of you really do believe in that honor above all horse shit,” Pennsylvania scoffed. “You’d really leave your sister behind just for the sake of your own conscience?” “Do not toy with me, Union warrior. You have won your victory, now end it so I may join my sister in the afterlife.” “The hell are you talking about?” Pennsylvania demanded, surveying the ocean around them where triage and rescue operations were in full swing. Thorson’s injured were already aboard the Akashi, with those capable of continued sailing scouring the battlefield for usable cubes, surviving Sakura shipgirls, or the wisdom cubes that marked the graves of others fallen in combat. “Tennessee, status?” “Toughest bitch I’ve ever fought. She should be dead but she isn’t. Get that other one in chains and let’s get back to Thorson.” “Understood,” Pennsylvania acknowledged before turning to Soryuu. “Your sister is alive, but barely. Surrender your shard to us and I’ll take you to her immediately. Fight and you will die.” “Hiryuu… you must be lying!” Soryuu snapped in desperation. “I can no longer sense her!” “Because Tennessee slugged the ever-loving shit out of her you dumb fucking rabbit. I don’t have time for this!” Pennsylvania suddenly roared, green eyes alight with fury. “You murdered my sister and friends! You think I’d be trying to keep you alive? What I am trying is to keep myself from ripping your throat out and shoving a barrel down your neck! Now choose before I disobey my commanding officer and end your miserable life!” Soryuu could only blink in shock as her analytical mind did its best to overcome the perceived death of her sister and analyze the situation. Though the Union woman was her enemy, her logic was sound. Even if the Union planned to interrogate her and the story about Hiryuu was a lie, she could simply end her own life upon verifying her sister’s demise. Accepting that surrender was the prudent course of action, Soryuu nodded and pushed herself into a kneeling position, hanging her head in shame. She grimaced as a sudden pain assaulted her, grasping at the back of her neck. Something burned there, something that should not have been. She tore at it before Pennsylvania could stop her, relief washing over her as power drained from her body along with something else. It was like a drunkenness had been magically dispelled from her mind, one she’d not even been aware of until that moment. She and Pennsylvania both watched as the pale red shard in her bloody hand cracked and fell to dust, blown away by the wind along with a good deal of her strength. “What in the name of the gods just happened?” “You’ll have plenty of time to think about it in captivity. Now come, Sakura,” Pennsylvania ordered, hoisting her up onto her shaking feet and prodding her from behind. “Let it not be said the Union is full of liars. Commander Thorson will decide your fate.” “And my comrades? Does his mercy extend to them?” Soryuu wondered, knowing that as pieces went she was far more valuable than a pawn. Pennsylvania answered shortly. “Those who managed to survive.” ----- “Hmm, Laffey may have gone a little overboard. Excuse me please,” the sleepy voice requested, blowing down the door to Hiei’s bridge with her twin rigging pistols. It was not hard to find the shipgirl within the blackened room, her pale skin, ivory horns, and white clothing the only things in the space that weren’t charred or burned. Laffey stood silently in the doorway, surveying her work with sleepy, sad eyes. “Laffey is sorry, but you hurt the Commander.” An awful, wheezing sound came faintly from Hiei’s throat. Laffey’s ears twitched as she moved to the fallen battleship’s side. An expanse of raw, burned tissue covered the left side of her face and seemed to extend down her neck and along her body, marring her otherwise pristine beauty. Her port side had taken the full force of the attack. “Laffey is not a nurse, no no. Commander would be sad if she killed you now that you are no longer a threat. Miss Colorado?” “I read you, Laffey. One of the prisoners is apparently her sister ship. What’s the status of that charred tub?” the battleship wondered, impressed that even after the attack it was still afloat at all. “Laffey needs your strength please, big and strong battleship. Laffey did not kill her, but if nothing is done Laffey is pretty sure she will die.” “By my main batteries, repeat that! You’re saying she survived?!” the perpetually calm Colorado gasped. “Please, Miss Colorado. Laffey does not have enough alcohol to disinfect all of the burned skin,” the destroyer explained. “Oh hell, I’m on my way,” Colorado affirmed, leaping from her ship onto the water’s surface. “Maryland, West Virginia, scout the area where the other battleship and that heavy cruiser went down. We have a survivor over here.” “Understood, sister.” ----- If Commander Thorson had thought the chaos would end with the retreat of Akagi and Kaga, he was wrong. Aboard the Akashi, the controlled mayhem of triage and post-battle first aid reigned. The repair ship featured a large medical bay designed for shipgirls, and the beds were filling by the minute. Many of them were occupied by his own ships, those who needed to be tended to before they could join in the search and rescue missions that were ongoing. He sat between Yamashiro and Fusou, each of whom had suffered serious fire damage to their superstructures on account of their size, their position as flagships, and the fact that Akagi and Kaga had singled them out as traitors. “Easy now, it’s healing,” he offered, moving Yamashiro’s hand away from a jar of secret coolant. He replaced the washcloth he’d been using to soothe Fusou’s burns in a tub of cold water and offered her the drink himself. “Both of you did exceptionally well. I’m very proud of you.” “Tono-sama,” Yamashiro murmured sweetly, leaning over to sip through the straw. She sighed contentedly when she was finished, and he wiped the sweat from her body. Both she and Fusou had been stripped naked on Akashi’s orders so that the full extent of the damage could be assessed, but no one seemed particularly off put or aroused by the circumstance. All that mattered was caring for his girls, and to his great relief the power of their cubes was restoring the angry, red patches of skin to their pristine, smooth, creamy state minute by minute. Another had not been so lucky. “Commander Thorson!” Colorado shouted from the doorway as Laffey cleared a path for them. In the battleship’s arms was a tall, horned woman with long black hair and burns the likes of which he’d only seen once before, during Pearl Harbor. “The woman Laffey attacked is alive, but she’s in a bad, bad way.” “Place her here, nyaa! The sheets are sterile. Akashi will go find another IV bag. Bulins, Akashi wants a full evaluation upon her return!” the minty kitty ordered before scampering off on all fours. The white-haired mechanics snapped to attention and surrounded Colorado, offering aid and guiding her to the open bed. From the back of the room, one of the prisoners stood suddenly. “Hiei?! Oh gods, what happened to-” “Sit down Sakura, now,” Tennessee growled, seated at the end of the room where Hiryuu lay unconscious and bandaged in bed, taking in coolant from an IV drip. “I don’t care if you look like a Royal, no sudden moves.” Kongou, who had been disabled but not gravely wounded in the battle, could do nothing but watch as her sister was laid down nearby. Her clothes needed to be cut away, the burns were so bad. “Why… Why isn’t she healing?” “Go, tono-sama,” Fusou urged. “We will recover.” With a curt nod, Thorson stood and walked over to inspect Laffey’s grisly work. Both the destroyer and Colorado stood nearby, silent and looking almost guilty. He spoke with them first. “You’re both well?” “Yes sir.” “Laffey is just fine, yes yes.” “Good,” he rubbed her between the ears and saluted Colorado. “If that burned out wreck is still seaworthy, move the human survivors to it and we’ll give it a tow to Midway. We don’t have the manpower to keep human prisoners on our ships.” “Yes sir, it will be done,” Colorado saluted in return, straightening her high collar and leading Laffey from the medical bay. Thorson was left to review Hiei’s condition, her bed surrounded by frantically working bulins who were covering her burned skin with sterile gauze and hooking her up with fluids in her relatively unscathed right arm. Maimed men were bad enough, a sight and smell to turn the stomach. Seeing a once proud Sakura battleship in such a condition made his heart tighten with guilt. “Why isn’t she…” Kongou gasped quietly. Thorson turned to face her. He’d never seen a Sakura with such a light complexion as her. “How is your arm and neck?” he demanded, taking note of the sling and bandages. Kongou glared at him but replied courteously. “Fine, enemy commander.” “Not shikikan? What is your name.” “Kongou, lead battleship of the Kongou class and proud warrior of the Sakura.” “Spare me,” Tennessee demanded, her guns still trained on the other blonde battleship. “Thank you Tennessee, but let’s not antagonize her further. I don’t think I need to tell you what you’d do if California looked like that,” Thorson guessed. Tennessee accepted the point and tipped her cap. Her sister had needed a couple bandages and a drink before heading back out to participate in the rescue mission. That alone was reason to celebrate. “Kongou, I cannot say for sure but I will give you my best guess. Your sister’s cubes have expired… or they have been damaged in some way I don’t understand. Frankly I’m amazed her body is still holding on. We will do everything we can to help her.” “Why should I trust you?” Kongou asked helplessly, watching as her sister’s entire left side was slowly covered in gauze. All she could do was give thanks that Hiei’s eyes, hair, and the majority of her face and body appeared undamaged. “Other than the fact that you have no other option?” Thorson pointed out. “Because I want as many of you Sakura in my fleet as I can get. Your Siren masters need to be put in their place. Many of your comrades seem to agree.” “Kongou, you can believe him,” Fusou added quietly from her bed, coughing quietly. “You will forgive me if I do not take the words of a traitor so easily, shrine-keeper,” Kongou bowed politely. Fusou seemed unworried. “I believe we will have some time as we travel home. If you will listen, I will tell you why Yamashiro and I fled the Sanctuary,” she promised. Kongou had no reply. “How bad is it?” Thorson asked the chief bulin as Akashi returned with morphine, disinfectant, and more coolant. “Unlikely she will fight again, buli,” the mechanic replied as Akashi nodded her head sadly. “Akashi has not seen this since Amagi-sama fell ill. With luck we will not lose another. Shikikan, you are in the way please. Nyaa nyaa, what a mess.” “Right, sorry,” Thorson muttered, finally tearing his eyes away from Hiei. By his orders a being of incredible grace and beauty had been permanently scarred. He suddenly felt as though he could remain no longer. On the way out to deck he passed a sleeping Cassin as well as Minneapolis and South Dakota, both of whom were resting and recovering. The battleship’s revealing attire showed off ample bruising, scrapes and cuts, but she remained defiant. “The two of you doing alright?” “We’re Indians, Commander,” Minneapolis provided simply. “Your kind could not exterminate us. It would take a hell of a lot more than that to finish the job. It was a fine hunt though. I eagerly await our next one.” “Let’s get ourselves recovered first, and then we’ll see about chasing down those foxes,” Thorson agreed, bringing a smile to Minnie’s face as she laid back and rested her head in her lap, indulging in a well-earned snooze on a surface more comfortable than any pillow, her own thighs. “Dakota?” “I am well, Commander. A shield does not complain about such paltry things.” “You are a woman, South Dakota, and one of the reasons we survived today’s action. I’ll be recommending you for combat honors when we return to the base,” he stated simply, knowing she preferred blunt conversation. “That is the best news Foo and I have heard today, at least since we learned that Miss Houston is only lightly injured,” Kasumi added, her presence almost nothing as she tended gently to her battleship partner. Thorson had barely noticed she was there. “Congratulations, Miss Dakota.” “I see,” the dark-skinned battleship replied, looking down at her hands. “Thank you, Commander.” “Oh and before you go, Commander, there’s something you should know,” Minnie jumped back in. “That horned girl, Portland’s sister? She’s a bit of a mystery but there was no mistaking it in the thick of things. Her ability to read the wind and waves, the flow of battle… she’s one of us.” “If that part of her identity becomes important to her, I’m counting on the two of you,” Thorson replied after a moment of consideration, earning salutes from the both of them before he left the med bay and headed onto deck. There he came face to face with Pennsylvania, who was leading a proud-looking woman with deep blue hair and tall rabbit ears. “This is the other, Commander,” Penny stated, a bite in her voice. “She removed her own shard.” “She did what?” Thorson demanded, immediately turning a furrowed gaze to Soryuu and looking over every inch of her. “We will speak later. Your sister is alive and asleep inside. Penny, take her to Tennessee and then get yourself checked out. Damn fine work today, you and Arizona.” “Thank you, Andrew. I’m glad you survived too,” Pennsylvania replied unabashedly. “Alright bunny girl, you heard him. Move it.” Soryuu complied silently, her eyes not leaving Thorson’s until the rotation of her neck forced her to look forward again. