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      Vote for Valucre [June]   05/16/2017

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Mag

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  • Birthday 03/25/1998

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    A time when cars are flying in the sky; a place where robots talk like you and I.
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  1. And just like that, the world was subsumed into the murk of quiet dusk. The light wavered and flickered, a dot through the spreading branches of the trees that were black in their silhouette against the sunset. Finally the gunshots had lost their echo in the sky and the sound was dampened by the earth, finally the stone knight fell to pieces – so swiftly did immortality come to an end! – and the skeletons fell as one, fatally linked from mind to mind and bone to bone, to clatter on the gravestones. Selandra sat upon a gravestone and exhaled loudly. “Well. The smallest of our challenges, huh?” The breeze started up again. The stone was warm beneath her touch, despite it all. The mercenary stared into the sky and did not feel that it was such a bad place. The granite was rough as it was in mountains and valleys that burgeoned with fruit and peace, and the sun warmed it equally. The abbey was red where the bricks shone beneath the sunlight, and consumed with ivy. It could not have been so long since priests walked these halls and made the earth rich with their blessings and faith. The bones that littered the grounds were reminders of death, but in the absence of the knight they too seemed to desire rest. If only, the woman thought, they had lay dead as they had died – motionless, under the purview of those who loved them, and at peace. We are tired. This place is tired. Help us. Dove knew that the gauntlet was here – could feel it echoing through her soul, sliding around her spine like a worm – but Selandra couldn’t believe it. And then there was the matter of the wolf that had leapt upon them. The mercenary yawned as she watched the newcomer roar across the graveyard. “It seems that we have extra company. Werewolves ain’t really the best choice of pals, but he seems to be friendly…?”
  2. “I think…” But it did not matter what Selandra thought, because thought was not something that a soldier needed to call upon in the field of battle. The strange boy, Martin, spun into the midst of the skeletons to clear their path with abandon. Nieve and Ember threw themselves at the stone knight, and here the servant was left to do the master’s duty. The mercenary stood, at ease, and watched the work that she’d been hired for fall to land at her feet. She tilted her head and turned to stare around the suddenly peaceful grounds. What serendipity. The dandelions that sprouted between the gravestones were the last traces of happiness and life that still clung so brazenly to the damp and the earth full of death. In the breeze, they bobbed their sunny heads toward the sun with life, and Dove thought that they were an incredibly elaborate lie. With that, it almost seemed peaceful. She could see, almost, the shadows of children dashing here and there through the gravestones. Of course, there was no such breeze, and so they stood as still as the graves and corpses they fed upon. Selandra bent to pick one from the bunch. Surely they could not be fake in all dimensions – surely they had to smell like murder and unnatural magic? Surely, she had no time for this? The clang of metal off stone reminded her that a battle still raged around her, and the clang of metal off stone told her that Miss Ember had met with the uncomfortable truth of facing an enemy of the earth with steel in hand. Selandra sighed and began to walk towards the knight, sword slung over her shoulder and silk slowly creeping up the channel of the blade. In the sunset, the light reflected off the shimmering fabric was starry like the surface of an ocean. Perhaps it was brighter than that, too. The fragments of bone left in Martin’s wake crawled along the ground beneath her, and occasionally a skeleton would crawl to its feet. The mercenary met these occasions with the bottom of her boot and decapitation if necessary. “Miss Priestess, I do believe that things of stone pose special difficulties for us of the steel.” Selandra called this out across the distance. She beamed as she drew closer, gripping her sword in both hands. “So if you could spare some more of that dust…” With a grunt of exertion, she slammed the blade and its accrued force into the side of the knight in between Ember’s frenzied attacks. There was the cracking of stone and a puff of dust. A chip of obsidian whizzed by her face. Selandra winced. “Gaia, what a piece of work!”
  3. Don’t go. Because she had no courage in her, she did not say this; neither to the Exarch, nor to the Medicine Man, nor to the woman and dog who stood beside him. The throne room grows cold and quiet when they climbed upwards, closer to the dragons, closer to heaven. They left loneliness in their wake. It was flush through the chamber and settled on everything like ash, and Lily held still as a statue staring at her hands, motionless, for fear of disturbing it. There was more fear than this that filled the girl’s mind, but it was the most prominent there in the throne room. Almost absentmindedly, she realized that she had grown to fear the quiet. There, all that one was aware of was the colorless, still world that the eyes saw, and the steady thump of a heartbeat ticking away the seconds and minutes that we had left in that world. Every beat that echoed with her own thick, youthful vitality was another second taken out of the time she had to act. She imagined that a rooftop caught fire and caved, that a child was killed or a wall fell to its foundations every time it pumped. Thump, thump, thump. And another half of Isore was gone in the seconds she spent there breathing unsteadily on the divan. When the others had been present, it had at least been safe, full of a last glimmer of hope for the future. Then the war that raged around the palace swallowed them up. Or rather, it was they who waded into the thick of combat, and to the girl this meant they’d left the bubble that she’d tried to build around herself. She had no shields about her, no anchors. The Exarch was representative of strength, the Medicine Man of life, and they too were gone into the land of death. Lily only had herself. And what good was a lone girl? That’s enough. She froze – stiller than she’d already been, wringing her hands and huddled on the cold side of the couch. The sickly smell of bitter medicine and vomit drifted up to her. It reminded her that her stomach had been weak, and she cupped her mouth as another wave of nausea threatened to come over her. Stop it. Weakness. Weakness is no good. I am here to save the world. I am a hero. The girl stumbled onto her feet, leaving her pack behind on the sofa alongside the old book that the Exarch had taken from her, who’d in turn taken it from the librarians. Maxwell! The breath caught in her throat when she thought of the man, eyes opening wide as she looked around the marble and gold of the room, knowing that she’d find nothing which she was looking for. Maxwell had made it into the walls. Hadn’t he? Where is he? Of course, nothing answered her. She swallowed her fears and kept moving across the room. Whether he was alive or dead didn’t matter. No, it doesn’t matter. It only matters that I live, and so I must do everything I can. Because I must. Who was “I,” she wondered as she climbed the stairs to the Exarch’s chambers. Who was this person who was