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There was something powerful about Terrenus’ military budget. It built tanks and submarines. Aired commercials that moved the hearts of millions. Rained napalm on unsuspecting ‘villages' and generally scared the shit out of the Renovatian printing press.

It also gave Echo all the toys she could ever want. 

Exhibit A: the assault golem she built last week. Made possible by a stupid amount of money only the government could ever justify. The parts alone costed more than what she'd made at her old job. Waaaaaaay more; too much more, if she was being honest. People would have killed for the motherboard on its own. Hell, she would have killed for the motherboard on its own. For different reasons, obviously, but hey, merchandise was merchandise. All to say that, had she still been working for the university, slaving away in her lab at one in the morning, she could’ve maybe afforded to install just the optic sensors before having to make do with a toaster and one of those weird asparagus peelers. 

The funny thing was, back in her research days, Echo hadn’t understood the visceral pleasure that lied in weaponry. That rush you got when something went boom. At least, not until she’d attended first tour around the Hell’s Gate military campus. Word had reached the bigwigs that a certain engineer was making waves in their district, so they decided to invite her over for a cunning bit of show and tell. Cunning, in the sense that they’d given her a manathrower to hold, then essentially told her to go nuts. She remembered standing there, not knowing exactly what to do with it. It had felt like someone had given her a top hat and told her to pull a rabbit out of it. When the target dummy in front of her was eventually nothing more than a pile of molten waste, she’d been shocked. Terrified. But at the same time, curiously ecstatic. It had been as if Gaia herself stepped down from the heavens and declared in the voice of a thousand angels, “This is the best goddamn shit on the whole goddamn planet."

If she recalled correctly, people called that an epiphany. 

She quit her job the next day.

And then there was Exhibit B: the sports facility. Big as ten cathedrals put together and more polished than a businessman’s shoes, all crammed into the tree-like base of one of Hell’s Gate's monolithic skyscrapers. It housed four individual stadiums, a three-story gym, two ginormous pools, and one Boosty Juicy for your protein-related needs. As far as anyone was concerned, you could’ve hosted the Olympics in here. The best part? It was all free. No deductibles, no discount services, just sheer, unlimited access so long as you were willing to wear the uniform.

Of course, the Boosty Juicy stood as the exception to this. Teenagers needed to make money too, and that meant letting capitalism have its day. 

For now, though, Echo would settle on kicking some ass in a friendly game of volleyball. 

DO IT!

Her hand slammed into the ball. Before any of the blockers could even reach the net, it had already plummeted to the ground like a mortar going off. AWOO WOO WOO! went one side of the stands. Yeeeeeaaaaah guuuuuuuuurl! went the other. Everyone else was just making noise with those plasticky, inflatable batons, which were mostly bland in design apart from the ones with improvised sharpie doodles.

Echo’s team rallied to her side. They were screaming things like We did it! and Fuck yeah! and Sergeant Woodlecky can suck my dick! That last bit was important. Generally speaking, no one on her team had dicks. Woodlecky and his pack of monkeys thought they could beat the girls’ volleyball club because of ‘muh superior male genes’ but little did they know that at least half of the girls had played competitively at some point in their lives. Echo herself had been the outside hitter for the Titans at Hell’s Gate Second Charter University. Of the six years she'd spent there as a student, five of them had taken her to nationals; of the five, three had seen her walking out with a gold medal hanging around her neck. 

On the other side of the court, Woodlecky and his goons started lining up. Echo signalled for her team to do the same. Both met up in the middle shook hands while passing each other. “Good game, good game, good game…” and so it went. 

Then it was her turn to shake Woodlecky’s hand.

She smiled at him. “Good game."

Woodlecky bowed his head slightly. “Good game,” he said, shame bobbing in his throat. 

Echo watched him disappear into the locker room. Nicer people might've felt bad for him but she wasn’t one of them. Putting people in their place had always satisfied her immensely, and humiliating a sexist bigot like Woodlecky was a black joy she couldn’t deny herself. 

Now for the finishing touch.

After a lengthy shower with her teammates, Echo pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. Her strawberry blonde hair, somewhat frazzled after blowdrying it, was tied back in a loose ponytail. The Boosty Juicy called to her as she passed, tempting her with thoughts of a Guava Splash. She resisted, and instead kept walking towards the elevator, phone buzzing silently in her hand. 

A boyish voice answered on the other side.

“Ma’am?"

“Hey, Capozza. You busy?”

“Um.” She heard him pulling sheets off of himself. “It’s 9:15.”

“I’m sorry, is it past your bedtime?” 

There was silence. Then a sigh. “No.”

“Good.” The elevator doors chimed open, and she pressed the button for the twentieth floor. "I’m going to need you to swing by my office soon. Fifteen minutes work for you?"

“Sure. And you mean the lab, right?”

“No, I mean my office. Room 20134.”

Confusion. “...Okay. Yeah, okay. Is there, uh, anything else?”

The elevator started rising. She barely made it two floors before it stopped. 

“Yeah, I’m actually going to need you to bring a couple of things.” A flood of people forced her into a corner. “The first being spray paint."

“And the second thing?”

Echo waited while the floors ticked upwards, progressively filtering people in and out of the lift. “Go to R&R and grab me a six pack.”

“Of beer?”

“Of beer. If anyone asks, tell them it’s Friday night and Sinclair needs inspiration for her next experiment. They’ll understand."

Echo ended the call before he could ask any more questions. The doors glided open to reveal an empty hallway, and she began walking towards room 20134.

True to his word, Luke Capozza showed up fifteen minutes later. He was a nervous kid, no older than nineteen, with naive little cheeks and a nose that could do no wrong. Like her, he was a private. Bottom of the barrel, scraping his way to the top. In spite of their shared rank, he always insisted on calling her ma’am. Never her first or last name. She thought it had something to do with seniority, or the fact that she’d been granted her own research space. It could’ve also been her height. She knew a lot of people who found tall women intimidating. 

“Wow, it’s dark in here,” Luke commented. “Can I turn on the lights?"

Echo ignored him. “You bring everything?” She glanced over the office’s desktop.

Luke rummaged around in a cloth bag and sat the spray paint on her desk. The six pack came next. Echo grinned, ripped one of the beer cans free from its plastic casing, then coated it in frost with a touch of her finger. She guzzled half of its contents in a single tilt. 

Luke watched her unsurely. “You want to tell me what I’m doing here, ma’am?”

In response, Echo tossed him two cans, one spray paint, the other beer. 

“Crack ‘em open and go to town.”

“I’m sorry?” 

She took another guzzle and threw the empty can over her shoulder.

“Drink the beer, spray the paint.” The computer in front of her flashed a slab of angry red text, briefly illuminating her face. “Shit. Uh, y’see these walls? They’re your canvas. Let the alcohol flow and make Bub Russ proud.”

To clear any doubt in his mind, she unleashed an indiscriminate cloud of pink on the cabinet to her right. She didn’t bother checking for a reaction, since she was too busy focusing on the screen in front of her. It was showing her the words RONOVÉ and Authorization now. She made sure to tick off all the right boxes, forward the paperwork to her work e-mail, and thoroughly erase the last hour's history. 

When she signed off, Luke was drawing… something. If she had to guess, it was a stickman with a banana. 

“Capozza, that’s the wrong kind of banana.”

“Huh?”

Echo got up from her chair. The thing she painted on the wall and the one beside it was large, veiny, and very phallic. 

“I don’t understand. Why are we doing this?”

“You haven’t touched your beer yet,” Echo noted.

“I don’t feel like drinking.” It almost sounded like a question.

“But you feel like vandalizing someone’s office?”

“I mean, it’s not vandalizing if you gave me permission, right? Also, I didn’t even know you had an office.”

“Is it really mine, though?”

Luke froze. Slowly, he went to go turn on the lights.

Flick!

“Oh my god.” 

He was pointing at something on the desk. Something he hadn’t seen in the dark. Echo picked it up. It was long, thin, black, and read Sgt. Adam Woodlecky in chalky white letters. 

Luke whimpered. “Are you insane?”

“A little bit.” Echo reached for her second beer. Crack! Psst! Aaaaaaaaah. “But don’t worry. You won’t get in trouble.”

“Why not?”