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, the Commander began a trip around the Akashi’s deck, not wanting to occupy any of his girls with the pointless task of carrying him from ship to ship while so much was in flux. At the bow of the ship he saw her, the one woman who had destroyed his confidence and yet saved his fleet. She turned as his footfalls approached, brushing her jagged hairdo out of her eyes. “Knight Commander? To what do I owe the honor?” Ark Royal asked. “You mean other than tangling with four of the most powerful carriers in the Sakura navy and coming out on top?” he laid it out with a thin smile, one that she returned as he halted a few inches from her. The stiff breeze made the proximity necessary for calm conversation. “I had help, Knight Commander,” Ark demurred humbly, leaning heavily on her rifle. Her shoulder armor was chipped and cracked in various places, and her long cloak and short skirt were in terrible condition. Were it not for her distress, it would have been sinfully alluring. “Those battleships and cruisers of yours really pack a punch.” “Here,” Thorson insisted, throwing her arm over his shoulder and providing her with a fresh bottle of coolant he’d taken with him from the medical wing. “I’m sure you’re sick of it by now, but no one’s working the kitchens.” “It’s more than enough. Thank you,” Ark accepted with grace, allowing her rigging to vanish as she drank deeply. Thorson spoke up again. “I was wrong, you know.” “About what, Knight Commander?” “Without you, without airpower, my battleships would have fallen today. You worked for weeks to master a plane you were never meant to launch. You managed to equip them with anti-ship weaponry when it mattered most. And I’ll wager three month’s salary that you have a higher aircraft kill count than Enterprise and her sisters combined in this theater. That’s not a lot of money by the way,” he admitted openly. Ark laughed well before clutching at her side and looking him in the eye. “I wasn’t expecting this when you said you were going to use me, Knight Commander.” Her voice was a bare whisper, but it might as well have been a bullhorn. Unsure what else to do he leaned in and brushed his nose against hers. Ark closed her eyes before stiffening as though she’d been shocked by a live wire. “Y-you certainly have more important things to do than sit here and prop me up, Knight Commander!” “I should probably go oversee the prisoner transfer, yes. And you don’t need me interrupting your recovery and invading your privacy,” he rationalized awkwardly. She nodded with vigor. “Yes, yes of course. I’ll recover and get back to it. The sooner we get back to work. Yes, that’s right.” Ark and Thorson swallowed heavily. It was much more uncomfortable than lust or even love as they waited and watched one another. Eventually she did speak again, earnestly. “We should get home as soon as we can. I worry about the little ones.” “I know, and we will,” he affirmed with equal honesty, leaning in and kissing her for real. He did not know what it was like to kiss one’s wife. The way things were going he wasn’t sure he’d ever know. But something in the way Ark’s lips lingered tenderly and lovingly on his tricked his brain for that moment, tricked him into believing they were the lips of the mother of his children. “Thank you Ark, for everything.” “G-Godspeed, Knight Commander,” she gasped quietly. “I’ll find you if I need anything.” “Good… I’m sorry,” he apologized for not having anything else to say. Ark laughed. It was not triumphant or jovial, not ridiculing or humorous, just a simple and beautiful testament to the fact they were both alive and able to fulfill the promise they’d made to Mutsuki, Kisaragi, and Mikazuki. “I’m not, Knight Commander. Now go, before we both abandon our duties.” “As you say, Ark.” ----- “Keep trying, Downes! Those planes are well ahead of us!” Javelin encouraged as the two of them along with Yuudachi and Yukikaze sprinted over the waves to the east, desperately searching for Enterprise’s task force. Downes was attempting to hail them on Union channels but up until then had met with no reply. Looming over the four of them was the unknown result of Hiryuu’s ‘suicide’ attack and the fate of the Union navy. “I am trying!” the tomboyish destroyer insister, laying into her radio again and channeling as much power as she could into it without sacrificing speed. “This is the USS Downes for Enterprise, hell, for anyone who’s left! There is one final air strike coming from the west! The main Sakura battle group has been defeated and Commander Thorson requests a rendezvous at Midway. Please respond!” After another few minutes of silence she pounded the controls on her bridge. “For the love of my mismatched eyes, say something! The battle is over and we want to help!” Yuudachi barked happily as the radio finally crackled to life in reply. “I saw those eyes myself! It’s her! Downes, this is Enterprise! Yorktown is… please help!” “Yeah, that’s the idea,” Downes assured her, feeling her engines thrum with anticipation. “Give us your coordinates! We’ll escort you all to Thorson. He’s rounding up the Sakura we took prisoner right now.” Enterprise complied immediately, apparently over the wishes of her own commanding officer based on the disgruntled shouting. The four destroyers adjusted heading slightly south and put on a final burst of speed. Within minutes, a column of smoke could be seen on the distant horizon. Yukikaze sighed sadly. “I think we found those planes, nanoda.” “Forget the planes!” Yuudachi shouted in between audible sniffs of the air around them. “Yuki, I smell slugs.” “They wouldn’t, they couldn’t!” “Just smell!” the snowy inu demanded. Yukikaze’s reaction was immediate. “Oh crap crap crap! They’re here, nanoda!” “Who’s here?” Javelin demanded. “Union ships, this is Yuudachi! I don’t know what you’re doing but if you don’t have depth charges in the water you best start launching them before you all get blown to the gods, wan~!” “Shit, submarines?” Downes deduced. “But that’s- how did they get past my sonar?” Javelin demanded. “Not they, she!” Yukikaze clarified as they hurried towards the Union formation where cruisers and destroyers were scrambling to respond to Yuudachi’s warning. “Hey, doesn’t that ship there belong to the sassy Union cat?” “She? You mean one lone submarine? What could one ship hope to do?” Downes demanded. “And what’s that gotta do with Hammann?” The answer to that question became clear as the Hammann and Yorktown, tethered together as the former tried desperately to save her friend who had endured more than should have been expected of any one carrier, were struck by torpedoes from an unknown source. “Why is it the one time I’m right it’s really bad, wan?” Yuudachi lamented in frustration. “Forget that, doggy! We have to save the Union cat, nanoda!” “What about Yorktown?!” Javelin demanded, watching as the ship finally succumbed to weeks’ worth of damage. “She isn’t like us! The Union can save her! Us dogs and cats need to stick together!” Yuudachi insisted. “Shigure is still a baka-inu!” Yukikaze insisted. “Not the time, girls!” Downes shouted. “Now move!” Contrary to Yuudachi’s optimistic claim, there was little the Union shipgirls could do to save Yorktown without rigging of their own. Only Hammann, who had directly boarded the ship, was at her side, crying and clinging to her as she felt her ship sinking. “Come on Yorktown! Please, we have to go!” “Oh you sweet child,” Yorktown whispered heavily, feeling the weight of a lifetime at war slowly lowering her eyelids. She petted Hammann between the ears as Grim landed on her shoulder, a stern look in her eyes. “Go to her, my friend. I may be lost, but the battle is won. The day is ours and my sister must now bear the torch forward. I know how much I’m asking of you but with Hornet gone… you must be at her side.” With a haunting cry, the bald eagle nipped affectionately at Yorktown’s finger once before taking flight, circling the sinking carrier as her calls served as something of a funeral dirge. With her constant companion taken care of, Yorktown embraced Hammann and kissed the top of her hair. “And now you must leave, my dear. There is still more for you to do in this war, I know it.” “I can’t! I won’t!” Hammann insisted tearfully. “Sims… I can’t lose you and Sims!” “We will never truly be lost, so long as you survive, little one. You and my sister and everyone else will keep us alive in your memory. Please, don’t let my fate be yours,” the elder carrier implored, feeling the steel beneath them shudder and snap. “Now go.” “Noooo!” Hammann wailed, closing her eyes tightly as an explosion ripped through the Yorktown’s hull and her world went dark. By the time Yuudachi and Yukikaze fished her out of the water near the wreckage, only Grim’s constant circling was left to mark the location, her calls a testament to the Union carrier who had only been brought down by the combined efforts of no less than six Sakura ships. Yukikaze shook Hammann’s body vigorously, willing her to wake. The neko’s lips were blue and her clothing was soaked. Every worry she felt for her own sisters, lost somewhere on the other battlefield, bubbled to the surface as Javelin joined her and Downes met with Enterprise to give directions to the Union fleets. Escorts on highest alert, the task forces finally turned for Midway Atoll at full steam. Downes allowed Enterprise to mourn her sisters privately, mumbling her own exhortations that Cassin would make it through another awful battle. Burdened by Enterprise’s top cruising speed, the only thing left for her to do was to set her ship to autopilot and board the Yukikaze, gathering around her three compatriots as they attempted to warm and revive Hammann. When the neko finally opened her pale blue eyes to find Yorktown gone, coughing and spluttering as brackish water left her lungs, she succumbed to tears that did not relent until they reached Midway. ----- “Shikikan, Arizona needs your help, nyaa,” Akashi poked him awake and conveyed the news quietly, delivering several blankets and a pack of coolant to him. “She requested these, now go go.” He nodded silently, standing from the Spartan chair that he’d nevertheless managed to fall asleep in within the medical wing. All around him ships were resting and sleeping as his fleet slowly made its way back to Midway under cover of night. There were plenty of prisoners to account for, but Arizona’s needs came first. Ships like Kongou weren’t going anywhere. Outside he found Arizona waiting for him, her rigging out. She gathered up the items and made to depart with barely a word, but Thorson’s hand on her shoulder stopped her. “Angel,” he whispered. She seemed almost eager to get back to her ship, but spared a moment for him. “I’m fine, Andrew,” she promised, her bright, teal eyes glinting in the sparse moonlight. “Alright. Thank you for today. You saved us all, again,” he reminded her. She turned back his way and pressed up against his body, driving away any chill from the air and accepting a kiss tenderly. “Yukikaze’s sisters are not doing well, Commander. I need to go now,” she insisted. He saw her to the edge of the deck before letting her depart. “You’re sure you don’t need my help?” he asked. “I have Laffey and Z23 with me, Andrew. Thank you for the supplies. I love you.” Thorson was not given a chance to return her words before she was gone, left instead to wonder at the fate of Urakaze and her sisters, not to mention what sort of tragedies awaited when the stack of wisdom cubes they’d collected was finally sorted into hulls and souls. He didn’t know how many of his own girls would have to live with the knowledge that they’d slain their own sisters or comrades. All he could do was wait for the dawn, when he hoped Yamashiro and Fusou would be willing to assist him in his awful task. He wasn’t sure if it was the stress of battle, the relief of survival, or both, but he actually managed a heartless chuckle into the night. “I wonder what Vampire would have to say about all this?” ----- Commander Thorson’s sleep was as restless at the battle itself. A charitable individual would attribute it to the carnage of Midway. One less inclined to the benefit of the doubt would have pointed out that it was the first night in many he’d not spent with a loving companion to warm his bed. In a stunning display of mercy that convinced him every damn ship in his fleet was worthy of combat honors, his girls had spent the night making longer and longer trips back to the scene of the battle from Thorson’s fleet to retrieve human survivors from the Sakura wreckage. Stashed aboard the charred but floating Hiei, they were the last thing on his mind when he re-entered the med bay. Many of the girls, though he knew ship-women would be a better name, were looking at him. Many others still rested. He walked quietly over to Fusou and Yamashiro’s bedside where a table sat between them, laden with wisdom cubes collected after Midway. “How are you two doing?” “We are well, tono-sama,” Fusou assured him. “Akashi, the bulins, and even the manjuus have been good to us.” As if on cue, a small flock of the birds arrived in the open doorway, chirping quietly as they carried more secret coolant to all the bedsides in need. Pennsylvania accepted one and sat up in bed, rolling her shoulder. The crack was audible but she smiled widely. “Really going to be happy to get back to Shiratsuyu’s cooking.” “You’re not the only one,” Thorson assured her. Perhaps on account of fear or weakness he forestalled his grim task that morning as Midway and the Union task forces became visible on the southern horizon with the light of dawn. “Fusou, can I ask you a question?” “You need not be so formal, tono-sama,” the elder sister replied as Yamashiro claimed her share of morning attention and snuggled up to his right side. She earned herself a petting between the ears for her troubles. “Is there a term in your language for what you are, for a shipgirl? It’s such a… misnomer in English,” he explained. “Especially after what we all just went through.” “Kansen,” Fusou replied simply. “We are the kansen.” He smiled faintly. “I like that a lot more. Now, will you help me with this?” “We both will, tono-sama. This is our duty,” Yamashiro offered bravely as he turned his chair around so his back faced the rest of his fleet. Union and Sakura alike looked on as the score was finally settled. Perhaps on account of their connection to the gods or their former comrades, it took but a moment for the two neko maidens to sort the pile into cubes that Thorson could use as raw material, ten in all, and cubes that had belonged to living kansen not days before. Yamashiro’s ears wilted as she picked up the first one. “This was Chikuma. She had blue eyes and was very kind.” “I’m sorry,” he whispered, taking the cube from her and holding it in his hands. If any soul remained within, he could not reach or even sense it. “Does she have sisters among our fleet?” “Here is her sister,” Fusou said calmly, though her eyes held great sorrow as another cube was offered to him. They seemed to glow just a bit brighter when held together in his hands. “Tone was the elder. She reminded me of Soryuu in many ways, serious and committed to her training.” “God damnit,” Thorson muttered, setting the cubes aside so that they could be together while they carried on. The process didn’t get easier from there. “Who are those?” “Yukikaze and Shiranui’s sisters,” Yamashiro replied. “Nowaki and the eldest, Kagerou.” “Shit,” the commander lamented. “At least Arizona managed to salvage the other four. We’ll make sure they receive proper rights and that the living can participate.” “Thank you, tono-sama,” Fusou said as more and more of the kansen stirred from various states of rest, listening with somber curiosity. The shrine maiden looked past him to another bed in the infirmary. It held the young woman he’d seen through his binoculars the day before. He’d given the order to fire at the whites of her eyes. “Mogami, the eldest of her sisters. I’m sorry, Suzuya.” The young, horned woman said nothing, hanging her head and clutching the bedsheets with bandaged fingers. Her sword had been taken from her the moment she’d been rescued by the Union forces. There was naught she could do but mourn as her sister’s cube was placed gently at her side. She didn’t dare address the enemy commander, even as he offered his condolences. “Please tell me this is the last one,” he implored when he returned to Yamashiro. She nodded. “It’s a battleship, Haruna,” the neko told him with drooping tail and ears. A choked sob came from down the row of beds near where Soryuu and Hiryuu were resting under guard. Thorson stood, and the kansen rose to meet him, the same one who had lamented Hiei’s marred body the night before. Kongou was breathing heavily, trying to control herself as far too many eyes watched her. After an eternity he stood before her and offered Haruna’s cubes. Blinking back tears she took them from him. “When we return to my base you’ll be given an opportunity to lay her to rest in your own tradition, even if you choose to remain a prisoner,” he promised. Kongou could not bring herself to reply, and was spared an extended moment of tension, fear, and sorrow as a commotion made itself known at the doorway to the medbay. “Knight Commander, we’re back! Come quickly, it’s… Kongou?!” Javelin gasped. “J-Javelin?” the battleship whispered, something of a British accent slipping through in response to Javelin’s own. Thorson glanced between the two of them curiously. “You know her, Javelin?” “I was constructed in Royal Navy shipyards,” Kongou answered directly, though she averted her eyes when he tried to hold contact. “Oh for the love of- The two of you can have tea later!” Downes yelped. “Now move! Cassin, please tell me you’ve still got all your limbs this time!” Thorson cursed himself for having sent Downes away without thinking of her sister, but the moment the spunky, ashen-haired destroyer confirmed her sister was on the mend she turned his way. “Commander, the leaders of Task Forces 16 and 17 are waiting for you on shore.” Every Kansen who could watched with bated breath as Thorson squared his shoulders. He hoped Colorado and her sisters were not already antagonizing anyone. “What’s the score, Downes?” The destroyer licked her lips nervously and met Tennessee’s eyes. The frowning battleship didn’t move a muscle but she gave Downes the resolve she needed to be the reaper’s messenger. “We weren’t fast enough, Andrew.” Thorson pulled his cap low over his brow as Downes walked forward and clasped his hand gently. He squeezed tight, felt how warm she still was. “How bad?” “Hornet and Yorktown are gone.” ----- PreviousFirst
