Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Cold Awakening

Definitely not inspired by personal experience with weather.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Battle Vixens! - 39

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I had this written a little while ago, but I wasn't entirely sure about it since it came out a little shorter than the usual BV because of a bit of an unusual organization scheme for this part. Just a warning that these scenes are not being presented in strict chronological order, but it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what comes after what where it's important. 

Also, some links on/to this site have been misbehaving for me and at least one other person. If you get sent to an endless loop of the "this is an adult site, are you sure you want to view it" page, try replacing the "http" in your address with an "https". I would fix them myself, but there are WAY too many across all these posts to catch them all. At least I'll try and make sure the links in any new posts are all functional.

Episode 39: Another Day

There was no visit from the Giver that night. There hadn't been one the night before, either; Rowan had had another visit then, apparently, and been prompted to give her another name, "Chaos". Might as well go with Pandora too, although she was really more like the box—or maybe a factory that made such boxes. Blake had expected maybe something after that tip-off from "Beryl", but Emma's roommate had mysteriously disappeared again the following morning and not come back yet.

During the commute to campus, he spoke about it with Amory. "It just seems weird. She obviously knows we know, so why isn't she rubbing it in our faces?"
"Hmm. Well, if you saw her you'd want to play the game again, right? You'd even know what to ask right away, this time."
"Sure, I'd ask where we can catch—"
"Exactly. But maybe she doesn't want to take sides in fights between people she's given powers to. And she could just decide not to play the game—not to tell you in general, or maybe to say something misleading, except that would be for the puppeteer's advantage instead...and it's less complicated to just not contact you at all until you finish this fight yourself."
"Amory...she doesn't shy away from 'complicated'," he pointed out.
"Yeah, you're right. It must be something else, then."

They sat in the car in silence for a minute or two, neither one successfully coming up with a good explanation. Eventually Blake decided to change the subject. "Well...any plans for today?"
"Emma wanted to go out for supper tonight. Just the usual otherwise. What about you?"
"Oh, you know. Another day, another monster. If I hear they found that car then I might skip class to help out."
"How exactly do you plan to get over there in time?"
"Uh...well, there are a few possibilities," he said. "Especially if you happen to be somewhere I can grab you to help real quick."
"Yeah, yeah...well, you know my schedule."

High school demands an exceptionally early rise, and Simon was the kind of person who was delighted to work for himself largely because of the opportunity to sleep in as much as he wanted. This made it a little surprising for Karis to wake up and find the bed empty. After a quick shower, she located him soon enough, up in the painting room working. He waved at her when she came in.

"Hey, what're you doing up so early?"
"Hm? Can't a man be passionate about his work?" he said. His current project seemed to feature both "parts" of Gemma facing each other, a kind of double profile. "They're really putting my nose to the grindstone with all the advertising and product design—which was my idea, after all. Plus, I've got an interview this morning unless the monsters attack then, and then one of them is sure to show up this afternoon unless it already did in the morning."
Karis came up to put her arms around him from behind briefly. "Dear, I appreciate your drive, but you could get yourself killed if you fight one of those things while you're exhausted. Promise me you'll take a nap sometime soon."
"Oh, well, I'm sure there's a meeting I can skip sometime today," he said cheerfully.
"Have you even had breakfast yet?" She let go and took a small step back; he didn't respond but the answer was obviously no. "C'mon, a glutton like you can't start skipping meals. Take a break and eat with me."
"Oh, very well. This layer needs to dry anyway..."

The instructions were: If that plate number was found, do not act on it. Don't pull over the car, don't even act like you noticed it. Just report that it was seen, and follow if it was safe to do so. Then the message would get to Rowan, and he would handle things from there. Of course, they didn't expect the car to show up that night, and it didn't. He kept his phone very close the entire time anyway, and in his hand now, sitting in a folding chair he'd brought up in front of Dawn's bedroom door.

It had taken a while to convince her to eat something resembling supper and then get some sleep. Still, she'd been asleep for about ten hours now. This was apparently normal for an overexhausted vixen, but he couldn't help but worry about that a little bit. And when she did wake up, he wanted to invite her to breakfast. There was a lot he wanted to talk about once she was rested and relatively calm.

Thinking back on it, the records from the time just before she was apprehended, and from yesterday, showed something very unusual. Dawn usually didn't throw more than a couple of mid-sized fireballs or maybe a short-lived plume of flame during a fight, and tended to rely on her own powers mostly just to make weapons to hit with. But after the monster ate Cynthia, temperatures in the city block they were fighting on had abruptly dropped ten degrees. It had probably affected the weather for the next few days. And then yesterday, she had suddenly used the "borrowed" powers just as effectively as their original owner had, making a brief but towering inferno to destroy the puppet and mist monster both. In each case it had left her completely exhausted, but...

The girl who had "time" powers, from Japan, had had something like that, too. In that moment of desperation she had displayed a level of ability far above any imaginable threshold; it was seemingly more than she was able to even control. The Giver had granted everyone some impressive powers, but that was...quite a bit more. Something happened to a vixen's powers when she was put into an especially desperate or emotionally compromised state of mind. His thoughts were drawn to the idea of a cornered lion—one that could also play havoc with the forces of nature and/or physics at will.

The puppeteer's powers were already absurd, bordering on unimaginable, from the many people she had killed. They would need to be exceptionally cautious if they did track down that car, or found her some other way. A sniper rifle from a long distance seemed like the safest bet, provided she didn't dodge, block, or otherwise survive it. Everyone would have to be in position and ready for a long, hard fight if it did come to that.

