Friday, January 18, 2019

The "Best" RPG Ever-66

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Katherine burst into the living room. "Did we seriously not buy one umbrella?! Ever!?" Everyone present—Mira, Clera, Zack and Nora—stared at her for a second. "...Hi Clera bytheway," she said with a small wave. "Glad to see you made up and woke up and all."
"Um. Hello." She was confused by the sudden shift from excited/angry to friendly/calm.
"...I guess not?" said the witch. "Is this a serious problem?"
"No...I just thought obviously someone would've thought to buy something with basic utility like that. Including me. I mean, how many times did we go on hours-long journeys out somewhere to fight monsters or whatever, where it might rain anytime on the way, and didn't even have like, a coat?"
"Th-there were higher priorities than j-just not getting a little wet," Nora said.
"A little? Look what it's doing outside right now." She gestured. "If it did that and got cold enough, it could make someone sick. Or...hypothermia or whatever! Right?"
"I suppose that is a sensible concern," said Clera. "Although, people don't actually get colds from merely being cold."
"I knew that already."
"Before or after you read her mind?" Mira teased with a grin.
"Before...obviously," the catgirl said with her hands on her hips. "I passed biology, I know how viruses work. I mean, on a basic level at least. But even disregarding health issues, just think of how many of us have a bunch of fur or really long hair to weigh us down if we get wet, or at least—if Nora's not in the party anyway—be a huge pain to get dry again."
"Did you actually..?" the winged girl started.
"I pick up 'loud' thoughts, like whatever you're about to say, on instinct. Can't really turn it off. No, I haven't been actually digging through your brain or anything," the psion said.
"Good. Don't."

"Anyway, can't you just like...deflect the raindrops with your mind?" said Mira. "What good are psychic powers if you can't even do that?"
"Weelll...there is a telekinetic shield skill. But it's kinda, a little out of the way and I'm trying to stay on-build..."
"Surely you only need the one level to deal with something as small and slow-moving as raindrops, though?" she pressed. "Anyway, the power to block stuff sounds useful enough to put in your build, in case those catlike reflexes you can't level up ever happen to fail you?"
"Aria won't be happy. Shouldn't you be on her side anyway?"
Mira put up her hands. "There's really nothing wrong with the 'this and that' build as long as it comes together in the end. I get the feeling we'll have lots of opportunities to get more points anyway. It's not that expensive to take, is it?"

"Where're you in such a hurry to go to anyway?" Zack interjected.
"I'm not in a hurry, I just wanted to go to town and thought not getting soaked in the process would be nice. And where I wanna go really isn't any of your business!"
"It's not, and I didn't mean it like that," he said, his ears drooping a bit.
"You didn't, right. Sorry."
Nora asked, "You know that now, b-but not a minute ago?"
"Yeah, sometimes picking up the intent behind someone's words comes after coming up with a response to them," she shrugged. "Even with mind-reading help."
"Well, since it was magically summoned or whatever, this should blow over before long, right?" Zack suggested.
"There's no reason to assume that," said the witch. "It could mean just the opposite. Anyway, take that skill and you can go as soon as you like."
The catgirl grabbed one wrist with the opposite hand. "I'm really not in a hurry, though..."
"Then take a seat if you want." Mira patted the spot right next to her on the couch.

"...But then you just sneaked out that night to keep trying. The next morning you walked up and did it in one shot, and we didn't even know you'd practiced all night until you started falling asleep during classes the whole rest of the day."
"Hahah, that sounds about right. I won't let some wall beat me," said Aria. She leaned back in her chair a little. "Strange how much all this fits me..."
"How so?" Loren's head tilted a bit. "I mean, it is you."
"Uh." It wasn't like she could explain the real reason to him. "I just mean, I don't actually remember it but it fits so well with what I think of myself. You know, like how do you block off all the memories but still end up with the exact same personality those experiences shaped? That's not how amnesia stories usually go, right?"
"I don't know what books you've been reading, but sure. I'll admit I'm happy it still seems like you, even if you don't exactly remember."

"Alright, so what did I do for a living anyway? I can't imagine that I was much of a fighter before, considering how clumsy I feel about combat without the sword boosting me."
"Yeah, not really. You did accounting for a lot of the shops around town. As far as I understand you found it supremely dull, but it paid the bills and you only had to do it for six hours a day, with the rest left over to do whatever you wanted. By the reaction after you left, I get the impression your work was pretty good, though."
"Hmn. Sounds like something I'd rather not remember all that well. Dangerous work like this has its own problems, but it's never boring," Aria said, mentally noting the similarity to her Earth job. Whoever made up this other life for her had apparently been watching Will for a long time. More evidence it was the gods, perhaps.

Clera stood up. "I find myself exceptionally hungry now. I neglected to eat before we left out of concern for expediency."
"Well, help yourself," said Mira. "Just don't try to use fire magic to cook, eh?"
"Uh..what's that supposed to mean? I've—the one from here has never really felt confident enough in her control to try that," she said.
"Never mind, reference you wouldn't get," she said with a vague wave. "Sometimes I forget who I'm talking to."
"Okay then..." The winged girl made her way to the kitchen.

"I've been wondering, by the way—what sorta jobs you all had back on Earth," said the witch. "If anyone wants to share?"
"Um, I-I was still making my way through college," Nora said. "T-trying to get a degree in literature or s-something like that, wasn't really decided yet..."
"Looking to be a writer?" Mira asked. The elf gave a shy nod. "Well, if we ever do get back, this'll be quite the inspiring experience, won't it?"
"Hah...I g-guess so."
"Well, I did engineering work. Actual engineering, not sitting at a computer all day like Aria," said the catgirl. "Shame there's no real electrical systems in this world, or I could make some crazy good money combining that knowledge with not needing to actually touch the shocky bits. What about you, huh?"

"Hmmn, I suppose I brought the question on myself," said Mira. "I guess I know you all well enough to be honest. Let's just say...if I said my last name you might just recognize it. I'm the third-youngest son of a pretty old-money family. More or less just coasted through law school and got a cushy job pushing paper around for a big law firm because of that. The pay was better than my work was honestly worth, too.

"So anyway...What about Zack, hmn?"
"What about me?" His arms were crossed semi-defensively, and he looked unhappy with the question. "Who cares what my old job was?"
"Well, you don't have to answer if you don't want to, but...I can't be the only curious one here," said the witch.
"It's not like I was doing anything important," he said.
"And nobody says you had to be, either. I mean—nothing I did was vitally important, but most of the other people who knew how to do it had actually passed the bar and were busy being actual lawyers. Does it need to be a big secret for some reason?" she pressed.

He gave an exasperated sigh. "Fine. I worked at a warehouse. Paying off debts for a college education I never actually used anywhere. Happy?"
"I mean—I guess so, but I dunno why you're upset about it," Mira said, getting an actual look of concern. "Was it a bad job or something?"
"No, it was fine. I just felt like I was wasting my life there doing nothing really important, is all. Everyone else here did something amazing or important or—at least that pays well," he said, waving a hand in a small gesture, "I mean—there's three people living here who you could actually call 'famous'! And that just rubs it in worse."
"Come on, that's not right. What you were doing was important too," the witch insisted. "Maybe more than what I was doing at least—I mean, it involved stuff getting physically moved around to where it needed to be, right?"
"Yeah. Job that'd be done by robots if the company thought they could afford it," he said, not looking very encouraged.
"Well sure, but it wasn't yet," said Katherine. "At the pace of that tech, you could probably retire before needing to worry about that. Really, what's got you so upset?"

"Look, I played games to forget what my real life was like," he said. "You know—big, epic quests where important people do something like save the world or at least a nation or something. I used to wish I could get to be one of those people, in some other world instead. But now I'm here, and I'm still I mean, I'm strong and good with a sword or whatever, but I didn't actually earn any of that. It just got dropped on me. There's probably a million other people who could've landed here the same way, been given the same stuff, and done just as well as I did—or better, really."
"You don't think there's anything special about you?" said Katherine, incredulous. "Zack, in case you don't know, anyone's first instinct is to avoid something dangerous, but—I don't think I can even count how many times you've jumped in front of something to protect someone else."
"A-and usually gotten hurt b-because of it," Nora added.
"That's just because—I'm supposed to do that," he said, "This body can take hits yours can't."
"More importantly," Mira said, "You're an honest, straightforward person, always kind even to people you don't really like that much, and you hate seeing others get hurt so much you'd rather get hurt yourself. Am I wrong?"
He hesitated for a long moment. "...Well, no, but.."
"And you think being that way is normal, not something to be commended for, because it's so obviously the right thing to do," she continued before he could come up with an objection. "If that's not special then it's a good thing, because that's how people should be. Jobs and paychecks don't define people. Where you work doesn't matter compared to who you are."