2020.09.14 09:51 talabi_Response to Common Criticisms
Responses to common criticisms I’ve read 1. The game is overly bleak and depressing. When people say this as a criticism it just makes me think “Did they play the first game?” the ending of the first game is such a gut punch and that feeling is conveyed into the second game. Unless someone misinterpreted the ending of the first game as a “Happy Ending” then the tone of the second game naturally follows the first game’s ending. The most accessible example I can think of is if “Avengers: Endgame” opened with all the characters being happy and well adjusted. The events of “Avengers: Infinity War” still reverberate throughout the narrative. 2. It stretches believability for Joel and Tommy to find themselves in that situation surrounded by Abby’s group. I’ve played the game twice now, along with replaying portions of the game in the “Chapter Select” option and it’s clear that the situation where they found Abby in was one wear they were in danger and they found someone else in danger. If you read the logs from the sign in books, people have found people outside the community and brought them back to the community. Joel and Tommy were helping someone they found who was in danger. In the first game, Ellie and Joel were pulled from the water by the brothers who had abandoned them earlier, it was an impulse save. Ellie and Joel were saved that time by the older brother who knew they might resent him but when he was able to save them without risk to himself and his younger brother, he did it. It would have been practical for the brothers to have left them to die but they still had the humanity to save them, just like Joel and Tommy saving Abby. Tommy and Joel saved Abby and they were in a situation where they couldn’t run back to their settlement (this is reinforced by their dialogue and during the portion you play earlier where you head to the library because Dina tells you that you can’t make it back in this snow storm) and they couldn’t hold up in the lodge (as demonstrated by the infected chasing you through the lodge even though you keep attempting to erect barricades), they made the decision that the person they saved would in turn lead them somewhere safe. Abby had already planned to kidnap scouts from Jackson to find Joel’s location, it wouldn’t have mattered if Tommy and Joel gave fake names because they would have been detained and possible tortured anyways in order to find Joel. Once Joel and Tommy went through the gates of the compound, they were effectively surrounded and Joel’s fate was sealed. 3. Why would Abby do that to Joel after he saved her life? Well that plays into the theme of the story about the destructiveness of revenge and retribution. If Abby can’t be understood for why she did that after being saved by Joel then Ellie can’t be justified for her journey to find Abby following Abby’s actions because Abby clearly spared Ellie. Dinah even addresses this when you’re in Seattle when she questions why they left Ellie alive. Abby’s group was going to kill Ellie until Owen intervened. 4. Abby is freakish muscular, it suspends disbelief. Well, that actually has many answer to anyone asking it. A. Abby is modeled on a real person so … how can it suspend disbelief when it’s the proportions of a real human being? B. Abby’s introduction at her base shows that they’re a large community living within a NFL stadium so Abby is built like a linebacker because she literally is using the training facilities of a linebacker. C. You can actually delve a little further into the psychology. I thought it was a nice subtle touch but I guess many people didn’t read it the same way? When Abby’s father is killed by Joel, she keeps having nightmares about that day where she’s this scared little girl and her life is ruined by the big boogeyman. It felt like she became this massively physical person as a way to distance herself as far as possible from the little girl she used to be. D. Finally, if Abby’s body type is unjustifiable then the Scar heavy enemies are unjustifiable because they’re bigger than Abby, so you can’t say Abby’s body is unjustifiable but the Scar heavy enemies are justifiable. 5. Why didn’t Abby’s group kill Ellie? They didn’t kill Ellie because the dynamic of the group went along with Abby out of their loyalty to the group and Abby not because they thought Abby’s mission was entirely reasonable. Once Joel was killed, Owen and Mel realized that this level of violence was toxic w d needed to stop. If Abby went further and killed Ellie it would tarnish the story they’re all telling themselves about the justice of Abby’s mission. When you’re introduced to Abby it’s with Owen who is subtly trying to convince Abby that she shouldn’t do this, it’s not worth the risk (which is then mirrored by Dinah and Jesse questioning the danger and justifiability in Ellie’s quest to find Abby) Owen stops Ellie from being killed because Owen wasn’t on board with this revenge and violence stuff in the first place which is reinforced when Owen quits the WLF and he’s easily convinced to assist and accompany Yara and Lev in fleeing to Santa Barbara. I feel like people didn’t realize that though Owen’s father wasn’t killed by Joel, Owen’s life was also destroyed by Joel, what Owen was fighting for was also destroyed by Joel and Owen moved on. Owen realized he needed to find a way to live and be happy after having his life upended. 6. Why would they write a story where they kill the most beloved character? Sure, we love Joel but Joel was not a good guy and even at the end of the first game it’s clear Ellie knew Joel was lying to her face and that she could never see him the same way again. Even when she forgives him she says “I can never forgive you for what you did but I would like to try …” literally up until the day Joel died she still hadn’t forgiven him and was only then was going to try to see if it were possible. It’s why the death had hit her so hard because the moment when she was going to try to move on, it was taken away from her,her closure was taken away so she tried to find closure through revenge. Joel didn’t save Ellie out of some noble cause, Joel was so traumatized by the death of his daughter that he would do anything, right or wrong, so that he wouldn’t have to experience a lost like that again. Through the journey in the first game, he came to see Ellie as his spiritual daughter and he would do anything not to relive the trauma of what happened with his daughter. He didn’t save Ellie out of pure love he saved her because of his trauma. This is reinforced by Marlene who made the decision to sacrifice Ellie even though she’s known Ellie since she was born and was a close friend of Ellie’s mother. It’s reinforced by Abby telling her dad that she would want him to make the same decision and it’s reinforced by Ellie saying that it’s what she herself wanted, it would have given her meaning and wouldn’t have burdened her of the guilt of every death that happened after Joel’s actions. Marlene knew Ellie better than Joel and she came to the conclusion that Ellie herself came to. 7. Why did Tommy change his mind at the end? He didn’t want to get revenge and at the end he’s yelling at Ellie for giving up? Tommy saw Ellie’s drive for revenge and Tommy felt that the way to honor his brother would be to save Ellie at all cost from the dangers her revenge mission entailed. Tommy swore to Joel that he would keep Joel’s secret until his grave and by doing that he didn’t tell Maria why he felt he needed to go. Tommy wasn’t honest with Maria. Joel not being honest with Ellie destroyed his relationship with Ellie, Tommy’s not being honest with Maria destroyed his relationship with Maria. It cost him his wife and it gave him scars he’ll never recover from and he has nothing to show for it, he needs Abby to die or he ruined his marriage for nothing. He sees himself like Joel, he sacrificed for Ellie and he unfairly feels she needs to do this for him, which is warped because wasn’t his initial mission to keep Ellie safe as shown in the letter he left with Maria to stop Ellie from leaving Jackson. Joel is shot in the leg and bashed in the head. Tommy is shot in the same leg as Joel and shot in the head, their injuries mirror each other. Additionally Joel’s actions cost him his relationship with Ellie just like Tommy’s actions cost him his relationship with Maria and furthermore Ellie’s actions cost her her relationship with Dinah. 8. Abby’s a monster though, she was going to kill pregnant Dinah even though Abby knew she was pregnant! This is because of the cycle of revenge and how it just keeps spiraling out of control. Abby has just found Mel dead, who was pregnant, killed by Ellie. We know that Ellie didn’t do it intentionally and was physically sick afterwards BUT Abby doesn’t know. Abby killing Dinah would have been justified to Abby in that moment and it was only Lev calling out and asking her to re-examine if that’s really what she wanted to do which stayed Abby’s hand. Abby realized just how far gone she was in her revenge. 9. So why didn’t Abby kill Ellie then? Abby just saw herself moments away from killing a pregnant woman, she was disgusted with herself and she couldn’t go through with killing Ellie after that … as if she was morally just in doing so after seeing her own self like that. Also, she would have had to kill Ellie in front of Lev and she wouldn’t want Lev to have seen that following Lev having seen her about to kill a pregnant person. She wanted to be a better person and she needed Lev to help her do that. Mirroring how Joel wanted Ellie to see him as better too. 10. Why would Ellie leave Dinah and go seek out Abby again? Ellie was having full blown panic attacks very similar to the ones Abby was having. The dreams are even mirrored in the same manner of them both walking down a narrow corridor and opening a door and seeing their most traumatic moments. Abby’s father’s dead body and Ellie witnessing the death of Joel. Those same dreams that initially pushed Abby are now the dreams that Ellie is having which pushed her to leave Dinah. 11. Why didn’t Ellie kill Abby in the end? This is weirdly conveyed through Ellie getting her fingers bitten off which is an allusion to the Lord of the Rings. Frodo spares Gollum (when the Riders of Rohan were going to kill him) and Gollum spares Frodo (he decides not to bash his head in and steal the ring) by them both sparing each other the ring ultimately gets destroyed when Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and middle earth is saved. Neither Gollum or Frodo needed to spare the other but by giving each other that compassion the world was saved. For Ellie she realized that her revenge cost her everything and it wasn’t even what Joel would have wanted. Lev is the hope for the future because if Ellie killed Abby would the cycle continue with Lev looking to kill Ellie or would Ellie have to kill the innocent Lev too? 12. So Abby gets off with no punishment for what she did!? This is such a weird statement that people have made. Abby lost everything. The person she loved, the group that was her family, the place that she belonged and she is LITERALLY crucified at the end. She even lost the muscles that she built to protect herself. Abby lost everything except her hope in saving Lev. 13. The Rattlers didn’t make sense, they’re just thrown in at the end. The Rattlers were supposed to demonstrate the cycle of violence the breeds within groups. Just like the Fireflies fought to overthrow the military, the WLF overthrew the military, The Scars fought to overthrow the WLF and even in this new place there’s some group fighting to control people. You even find that note where someone (paralleling Ellie) is looking for revenge against the Rattlers (paralleling Abby) Just like you find that note in Seattle about the guy (again paralleling Ellie) looking to get revenge on the WLF (paralleling Abby) for killing his daughter The leader of the Scars actually mirrors Ellie, just like they see their leader as a messianic savior, Ellie would have become some sort of deified savior if she were able to be killed used to make a cure. The game is hinting that even if Ellie became the cure it wouldn’t have saved us from violence. If you notice through out the game, there are no Scar infected and nobody even explores that even though the Scars are telling people their leader has made them safe. Sure, I think it’s because they isolated themselves but nobody believes them, would people have believed the Fireflies even if they had a vaccine? 14. The Fireflies wouldn’t have been able to make a cure, so Joel was justified in what he did. You can’t bring real science into a story like this because the infected already don’t make sense from a biological standpoint and I’m not talking about “Could a fungus turn people into zombies?” No, I’m saying from the VERY BASIC biological perspective of “How long can a human body even last when it’s constantly exposed to the elements and it’s not able to heal itself?” I mean, do maggots not exist in the world anymore? Those infected would last maybe a month before they’re fully consumed by insects, also just think about your daily energy consumption to keep your body in its normal condition? These infected are walking around for YEARS and running after people without eating regularly or even the ability to clot their blood when they get a cut? Hemophiliacs can’t even do that. The point is that Joel and the Fireflies made their decisions fully believing that a cure was possible, to argue that biologically it wouldn’t be possible is asinine. 15. The advertising was misleading. This is a wider thing about media, not really a specific thing with this game. I mean, they do it in every movie nowadays where they modify the trailer to keep aspects hidden about the game. It’s done in every single Marvel movie, they even gave Thor both his eyes in the Ragnarok trailer. During interviews they hinted very strongly that the trailer is misleading, they even brought up during interviews how during the first game they told everyone that you couldn’t play as Ellie and they admitted they intentionally tell lies to hide aspects about the game. They made no effort to hide that the trailer was meant to mislead you. 16. They make you do horrible things and then make you feel bad for it. I think this is a perspective issue, one that I personally don’t have when I play a game. When I play a game I’m looking to enjoy a story that I’m facilitating, I don’t see myself as the character or that the character’s actions are my own. Ellie has killed so many people, it’s not shocking that she’ll beat a German Shepard to death with a hammer. It’s totally within character for her and not a personal reflection on the player.
