Monday, December 11, 2017

A Tale of Tails

 Feels good to finally get another caption out. Also, I think this is my first ever instance of one caption being a prequel to an earlier one. (See A Strange Book)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The "Best" RPG Ever-41

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"Nnnnngh..." Aria's dream was not much fun. It didn't feel particularly fair, the way her dreams seemed to work in the first place, and even less so that her brain was working enough to give her a dream at all when she was probably unconscious from some kind of serious concussion. The worst of it was that she could think perfectly fine, but her head was in so much pain she couldn't move.

There were some unusual noises around her. The blood pumping was interrupted by loud bursts of audio noise, and what sounded like occasional voices. Like a TV or radio tuned to a station that just barely out of range. It was more maddening than anything had been before, and being unable to move or open her eyes, she tried to grasp at some thought to distract her from it.

Maybe that wasn't a good idea either. Had she really just almost killed someone? After all that talk of being a hero and all the effort she put into trying to control the demon instead of the other way around? It wasn't just anyone, either, it was Clera, who she really liked and generally found to be an objectively better person than most people, including herself. The even more worrying thought was: Had she spared Clera becuase she recognized who it was, and not because it was another person? If it had been some non-goblin person she just didn't know, could she have kept herself from chopping them in half? Her answer to that question before, posted hypothetically, would have been "Duh, of course," but after being in the middle of it, it didn't feel so obvious. The demon was ravenous when any blood was in the room at all, and burying the blade inside something was the only way to make it stop sucking it out of her and go to sleep...or maybe it went to sleep because the blood from doing that satisfied it.

The pain faded slightly. What was going on? Was she dying? Was this what it felt like in demon dream world? The blips of speech and static became slightly louder, the voices slightly clearer and more frequent. When the pain faded again a second time, she concluded that she probably wasn't dying. Someone...must be healing her in the real world. Since her experience here more or less matched real-world time, they'd started doing it not very long after she got konked out. There was only one reasonable explanation for that—Clera had not, in fact, died of being stabbed and partially drained of blood.

Aria breathed what she could of a sigh of relief. Part of her insisted that obviously their most durable member woudn't die from a single wound and a little blood loss, but the worry had still been there. There was a strong instinct to regard this world like the real one, where being the strongest, toughest person in in the world didn't matter if a bullet got to your heart. If this was a game, it wasn't a very fun one. The pain was too real. Everything was too real. How were they supposed to be life-risking heroes if they had to risk their actual lives to do it?

Gradually the pain lifted, until it was like a bad, but just bearable, headache. Aria slowly opened her eyes, grateful to finally be able to, and looked around. She had been lying prone on the cliffside, with the big chasm and the pit with the gigantic chained-up sleeping demon in the distance just like usual. Only...that area was getting bursts of white noise occasionally, as if it was somehow...less in focus. The voices and audible static was actually coming from behind her, where dreaming alone usually gave her an impassable static wall.

She started to push herself up to sit up, maybe turn around and look at what was back there, and instantly regretted it. The headache became blinding pain as soon as her head was no longer directly attached to the ground. So...that wasn't going to work. Aria decided to try and take advantage of this being a dream, and closed her eyes tightly again, insisting that the world move around her since the other way around wasn't working right now and trying to lucid-dream believe that when she opened them again, she'd be facing the other way, toward all the static and voice sounds. On opening them...surprisingly, it had worked!

The cliff seemed to continue naturally, unlike the sudden, jarring shift of another person's dream. Not far in from where the static wall was still occasionally flashing itself was some kind of shrine, which most notably included at its center a pedestal with her sword stuck deep into it. It was white marble, open-air, and there was a white-haired man talking to someone else who looked...somehow much blurrier, a few feet away from the shrine.

Between bursts of static, she could make out some of the conversation. "It's ki—...—our people, our animals. De—...—crops. Its reach grows every day. This curse is too much—...—r people to bear." The white-haired one.
"What do you pr—....—o, then?" The other one...dark-haired, she thought, maybe. He sounded upset. "Sacrifice to it, like—...—efore?"
He shook his head. "No. That isn't a per—...—ution. We have only one option. Or, I sh—...—I have only one option."
The other one took a step back, astonished. "Ar—...—at are you planning!?"
He crossed his arms. "Listen, L—...—eed you to prepare a teleport spell. Strongest one you've ev—...—ds to send the target to the Frontier."
He shook his head. "—an't be serious. There must be some other way! Or, or—...—else who can—"
"No, it has to be me. You said it yourself, I'm th—...—ubborn person in all of Aze—...—I can't resist its will, nobody else can. Anyway, I'm not mu—...—use here, am I?"

There was a long silence, with the two regarding each other. Eventually, the dark-haired one said, "Alright. Are you going to at least—....—bye to everyone first?"
"I can't do that. They'll try—....—not to go through with it. Maybe they'll succeed. Someone might even—...—to actually stop me. Lock me up or something. You know how the elders are."
He sighed. "I...I guess you're right. Look, that spell will take a while to—........—tomorrow, at dusk. I want you to actually think about what you're doing, and decide for sure that you want to go through with it. I...—"
"—'s not going to change my mind. I'll save our people, and then I'll go—...—a hero out there. Or die, and that demon will be stuck out there with nobody to curse."

The scene started to fade to static again, as if it was losing the signal. It seemed like time was rushing forward, both of them leaving the cliffside for something resembling a village down below. In the sky, the sun set and rose and set again, and then they were both there again. "Ar—....—ose wards will make you forget everything. But may—....—ot forever," the dark-haired one said, putting his hands on the white-haired one's shoulders. "—ou remember me, use this." He pulled out a small, blue crystal, and placed it in his friend's hand. "It will lead me to you." The white-haired one nodded, and stepped toward the the sword on the pedestal. The black-haired one stepped back, beginning to glow and chant. With each step the white-haired man took toward the sword, his hands raised to grasp its hilt, the signal grew weaker and weaker, until he touched the hilt and it gave out entirely, that side of the dream world resuming the state of pure white noise.