"...I...I guess not." Zack looked to one side, toward a wall, visibly blushing. He was still wearing a frown, but at least his ears were up and his tail wagging ever so slightly; Mira concluded that she'd succeeded in making him feel better.

In the late morning, Ezra came to Tsaron's house, wearing a tan cloak big enough to obscure her features. The door opened as soon as she was in front of it, and she walked inside silently; it closed behind her.
The elf was waiting inside, sitting at his table. "Welcome! I understand our town heroes took down a fire giant early this morning," he said.
Ezra took a moment to get the blue crystal charm at the end of her necklace out, holding it in one hand and snapping the other hand's finger once. The water on her clothes and hair flowed into the charm, refilling some of its magic spent that morning. "Indeed...word travels fast." Then she took off the cloak, and mimed hanging it on a coatrack that wasn't in the room; it stayed in place anyway, thanks to the psion.
"Now, why didn't you ask me on this little adventure?" he said. "You and I could've killed something like that no problem."
"As if you'd come within a mile of harm's way," she replied, crossing her arms disapprovingly.
"Sure, but I would have lent you one of my toys. Like this little number?" A flail whose striking head appeared to be made of ice floated into the room through a doorway and waved itself around a bit. "Surely that plus the Favor would've been sufficient for you."
"Of course." After taking a moment to stretch, Ezra came to the table, taking a seat opposite Tsaron. "But since the two of us clearly aren't enough to do whatever needs to be done, I thought it best to give them some practice instead. The reputation boost won't hurt them, either."
"And why not let yourself go underestimated, right?" The weapon showed itself back out of the room at this point.
"That too," she nodded.

A pot of tea that had been busy making itself floated over, pouring into two cups already on the table. "You still like it sweet?" A few of the sugar cubes floated out of their dish. Once she'd nodded, they were dropped into Ezra's cup. Both of them took a moment to quietly drink some of the tea, although Tsraon made a point to still not lift a finger in the process. Even for an audience of one, he just couldn't help but be a massive show-off.
"So, after seeing them in action yourself—any better ideas about why this bunch was chosen this time?"
"...Not particularly," she shook her head after a moment. "They do seem pretty smart on the whole; at least some of them have good tactical sense that I think was learned before coming here. Nothing like the results of real training, but enough to improvise some good ideas on the spot at least. As expected, their 'new' abilities have been growing by leaps and bounds since they first got here, and they seem well-adapted to using them."
"I could've told you that," Tsaron said. "They have a menu when their eyes are closed, similar to our old books but I guess tailored to a more electronics-oriented mind—and far harder to misplace. And they've been going off to do something nearly every day, even though they've definitely got enough money and fame by now to skip the real work. Even accounting for the one who needs blood to stay sane, they seem to have a sort of restlessness about them."
"Almost like they're motivated to do something besides sit around all day," Ezra said with a mildly sarcastic edge.

"Come on, you know it's all in here," he said, finally raising a hand to point to his head for a second. "Haven't you had a little less unsolved crime lately thanks to me?"
"I don't know much statistics, but I received a report of that nature recently, yes. What've you been doing to my populace?"
"Nothing extreme or detrimental. Just, you know, giving the odd person a fleeting impulse to look the right way or go to the right place at the right time to catch someone in the act." He shrugged. "Sometimes it only takes a little nudge for someone to convince themselves it's a bad idea, too."
Ezra took another sip of tea. "I'd rather you ask before taking up a project like that, but that's fine, I suppose. You're planning to have a closer look at them yourself soon, aren't you?"
"I invited them to all come in for tea if they want to," he said. "I predict that they will want to this afternoon, sometime after the rain lets up. Maybe your transporter will join them, unless he'd prefer to catch up on stolen sleep."

Lynn threw open the stairwell door and burst into the living room, the energy of an idea born from just waking behind her. "Hey! Morning again everyone. You're up!" she added, looking at Clera.
"I am."
"Uh, what happened exactly? You okay?"
"I'm well." A brief explanation followed of what had happened.
"So, you can do fire magic now?" The winged girl nodded. "Great. More tactical options is always good." She looked around the room and fixed her eyes on Nora once they'd found her. "So, I had kind of a thought. You can throw around pretty big quantities of water easily, right?"
"Right..?" Nora wasn't sure where this was going.
"So, bodies here seem to still be made mostly of water. Could you use that to like, throw monsters or people around?"
"Um..I d-d-don't think I can," she said.
"Why not?"
"Will to live," Clera interjected.

Lynn paused turning to look at her. "Huh?"
"People—and creatures of all kinds, for that matter—have a natural resistance against that kind of thing. Specifically magical interference of the 'inside' of their body. It's usually called the 'will to live resistance'. A disembodied arm or a corpse with sufficient water content, she probably could do it with."
"How strong is this resistance, exactly?"
"Very. Enough that if a fire mage wanted to kill someone it would be several times more efficient to make a fire hot enough to kill them outside their body than make a small, controlled fire inside of it to hit a vital organ. It isn't entirely impossible to do something like that but it's much more difficult even to try; magic users' instincts target the outside of the body for presumably this exact reason.
"..Before you ask, it doesn't depend on the size of the body, its magical capacity, or seemingly on the intelligence of the creature, either. It's as difficult with small rodents as it is with giant monsters, and psions—known to have zero magic capacity—are just as resistant as anyone else."

"And, why's it called 'will to live'?" Katherine asked.
"Because of its properties, it's believed to come from the soul, and to be a manifestation of a person's will to live. For one thing, it doesn't affect healing magic. A healer can interfere with the body as much as they like because that interference involves fixing things the body itself wants fixed. Empathic magic is also healing, and...corrupted Empath magic, 'giving' wounds to others, essentially uses its fundamental nature as healing magic as a backdoor to get around that resistance." She frowned, obviously disgusted with the idea. "For another, it has been...shown to be significantly weakened in a person who is genuinely suicidal, with extremely unpleasant results. It's actually convenient when you don't want to hurt someone, for example, drying them out with water magic without drying out their mouth or pulling any of their blood out?"
"Oh yeah..that, should've occurred to me sooner," Lynn said.
Clera nodded. "You just target the whole person with a light touch and the resistance does the hard work for you. Magic users don't even think about it most of the time. Something similar is known to affect psionic powers, by the way," Clera added, turning slightly toward the catgirl. "Even a powerful telekinetic will have a far easier time throwing a person's entire body around than they will using that power to pull out a vital organ; or, say, inducing brain death by telepathy is known to be nearly impossible."
"Could you get around that by making someone suicidal? I mean, not that I actually would, but since you brought it up..."
"No one has ever succeeded in doing that instantaneously. The mind, I'm sure you know, is an intricate and complicated thing. It's just as difficult as attempting to cure something like depression through telepathy. Long-term—very long-term thought manipulation could work, perhaps, but it would take a particularly cruel person, even from among those who would want to murder someone, to go that route."

Friday, January 11, 2019

The "Best" RPG Ever-65

Zack carefully lifted Clera off of the wolf's back and set her on one of the couches. The wolf shuddered slightly, indicating relief to have the weight off of him, and then looked like he was about to shake the water off too. "Hey! Don't do that here, you'll get everyone else wet too."
The wolf grunted: They were already wet.
"C'mon, let me get you a towel or something." He led the wolf into the downstairs bathroom.

Loren turned to Ezra, who was still watching the winged girl intently. "So what's your theory, then?"
"Empaths have two souls. Ordinarily they are said to converse through dreams, while asleep."
"That's true of her, too, yeah," said Katherine. "Soo, what, you think something just couldn't wait until the next time she fell asleep normally?"
"Maybe one of the souls did something that the other one violently disagreed with. They should work it out on their own before long." The Captain fixed the psion with a stern look. "Take my advice and don't try to interfere with it. Anyway." Addressing everyone now, she said: "As I was going to say before this happened, I will make certain that all of you are compensated well for your help with this matter. Rose as well, when she visits next." The dragon had, understandably, stayed behind in her forest. "I have work to catch up on, so I'll take my leave now." Without waiting for a reply, she went for the door to town. A few goodbyes followed her out.

"We should, uh, dry her off so she won't get a chill or something, right?" said Aria, pointing at Clera. Already dry herself, Nora knelt next to her and carefully pulled the water off of her, collecting it into a small floating blob to one side. "Oh..yeah, I kinda forgot you could do that. Uh, any chance of the rest of us getting a turn?" The elf sighed, a hint of tiredness present, but stood up and nodded, getting to work on the rest of them.
"Uh, thanks, really, but you don't have to—" Loren started, but couldn't finish before she'd already pulled the water off of him.
"I-it's no problem." When she was done she opened the door to the front yard and tossed the ball of water out into the rain.