2020.09.14 07:53 aepitt2018[TOMT] Disney Channel movie from the 90s
I think it was a Disney channel movie, towards the beginning - maybe the opening scene - there's a girl practicing gymnastics, the balance beam specifically, in a room inside her house - like the whole room is dedicated to gymnastics. Then, at the end of the movie either her or one of her siblings/friends ends up having to cross a tree that has fallen over a ravine in order to get to the other side - so it circles back to the balance beam part of the story. I think it may have had to do with a girl scout group too, but I'm not positive. When I search google "Now and Then" keeps coming up, but it is definitely not that movie.
My daughter is 8 and has ADHD. She is such a free spirit, and plays in quirky ways. When kids are on the playground, typically they might want to play together and look for their playmates and enjoy each others’ company. I was the same. My daughter is so sweet. She is very giving and loves people, but when it’s playtime, she gets down to business. Rather than play on the swings, she sees the trees in the back of the playground and starts building things with logs and sticks. It’s actually kind of cool to me that she does that. She wants to do what she’s interested in and doesn’t need the support or acceptance of others to do it. I admit, that’s pretty baller. When asked who she plays with on any given day it’s usually not the names of a few repeat kids, her answer is usually along the lines of: “well I play with whoever is by the sticks when we’re on that side of the playground, and I play with whoever is playing soccer whenever we’re on the field,” etc. So it’s more activity-focused than people-focused. This does have social ramifications though, which is my concern. Here is just one example: She is one of 4 Girl Scouts in her class. She is friendly with all of them but not close friends necessarily. One day she was telling me about how “the three of them did x activity and I was the only one they didn’t include.” So in hindsight her feelings get hurt. From my side, I see that while she is off doing what she is most interested in at the moment, other kids are busy fostering their relationships - and she remains on the outside. Did you ever have this issue? I could easily explain it to her, but you know how it goes - I can tell her now, but in the moment tomorrow, she will do what she is most interested in, as if the conversation never happened. 😭 What are some things you learned to do in order to nurture relationships that might not have come naturally to you? When did you start to realize this was something you needed to work on? How do I keep my 8 year old from reaching middle school without even one decent, solid friendship?
2020.09.13 05:06 talabi_Responses to common criticisms I’ve read
1. The game is overly bleak and depressing. When people say this as a criticism it just makes me think “Did they play the first game?” the ending of the first game is such a gut punch and that feeling is conveyed into the second game. Unless someone misinterpreted the ending of the first game as a “Happy Ending” then the tone of the second game naturally follows the first game’s ending. The most accessible example I can think of is if “Avengers: Endgame” opened with all the characters being happy and well adjusted. The events of “Avengers: Infinity War” still reverberate throughout the narrative. 2. It stretches believability for Joel and Tommy to find themselves in that situation surrounded by Abby’s group. I’ve played the game twice now, along with replaying portions of the game in the “Chapter Select” option and it’s clear that the situation where they found Abby in was one wear they were in danger and they found someone else in danger. If you read the logs from the sign in books, people have found people outside the community and brought them back to the community. Joel and Tommy were helping someone they found who was in danger. In the first game, Ellie and Joel were pulled from the water by the brothers who had abandoned them earlier, it was an impulse save. Ellie and Joel were saved that time by the older brother who knew they might resent him but when he was able to save them without risk to himself and his younger brother, he did it. It would have been practical for the brothers to have left them to die but they still had the humanity to save them, just like Joel and Tommy saving Abby. Tommy and Joel saved Abby and they were in a situation where they couldn’t run back to their settlement (this is reinforced by their dialogue and during the portion you play earlier where you head to the library because Dina tells you that you can’t make it back in this snow storm) and they couldn’t hold up in the lodge (as demonstrated by the infected chasing you through the lodge even though you keep attempting to erect barricades), they made the decision that the person they saved would in turn lead them somewhere safe. Abby had already planned to kidnap scouts from Jackson to find Joel’s location, it wouldn’t have mattered if Tommy and Joel gave fake names because they would have been detained and possible tortured anyways in order to find Joel. Once Joel and Tommy went through the gates of the compound, they were effectively surrounded and Joel’s fate was sealed. 3. Why would Abby do that to Joel after he saved her life? Well that plays into the theme of the story about the destructiveness of revenge and retribution. If Abby can’t be understood for why she did that after being saved by Joel then Ellie can’t be justified for her journey to find Abby following Abby’s actions because Abby clearly spared Ellie. Dinah even addresses this when you’re in Seattle when she questions why they left Ellie alive. Abby’s group was going to kill Ellie until Owen intervened. 4. Abby is freakish muscular, it suspends disbelief. Well, that actually has many answer to anyone asking it. A. Abby is modeled on a real person so … how can it suspend disbelief when it’s the proportions of a real human being? B. Abby’s introduction at her base shows that they’re a large community living within a NFL stadium so Abby is built like a linebacker because she literally is using the training facilities of a linebacker. C. You can actually delve a little further into the psychology. I thought it was a nice subtle touch but I guess many people didn’t read it the same way? When Abby’s father is killed by Joel, she keeps having nightmares about that day where she’s this scared little girl and her life is ruined by the big boogeyman. It felt like she became this massively physical person as a way to distance herself as far as possible from the little girl she used to be. D. Finally, if Abby’s body type is unjustifiable then the Scar heavy enemies are unjustifiable because they’re bigger than Abby, so you can’t say Abby’s body is unjustifiable but the Scar heavy enemies are justifiable. 5. Why didn’t Abby’s group kill Ellie? They didn’t kill Ellie because the dynamic of the group went along with Abby out of their loyalty to the group and Abby not because they thought Abby’s mission was entirely reasonable. Once Joel was killed, Owen and Mel realized that this level of violence was toxic w d needed to stop. If Abby went further and killed Ellie it would tarnish the story they’re all telling themselves about the justice of Abby’s mission. When you’re introduced to Abby it’s with Owen who is subtly trying to convince Abby that she shouldn’t do this, it’s not worth the risk (which is then mirrored by Dinah and Jesse questioning the danger and justifiability in Ellie’s quest to find Abby) Owen stops Ellie from being killed because Owen wasn’t on board with this revenge and violence stuff in the first place which is reinforced when Owen quits the WLF and he’s easily convinced to assist and accompany Yara and Lev in fleeing to Santa Barbara. I feel like people didn’t realize that though Owen’s father wasn’t killed by Joel, Owen’s life was also destroyed by Joel, what Owen was fighting for was also destroyed by Joel and Owen moved on. Owen realized he needed to find a way to live and be happy after having his life upended. 6. Why would they write a story where they kill the most beloved character? Sure, we love Joel but Joel was not a good guy and even at the end of the first game it’s clear Ellie knew Joel was lying to her face and that she could never see him the same way again. Even when she forgives him she says “I can never forgive you for what you did but I would like to try …” literally up until the day Joel died she still hadn’t forgiven him and was only then was going to try to see if it were possible. It’s why the death had hit her so hard because the moment when she was going to try to move on, it was taken away from her,her closure was taken away so she tried to find closure through revenge. Joel didn’t save Ellie out of some noble cause, Joel was so traumatized by the death of his daughter that he would do anything, right or wrong, so that he wouldn’t have to experience a lost like that again. Through the journey in the first game, he came to see Ellie as his spiritual daughter and he would do anything not to relive the trauma of what happened with his daughter. He didn’t save Ellie out of pure love he saved her because of his trauma. This is reinforced by Marlene who made the decision to sacrifice Ellie even though she’s known Ellie since she was born and was a close friend of Ellie’s mother. It’s reinforced by Abby telling her dad that she would want him to make the same decision and it’s reinforced by Ellie saying that it’s what she herself wanted, it would have given her meaning and wouldn’t have burdened her of the guilt of every death that happened after Joel’s actions. Marlene knew Ellie better than Joel and she came to the conclusion that Ellie herself came to. 7. Why did Tommy change his mind at the end? He didn’t want to get revenge and at the end he’s yelling at Ellie for giving up? Tommy saw Ellie’s drive for revenge and Tommy felt that the way to honor his brother would be to save Ellie at all cost from the dangers her revenge mission entailed. Tommy swore to Joel that he would keep Joel’s secret until his grave and by doing that he didn’t tell Maria why he felt he needed to go. Tommy wasn’t honest with Maria. Joel not being honest with Ellie destroyed his relationship with Ellie, Tommy’s not being honest with Maria destroyed his relationship with Maria. It cost him his wife and it gave him scars he’ll never recover from and he has nothing to show for it, he needs Abby to die or he ruined his marriage for nothing. He sees himself like Joel, he sacrificed for Ellie and he unfairly feels she needs to do this for him, which is warped because wasn’t his initial mission to keep Ellie safe as shown in the letter he left with Maria to stop Ellie from leaving Jackson. Joel is shot in the leg and bashed in the head. Tommy is shot in the same leg as Joel and shot in the head, their injuries mirror each other. Additionally Joel’s actions cost him his relationship with Ellie just like Tommy’s actions cost him his relationship with Maria and furthermore Ellie’s actions cost her her relationship with Dinah. 8. Abby’s a monster though, she was going to kill pregnant Dinah even though Abby knew she was pregnant! This is because of the cycle of revenge and how it just keeps spiraling out of control. Abby has just found Mel dead, who was pregnant, killed by Ellie. We know that Ellie didn’t do it intentionally and was physically sick afterwards BUT Abby doesn’t know. Abby killing Dinah would have been justified to Abby in that moment and it was only Lev calling out and asking her to re-examine if that’s really what she wanted to do which stayed Abby’s hand. Abby realized just how far gone she was in her revenge. 9. So why didn’t Abby kill Ellie then? Abby just saw herself moments away from killing a pregnant woman, she was disgusted with herself and she couldn’t go through with killing Ellie after that … as if she was morally just in doing so after seeing her own self like that. Also, she would have had to kill Ellie in front of Lev and she wouldn’t want Lev to have seen that following Lev having seen her about to kill a pregnant person. She wanted to be a better person and she needed Lev to help her do that. Mirroring how Joel wanted Ellie to see him as better too. 10. Why would Ellie leave Dinah and go seek out Abby again? Ellie was having full blown panic attacks very similar to the ones Abby was having. The dreams are even mirrored in the same manner of them both walking down a narrow corridor and opening a door and seeing their most traumatic moments. Abby’s father’s dead body and Ellie witnessing the death of Joel. Those same dreams that initially pushed Abby are now the dreams that Ellie is having which pushed her to leave Dinah. 11. Why didn’t Ellie kill Abby in the end? This is weirdly conveyed through Ellie getting her fingers bitten off which is an allusion to the Lord of the Rings. Frodo spares Gollum (when the Riders of Rohan were going to kill him) and Gollum spares Frodo (he decides not to bash his head in and steal the ring) by them both sparing each other the ring ultimately gets destroyed when Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and middle earth is saved. Neither Gollum or Frodo needed to spare the other but by giving each other that compassion the world was saved. For Ellie she realized that her revenge cost her everything and it wasn’t even what Joel would have wanted. Lev is the hope for the future because if Ellie killed Abby would the cycle continue with Lev looking to kill Ellie or would Ellie have to kill the innocent Lev too? 12. So Abby gets off with no punishment for what she did!? This is such a weird statement that people have made. Abby lost everything. The person she loved, the group that was her family, the place that she belonged and she is LITERALLY crucified at the end. She even lost the muscles that she built to protect herself. Abby lost everything except her hope in saving Lev. 13. The Rattlers didn’t make sense, they’re just thrown in at the end. The Rattlers were supposed to demonstrate the cycle of violence the breeds within groups. Just like the Fireflies fought to overthrow the military, the WLF overthrew the military, The Scars fought to overthrow the WLF and even in this new place there’s some group fighting to control people. You even find that note where someone (paralleling Ellie) is looking for revenge against the Rattlers (paralleling Abby) Just like you find that note in Seattle about the guy (again paralleling Ellie) looking to get revenge on the WLF (paralleling Abby) for killing his daughter The leader of the Scars actually mirrors Ellie, just like they see their leader as a messianic savior, Ellie would have become some sort of deified savior if she were able to be killed used to make a cure. The game is hinting that even if Ellie became the cure it wouldn’t have saved us from violence. If you notice through out the game, there are no Scar infected and nobody even explores that even though the Scars are telling people their leader has made them safe. Sure, I think it’s because they isolated themselves but nobody believes them, would people have believed the Fireflies even if they had a vaccine? 14. The Fireflies wouldn’t have been able to make a cure, so Joel was justified in what he did. You can’t bring real science into a story like this because the infected already don’t make sense from a biological standpoint and I’m not talking about “Could a fungus turn people into zombies?” No, I’m saying from the VERY BASIC biological perspective of “How long can a human body even last when it’s constantly exposed to the elements and it’s not able to heal itself?” I mean, do maggots not exist in the world anymore? Those infected would last maybe a month before they’re fully consumed by insects, also just think about your daily energy consumption to keep your body in its normal condition? These infected are walking around for YEARS and running after people without eating regularly or even the ability to clot their blood when they get a cut? Hemophiliacs can’t even do that. The point is that Joel and the Fireflies made their decisions fully believing that a cure was possible, to argue that biologically it wouldn’t be possible is asinine. 15. The advertising was misleading. This is a wider thing about media, not really a specific thing with this game. I mean, they do it in every movie nowadays where they modify the trailer to keep aspects hidden about the game. It’s done in every single Marvel movie, they even gave Thor both his eyes in the Ragnarok trailer. During interviews they hinted very strongly that the trailer is misleading, they even brought up during interviews how during the first game they told everyone that you couldn’t play as Ellie and they admitted they intentionally tell lies to hide aspects about the game. They made no effort to hide that the trailer was meant to mislead you. 16. They make you do horrible things and then make you feel bad for it. I think this is a perspective issue, one that I personally don’t have when I play a game. When I play a game I’m looking to enjoy a story that I’m facilitating, I don’t see myself as the character or that the character’s actions are my own. Ellie has killed so many people, it’s not shocking that she’ll beat a German Shepard to death with a hammer. It’s totally within character for her and not a personal reflection on the player.