Rotating her vision around out of curiousity, Aria found the view of the demon and the chasm crystal clear again, same as it always had been before. Something about the scenes she'd just witnessed felt familiar...and before long, it clicked. Lynn and Rayna had been having dreams about their backstory, which became increasingly real...right? So this was hers. The white-haired guy was supposed to be 'her', and she was supposed to have gotten the demon sword from that place. But if that friend had supposedly given her a blue crystal to find him by...where was it?

At least it had distracted her from the headache for the moment. And honestly, the noise of a steady pumping of blood was a far less frustrating sound than "the radio that never tunes". But she knew it would get boring, and then miserable, before long. No psionic catgirl was going to help this dream be less maddening and dull. She would just have to stew in the recent near-murder of a friend, which followed on from other mistakes that were entirely her own fault...and couldn't even sit up to meditate like usual.

In a way, this level of misery was not entirely unfamiliar. She'd tried some rather harsh negative self-reinforcement while learning some particularly tough games. It wasn't a good time in his life, and eventually he learned positive reinforcement was generally much better and, of course, healthier than periodally almost-starving himself or other horrific forms of self-punishment. But, well, at least this felt a little appropriate. Failing at a game wasn't worth literally beating himself up over, but if anything deserved lying in boring demon world with a continual splitting a headache, it was coming very close to not sparing a human life. Or...bird-person life, whatever. Near-murder was the issue here, not the semantics. If she ever came close to doing that again, she would remind herself of this time, and think of it as what happened when she almost killed people, to say nothing of what she would do if someone actually died to her being careless or weak. The message would be crystal clear from now on: Never again.

The wolf had curled itself up next to the couch and gone to sleep halfway into their conversation earlier. Nora had given Zack a book with a basic overview of the world's dieties before returning to her own, more detailed reading, and then couldn't help but notice him trying and failing to avoid briefly dozing off with the book in his hands several times. A moment ago he had finally just fallen asleep, hunched over with the book in his lap.

She glanced over at him. The temptation to see what his ears felt like was even stronger after they'd been freshly groomed at the hairdresser's, but she respected him too much to do that. Mira would just walk in and embarrass her again as soon as she got up the courage to do it anyway. She returned her attention to her book.

Zack seemed slightly uncomfortable, and shifted around a bit. The sound of it distracted her slightly again, and she looked over to see him leaning against the back of the couch, head turned upward. It was hard not to see him as a girl, especially asleep like this. The soft expression just made her seem adorable on top of being gorgeous, and part of Nora wasn't sure it was fair for someone that pretty to insist on calling themselves male. She shook her head slightly, knowing that thought was well out of place.

A few minutes later, the wolf-girl shifted again, and this time her head landed on Nora's shoulder. She started to yelp in surprise at the sudden weight there, but it muted into a quiet "Eep" on the way out as she realized what, or rather who, it was. She didn't really want to wake him, knowing full well how little decent sleep he'd gotten the night before. But now his fluffy ears were barely an inch from the side of her face, and occasionally one of them even ticked her cheek slightly. Eventually she carefully lay her book aside, looked around briefly to find no incoming witch, and reached up a hand just to see what it felt like.

The wolf-girl's ear was as soft as it looked, and even though it obviously should be, the fact that it was warm came as a slight surprise. Zack let out a quiet "Mrf" at the touch, and moved slightly closer, leaning his head up toward Nora's before nuzzling her cheek slightly with his nose. Nora flushed instantly and withdrew her hand, the two warring thoughts of wanting to get away before anyone saw and not wanting to wake him up, especially now, briefly paralyzing her. Then Zack whined softly, suddenly wrapping his arms around her and pulling her closer to him, making the plan of getting away far more difficult.

Nora cautiously reached her hand up, and rubbed Zack's ear again gently. The sleeping wolf-girl gave a low, pleased "Mmnh" and nuzzled her cheek again, scooting a bit closer and clearly becoming increasingly comfortable with this position. Her tail swished slowly back and forth on the couch behind her as it wagged. She sniffed the elf a few times and then let out a quiet, high-pitched "Rrf" while pulling her arms tighter around her waist.

By now Nora's face was burning, the feeling of Zack's considerable chest pressed against her side along with the way he was acting while asleep all a bit much to take. He was way too strong for her to break loose of the hold, and now the hug was too tight to just slip out of! She continued gently rubbing his ears, alternating from one to the other, constantly cursing herself for not just getting out from under him earlier, like maybe giving him the whole couch when he'd started to lean on her shoulder.

When he woke up, he was going to be mad about this and she wouldn't have any good explanation; no way he'd believe he acted like this in his sleep! And besides, even if he did, even she knew this was partly her own fault for not getting away or waking him up right at the beginning. It was going to feel like a betrayal—she was the only one who didn't call him a girl behind his back, and respected him and didn't tease him like the others did, but now—this. Her mind raced after some kind of solution to this that didn't end with Zack knowing about it.

The sleeping wolf-girl was working on an entirely different plan, unfortunately. She slowly leaned more and more of her weight on Nora, scooting and pushing herself forward, until the poor elf girl found herself falling over onto her side, her head landing on the armrest and Zack's following right along. And then, somehow or other she maneuvered her prey onto her back, so their faces were toward each other. Then Zack's sleeping body just resumed nuzzling the weaker girl's brightly blushing cheek just the same as before, her tail waving back and forth in the air above her.

Nora tried to ignore the feeling of the other girl's breasts squished against hers, and pulled back her left hand, getting it back to her side and ceasing to pet Zack's ears with it. When the wolf-girl gave a distressed, animal whine, she brought her right hand, the one on the front end of the couch now, up to pat the ears just slightly, and she let out another soft "Rrf", seemingly mollified. Her arms were still partway around the elf, but didn't go under her back, which seemed like it might be enough to slip out. And..indeed, with some awkward, careful, slow wiggling, Nora managed to get herself partway out from under Zack's sleeping body. And then, with a final pull on the cushion under her with her right hand, she slipped out, down to the floor, and let the wolf-girl fall face-down onto the couch.