There was a momentary, awkward pause.
Aria looked down, remembering she had destroyed her shoes in the recent fight. "Well, I think I need to change..I'll be back down in a minute if you want to hang out?" she said toward Loren.
"Uh—sure," he said.
Most of the others filtered out after that, Nora taking a seat on a chair near the couch Clera was on. Mira started toward the kitchen, and Loren followed her.

"Oh, hello there," said the witch, noticing him. "Did I ever introduce myself?"
"Not exactly, but close enough. Aria told me your name was Mira, and that you were a witch," he said.
"Still, I can't stand not being friendly." She held out a hand to him. "Nice to meet you~."
"Uh." He took the hand carefully after a second, like he was afraid it was going to sprout thorns, but went along with a fairly normal handshake after that. "You too, I guess."
"Great! Now we're introduced." The witch wasted no time in going to the pantry after that to continue her task of finding some food; she had made the mistake of skipping breakfast entirely before.

"Hey, are you hungry? Since you followed me in here and all."
"Not..particularly. I'm not exactly sure how to go about this but I had a few..questions," he said.
Putting a small plate together for herself, Mira teased: "Oh, is transporter work not exciting enough for you? Sorry to say, I'm not really in the market for an apprentice at the moment."
"Wh—no! That's not—" His half-indignant flustered response was cut off when he realized she was giggling. "Oh, you're joking. That was a joke," he stated flatly.
"You got it." They didn't even have bingo here? Well, maybe it just had a different name, she thought. "Take a seat?"

Loren sat across from her at the table, and cleared his throat while Mira started eating. "But, that is—witches and warlocks do take on apprentices, normally, right? That's ones come about?"
"I dunno if that's true of everyone, but it was for me," she said.
"And..if it's not prying too much, who was your..who were you apprentice to?"
"Maybe the name won't mean much to you, but her name was Griselda," she said, watching his expression carefully. "Oh, you do know her!"
"Not—personally, but—"
"I'm not surprised she has a reputation, either," Mira said.
"Would you be surprised to find out she's dead?" he said; it came out more bluntly than he meant it to out of some annoyance from being cut off.
"Not at all. I mean, the one who killed her lives here after all," she said.
"...You, knew that already," he said slowly, trying to make sense of this.

"Mm-hmm." The witch swallowed the bite in her mouth. "Don't get me wrong—I'm not happy she's dead but, she needed to be stopped. She used to be good, but she'd gone way off the deep end. Why do you think I wasn't with her when it happened?"
"What do you mean, she 'used to be good'?" he said, skeptically. "Wasn't she terrible her whole life?"
"'Course not!" Mira said, with a touch of annoyance in her tone. "You'd be forgiven for thinking that, too, though. That was an image she cultivated more or less on purpose, after all. In truth, for a long time she was only terrifying to bullies and oppressors. Anyone who was really in need—poor people, orphans, so on—knew what she was really like."

"I suppose you were one of the latter?"
"Oh, certainly. I was bullied by the other orphans on top of the kids in town. All that teasing me about how I looked and sounded like a girl," she said.
Loren physically resisted taking the bait, but could only do so for so long. "Um.."
"Aren't you—"
"Yep. Before she would take me on as an apprentice, Griselda required it. I didn't really care, I was only about...twelve at the time? And anyway, it was a convenient 'fix' to the problem, don't you think?" Loren shrugged, uncertain what to think of it. "Before that, she'd show up every now and then, scare off the bullies, and be nice to me and some of the other kids. Show us around town, take us out someplace to eat—and scare the owners into serving us if they wouldn't otherwise, but she did pay for it all—do magic shows, stuff like that. It wasn't until after I insisted on becoming her apprentice and moving into her tower and everything that I found out about the other side of her nature."

Loren waited quietly for her to eat another few bites. Since he didn't seem willing to ask, she just continued: "Griselda believed in a very specific idea of justice. She thought it wasn't being served by the government, and I don't think you'd argue with that assessment if you saw what she had. So..she liked to come up with her own 'fitting' punishments whenever she thought someone was doing something wrong. I was going through the forest one day, gathering ingredients for a potion or something, and found one of the biggest bullies in town hanging up on a tree by some of her knives stuck through his clothes. I didn't even realize it was her doing at first, even though I knew she used those to fight, so I stood there trying to figure out a way to get him down long enough for some of the adults from town to show up and start accusing me of doing it. Just imagine—I was a short child and I couldn't even reach the lowest knife stuck into his pant-legs to get him down! People can be kind of dumb sometimes, you know that?"
"That I do know," Loren agreed, nodding.
"So anyway, I already looked like a witch by then and the only thing that saved me from being carried off and burned at the stake was the real witch showing up and scaring them away. After that, she explained how that guy had led a bunch of his friends in dangling some poor girl out a third-story window, and figured that hanging out to dry himself for a couple of hours was a fitting punishment."

Mira paused, remembering how it had gone in the dream the night before. "She sat me down and explained it so simply, you know: 'People never learn if they're not punished for their actions. Sometimes the law can't or won't do what needs to be done. That's where I come in.'"
"And you agreed with her?" he asked.
Mira shrugged. "Remember, I was still a child at the time, and she's the closest thing to a parent I knew. It didn't really sit right with me but I accepted it at the time. No, it was a few years before I started to argue with her. She started summoning a lot of demons to just keep around the tower and do stuff for her. There was one 'servant' she'd had since the beginning, but these were..different. They were violent or heavily armed, that kind of thing. She would send them out to do the 'punishing' sometimes."
"And obviously you left at some point, since you weren't there when..."
"Right. It, little over a year ago, actually. She had her demons kidnap this high-ranking noble, and started cursing him partially to the form of a pig, threatening to actually cook and eat him. I said that was too much, there was no way someone actually deserved that. Or even if they did, she would hurt a lot of other people who didn't deserve it, maybe us included, with what she was doing.

"We got into a real shouting match. She never could see past whatever was right in front of her, and that man's list of crimes made her nearsightedness even worse. I admit, the list of things he'd gotten away with just because he was a high-ranking noble wasn't pretty. And I know why it was even more horrible to her, too, with how her 'master' had been. But..." Mira sighed. "Unfortunately, I was right. From what I can tell that noble, or maybe his family, is exactly who conscripted Zack's order to go take her out. Maybe I could've convinced her to stop if I'd stuck around, but after that argument I'd had it. I packed up and ran away, and the next time I heard news of her, it sounded like she'd totally lost it."

Mira took advantage of that dramatically hanging in the air to finish her impromptu late breakfast. "Maybe that answers your questions?"
"Uh. I guess it does," he said. "What was that about her master..?"
"I'll give you the short version for that one," she said, standing up to put the dish away. "He kidnapped her pretty young, more or less abused her for some years while plotting to take over and/or destroy most of the nearby civilization. She helped the people of the nearby towns sneak in and kill him in his sleep. He'd forced her into becoming a witch as some part of his plans already, so instead of, you know, comforting or congratulating her, they just walked away silently after it was done. Like 'you can keep your life today because you helped us stop him, but don't get your hopes up'. I think she insisted that I should be a witch specifically and not a warlock because of him—although I really doubt that a person's gender actually factors into how garbage of a person they are."

"You seem...awfully forthcoming about all this to a near stranger," Loren observed, standing up himself.
"You are a friend of a friend. I'd like to convince you I'm not evil as quickly as possible," she said. "You know—so you don't start trying to convince her that I am?"
"That's..reasonable, I guess. Not that Are—Aria would really listen to me anyway if she's made up her mind."
"Oh alright, I do have another reason, but it can wait. Pret-ty sure that's Aria's usual downstairs run I hear through the wall." She waved him toward the door back into the living room.

"Why did you do that? What was that?!"
"Uh...?" Clera was briefly disoriented, and got her bearings more slowly than the person whose body she was sharing liked. He waited impatiently, seething. They were back in Dr. Kellen's office, with him standing up and leaning on open-palmed hands on his desk, towering over her sitting in the chair in front of it.
"That was magic," she said finally. "I-it uh, I thought it was just sealed away from my becoming an Empathic soul but, it seems like it actually separated from me at the moment of my death—which isn't that surprising, with the way it happened, but—"
"I know what it is!" he said, standing fully up. "Why did you simply take it like that?"

"Why did's a part of me," she said.
"A dangerous part. You spent your entire life fearing it, did you not? Trying without success to control it?"
"I-it's not like it's some kind of demon that possessed me," she said, standing up herself, and unconsciously spreading her wings in some kind of threat-presenting instinct. "It was just, it lashed out when I wanted to. When my emotions got the best of me. And that was before I learned how to control it! I kept it perfectly under control for years at the end of my life!
He crossed his arms like an angry teacher. "And you can guarantee that you'd be able to maintain that kind of control now?"
"I—I don't know! I don't know how it works in this situation! There aren't exactly any textbooks on 'using magic as one of two souls sharing the same body'."
"Then why did you just decide to take it before thinking it over? Or—waiting to discuss it here?"
"I—it, it wasn't. It wasn't a decision," she said. "Once I saw it and realized what it was, a piece of me, I couldn't just...keep me away from myself! Do you have any idea what it's like to just suddenly realize you're in two separate pieces?"