2020.09.11 21:46 Affordable_ParadiseDDLC: resurgence - part 4
First I would like to thank you for all of your upvotes. I really appreciate you taking the tome to read and appreciate my fanfics. I will make sure to be making more in the future, but for now, let’s get into the story! Chapter 4: planning Yuri places a picture of our main suspect down on the table in the main room. “Sayori is a well known friend of mine, and the fact that we had just found out that she is the one who started the fire is a huge stepping stone for us to solve this case.” Yuri says to us. “Ok, well what do you know about her Yuri?” I ask her “I know that Sayori may come across as a cheery and giddy girl, and that she usually likes interacting with people and making new friends. Please don’t let this fool you though. She is a mentally unstable girl that has quite the history with depression. We might have a way to contain her, but it may require a bit of force.” She says in response to my question. “What kind of force are we exactly talking about?” Mikasutsi butts in. “Tranqs... Like I said, she is mentally unstable, and who knows what could happen if we try to contain her while still awake and functioning. She could badly injure us, or even worse, threaten to take her own life. We need these tranqs so that we do not kill her, but still manage to incapacitate her as well.” Yuri says. “I think I have some tranq darts and a gun from when my father worked as a zoo keeper. It should be just about dosage to knock her out for a while” mikasutsi says. Now we are getting somewhere. “How will we move Sayori into our questioning office? We have to have some form of transportation in order to get our suspect over here.” I say. “I rented a van so that there would be at least space for more than all of us to fit in there.” Yuri seems to have thought this plan well out. “Here’s the order of action. Mikasutsi will provide us with the tranq guns and scout the area that Sayori is residing in. Once we have enough info on where she is, we can begin to move on in. We have to do it quietly though, as to not alarm Sayori and blow our cover. As soon as we reach her location and have a clear visual of her, we hit her with the tranqs, incapacitate her, and move her into the van to bring her back to HQ. Sounds good?” Yuri has all the details laid out evenly. We all agree on the plan of action and get our gear up and ready to go. Yuri prepares the van, mikasutsi gets the tranq guns, and Kitsana sets up comms. We are ready.
Playing first adventure with some friends (also their first time playing). Our DM has several years experience both playing and DMing so he's holding our hands as necessary. I rolled a half-elf GOO-lock with some apparently really good rolls 8 Str / 10 Dex / 18 Con / 11 Int / 13 Wis / 19 Cha (with the half-elf bonuses). My character is a 12 year old girl who was raised by the whispers of an Old God who she thinks of as her father whom she adores and talks about constantly. Long story short, Old God tricked pregnant mother into murdering dad and the kid lived on the streets surviving by following the Old God's orders which he believes will lead to his return. So far we've had a few sessions and reached lvl 2 without anyone dying. I've tried to build out to be competent in battle while having room to RP later on. Eldritch Blast + Agonizing Blast + Repelling Blast + Hex for handling most fights (the high charisma score helps there, I think). We will probably reach lvl 3 this evening and I think i want to take Pact of the Chain and RP it as "Dad gave me a puppy with opposable thumbs". Sending the imp out to invisibly scout around and that can use the help action when i'm fighting seems really useful. Should I drop repelling blast to get voice of the chain master? Alternatively, Pact of the Tome is somewhat attractive as I like to write a "Dear Diary" type recap of the session and post in our discord so a Tome would be a fun way to bring that in-game. The downside is that I don't think the Tome is as useful as an invisible imp that I can talk to telepathically?. The extra cantrips don't feel that amazing and dropping an invocation for the rituals feel underwhelming. Since I'm completely new to the game, are there any spells or invocations I look for in the next few levels or ways to play that I'm likely missing? Any advice on the Chain / Tome debate?
2020.09.11 20:17 SlooudjA cult of cannibals have a weekly meeting about their various meals -
And this weekly cannibalistic meeting has became a staple for the cult. Basically, this group of cannibals from a common and clean suburb would don fancy robs and meet up in a secluded room in an abandoned underground subway once a week. This cult liked to be a bit different from the rest, however. Every week, when they gathered around a round table and a single lit candle, they each take turns reporting on a meal they've eaten. Usually, it's a human limb, alongside something special - an item they've never eaten before as a side. This is their attempt at making themselves unique and spicing up their dishes. One week, the group gathered together and began heading down to the underground station, as per usual. David, the cult's leader, led a line down the stairs. Behind him followed Linda, another devote follower, and behind her was a fellow named Jack. While everyone was quite orderly and professional when it came to their meetings, Jack's demeanor often remained jovial. As they headed down the stairs, Jack clumsily banged his head on an overhead pipe! "Yeowch! Damn!" shouted Jack, clutching his skull. The other cult members paused for a moment to make sure Jack was alright. "Yeah, yeah, I'm cool," Jacked groaned. "Just... just really got to take it easy from here... my head's pounding now!" So, everyone kept moving. Downward and downward, until they finally reached the ceremony room. There, everybody sat at their assigned seat around the table. David formally squatted into his seat and dusted off his lap. Linda gracefully sat on her chair and adjusted her hood. Jack staggered towards his chair, tripping almost twice. Finally, he managed to lay sideways on his chair, and then slowly sit up straight, still clutching his pulsing cranium. David decided it was time to commence the discussion. He stood and bowed, and then began. "This Wednesday, I was chatting with an old war vet at a park." David started. "This man was articulate and full of passion. His stories were long and remarkable. I'd say he talked my ear off. So much so, in fact, that I cut off his ear and took it home. Then, after boiling it, I had it with a fresh apricot. It may seem odd, but I've never really had an apricot, so I decided that the Ritual Meal would be a great time to experience it. So, in the end, I had an old vet's ear with an apricot. Thank you." David bowed again and sat down. There was a round of golf claps and murmurs of agreement. Next, Linda stood, bowed, and cleared her throat. "My Ritual Meal this week was one of the most exciting ones I've had in a while. I woke up and had some coffee, and then went to sit on my porch. As I sat outside, enjoying my brew, the neighbor began her morning jog. I could see the meat in her young calves. Juicy!" she shouted. "So, after her jog, I invited her to my place, where I let her sweat really gloss over her skin. Then, I took the calf in her left leg. I grilled it up and laid out a cooked eel I bought from the Asian food market. I've never had eel before, especially next to grilled calf, so the Ritual Meal was wonderful. Thank you." She bowed and sat down. Again, another round of quiet golf claps. Finally, it was damaged Jack's turn. After a moment of sharp inhales, he slowly, slowly stood. Without bowing he stuttered, "Sorry, guys, I, uh... I definitely ate my Ritual Meal on Tuesday... but after hitting my dang head... yikes, I can barely remember... uh... it hurts to even try to think back..." "It's alright, Jack," David said, "just take your time. We do have all day. Maybe we can help you remember." "Just try to recollect some of the tiny details." suggested Linda. "Alright..." sighed Jack. "Well, it was... a female. Young... ish. I think she came to my house for some reason... oh! Girl scout! She was a girl scout! And her name... her name was... Dusty? Dezzi? Uh... hm... ah! Desti! It was one of those new generational names, or something. It was Desti!" "Ah, okay, so you had some of Desti, then?" asked Linda. "Right. In fact, when she came into my house, she hit her leg on my table, and I looked down, and just saw this... glistening... bumpy... thing... in the middle of her leg. I can't remember the word for it. It just looked great, so I... that's what I did. I cut it off and used it for my Ritual Meal." "Sounds good so far..." said David. "Then," continued Jack, "I remember preparing something small. Something small I've never had... it matched the Desti thing I ate in size... it was... a raisin! No, not that... a prune? No, no... damn! I really can't remember! I'm sorry, guys, I've tried as hard as I could. I promise I had a Ritual Meal, and I remember it was... at least, kind of good. Thanks." Jack performed a flimsy and quick bow, and then plopped back into his seat. There was a smaller, more confused round of golf claps and murmurs, and then a bit of silence. Just before the crowd was about to decide to let the next person go, David jumped up with a shout of exclamation. "Ah ha! I believe I figured out what you've had for your Ritual Meal, Jack!" he shouted. "Really? Do tell!" pleaded Jack. "Well, with all of those details, however fuzzy it may be," exclaimed David, "it sounds a look like you a date with Desti's knee!" (I made this joke up while bored at work about a month ago. Hopefully it's to your liking! Thanks for your time!)