so full of arrogant reason while the girl she pretended to be was so paralyzed by fear that she couldn’t raise her hands even to fiddle as the city burned? The steps cut beneath her feet like the slope of a mountain while she thought and struggled with each step. When she finally came to the door after what felt like an eternity, Lily felt that she might open it to see the world already scorched and reborn. It swung open to reveal a bedchamber and study, both Spartan in décor and busy with the trappings of governance. No such luck for Lily; she would not be relieved of a duty to save the world so easily. The meal that the Exarch promised her rested, barely touched, on the desk. She took the serrated knife from the side of the plate and left it even less touched. The door swung to close – through the swiftly closing gap, Lily tried to observe and remember everything that her eyes could touch before it thudded shut with finality. She’d be the last to see it, probably. She owed it something for that. The way down was much easier, perhaps because it put distance between her and the judgement of Heaven, but more because holding a weapon in her hands gave her a sense of purpose and grounding. That was the danger of fire and steel; they had minds of their own, and it was too easy to think through the tip of the blade. All the way through until it reached the enemy’s heart… Lily’s footfalls echoed through the halls again, but it was louder this time. There was more confidence in her step and more weight driving her towards the North End of the throne room, where Isore’s crown jewel was waiting. She stopped when she came to the base of the throne, where she’d collapsed an hour ago. God! She could feel the difference now. What was absent before was everything; what she had now was everything. Lily took the first step upwards. Energy rose to greet her, and again the burning began upon her chest, the Seal Fragment recognizing the presence of another. It loathed it, it loved it – torn between its original programming, given in birthright, of vicious conquest, and its second programming, given in conquest, of horrified revelation. Lily, too, had had her own revelation: to assemble the stone into its original form by birthright. She took the second step. The young woman had no thoughts to dwell upon except that she should do what she must. She did not wonder who the “I” had been that spouted reason in her madness, because she knew that that madness was not she. Maxwell had told her simply that her duty was to act. Now, she acted. She took the third step, onto the throne itself. The serrated knife came up, and the light of the twin dragonstones were reflected on the blade, one at the base and one at the tip. When she thrust it down, they raced towards the center and for a brief second, they nearly touched – within a hand’s grasp of each other. The gold buckled and gave way as she cut, again, again, and again. The throne would be defaced, but so was all the city. She needed only one thing. The stone embedded at the head of the throne winked as it loosened. It sensed impending reunion.
  4. Rosalyn Clemens "Guh. F...fuck you. Damn piece of shit. Damn! I can't be dy-ing..." Professor Auroch Jindal "A-ah-ha! What...what a pleasantly new experience; new frontier. I pity that you won't understand this...about time." A CITY BY THE SEA "...?" Finn Cavalcante "Ah! It...it hurts...please help...agh, please, someone..." Dove "What?! How could this happen? I...saw everything, and yet-! How dare...you..." Lily "Is...is this how it ends? It's so...peaceful. I'm sorry, everyone, I c-couldn't save you..." Francis Avery "Oh. I fucked up, didn't I?" Alan MacDowell Sigh. "I'm...sorry for everything. God, please forgive me." ARIA "What's...what's happening? I don't like this...no! No!"
  5. In terms of stories, a reader has to the writer a duty of utmost importance. That is to believe what the writer does, and to suspend his own belief in turn. The tales that are spun are naturally tall, inevitably fantastic, because the ordinary normal is already so encapsulated within a reader’s life that a writer has no business prodding into it. Nor, in fact, would the reader like the writer prying into the most unremarkable of things. Only the remarkable is worth attention. So the writer writes beautiful lies and the reader must believe her beautiful lies, because without this bit of trust nothing is gained. This dutiful relationship holds true for many sets of people. Filmmakers and their watchers, parents and children, lovers and lovers. Without belief, without suspension of otherwise common sense, it all seems so incredulous, the words that come out of each other’s mouths and minds. “Assume the world has fallen into apocalypse” – and we assume. “Obey my every command” – and we obey. “I love you. Stay with me forever, I’ll make you the happiest person alive” – and so we think that we will and they will. Of course it’s all a pack of lies, but belief is paramount to smooth sailing. Then, Dove thinks as she loses herself in the delicate flavor of citrus and soft lips, we have this shit. She had forgotten that she was light, but Avvercus took the chance only to switch their positions and continue their intimacy. And they did, breaths mingling with one another and lips continually dipping and rising to meet with the other. The lich liked the taste. She indulged herself, never letting go, letting her hands and his warmth meld into one another until they’d both forgotten the strangeness of their sensation. In her consciousness, there were only the sensations and scents of the man. There was a lone solitary thought of incredulity, but this was shunted to the background while she enjoyed the ride. Finally, they break apart, and she takes a few deep breaths to recover still pinned against the wall. Her cheeks are flush, as humans ought to be – or so the illusion believes – and her eyes are half-open. Although neither of them have forgotten her hands, the two actors pretend that they are absent from the negotiation, both the tie wrapped around her fist and the needle at his neck. “If you play nice, you might just get what you want now, and later perhaps…” He kisses her lightly, and the thrum of the word mumbled onto her lips sends a shiver down her body. “More?” The lich closes her eyes. The moment has passed, and now the lone thought is pushed to the forefront of her mind. This man is unbelievable. Even for creatures such as we, there is a limit to brashness, a limit to madness. It was incredulous, inane enough to make Dove laugh, and so the woman did, back to the cold concrete and boxed in from the front by a strange man with stranger intentions. It was coarse, both smooth and startlingly rough like sand. For such a woman in such a position, this, too, was an off response to the situation. No flirtation nor threat should elicit such laughter, but Dove felt that the two in tandem were just too funny. They were two strange people. “You’re quite a man, aren’t you, Avvercus?” Dove folded her legs around his waist and grasped his shoulders with her hands, looking up at him with blazing eyes. “Something makes me want to tear you apart and figure you out. Interesting, interesting…” She pulled herself inwards and upwards, resting her mouth beside his ear; the gentleness of it was almost a kiss. “But today I didn’t come for you, and now you’re wasting my time.” Her tongue slithered up the side of his ear, from tip to top, and she blew a gentle puff into his head with a smile. One last sensation to distract before she drew her fist into a knife and thrust - BANG. And her head, non-plussed, exploded into a mass of dust and bone.