They were both quiet for a moment. "...I suppose I don't." Dr. Kellen visibly calmed himself, and Clera did the same, folding her wings. "I believe I have overreacted."
"You think?"
"I realized suddenly that I didn't understand what was happening but I was still behaving as if I did, and therefore someone else was in control of my body. Of course it was you, but that realization..caused me to panic," he said.
"Okay, that's pretty understandable. Wait, didn't you say—"
"As soon as we got here I understood. But before that I did not," he said. Then, after a small sigh: "We still..we still need to discuss this. Do you think it's possible to keep that..part of you under control?"
"I know how to use it," she said, "and since we're 'both' in control when we're awake, I'm sure 'we' know how to use it. But as for keeping a tight lid on it, not using it at all, like I did toward the end of my life, I don't—I really doubt it.

"That was a matter of keeping my emotions in check. Tight control over my entire mind. I don't know if the training and practice I did for that is enough to mute the emotions of two different people, or even one who isn't me."
"Does that make us..dangerous?"
"Only if we try to bottle up the power. But that..there's no reason that should happen. If we're going around fighting monsters anyway, there's no good reason not to use my power for it," Clera said. "We..didn't have a means of fighting before, really. Was it just me who was bothered by just flying around waiting for an opportunity help, halfway hoping someone would get hurt just so I'd get a chance to feel useful?"
"That was...mostly you, yes," he said. "I cannot fault the desire to be more useful. But—"
"You made a vow, I know I know. But—that's not to hurt people with your medical knowledge, right? The reverse-healing powers we were offered is kind of fuzzing into that territory, I agree, and it feels like a corruption of the purpose of those powers in a way that sort of tells me it is. I agreed one hundred percent we shouldn't use those. But—your vow or whatever doesn't keep you from defending yourself if someone is actively attacking you. Don't you have a—a weapon?"
"A gun," he clarified for her. "I do, two of them. One in this desk, one at home."
"Well, this is the same kind of thing as that. Fire magic is a whole lot more in the 'weapon' category, I'd say, as the expert on it here..and we have a lot of creatures that count as pretty much always attacking us, so fighting them back should be legal. Right?"
"I suppose you're right," he said, with a touch of reluctance.

Their surroundings had warped and shifted subtly over the course of the conversation, until they were back in Ian's living room, standing on opposite sides of the coffee table. "What can we do, exactly?" Dr. Kellen said, sitting down slowly.
"Well,'s kinda hard to..I mean, I guess I could just 'transfer' it to you of course..." While she was thinking about it, a skill tree labeled 'Fire Mage' appeared floating in the air between them, facing her. "..Oh. Huh." Her eyes scanned over it for a moment. "It's really strange, seeing everything I ever learned to do with it written up in a big diagram like this. I guess we can access it by closing our eyes, and 'learn skills' with it like the other one? Heh, Aria won't be happy to hear about it."
"Or she'll be terribly excited," Ian said. The tree swung around where it was facing him, and he skimmed it for a moment. "It's probably best to agree and assume that you'll take over when it comes to deciding which spell to use and how..."
"Seems likely to work, yeah."

Ian got up again, and went around the table to extend his hand to the winged woman. "Well, I am terribly sorry about exploding like that."
"No, it's, understandable. I'm glad we were able to work it out," she said, taking the hand gently. "Guess we should wake up now? We don't usually have control over that..."
"We normally aren't unconscious as a result of a disagreement, either," he said. "Perhaps all we must do is agree to awaken?"
"Worth a shot."

The wolf didn't seem happy, but sat and let Zack get most of the water off onto the towel. "...There. That better?" He grunted—it could have come off faster—and shook some anyway. In fact he didn't seem too happy in the first place. "What?"
The wolf made a kind of groaning whine.
"Oh, yeah. I wasn't much use there either. What do you expect, literally fighting fire? I'm sure we'll be back to things made of flesh and blood soon enough, though." Zack reached out and, when the wolf put his head under his hand, gently rubbed his ears a bit. "You just have to do what you can, right?" The response to this was a mollified, quiet bark after a moment. Then they headed back to the living room.

It was almost empty, just Nora sitting across from where Clera had been set down. The wolf sniffed the air, making his way around toward the door to town. "Where'd everyone go?"
"Uh, M-mira went to get breakfast, and t-took Loren with her...Rayna and Lynn b-both said they wanted to go back to bed. Aria w-went upstairs to change shoes. K-katherine said something about looking for an umbrella. Um..." Nora stood up, coming a little closer to Zack, and waved, pulling the water off of him. Then the wolf gave one bark at the door.
"What? Yeah, she left while were busy," said Zack, nodding to the elf before turning in the wolf's direction. He gave a brief, low growl to that and circled back to where the knight was. "You get it now, right? She gives us money, which is like giving out the food, and..just being around her I could tell I wouldn't stand much of a chance in a real fight."
The wolf gave a mildly displeased grunt, but seemed to understand. Nora took advantage of him momentarily sitting still to take the remaining water off and add it to the blob she'd gotten from Zack, then tossed it out into the front yard.
"Well, whatever. You can still think of me as your alpha if it makes you feel better," Zack said. Then, turning to Nora: "I want out of this armor. Then I'll come back down."
"Okay," she nodded.

Once she had finally gotten off the half-melted shoes and destroyed socks and replaced them, Aria ran back downstairs to find Loren coming back into the living room from the kitchen, looking maybe a little dazed. Clera was still unconscious on the couch, with Nora sitting across from her, watching. "Hey, sorry I took so long!"
"Uh, that's okay. I had..something to ask Mira anyway," he said, gesturing vaguely where he'd come from.
"I hope not accusing her of anything," she said, coming closer. "You got proof right here that relying on demon power doesn't make someone bad, yeah?"
"I suppose not. Just possibly insane," he said. "But I wasn't, anyway...what?" She'd stopped right in front of him, looking up at his face.
"I dunno. Being shorter than you feels wrong." Aria took a second to push her height up to almost match his. "That's better!"

"Mnngh..." Clera sat up slowly, looking around and trying to make sense of her surroundings.
"Hey! Welcome back to the world," said the shifter, turning to wave to her.
"..How long was I out..?"
"About fifteen, twenty minutes?"
She swung her feet around to the front of the couch. "It didn't feel like more than two or three. I suppose someone carried me here? And..?" She pulled at some of her hair, noticing it was dry.
"Th-that was me," said Nora. "Do you feel o-okay?"
"I'm fine," she nodded.

"So, what happened exactly?" said Loren.
" empathic soul unleashed m-uh, her magic at the moment of death. It seems as if it separated from, her then, and got swallowed by chaos magic at some point."
"..A-and turned into that fire g-giant?" Nora asked.
"Correct. It seems entirely too convenient to me that it happened to show up here. However, it means I have access to my—her magic now. She was a fire mage," she added after a second, to Loren.
"Sweet." Aria gave a thumbs up.
"You can use your extra soul's magic?" Loren asked. "Are you sure?"

"Hmn..." She held up a finger and made a small, match-like fire appear floating over it. "Seems so."
"I've never heard of anything like that. And, are you having identity dissociation issues?"
"My ritual was..unusual," she said. "It's complicated. However, I'm able to separate and communicate in dreams, which I assume is normal."
"Well—that is, as far as I know, but..."
"Anyway! I want to ask you a couple of things, so let's go to theeeee, library, yes!" Aria grabbed Loren's forearm and half-pulled him that way, deciding too much prying into this matter from him was a bad idea for the moment. He cooperated before long and just followed her, gently pulling his arm free in the process.

There was a moment of awkward standing after that. "You had...questions?" Loren said, obviously confused by her behavior.
"Right! Right. I'm trying to come up with a way to explain this, but honestly I don't think it's possible. Sooo. I need to ask you a few things to confirm something, but to you they're just going to sound like nonsense, probably. It's hard to say if I'll ever be able to tell you where these questions actually come from. That okay?"
"I..guess?" he said, looking really uncertain.