A click came from the inside of Dawn's room, the adjoining bathroom door shutting. It sounded like she was up, and for a second or two Rowan contemplated taking the chair back to where it came from and then returning to the bedroom door in an effort to appear spontaneous. It was better, he decided, to remain there and be perfectly honest with his intentions—as much as possible, anyway. He didn't feel able to easily explain to her why he wanted to understand what kind of person Cynthia had been from Dawn's perspective, given that it was based on little more than some vague hints and ideas.

After dropping Nadia off at school, Gerald returned once again to his shop and opened up for the day. With a new normal for the world as a whole beginning to be established, the usual customers were finally starting to come back, and the odd curious person as well. None of them looked at him strangely or suspiciously; they just saw a friendly old man behind the counter. That was good. He thought his next-door neighbor had given him a knowing look the day before, but he couldn't be sure. He couldn't very well ask her; even if she did know, it was far better that neither of them talk about it at all. And Nadia was smart enough to keep the secret as well, judging by the fact that none of the other kids looked at him strangely, and the teachers weren't responding to him any differently from usual.
As long as he had his own health, this mask was important to maintain. It protected her; it protected Light and the others from what he might be willing to do to get her back. Especially with a specific, intelligent enemy on the loose, their side just couldn't afford to have another person vulnerable to kidnapping.

Gerald looked at his phone during a lapse in customers. He had the version of the VI app with contact to other vixens now, too. Rowan, or maybe his position at the Initiative, had enough sway with the police in his own town to get them to protect those close to the people he worked with. Maybe the same could be done for Nadia, if it came down to it. But ironically, any special protection given now would just call attention to her and break the mask sooner. The safest guard was no guard, but it still made him nervous. He'd been mistaken for someone rich once before, after all...

The door rang, and he put the phone down, closing out of the contacts list and looking up to see who it was. A short girl with huge glasses came in, looking around the store a bit but clearly headed to talk to him. "Welcome," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"Um...Rory said I should introduce myself," she said, reaching the counter. After a brief, furtive glance backward at the door (there was still nobody else coming in), she hesitantly offered a hand. "I'm Emma. We've uh, ssssort of met before."
He took the hand and gave a good shake. "Gerald Nelson. How do you know Dr. Quinn?"
"Uh..well, she teaches at my school, but not actually any of my classes," she said. "Weee, actually really met in front of the hospital a few days ago."

It took him a moment, but imagining her with white hair and no glasses, there really was a striking resemblance. "Are you...?"
"Um, yeah," she said nervously. "I uh..Rory kinda told me who you were, or at least that you'd be here, and I thought that wasn't really fair if um.."
"It doesn't matter too much to me," he said. "I suppose we would've talked eventually anyhow."
"It's just uh. Since then, I kind of attacked Light, and uh, I am really sorry about that," she stumbled about awkwardy with her words.
"Welcome to the club," he said wryly. "She's a little too forgiving for her own good, if you ask me, but I'm grateful for it. You've been doing good since then, right? Helpin' people out?" Emma nodded. "That's about the best I think anyone could ask for."

After a short pause to think whether there was anything else to say, she said, " have a granddaughter?"
Gerald nodded, and couldn't help but beam a little bit. "My pride and joy. She's very smart for her age, and the sweetest kid you'll ever meet."
"Mmh." She looked around nervously for a second. "Um, please f-forgive me for asking, if it's, offensive or anything..doesn't risking your life, put her in some danger? Especially with, uh..."
He nodded seriously, and leaned forward a bit, toward the counter. "Listen. Before this happened, I wasn't sure I would live to see my little girl grow up. Now I have a chance at it. But I won't forgive myself if the world she grows up into isn't as safe as I can help make it." He sighed, leaning back again. "Not just her, either. Young folk like you and Light shouldn't have to worry about this for the rest of your lives. My life is worth that. If anything, I'm not any worse off than if none of this had happened and I just got too old."
"I-I see.." She seemed to be absorbing that for a moment, and then nodded. "If you, um, ever need any help..I used to do some babysitting. I mean, I guess I'll end up fighting at the same time as you are usually, but if there's ever any other reason.."
Gerald nodded. "Thank you. I'll be sure to introduce you some time. Call me on the, uh...this thing," he said, holding his phone up enough to show the app running on it.

"She was...look, ain't nobody perfect." Breakfast.
Rowan had suggested that talking about Cynthia might help the healing some. Dawn wasn't so sure, but it felt like he wanted to know about her, and it was the least she could do at this point to tell him. "She was a punk like me. Her mom died forever ago, her dad was a..." A few different sets of words ran into each other in her head and caught in her throat. Rowan nodded; he understood, of course, which saved them both some trouble. "She wanted outta the slums. Away from the gangs. Both of us, an' anyone else who wasn't already part of the problem. She thought..if we ever did get out, she talked about comin' back someday to pull more people out. Maybe try an' fix things."
Dawn looked away for a moment, and then forward again. "I didn't know what I'd do if I got out. Still no idea what I'm doin' now, just tryin' to get by every day like I always did. Cynth, she knew. It was like she was already outta there an' thinkin' ahead to the next move. But she wasn't—we were still stuck there, you know."