“‘Cause I’m smart.” Glug glug glug. “At least, I think I am. Took care of the cameras, computer history, paperwork, bribes, fingerprints-“ She snapped her fingers and a mysterious purple light briefly illuminated the room. “-and that just leaves the beer cans. Can’t leave those lying around. Of course, Woodlecky will have his suspicions but he’ll have nothing to prove it was you or me. On top of that, I’ll be long gone tomorrow. No way investigation’s going to pull me from a mission just to ask me about the giant dick I might or might not have drawn in his office.”

“But why am I here?” Luke demanded.

“Dunno. Maybe I like having you around?” Echo shrugged and picked up the evidence littering the room. “I might've also needed the extra time to hack his computer. I doubt I could’ve done that and grab the beer and paint before they closed off the floor. Speaking of which, that’s in seven minutes. We better go.”

A dab of magic locked the door behind them, and soon the pair were riding the elevator down to the first floor.

“So, Capozza. What do you have planned for the rest of the night?”

Luke didn’t look at her. “I’m going to try to convince myself I’m not going to wake up in court tomorrow.”

Echo nodded. “I hear alcohol helps with that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We’ve still got four cans left.”

“Mhmm.”

“You wanna hit the park? Three of ‘em are yours.”

Luke sighed, not for the last time that night.

“Sure, ma’am."

Edited by Wade

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Crack. Crack. Crack.

The overpowering sound of a contained explosion repeated, the strange metallic item in Itylra's small hands the constant culprit. Flame spit from it's 'mouth' and with it came flying metal, so fast that it could not even been seen with the naked eye. The Star Elf could never even imagine such a thing before she had arrived on Valucre, but now she was undeniably obsessed; from the moment she had seen one in action her mind was filled with them. She had joined the Terrenus Military for untold number of reasons, but high on that extensive list was the opportunity to learn how to use the deadly weapon of war - a great equalizer like no other. That equalizer was of course the magitech rifle, the gun or any untold number of names they went by. 

Pulling the odd shaped ear muffs off her large Elven ears Itylra peered down range with a satisfied smile on her face. Center mass shots, grouped about an inch and a half apart at one hundred yards. Good shooting for someone who had only been trained for it in the finals weeks of boot camp, most of her time spent focusing on her talent as a diviner and learning to express her divination in her own unique way, as each Reconnaissance Operations Private was. Reconnaissance Operations Private Itylra Yurieshanyaar, she liked the sound of that and sometimes she would peer down at her unit badge on her arm and swell with a bit of pride. 

The badge under it though, that was one she had fought the hardest for; Field Operations. Unlike most Recon soldiers she was a field asset, a fighting scout who spent more time shooting then peering into the arcane and gathering intel. It helped that her divination specialty was suited to short range actionable intel, rather then the macro level intel most Recon Operatives focused on. Racking the bolt on the magitech rifle Itylra removed the magazine and slung the unloaded weapon onto her body, tightening the straps so it pressed tight against her abdomen and allowed her to maneuver easily. Her rifle was a bit different then most grunts, a bullpup design used as a personal defense weapon and issued primarily to rear line soldiers who had qualified on magitech weapons in basic instead of the number of other options available, from bows to swords to wands. It was known for it's small size, and it suited the 5'3" Star Elf perfectly; so much so that even when she qualified for Field Ops she kept it rather then take the standard issue battle rifle. 

Thinking about her rifle had reminded Itylra that the time was finally approaching; her first operation. Basic had been brutal, but it was the hurry up and wait of military life that had really begun to grate at Itylra; she wanted to get into the thick of it, and it seemed the time had finally come. She hadn't been briefed yet on what the operation was, but all she knew was that it was a combat mission that needed a field qualified Recon Operative and she was it. 

With that purpose in mind Itylra strode confidently from the firing range, sliding her Recon beret onto her head and tucking her platinum hair behind her Elven ears Itylra made haste toward the briefing room. She was going to be early, but she couldn't contain herself any longer with idle tasks; better to wait with baited breath then to keep trying to distract the mind. 

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Her mirror followed behind her, a silent companion that had always provided the company Ocealea desired. It was a large circular mirror that boasted a crystal clear reflection to anyone that happened to study themselves in it. Ocealea’s paranoia got the better of her, and she reached around to carry the mirror at her side. These large crowds were indimitating, and the constant threat of someone grabbing her mirror while she wasn’t looking was a situation that Ocealea had always dreaded. The runes she had etched on the border of the mirror some thousand years ago kept Ocealea’s power strong and prominent, and without it, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to live on in this life. It was quite literally her life line. That did come with extraordinary power, however. The creatures that Ocealea had witnessed appearing from the mirror were some of the most frightening monstrosities Ocealea had laid her eyes upon. Since they came through her summoning gate, she was in full control of what they did. It took time, but Ocealea developed a love for the creatures that had saved her life so many times before.

It was odd at first, being requested to aid the military in the mission. However, she couldn’t deny the offer and promptly replied with an ecstatic “Yes!” Somewhere in the deep pits of her mind, Ocealea had dreamed of joining the military. This dream had been smothered a long time ago after Ocealea realized that she had no place in the Military with her power. Summoning creatures from external dimensions hadn’t exactly felt useful for the military. However, that was a long time ago. Her control over her power had only improved and the new runes she had been studying had been rumored to unlock more potential in the art of summoning. The feeling was certainly rising in prominence again.

The military base came into view then, it towered above Ocealea like a giant peering down on ants below. She smiled and made her way towards the security center. 

“Hello! I’m Ocealea. I’m here for the briefing on floor 102,” She told the security officer, pulling out her I.D. and handing it to the man. He nodded and ordered her to place her items in the bin for scanning. Her mirror went in alone, and after nothing urgent appeared on the screen Ocealea had been carefully watching, she was given clearance to enter the base. The technology that was present in the base gave Ocealea goosebumps. Never in her life had she seen such extraordinary machinery used, and she could only stand and watch in awe as this new, foreign lifestyle unfolded in front of her. While she had lived in Terrenus her whole life, she had never been so close to the technology her mother had told her tales of back in her village. It was new, and it was amazing.

Ocealea snapped back to reality when she realized that time was ticking for her to reach the briefing room. She released her mirror from her side and allowed it to idly follow her as she made her way through the base. Glancing up at the time, she was pleased to learn that she was fashionably early. The feeling of anxiety gone, Ocealea entered Hangar Bay 3, ready for the task that would be soon thrown at her feet.

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“Two counts of assault -”

“Mm -”

“- one count of arson -”

“- hm.”

“And one missing person.”

“That’s not even something you can charge someone with.”

Echoes of a gavel punctuated the exchange. “The defendant will remain silent for the remainder of the hearing.”

Celsi couldn’t roll her eyes hard enough, rocking on her feet as she stood, hands cuffed behind her, at the center of a courtroom. She was out of her usual attire, practically swimming in an oversized, orange jumpsuit clearly meant for a person twice her size. Her ashen blond hair was tied back loosely as a bun, stray wisps not long enough to stay framing the angles of her face as she swayed forward and back.

“The defendant will remain still  for the remainder of the hearing.”

Stopping abruptly, her mouth dropped in offense, “Pff. You aren't my fa -”

A large hand quickly found her mouth, covering it completely as the owner responded to the judge. The hand belonged to a man named Mike, the woman’s adoptive brother, who was clearly nervous under the many eyes that watched from behind (and before) them. Never had he found himself in such a situation, “Ah... What my sister means to say is that she is listening, your Honor.”

Silence.

“Good.

“Celsi Mary-Anne Whish, the court finds you guilty of these crimes herein. You are sentenced to three, clean months of servitude under custody of the state.”

None of this should have been a surprise to the gunslinger, and yet she could still find a reason to be upset about it. Celsi reeled her upper body under her bindings, ripping her mouth out from under Mike’s covering hand, “What! Are you nuts?! You’re going to make me work and not pay me?!”

She huffed at the judge’s reading, nearly falling over the chair behind her legs from her movements - not that she cared, as she was too focused on getting a word in. She grimaced at the judge from over her shoulder as Mike attempted to help her back up to a stand.

“You are out of your goddamn mind, buddy. Out of your g -”

Mike grabbed her by the shoulders, “Celsi, stop it! You’re going to make it worse!”

One could almost hear the smile behind the judge's response as he watched her boil from his seat, “Enjoy your time with the military, Ms. Whish. They’re your first stop.

“Court adjourned.”