"Great! First of all, do you know what a 'train' is?"
"Um..? Like, training?"
"No no, a train. A machine that runs across metal rails to get people from one place to another. Have you ever heard of anything like that?"
"...I, uh..mine carts, maybe? They're not really for people, and I've never heard of them being called a 'train', though..."
"Okay, good. Second: Murphy's law. Ring any bells?"
"Noo...? Who's Murphy?"
"Not important, really. But his law is: 'Anything that can go wrong, will.' Nothing?"
"I don't think so. I mean, that general...sentiment comes into practice maintaining almost any high-order magical spells or equipment, like transport crystals, but I've never heard it phrased quite that way."
"Excellent," said Aria, putting her hands together with a grin. "That answers what I wanted, thank you. Now I have to decide what to do with this info. So let's talk about something else. Have a seat, maybe. If you're not in a hurry to leave?"
"Not if it's still pouring outside," he said, looking around until he found a nearby window—and indeed it was.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The "Best" RPG Ever-64

While everyone was preparing to leave—some of them picking up a quick breakfast they could eat on the way out the door—Katherine directed some mental traffic around. Aria would miss out on important information this way, but she was probably going to just do her own thing regardless. The Captain sent a bunch of information into my head during that last conversation. Here...

Fire giants are a rarer breed of monsters, theorized to be formed when a mage's summoned fire elemental is somehow corrupted by chaos magic. They're not intelligent, merely proceeding instinctively toward the nearest "food" source they can sense, or toward whatever they perceive the biggest nearby threat to be. Attempts to extract the fire magic from them are usually met with failure, it being too closely wound with the uncontrollable chaos magic, meaning that putting out the fire is generally the best option despite the sheer amount of it present in a fire giant making this a time-consuming, difficult process.

Awfully convenient I just got ice powers, Mira thought. But that'll only get us so far...
So it's just a big mass of fire? Zack thought, wondering how a sword and shield were going to be any help in this situation.
Well, it can shoot fire around, the shield should be good for blocking that at least, Lynn replied. I guess you can try swiping your sword at it to get its attention on you if nothing else.

Before too long they were all outside. Captain Ezra was waiting with her arms crossed, but not really any more sour or impatient in expression than usual. Rose, for some reason, looked less scared than she had before. Loren's eyes were closed, but his expression seemed awake and focused. "Are you all prepared?"
Katherine looked around. "Think so."
"Oh—wait! I only have like five arrows," Lynn realized aloud.
"Here." The Captain produced a bundle of arrows in her hand and held them out to her.
"Thanks!" She took them quickly and then, while putting them in her quiver, paused. "Do you just, keep a bunch of arrows with you?"
"Yes." Ezra's tone suggested there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. "Gather in a circle here," she continued, pointing.

Once they were arranged, she turned to Loren. "Go ahead."
"Right." He raised his arms, speaking in an arcane language that Mira swore she half understood and half didn't. The ground under his feet glowed, a small circle that expanded out until it included all of them. Then the glow brightened to a blinding flash for a second, and when it cleared they were in Rose's forest.

"We should move quickly." Ezra looked at the fox-girl. "Which way is east?"
"Uh, that way." Rayna pointed.
The Captain produced a palm-sized, blue cloth bag and handed it to Loren. "You stay here and watch. If the giant approaches the forest and we're not here, go back to town immediately, run to the guardhouse and give this to whoever's at the desk. Then tell them the town needs to be evacuated as quickly as possible and any available and willing water mages should move to the east to stall it."
"Alright." He took it a little hesitantly. "Really hope I don't have to do that." His eyes flickered in Aria's direction for a second before returning to the Captain. "You do have a plan, don't you?"
"Of course. I'll explain on the way." She started off, waving everyone except for him to follow.

"All of you will need to take the front lines. I will be channeling a spell of fire resistance," she said, "and I need to concentrate to keep it effective. Don't think you're immune to its attacks because of it, either. It will just allow you to get close enough to hit it without immediately being burned. Use any ice or water powers you have liberally."
"By my count, exactly three of us have powers like that," said Katherine. "Well, maybe four—I have an elemental dagger that might..."
"Fire giants are not very smart. They interpret someone hitting them with a sword as a sufficient threat to pay attention to, even though it doesn't actually injure them much. Our initial goal isn't to destroy it anyway, just to hurt it some and stall it for long enough." They were walking quickly enough to come to the edge of the forest at this point.
Lynn asked the obvious question: "..Long enough for what?"

The Captain produced a small statue cast in blue crystal, depicting a storm cloud. It was in her hand just long enough to see what it was, and then it was tossed into the air and cut in half with a motion of her sword from the sheath into the air and back that was too swift for any of their eyes to follow. The two pieces of the statue fell to the ground, leaving behind a bit of pale blue light that made its way upward into the sky. "It should begin raining soon. Then we go all out."
"Hmm." Rose looked around. "I uh, there are some special plants I think would be a lot of help with this...Could I, go get a few seeds?"
"Of course. You can fly to meet us quickly enough," the Captain nodded, and the dragon-girl ran back into the forest for the moment. Then she turned to Clera. "Speaking of, find us exactly where it is. 'From the east' isn't really much to go on."
"Right." The winged girl ran and took off into the sky immediately, and after a moment she landed again. "This way!" She led the way toward where she had seen it, the others following quickly behind.

It was visible from a fair distance away: A great, humanoid glow of red and white, surrounded by smaller fires its mere presence had set in the nearby grass. Their approach was hastened by the giant's own progress in the opposite direction, and even from a few minute's walk away the temperature around them palpably rose.
"Stop for a moment." Ezra pulled a necklace out from under her armor, particularly taking a small blue crystal at the end of it into her hands. "I will have to communicate by mind from here on out." She chanted softly, and it gained a faint glow. After a moment, the Captain stopped and took a slow, deep breath and allowed the crystal to drop, bringing her hands down to her sides. The rising temperature could still be felt, but somehow seemed less oppressive and more comfortable now.

Some of her thoughts were broadcasted through Katherine for everyone who could recieve them to hear: Need to hold focus. Will keep as far back as possible but must keep everyone in spell's range. Cannot react swiftly in this state. At all costs keep fire giant away from me.
Lynn summed this up for Aria: "Keep the fire giant away from her so she can keep the spell up." The shifter nodded, although her serious expression was mixed with some of the usual manic glee from anticipation of a new kind of blood to taste. Everyone started moving forward again, Ezra waiting until she was at the back of the group to follow.

Before long, they were in the midst of the heat, having to tread carefully just to stay out of the mundane fires the giant had set. It was clear that some of them would have risked fainting from heat exhaustion or something if not for Ezra's spell. As they came close to their opponent, the Captain issued no more orders mentally, clearly intending for them to handle the specifics of the strategy themselves, so Katherine began:
It'll just barrel past or through us if we don't get its attention. Mira, you should fly around back and hit it before Aria does so it'll hopefully waste time turning around. Clera, I guess fly a little ways away like usual?
I think I need to remain in the spell's range. This was met quickly with a thought broadcasted from Ezra's mind consisting spatial information: the precise hemisphere of space around her that the spell was currently affecting, along with how far in or out the edges could be expected to vary depending on present concentration.
I'll take the left side, Lynn thought. Nora, the right?
Right. Katherine also passed the elf a water-element dagger to use as a source.
You should probably stay in front of the Captain in case that thing does ranged fire or something, to block it, the catgirl suggested to Zack. He grunted, a wordless thought laced with annoyance indicating that much was obvious. The wolf, on a mental suggestion from him, fanned out toward the left to be ready to assist the archer if needed.
I'll hang back here too, Rayna thought, easy enough to project illusions from here.
Katherine made for the right, intending to get between Nora and the witch's planned positions. And Aria, predictably, charged straight ahead, pulling her weapon out into a mid-length pole with a wide, curved section at its end, sort of like a specially-rearranged snow shovel. She used it to vault over bits of fire in her path, smothering them out in the process.

Up close, the giant earned its name—it was a tall as three people stacked on top of each other, with matching proportions aside from its huge, bulging "muscles". It moved forward at a steady pace, not responding to their approach in any way. Mira flew around it to the back and raised her left hand (the right holding on to her broom), growing some long, green spikes of ice from her palm and throwing them at the thing's back. The spots they hit turned black, emitting violent jets of steam that forced her to back away. Then the thing turned half-around with surprising alacrity, raising its hand and swinging it in her general direction like a person swatting a fly away. At this point Aria came in range to throw her weapon in harpoon-form at one of its ankles. The hook found purchase, and she did further damage by yanking it back to herself with the chain. The entire harpoon glowed red and white with absorbed heat, and instead of catching it she swung it up into the air, morphing it to ball-and-chain form instead to cool it off by swinging it around in circles. The giant turned forward again, making a tossing motion with a hand and expelling a massive fireball her way; she jumped out of the way and formed the 'snow shovel' again to block the explosion of flame when it hit the ground.