Her face still brightly burning, Nora quickly picked herself up and took several steps back, away from the couch. Miraculously, Zack was still asleep. He spread his arms out until he had grabbed the entire cushion under him, and hugged it just like he had Nora a moment ago. The wolf-girl's tail slowly stopped wagging as she seemed to realize on some level that there wasn't a person under her to wag at anymore, but she made a soft "Mrrnn" sound and after pulling her knees up a little closer and turning her head to one side, seemed to go back to a less active sleep.

The elf allowed herself a silent sigh of relief. The book she'd been reading had wound up on the floor next to the couch, and she was not going to risk getting that close to the animal-girl at this point. She'd just have to read something else for a little while, from the table between the couch she was near and what was currently Zack's couch. From a quick look around, it didn't seem like anyone was watching, or had been watching during the whole escapade, so this was her secret to keep. Never again, she thought to herself, looking at the sleeping wolf-girl's soft fur. Unless he specifically asks me to. While awake.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The "Best" RPG Ever-40

I know I know, I'm breaking my "captions or things with images between imageless story parts" rule again, but honestly, I made four captions in a row last month so I feel like publishing a few story parts in a row this month is perfectly fair. I mean, I've finally gotten past an awful writer's block on this story and I want to make as much as I can of it before the momentum dies out.

"Your appearance has changed."
"Aack!" Mira jumped in surprise at a voice a couple of feet away, where there definitely hadn't been anyone a minute ago. She had been on her way to one of the...shadier-seeming shops that sold a hard-to-get material, and wound up in an alley she'd thought was deserted. To be honest, each successive ritual required a bit more, and slightly harder to find, ingredients to make work, and this was a new one for the fourth. The source of the voice was the Captain, who apparently included 'being a ninja' among her ridiculously long list of talents. She didn't seem too amused by having surprised the witch though, just leaning against a wall with the usual stern expression and her arms crossed.

"Um...yeah," Mira eventually responded after a moment of awkward silence.
"Each change in appearance for a witch or warlock comes with a significant boost in physical and magical ability. You undoubtedly feel much stronger than you did before." She stood fully up.
"R-right.." It seemed like this was leading somewhere.
"I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I disagreed with my party on why the warlock we slew had gone bad, but not on that he had done so. Mostly I just didn't think there was enough evidence that he hadn't been evil to begin with. I'm open to the possibility that I was wrong. So I want to give you a warning."
Mira just nodded. It seemed rude to interrupt her at this point.
"You will feel more and more powerful as you progress. You might feel able to do anything you want, and if you are either hiding the inclination to hurt others, or if you are tempted to begin doing so by that feeling...remember that I am watching you."
The Captain frowned a bit harder. "I won't judge you on hearsay. If someone accuses you of something I will seek out the truth rather than jumping to conclusions. But if I have solid evidence that you are hurting people in my city, I will track you down and kill you without hesitation. And even if I fail, you will still die as a result."

"W-well, I..I wasn't gonna hurt anyone anyway!" said Mira, feeling a little insulted. "I'm a nice person, I want power to help and protect people!"
"If that remains true, then we won't have a problem. Consider it an incentive to stay on the right path." Her frown lessened a bit, and she remained calm. Something about it was very infuriating.
"I don't need incentive, or—or someone threatening to kill me! I'll be nice all on my own!" shouted the witch. "I'll be the nicest, most helpful archdemon this world has ever seen!"
Mira panted slightly, her cheeks a bit puffed out from the yelling. The Captain just shrugged. "Don't forget you said that. Here." She produced a small, pitch-black gem shaped like a tall octahedron, and offered it to Mira. "You'll need this eventually."
"Um...thanks?" The witch took the odd gem and looked at it for a second or two, and back to the Captain. "I mean, thanks." There was a faint pulse of dark magic from deep inside it, but she couldn't quite place it.
"Just keep it somewhere safe. It isn't really legal to have one of those, so you'd have a lot of trouble finding a new one." With that, the Captain turned to walk away.
"Umm, bye?" Mira waved at her, but she didn't turn around, heading off to the main thoroughfare. Once it seemed like she was gone, the witch just shook her head, placing the odd stone in her inventory. "Well, that was weird...."

"Hey. Hey! Can you hear me? How bad is it?"
Clera opened her eyes, not remembering closing them. It had only been a few seconds but the pain made it seem much longer. Lynn was standing over her, bent slightly, and staring at her left side. A small twitch of magic gave her an idea of where the wound was: That massive spear had gone through her side, out her back, partway into the wing.
"Oh, you're still—" She half-turned backwards. "Rayna, what are you seeing?"
"Um—a lot of, like huge injuries all around the head and shoulders. I think just light bruises everywhere else. That crack didn't sound good!"
"Ngh..don't move her," Clera struggled out of her mouth, and then gasped a few times for breath. Her lungs weren't injured, but just breathing enough to speak opened up a new world of pain. "Keep her still!"
"Um—right!" Rayna's voice again.

Dr. Kellen tried to focus. It was an exercise she had always considered promising, but had until now been lucky enough to avoid any chances to test out. She made an effort to diagnose the injuries, focusing as much mental energy on that as she could so there would be as little brainpower left as possible to feel pain. It was all skin and bone and muscle that was injured—no vital organs. She would live. She wouldn't be able to move for a while, and would badly need some...some surgery just to close the wounds, normally, there was magic.

She shifted her focus to an active spell, something to boost her own regeneration. Her side visibly glowed blue, and she let out a yell, a solid "AaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAH!" It hurt far worse than the injury itself had. There were tears of sheer pain coming from her eyes, partially blinding her again.
Lynn jumped back slightly. "Clera?! What—are you—?"
Clera had to stop the magic's work for a second just to breathe. After a few gasps of air, she said, "I should be healing. Does it look like it is healing?"
"It.." The human's eyes darted in the direction of her wound for a second and then back away again. "Y-yeah, it looks, um, smaller."

"What else do I do? I'm holding her but she isn't moving at all!"
"Is she breathing?"
"Um—yes! But not..I think she's unconscious."
Dr. Kellen sighed. "Elevate the head and shoulders slightly! I am probably going to scream again." A blue glow covered her side once more, and she sustained it for as long as possible before releasing again.