  6. It was not minds but hearts that were the most dangerous aspect of man. Words and thoughts are words and thoughts alone. It is our posturing, our poise and personality that grant them meaning. Dove was not prepared for the depth to which that Nieve could probe; beyond the mind that genuinely held these beliefs – destruction, capture – to be true, into the heart that held these things to be trivial. “You need not act the part of eagerness and zeal where none truly moves you, child.” Selandra’s smile did not flicker, but Dove could think of nothing to say. Where there had been emptiness – the very same uncaring emptiness that Nieve had picked up upon – there was now the sinking shock of control briefly lost. She scrabbled for a response, she found none, and only kicked herself inwardly and resolved to avoid such obliviousness in the future. And yet, how shallow was this probe. Nieve was a most dangerous soul. “Haha. I suppose.” The mercenary scratched her cheek and looked into the distance with a shy blush. “This really is a duty that I owe, above all else. But it is useful, I think, to put on airs. Given enough time, one might even be led to believe it – that this duty is not so fearsome, and perhaps even enjoyable.” Was it so fearsome? Was it enjoyable? Nieve rose into the air and the rush of power that filled her arms and soul cast away these things in favor of the present. This was well because the present was all that mattered. Selandra needed to see nothing but the enemy; Dove knew how this story was to end, and waiting in anticipation for the answers to her overarching questions was irreverent. The nature of the world itself, its frame-by-frame existence in a continual Xeno’s paradox, felt affronted by those who only looked ahead and outwards. And so Selandra lifted her sword, red silk unraveling from the gilded blade to wrap around her arm, and strode into the yard of the temple-turned-crypt with the motley trio that had assembled for a rather uncommon cause. The undead were the first thing to greet them, rising in the dozens with rusted swords and lances by the dozens. “Awwh. A shame. Unnaturals, in a holy place as this?” Selandra watched Ember blow apart an approaching skull, only for it to reform nearly instantly. “Mother Gaia is probably crying right now.” Selandra walked forward and took a stance – the best approximation that the lich could make from her mottled memories of centuries past. The Levantine style, developed in a time when Zengi and his legions reigned supreme, was suited against masses of the mindless whose strength lay in numbers. Where clumping together meant obliteration by the necromancers’ necrotic artillery spells, skirmishes were tens of thousands of warriors scattered among the field against a hundred thousand weak Unnaturals. Each and every man prayed he would not be targeted by a greater Unnatural or a necromancer’s spell, that he while cutting through tens of undead at a time would not be stricken in the back blindly with an arrow. It was a style not for offense, but for defense. Buy as much time with your life as you can, while the consortiums of mages in the safe, distant tents assemble their spells to erase the enemy from the face of the earth, before they did the same. As suddenly as you might die, you live. Such was the uncertainty that went into its craft… Dove hated uncertainty. Selandra stepped forward, and the sword glowed with raw force as its flat edge met a ribcage; the first skeleton was thrown backwards, smashing into the next and locking their bones together. By then, the mercenary had moved forward to the third, cutting downwards to disarm at the wrist, then turning the tip of the blade to bisect the spine. She whirled around, the back of the sword catching the tip of the fourth’s spear, and swept low to dodge a hackneyed stab from a fifth. She rose with a cut from the pelvis up and out of the left shoulder. And again, they pieced together. Dove clicked her tongue. Exhilirating, especially as her body limbered up and remembered the faster steps to the dance, calling up memories and battlefields far in the past, but “annoying.” “Ember, Nieve, Martin. As fun as this is –“ Selandra cut another two in three and three in two, and fell back to dodge a handful of spears shoved in her direction. “- we aren’t doing anything. Boo.” “If one of ya helps me out, we could probably kick their butts as long as we want, but someone oughta come up with a more permanent solution, right?”