2020.09.11 08:30 TheOminousDarknessGirl Scout Cookies
🎵 DING-DONG! 🎵 Despite the clearly labeled sign affixed to his front door meant to discourage solicitors, Gregory Kinkaid had become accustomed to salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses that obviously couldn't take a fucking hint. However, he somehow knew his visitor that day was none of the above. He took another deep swig from a sweating can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and listened, anticipating the deep and rich tones of the doorbell ringing again. He began to whisper to himself, counting down: "Three… two..." 🎵 DING-DONG! 🎵 He arose from his threadbare plaid recliner and half walked, half stumbled to the door, knowing that when he yanked it open he would probably find a damn Girl Scout hawking her cookies. Yesterday, he'd seen a small table set up outside Wal-Mart, surrounded with little girls in their uniforms swapping boxes of thin-mints for cash. He'd successfully dodged them, but he couldn't forever. Although nothing irritated him more than unwanted company, he always answered the door on the small chance that Publisher's Clearing House would pay him a visit with an over-sized check and a television crew. It really was hard to tell the little bitches no. They were so cute in their little uniforms, freshly pressed by their over-protective and sexually-frustrated soccer moms. He paused for a moment allowing himself another deep drag of his cigarette, unlocked the door, and pulled it open. And there she stood, little Suzy Derkins. She was as cute as a button, how could anyone refuse her overpriced and overrated snacks? Her curly red hair bounced as she rocked back and forth on her heels, her jade-green eyes twinkled in the bright sunlight, and she wore a smile that could melt the heart of the Devil himself. Parked next to her was a small, red wagon. It was heavily laden with boxes of various cookies. "Hi, Mister Kinkaid, it's me, Suzy!" she said cheerfully. She brought her right hand up and gave him a little side-to-side wave that threatened to destroy him with cuteness overload. "I know you said last year that you didn't want any cookies this year but I thought maybe since we have new cookies maybe you would like to try them and if I sell enough I can earn my badge and then I can go on the camping trip and my mom said that since your wife died I shouldn't bother you but I think you will like the new cookies!" -She said all of this in one breath, without pause. When she finished, she beamed at him with the innocence and vigor of her age, which he figured was about nine or ten. He flicked his cigarette into the yard, turned his head and coughed, then spat over the porch railing. "New cookies, you say?" He asked in a gravelly smoker's voice. His wife Helen had always hated his smoking, but she'd lived with it. When she'd been diagnosed with lung cancer, he'd thought it might have been his fault, but the doctors had assured him that cancer had nothing to do with his half-pack-a-day habit. Besides, he'd never smoked in the house or in the car, or anywhere near Helen for that matter. It wasn't until after she'd passed that he allowed himself to enjoy his guilty little pleasure inside. It had been almost six months since Helen had gone to meet Jesus, and he knew she was watching from Heaven so he tried to be as polite as she wanted him to be. "Yep! And they're low-fat, too! Would you like to try one?" She batted her eyelashes at him hopefully. "What kind of cookies are they, Suzy? Last year I got some of those caramel cookies, and I spent almost a whole day on the shi-" He stopped mid-sentence, realizing he was about to embarrass himself and this precious little girl with his recollection of an evening spent glued to the commode shitting his brains out. He backtracked quickly, stammering. "Uh, Suzy… you know, they um… well? The thing is, you know, they uh, made me sick, sweetie. These new ones aren't going to make me sick, are they? What kind you got now?" He gestured uncomfortably towards the wagon. "Oh! Mister Kinkaid, I'm so sorry to hear that! My daddy gets sick when he drinks too much wine, which is like, all the time." She looked at her feet as she shuffled them, and then brightened again, meeting his eyes. "These new cookies are the best! They're Koko Kookie Krunchys, and they're sooo good! I ate almost a whole box all by myself yesterday!" He eyed her warily. "A whole box, you say? Spoiled your supper, I'd wager. You got samples?" She giggled. "Of course! You wanna try one?" "Yeah, why not? You're such a good saleswoman, you've talked me right into it!" He gave her a sly grin and waited as she began to rummage through the wagon. When she found the box she was looking for, he was amused to see that the Girl Scouts had upped their game. Gone was the usual bland cardboard. This package was shiny and multicolored; almost like new chrome muffler of a motorcycle that has begun to take on a rainbow-like hue. The side of the box was embossed in large, garish golden print that read: KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS. Two cartoon Girl Scouts were laughing comically and high-fiving with cookies in their other hands. Suzy fumbled with the flaps of the packaging, then offered the box to Gregory. He peered down inside and saw two neat stacks of what appeared to be miniature chocolate chip cookies. He gingerly reached inside and plucked a cookie from the plastic tray in which it had been nestled. It looked like a smaller version of the popular Chips Ahoy! cookies, and he was certain it would probably taste about the same. He gave it a perfunctory sniff, an odd quirk that he'd picked up from his mother. He always sniffed everything before he ate or drank it, the only exception being his beer. He trusted Pabst. He tossed the cookie into his mouth and was pleasantly surprised. The texture was indeed crunchy, but not overly so. It seemed to him that some snack foods were intentionally designed to destroy the roof of your mouth. For this reason alone, he couldn't enjoy corn flakes or Doritos as Helen had. The flavor was much more intense than he'd imagined. Instead of the dull hint of chocolate that he'd come to expect from packaged cookies, this flavor was robust and bright. The chocolate chips melted slowly, flooding his mouth with a rich sweetness that was mildly intoxicating. He chewed slowly, savoring the treat until finally he swallowed it down, licked his lips, and smiled at Suzy. "Young lady, that is by far the best cookie I've ever had! I'll take a box right now!" He began to reach into his back pocket for his wallet. "How much?" "These new cookies are ten dollars per box." She said. "Because they're limited edition." She said this proudly, grinning shrewdly. "Ten dollars?! For a single box of cookies? That's outrageous!" He began to tuck his wallet back into his pocket. "Yeah, Mister Kinkaid, I know. I've heard that a lot since we started selling them, but everyone sure does like them. I really want to go on this year's camping trip, and if I sell my share I can. Are you sure you don't want a box?" she asked breathlessly, sounding quite dejected. Her wide, green eyes seemed to be brimming with tears. Was she going to cry? Surely not. Over a box of cookies? Then she bit her bottom lip, and that made him feel like shit. He could imagine his dead wife standing beside him, scolding him for being such a cheap bastard. Hell, now that he thought about it, Helen would have probably bought two boxes. One for themselves, and one to share with her book club over tea. Besides, what was ten bucks, anyway? Christ, a meal at McDonald's costs that much, he reasoned, and a Big-Mac with fries and a Coke couldn't hold a candle to these deliciously intoxicating cookies. "You know what, Suzy? I'll take two boxes. How's that?" He reached again for his wallet. "Oh, wow! That's great, Mister Kinkaid! Thank you so much!" She was almost bouncing with joy as she carefully selected two of the radiant boxes from her wagon and placed them into a plastic bag with the Girl Scout logo boldly emblazoned upon it. He fished a crisp twenty-dollar bill from his wallet, and once she'd handed him the bag, he forked over the cash. "Thank you, Mister Kinkaid! I hope you enjoy them!" She smiled broadly, and before he could respond, she turned to make her way along the sidewalk to the next house, her little red wagon trundling obediently behind her. She turned to give him a little wave as she went, and he couldn't help chuckling at the realization that sweet little Suzy had most likely just talked him into buying some cookies. Yet, he raised his own hand and waved back. He shuffled into the kitchen and deposited one of the boxes on the counter. He broke another Pabst from its plastic collar and returned to his recliner with the cold beer and the other box of cookies. He pressed the play button on the remote and resumed the black-and-white western he'd been watching. Then he began to nibble on KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS.
The next morning, Gregory awoke with a massive hangover and an insatiable craving for more of those unbelievably tasty KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS. He'd passed out in the recliner and was dismayed to find the crumpled remains of one of the cookie boxes on the coffee table. He picked up the box and peered inside, hoping that maybe he hadn't actually eaten all of the cookies, but knowing he had. He ventured into the kitchen on unsteady legs, remembering that he'd thrown the first empty box away, so he began to rummage through the trash thinking - no, praying – that he might find one single cookie that he might have missed. No luck. The more time that passed, the more consumed he became with his desire, his need, for more of those fucking cookies. He threw every cupboard door open in the kitchen, delirious with the idea that maybe any cookie would suffice, but he came away empty-handed, rewarded only with some stale graham-crackers and a box of raisins that had expired back when Obama was President. Completely contrary to logic, he walked out of his front door un-showered and wearing yesterday's wrinkled clothes. He impatiently slid behind the driver's seat of his Subaru Forrester. He knew goddamned well where to find those cookies, and that's exactly where he was going to go. Twenty minutes later, he parked near the front doors of Wal-Mart and hastily hung his handicapped tag from the rear-view mirror. As he left the car, he caught sight of the same table that he'd seen a few days ago, and it appeared to be completely swamped with people clamoring for cookies. He hobbled towards the table, still a little shaky from last night's overindulgence, and became one with the throng of arguing and shouting people that surrounded it. He could see through the flailing arms and angry faces that there were only a few of the shiny boxes left, and he feared that maybe he'd arrived too late. When he finally managed to work his way to the front of the crowd, he was relieved to see that there was a handsome stockpile of the cookies stacked neatly behind the girls and their mothers stationed there. "What do you want, mister?" A pug-nosed and overweight freckle-faced girl in her early teens leered at him. "I'd like to have five boxes of Koko Kookie Krunchys, please." He said sheepishly, feeling rather foolish. Freckle girl nodded and smiled knowingly. "Five boxes, coming right up! Would you like a paper or plastic bag, sir?" "Oh, um, I suppose paper is fine, thanks," he answered timidly, "better for the environment and all that." He knew that he really shouldn't be here, buying these cookies. What would Helen think of this? He quickly brushed the thought aside, reasoning that Helen would have wanted him to be happy, and knowing she'd never have denied him something as innocent as Girl Scout cookies. He reminded himself that Helen was a firm believer in donating to charities, and supporting good causes. Why, yes, she would have completely approved. Freckle girl had neatly stacked five shiny boxes of KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS into a paper bag and slid them across the table towards him. She held her hand out, palm up, and said, "That will be one hundred dollars, please!" She smiled widely, revealing teeth stained dark brown presumably from stuffing her fat little face with the cookies she was supposed to be selling. He didn't quite grasp what she'd just said to him. "Excuse me, how much?" he asked. "One hundred dollars, sir." Freckle girl replied impatiently. "ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS?" He nearly shouted in reply. "Where on earth did you come up with that amount?" "Sir, " she said impatiently, "you asked for five boxes of Koko Kookie Krunchys. They're twenty dollars per box. Five boxes at twenty dollars per box is one hundred dollars. Basic math, or don't you understand?" She waggled the fingers of her outstretched hand. "No," he returned, "I understand, but you must be mistaken. Yesterday I bought two boxes from Suzy Derkins, and they were ten dollars per box, and if you ask me, that's highway robbery for a box of cookies." He planted his hands firmly on his hips. "They're ten dollars per box, and that's what I will pay." "I'm sorry sir, but that was yesterday. Today, the price is twenty dollars per box." Freckles answered, amused and undeterred. "And what makes you think anyone is going to pay twenty dollars for a box of goddamned cookies?" He shot back angrily. "Sir, I don't appreciate your language! Now, look behind you. There's a line of people waiting for these cookies, and if you don't want them for this price, I'll be happy to sell them to someone else that will." She was now grinning menacingly, knowing she had the upper hand. Gregory slowly turned around to see that a line of people had formed behind him. A tall, lanky man with thick eyeglasses in a cheap gray suit tapped him on the shoulder and said: "I'll take them if you don't want them. They're simply amazing! Worth every penny!" Gregory's mouth went slack. He was dumbfounded. The craving for the cookies increased tenfold when he saw the meandering line of haggard and impatient people behind him, gawking and waiting to get their hands on his cookies. He quickly turned back to the fat freckled girl. "Fine. I'll take them. But tell me, why has the price gone up?" He begged. She narrowed her eyes shrewdly. "Supply and demand, sir. You demand them and we supply them. Basic economics, or don't you understand that either?" He reluctantly tugged his wallet out of his rear pocket and tweezed two crisp fifties from inside. He placed them in her grubby little hands, returned his wallet to his pocket, and pulled the bag against his chest protectively. He stared at her for a moment and then quickly added, nearly in a whisper: "You should be ashamed of yourself!" As he turned and began to walk away, Freckles tittered cheerfully as she waved after him, "Thank you for supporting your local Girl Scouts, sir!" Gregory eased behind the wheel of his Subaru, but before he fastened his seat-belt he yanked a box of KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS from the bag. He frantically tore open the packaging and quickly shoved three cookies into his mouth. As he chewed, he closed his eyes and moaned softly, ecstatic with the flavor of them and suddenly high on the endorphins they'd released. The rush he felt was comparable to the first orgasm he'd ever had. He began to remember it vividly as the cookies dissolved upon his tongue: He and his high school sweetheart under the bridge that passed over the creek next to the high school, her warm mouth working magic on him that he'd never imagined. When he came, his legs had quivered and he'd thought that if only he could feel like that forever then he could conquer the world. As he came back to reality and swallowed that first mushy mouthful of cookie, he was surprised and somewhat embarrassed to find that he'd become somewhat aroused. That little trouser mouse hadn't stirred in years and now, here in his car in a crowded Wal-Mart parking-lot, he felt the overwhelming desire to reach down the front of his pants and take hold of himself. "What the flying fuck, Greg?" It was Helen. Except, it wasn't. Not the real Helen, anyway. No, this was the Helen that sat on one shoulder, reminding him to take his pills on time, and not to drink too much or to flip off shitty drivers in shittier traffic. This was the Helen that spoke to him when he needed her the most. "What the… Jesus, Greg." He whispered aloud. A bottle of water sat in the cup-holder, and now he seized it and unscrewed the cap. He guzzled half of it down before coming up for air. A thin sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead, and he leaned forward in the seat and examined his face in the rear-view mirror. He chuckled at himself. "Gregory, you sir have lost your fucking marbles!" He took a deep breath, and crammed three more cookies into his mouth before speeding home.