 


 

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About a year ago, when Echo bought her first apartment, she discovered that some alarm clocks weren’t just alarm clocks anymore. While her father had gotten her a nice bottle of sake from Weland, her mother’s idea of a housewarming gift had been an expensive-looking Shadeware clock, which combined as both a radio and a docking station for her phone. In principle, this had seemed like a good idea. Rather than have some monstrosity blaring BWAH BWAH BWAH! at six in the morning, she now had a convenient little speaker to play all her favourite tunes. Bossanova for waking up? Check. Beach sounds for bedtime? Check. Echo’s Don’t Die Jam for a weekend’s worth of cleaning? Check. What wasn’t to like? 

She got her answer this morning, in the form of Frunk Sinatra’s megaphone vocals. 

COME FLY WITH ME

Echo flew from her mattress-

LET’S FLY, LET’S FLY AWAY

-taking the bedsheets with her like a ghost in the wind. Her hand-

IF YOU CAN USE

-lashed out blindly. It spidered along the wall, her dresser, an empty bottle of shochu-

SOME EXOTIC BOOZE

-before finally finding the off button. The music cut out instantly (THERE’S A BAR IN FAR B-). 

She fell to the floor, tangled in a mess of blankets and sweat. Her breathing, or more like panting, rattled against the silence. From a stranger’s perspective, she might’ve looked like the victim of an exorcism. A mild one, to be sure, but an exorcism nonetheless. 

“Fuck,” she hissed.

It was a grumpy breakfast after that, followed by an even grumpier shower. Thankfully, there was coffee to save the day: two cups, black with no sugar, plus the addition of another three cups tucked away in a stainless steel thermos. Portions fit for an addict, she knew, but now wasn’t the time to be fixing her caffeine intake. Her train stopped at the station right outside of the military base. From there it was a short walk to the security gates, and then another few minutes to the main building. The elevator ride up didn’t follow the same trend, so she took the extra time to fix her hair in the mirror. When the doors slid open, she navigated a long, open hallway with the aesthetic grace of a weathered old spaceship. Lots of metal, lots of tubing, and an excessive amount of LED lights. The air smelled of rubber and hydraulic fuel. Sometimes she even caught a whiff of welding torches. It should’ve been acrid and not at all pleasant, but to an engineer like her it was uniquely comforting. 

The end of the hall converged into the hangar bay. Its cavernous opening overlooked hundreds of miles of desert to the north, where the city’s edge met the wilderness. Echo made her way down to the main floor. The sound of machinery accompanied her every step. Near a stack of crates, she spotted the Casimir. As far as airships went, its appearance verged on the ferocious- like a kind of shark, only with wings for fins, and twin engines for a tail. In terms of teeth, it was armed with torpedoes, heavy machine guns, and a single railgun that could shred through steel as easily as if it were paper. While the gun wasn’t meant for flesh and blood targets, Echo couldn’t help but wonder what if. Most answers involved lots of jelly and powdered bone, and she made a mental note of running simulations when she got back from the mission.

Waiting by the Casimir’s ramp was the rest of her team. Most of them, at least. She counted everyone except the two mercenaries they hired on, which brought them to a total of four military personnel. That included her, Itylra, Jigsaw, and Vorsch. 

Jigsaw, their sniper and pilot, was the first one to notice her. He waved a six-fingered hand. 

“Greetings, Private Sinclair,” he said. His voice was full of clicking and gravel, courtesy of being a machine. 

Echo waved back. “Morning, guys. How’s it hanging?”

Vorsch shrugged his massive shoulders. It had a similar effect to shifting concrete. 

“Oh, you know,” the minotaur yawned. “Wishing I was dead or back in bed. The usual.”

“Amen to that. Coffee?”

Vorsch took the offered thermos. It looked pathetically small in his hands. As he drank from it, he motioned towards a forklift conquering its way up the ramp. It was carrying a heavy plastic crate as long as he was tall. On its side was the word ‘Ronové’ written in large capital letters.

“I’m guessing that’s you?”

Echo took a seat by the crates, crossing her legs Indian style. “What makes you think that?”

Again with that concrete-shifting shrug. “Well, I can’t use that thing. Neither can Jigsaw. Itylra’s still greener than leprechaun shit, so she’s out.” Vorsch said this matter-of-factly. “Unless we’ve got a surprise addition to the team, that only leaves you.”

“I thought it’d come in handy,” Echo said, somewhat defensively to her own surprise.

Vorsch took her answer with what she thought was a smile. She couldn’t really be sure with those fat cow lips of his. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you managed to get your hands one. All I’m wondering is how you got the clearance for it.” He scratched his neck inquisitively. “Not even corporals have access to that kind of tech.” 

“I am also curious,” Jigsaw interrupted. “How did you accomplish this?”

Echo pretended to zip her lips shut. “A magician never reveals her secrets. For now, chalk it up to the higher-ups owing me one. I did build the damn things, after all."

“Houses don’t belong to the architects who designed them.” 

Echo lifted a finger at the robot and opened her mouth to say something. When her mind ran into a wall, she conceded with a Yeah, okay, that’s a good point nod. 

Over the next half hour, the remainder of their group trickled in. Oceala, the fairest of them all, was the first to arrive. Celsi Mary-Anne Whish, the indentured small-time criminal, followed in second with a quad of soldiers escorting her. Echo banished them with a smile before taking up a position at the base of the ramp. 

“So!” She clapped her hands together. “That looks like everyone. If you’ll follow me inside, por favor.”

Echo led the group into the belly of the airship. She showed them the galley, the armoury, their cabins, and every other nook and cranny they needed to know about. One thing they noticed along the way was that there was a lot more room than their crew of six could ever fill. She explained this by saying how hide and seek was the military’s favourite pastime, and she chuckled all on her lonesome without the slightest hint of shame. By the time they reached the war room, she had already started on the mission briefing.

“Before we dive into the action, we’re going to stop by Greenwitch Port for a night. We don’t get regular updates on the situation over there, so our contacts are going to give us a quick rundown soon as we arrive.”

Echo walked over to a small terminal built into the table at the centre of the room. She typed something quickly, and a holographic projection of the island came to life. 

“In the morning, we’ll fly over to the Ashlands.” A red line crept towards Biazo’s eastern coast. “The enemy’s located in a tunnel network connected to a small canyon near the base of the Baiyale Volcano. Once we land, we’ll be doing everything on foot.” She typed something else, and the island was suddenly replaced with two-still images. The first was a skinny but impossibly muscled elven man, who wore ripped pants and no shirt. Bulging red veins crisscrossed his entire torso. Additionally, some type of mask covered his face, and he was armed with a rusted blunderbuss. 

“The Tavadu tribe. We’re not too sure what their numbers are like, but it’s a safe to bet we’ve got a large enough village on our hands. They originally started out as members of the first colonization effort, and they discovered the Bramok during a mining expedition.”

Echo enlarged the second image. It depicted a massive, vaguely humanoid crab with a bone-like carapace dotted by flecks of lava. Personally, she thought it looked like someone had mashed together a boulder, a horseshoe crab, two skeletons, something potentially lizard-like, and a whopping can of Fuck You to top it all off.

“Their queen produces a nectar called gliativ. It causes an overwhelming sense of euphoria and promotes a radical form of muscle growth, as you can see. Problem is, it also rots your brain. Take too much of it, like the Tavadu did, and you become a bunch of crab-worshipping cavemen.” She crossed her arms. "They occasionally kidnap people and force-feed them the nectar. That’s how they indoctrinate people into their joining their ranks, apart from baby-making, which we’re not going to talk about. Recently, they’ve become a lot more aggressive in their attacks. We think it has something to do with the sudden surge of Bramok activity. New expansion patterns, a bunch of dead animals, that kind of stuff.”

Echo rambled on a little longer until it all felt like a load of blah blah blah to her. Promptly, she turned off the projections and started pacing towards the exit. She figured there was something to be said about learning on the job. 

“It’s going to be a long flight to Biazo, so I suggest you get comfy. Me, I’ll be in engineering working on a bomb.” She gave a half-hearted salute. "Ciao."

Echo left the room. Not much later, Jigsaw took them to the skies. 

Edited by Wade

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Itylra stood mostly at attention at the arrival of Private Sinclair, her recent graduation from boot camp still fresh on her mind and the habits of it drilled hard into her. She was young and inexperienced, and boot camp had molded Itylra well; adding much needed structure to her life which she had lost after the fall of her home plane. Realizing her attention wasn't expected she had relaxed just as Vorsch made mention of her, referencing a cultural metaphor she didn't quite understand. "What is a 'leperchaun' and why is it's excrement green?" She asked in her melodic accent, her voice having a surprisingly deep rasp. This question raised a laugh from minotaur but no further explanation as the two final members of the team arrived. 