The pain eased off slowly, and she sat up, turning her head to look. It looked like the hole had closed at least, though she could tell it wasn't entirely fixed yet. Lynn looked like she'd spent the past several seconds wincing. The fox-girl said, "Hey! What do we do about—how do you fix a head injury?"
"That isn't the kind of thing that one can just fix," said Clera. "At least, not normally." She took another deep breath and focused on healing her own wound, knowing better than to try walking over in this state.

Another yell of pain later, Clera examined the wound again. It was nearly gone; the normal regeneration would probaby cover it. But exerting that much magic had nearly exhausted her, and being out of breath on top of that didn't help. She reached up a hand to Lynn, who took the signal after a second and helped her get up. "Take me—over to her," said the doctor.
"Uh, yeah, okay." The winged girl leaning on her, Lynn took the four or five steps over to where Aria was lying on the cave floor, with Rayna holding her head up slightly.

"W-wait a minute, are you gonna eat her skull fracture?!" said Lynn, slightly panicked, while Clera moved to sit down next to the shapeshifter. "We can't—neither of us have any idea what to do in this situation! How do we get you back to town?"
"I will not take too much to remain conscious," said Clera matter-of-factly. "The goal is to heal her enough that we can return her to town and get her proper help there." She placed her hands gently just on top of Aria's head, and concentrated again, pulling some of that injury out and into herself. It came in like a massive, splitting headache, and she closed her eyes in a hard wince, leaning back away again.

This looked like the kind of head injury that people couldn't walk at all after, much less walk away from. Dr. Kellen dreaded to think what would've happened if Aria hadn't had heightened physical defenses from the sword demon...then again, a blow to the head should be a blow to the head, either way. She focused on healing her own new head injury, trying to make it go more slowly so it wouldn't force her to scream again or worse, ruin her stated plan by knocking her out. It still hurt, but the effort of slowing it down did seem to help a bit.
She opened her eyes again, and found the other two conscious members looking at her in concern, Lynn leaned halfway toward her. "Give me space!" she shouted angrily, making them both jump. "Not you—" she snapped at Rayna right away—"Keep holding her still! Don't jerk around."
"Go stand over there!" She added to Lynn, pointing vaguely to another part of the small cavern. The archer backed in that general direction, still watching what was going on with a concerned look.

Clera took on some more of Aria's injury. There was a slight snapping sound from both of their heads as the shifter's skull pulled itself a bit more together, while cracks undoubtedly appeared on the target skull. The winged girl felt briefly sick and disoriented, but pushed against it, ordering her magic to heal the new wound just as patiently as the last one. She took a few deep breaths, nearly welcoming the pain this time as it at least fixed the other effects of a major head injury. After her earlier outburst, the others in the cave didn't seem to think they were supposed to talk, which was just as well—less noise, less distraction.
In this way, Aria's head injury was slowly downgraded from a probable skull fracture to something closer to a concussion, by way of Clera feeling briefly the effects of several concussions and significantly more pain from headaches than she'd felt in her entire life prior. But eventually it was done, and it was going to be relatively safe to move Aria back to town if they were careful about it.

"..All right." Dr. Kellen took another deep breath. Her magic was entirely spent, a deeply uncomfortable feeling somehow, but more importantly, she was too exhausted to move the patient. "You two will have to carry her out of here. Carefully." It would be difficult to move herself, but she would just have to manage. Neither of those available seemed strong enough to carry someone Aria's weight on their own, especially not all the way to town.
Lynn came closer again. "Um, how do we, carry a person?" said Rayna, her tone indicating she felt a bit stupid not to know.
Clera sighed. "I'll explain this to you slowly, one step at a time, so you'll understand..."

That haze was persistent. Katherine's best efforts just barely managed to extract a few stray thoughts, none of which were particularly enlightening: Random words or images in isolation. If she had to guess based on what she'd seen, Rose was just thinking about the catgirl's looks and voice...but surely she was thinking about more than that. After all, she was participating in conversations related to the tour of town just as much as Katherine was, and of course her own high-intelligence-score ability to concentrate on several things at once evened that out to what she'd have been able to do with full attention on it back on Earth.

Eventually, an interesting question did come up. "Heyy, so..." The dragon-girl looked around the main square, which they had arrived at for the fifth time so far.
"I noticed, there's not any um, stone people. Or, things like that, makes it a hard to get any sense of where we are. I-I mean, your tour's been super helpful, but, everything is houses and shops and..there's only the um, big places toooo..." She let the word hang, unable to think of the term.
"You mean..there's hardly any landmarks. Like, statues and monuments. Right?"
"Uh-huh!" The dragon-girl nodded.
"Well, this is a frontier town. It's hard just to survive here with all the monsters, and it was built pretty recently, so...maybe nobody thinks it's worth the effort to build a monument or a statue around here. Or an art installation or whatever." Katherine was just thinking aloud, but it sounded reasonable enough. "So the only real landmarks are big buildings like the library that serve some other practical purpose..."

"Ooh! I should ask if they want me to grow a biiig tree somewhere," said Rose, gesturing excitedly. "People could always see it from anywhere in town, and meet there even if they get lost!"
"Er, that's not a bad idea...I don't really know who you'd ask for permission, though. It seems like, with the walls and the need for farmland, real estate is kinda tight, so someone's gotta be managing that.."
"Maybe we should ask the nice Captain!" Rose chirped.
"She doesn't seem like the bureaucratic type. Then again..." Katherine paused, remembering that she had more or less given their party some land earlier. "No, yeah, she's probably the right person to ask. No idea what her office hours actually are, though." On second thought, it couldn't be more obvious that she was the one pulling the strings, if not the outright ruler of the place. It reminded the psion of her own intentions of eventually becoming some kind of ruler herself...they'd gotten a bit sidelined in the day-to-day of monster slaying, but building up her reputation and affluence was a good start anyway. Maybe the Captian would have some tips on the work of ruling itself, if the question could be posed just right.

"Well, the guard place is right there, isn't it?" said the dragon-girl while Katherine was busy thinking that.
"Yeah. Wouldn't hurt to check." Rose led the way over toward the guardhouse, bouncing slightly in her walk, and Katherine followed.