Nora finally had a fair-sized globe of water formed, and threw it the giant's way. Having seen the result of Mira's attack, she dove out of the way before it hit and safely avoided contact with the resulting plume of steam. While the giant turned her direction, Lynn shot five ice arrows into its back and side, but the monster didn't appear to notice as it drew a foot back to try and kick the elf away.
Not enough!?
Go left, Rayna advised, making Nora invisible and an illusion running the other way. The giant took the bait, and she narrowly avoided the giant foot with a dive and a rough landing, tumbling through the grass a short way.

Since the fire giant stopped paying attention to her, Mira had begun chanting a more complex spell, and went on a winding path, occasionally stopping to sweep her hand in a circle and make a spell circle appear floating in place there. Finally, she flew back a short ways and spread her hands, activating the circles. One by one, in the order she'd placed them, they shot a rapid fire of three to five mid-sized icicles at the giant, quickly drawing its attention and sending its arms flailing at the location of each circle while Mira safely (and invisibly thanks to the fox-girl) flew around to Lynn's side of the monster.
Can you just keep doing that? thought Lynn, getting in a few more of her own arrows since, even if the giant didn't take notice, they did some damage after all.
The witch mentally and physically shook her head. Cooldowns, ironically. Sorry.

The giant turned toward the two of them almost as soon as the last spell circle was gone, raring its head back slightly. Don't like the look of that! Mira flew left and Lynn ran right, just before the thing predictably spat a gigantic plume of fire from its head, big enough to cover the sky and ground there.
Aria finished pulling her weapon apart into numerous kunai all attached by thin chains to a single nunchuck-like stick held in her left hand, and she began throwing them at the giant's feet with her right hand at this point. Some glanced off or missed, but several made their mark. The giant seemed to ignore this, favoring a rapid turn toward the witch to try and swat at her again with the side effect of pulling several of the knives back out. Its movement was fast enough to make maneuvering around it dicey, even with Rayna giving it several illusions to hit instead of the witch.

Nora had a new mass of water ready to go. Wait a sec! Lynn ran up next to her, drawing her bow. Put it there, she requested, the thought including a target location. When the elf complied, Lynn fired an enhanced ice arrow at the water which immediately froze all of it into ice, and its trajectory continued on to the giant's side, producing another massive gout of steam which both of them scattered away from. This got its attention, enough for it to throw fireballs at both of them and compel them to run farther. Katherine finally managed to get a hold of its mind enough to direct its rage at her, and then Rayna quickly showed her running one direction while she went another, so its next fire-breath was wasted, aimed toward no real target.
Aria pulled the last of her weapon free from the giant now, recombining the chains and knives into the end of a long-handled hammer. This time, the heat had travelled halfway or more up the chains, threatening to burn her hands if she'd held on much longer. She spun the hammer around, trying to shake the heat off again.

Rose incoming! Clera reported. The dragon-girl was high in the sky, having instinctively taken the updrafts from the higher temperatures to stay out of them. The winged girl waved at her to dive toward the peak of the fire-resistance spell's dome (directly above the Captain), and after circling briefly in confusion she understood and went as requested, digging ruts into the ground with her feet when she landed.
"Sorry I took so long!"
"You're on time enough," Rayna said. "What've you got?"

Rose didn't seem to register the question, instead looking around at the burning and charred plant life nearby, as if seeing it for the first time. Her expression turned to genuine anger for the first time since any of them had met her. "You'll pay for hurting all these poor plants..." She hopped forward, opened her right hand, and tossed a few seeds into the ruts she'd just dug. Then she deftly kicked dirt on top of them, and raised her hands. Stalks rose up out of the ground, forming impossibly gigantic pitcher plants whose stems twisted and braided around each other as they grew. As soon as they'd reached full size (half the height of the giant), she reached out and picked them up at the bottom where they were thin, and swinging them the fire giant's way. Nectar splashed out of the plants, splattering across the giant's body; what missed the giant fell to the ground, putting out some of the fires around it. The thing turned around and grabbed the plants at the top, pulling at them; Rose held on, pulling back with about equal strength.
They were briefly locked in a tug-of-war as the top of the plants pointedly refused to catch fire, the nectar remaining in the pitchers turning to a jet of steam that, despite obviously being hot, visibly cooled the giant's head some. But when they did catch fire the dragon-girl quickly shoved the plants at it and jumped away before the spreading blaze could reach her. The monster stumbled back from the push and its own backward force, but recovered, raising the long stalks into the air and pulling them into its mouth as they burned, "eating" them (or more accurately, the fire running across them).

The giant pulled its head back when it was done, and breathed fire at Rose—which was unfortunately also the direction Ezra was in. Zack moved in front of both of them, raising his shield; thinking quickly, Nora pulled the fire away to either side, keeping most of the heat off of him. There were still some visible burns and singing when it was over; Zack lowered his shield after the fire-breath ended, panting, and Clera quickly landed next to him to fix the burns. Nora and Lynn threw another big chunk of ice at the giant's back to turn it around and buy time for the healing.
By now Mira's rapid-ice spell was available for use again, and she wasted no time in putting circles all around the giant this time in hopes that it was capable of becoming dizzy.

"Are you okay?" Rose said.
"In a minute. Keep at it," he said through gritted teeth; only some of the pain was being deferred, indicating more serious injuries than he was used to.
"Okay!" She went around toward the left, producing some more seeds. Again using her feet to till and then throw dirt on top of them, this time she made a group of thin-trunked trees with unusually large leaves, all of which were turned toward the giant. With a shoving motion from both of her hands, the leaves swung themselves up and down, fanning a continual wind at the giant that bled its fire away in that direction (which, thankfully, the elf and archer had already moved away from). At this point, the icicles from Mira's spell started flying, and the giant whirled around to try and swat at non-existent targets as they flew. The witch made her way to the ground, now knowing this to be the safest spot during such a tantrum.

It didn't seem particularly dizzy, but the constant turning combined with the wind Rose was maintaining was clearly causing the giant balancing trouble. "Can you shove it over?" Katherine said, coming up next to Aria.
"Can I?! I can do anything!" the shifter grinned maniacally, stretching her weapon out into a long, thin pole and using it to vault herself into the air. Then it was something resembling a wide, thick snowboard with spikes all along the bottom, right between her feet and the thing's back when her momentum carried her to it. She rebounded, a handle attached to some chains keeping her weapon with her, and the giant flailed its arms as it went down, landing on the ground with a crash.

"Ow ow ow hot hot hot!" Aria danced around a bit, her shoes half-melted and the feet within them suffering burns. Clera, just finished healing from Zack's burns, sighed and ran toward her to help. Rose dropped her hands to her sides, taking a deep sigh of breath; the fire on the ground finally succeeded in catching the roots of her latest set of plants, and she took several steps away from them as it rapidly spread upward, turning them to ash. Already the giant was beginning to push itself back upright, and everyone was preparing themselves mentally for the fight to more or less pick right back up again.
The wolf barked, running up next to Zack. Skywater. Nobody had really noticed just how dark the sky had become in the last few minutes. Almost as soon as they did, the stormclouds above began to dump their load, a torrent beginning right away.

The mundane fire around them was put out almost instantly. The giant made a sound like a roaring fire as it stood, steam pouring from nearly every inch of its body. Kill it now, Ezra advised—not that there was a need.
Nora threw water not originally destined for the fire giant at it with wind and water magic. Lynn shot more ice arrows at it, some of them enhanced to collect the rain they passed through on the way into a much bigger chunk. Mira found it far easier to convert "normal" water into demonic ice than it had been to conjure them directly. Aria ran up, her weapon a proper sword again, and took several swings at the monster's ankles, only needing to periodically back up a bit and hold it up to the rain for a moment to vent the heat.

The giant flailed and roared some more, throwing far smaller fireballs than before which occasionally forced its targets to move but never hit their mark. It tried to breathe fire once but managed only a plume of steam—which Mira dodged anyway. Rose went around planting some more seeds that grew into huge plants with leaves sloped to collect even more of the water and pour it in the giant's direction, making Nora's work easier. The giant's glow steadily dimmed under the relentless assault, until with a significantly weaker roar, it seemed to slowly freeze into place, becoming a statue of black, ashy substance before finally crumbling apart.

The ambient heat gone, Ezra ended her spell and looked around. Zack was knelt over the wolf, who was sitting up but visibly uncomfortable with the rain. The others all gathered nearby before long. She crossed her arms, nodding to them. "Good work, everyone. I cannot emphasize enough that you have most likely saved the entire town from disaster today. If that isn't enough for you—"
She paused, her attention caught by the crumbling giant. Or more specifically, something its collapsing form revealed within it which was not black and dull, something resembling a small orb still glowing with the white-red heat that the entire monster had been covered with. While the others turned to look, she observed the rain passing through it with no effect, as if that heat wasn't physically present.
"Hmm. Ordinarly there's nothing left once a fire giant falls. What.." The Captain paused, noting Clera's reaction in particular. She was staring hard at the orb as if she recognized it.