As he extricated himself from the Subaru, he brushed crumbs off of his shirt and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. From Wal-Mart to his home was only seven miles, and in that short journey he'd scarfed down an entire box of cookies. He found himself suddenly possessed with vigor and motivation. Before he knew it, he'd cleaned the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, and was busily sweeping out the garage when he was finally overcome with hunger. He glanced at his watch and found that it was nearly five in the evening. He'd been moving non-stop for nearly eight hours straight. He hadn't felt this good in ages, and at first, he was a little shaken by the sudden burst of energy. If this were any other day he would have spent the majority of his time in the recliner, or in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch, sipping beer and swatting at houseflies. For a man of his age, the aches and pains of a rapidly deteriorating body were expected, and he hadn't been spared. But today, if he weren't nearly starving he could have kept on going until the sun had set. He leaned the broom against the wall of the garage and headed for the kitchen. As he passed through the breezeway, it occurred to him that he felt none of the usual aches and pains in his joints. In fact, he felt great. He half-joked to himself that there might be a connection between his sudden spurt of energy and those chocolate chip cookies, but of course he knew better than that. He stood before the refrigerator, one arm perched atop the open door. His options were somewhat limited. There was leftover pizza, now three days old. A pot of chili he'd made almost a week ago that probably should have been thrown out by now. A case of Pabst with a few cans missing. Most of the time, he simply picked up something from one of the fast-food joints in town, or he'd order delivery. If only Helen were still alive, the fridge would be full of various snacks and leftovers, but he just didn't spend that much time in the kitchen. It didn't feel right to him. This was her domain. He shut the refrigerator door and yanked open the freezer. He was hoping to find some Hot-Pockets or a Hungry-Man dinner, but there was nothing inside except two empty ice trays (he never used ice, so why bother filling them?) and some frozen venison that his neighbor had given him after he'd returned from his last hunting trip. He was hungry now, and he began to regret that he hadn't picked up some rations when he'd already been right there at Wal-Mart blowing money on stupid cookies... He eyed the paper bag that sat on the end of the small table in the little alcove that Helen had lovingly referred to as "The Breakfast Nook." He always found the nickname kind of funny, because neither of them had spent much time enjoying breakfasts in there. Her sewing machine and skeins of cloth and a wicker-basket full of supplies occupied most of the table. Other than the paper bag full of KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS, he hadn't so much as touched a single item on that table since his dear Helen had died. Looking at it now, he felt a pang of regret. They should have enjoyed some meals there. Hell, when they'd bought this house fifty years ago, she'd been so excited about it. She'd painted it salmon (he said pink) and had stenciled birds along the top edges of the walls. Above the table, he'd hung a miniature chandelier that she'd found at a yard sale not long after they'd moved in. She'd really spent a lot of time making that little niche comfortable and cute and welcoming, and he wondered now if he'd ever thanked her for it. Damn it, he missed her so much. His stomach growled noisily, and he remembered why he'd come to the kitchen in the first place. He was hungry, and there just wasn't much to eat in the house. It appeared that a second trip to Wal-Mart was in order. He needed to take a quick shower and put on some clean clothes, but first, he needed to satisfy the emptiness in his belly. He reached down inside the bag and withdrew one of the boxes. He tore open the packaging and removed the plastic tray inside. He pinched three or maybe four (who was counting?) cookies between his fingers and shoved them into his watering mouth. As he began to chew, he desperately wished for milk, but beer would do. With a mouthful of cookies still crunching in his mouth, he returned to the fridge and yanked a can of PBR from the case. The tab popped with a satisfying psshhh! and he drained it in several deep chugs. He tossed the can into the recycling bin, and against his better judgment returned for another beer. He cracked it open, shoved five more cookies into his mouth and chewed them hastily. Again, washing them down with cheap suds. He belched loudly, finished the beer and dashed off for the shower. An hour later he was behind the wheel of the Subaru for the second time that day. Nestled between his legs, a box of KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS disappeared three at a time. By the time he arrived, he'd completely finished the box, yet he was still insatiably hungry. He found another parking spot near the front of the store and wasn't surprised to see the same little table parked near the entrance, surrounded by cookie junkies. Determined not to fall victim to the wily Girl Scouts and their damnable wares, he decided to walk down to the other entrance. Besides, it was closer to the grocery section. He hustled inside at a sprightly pace. The pep that the cookies provided surely wouldn't last much longer, so he figured he'd better make the most of the visit while he was there. He walked through the motion-activated sliding doors, took a few steps and then suddenly stopped. What he saw before him was bewildering beyond comprehension: Just inside, in the small area reserved for coin-operated games and soda machines, those fiendish little bitches had erected not one, but two more tables and both were clearly covered with nothing more than KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS. The flavor and residue of the cookies he'd eaten on the way still remained on his tongue, yet his mouth began to water, much like Pavlov's dogs. People were crowded restlessly around the tables waving fistfuls of cash. He gave the table and the junkies a wide berth and made his way towards the microwaveable dinners. By the time he finished his shopping, he'd nearly forgotten about the potential fiasco that lurked near the front doors. He simply couldn't justify spending another red cent on cookies, and as much as he'd enjoyed the spurt of energy that had come from them, he had no intention of ever buying another box. But it's no secret that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. After paying for his purchases, he continued to the exit. He could see that there were still quite a few people clustered there, so he made the rash decision to exit the store through the garden center. Yes, it was a longer walk, but what of it? He still felt rather well, and the additional exercise surely couldn't hurt. What he hadn't anticipated was the large rental truck parked right outside the garden center doors, packed completely full with nefarious Girl Scout cookies, and a veritable platoon of young girls, all in uniform. They were literally selling cookies out of the back of the large box truck, like a street thug hawking stolen electronics. He made his way through the throng of people that had gathered around the truck and rushed to his car. He looked over his shoulder several times, in awe of the strange sight. People were arguing, cursing, and it appeared that two younger women were squaring off to fight. What had gotten into people? Surely there was enough to go around, right? He thought about the three remaining boxes nestled comfortably in the brown paper bag at home. His mouth began to salivate, and he was suddenly overcome with a gnawing and maddening need. A need that must be met. He released the trunk lid of his Subaru, quickly packed the groceries inside, and walked the buggy to one of the corrals near the box truck. He joined the small crowd of people and waited for his turn. An hour later he'd finally made it to the front of the line. He wasn't the least bit concerned about the frozen (but now most likely completely thawed) microwave dinners and three piss-warm cases of beer in his trunk. All he could seem to focus on was his singular need to get his hands on those goddamned cookies. It briefly occurred to him that it would've been much faster to simply get back in the car and drive home to get his fix. But that wasn't important. What was important was that there must be a reason for the frantic demand of the cookies. Hadn't Suzy said they were a limited-edition or something? He was reminded of the McRib for some reason. He'd only tried the sandwich once in his life, and that was enough. The truth about the McRib was that it was one of the worst sandwiches that McDonald's offered, but people fucking loved it. Why was that? It was because it was only available a few times per year. And people just had to have something when they knew it wouldn't be available later. It was a phenomenon that applied to just about everything. The newest television? Gotta have it. A brand new iPhone with thirty-five cameras and a built-in coffee maker? Name your price, Apple, I'm buying it. It really was a disturbing and- "Sir?" He blinked in the bright sunlight, momentarily confused. A tall and skinny pimply-faced girl of about thirteen was looking at him as if he were a rack of yard-tools at the Home Depot. Her hands were planted firmly on her nearly non-existent hips, and she was sneering at him through a mouthful of dental-work that must have cost her parents a month's wages. "Oh, uh… I'm sorry, miss. I was wool-gathering there, wasn't I?" He chuckled uncomfortably. "I do that from time to time, you see, I'm getting along in years, and it's-" "How many do you want?" She interrupted impatiently. "Oh! Um, I think I need, oh, I don't know. Say, are they still twenty dollars per box, like this morning?" He shifted nervously. He was normally a frugal gentleman, and between Helen's life insurance, his pension, and his social-security checks, he wasn't hurting for money. Still, twenty bucks for a box of cookies was a lot of dough. Cookie dough? he thought, grinning stupidly. "SIR! Are you wasting my time deliberately? Look at the sign, right there, see it?" She pointed at a comically hand-lettered sheet of poster-board that had been hastily duct-taped to the side of the truck. It read: " KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS! LIMITID-EDITIEN! $50perBoX!" Jesus Christ, he thought. Don't these kids know to spell? "Sir! How many?" metal mouth demanded. He reached into his back pocket and thumbed through the small bills folded neatly within. After the buggy full of groceries, he was a little strapped for cash. He counted seventeen dollars. "I'm sorry miss, I guess I'm going to have to run to the ATM machine. Could you hold a few boxes for me?" He asked nervously, fearful of reproach for having wasted another minute of her precious time. "Not a problem, sir. We take all major credit cards!" She smiled, her braces glinting in the sunlight. A large chunk of what could only be the remains of a cookie was lodged in between her braces and two front teeth. She gestured towards a small, hand-held card reader that sat on the table among boxes of cookies. "Wonderful!" He said politely.
When he arrived home twenty minutes later, it took him five trips between the car and the house to get everything inside. He managed the bags in the trunk on the first go-round. Gregory had purchased six cases of KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS. Each case held twelve boxes. Seventy-two boxes of cookies. At fifty dollars per box. He had charged thirty-six hundred dollars to his Visa, and he was just fine with that. The week following his excursion to Wal-Mart passed in a disjointed blur. He slept restlessly the first three nights, and then none at all since. He hadn't bathed or eaten a single microwave dinner, which was probably for the best: He'd neglected to put them in the freezer, instead carelessly tossing the bags of food onto the floor of the kitchen. The only thing that made it into the refrigerator were the cases of beer. Exactly one week after he'd dropped nearly four grand on a carload of Girl Scout cookies, he tossed the last one into his mouth and was terrified beyond description when he did so. The house was a disaster area. If Helen could see their quaint little home now, she'd die again, but this time from a heart attack. At first, he'd simply sat in the recliner and flipped through the television channels, munching on cookies and guzzling beer, never satisfied with whatever channel he landed upon. He was an old-school guy and didn't have the internet. He had basic cable and a few movies on DVD, and that was the extent of his entertainment. When he'd become bored with the TV, he began to disassemble anything and everything he could get his hands on. Helen's sewing machine sat dismantled on the small table in the breakfast nook. The larger pieces were smeared with dried chocolate residue and machine oil. The smaller pieces were scattered throughout the house for safekeeping. The bobbins were in the mail-box. The DVD player that Helen had bought him for Christmas a few years ago was now just a discarded pile of plastic and wires. Most of it sat in the bathtub. The hood of the Subaru was propped up, and various pieces of the engine had been removed and were now languishing in the bright sunlight of his front yard. He'd spray-painted them gold, and sat them out to dry. Three days ago. The lawnmower fared no better. He'd become convinced that the small engine was infested with cockroaches, so he'd submerged it in the garden pool to drown them. He was suddenly aware of his overwhelming craving for KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS. It was as if his entire body was thrumming like a live electrical wire. He'd been picking at his skin, and now his fingers were seeking out the small scabs that littered his arms and face. His eyes bulged in their dark and sunken sockets. He reeked of urine and a little shit. The toilet had become unusable after he'd tried stuffing it with every pair of Helen's shoes that he could find. He'd taken a painful dump in one of the empty cookie boxes and stuffed it under the bathroom sink. Greg had, for lack of better words, lost his fucking mind. The small and somewhat logical part of his brain that remained became fixated on finding more cookies. He ransacked the house, burying his arms up to the elbow between the cushions of the couch. He crawled on his hands and knees in front of the recliner, carefully examining the plush carpet, and snatching up what few crumbs he could find. He allowed them to dissolve on his tongue and then resumed his search. He would have died from dehydration by now, but old habits are hard to break. He had drunk almost all of the beer, but half-full cans littered the house. Whenever his eyes fell on a can, he would snatch it up and slurp greedily, his body thankful for the moisture. When he'd finally come to the conclusion that there were no more cookies to be found, he located the telephone. Mrs. Derkins' cell phone number was printed neatly on a small card Suzy had given him, and was clinging to the refrigerator door with a magnet in the shape of a maple leaf. Suzy's mother answered on the third ring, and when he asked for Suzy, Mrs. Derkins was taken aback. When he assured her that he was only interested in acquiring some more of those delicious cookies that her daughter had sold to him, she laughed good-naturedly and told him that the sale was over. The local chapter of Girl Scouts had sold every single box, breaking last year's record by a landslide. He hung up the phone and began to weep. After a few moments of sheer panic, a fuzzy idea began to form in his brain. He put on his shoes, ventured outside, and glanced up and down the block. After Suzy had left his house last week, she'd made her way