"We want to talk to the captain about something," she said to the guy at the desk, a wolf-eared man with long black hair.
"Uh..well, um." He fidgeted nervously a bit. "She sorta just stepped out a few minutes ago. Didn't say where she was goin'."
"Does she do that a lot?"
"I...guess she does? She's always here for..anytime she's meetin' with someone, though. Or regular inspections. And surprise inspections. Hey, are you..?"
"What?" Katherine already knew his entire planned question by now but decided to let it play out rather than skip to the end, for Rose's benefit if nothing else.
"You're a mind-reader, right?" he said, quieter and a bit conspiratorially.
"Yeah, why?"

"Well, when you're meetin' with her...not that ya have to, or anything, but maybe you could ask her how old she is? I was talkin' with someone lately, and...well, nobody really seems ta know. But even if she doesn't answer, then you could sorta...see it, right?"
"Sure I could. Why are you so interested in it anyway? Don't you know better than to ask a lady's age?" she said teasingly.
"Y-yeah, that's why I was hopin' you could find some kinda way to do it where she wouldn't even know you were askin'," he said, rubbing the side of his ear nervously. "It's just, she's human, and she looks as young as you or me, but she's been here since my ma and pa were green."
"That is a little mysterious. I guess I'll keep it in mind," said Katherine. Of course she already had a plan A since Rose was listening intently to the whole conversation. The dragon-girl would inevitably blurt out the question with little to no prompting, possibly even on sight. Plan B would be formed by then in case she somehow did restrain herself for once.

"Well, we'll check back in a little later then," said the catgirl. "Actually, when is regular inspection?"
"Early afternoon," he said. "Sometimes she catches some slackers taking an early lunch break. Ain't fun to be one of them."
"Then we'll show up while she's doing that, and catch her when she's done. Simple enough."

Nora did some more reading in the library. It was relaxing, and reminded her of home—real home, not fake new home from her dreams. Back then she wouldn't have dreamed of being able to run and jump around at will, much less fighting dangerous monsters...but as exciting and great as it was to not constantly fear injury from things normal people could do on a whim, peacefully relaxing and reading felt like her more natural state.
The goddess of nature was a centaur, seemingly the only being of that body type in this world. She had a wound on her side which was matched in statues by first making the statue whole, then carefully carving out the scar. Reports on what exactly had caused that wound were conflicting, but seemed generally to suggest she fought against some dark force alongside the other gods at some point close to or during the creation of the world. Most of her worshipers were beastfolk and elves, the former often crediting her with helping them come into being in the first place. Her worship usually included planting and tending gardens in certain specific ways, the descriptions of which Nora found herself skimming by reflex, as if she'd learned the methods a long time ago and knew them by rote. Her religion considered the domestication and farming of animals distasteful, but allowed eating meat "rightly earned" through hunting. Those who chose to hunt were strictly instructed to do so by need and not for sport, and encouraged to use every part of the animal they could, leaving the rest to be returned to nature.

"Hey." Zack showed up after a while, the wolf following behind him this time. It didn't seem like the librarians cared about a little more fur in here after all. His hair was just past the shoulders in the back, with the bangs and sides seemingly grooomed but not shortened. His ears and tail looked a bit..fluffier, maybe.
"Hello..." she said quietly. "Your haircut looks g-good. But, uh...I thought you'd want it shorter than that, even."
"Well, I did, but..." He came closer and sat next to her on the couch. "I told them I wanted it really short so it wouldn't get in my way. I specifically said 'cut it like a boy's hair'. They kept saying what a big shame it was and then they just refused to cut it past here." He gestured to where it was now. "Then they insisted on washing it and then washing and grooming all of my fur before they'd let me leave."
"You c-could try a different place," said the elf.
"Yeah, but..I mean, it was cheap, and it's definitely a lot less in the way already, so I figured it's good enough for now. Maybe I'll just take a sword to it myself like Mulan or something."

"That d-doesn't sound like it should be cheap," she said.
"Yeah, they said they were giving me a discount because my hair was a pleasure to work with or something...I don't really get it. But after that, I did some quick exercises to check, and I actually feel less restricted without the hair in my way. So, Mika was wrong."
"Whatever. Look, did you..have any lingering effects from the...from last night?"

Nora shook her head. "I had a strange d-dream, but it was..I don't th-think it was because of the demon."
"What was strange about it?"
" felt, f-familiar somehow. I was somewhere I've never b-been, but I felt like I'd been there my whole life."
Zack got a distinct look of recognition. "It felt like a memory?"
"I had something like that a couple of nights ago! It was...I was fighting against some kind of demon woman, but I was...I wasn't me, and I wasn't like this either. I was, what this would look like male," he said, vaguely gesturing to his own female body. "I was with a bunch of knights fighting her, but I was the last survivor. And then, I won, but she...used some kind of magic on me, which turned me into..looking like this again."

"Hm..." Nora thought about it for a moment. "You've b-been telling people you were cursed to have that body."
"Right..." He didn't seem to know where she was going with it.
"My dream last night m-matched with...those bandits who captured me briefly, th-thought I was some kind of runaway priestess. They were hoping to g-get a ransom for that. I wonder if your d-dream is supposed to be an explanation for, how and when you were c-cursed."
Zack's ears folded slightly. "That doesn't make any sense. The curse thing is just what I tell people because nobody would understand what really happened."
"B-but you had a dream, that felt like a memory, r-right? I-in my case, it was something someone else said about me. Maybe it works b-both ways."
"Wait wait, what works both ways?"

"S-somehow or other..the game, or the world, is..t-trying to give us actual backstories," Nora said. "I-I mean, pasts. In this world. P-people who would remember or recognize us, and memories for us in d-dreams. It's as if the world h-has some ideas of its own, b-but if we say something about ourselves then it's t-taking that into consideration too."
"How would that even work? This isn't...I mean, it's a game I guess but it's, how does a world create its own past after the fact?"
"I don't know...b-but it makes a kind of sense, doesn't it? D-do you remember when Katherine said she f-felt uneasy about getting into the water, and d-didn't know why?"
"...Yeah," he said after a moment.
"S-she doesn't have normal dreams. So maybe, there's some k-kind of backstory formed in her subconscious too, b-but she doesn't have access to it to see the m-memories directly because of that."