They didn't speak for a long moment, just the sound of forks doing their work. "Just a few days before the...all this," she said vaguely, gesturing to her own appearance, "she was, talkin' about goin' home one more time, to get her things. And get outta this place, go to some job that said they'd hire her. She came back, the next morning, covered in bruises, some cuts. Nothin'..too bad, not life-threatenin' at least, but...
"She wouldn't say nothin' about what happened. Didn't have to. I knew what happened." Dawn could feel herself shaking. "It wasn't the first time. It was...I didn't count, but I think I woulda lost count if I tried."

Rowan allowed silence to reign for a good few minutes, letting her calm down. She said quietly, "The night before, that dream, we were just talkin'. An' all of a sudden she looked at me and she said, 'Donny. Sometimes I just wanna burn it all down.' She asked if it made her evil or somethin' like that. I said no, that was just natural. Not havin' a way out, I thought, that'd be the next best thing. I...didn't really think it was literal, y'know."
"It probably wasn't," said Rowan. "The person who gave us these powers just has a sick sense of humor sometimes."

Clark made breakfast again, and sat down once it was ready. "So, what have you got today?"
"More labs to catch up on...I expect a flood of reports by the end of the week," said Rory. Then, after a few bites: "Say. Do you think I'm pretty?"
He looked up from his breakfast at her, trying to gauge her expression and figure out where this was coming from. "You remember what I said when I proposed to you, right?"
"Well, my opinion hasn't changed a bit. And I can't work up the nerve to word things that dramatically this early in the morning." She nodded, agreeing it'd be a little much.

"...Being able to just suddenly look different—like, closer to how I always used to want to look—on a whim kinda changes things, though. You like how my fox form looks too, don't you?"
"Yeah. But dear, you know the most important thing is that it's you, not how you look."
"Still. I wonder if there's any preference? Like, if I split into two different bodies all of a sudden and both of them were still me—"
"Then whatever decisions I needed to make wouldn't depend on your physical appearance," he said.
"Hmph. You're no fun."
"Love you too."

"I just wonder if that Emma girl is going through anything like what I did at that age. Maybe she wouldn't have been desperate enough to get violent if she was a little more, 'conventionally attractive', you know?" Rory made a point to cup her own chest slightly to emphasize her meaning.
"Guys are attracted to a lot of different things," he said. "Anyway, a good body can't compete with a good mind in the end."
"That's just your fetish," she said, sticking out her tongue. "And even if you're right it never really feels that way. Maybe I could give her some advice, or encouragement—you know, in case it doesn't work out with Amory. If only to prevent another psychotic implosion."
"You do whatever you want to, dear." He waited through a bite of food before adding: "You always do, anyway."
"You know you love it," she countered, hardly missing a beat.

Amory managed to catch Blake in between classes. He pulled up the news on his phone, while gently leading him to a less-crowded part of the hallway.. "Hey, look."
The headline was eye-catching enough: "Black Mist Steps Up Attack". The monsters that had already appeared that day had been, on the whole, bigger and nastier than usual. That was not an easy mark to achieve at this point; they were less numerous, but this had led to several more vixens being eaten, resulting in their monsters becoming even worse to deal with.
It did not take him long to get the gist of things. "That means more people going to that facility," he said.
"More importantly, we have something to worry about here," he half-whispered. "With the puppeteer around too, you guys really need to be on your toes today."
"Yeah..." Amory had a brief flash of imagination, as if he was seeing Light's ears droop from that thought.

"I'm sending messages to everyone to be ready for a tough fight today. If it shows up in the middle of town then Ning has to hold it off until everyone else gets there..."
"Well, if it doesn't happen until after our classes then we could drive out there and leave Emma and the Quinns here," he said. "Then, whoever needs to can go the other way. Until then, though.."
"I've been texting with Emma. She's planning to head out to meet him close to noon, and she doesn't have classes till later, after ours. So she offered to stay out there."
"I guess that'll work...thanks for keeping an eye on things."
"Of course. I checked on Rowan too, but they're already on high alert out there, patrolling and everything. Being all public and official like that has its advantages."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Battle Vixens! - 38

Episode 38: Adjust Tracking

It was later, through the news, that Gerald Nelson found out that Light had been attacked. Not just one or two, but four puppets all committed to the effort; he was glad she didn't hesitate to use his power in dealing with the situation, but still couldn't help but feel some annoyance at not being there himself. He had to mind the shop, though; there was just nobody else to do it at the moment. He couldn't afford to close up; there was social security and some retirement money, but it just wouldn't be enough for both of them.
Although this was the reality of the situation, a part of him was starting to feel that maintaining the facade of this version of himself was more of a burden than anything else. Nadia was already used to Ning, understood she was the same person as always and seemed perfectly happy around her. Ning was stronger and quicker and had so much more energy...and above anything else, Ning was the one capable of protecting people. But if he dared to break the mask and go public with that persona...there were just too many people that would put in danger. It felt impossible.

He drove to the school to pick his granddaughter up, and then home, changing forms once inside and starting to get supper ready. It was somewhere in the middle of making the meal that Ning stopped in her tracks, a nagging thought hitting her from nowhere. She ran to her phone and rattled off a text, and then two or three more, with one hand while continuing to work with the other.

"You were able to trakc me and the peopel who took nadia"
"with like a light thing right"
"Could you do that on the puppets?"