  7. The woman was strange and mysterious in that strangeness. The stories behind us are wild and varied, yet hers was the most enigmatic of them all. The lich did not expect to learn the truth there. This woman was forthcoming and alike reserved. She was the type, Dove thought, who would tell if asked, but couldn’t be asked. The lich liked her, because the type who told neither truth nor lies was the most honest of all existences. Such honesty begot honesty in return. Selandra held out her hand freely, beaming. “Of course, Nieve! We have to be on the same page to work as a team.” The woman would find that Dove was not lying. She had every intention of taking the bauble as her own, locking it away and looking on it fondly as she sipped at her evening coffee. They – her family – had too much memory with the thing to let it slide. And indeed, one day they’d finish the job left undone for 12 years, and rend it apart to soothe Alan’s paranoia. Perhaps it was a trivial truth that was not worth consigning Ember’s sister to flames over, but people’s lives and memories were all of relative value. The lots of strangers were no concern. The carriage had finally come to a stop, it seemed. Selandra peered into the crescent dusk out the side of the doors. The forest gaped wide and it was all as quiet as snow. The wind was dying through the leaves; there was no chitter of squirrels nor tattooed beat of a woodpecker’s jaw. If there was ever a place to hear the sound of an owl’s wingbeat, it was here. The sun still shone, molten and fiery and golden through the treetops, but that too seemed too dim for the time it had taken them to arrive at the temple. The light barely kissed the ground. Indeed, the earth seemed to recoil from its touch. “Indeed the darkness is great. It’s only gonna get darker from here…” Selandra looked to Ember. “Dangerous place. Do you have a plan, Miss Ember?” She gripped the sword. Selandra was grim now. The happy-go-lucky were loved, but stayed alive in small numbers in truth. The mercenary was prepared now to struggle and die. Dove merely wondered what the challenge was that lay ahead, and what sort of evil the reassembled gauntlets were so capable of that had stricken a nation full of fear. It was a good chance of practice her swordsmanship – from the memories of centuries, she pulled the core tenets of the discipline to her working memory. With luck, the actions would feel more familiar as they went on. In the worst case, Selandra had Dove to rely on. If they were to fight monsters, then she’d fight them as a monster.
  8. The question of “why” was not a difficult one for the mercenary. In truth, the question of “why” was not a particularly useful one either and this, she thought, was a truth that held in generality. At the end of the day, why or why not was rooted in whim and whimsy. Reason is unfathomable except for those that held it. But still here they were, and if the priestess wished to understand better those that she would call “comrade,” then she had no reason to deny her. An atmosphere of basic, mutual trust was necessary. The carriage thundered along the road, leaving the cityscape of Doughton along the far horizon behind. The road was smooth and even but for the guards, and even those were eventually reduced to armor-clad silhouettes among the dust. Selandra peered outside. The sun was high and falling between the trees, and that meant that their excursion was to meet with dusk and the creatures that lived past that. “I guess it’s my turn, then?” She pointed to herself with a bit of a grin. “Well, I have a bit of history with the thing. One of my family members was doing research on it a while back, never finished his research since some terror organization nearly killed him taking it back.” The truth? It was the truth, and nothing but. To some, Odin Haze and his monolithic reign was a figure of abject terror. Certainly to a lich of the Levantine era, this religious solidarity was something to be questioned. It was the Desecrators all over again, only now that people loved the god rather than feared him. And they were all the more blind for it. “He’d learned his lesson since then, but I’d still like the gauntlet for sentimental reasons, just to lock away in our family vault.” Selandra looked down at the floor of the shaking carriage, clutching her sword between her hands and legs. “If his research goes on, he might destroy it instead.” And perhaps she would have Aria render Zengi’s legendary weapons into their components, just as she had once reassembled them from dust. How much knowledge must be locked away in those fragments? How great a force to oppose Fate could rise from them? It was a duty of Dove’s, a desire. The why – “because I want it” – was as frivolous as any other. The “how” was the bit that mattered far more to this group.
  9. Panic was an emotion alien to the lich. After a certain age, the fear of foreknowledge of blushing confessions, fumbled performances, and nerves before the spotlights faded away into obscurity. Preparation became the bulwark of the heart – surprise was the only dread that faced the old and wise. Only that which we do not understand can terrify us; all else is subservient to our control. The reins of our lives are firmly in our hands to push forward ceaselessly, barreling through the seen ups and downs with the ferocity of velocity. To a creature who knew everything…the words “smooth sailing” cross the mind, images of reclining chairs and sunlit beaches that stretched flatly into infinity. And yet here we are. To say that Dove was panicked would be an overstatement, but it would be a statement nonetheless grounded in truth. The ground was unsteady beneath her feet, suddenly, as their eyes met and the air charged itself with tension. Dove lost herself in those dark emerald eyes. It was almost a mirror, and there was that same depth inside the ones she saw, as the ones she saw reflected within those eyes. Two bottomless infinities were there, one encased inside another, and briefly the lich wondered if this was what the man saw in hers as well. Two existences that captured things greater than themselves, meeting by chance – or something far less, or something far more – in the dusty basement of a casino. Dove couldn’t be bothered to laugh, but she did smile as the man drew closer. This, she gave because she knew nothing else to give. It was the smile that one wears laughing at a joke that went unheard, the silent falsehood we give strangers in a crowd from whom we are separated by a wall