down the sidewalk to peddle her cookies elsewhere. He seemed to remember that she'd led her little red wagon down his neighbor's driveway. Hester Talbot was eighty-seven years old and had been widowed for ten of those. Spry and quick-witted, she enjoyed crossword puzzles and tuned into Wheel Of Fortune every night. She didn't receive very many visitors these days, so when Gregory Kinkaid rang her doorbell, she was somewhat confused. It was nearly eight o'clock, and she liked to be in bed by eight-thirty. She'd already slipped into her favorite nightgown and topped off Murray's food dish. (Murray was her fat tabby tomcat, a stray she'd rescued when he was a kitten.) She made her way to the front door from the kitchen where she'd been warming up Murray's nightly saucer of cream. None of that watered-down milk for her Murray, he deserved the best. At first, she thought that maybe she'd left the television on. She hadn't heard the doorbell ring since last week when angelic little Suzy came by and sold her four boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Hester had no intention of actually eating them, planning instead to give them away as gifts. But, just yesterday, she'd developed a hankering for something sweet, and opened one of the boxes. She'd only had two of the cookies, but she knew immediately that they were far too rich for her blood. She'd sat up until nearly midnight last night, knitting a cute little winter hat for Murray. She hesitated, unsure if she'd been mistaken. Then it rang again. She shuffled to the front door and stood on her tiptoes to see through the peephole. She saw Gregory Kinkaid, she didn't recognize him immediately. He looked like he'd been in a nasty fight and came out on the loser's end. "Hello? Who's there?" She asked in a thin, reedy voice. "Oh, hey, sorry to bother you, missus Talbot. Hey, uh, it's Gregory Kinkaid? From next door? Say, you got a moment?" He was scratching at his cheek furiously with his left hand. Something had burrowed under his skin, and it was crawling around under there. She began to unlatch the door. "Greg? Is something wrong? It's nearly my bedtime! Are you hurt?" "No, ma'am. Well, maybe a little, yeah. Could I have a moment, please?" His mouth had gone dry. He wished he'd brought a beer with him. "Alright then, hold on just a moment." She backed away from the peephole and turned the deadbolt. She opened the door and was completely unprepared for what she now saw clearly. Greg stood before her, quivering, and scratching. There were open sores all over his face, some were bleeding. His hair was disheveled and thickly matted with something that resembled clay. His clothing was filthy, stained, and damp. The odors that wafted in as the door opened nearly knocked her over. He absolutely reeked. Her milky blue eyes grew wide with concern. "Oh my goodness! Greg! What's happened? Come in and let me get a look at you. Have you been in an accident? " Her brow furrowed in concern as she backed away from the doorway to allow him to enter. "No, no. Nothing like that at all." He stepped across the threshold and his eyes began to dart around the room. He didn't see any KOKO KOOKIE KRUNCHYS. That didn't mean she didn't have any. "Missus Talbot, I'm so sorry to barge in on you so late, but, uh, I need to ask you for your help." He tried to compose himself, yet he still quivered and thrummed, every nerve singing in desperate agony for a cookie. His eyes had begun to well up with tears, threatening to cascade down his face. She reached out and took his shaking hands in hers. "Anything, dear! What can I do to help?" He licked his lips, parched. "You know little Suzy Derkins? The Girl Scout? She was running around the neighborhood this past week, and, um, did she, you know, come by here at all? Maybe try to sell you some cookies? Chocolate chip cookies?" Her eyes lit up, and she smiled broadly. "Why, yes she did! Precious little girl! So sweet. Why do you ask?" "Well, you see, I was wondering if maybe you'd bought any from her?" He asked hopefully. "I sure did! Four boxes to be exact!" She said, nodding. "Four boxes! Perfect! I would like to buy them from you, could I?" His eyes were red and swollen. His nose was running. He wiped at it with the back of his sleeve. "Oh, I'm sorry, but no, I'd rather not, Greg. They're gifts, you see. For my grandchildren. You understand?" Her eyes narrowed, suspicious. "I could pay you double for them! Right now! Please, I promised Helen. She loves them so much! You remember Helen? She loves those cookies. I promised her, you know? She needs those cookies, right now, more than you do." His teeth were clenched tightly. She furrowed her brow, deeply concerned and a little uncomfortable. "Gregory, I'm sorry, but no. I'm sure if you go down to the Wal-Mart tomorrow, those girls will still have plenty left. I saw the picture in the paper. A whole truckload!' "No." He said, exasperated. "They're sold out. There's no more. Look, I don't have any cash on me right now, but tomorrow I will run down to the ATM and get some. I'll give you fifty dollars for each box! Look, you don't understand, I just have to have them. I won't take no for an answer!" He was kneading one tightly clasped fist with his other hand. "That's about enough of this nonsense, Gregory Kinkaid! I think you've had quite enough cookies tonight, and from the smell of you, enough beer to drown a horse! Why don't' you go on home, and get some rest? You'll feel better in th-"
2020.09.11 08:14 LanceSenninConclusion of Mikasa's Character
Well, now that we got some info from the last chapter regarding Mikasa, I guess now is a good time to continue from where I last finished. If you haven't seen my first post regarding this topic, I recommend you give it a read first, because this is directly connected to that. I will not repeat the things I have said there in this post, just so you know. Okay, so from what we have seen in the latest chapter, we now have an answer on what Mikasa wants to do with Eren, as well as the whereabouts of her scarf. According to her, she won't kill Eren and instead plans on bringing the old Eren back. Regarding the scarf, she still has it but she won't wear it yet. Well, just when I thought her character couldn't get any worse, Isayama still pushes it and blows us away yet again. (See my first post for further details) First and foremost, I will point out that there isn't any "old Eren" like what Mikasa is saying. She admits it herself in the first page of Chapter 123 that Eren has never changed, and it is still the same right from the very start. It's literally impossible for Isayama to forget about this, and that this is most likely intended, which means he is making Mikasa even more delusional on purpose. Next point I will make, how exactly will she "stop" Eren, and bring back the "old him", if there was even such a thing, without getting herself killed first? They have to get past millions of colossal titans before they even think of reaching the Founder. Sure, they are inside a plane at this moment, but their technology can only go so far as to protect itself from the high temperatures of the steam brought by the colossal titans. I doubt it can also fly higher than the cloud of steam, because their technology isn't that advanced yet. Let's assume they do reach Eren, and they manage to come face-to-face with the founder. How can Mikasa "stop" him? By talking? They did that in 112, and look where that led. By fighting? Is there even a way for them to find out where Eren is exactly? However, that is not the point I'm making. I'm saying that it is literally impossible for them to "stop" Eren, especially with Mikasa around. How? Let's take a look at Chapter 112. When Armin was about to sock Eren in the face, Mikasa grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him to the table, face-first. We still have limited information on what is really going on with this, but the idea of "hurting Eren" triggers a reaction from Mikasa in which she moves in to defend the guy as much as she could. From her reaction when she realized what she did, it may likely be out of instinct, but we'll see. Now, how does this relate to the Alliance? Suppose that Armin does manage to talk with Eren, and fails. What do you think happens next? Armin won't hesitate to have to kill Eren in order to save the world, as we have seen him do that when he told the Scouts his suspicions about Annie being the Female Titan, despite seeing her as a dear friend. Also, he was the one who said that "in order to save humanity, one must become a monster". Should their little "talk" prove unsuccessful against Eren, I am 100% sure that they will resort to killing him, more so because he is now the Commander of the Survey Corps. Now, back to the point, will Mikasa allow this? In my opinion, as much as it is very sad to admit, I don't think she will. I think she would defend Eren to the death, even from her own comrades, because she won't let him die. I could have hope that she might still change, but from what I've seen this chapter, I'm sorry. I've truly lost hope that she can still develop, and I only see one fitting end for her character by now. Unless you want to tell me that Isayama made a mistake in saying she "wants to bring back the old Eren", I will not be convinced otherwise. In Mikasa's mind, in the future, it will likely be "Eren, or the world." This brings me to the topic of my first post, which is the complete deconstruction of Mikasa's character. There, I pointed out two possibilities for the ending of her arc: a) She moves on and becomes fully independent from Eren, throwing away the scarf or b) She dies as another way to detach herself from Eren completely. Now, I'm even more convinced that she will die to complete her tragic arc. Sure, some people may say that she "sucks" because her life revolves around Eren, but I guess that's the purpose of her arc. She is supposed to be that way because she is a tragic character, and surprisingly, it makes her a well-written character from an author's perspective. The way how she starts as a fragile girl with no reason to live, suddenly gains one and becomes stronger than anyone else, only that she eventually becomes more fragile and worse than her past self. What other fitting way to complete her tragic arc by dying, to prove that her life is indeed a tragedy? Like I said in my first post, dying is also a way of detaching oneself from everything around you, and Mikasa's development, according to Isayama himself, is centered around detaching herself from Eren. Let's be honest, if she dies, it's not really surprising. We have seen Hange die in the latest chapter, it's not far-fetched to speculate that more of them will meet the same fate. For me, I would rather see her fighting against her own comrades to defend Eren, in order for us to see just what she had become before she meets her end. Thank you for listening to my Tedtalk.
*Recruited at the Temple of Achilles on the island of Skyros during "The Kingfish and the Robin" quest. Trypho has the Big Petasos, which is a large sun hat (it is NOT Ophalaia's Sun Hat). The Big Petasos is tied to a small side quest where someone tasks you with finding it. I have not yet found this quest.
*The Agoge Fighter is one of the two Spartan trainees that are battling a pack of wolves when you accompany Myrrine to Sparta. Thanos is their fathetrainer that comes and yells at you when you save them. You can recruit Thanos immediately, but you will have to return after going with Myrrine to Sparta before you can recruit the Agoge Fighter. The other Agoge Fighter always dies.
*Recruited in the city of Orchomenos in Boeotia during the "Sibling Revenge" quest. You have to keep Deianeira and her cousin Astra alive throughout the game. Timon will ask you to kill Astra. If you kill Deianeira before completing this quest, then you won't be able to recruit Timon.
*These are random characters found on ships during certain quests only. They have very basic avatars in the Ship Menu that don't even seem to have a full resolution to the picture (as shown in the 2nd pic). When you actually choose it as one of your lieutenants the picture is gone and just the color of the background is shown for whatever tier you have chosen. It's almost like Ubisoft left it unfinished. The first picture above has a Legendary, Epic, Rare and Common one chosen (gold, purple, blue and black backgrounds, respectively). I first came across them while trying to find Persian characters/avatars during Legacy of the First Blade, Part 1. During the "Mysterious Malady" quest, you have to destroy two ships to recover some medicine. The first ship is just a normal Pirate Pentaconter. The second ship is a Persian ship and contains all Persian soldiers with these avatars. I again saw some during the "Have You Seen My Mikkos?" quest when you return to Lemnos and there are 2 ships waiting for you near Mikkos's House. Next time was on Nestor the Formidable's ship in Legacy of the First Blade, Part 2, along with actual Persian soldier avatars (see Persians in part 3 of this guide). Finally, whenever you get a Spartan or Athenian ship bounty on the weekly orichalcum quests, they will contain these characters. The only Legendary ones that I have found came from these. When selected as lieutenants, the actual characters do appear on your ship, I've linked another pic below showing the 3 Persians (Epic, Rare and Common) and the one Athenian Strategos (Legendary) that I assigned.
*Recruited at the Temple of Achilles on the island of Skyros during "The Kingfish and the Robin" quest. Trypho has the Big Petasos, which is a large sun hat (it is NOT Ophalaia's Sun Hat). The Big Petasos is tied to a small side quest where someone tasks you with finding it. I have not yet found this quest.
*The Agoge Fighter is one of the two Spartan trainees that are battling a pack of wolves when you accompany Myrrine to Sparta. Thanos is their fathetrainer that comes and yells at you when you save them. You can recruit Thanos immediately, but you will have to return after going with Myrrine to Sparta before you can recruit the Agoge Fighter. The other Agoge Fighter always dies.
*Recruited in the city of Orchomenos in Boeotia during the "Sibling Revenge" quest. You have to keep Deianeira and her cousin Astra alive throughout the game. Timon will ask you to kill Astra. If you kill Deianeira before completing this quest, then you won't be able to recruit Timon.
*These are random characters found on ships during certain quests only. They have very basic avatars in the Ship Menu that don't even seem to have a full resolution to the picture (as shown in the 2nd pic). When you actually choose it as one of your lieutenants the picture is gone and just the color of the background is shown for whatever tier you have chosen. It's almost like Ubisoft left it unfinished. The first picture above has a Legendary, Epic, Rare and Common one chosen (gold, purple, blue and black backgrounds, respectively). I first came across them while trying to find Persian characters/avatars during Legacy of the First Blade, Part 1. During the "Mysterious Malady" quest, you have to destroy two ships to recover some medicine. The first ship is just a normal Pirate Pentaconter. The second ship is a Persian ship and contains all Persian soldiers with these avatars. I again saw some during the "Have You Seen My Mikkos?" quest when you return to Lemnos and there are 2 ships waiting for you near Mikkos's House. Next time was on Nestor the Formidable's ship in Legacy of the First Blade, Part 2, along with actual Persian soldier avatars (see Persians in part 3 of this guide). Finally, whenever you get a Spartan or Athenian ship bounty on the weekly orichalcum quests, they will contain these characters. The only Legendary ones that I have found came from these. When selected as lieutenants, the actual characters do appear on your ship, I've linked another pic below showing the 3 Persians (Epic, Rare and Common) and the one Athenian Strategos (Legendary) that I assigned.
Girl Scout Program Training 2018: Entering an Initial Order
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