Clark called "Light" through the VI app, and Blake picked up the phone. "Hey, wow, perfect timing," he said.
"Uh, I was just about to—I'll explain in a minute. What were you calling about?"
"Oh. I uh...I had kind of a horrifying thought, and I thought I should share it right away."
"Well...what is it?"
"Okay, uh...Stay with me on this one. Rory thinks this is farfetched, but...Well, you have..a way of turning yourself into light to move at light speed."
"Your sword is also 'made of light' but it turns into solid matter, mostly resembling metal, and back into light again, whenever you want."
"So: What if you, made your sword appear, turned it into light while turning into light yourself, and started moving in a certain direction, towing along the light that 'is your sword'. And then, turned that light back into a sword while you and it were still in motion?"

"Uh...I guess..the sword would, still be moving?" he said, unsure of the meaning.
"Correct, it would still be moving. At light speed. Or—well, physical, not-light things can't move at light speed, but, I suspect it would at least start pretty close to that speed."
"Soo, what makes this thought horrifying?"
"Aaah, let me, put it this way: I would avoid doing that, at least here on Earth, innn, any situation where you wouldn't willingly set off a nuclear bomb."
"..Oh. Okay, yeah."
"I mean, we're not really sure it'll work that way 'because magic', and Rory isn't sure you even can do it for the same reason, but, I thought it would be a really good idea to ask you politely not to try?"

Blake was silent for a moment, mostly unsure of how to react to the vague possibility of having a personal, probably self-destructive nuclear option available. Eventually Clark prompted, "So, what was your thing?"
"Oh! Uh. I was just reminded of something I figured out how to do way back, uh, literally the first day I had powers. And Amory told me that you can fly and bring along a passenger?"
"Well, with—you know, with some help."
"Right. Anyway, um, there's a possibility that I might be able to track where any given puppet came from, and if I can, then in turn I may be able to get all the way back to the one making them. But like, probably they've got a car and one of the puppets can teleport and it'd just be easier overall to avoid detection by doing it up in the air instead of at ground level, even with a car of our own."

"That's...pretty good news overall. So you want my help with this 'scouting mission', then?"
"If you're not too busy, at least."
"I'm pretty well caught up. Anyway, I think this takes priority if it works."
"That's great, because we're in the car and most of the way to your house by now," said Blake.
"...Ah. I'll make sure the blinds are shut, then."

Before long, all three of them were in the Quinns' living room, all changed into foxgirls; Rory stood off to one side with her arms crossed. Light and Clark both had a slight blush on, visibly nervous about this part even though everyone knew it was necessary. After a short pause, Clark said, "So uh, who're you gonna do first..?"
"Hmn. It'll be faster if I just go for both at once," said Amory cheerfully, putting her hands together with a peaceful smile. Then she took a step closer to them and reached her hands out to the tops of their heads, using one hand to rub each one's ears. They leaned in and moved closer, and then followed her over onto the couch and let themselves fall onto it, both pulling instinctively into a little group hug once they got there. Soon their tails were pratically knotted together, each of them had one hand on each of the others' ears, and there was a small chorus of churring. Amp reached in and got both of them glowing in their own particular ways, quickly growing them up to their fully-powered forms, and then gently untangled herself from them, hopping off and taking a couple of steps back to admire her work.

After a brief moment of petting each other, the two boosted girls jerked back and quickly stood well apart just in front of the couch. With a little bit of concentration, she'd figured out how to make Light's clothes a bit less revealing: A full-size tank top and very slightly longer shorts than before. She still tugged at them a little uncomfortably (well, the top was kinda low cut still), and eyed Clark's relatively conservative "shrine maiden" outfit with what looked like jealousy for a second or two.
"I don't think I'll get used to what that feels like," said Clark. "It was a little weird though...for a second there I felt like there was something I should..say?"
Light looked back up at her and blinked a couple of times in surprise. " too."

"Oh woow, your voice is so deep now!" Rory interjected, moving in behind Clark and pulling her arms around her waist. "Anyway, we'll think about what amazing new thing that could mean later."
"R-right.." Clark put her hands on her wife's arms for a moment before both of them let go. "Anyway...we should get on with this."
"You two be careful flying around, yeah? If you feel like it's gonna wear off soon, touch down right away."
"I know that."
"It prolly won't wear off for several hours unless they actually get in a fight," said Amp. "Which would be a really bad idea right now."

Rowan asked to be informed whenever Dawn finally got up from the "nap" she'd started immediately upon walking into the building. The report he got was that she charged straight from her bedroom to the exercise area, and when he caught up he found her hitting one of the punching bags repeatedly with her bare fists.

He came up next to her, listening to her grunt from the effort and waiting patiently for the inevitable pause to catch her breath. "You'll break your hands doing that without some protection," he said finally.
"I just...need...ta hit somethin'." She turned half toward him. "We're all outta puppets, right?"
"For least, as far as we know." Rowan moved a hand forward tentatively; she didn't back away or brush him off, so he placed it on her shoulder. It was a little cold still, but not enough to keep him from doing it. "Petra told me what she least, enough to get the gist of it."
Dawn nodded slowly, then gently pulled away, before giving the bag a solid kick. "She's right, ain't she? That's what makes me so mad." Two more punches, and another kick. "I'm so stupid."
"Do you think what she wants to do is right?"
"No." She paused, rolling her shoulders back and panting slightly. "So what I did, what Cynth told me ta do..musta been wrong. But if I didn't do it, then..." Turning back toward him, with a pained expression: "I made a promise. It was stupid, to agree ta somethin' like that, but I did. An' as far as I could tell she was dyin', with no hope. I couldn't..."