"So back up a minute. You're saying that because I told people I was cursed to have this body, I might actually be cursed?"
His ears folded to the back of his head. "Ugh, great."
"W-well, it means all you have to do t-to, change back at least as far as being male, is b-break the curse, right?"
"Yes, but if the world wants me to stay like this then it just can. I mean, if there's magic that can change people's sex then, then the curse could make it so that wouldn't work on me like it would on everyone else!"
"That...y-you should probably stop having ideas for it, then," said Nora. "Or, we sh-should say there's something specific but s-slightly hard to find that will b-break it easily?"
"Yes. Let's say that." He nodded. "Figure out what it is later. What were you reading about?"

"Um, w-well I was some kind of p-priestess in my dream, so I was r-reading about the goddess I was supposed to be s-serving in it," she said.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The "Best" RPG Ever-39

"Flat of my blade, then," said Zack, feeling a small twitch of muscle memory on how to hit someone with that.
"Or just your shield thing," suggested Katherine. "I mean, I'm surprised you haven't been using it to bash enemies in general with how sturdy it apparently is."
"I guess I just never thought of it." The knight shrugged.

"Hiii!" An excited, high, shrill voice not two feet away from them, and too loud for the rest of that. Zack winced, grabbed his ears and folded them over his cheeks in an effort to hear less of it, and then after a pause turned his head to face the auditory assailant.
It was Rose, obviously. "Oh...Hello. I thought you'd be back to your.." He waved his hand incoherently for a second.
"Forest," supplied Mira. "Hi Rose."
The dragon-girl headtilted, noticing the witch for the first time. Surely she'd remember meeting someone who looked like that. "Um.."
"It's me, Mika. I sorta..." She made an outward, expanding motion with her hands. "..grew, after eating another demon. So I look like this now, and I feel like calling myself Mira."
"Ohh." She nod-nodded as if she understood that. The finer points like why and how she didn't, but that this was Mika and Mika was Mira was easy enough. Part of her thought it was a shame for the small cute girl to grow out of being small and cute, but on the other hand..."You look really pretty like that!" she said excitedly.
"Heheh, I'm glad you like it."

"Um, w-we were just finishing breakfast," said Nora. "You c-could pull a chair and join us if you want."
"Awwh, thank you!" Beaming, the dragon-girl skipped over to find an empty chair.
The psion asked privately between the four of them, Are we buying?
Nora frowned, not having thought of that. She probably has her own money, so...maybe not?
It's not like we're low on money, Zack responded. I thought we might take today off anyway, considering...but if she's sticking around I am not babysitting her.
Maybe I'll hang out with her for a while then, replied Katherine. See if I can find a way to pierce that weird haze or something.
You people are terrible, thought Mira, rolling her eyes. She's not dumb, she's just really bad at expressing herself.
That's exactly what I'm worried about, responded the catgirl, and then Rose finally came back.
Well, fine. You can have her for the day if you want. I want her returned to me undamaged, though.
Who's terrible again? thought Katherine, as a final jab.

"So so, I did go back to my forest for a while, but there's still so much of this town to see!" the dragon-girl was saying. "I wish I'd found out about it ages ago, whenever it was first here. It must've been super hard to set this place up in the first place with all the monsters!"
Nora, who'd read a history of the town back at the library, nodded. "We're all p-pretty recent residents, but it seems at first the d-death toll was very high."
"Yeah, yeah! I woulda helped, as long as nobody hurt my forest," said Rose.

The cynic in Zack was drawn to imagine how things might have gone if she had learned of the town so early: Some idiots setting fire to or cutting down part of Rose's woods and then an enraged dragon-girl the tiny town was nowhere near prepared for on top of all the monsters. For as harmless and annoying as she generally seemed, he'd seen her fighting only once and from that knew he probably couldn't hope to even touch her without specifically taking advantage of her general weakness to fire, or...maybe some kind of surprise attack. Even then, if she was angry enough a bit of fire probably wouldn't be sufficient stop her.

The dragon-girl said, "I brought more plants back with me! The healer people told me some things they were running out of last time and I had plenty of those, so they gave me more shiny stuff for them."
"...If I were you, I wouldn't take it back to your forest," said Zack.
"Hmm?" She headtilted, not even seeming to know what 'it' was.
"The shi—the money," he said. "Most people don't understand how valuable good plants are, but for a lot of idiots a bunch of gold is worth risking their life for. Your forest will be safer if there's no gold there, because if you're away and someone passes through it just looks like a normal forest with no gold in it to them. You put gold somewhere and they find it, suddenly it's the forest that has a bunch of gold, and you'll have all kinds of problems with people who want to take it."

Rose frowned, looking deeply worried. Someone might threaten to burn her forest down to get the gold!? "Well..what should I do with it then?"
Don't say 'give it to us', thought Katherine at him. The knight took a second to glare at her before returning his attention to Rose.
"I'd say put anything you don't spend in a bank here." He'd seen at least one bank while looking at shops on his way to buy the armor, so those existed in this world for sure. "You know, a bank, like, a place a lot of people keep their stuff for safekeeping? This town's basically the only place around here to buy things anyway, as far as I know, so you could stop by there whenever you get here. Just to be sure you get a bank you can trust, you could ask the Captain."
"Ooohh," Rose said, like a child being taught something exists for the first time. The idea of a bank wasn't foreign to her—well, to Rob at least; Rose's memories of civilization in general were so hazy and distant that she probably shouldn't even know the word bank. But, well, it was still fair to be surprised this world had banks, right? "Thank you for looking out for me!" she said happily.
"Yeah...whatever." Zack's face reddened slightly, his tail wagging behind him, but the others chose to ignore that.

"So this is about the spot," said Rayna, looking at the map and then looking around. "Guess it's time to put some of those new skills to work. Now...pull up a history of what's been here in the last few days or so...and...I see goblins listed over that way." The fox-girl started over to where the goblins had been spotted, the others following. Then she began to follow a trail of historical presence, moving forward in time. It was only slightly faster than tracking something the way a hunter would, with footprints and a dog's scenting, and threatened to be a bit dull.