One was an elegant looking woman with a floating mirror trailing behind her, Itylra struggled to imagine what purpose such a thing could posses and made a note to approach her when downtime arrived to find out. The second was one the Star Elf was far less thrilled to see, another woman this one lead in by a group of guards; Itylra had heard of these types, those punished for crimes with servitude. Rarely could they be trusted, and even less once the heat of battle began, the type never to turn your back on. Itylra wanted to raise complaint, to struggle against having to constantly watch her own team mate while fighting but she knew it was a pointless grievance, her job was to do as she was asked and Itylra had little desire to make a reputation for herself on her first operation. 

As the group boarded the airship Itylra brought up the rear, following close to the group and into the briefing room. Their targets were two fold, a set of horrific crab monsters and a perversion of a local Elven subspecies. Itylra felt no connection to the Elves of Valucre, but even she felt a bit of regret at what had become of them; that regret faded quickly when she learned of their methods for growing their numbers. Eventually the group was dismissed and almost immediately Itylra wanted to approach Ocealea, but she struggled to think of a way to approach her organically and instead abandoned the idea, heading instead to her quarters. 

Laying her gun on the bed Itylra sat back to the bed before dragging the gun into her lap, she quickly worked to disassemble it and began to clean the parts with some oil she kept in her pack. Having recently fired it Itylra felt it important to clean it throughly and soon it was more pieces then weapon, each part meticulously cared for and returned to it's proper place. This meticulous nature was something Itylra was known for amongst the other soldiers, in much the way Private Sinclair was famed for her eccentric behavior Itylra was known as a bit of a 'square'. 

Her bed was always made perfectly to regulation, her uniform seemed immune to wrinkle or dirt it was so clean and her stiff, no fun attitude was noted amongst the recruits. She never drank or played games with the others, she refused any romantic advances harshly and the result had been a lack of any true friendships or comrades. However it also meant she was nothing if not always completely prepared, and often favored by commanding officers for her studious, meticulous attitude. If Itylra cared about the rumors she never showed it, spending most of her time doing physical training or at the firing range her reputation seemed to matter very little to the Star Elf, her mind always seeming focused on whatever the task at hand was. 

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Upon entering the hangar, Ocealea was surprised to find that there were already four people waiting for her. It seemed these people were actually related to the military in some way, as their uniforms were much more oriented towards what appeared to be more “physical” excursions. Ocealea, however, decided to wear her usual short dress that made it look like she loved indulging in formal events. Luckily enough, she had learned how to walk in heels expertly, and the dress provided enough flexibility as to not restrain her in combat. 

“Hello! I’m Ocealea. It’s lovely to meet you all,” she said, addressing her companions in a somewhat formal fashion. Itylra, Jigsaw, Echo, and Vorsch were their names, she had learned shortly after entering the hangar. A sort of carefree aura followed Echo, which Ocealea made note of. Itylra, on the other hand, seemed to possess an especially professional attitude. Moreover, Jigsaw was a robot! Ocelea found it extremely intriguing to have a teammate who wasn’t even human. The last member, Vorsch, towered over Ocealea. She smiled bravely and shook his massive hand. 

Before she could continue to create conversation, the last member of the team entered. Celsi Mary-Anne Whish entered along with four other guards. She hadn’t known that a criminal would be joining the mission. The more the merrier, she supposed.

Echo led them through the plane, identifying locations that would be crucial to memorize if Ocealea expected to traverse the area easily. Eventually, Echo began to give them the run down of the mission. The sight of crab people and monsters filled Ocealea with a sense of familiarity. The creatures she had summoned through her mirror presented much of the same, grotesque features that these monsters did. Although she was sure she had never seen a crab that resembled that of molten rock. While part of her did feel bad that these villagers had resulted to such ruthless tactics, she knew that the job was to end this. They needed to be stop before anyone else was converted into their crab cult

Finally, the team broke and Ocealea stood idly in the briefing room. She wasn’t quite sure what she was to do now, so she settled to finding where her sleeping quarters were. Eventually, she stumbled upon Itylra making her bed. The same sense of professionality radiated off Itylra, making Ocealea slightly hesitant to approach her. Eventually, she crushed the feeling with a imaginary shoe and made her way to the opposite side of Itylra’s bed. Much to her surprise, Itylra wasn’t savagely rude! Prejudice got her every single time!

“You’ll have to excuse me, I was going to go ask Echo a few questions and completely forgot about it!” Ocealea said, cutting the conversation short. She apologetically left Itylra and went off to find Echo. Ocealea had frankly no idea where Engineering was, but she wouldn’t dare give up to easily!

“Echo! You’re just the lady I was searching for,” Ocealea said cheerfully, approaching the girl. It appeared she was skillfully working on the bomb she had mentioned earlier.

“You wouldn’t happen to know of any literature I could read while we travel, would you? Or if you need any help with anything, I would certainly aid you. If I’m being honest, I truly just want something meaningful to do while we wait. It’s important that we keep our minds in pristine condition before we arrive,” Ocealea stated, smiling at the girl. Ocealea knew she appeared unapproachable to certain people, so it was important she develop the relationships with her comrades as much as she could.

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Dark in the city, night is a wire

Steam in the subway, earth is afire

DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DODO DODODO DODO~

With the guided precision of a dressmaker’s needle, Echo tilted the flask. The liquid inside hissed in protest, misting as it oozed into a fortified canister on the table in front of her. The result was a neon pink fog that swirled around the workshop, coalescing into synaptic shapes that reminded her of vaguely of seaweed. Periodically, she had to wipe the condensation from her her visor. It accumulated on her biosuit, the table, the walls, and its presence induced a faint hum that clashed with her music. Sometimes, she’d get the occasional whiff of coconut or pineapple. Not because she was wearing perfume, but rather because that was what the vapour smelled like. Considering her suit’s filters were working at maximum capacity, this left an anxious prickle at the back of her neck. She should’ve only been smelling the coffee on her breath, or the bacterial disinfectant previous owners had used to clean the inside of her helmet. The idea that she was breathing in some radioactive void magic didn’t exactly put her in the mood for a piña colada. 

Just as the canister was about filled, Echo caught a flicker of movement to her right. She dabbed the last of the pink liquid, then looked at the glass wall separating her from the rest of Engineering. Oceala stood on the other side of it, smiling. 

“…cho! Y… st… dy… search… or!”

Before she could say anything else, Echo stopped her with a finger. She held it there while she fiddled with a tablet, until the music eventually cut out and there was only the mist’s volatile humming. 

She then pressed a button on the wall. Her voice crackled to life on the deck’s overhead speakers. “What’s up?”

Oceala thumbed a button on her side, producing the same effect in the biohazard room. “You wouldn’t happen to know of any literature I could read while we travel, would you?”

Echo stared blankly. For some reason, she’d been expecting something alone the lines of Where’s the bathroom?

“Well, let’s see,” she started. "There’s, uh…"

The Fallen, by Chad Little. 

Fate Of The Ocean, by Fran Tanner.

A Mime’s Wish, by Charlie Cannon.

The Maze In The Eclipse, by Kit Rogers.

Ambition, by Vic Mercury.

The list extended beyond her ten fingers, so she decided on the first five. “The Fal-"

“Or,” Oceala suddenly continued. "if you need any help with anything, I would certainly aid you. If I’m being honest, I truly just want something meaningful to do while we wait. It’s important that we keep our minds in pristine condition before we arrive.”

Echo stared again. 

“Wow, okay. Um…” She glanced down at the canister. “I mean, I’m basically done over here. Maybe go juggle or something?” 

She shrugged as if to say Give me five minutes. All that was left for her to do was to pop on the seals, which prompted the canister into a slow cooling process. Grabbing it by the handles, she hauled her way into the disinfection chamber and stood idly by while the hoses did their work. 

“God, this thing’s heavy.” The canister gave a dull thud as she lowered it to the floor. A large slot swallowed it up, with the help of automatic latches to ensure it wouldn’t fly out under turbulence. Echo then began to strip. It was a more complicated process than it seemed. With several clasps and zippers keeping the biosuit form-fitting, it was a miracle she’d managed to put it on by herself. 