of sound. She had no movements of finesse, no intricate plots or courses of action to greet the man with. The woman was frozen by his eyes. Paralyzed, almost, by the void that he occupied in her mind. Suddenly, the man was before her, leaning on the same wall as he grinned down at her. “You forgot Option 3…my name is Avvercus, pleased to meet you.” The man named Avvercus threw out a hand by way of greeting, and Dove shifted her gaze to land on the thing proffered her. How curious that all hands looked the same – a king’s, a craftsman’s; a saint’s, a sinner’s; a child’s, a god’s. One knew nothing of what a hand could do until it had begun to act, begun to trace its latent skill into the canvas of reality. Hold a scepter, perhaps, or a spear, or nothing at all. It was simply a mystery. It begged a guess. The Statistician laughed then, leaning into the wall with her elbow. To the man, it would seem that he’d told an unintended joke. Perhaps he’d chuckle along quietly at his accidental wit. It wasn’t anything so special – rather, the woman finally realized that it was a good time for wisdom to take its well-deserved rest. How long had it been since she was allowed to be fiery, young, reckless? Too many ages had passed that were full of plans, dusty, cold and calculated. For once, let’s play it by ear. “Av-ver-cus.” Her mouth paused before k, almost like a schism writ into the name. It was a divide full of presence. “Brief and harsh on the tongue. I like it. You may call me Dove.” She unclasped her arms and leaned inwards towards Avvercus and made to answer his grasp. Her hand rose at first, timidly, slowly, and she took this time to examine his features again from the inches that separated their noses. Above softened cheeks were eyes that were full of secrets that were equally barren of them, as disarming as they were mysterious. A mouth that spoke much the same, already accustomed to the shape of a knowing, undoubtedly insufferable smirk. It was the handsome sort of face and he was the handsome sort of man that was never out of it, even when he wasn’t in it. For a moment, Dove thought to herself that she might like to see this face in distress, taken as off-guard as she had been. Hers fell gently into his hand. For a moment, it lingered there with a caress, silken fingertips tickling at his open palm. A tenth of a second was enough, perhaps, for the sensation to command his attention – provocative, soft, ambiguous. Then the flighty bird, having taken the moment to preen its feathers, would explode into action again, shooting upwards towards his necktie. The slender fingers wrapped around the silk, twisting it into a tangle and yanking downwards all at once. With a wink that was as malicious as winks are playful, she stepped out to his side and then inwards, swiftly, just as the tie’s friction bottomed out and the man’s face came down within easy access. …of what? “Mmmf-” Their lips pressed together in the span of half a second, Dove’s occupied hand pushing into his chest with the weight of her full body, pressing Avvercus into the wall until she had him pinned by the chest and mouth. Her legs crossed his, as sensual as it was functional in restricting his movement. The man tasted like starfruit, she noted, and for a brief second paused to explore the insides of his mouth, closing her eyes. She had always had a soft spot for citrus flavors. A born woman of the north who’d dreamt of the beaches of the south in her youth never left those dreams behind. All the while, her free hand rose to cup his neck; and suddenly the man would feel something stiff, bordering on uncomfortable, poking into a tender spot of his. A needle of ruby red, as hard as steel and sharp as wit, lined up against the side of his neck where her index finger touched. When she broke apart, it was because her feet had begun to ache standing on tiptoe to match the man’s height. Her expression betrayed nothing that she did not have - a coy sort of amusement. Her hands remained where they were, tangled up with the rest of the man. “Charming, but I happen to be as thorough as the best of them.” Dove tilted her head and clicked her tongue, reminding Avvercus of the needle at his neck. “There are only the two options. Shall we choose here?”
  10. Lily dreamt of fire. It was not the fire that ravaged walls and put lives and livelihoods to the torch, no. It was not that to which Isore had been condemned, nor was it the warmth of a hearth. They’re mundane and to a certain extent, expected. We can foretell the sword and flame that brings down walls. In mere preparation of our food and homes, we enslave the lesser flames, earth-bound; in construction of our towers and lightningrods, we claim victory over the greater flames, sky-bound. These are fires under the mastery, however limited, of man. This fire was divine, chthonic. It was something of the gods – or certain other legends. The void is formless where she sits. A flat plane of black, though there is doubt cast on each attribute. Is it blindingly bright, or blindingly dark? Is the fire that wreaths her body cold enough to burn, or hot? The perception of opposites is distinct, yet indistinguishable. In the haze of a dreaming mind, Lily concludes this: that the flames are the opposite color of the infinity around, and that the space is cold if the fires are hot. If the fires are cold…what sort of fire is cold? The young woman almost laughs. Despite the pain of the heat scorching her skin, it is not painful. Yes, here in this void full of emptiness and agony, her mind is clearer than it has been throughout the whole of the siege. Her worries and sorrows are conscripted to struggle against the physical sensations of the mental realm, and reason is left to dictate to the mind what’s what. The meaning of this dream is not lost on her. Lily stands and begins to pace into the dark – light? Curiously, she watches the vibrant white flame swirl about her. It is centered upon a shapeless talisman upon her chest, and this is about as blunt as symbolism could be. It’s painfully obvious – the fragment of The Valley’s Seal that Lily had stolen from the Library has encountered an equal. The artifacts have begun to awaken – almost certainly, the dragon riders hail from a holder of another, matured Seal fragment. The one that dangles about her neck begins to come into its own, and the Exarch’s, as well. In meeting each other, inklings of ancient power stir. There is no edge to this space, yet her feet stop at what feels to be a great, invisible firmament that