Of course, the illusionist didn't like being bored. "So...Rose was lying last night. Did you notice?"
Lynn tried to remember that conversation. "...About what exactly?"
"I'm not entirely sure. But there were obvious points where her speech was blatantly nervous, like a kid trying to lie to their parent and not really being able to be convincing. Like when she said she found an herb that weakened the hoard instinct."
"Well, I don't see what else it could've been," said Aria. "You think she stumbled on a magic gem or something and didn't wanna say that's what it was for some reason?"
"My working theory is that maybe just coming back to her hoard made her feel better, and she made that excuse so we wouldn't worry about her," said Rayna, shrugging. "But she also seemed nervous talking about that plant-cart thing, and...well, her speech was normal talking about tending to all her plants, which means she must have returned faster than she would've on foot."
Finally remembering, Lynn said, "That was a lot less awkward than talking about the 'herb' though. So maybe she was just embarrassed she'd forgotten about it earlier for some reason?"
"That explanation seems inconsistent," said Clera. "If nervousness means dishonesty then it has to mean that in both cases. Besides, it isn't as if her not knowing about the cart ever directly inconvenienced us in a way that would cause her embarrassment in our presence. If anything, she was merely more confident the second time due to coming up with a reasonable lie faster."
"Hmn. Well, I'm not sure what the lie was exactly then," said Rayna. "I can't help but feel there's something obvious I'm just missing about the whole thing...oh, hey." She pointed to a nearby cave. "Looks like the goblins went in there and haven't come out yet. Either something ate them or that's where they still are."
"Weapons ready, then," said the shifter, pulling out but not yet unsheathing her own. "Time to see what our new skills are good for." Of course she couldn't resist an eager grin about that.

Rose immediately took the catgirl up on an offer to take a tour of the town, although she'd surely had plenty of time to explore the place on her own before, and hummed cheerily to herself while following Katherine off down a nearby street. After watching them go, Mira turned to the others. "Sooo, what're you two gonna do?" she said.
"I thought I might do some more r-research in the library," said Nora. Her dream the night before had given her reason to study all she could about a certain deity, and particularly that one's worshipers.
"I'm getting a haircut," Zack stated. "I'm tired of this." He ran a hand through some of the hair near his shoulders so the rest of the cascading white fluttered around.
"Awwh, it looks so good on you though~," said the witch, and then just giggled when he glared at her. "Do what you want, but if your balance is thrown off without that weight we'll all be in trouble."
"It's hair. I'll just practice some without after and get used to it. If anything I'll fight better without it constantly threatening to get in my face and inviting people to pull on it."
"You still have a tail to pull on either way."
The knight just crossed his arms. "Yeah—thanks for reminding me. What's your plan, then?"

"Ah, well I'm running out of reagents for, you know, night time activities. So even though it's a ways off, I thought I'd at least buy some of the stuff that keeps forever while we're flush. After that...I dunno, maybe I'll go shopping for cool-looking magic trinkets or something."
"You're not gonna bankrupt us, are you?" he said.
"Pssh, I know how to money. I'll set a limit well below what we've got for the whole trip and if something really useful-looking would take me over that limit I'll come tell everyone about and we can make the decision as a group to buy it or not. Anyway, see ya!" Mira gave a brief wave and then whirled around before starting off on her way, apparently knowing exactly where she was going.

Zack looked back at Nora, thinking for a second. "Are you okay?" he said quietly.
"Er..y-yes," she nodded after a moment's hesitation to realize what he meant by that. "I, th-think I will be, at least."
"Hmn. Maybe I'll come join you after the haircut and stuff," he said. "I'll try not to fall asleep this time."
"It's f-fine. You work hard protecting everyone. A-and, the couches are pretty comfortable," she said. "With how many people have fur, I d-don't even that they'd care about the wolf." Still sitting at attention next to his alpha, the wolf barked what seemed to be some kind of response to that. A 'hmph' maybe.

They made an effort to move somewhat quietly on their way in. Rayna dampened the unavoidable noise a bit with one of her newer skills, though goblins probably didn't quite have her hearing power to begin with. Before long there was a faint flickering of fire from one side, indicating a camp. Clera moved to the front of the group and poked her head carefully in to get a good look at what was going on. There were four goblins sitting around a campfire, eating some kind of meat roasted over it by just pulling chunks off with their hands. Each had a weapon of some kind by its side; particularly concerning was a crossbow the goblin across from, and farthest away from, the entrance was holding.

The winged girl drew back. Just being in this cave made her feel vaguely, instinctively uncomfortable, as if she had suddenly developed a weak form of claustrophobia. She whispered: "Four. One has a crossbow. They are...eating as people might."
The shapeshifter patted her shoulder a couple of times. "You don't have to get out your sword if you don't want to. But the last bunch of goblins like this hurt a lot of people, and these ones have probably done the same, and they'll do more if we don't stop them. Just look out for us, alright?"
Clera nodded. "Anything more precise on where the one with the crossbow is?" said Lynn. "I can take that one out and then we do the berserk charge."
"By which you mean, I do," said Aria.

Clera made an effort to describe the location of the worrisome goblin, and Lynn moved close to the entry, nocking an arrow and quickly aiming in its direction, then up enough to send it over the goblin right between her and the target.

There was a quiet thwip noise, and an electrified arrow landed right in the shoulder of that goblin, sending its body convulsing uncontrollably. Not a second into that was a loud, insane cackle followed by a shout of "CHAAAAARRRRGE!!!" as Aria let the demon take over and ran at the four of them, her blade slicing the closest one in half before the others could even stand.

Rayna moved to where she could see things, and shifted the goblins' view of things slightly so they couldn't accurately dodge or attack the shifter. She was a little distracted by stabbing her weapon into the two half-goblin pieces in turn to drain their vital fluid while it was still fresh, allowing them time to at least draw their weapons and stand. Both came at her at once, one with a shortsword and another with a hatchet, both making swings at their personal false images of her, missing the real one by an inch or two.