Her head turned down, and she made the noise of a poorly-suppressed sob. The air around her went ice cold for a second or two, and then back to normal again. After a moment of indecision, Rowan stepped forward and put his arms around her, placing her head in his shoulder to let her cry there for a moment. She returned the gesture, and he kept her there even though her body was so cold it hurt. "'ve never really had time to sort all this out. Whether it was right or not, it hurt you, and beating yourself up over it won't help it heal."
She let go after a moment, and took a small step back, her ears drooping as she saw his body give a small involuntary shiver. "Sorry."
"It's alright, it was my idea," he said with a slight, wry smile.
"I can't just...quit, or take a break, or nothin'. Not now."
Rowan nodded, agreeing. "You're needed now more than ever. But you'll do more harm than help if you let our enemy use your emotions to control you."

"Whaddayou think I should do, then? I can't help how I feel. Just seein' one a those...and thinkin' that's someone's family, or friend,' she jus', killed 'em and took over..." Her eyes went sharp, cold, and angry. "I want to tear her heart out through her throat."
"I know that feeling, too," said Rowan. "Nobody ever has to ask why the police get so worked up when you kill one of our own. My advice is to keep talking about it—to me, to anyone else you trust. And remember that you're not the only one who wants to take her out, so working with the rest of us has a better chance of success than doing it on your own."
"Yeah..." Dawn nodded.

Rory watched her husband and Light fly out the backdoor and up into the sky, and then closed the door behind them and turned around, heading back to the living room. "Well, I guess we just wait for the results," she said, taking a seat on one of the chairs. Amory was still in fox-form, lying across the couch.
"Clark probably could've taken you along if you wanted..."
"Nah. If they managed to get detected and roped into a fight with Light's powers plus flight, I kinda think they deserve to take some hits," she said. "Anyway, even without you being targeted by monsters I don't think it's a bad idea to have someone guarding you most of the time."
"Hmm." Her ears drooped a little bit; something about saying that had made her remember something concerning, apparently.

After waiting what felt like an appropriate amount of time for her to mull that over, Rory said, "Listen...can I ask you something?"
"How do it? Like, is it all magic power, or is there some kind of technique?"
"Uhh.." Amory was smart enough to know what she was talking about, but was put off by the blunt approach to the question.
"I just thought I might ask you for some tips, if you've got 'em. I mean...Clark does have a reaction to my petting, but it's not the instant switch-flip you can accomplish." She gave a brazen grin. "I admit, I do have plenty of ways to get him to look at me 'that way', but one more wouldn't hurt."

"Um.." The blonde fox-girl blushed, but her expression indicated she was forming an actual response in her head, so Rory tried to be patient. "It's..this is gonna sound really stupid, but I don't just pet the person's body. Whenever I, do that, I can feel their emotions, especially toward me. I think my power wouldn't work on someone who hated me—like, I wouldn't even be able to touch them. Clark was...hesitant that first time, but trusted me enough to keep still until it started."
"I see. It occurs to me now that you mention it..the fox parts 'feel' pretty intimate, somehow," Rory said. "Not the sort of thing I'd want just anyone to touch. Which is weird, they're biologically pretty close to normal animal parts aside from being stapled to an otherwise human body, and real foxes don't exactly have a special reaction relating to either of those places."

"It's all magic nonsense. The powers are tied to the fox parts, and the powers are also tied to the person's...self, or whatever. So I guess my power uses them as some kind of conduit," she said. "Physically I don't think I'm doing anything different from the obvious...move the same direction as the fur, go for the tail with my tail at the same time—okay, I feel weird saying that's obvious, but.."
"No no, it is," said Rory. "One more appendage to touch with works great when there's one more place to touch. Anyway, I wonder whether Clark could leverage that 'spirit power' to some effect like yours...maybe not the powering up part, since that's literally what your power is, but the other part..."
Amory closed her eyes, reopened them to a kind of confused squint with her ears lowered slightly. After a pause she said, "My first instinct is to say 'yeah, that should work', but I have no logical reasoning behind it."
"Well, you shouldn't be suspicious of your first instinct, right? 'Least until someone proves it wrong."

"It's just...I think my powers mess with my mind more than I'd like," she said. "I imagine everyone I know with powers in their fox form first, like that's how I've always known them. And I keep having these leaps of logic when it comes to understanding other people's powers, and a lot of them seem to be right."
"That sounds awkward and useful respectively," said Rory. "So what's the big deal?"
Amory sighed. "I like to think I'm in control of my own mind. I need to have a clear head and give what I think are sane observations and advice. But when she gave me these powers, it's like she opened it up and put a bunch of new information in. How do I know it's all true? What if it's mostly true, with some convenient thing that's false that'll cause a disaster when I decide to just trust it? Or—if not false, since she 'never lies'—true but misleading?"
"Hmn. Well, the stuff in your head is only one source of information, after all. Why don't you treat it as hypotheses to be tested, in that case, and only go out of your way to test them when it's safe to do so? And, if you really don't want to trust something your head just popped out then you can just, refuse to act on it. Right?"
"Maybe that would work...although I don't know how to act like I don't have information that I have," said Amory. "If I just act like the opposite is true then it's simple reverse psychology and she doesn't even have to 'lie' at all to make me make mistakes."
"Well in that case, just let other people act on their own without telling them what you think is true," said Rory. "I mean, the context where this is gonna matter will probably be some high-stakes battles anyway, so if you don't trust your instincts on something, why not rely on those of others?"
"Mmnh. I'll have to be careful either way...but I feel a little better having some kind of plan," Amory said. Smiling back up toward Rory's face, she added, "Thank you." Her tail was kind of swishing back and forth like a dog's tail wagging, was just irresistibly adorable.