divided the darkness from the darkness. And she saw that it was good – there was, suddenly, a rushing sensation in the stomach. It was the sensation that arises when one stands before a great, gaping canyon and though there is a bottom to the abyss far beneath in our eyes, our minds don’t comprehend it as anything more than a pretty picture masking abrupt death. In the distance, six lights sparkle. Lily stares at them intently. One – an almost familiar light, all too close at hand. The Exarch’s. Another, harsh and unforgiving. Surely that which destroyed Isore. And four more, thrown somewhere carelessly across time and space, of which they knew nothing – of which the Exarch likely knew less than nothing. There would be some explaining to do. The woman feels that an unasked question has found an answer. God – what should she do? What can a single, lone girl do to save the world? The stars provide her the path forward: The Seal would be reassembled. Must be, had to be. It was one strong hope among a dwindling, weak few. “Exarch…” The word was mumbled as the darkness began to collapse inwards, eaten by the flames that themselves were fading back into the center of her chest. Light and darkness alike faded away into the familiar sensation of waking reality. With luck, Lily thought to herself, the girl would not be so alone in her endeavor. Consciousness was not a realm easily entered. Lily’s eyes rose as if from a nap, but her throat began to convulse almost immediately as it choked around unexpected medicine. The girl twisted to her side and coughed out a mess of holy water and herbs to splatter onto the almost regretfully clean marble of the floor. Her body shuddered as she cleansed herself of the cleansers. They had done their duty in pulling her from purgatory – now, begone. Lily wiped weakly at her mouth with her hand, feeling the bitterness of the medicine coat her tongue as she tried to get her bearings. A headache ground harshly on the nerves in her temples, hard and throbbing. The cover of the divan beneath her body was soft, she realized, and for this she did not need to use her eyes. This was good, because it was all too bright to see – in the blurry distance, rays of sun shone down into the chamber. She covered her eyes with a forearm and mumbles something incoherent as she turned back into the cushion, mouth slick still with water and acid. Perhaps she had intended on going back to sleep. A thought surfaced though that prevented this, a simple question that felt wrong. Why was it so bright? Lily coughed again, though this was a cough for coughing’s sake, no bile left to rise. Why wouldn’t it be? Why was it dark? Isn’t the city shrouded in the smoke coming off its own corpse? Lily’s eyes shot open, and again it was all too bright to the eyes and again she winced, shielding her face with a hand, but this time was different as she followed through and sat up straight. The sudden motion sent the world spinning, and her hands grasped feebly, almost incredulously, at the air as she tried to speak. “Wha-?” And down she went again, barely catching herself on the arm of the couch. Dizzy…she was faintly aware of the clattering of armor, a movement in her vision, and a gentle grip moving her into a more comfortable position. Her fingers tightened instinctively as they latched onto the arm that entered her view as a lifeline; Lily leaned her head onto the shoulder and shut her eyes tight as the ground began to spin again. The sensation of a wet cloth peeled from her forehead and fell away into insignificance, but that was as unimportant as the rest of the world lost in the blurry peripherals of thought. What was important? The girl breathed deeply and slowly her eyes crept open, staring at the mess she’d made on the floor. The scene stabilized around this, the pounding in her head settling into a peaceful rhythm before vanishing. The first thought that came was a question of location, purpose, circumstance; the three things that a lost mind needed to triangulate its place in the world. The Valley – Isore – the palace. The Exarch, and the end of the world. Lily lay there in silence, leaning on Mason’s shoulder as the remainder of her faculties returned in wake of this revelation. She did not move, nor did she let go of the Exarch – her arms were still folded around his. It was comfortable. The man was stable like nothing else in Isore at the moment, where even the earth shook unsteadily while it was eaten alive by the jaws of dragons. She sighed, and pressed against the Exarch more closely. “Exarch. Do you have a name? It’ll be good to get used to talking more intimately, because from this moment, we are going be comrades.” There was nervousness in her words, but there was also courage that arose from desperation. In dire straits, all men and women were made equals. Kings and peasants were no different with a blade in their hands. When it came to saving a world, Lily hoped that none would care to discriminate. “This city is…not going to see the dawn. I think we both know this.” She said this quietly, almost whispering. Lily did not look up at the Exarch’s face. Hers was focused again on the ground. Already, Isore was plunged into the dusk of smoke; when the smokestacks cleared, it would be dark, and once the sun rose it would rise on ruin, a city picked to the bone by the maws of the dragons. “The dragons are again awake. They have come out of hiding. The Second War of the Dragons begins with the fall of Isore. But we can stop this.” Lily stretched out a hand, resting her palm on the cover of the book that Mason held clutched in his free arm. “I think there is something important in here. The legends about the Seals, and the powers that they hold. The spectre of a dream rose suddenly in her mind, and her mouth rushed out the answer she’d come to: “If we collect them, we can stop this.” The young woman turned her gaze up at Mason’s face. Her eyes were clear and gaze piercing, trying to get the measure of the Exarch. She needed him to agree. Maxwell’s words came again, and Lily recited them as if to calm herself - accidentally loud, they echoed across the interior of the palace chamber, ringing in the ears of all who stood in the chamber. “As long as we’re alive, the world is ours to change. For better, for worse.”
  11. I'll be suggesting that the post order is only for required posts, and that we should all feel free to make posts in addition outside of it. At least, I have no intention myself of only posting once per cycle, if that's acceptable?