Once finished, she tossed the outfit to dry by one of the lockers. It only struck her now how hot it had been inside of it- namely because she was kind of sweaty, and kind of smelly. If she was going to eat anytime soon, she’d have to shower first. 

“How about you give me twenty minutes to clean up?” she said. “I’ll meet you in the galley, and we can grab lunch, ‘kay?”

Oceala seemed fine with the proposal, so Echo disappeared down the hallway and into her quarters.

As promised, she reappeared twenty minutes later. Instead of her military uniform, she’d swapped out for a navy blue T-shirt and a pair of grey cargo pants. It didn’t seem particularly tragic to her that she was wearing socks with sandals. 

“So, waddya in the mood for?” Her hand skittered inside the cabinet, picking out a variety of sealed packets for her to read. “We’ve got BBQ pork buns, chilli with beans, spaghetti- ooh, let’s do tacos!”

She started handing Oceala two of the packets, then momentarily paused before pulling out another three. She motioned for Oceala to heat them up while she moved towards a speaker built into the wall.

A familiar crackle filled every room on the ship. “Tacos. Galley. Now.”

Shortly after, the Casimir’s crew gathered by the kitchen table. Even Jigsaw, who had no business eating in the first place. Echo and Oceala handed out steaming plates fresh from the microwave, permeating the air with the scent of ground beef and warm tortillas.

“How’s our bomb looking?” Vorsch asked. Between the food in his mouth and his rumbling accent, it sounded like Howrse err bawmbuh lookeeng?

“It’s done.” Echo took a bite of her own taco. “Speaking of which, I hope you’re ready to carry that thing. Anyone else here is going to break their back trying.” 

“And I’m only going to need a few visits to the chiropractor. Fun.”

Echo flashed him an apologetic grin. “Way I see it, we all owe you drinks once this is over.”

“How about a new set of golf clubs?”

“You play golf?”

“Yeah. Why?”

Echo tried to picture the minotaur in a polo and ball cap, hunched over with a putter in his hands. 

“No reason.”

The conversation at the table drifted into further small talk, where Echo learned more about Vorsch’s humble beginnings working at a Burger Queen, and Jigsaw’s curious fixation on the obsoleteness of sporks. The latter prompted a line of questioning surrounding chopsticks, but Vorsch made sure to step in before Echo could finesse the topic towards her obsession with Weland culture. 

“Why don’t the rest of you guys tell us a little bit about yourselves?” he said, leaning forward onto his elbows. “We probably won’t have much time to get to know each other once we land in Greenwitch.” 

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Itylra had arrived at the galley a bit late, her hands covered in the clear grease which lubricated the internals of her rifle; the rifle which sat slung across her back despite the fact she was almost certain to have no use for it. Going to the nearby sink she wiped her hands clean as the rest of the group chatted about their lives and cracked jokes at one another, much of the slang and nuance lost on Itylra but still sometimes raising a muffled laugh from the stoic elf. Eventually she joined the group, staring down at the food with some hesitation; the truth was Itylra had been a vegan her entire life, not by choice but by the reality of her home demi plane and her stomach still wasn't accustomed to eating meat. Even less so when it came to the strange shell the meat was placed in, it's smell perhaps appealing to some but nothing but alien to the elf. Eventually she simply bit the bullet, picking up the 'taco' and biting into it, her face subtly contorted as she did her best to repress her reaction. The mixture of textures was the first thing she noticed, but the heavy spice of the meat hit her next; she was used to raw vegetables and fruits, spice was not in her wheel house and even if the 'tacos' were as mild as could be her mouth was simply unprepared. 

So when a question was turned to her she didn't hesitate to set the food aside and talk with the group, something she rarely did in general but finding social interaction far superior to the burn. "I am Private Itylra Yurieshanyaar, I was born and raised in a demi-plane which contained only my people. I was a painter. and writer, though I was still in -"  Itylra thought for a moment, her mind trying to find the right words. "High School." Itylra said, wiping her mouth lightly with her thumb, more a means to hesitate then to clean anything from her face. "My home was destroyed by a cosmic horror and I escaped through a portal." Her voice did not waver as she spoke, but her accent deepened as she seemed to be recalling back to in reality what was far less then a year ago. Itylra realized perhaps a bit too late that her story was darker then the group had hoped for, the light hearted atmosphere now more heavy then before she had spoken. 

This is why I hate being social. Itylra thought to herself in her native Sildëyuir, her inability to read the mood a life long struggle, one which had already begun to isolate before her home was destroyed and had only deepened now that there was a clear language barrier between her and her peers. A socially awkward girl speaking a language she barely spoke was a recipe for disaster. Not knowing how to adjust the conversation or to brush off the hanging in the air Itylra instead simply remained silent, her gaze fixated on the wall directly in front of her so as not to accidentally gaze directly at anyone. Better to simply ignore this moment and wait for it pass, she decided. 

Edited by Old Man Jean

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“Twenty minutes? That sounds fine!” Ocealea said, nodding before leaving Echo to finish crafting her bomb. She stood in the hallway outside the engineering room and idly paced back and forth. Ocealea didn’t mind having time to spend alone with her thoughts. It allowed her to conjure up ideas that would certainly aid the party once they made contact with the Crab Cult. Before she could delve too deep into the depths of her mind, Echo reappeared again. Ocealea followed her into the galley making small talk about what exactly would happen once they reached their destination.

When she was handed the taco packets, Ocealea had to do a double take. Never before had she seen a taco that was….microwaveable?

“I would just like to apologize in advance if I blow the ship to pieces,” she confessed, pulling the microwave door open. Ocealea then carefully slid the packets onto the rotating plate and simply put in the numbers the packet had requested her to. Her heart sank when a loud crackle sounded in the kitchen. Did she really just mess up a microwavable taco? Thankfully, it had just been Echo commanding everyone to make their way to the galley. She let out a shaky breath and continued to thoughtfully watch the tacos as they spun.

Soon enough, the microwave began to let out a shriek that alerted Ocealea that the tacos had successfully finished cooking. Ocealea carefully opened the pockets and set them on plates for serving.

“That was quite exhilarating! We should do it again some time!” Ocealea said happily, delivering the plates to her comrades. Once all the plates had successfully arrived in front of everyone, Ocealea took her seat, grabbing a fork and knife in the process. In one fluid motion, she took her knife and fork and haphazardly cut into the hard outer shell.

“This is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Ocealea remarked, attempting to pierce the meat and shell so it would stay on her fork.

Before she could make any meaningful progress in actually digesting her food, Ocealea was captivated by Itylra’s tale of her homeland. As much as she wanted to feel bad for the girl’s loss, the mention of a cosmic horror intrigued Ocealea. Although she wanted to press Itylra for more information about the creature, she reminded herself that there was a time and place for that, and the dinner table was neither the time nor place.

“That sounds tragic, Itylra. I do think it’s amazing how you were both a painter and a writer. I’m sure you have plenty of creative thoughts up there,” Ocealea said, smiling and raising a finger to touch the side of her head.

“As for myself, I was born and raised in Terrenus to a clan of witches. I wasn’t able to leave the village until I was about twenty years old, might I add,” Ocealea stated, “I was always fascinated in the art of summoning, which is where my mirror comes into play,” Ocealea continued, motioning her mirror to come closer. She grabbed it and gently set it on the table.

“I apologize if this isn’t a very adequate table manner, but I suppose it would be important for everyone to know what I’m able to do,” Ocealea stated. She took a deep breath and focused on the mirror. The edges of the mirror began to glow a bright purple color as the runes seemingly came to life. The glass of the mirror was slowly replaced with a pitch black void of nothingness. A familiar noise filled the room, and Ocealea couldn’t help but let a smile form across her face. Just then, a creature seemingly flew out of the mirror.

It was a chicken.

“Hello!” Ocealea called out, allowing the chicken to jump onto her shoulder. The chicken wasn’t completely normal, however. It’s normal black beady eyes were replaced with glowing purple ones.

“Fret not, I can summon much more than chickens, but I would prefer to wait until we faced a considerable threat, as it would be tragic if I wasted all my energy,” Ocealea suggested. She gave the chicken one last pat on the head before it jumped back into the void. The mirror shook and reverted back to its crystal clear glass. It then levitated up and back to Ocealea’s side. Ocealea sat back in her chair and crossed her legs, seemingly giving up on eating her meal.