"That's my..." The winged girl reached a hand out toward it, and as if it had been beckoned, it floated down to her, stopping above the palm. "It has to be. But this doesn't make did it get..?" While she dropped her arm, still muttering in confusion, the orb floated into her chest and her body briefly glowed red. Raising the same hand again, fire appeared around it. This flame was real, steam pouring out from the rain that made contact with it, but it did no visible harm to her. "It really is..I cnghkt." Clera's speech cut off abruptly, the fire disappearing from her hand and her head jerking back slightly. She fell straight backward toward the ground like a plank of wood, only Katherine reacting quickly enough to slow the fall psionically.

"Did that kill her?!" Aria demanded, running up.
"It just...looks like she fainted," the catgirl said. "But what just...?"
"I have a hypothesis, but we should get her out of this rain first," Ezra said. "Come on." With no further comment, she turned and began to walk briskly back to Rose's forest. After some mutual shrugs, Zack was successful in convincing the wolf to carry Clera on his back in order to reach shelter faster, and the rest of them followed.

Phew. This was not supposed to take this long to write! But it did. Oh well.
Pleasant new year to everyone reading this stuff!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-63

"Well, it's definitely not me so it has to be you." Clera sat on the other side of the kitchen table. They were sipping imaginary tea in a dreamed-up afternoon.
"What makes you so certain that it isn't you?" he asked. Ian didn't really look or sound male anymore, but his appearance in this dream remained essentially androgynous, and besides—he still didn't feel precisely female here.
"Well—because! I mean, she's nice and all, but I can't stand people touching me. Ever!" She looked away, and then back at him. "Look, that thing her friend said about beastfolk is basically true, but you recall he said specifically 'other than avians'. It's just base instincts—birds don't like being touched very much, at least not the ones that turned into avians. For full avians it's usually only extremely close relations like parent-child, husband-wife that have any physical contact at all. Among half-avians like me, well, the same instinct is there. Some get over it over time, and become about as comfortable with people touching them as your average human; some don't. I'm the latter. I mean, I tried—on the last day of my life I had to force myself to let some of the kids I knew hug me..." Her voice wavered a bit, and she cut off, sniffing and squinting her eyes to prevent some tears from fully forming.

"...Hmn. This seems more traumatic to you than it did before," he observed.
"You were more detached from your old life and particularly your death when we first met, when you 'explained' it to me."
"Oh..." She bit her lip, thinking. "You're right. A Soul of Empathy is supposed to be peaceful, okay with being dead but serving the greater good now. I've been feeling less peaceful over time...I've accepted that I've died and I am happy to be helping people, but it feels like it's all my own will, not..whatever it was before." Then she shook her head. "I'm starting to wonder if something went uniquely wrong with the empath-making ritual, with it being wrapped up inside of an already overcomplicated summoning spell. That level of complexity could be too much for even Sophol himself to sort out completely."
"Do we have anything to worry about?" he said. Even without additional words to clarify, both of them understood immediately that he meant in terms of their present magic tie going haywire and/or becoming dangerous.
"I don't think so. Nothing feels off when we—when you're using your power. You were able to tell when you were straining your magic, just as well as any experienced mage, which means you'd also be able to 'feel it' if the magic was going unstable or something like that. I think the problem is just, some kind of imbalance between our wills..."
"Or more accurately, balance instead of the expected imbalance," he suggested.
"Right, right..."

She shook her head after thinking through the implications a little more. "I, I don't want to take over someone else's life. I had my own life already; I don't want another chance at someone else's expense! If there's anything you want that I don't, then, you should go for it."
"The problem with thinking that way," he said, "is when we're awake there's no way to tell the difference. If you're uncomfortable then the one person we experience being is uncomfortable. If you don't like something but I do then it comes across as a confusing, but entirely internal conflict. Like it or not, we're better off making decisions together."
"I guess you're right," she said with a sigh of resignation. "But what if we disagree on something so strongly, so...fundamentally, that it locks up that combined person's brain?"
"We don't know whether that's even possible," he said. "But perhaps we should agree to put aside any disagreement that strong until we are here again, and can actually separate which thoughts are whose and hash it out. Try to come up with some sort of compromise we're at least both equally unhappy with."
"Fair enough..."

"Zack?" Probably about halfway to sleep, there was a quiet, nervous voice from right in front of him.
"Hmmn." Well, from her tone of voice—something was bothering her.
"What are we doing..?" This one was even quieter, almost to herself. It's hard to say something just to yourself with someone else in such close proximity, but maybe she took the noise to mean he was already asleep.
"Think that's obvious..." She jumped slightly when he muttered that. But now that she knew he was awake, it seemed like she actually did want an answer.
"B-but I mean...why? Th-this is..."
He pulled back just enough to face her with half-lidded eyes, instead of their faces continuing to overlap. "Well, I'm doing this because it feels good. 'Cause it's easier to give in to these instincts I barely understand than to constantly fight with my own body, and this battleground just isn't worth it. I need to relax and get my head straight, and this is an easy shortcut."
Nora didn't move, looking a little stunned by the blunt answer. He pressed on: "You..? I dunno, but I can guess. Maybe neither of us know why you want it in the first place, but you get tired of thinking through every single thing, so here's something you can just choose not to think about and enjoy, becuase you don't think there's any way you'll ever really understand it anyway."
"Uh, um.." She blushed in..possibly embarrassment from a correct guess, or maybe just consciously remembering the relative position of their bodies. Right now, Zack didn't much care. He just leaned back in, rubbing her ears some, and nuzzled her a bit.

A little later, she had finally processed what he said, and picked something out of it: "G-get your head straight?" she asked.
"I get mad when someone I care about gets hurt. 'R almost hurt. It's not..healthy. Doesn't always make sense. Gets pointed at the wrong people and sticks around way too long. Screwed up before 'cause of it."
"Oh.." She probably understood what he meant by now, good.
"J'st be quiet, lemme sleep."
"Don't be..."

Nora found herself standing before Haestra's statue once again. She stared up at the goddess's visage for only a moment before feeling a kind of "pull" from behind her, and turning around quickly. The temple floor had a clean cut in it not far behind her, and was stitched there to other terrain: One one side, the yellowed grass of winter, and on the other an entirely different floor with a semi-circular wall coming up from it at the edge. Katherine, and everyone else who had agreed to be pulled into a common dream, were waiting behind that, most of them sitting on some couches that didn't appear to belong to any particular one of the environments, but the psion herself floating in place a few feet off from the cut, right about where the elf had felt the "pull" coming from in the first place.

"..There. Took you long enough to fall asleep," said the catgirl.
"Well, I was up reading fairly late," Nora replied.
"Yo, welcome!" Aria's hand waved backwards from a couch she seemed to be lying down on. "Take a seat if you want." And...beyond the other terrain and the couches was a cliff, a distant void, and a gigantic chained demon.
She took a few steps forward. "I...suppose that's the demon in your sword?"
"Oh, right!" Mira sat up and turned to look at it. "Man, I get so used to looking the other way I forget it's there sometimes. Surprising what a person can get used to."
"I think that applies to quite a bit of our situation," Rayna pointed out. "Soo, what were you reading?"
"Historical...well I'm not really certain whether it qualifies as fiction or not."

Nora finally made it over, and sat at an empty couch; the catgirl floated over next to her and took the opposite side of it. "It seems like the author believed the events actually happened, but it was written more like a work of fiction."
"Hey, wait a second," Lynn said, sitting up and fixing the elf with a stare.
"You're not stuttering. Right?"
", I don't seem to be," she said, only realizing it herself after it was pointed out.
"Remember none of us are physically speaking here," the catgirl said. "This is really mental communication dressed up to look like talking, in a way. Your mental voice has never had trouble, either."
"I suppose this means that whatever is wrong with my speech is a purely physical problem," Nora said, putting a finger to her chin in thought. "A plausible location would be somewhere in the connection between my brain and mouth. But then, isn't the brain a physical part of a person also?"

"I believe here, at least, the brain is not the mind," said Mira. "It houses it to some extent, sure, but I seriously doubt that what Katherine is doing right now is boosting and transmitting a bunch of electromagnetic signals between everyone's heads."
"Yeah...yeah!" Aria nodded in agreement. "There should be a lot of interference from any metal present. You'd be able to feel it. It'd matter if a person was as much as a foot farther away. But everyone in the house is about equally easy to reach regardless of their location, right?"
"More or less."
"The power's supposed to be a gift from Bimorphaeus," Lynn said. " must be at least sort of magical in nature, even if it's not exactly what other people call magic."
"It's supernatural, but it cannot possibly be magic in the same way that it can't be electromagnetic," said Nora. "Psions' powers are completely unaffected by magic draining, amplifying, and nullifying effects. And psions, no matter how powerful, almost never have any spellcasting capability."
"I think we're running into a problem of terms at this point," said Rayna. "'Magic' to people of this world means a specific kind of supernatural activity, in the same way that uh, say 'magnetism' to our world means a specific kind of natural activity. But usually when someone on Earth talks about magic they often just mean supernatural activity in general—or, well, at least a much broader category of it. So even if it's not 'magic', it's still magic."
"It's magic B instead of magic A," Lynn suggested.