  12. There is something eerie about perceiving that which our senses do not perceive. A spectre haunts our vision that our touch does not find, that emits no sound or scent, and leaves no wake of air in its passing. It makes a man think and doubt himself. He must wonder what is true and what is false. He must wonder if he’s even capable of wondering, at that point, or if all capacities have been compromised and the universe is just joking him. In a world where one can only trust the self, it’s a bit of a horrible thing to do, don’t you think? And yet here we are. “I take it that’s not why you’re here, is it?” Dove takes another step forward, then pauses, her eyes never leaving the man. Here was someone special, a man invisible to all the twists and turns of Fate’s coil. Here was a man who, despite all her efforts, was simply absent in all potential futures. The Statistician could tell you a great deal of things. She could pinpoint the exact second that a leaf would fall, the path it would take as it fell into the chaotic caress of the breezes, and precisely outline how this leaf would lead to the death of a man at the hands of his vengeful son two hundred miles to the north. (It would begin with a ripple on a pond and a mosquito put into fateful flight…) Yet, she only now knew of his silver locks, his height, the quirked lips in ever-present smile, shapely features, and strangely underwhelming presence. This, her eyes gave her, one of the few senses that was not fooled by the spectre blot on the integrity of her knowledge. “How…interesting.” Dove tilts her head as she comes to a halt with a toothy smile. Her eyes are faraway, canvassing over a dozen courses of action without the luxury of probability. Finally, they settle on intimidation tactics. Those always went over well, didn’t they. “You make no appearances in my future calculations.” The woman leans against the concrete wall beneath flickering fluorescent lighting and crosses her bare arms over the chest of her snug-fit dress. Altogether, there is something too disarming about her appearance. “This leads to one of two conclusions.” “First. You’re a gentleman who’s going to tell me all about how special he is while he escorts me to my prize…” Ruby earrings glint in pale light, wavering and jingling as Dove tucks a few stray locks of curly blond hair behind her ear. “…or second. You have been forcibly removed from my future calculations because you aren’t going to exist past the now.”
  13. Momentous meetings are rarely so momentous as we would like. Why does not the earth stand still when, on a rainy day like any other, on a street like any other, we look up to see a woman like any other with piercing eyes and sniffling through a cold who will end up the love of our lives? Why do not the skies tremble with fury and anger when two bitter enemies watch each other from across the way, hands stiff and full of intention to kill? Caught up in our romance and the beautiful haze of memory, we humans seem to forget often that we’re just flotsam floating atop Fate’s machinations. We’re given nothing because we are nothing. For her dear, loved children, though, she spares a bit more. She quiets the crowd – absurdly, all conversations at once come to a natural pause. All drunken peals of laughter reach their end, and the dealers finish their hands. In the losing ruts of the roulette wheel, ivory balls come to a heavy halt. A single short moment where the ends of all things coincide, and before the beginnings of all things come again… “What…are you?” The words ring too clearly through the air. And the cards slap down again, and the drinks flow again, and the flirtations and frustrations fill again the thick, smoky, choking atmosphere of the Jade. An oblivious young girl lifts her gaze from her plate into the meeting that was momentous enough to warrant Fate’s wink and nudge. The young girl didn’t need the moment of silence to tell her anything. From the moment the girls locked eyes, they knew. Consider the earth stopped in its tracks, the stars to be aligned, the universe paused in its hungry growth and the stretch of space. The alpha and omega had met. The latter beams brightly, an instinct for friendship settling in all at once. “Hi! I’m Aria. What’s your name?” Some faraway thought clicks in her mind. The mac and cheese steams on the tabletop, and the smell tugs the corner of her mouth into a frown. “By the way, you’re not getting any of that. It’s mine.” Then, cheerily and with another dazzling smile, “But if you want some I can order some for you! Mom left me a ton of money.” The sounds of the casino go on, and swiftly the two girls are enclosed once again the fold of normalcy. The moment has passed, and Fate now only watches what two untouched, unchecked free wills shall do.
  14. THE WATCHER (sing.) IN THE STEAM FEAT: @Paroxysm (as Pilot) and @supernal (as Evelyn) Pilot’s thermal sensors registered the air as ‘cool.’ Continued analysis provided the composition – oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide in ordinary quantities along with trace oceanic minerals and salts. The velocity was gentle and the sensation soft on the dullahan’s ironclad armor. The sun was perched on the far horizon, too, half subsumed beneath the waves. It bobbed upon the sea like a bloody egg and feeble was its warmth that came to the artificial peninsula built off the shoreline of Last Chance. This was enough, perhaps, to constitute a pleasant evening. This he made clear as the woman approached, again noiselessly, again without indication, again steeped in secrecy as was her custom. “It is a pleasant evening, Evelyn.” “Pilot.” The woman nodded who joined him upon the hotel balcony in vigil. “It is, is it not?” Her voice was deep, clipped sharply with accent. The woman was pretty – Evelyn may have even ventured the word “beautiful” based upon her imperfect model coalesced from the experiences and opinions of her accrued hosts – but her features, too, were hardy and run through with a history of labor. Her name was Maria, a spy from the Cold South. It was a body that was uniquely adaptable to the Handymen’s current mission, and it had been bought with Evelyn’s promise to leave relics of her utilitarian approach to human movement in the nooks of her mind. For now, however, it was as much Evelyn’s body as it was Maria’s, and so it was Evelyn who set the bottle of wine onto the balcony table with a clink. “What is that?” Pilot spoke without turning. The sound was almost mechanical, if not in timbre then in delivery. “Ignatz Fire-Water. Flavored with the essence of the Fire-Burst seed.” The dullahan seemed satisfied with this answer, and said no more on the subject. From the spy’s experience, the symbiote had