"Heh, and Clark thinks I'm impulsive," she said. After looking around the room briefly, Rory spoke the phrase to change forms and stood up, moving toward Amory a bit. "Maybe a quick demonstration would help me see if there's any more subtle techiniques you've got that I'm missing," she said.
"Heheh..." Amory sat up, blushing slightly but seeming open to the idea. "It'll be easier for you to pay attention to that if you're not busy jumping on top of me again."
"Maybe so." She sat on the now-open cushion, close to the small fox-girl. If nothing else, this would make tonight fun once the two kids left the house.

Clark's ability to pick people up was easy enough to extend to giving them control over their flight, as long as they stayed close enough to her. Once they were above the house, Light twirled and orbited around in the air some, laughing a little bit. "It's really something, right?" said Clark, smiling back.
"Yeah..." She brought herself back to an upright position, facing Clark. "I've always wondered what it's like to just float around through the air like Superman. There was a time I thought I wanted to be an astronaut, just to get to float around in zero gravity."
"Something change your mind?"
"Well...I went to one of those camps, you know? They put me on the G-force thing—the one that spins you around like crazy? I...didn't like that so much. Especially my stomach. I was really young then, but pretty soon I decided I wanted a job with a lower risk of physical injury."
"I made a similar decision pretty early in life, myself...and yet now we're doing this," said Clark, gesturing vaguely at Light's current appearance.
"Heheh, yeah. Best-laid plans and all that.

"Anyway..we've got work to do." Light turned her body around in what she was pretty sure was the direction of campus. "We should try the quad first. There were two there, so if one trail goes cold I'll try the other. If that's still no good, we could try the one that came after you."
"Right." Clark started off, the taller girl following. "..We're already invisible, right?"
"Psh, yeah. Before you even opened the back door."
"Just checking before I go over the road. I've never really navigated as the bird flies before, but I know exactly how to drive there."

When they got there, Light lowered herself to the ground, and began filtering her vision, pulling things back to that afternoon and then looking for light absorbed by the crossbow-wiedling wind puppet. The shadow one, she reasoned, might have been hiding in the shadows, which would be more difficult to track. "Hey...uh, your eyes are kinda glowing," said Clark.
"They do that, yeah. I guess some kind of power decoration. It'd broadcast what I was doing if I wasn't also making it all invisible."
"Is it harder to make dynamic lighting like that invisible?" she wondered.
"Not really? I can't really feel any difference even when I'm not boosted. And right now, I feel like I could hide a whole skyscraper without breaking a sweat." She started down the trail of the wind puppet. She had run straight toward the monster as soon as it appeared, but hadn't been standing around waiting on it; that was good news, at least, since if she had been it would suggest the puppeteer had some way of knowing where the mist monsters would be. During the time slightly before that, she had been hiding in a certain alleyway, pacing around behind a dumpster to stay out of sight of anyone who happened to pass by.

Rolling things back a couple of hours, to just the start of lunchtime, Light finally saw her arrive, and followed a jump down from the roof of a building, then some running/walking/jumping across rooftops—all sensible things to do if one didn't want to be spotted too quickly. Unfortunately for the puppeteer, this made it far easier to track the puppet than it had been to track Ning or the kidnappers; there was only the one humanoid shape clearly outlined going all across the rooftops.
Then the trail led off of campus and along the road out to the highway, a patch with forest to the side of it, which the puppet had made her way through up until finding buildings tall enough to hide on top of. Eventually the puppet's trail led up close to the side of the road, and then abruptly disappeared, indicating that this her point of origin.

Light blinked a couple of times, switching the filter around to try and see everything that was there at the moment she disappeared. There were the others—shadow-girl, plant-girl, the one Rory had stolen the spear from. And there was a car, pulled over by the side of the road, that they appeared next to, one by one. The car had tinted windows, which failed to reflect enough light out to make out anything clear of what was inside. There was a vague shadow of someone with tall, triangular ears from the driver's seat, however, which was enough to suggest that the puppteer herself was there.

She touched down, walking around where the car had been to its back. And...there was a liscense plate, of course—a number. "What do your special eyes see?" Clark quipped after watching Light stare around for a minute or two.
"She summoned them all right here, from a car," said Light. "Uh, did you bring your phone? We should get this to Rowan as soon as possible."
"Yep!" Clark pulled it out, and carefully typed the number in, then preceded it with a brief explanation of where it came from. "So now what?"
"We should try and follow the car back to wherever it came from," said Light, turning her eyes toward the road. "Or at least, I'd like to, but..." Her ears drooped slightly.