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Following lunch, the flight to Biazo was relatively quiet. Echo spent most of it tinkering in her shop, giving life to a stapler, while the late hours in the afternoon saw her studying Dark Matter in a Nutshell. By the time the Casimir was making its descent, she had a fairly solid idea on how to make a black hole. Not a grand, star-eating black hole, but a tiny one small enough to roll between your knuckles. 

She thought she’d try it next time at dinner.

Everyone gathered beside her in the hangar, where they waited for Jigsaw to land them safely. There was a subtle thud, then a few flashing green lights, and the ramp slowly hissed open to reveal Greenwitch Port. At first glance, it was quaint. Nice and wide, stretching across a length of palm trees and stony hills. The buildings were mostly made out of wood and brick, a far cry from Hell’s Gate’s cutting edge architecture. It looked like someplace you’d go to for a nice, quiet vacation, with a little bit of boating and a few hikes to the jungle thrown in. But the further they wandered, the more it became apparent that things hadn’t been quiet in a while. A few windows were smashed in. Scorch marks and blood stains were spaced out haphazardly. Bullet holes were a common sight, and sometimes they’d run across a few arrows nobody had bothered to pick up. All the marks of a recent battle, and a big one at that. 

It’s a good thing we’ve got an airship to sleep in, Echo thought. 

She looked at her watch.

“We’ve still got about an hour before meeting the mayor at town hall. If you guys want to go explore, now would be the time.”

Her hands found her hips. Looking at the slightly ravaged town made her tired. 

“Otherwise, you can just stick with me. I’ll be gathering informal reports from the locals before our meeting."

 

Spoiler

I apologize for this short, and incredibly lame post. I was gonna do the whole rundown, gather all the village folks, get us ready for the following morning- but I'm too braindead at the moment. It's not a valid excuse considering all the time I had, but paperwork and hauling government junk all over downtown is sapping me dry. Don't reply if you don't want to, I'll start working on the next post right away to fix us on the right path. 'Cause frankly, I'm very ashamed. 

Anyway, I'll keep you guys posted if I extend the post timer or anything. If you want any info to move the story along, just shoot me a PM and I'll spill the beans.

Edited by Wade

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The meeting at town hall had been brief but informative. They’d learned that the Tavadu tribe had raided the port two days ago, leading with the largest force anyone had witnessed from them in the past decade. What they didn’t steal in goods, they made up with in people: roughly forty villagers, men, women and children, abducted for purposes unknown. Indoctrination seemed to be the most obvious of reasons, along with cannibalism and sadism. However, some people felt ritual sacrifice was the be-all and end-all to any answers they could possibly come up with. 

“Still, it’s weird,” Grant said. 

Echo looked up at him. He was one of the twenty or so villagers who’d volunteered to join them aboard the Casimir, all of whom were ready to fight despite their relatively ordinary backgrounds. He had tanned skin and a lanky frame. His afro gave him the distinct resemblance to a languid palm tree.

“Oh yeah?” Echo's gaze shifted back to the terminal in front of her. “Which part?”

“All of it,” he said, watching the canister emerge from its slot in the floor. “Usually they go after small groups wandering through the jungle. Easy targets, like merchants or folks going to the Abbey. Sometimes they do do kidnappings at night, but even that’s pretty rare for them."

“Kinda sounds like they’re declaring war if that’s the case.”

“Maybe.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. "They’ve never attacked us so directly before.”

Echo checked the canister’s temperature. Exactly two degrees celsius. So long as it stayed that way, the liquid inside wouldn’t bend any physical laws without her say-so. 

“The Bramok have been expanding rather aggressively,” Grant continued. “Could be they’re running low on food and the Tavadu are just providing.”

Echo hmmed. “Sounds like the most reasonable explanation,” she said distractedly, fiddling with the terminal some more. “Jigsaw, how long ‘till we land?”

The robot’s voice crackled overhead. “One hour and thirty-seven minutes.”

Yikes. She was running behind.

With a push of a button, the bomb sank back into the floor. She moved towards a steel crate sitting in a corner, the one with the word ‘RONOVÉ’ painted on it in bright orange letters. A keypad beeped green as she punched in 01134, followed by a fingerprint scanner and a full facial recognition. 

“Seems a little excessive,” Grant commented. 

“Not excessive enough."

The light from the facial scan dimmed out of existence, and the locks popped free with a pressurized hiss. Echo twisted the handle and pulled open the panel. Inside the crate rested a full suit of magitech power armour. 

Grant whistled. “That looks like some serious business.”

Echo pulled the helmet free, then began with the rest of what was inside. Laying it all out on the floor was a workout in itself, since the total mass of the armour weighed close to a ton.

“They’re called Daemons,” she said, setting aside a gauntlet. “It’s a little generic but Daemonium’s too long, and Goetia just sounds weird.”

Grant folded his arms. “What's it do?”

“You want the short version or the long version?”

“How long's the long version?”

Echo thought about it. “You know those moms who think their kid’s the greatest thing in the world?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m that mom."

“Ah,” he said. “Yeah, I’ll take the short version."

Echo nodded. “Pretty much turns you into a fucking monster.”

The last piece to come out was the bodysuit; the inner shell you actually secured the armour to. Underneath its flexible, gel-filled skin were layers of synthetic muscle that gave the suit much of its strength. Wearers were known to flip trucks, punch through steel, and run at speeds topping 70 km/h. Without the proper training, they often vaulted a couple of feet into the air when all they meant to do was take a simple step. 

“There are seventy-two suits in total,” Echo said, signalling for Grant to turn around. When he did, she stripped to her undergarments so she could slip into the bodysuit. “No two are the same.”

“What makes this one unique?”

“It’s got a staff.”

“A staff?”

“Yep."

“No guns?”

“It’s a really cool staff.”

As she slid into the bodysuit, it reactively moulded itself to match her physique. Glyphs lining the interior of its spine ensured it was a one-size-fits-all, so long as you were humanoid in shape and somewhere between five and eight feet tall. For the moment, being inside of it felt like having sandbags glued to her entire body. The neural connection took a while to kick in, so until then she was mostly dead weight from the neck down. 

“So what made you volunteer?” she asked, waiting.

“Can I turn around now?” 

“Go ahead.”

Grant shifted back to face her.

“Neat,” he commented. “Kinda makes your boobs disappear, though."

Echo tried to laugh. Considering how heavy and tight the suit was, it proved surprisingly difficult. 

“I’ll make sure to consider that in my future designs,” she said, right before torrents of ice flooded her veins. Her back arched ever so slightly and she gasped, stumbling forward. The flares that streaked across her vision moved with the speed of screaming synapses. 

Grant started, worry glinting in his eyes. “You okay?”

Echo blinked furiously for the next few seconds. The streaks eventually faded, and so did the ice. In their wake, she felt a peculiar lightness- an unbridled sense of power that told her she could rip spines and leap across chasms. It was if every fibre in the suit’s musculature were her very own.

“Don’t worry, I’m good,” she answered, flexing her fingers experimentally. “Just got taken by surprise.”

Grant didn’t look convinced. “You sure?”

Echo stretched her arms and legs. No problems so far. “If I start convulsing, you have my permission to freak out. Until then, how about you answer my question and tell me why you want a piece of the pie?”

“Alright.” Grant took a moment to sit on the edge of a table. “They killed my son in the attack,” he said quietly.

Echo processed his answer with a bob of her chin. “That’s ass.”

Surprise splayed itself across Grant’s eyebrows. He barked out a laugh.

“So much for social filters,” he said.

“I’m pretty feral, eh?”

“I expected an apology."

Echo shrugged. “Do you want one?”

“Not particularly,” Grant confessed. "Would you mean it?”

“Not really.” She glanced over to the armour pieces laying on the ground. Without a proper rig, it would most likely take the whole hour and a bit to assemble the Ronové manually. “Tell you what, though- I’ll kill a few of those tribals in honour of your son. What was his name?”

Grant smiled. “His name was Andre.”

Echo returned the smile.

“To Andre, then. Now c’mon, I’m going to need your help to set this thing up.” 

 

Spoiler

I retconned the word Ares because I'm a fucking weeb. Anyway, I decided to skip the whole town meeting so I could get us into the action ASAP. Unless you guys wanna take a swing at it (let me know if you do), my next post will officially land us in the Ashlands. Roughly fifteen villagers have boarded the Casimir to help us out in the upcoming expedition, so feel free to use 'em as you see fit. 

Again, I apologize for taking this long. I'll try to do better so I can make this thing actually worth your time. 