"HEEheheE!" Deciding it was time to apply what she'd learned a couple of nights ago, Aria willed her sword to change its shape. The blade broke into two, one for each hand, a long metal chain connecting the backs of the hilts together. She came at the one to her left first, taking several wild swings with each blade and forcing it on the defensive, until one swing more or less accidentally feinted it into blocking where her other blade could catch it square in the chest.

Lynn ran up to the other active goblin, kicking it in the shin to stun it and get its attention before darting back again, ducking away from its efforts to hit her. The fox-girl made it look like she stood still while she ran around and away from it, having bought plenty of time for Aria to finish her second target off. By now the goblin with the crossbow was starting to recover from its shock, so Lynn fired a more carefully-aimed shot at its head, landing an ordinary arrow straight through the eye.

The shifter tossed one of the two blades right at the hatchet-goblin, whose back was turned to her thanks to Lynn. The other blade steadily fell apart into a longer chain, giving the one in the air plenty of slack to keep its full momentum and pierce it straight through the heart. Aria ran up to it, allowing the weapon to suck the chain back in and grow to its original form, and then kicked the dried-up husk of goblin off of it to run toward the last, dying goblin. This time she just ran close enough for the sword's mystic blood-gravity to do the work, sending fresh blood spiraling out from the two arrow wounds into the weapon.

"HeEhehehh..appetizer.." Sporting huge, sharp teeth, Aria looked around, catching Lynn's eye. "More..."
She backed away carefully. "I thought you had enough control to not come after us?"
"No, not you..there's more...follow me!" With no further warning she picked her weapon up and started running headlong through the cave.

Lynn took a second to register that before starting to run after her, the others on her heels. "I think she means there's more goblins," said Rayna.
"You think?" The archer pulled ahead of the others, being really the only fast runner of the three, and soon came close to catching up with the berserk girl. "Hey, don't just charge off on your own!"
"But I'm sooo hungry!" Aria complained.
"Get a grip!" Taking an only somewhat calculated risk, Lynn whapped her runaway teammate on the back of the head with her bow. It wasn't going to do any real damage, but...

"Oww!" Aria stopped, wincing, and shook her head. Then she growled, animal-like, at the archer for delaying her meal, but managed to keep herself from actually attacking.
"Where are we going? Let everyone catch up. Tell me where we're going."
"Th..that way," she said, vaguely pointing. "Just—follow me, I can smell it!" She started winding up to run towards it again. There was so much there, much more than the tiny morsels she'd just had.
"Slower! Not everyone can run as fast as you. Or see in the dark!"
"It's..dark?" She was briefly surprised enough to pause again, and register that it actually was dark in this part of the cave. Enough for the others to arrive. "C..come on!" She started in the direction of the smell again (well, it wasn't a literal scent her nose was picking up but that was her best immediate description of it anyway), fast-walking since running was apparently too much for everyone else.

There was a giant goblin sleeping inside. It was comparable in size to the ogre Aria had taken out on meeting the others for the first time, which didn't bode particularly well for its chances against her. The gnawing, desperate hunger was too much to bear by the time she'd lead them all to it, and she ran straight inside over someone yelling to wait, converting her weapon into a long spear to stab the thing straight in its big, fat belly.

The terrible squishing sound of metal tearing into flesh was accompanied by a loud ringing noise. This particular goblin had set a simple, tripwire-based alarm trap at the front of its new home, to wake it up in case of intruders. Rayna, with her HUD and the best night vision of the three on top of that, had noticed it and tried to warn Aria about it, but there just wasn't enough self-control there to listen to her. The giant goblin sat up and, in the same motion, slapped Aria away, forcing her hands off of the spear already buried in its belly and sending her to hit the cave wall with a worrying crack.

Some of the big monster's blood was already drained into the spear before it pulled it out with an angry roar and readied to throw it at Aria, who was still busy sliding along the wall toward the ground, stunned but conscious. Clera moved inside reflexively, placing herself between the goblin and Aria before anyone else had time to think. The cave was big enough for her wings to spread themselves in an instinctive gesture of threat.

The monster took the most obvious route and aimed to stab her instead. By now Rayna was gathered enough to work some of her magic, and moved where the goblin thought Clera's center was as far to the side as she could manage. The spear went straight through her left side and out the other end. the goblin's blood still trailing through the air toward it.

Several arrows landed in the giant goblin's head within the next few seconds, the first two full of electricity. It shuddered back, convulsing uncontrollably, and after five or six more tries one finally caught it straight through the neck, killing it.

Aria's head didn't feel so good, but the blinding pain only seemed to sharpen her sense of blood-hunger, and the desire to reclaim her weapon. She stood up and stumbled a few steps forward, pulling it out of a small body and reshaping it to its original appearance. There was some yelling around her that her mind couldn't exactly process, the feeling of the blood in the room the only sense she had full faculties in at the moment. There were four bodies here besides hers, and blood trailing out from two of them through the air, into the blade. It tasted sweet, and felt good. She raised her weapon over the nearer, smaller body briefly, before registering something more of the shape of it.

The blood coursed through, and out of, two arms, two legs, and wings. Wings. Goblins don't have wings, and only one person she knew did. The shifter turned around and staggered several steps away, toward the larger prone body, burying the blade into its belly and shapeshifting it until the whole thing was covered with flesh, cutting off the flow of blood away from the smaller body. As soon as the demon in it was satisfied, the body it was inside of fully drained, the weapon returned to its original shape and regrew its sheath. The pulse of blood around her was the last of Aria's senses that blinked out as she fell unconscious.

The fight scene here took me forever to get started writing, but once I started the whole thing came to me all in one go. I was as surprised by how it ends as anyone reading it will ever be. I guess this is just the part of the story where teamkills almost happen to everyone.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Treat

If you're wondering, the enchantments on the candy for children are not transformative. Instead it's fun things a kid might actually want, like making a toy they want appear before them when they eat it, or the power to make them immune to getting sick or gaining weight from any amount of they eat on the same night as the enchanted one. Anyway--Happy Halloween!