"...There's just too many cars on the road. This one's pretty generic, I couldn't track this particular car just from knowing what the model looks like, or what color it is." She floated up slightly, turning her head back and forth. "I'm losing track of it just looking around here. Wish this part of my power was just a little better..."
"Well, it's already pretty amazing," said Clark. "Along with everything else you can do, I'm honestly impressed you get to do still one more thing with so much utility. Anyway, I'm sure that plate number will come in handy the next time she tries to drive out and summon more puppets."
Light nodded ."There's no way she'll expect us to know it. We might be able to catch her by surprise this way..."
"I sure hope so." Clark's phone made the tune of a reply text, and opened it right away. "Stolen, some time late last week, from a gas station. The security camera went black just before...I guess now we know why. And he says thanks, but be very cautious if you get an opportunity to track her any farther."
"Yeah...I know better than to take that monster on alone, even if she's tired out," said Light. "Anyway...I guess we can fly back home for now." She was clearly still a little disappointed that they hadn't wrapped up the whole thing right then and there, but Clark was honestly relieved. There was a level of tension involved in hoping to stumble upon a supervillain's lair that she wasn't actually prepared for that particular night.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-53

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The room to the right of the one with the door glyphs seemed to have shelves built into its walls. There were some bits of mostly-rotted wood around that could have been more shelves, but if anything had ever actually been on those shelves then it must have rotted away a long time ago.
Mira walked along the wall the door was on, and found just two glyphs there. "Hey, you see any connections from these?" she said quietly. Nora came closer and looked.
"Th-they're the two doors in the room. Um...the one we came from, a-and that one," the elf said, indicating an open door on the wall to the left of the direction they had come in from. "Th-the armor must've gone through there."
"Yep," said Rayna. "Maybe we should try the left branch before going any farther in."

It didn't take long to identify which glyph opened the door on the left. Mira activated it, and then they waited back in the entry chamber for the armor to pass through and go back inside again. Shortly after it left, a distant roar of thunder echoed from upstairs. Curious, Rayna walked back over to the stairs. "'s this place not flooded, with that open door straight in here?" she said, looking up the stairwell. "More importantly, do we need to worry about getting flooded out right now?"
Nora followed, and went about halfway up the stairs, watching carefully. "I-it isn't even coming down this far," she reported. "It l-looks like the water j-just goes right through this 'concentrated earth' i-into the ground beneath it..."
"Well if it does that, shouldn't the roof be leaking?" said Rayna.
"Some kinda 'channels' built into the walls and ceilings, maybe?" Mira suggested. "I guess you wouldn't be able to see that if it was there."
"R-right..." She came back down.

"Well, the point is we probably don't need to worry about drowning from the rain," said the fox-girl. "We were planning to be here a little longer anyway, so maybe the storm'll be over by the time we finish up here. Let's go see what we opened."
The room on the left was about the same size as the one on the right. It had no shelves, but instead there were blocks of the building's material raised up similarly to the one in the glyph room. These were fairly short, narrow, long, and placed at regular intervals around the middle of the room, nine of them total.
"What do you think...beds?" Mira suggested.
Rayna put a hand on one of them. "Pretty uncomfortable ones. I guess if you stuck a mattress on top, it might work..."

Nora noticed something not made of the walls' material in the corner, and made a beeline for it, gently picking it up. "H-hey! I found a book," she said.
Rayna came to look at it. It was thick but just barely small enough to fit in one hand. "That looks...really intact, considering the state of the library we were in earlier. What's written in it?"
The elf tried opening the book to see. It was full of scribbles in symbols she didn't recognize. "Uh...I-I think it's in another language," she said, offering the book to the fox-girl.
"Hmn..yeah. My hud identifies this lettering as 'ancient elvish'. I wonder..." The illusionist closed her eyes for a moment. "..Yes! I have a 'translate for me' skill! Let's see how much I need to invest for this language."

She took a moment opening and closing her eyes, buying one point at a time until she was able to "see" the translation to one side of the book's actual writing. "There! Not too expensive, I'd say. A little bit off-build, but I think it'll be worth the ability to just read anything. Heheh, I could even get a job as a book translator if the adventurer thing doesn't work out."
"Enough about you. What's it say?" said Mira, coming up to look over her shoulder. Of course, the witch couldn't read the ancient writing either.

"'s one of the first entries." She read aloud, still softly enough to avoid detection by the place's patrolling guardian:
"Although my colleagues are doubtful, I am still well convinced that this place was constructed by the gods themselves. The material of which it is built is incomprehensible to our best mages on how to replicate. A shame, as our generous patrons would be more than happy to have such sturdy walls in their abode's construction. I cannot say for what purpose the gods would need such a place, nor why they would have left it so intact and empty for us to find. I almost suspect it a gift from them to us, considering how well its facilities suit the needs of our research. We have already activated an Iron Guard to keep us safe, but I am doubtful whether that will be sufficient on its own. The monsters are many in this land, and there are reports they are often larger and more dangerous as well. But that is why we are here, after all."
"Iron Guard, eh?" said Mira. "I guess that's our armor friend. Some kind of powerful magic must animate those things for them to be working after however long..."
"I wonder if their 'patrons' lived in that castle Lynn and I started in," Rayna suggested.

She looked over the next few pages. "Uhh..hmn. There are personal entries like that here and there, but this is mostly a lot of technical jargon I don't understand even after translating. Something about correlating energy flux...some notes on the behavior of dire bears, a rough sketch of one..." She flipped ahead a little. "Oh, here's something:
"The extraction process was a success, yet a failure.
After all of the trouble to capture that wretched beast alive, we mostly succeeded just in killing it anyway. The magic that inhabited it could be torn out and channeled briefly, but it refused to be contained by any of the usual methods; it is like a well-oiled snake in our hands. Where it went our best sensitives could not say; it was as if it immediately scattered to the four winds. Well is it called Chaotic Magic. But head mage is still convinced we can find some new method that will tame this untapped source of power. I think her dreams a bit grandiose, personally."
"'Chaotic magic', huh?" said Mira. "This sounds like the setup for a horror movie. 'Those scientists are meddling in forces they don't understand and cannot possibly hope to control'," she intoned ominously, drawing a half-stifled giggle from the fox-girl.