 

Edited by Wade

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Ocealea stood uncomfortably in the town hall as the group was informed of what kind of damage the cult members had inflicted on the town. She hadn't been aware, however, that children were also being snatched for purposes unknown. What could these people want with children? They weren't physically strong; what would adding them to your arsenal provide? 

When the meeting was finished, Ocealea followed Echo back on the ship and made a extremely rough headcount of all the volunteers who had decided to aid the crew in the extermination of the cult. In the end, she counted 15 villagers. The support would definitely be needed, and Ocealea made a mental note to not attack them when the fighting began. Ocealea was thrown out of her thoughts when Echo decided to slip into something a little more comfortable: power armor. 

"I think I'll have to pass on the power armor. Wearing something other than heels in combat? That's a big no no in my rule book," Ocealea joked, bringing her mirror forward to sit on her lap. Even in its dormant state, the mirror still pulsed very faint amounts of arcane energy from the runes etched into the sides. As a final precaution, Ocealea ran through a mental slideshow of all the creatures she had tucked away. When the fighting did begin, she would have to be exceptionally cautious when her summons were out on the field. If she couldn't keep them under control while they were laying waste to her enemies, they just might turn against her. This was a remarkably unlikely scenario, but had occurred once or twice before. Who knew chickens could get so aggressive?

Echo then gasped and stumbled forward, causing Ocealea's head to snap up. 

"Echo? Everything okay in there?" Ocealea called over to her. Luckily, Echo reassured that she was fine. With her heartbeat returning to it's normal beating pattern, Ocealea approached Grant and Echo. 

"Lovely to meet you, I'm Ocealea. I look forward to working with you," Ocealea said, smiling and shaking the man's hand. After hearing the capabilities of the power armor, Ocealea's morale raised significantly. What were a bunch of crab people going to do against power armor? Nothing! Echo was surprisingly terrifying on her own; power armor just multiplied that by like fifteen! 

"Bringing a bomb and power suits to deal with crab people makes them sound significantly more threatening than I had originally assumed," Ocealea commented, "I suppose we'll find out just how dangerous they are soon enough. Oh well, it's better to focus on the present. Let me help you set things up," Ocealea told Echo, sending her mirror to rest on a nearby crate.

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Itylra remained mostly silent throughout the trip, following Echo as was necessary such as the incursion into the town hall. The people sounded desperate, but if Itylra had any empathy for their situation it didn't show on her expression -  it did however show heavily on her eyes. As they spoke of the taking of children her eyes went from gray to black, the whites fading into a menacing darkness, then like fireflies or the night sky the black filled with small glowing dots of countless number. Like a universe in her gaze the Star Elf displayed her emotions through her eyes, doing her best to suppresses her growing emotions - not one of pity, or anger but of excitement. The talk of raids, of kidnappings meant they grew closer to the battlefield with each passing moment, and Itylra was more then a little excited for her first taste of true combat since her training. She had given into her bloodlust a number of times since arriving in Valucre, but this mission would be the first time she would vent that emotion with skill behind her actions. 

The tantalizing tension of that was slow to fade as they returned to the ship with a number of amateurs in tow. Itylra did not return to her quarters, instead mingling amongst the locals - more watching them anything, her poor command of Terran only accentuated when talking to someone with an unusual accent such native islanders. When Echo broke out the power armor Itylra showed mild interest at the fairly impressive piece of kit, but Itylra was not power armor qualified and the body suit along with the interference of the magitech interfered with her divination magic, and truthfully Itylra had little interest in encasing herself in armor - the thrill of combat was best felt, even with the dangers that meant. 

Eventually the man known as Grant introduced himself to Itylra after making the rounds to the rest of the crew. He out stretched his hand as he did, his dark skin and strange hair an oddity but not enough to give Itylra pause. She returned the shake, giving him a half hearted smile. "Private Itylra Yurieshanyaar." She said, her star filled gaze meeting his and likely making the man somewhat uncomfortable alongside her poor social skills. His talk of family to Echo was not lost on the Star Elf, who mused at the idea of vengeance, a concept somewhat foreign to her but one she had increasingly grown to enjoy. She had never met 'Andre', but the idea of allowing another to taste what she herself so desired was euphoric, and the soft smile that played on her elegant features spoke to her excitement. 

Her first battle as a warrior was approaching.

Edited by Old Man Jean

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It wasn’t fair, Ethan decided. No, it wasn’t fair at all.

Today was patrol duty. The same kind Ethan had run for eight months, three days, five hours, and six seconds. He was precise like that because he hated it. Hated it with the passion of… of what? What was something that was considered passionate? He struggled with the question until suddenly he remembered: passion fruit. He hated it with the passion of passion fruit. Now all he had to do was say it out loud, because saying things out loud was what made them real.

“I hate it with the passion of passion fruit.”

“You hate the passion of fruit?” Bill said.

“You hate the passion of passion?” Will said. 

“What’s wrong with you?” they both said.

Ethan sighed. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. Now the twins were talking and that was never a good thing. They’d go on and on and on, chatting about this and that, hooting over rocks or figuring out which way to grow their beads. One time, over dinner, they had brought up the question of how babies were made. Bill was a firm believer in the idea that storks delivered babies (even though there were no storks on the island), while Will suggested the possibility of store-bought babies (even though there were no stores on the island). Ethan had scoffed at them both and told them to shut up. 

Babies were obviously made from the people they ate.

But baby-making aside, there was something more important Ethan didn’t understand. Why were they here? What had they done? What had he done, to deserve this never-ending march through the jungle? Of course he’d done some crappy things before. He understood that. Everyone made a few bad judgement calls in their lives whether they admitted it or not. 

Still, was stealing Pico’s juju really that bad? Or how he liked to eat his steak with a fork when no one else was looking? Cripes, the Feast was tomorrow! And he was going to miss it! He could deal with sore feet and the two bumbling idiots he kept for company, but sweet Allmother, he didn’t want to miss the Feast! It was the one time in the whole year when the whole village got together, and this year was supposed to be the biggest one yet. So why, why did he have to be out here?

“Ethan, you look mad.”

“Ethan, you look sad.”

Ethan didn’t say anything. Against all odds, the twins were right. If they understood that, they would be like dogs with a new chew toy; biting and pawing, yapping away incessantly. It would be a nightmare. Worse than the one he was living already. The best thing he could do was to keep his mouth shut until they made it back to camp.

About an hour later, the Maw loomed into view. It was a wall of black stone, stretching for kilometres, separating the Ashlands from the Baiyale Canyon. At its center was a cavernous opening, framed by stalactites and smaller stalagmites. Huts and wooden scaffolding decorated its exterior, with a handful of man-made homes carved mercilessly into the rock. Usually it felt more alive, brimming with activity. It had always been a well-guarded place, full of Tavadu warriors and hunters alike. The preparations for the Feast, however, had stolen the lion’s share of the bunch. Now all that remained were the worst of the worst; those tasked with guard-duty for their varying misdemeanours. Some of the men raised their weapons in greeting upon seeing Ethan and the twins, though many like him were too despondent to attempt the gesture. 

Ethan found his bed with a graceless flop. Morning as it may have been, the night shift was taking its toll. He could feel it in his back, his shoulders, and his feet which were callused beyond saving. He’d have to remember to request a new pair of shoes. Maybe something like boots instead of sandals, to keep out the ash and those awful, awful ants. 

Should’ve thought of that before, he thought sleepily. 

It was just as he felt himself slipping away that Bill and Will burst into his hut. 

“ETHAN!” they yelled in unison.

Ethan toppled to the ground. He only looked at them after a moment of heart-pounding tossing.

What?

The twins made vague gestures, as if to shape the air. Their unnaturally long, bony hands trembled with uncertainty.  

“It’s a dolphin!”

“It’s a whale!”

“And it's rhhwooorhwoooing!”

“And it’s wharrwhaaaawhaaaing!

Ethan didn’t know what either of those things were. He suspected no one did, unless you spoke idiot. 

“Go away,” he mumbled.

“But the the dolphin!”

“But the whale!”

“It’s coming!” they awed together.

Ethan closed his eyes. “Hold on,” he grumbled, rolling out of bed. He grabbed his bottle of juju in the process, then twisted off the lid and swirled the glowing blue liquid in inside. If they were going to keep him awake, he might as well take the edge off.

Gulp.