"Oh, speaking of the gods," said Mira. "I guess that's a statue of Haestra?" She pointed toward where Nora had come from.
"Right. I was dreaming of the temple again...but nothing specific, I think."
"D'you know whether that's an accurate portrayal or not?"
"I don't think that the version of me who lived in this world her whole life ever saw the goddess in person to compare it to," she said, "but I suspect they would go to whatever lengths were necessary to make it 'accurate' as an effective focus of worship."
"I just wonder why a deity whose appearance seems designed to portray the beauty of nature would insist on being depicted with a giant ugly scar in her side."

"Nearly all of the gods are depicted with some sort of permanent injury," said Lynn. "The only logical conclusion is that those injuries are really there and whoever was first told how to depict them was given the truth—they want people to know that they are physically flawed. Maybe even want to be reminded of it themselves in their worship. So...did they all fight for control of the world early on, before deciding to cooperate?"
"Siblings, husband and wife, a willing messenger...what would the factions be between relations like that?" said Rayna. "All of their domains are basically peaceful in nature. No god of war, and literally no 'holy wars' between followers of one god and those of another throughout history. If they really did that to each other then there's no way their relationship would be so cordial for such a long time."
"That leaves the possibility that all of them were injured fighting something else," said Nora. "Perhaps there are no 'evil' gods because they killed all of them early on."
"Well, sure, but why would they want to remember it then?" said Lynn. "For that matter, why give us obvious, visible evidence of a battle with those evil gods but no information about who or what they were?"
"Knowing something about the evil gods could lead to some nutjobs worshiping them, and for all we know deities work in such a way that that'd actually revive them," said Katherine. "But then the same nutjobs would probably just make up other evil gods to worship, and we've never heard of any new ones popping up."

"I think we are missing vital information," said Nora. "This information seems important, but we can do little more than speculate wildly without more evidence."
"Maybe you're right. We should find some kinda expert on the gods somewhere," said Rayna. "Like...maybe a priest at one of the temples in town, or some kind of researcher of history?"
"I'll try the library for books on the subject sometime tomorrow, perhaps," said Katherine. "If you guys want to go pester some clergy that's up to you."

Ezra woke with a sudden start, sitting up with her heart racing by the time she was fully conscious, and not at all sleepy by the time she understood that she was awake. Faint sunlight through the narrow privacy windows of the bedroom informed her that it was early morning, the sun just beginning to rise. She took a deep breath and counted out fifteen individual seconds; she was physically calm by the end of it, but the memory persisted, just as stark and vivid as it had been upon awakening. After that, she arose and rushed to prepare to leave the house, knowing it could only mean one thing.
The guards who saw her on the way to the guardhouse that morning tensed instinctively, as if they could feel a sense of urgency radiating off of her. When she barked a strange order at one, he didn't stop to question or even pause to wonder what it was about, but set off as if his own life depended on its swift execution—half convinced that in fact it did. She arrived before long, only to audibly throw some things around in her office, retrieve one object, and leave again. The guard at the front desk heard her mutter, "—drought. Of course not. It always has to be some big, dramatic disaster, doesn't it—" cut off by her half-slamming the guardhouse door.

Loren was waiting by the time she arrived at the door to the recently-constructed house, and he was still sleepy but just irritable enough from the rude awakening to cross her. "I don't suppose the reason you provided me lodging was just so you'd have a transporter on call," he said—not an entirely wrong accusation, though she'd hoped to wait longer to take advantage of it.
"There is a fire giant coming from the east," she said.
That woke him up. "A fi—how do you know?!"
"The forest you appeared in yesterday is in that direction," she stated. "I've never been, but I recognized it immediately in a dream last night, despite it being mostly on fire." While he was busy processing that, she raised a fist and banged loudly, three times, on the door.

"You get dreams from the gods often?! Wh—are you some sort of prophet?" he demanded: Annoyance to confusion to amazement, about as predicted.
"Nothing so pretentious. Anyone important enough who lives long enough is bound to be contected once or twice," she said matter-of-factly.
"Lives long enough? You look younger than I do!"
"This isn't really the time for flattery," she said, deadpan with a slight hint of annoyance to drive him off of the subject for now. He was an inquisitive enough person that it would probably come up again later.

She needn't have bothered, really, since the door opened at this point to show Rose, visibly half-asleep and in a state of dress that was bound to provide plenty of distraction by itself. "Uhm, hi?"
"Rose, I'm glad you're here," she said with a serious, earnest tone. "Your forest is in danger."
She jumped awake. "Wha—"
"Loren can get us there faster," she continued, moving gracefully around the dragon-girl to get inside. "I want to enlist the help of the others here first."
"Oh, okay, umm. HEY—" she half turned around, starting to yell; Ezra interrupted her with a hand on her wrist.
"Allow me to explain, please." Most of them were likely already on their way down by now anyway; that shout primarily set Zack's wolf barking again just after he'd been calmed down.
"O-okay. Uh." She fidgeted nervously for a second. "I'lljustgetreadytogothen!" she said, running to one of the downstairs bathrooms.

"You can get eleven people and an animal out that far, right?" she asked, turning to Loren, who'd followed her inside by now and was slowly closing the door. He looked away quickly, his face still a bit red.
"You should've asked me that before making plans. But yes," he said with a small, quick nod. His sense of professional pride would see to it that they got there, even if he had to burn his magic out to do it. Good.

The door to the stairwell opened, Katherine coming out first and the others soon afterward. Ezra waited until the living room was full to start explaining. By then Rose was also back, fully dressed this time and visibly agitated. Hoard instinct would do that to a dragon.
"The gods warned me in a dream last night of a fire giant headed straight toward the city from the east," she said, accompanying the words 'fire giant' with some loud thought for the psion to pick up on, detailing what they were dealing with. The catgirl was briefly stunned by the sudden, condensed blast of information, but nodded, indicating she got it, while Ezra continued: "It will hit Rose's forest first if we don't stop it. I would appreciate your help taking it down, if you are willing."
There was a chorus of general agreement to this: "Sure"; "Of course!"; "Yeah"; a few nods.
Ezra looked around once it quieted down. "Meet us outside when you are ready, then." She waved Loren to follow and made for the front yard. Rose also followed, already quite ready to defend her home and treasure.

She seemed nervous, a little jumpy, and more worried still since the mention of fire. In fact she was wringing her clawed hands together hard enough to have drawn blood if it weren't for their armored scales. Loren eyed her movements warily, obviously concerned that the dragon could lash out dangerously under these conditions.
"I don't want to give the impression that this is entirely charitable," Ezra said, drawing Rose's attention and curiosity somewhat. "Fire giants gain power by setting fires and then consuming them—more fire means more power. A blaze the size of your forest would give the thing too much power to contend with by the time it reached the city. I'd be looking at evacuating a lost cause and merely stalling it in the meantime."
"Oh," she muttered, more afraid than before.
"That said, the gods wouldn't have warned me the way they did if its reaching your forest was inevitable. It is likely just weak enough now for the rest of us to take it down first. Once we get there, you could remain in your forest and prepare to defend it your own way on the off chance we should fail."

The dragon-girl nodded, her expression still quite fearful. But from her eyes, she was clearly thinking. Slowly the look changed, her body language calming from terror to resolve. "No, I..." she started, seeming to only just realize what she was about to say herself. "I-if everyone else is gonna fight it then I, I should too. Um, if you think I can help, I mean." There it was. Ezra had read her correctly; unless there was no chance of success she wouldn't be caught dead letting her new friends fight a risky battle for her. Once the situation was clear, that won out over her natural instincts and fears.
"Your help should be invaluable," Ezra replied. "I will need to focus more on channeling a spell of heat resistance, so I will be little help in the fight itself."
Rose's eyes lit up a bit once she understood the meaning of that. Loren, who'd been watching the exchange with nervous confusion from its start, was now some mixture of impressed and terrified. He had a very specific idea of how dragons behaved, and in his view she had just convinced one to leave its hoard alone and stand rather than flee against its own natural weakness—both of which were out of the scope of "normal" behavior. That was fine; it would only work in her favor for him to perceive her as extremely persuasive.