gleaned an appreciation for the necessity of deception and concealment. This appreciation, she projected upon the armor that perched on the edge of the balcony like an owl – ever observant, ever keen. “It would be to our benefit if you maintained observation from a more natural position,” she said, pressing herself onto the railing. The waters of the canals that criss-crossed the artificial island lapped at the concrete patio a few feet below. “The mission may be rendered difficult if the hoteliers tighten security out of suspicion of your character.” Pilot tilted his head, then dismounted from the railing, matching Evelyn’s attempt at a relaxed posture. The wind flicked at the edges of his hood as he leaned forward, staring into the deceptively calm water. “Perhaps. In either case, observation is irrelevant to the completion of the task at hand. Has your saboteuring met success?” “It has in the largest degree.” “That is good.” And it was good, for that meant that all there was left to do was wait. Waiting implied the passage of time and to the Handymen each, time was an invaluable resource in the norm. Today, however, Evelyn found herself wanting of tasks. The mission had gone smoothly, as she had affirmed, to the largest degree. The norm – of complexities unforeseen even to the CISH, of snags and ruts and confounding variables – had failed them. There were no contingencies and no rewriting of plans to be discussed. Two utilitarians found themselves without utility for a few minutes. The challenge lay in creating it. “…Pilot.” “Yes?” Evelyn hesitated as she refined her query into its most concise form. It was strange for the Handyman to have not created it to be concise. “I wish to attempt an inhabitation of your armor.” “No.” “Not at the current moment, I meant.” “My ‘no’ applied in generality.” “Why?” Here, the baton was passed to Pilot to hesitate. Another sensation flushed throughout his body at the thought. On denotations alone, he would have to label it discomfort, but it was not discomfort as he understood it. There was no strain upon his servomotors, no fracture in the armor. Nor were there fluctuations in the local magic, which was clean and stable, unlike the swampish consistency of Yh’mi’s mana. “…I do not believe that I would enjoy it.” The word enjoy was stressed against Pilot’s will. He wondered if his conception of the term was accurate and co-ordinated with the definitions of those who were of human flesh and blood, and whether he had applied it correctly in speech. “I see.” They fell silent again. In the distance, the ocean had eaten the sun alive. Only a sliver of fire peeked above the waters. The warmth in the world had dissipated, and the breeze was cold without check. Simultaneously, the two Handymen moved to the small table set out on the porch, drawing their chairs apart and sitting across the each other. “Shall we review the specifications for the specimen?” The candle flared to life underneath Maria’s lighter, and Evelyn reached to uncork the Ignatian wine. The ground rumbled softly – the towering cranes of La Ultima Fortuna in the distance provided ready explanation. “Yes.” Pilot’s consciousness dimmed for an instant as he transferred the collected data from the CISH into his own temporary archives, some of which were their own entries, others being observations collected from the Crook and international networks – both legally and illegally – via the full breadth of the Handymen’s means. “The specimen is waterbourne.” The spy measured out what she reckoned to be a good amount, and the fiery-red liquid swirled into the first of two glasses. This, she set across the table before Pilot. The rumbling grew in intensity, but the tabletop remained largely placid still. The barest of ripples came across the wine. “It is said to sleep at a depth of a thousand meters, and rises to a depth of a hundred to feed.” Half the bottle was left after Evelyn poured out her own glass. She left the bottle uncorked, setting it to one side of the now thrumming table. “It is believed to be held captive by the hoteliers of Last Chance’s shore. Its purpose is unknown. Their use for it is unknown. Its appearance is unknown.” Pilot stretched out a hand to grasp the step of the wineglass. “However, it is conjectured that its primary foodstuff is thermal energy. In order to maximize passive absorption from the water, it must rise at sunset. In order to absorb this energy effectively from the thermal capacity of the sun-warmed water, it must be…quite sizable.” “That seems to be the brunt of the relevant information, yes?” Evelyn did the same, lifting it up to the center of the table. “Cheers.” Pilot let the glasses clink together, and they stood just as the table fell from the magnitude of the vibrations. The Ignatz Fire-Water shattered on the concrete floor and spilled onto the seawater – as it mixed into the canal, its latent pyrokinetic energy destabilized. In a span of an instant, the surface of the canal was rendered ambiguous as the steam explosion created an all-consuming mist; this was cut all too short by a voracious screech, and the shadow of the specimen erupted from the depths beneath the false shoreline. The concrete buckled and cracked as it met with the force of flesh; the earth split in two. Evelyn left one last transmission over the CISH before she disappeared into the mist with speed. Pilot did the same as he launched himself by leaps from the shattered, sinking shoreline to the tops of the buildings that had not broken from the kinetic shock. He did not know where Evelyn had disappeared to – this only provided a superior vantage of the great thrashing shadow that was drawn by the heat of the steam. He left this transmission unread. Feeling the buildings and foundations of this artificial island begin to give away, the Handyman understood that where there was so much time before, there were no longer seconds to spare before the buildings disappeared into the waves. Yet he felt – understood – that it was very similar to the message that he had left to the symbiote, a transmission that the two had grown accustomed to trading upon engagement with their targets. It was an empty one, the quickest that could be sent. It was, in effect, meaningless. They would be able to edit this transmission to encode meaning if they desired post de facto, after the mission was concluded successfully. Of course, they had a great desire to complete this transmission. They both despised meaningless things. Pilot watched the mist dissipate as the specimen ate through the heat, and made a note to find a meaningful message – then jumped off the sinking building and hurtled towards the shadow.
  15. @Avvercus doing this once i get a handle on you and yours