The effect was instant. Explosive. Like someone had switched off a valve. The blood in his body ran wild, flooding his spine with a slick, gooey warmth. The muscles tightened in his arms and legs, his chest and back, and his vision swam with blue, so much blue, that he felt like he was drowning inside of an eloquent dream.

“Okay,” he drawled, suddenly relaxed. “Let’s go see the… um… ”

“The dolphin!”

“The whale!”

“Yeah, that,” he finally conceded.

They stepped outside, where the shifting clouds spoke of a coming ashstorm. The twins led him up a ladder, onto a balcony, pausing only to pet one the beetlehounds.

“Do you hear it?” they asked.

“Hear what?” His mouth felt full of drool now.

The twins pointed to their ears with both hands. Ethan cocked his head.

“I don’t hear anything.”

Bill and will groaned. “Ethan,” they exasperated. “Listen.”

Ethan raised an eyebrow, yet did as he was told. One second passed, then another, and a third, and a fourth, and…

and…

ooingshroo…

Ethan looked at the twins. “What is that?"

The twins shook their heads. They led him up another ladder, quickening their pace. Once they’d made it thirty or so feet up the Maw, they pointed at something in the distance.

Ethan squinted his eyes. He didn’t see it right away, that tiny little speck in the sky- but when he did, his eyes slightly widened. 

It kinda did look like a dolphin. 

Or a whale. But really, his mind kept coming back to the word shark

It must have been big if he could see it from over here. And the sound it made, what was that? Some weird… whroowhrooshing. Not like anything he’d ever heard before

“It’s moving,” Bill said.

“It’s turning,” Will said.

The shark, still so far away, resolved itself into a single point. Ethan watched, curious. 

“What’s it doing?”

The twins whispered. “It’s coming.”

Ethan suddenly felt afraid, even with the juju in his veins. Against all odds, for the second time that day, the twins were right. The shark was coming. The point was growing larger, the sound was getting louder, and the longer he looked on, the more he could make out the shark’s metal skin, its razor fins, the worried shouting of a crowd gathering beneath him. Someone further up blew the horn. They were getting ready to fight. 

“Ethan, what do we do?”

Ethan’s gaze lingered on the shark, then flickered to his hut. He’d left his gun in there. 

“Weapon,” he murmured. “Need my weapon.”

He was about to head for the ladder when he heard an abrupt crack. He glanced up at the fast-approaching beast, wide-eyed and tight-chested. In less than a second, the crowd beneath him exploded in a soot-laced geyser. Powdered bones and jellied organs swam in his vision, little fishes in an ocean of blue. The balcony they stood on shook with the ground, while a cloud of ash engulfed their encampment.

We need to get down, he thought sluggishly. 

By the time they made it to the ground, some of the dust had cleared. Not as many people as he thought died from the explosion. Several were wounded and a few were simply shocked. The shark’s mechanical roar heralded its arrival, as it slowly landed further down from the Maw. People, he saw, came rushing out of it. Many of his tribesmen were already shooting at them. 

A beetlehound rushed past his legs. It clicked ravenously, hungering for blood. Ethan watched another five join it before a bullet whizzed past him.

Weapon, his mind yawned at him.

Inside his hut, he reached under his bed. His hand fumbled around the rifle’s rusted grey frame, then brought it out to the light for him to see. He turned a crank on its body, gave it a few flicks, and a line down the barrel hummed blue- because blue was all he could see. Bill and Will were waiting outside for him. They held no guns, though he knew they could use magic. In their days before becoming Tavadu, they’d been students. Students of what, they couldn’t remember. That was the way it was with most tribesmen, not being able to remember. 

Ethan took them to cover by a pair of cerebroaks. He glanced past the tree’s bulbous trunk, then took aim and fired his gun. A chunk of flaming metal burned a hole in one of the invaders. 

“Ethan, the horn,” Bill pointed out.

“It stopped,” Will pointed out. 

Ethan paused. No one was sounding the horn anymore. 

Without it, the Bramok would never come.

“Cover me.”

Ethan ran for the ladders. 

 

———————

 

“Did you see that?” Echo whooped. “Toonk! Ker-PRAOWF!

It had been her idea to fire the railgun. Seeing those savages packed together like that, she couldn’t resist the temptation. 

“Yeah, but now we can’t see anything,” Vorsch complained. “I’m only picking up dust over here.”

“Worth it,” Echo countered. The speakers on her helmet made her sound like a robot. As expected, it had taken the whole hour to assemble the Ronové, plus another seventeen minutes with just ten to spare. In the end, though, the effort had been worth it. Seeing her white and blue frame in the mirror, looking like a demon knight from space…

Breathtaking.

And she wasn’t even in battle yet. 

“ETA sixty seconds,” Jigsaw called out. “Get ready.”

The rest of their team was waiting for them in the hangar. Echo strode to the front of the ramp, whereas Vorsch took the rear. He was on bomb duty, and that meant he couldn’t risk getting shot. If he did, the Ronové would go from a war machine to a pack mule. The idea in itself hurt Echo’s heart. 

Vorsch looped his arms through the straps of a backpack, one Echo had designed solely for the canister’s transport. With that titanic physique of his, it couldn’t have weighed more than a small keg. At least, she hoped. Otherwise he really would need a new chiropractor. 

He caught her looking at him, then seemed to read her thoughts. He gave her two meaty thumbs up that said, I’m good.

A pair of rotating lights suddenly blared red. Jigsaw’s voice crackled from every direction. 

“ETA ten seconds.”

Echo took a deep breath. She counted the seconds in her head.

Four, three, two, one…

The ramp hissed open. 

Showtime.

They all surged forward, a couple of them shouting. Someone to her right immediately got shot. Pushing off with the muscles of her suit, she tore a path for a strange, boulder-like plant. A hail of bullets followed her there, and she was surprised when an obsidian spear nearly ripped her pauldron off. 

“Christ,” she swore, huddling up against the plant. The armour on her left shoulder now had a wicked gash in it, flecked by shards of volcanic rock. Power armour or not, her shoulder would have been fucked If that spear had been made of steel. She’d forgotten how strong the Tavadu supposedly were.

She took a peak past the plant’s edge. A quick estimation put their enemies in the thirty to fifty digits. 

That was excluding one of the things that had circled around and taken her by surprise. 

It was on top of her in a flash, forcing her to the ground, its inky black mandibles snapping ferociously at her visor. Without thinking, she grabbed hold of the creature’s mouth. It tore apart as easily as wet parchment. The creature shrieked, oozing yellow blood onto her helmet. The sound was like glass scraping against a chalkboard. Echo stopped it by wrapping her hands around its head, just as the Ronove’s capacitors unleashed a surge of electricity. By the time Echo had enough of the beast’s demented writhing, she tossed its smoking corpse aside and quickly got up. Getting a good look at it, she thought it resembled a mix of stag beetle and dire wolf. It had six legs, two milky white eyes, and a mane of grass-like hair where there should have been wings. 

Fascinating.

Wiping some of the blood off her helmet, she reached for a metal rod holstered at her hip. It was the length of her forearm and as polished as a mirror. 

“Alright, you handsome devil.” She willed the Ronové’s capacitors to life once more. “Time to play.”

In response to the electricity, both ends of the baton shot out. The bo staff that formed as a result thrummed loudly, sparking like a lightning storm trapped in cage.

Echo glanced up, briefly making eye contact with Grant. 

It’s a really cool staff.

And with that, she charged. 

 

Spoiler

Okay, here's a quick rundown of what's going on.

The Casimir has landed a little ways down from the edge of the Tavadu camp. I'm not going to get too much into the details of the layout, but there's huts, scaffolding, trees, plants, whatever. It's a happening place. Make up stuff as you go if you want, but keep in mind the consistency of the giant stone wall amidst the ashy jungle. 

As for what we're facing: roughly 30-50 Tavadu (can change, hence the 'estimate' in Echo's peak). The Tavadu consists of individuals from various races, though humans and elves are the most prominent. All of them are super strong and agile because of the gliativ, but most of them are pretty dumb. Their weapons range from melee to firearms to magic; they're kind of all over the place. Additionally, there are beetlehounds to watch out for. No Bramok currently. 

I'm not going to micromanage the battle, so you guys go nuts. All I ask is that you treat Ethan and the twins as if they were my own PCs; don't control them, don't harm them without my say so (feel free to attack them though), etc.

I've had a long day and I'm kinda tired, so if I'm missing any information or something doesn't make sense, please let me know.

tanks gaiz <2

 

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