"Based on the context, i-it sounds as if this chaos magic is r-responsible for, or inherent to, m-monsters somehow," said Nora. She closed her eyes. "I-I don't remember feeling...anything specific or d-different from normal animals in any of the monsters we encountered, however. S-so it must be different from the natural elements in s-some fundamental way..."

"Well, let's skip ahead a little more," said Rayna. She turned to a bit past the middle, and paused, showing the others some complicated diagrams. "My Sophol, it's covered in technical jargon," she said, flipping through the next several pages and finding much the same thing. "It's like the magic-science equivalent of Galois' final letter...I think I even see 'not enough time' scribbled in the margins right there," she said, pointing. "Where does all this start?" She flipped back a few pages at a time until eventually coming to the last pair of pages devoid of diagrams, a likely candidate for a 'personal' entry. " let's, this looks like our smoking gun. Listen:
"My strident objections, and those of others in our group, have been silenced.
Chaos Magic refuses to inhabit anything other than a living body. Putting it into animals, even a well-trained tame one, just creates wild, uncontrollable monsters. Logically, that leaves only the option of using a sapient being for storage. It would be unethical to take a volunteer who did not understand the risks as well as we now do, an objection to which the head mage responded with an offer to be the test subject herself. This kind of thing never goes well, and I don't think it shall here, either. The magic of people, the gift of Sophol, seems to naturally repel Chaos Magic, so her aim is to deliberately burn herself out first and then we use some carefully-tuned nullification charms..."
"Well, that sounds bad," said Mira. "At least we've got a half-genre-savvy person here. Wonder whether he got away."
"Well, uh..." Rayna continued:
"I'll be clear: It is not that I think this won't work. It's that none of us know what the result will be if it does—funneling chaotic magic into a person this way. She is certain she can control it, but if our studies here so far has taught us anything, it is that control is the very thing which Chaos Magic abhors the most."
"And the other page says..."

"I have been using this book as a research journal, and in the capacity of reminding myself of things I should already know, nobody has ever objected to its use. But I will spend tonight filling the remaining pages with as many of the details of our work as I know. After that, I will use the best preservation charms I know to attempt to ensure this journal survives the ravages of time—"
"—which explains how this survived and none of the other stuff or furniture that should probably be in this room," Rayna interjected. "Anyway...
"Our patrons would not approve; my colleagues would also be aghast at their life's work being recorded in this way, with such great risk of a leak. If things go well tomorrow, I swear I will burn this book. But I don't think they will, and in that case I will leave this behind so that something of what we have done remains, even if I myself die.
If this book still exists, then it exists as a warning not to follow in our footsteps. There are some things more dangerous than even courting the power of demons. Monsters should be killed, and if studied, only to the end of killing them more efficiently. The magic that makes them monsters is inherently dangerous in a way that nothing else in this world is. I tremble to say this, but from what I have seen here, and what I understand of their nature, I do not think this magic is the work of the gods at all. I don't know what that means, nor do I have the courage to pursue that inquiry further. Anyway, I have only a few hours left to write down the details of our research.

"...And then the technical jargon starts," said Rayna. She put the book into the party's inventory. "Well, I'm sure this will mean something to someone, at least. We'll bring it back with us for safekeeping."
"Uh, y-you're absolutely sure th-there's nothing else here but the armor, r-right?" said Nora.
"Well...I haven't heard anything else. And I'm pretty sure the armor would attack anything else here if it knew that it existed," she said.
"What's wrong?" said Mira, noting that the elf had a more genuinely nervous expression than usual.
"I...I'm not sure. J-just, something about what the journal said they were trying to do fills me with d-dread. Or, horror..." she shook her head. "I-it's been such a long time since this place was occupied.'s no way, even if that experiment was a disaster and c-created some kind of super-monster, it sh-should be dead by now, right?"
"We can only hope," said Rayna, nodding. "But hey, like you said, it's been a long time. Why would a super-monster hang around a place like this with that armor trying to attack it all the time? If it were here then it would've destroyed the guard already. So chances are that if it's even alive, it's on the other side of the world right now and completely and totally not our problem. Though of course..."
"Yeah, our own sense of genre-savvy suspects otherwise," said the witch. "Still, I don't think we need to worry about it right now. Let's get back to looking through the rest of this place, and figuring out how to dispose of an 'Iron Guard'."

A loud clap of thunder startled Clera from an unintentional nap. She jerked into an upright position in the easy chair, looking around briefly in confusion before remembering where she was. After that, the next thing to occupy her mind was the location of a certain shapeshifter. "Aria!" She had been laying across the nearby couch before.
"Ye~es?" her voice came from the library, and she walked back into the living room.
The winged girl glared, pushing herself up onto her feet. "You should not be wandering around unattended until the vertigo clears up completely," she said.
" just looked too cu—uh, comfortable there after you dozed off," she said. "I didn't wanna wake you. But I get super restless sitting around not doing anything. And I can't even take a nap—without Kath around, sleep is even more dull and annoying than being awake. So I went looking for a book I could read or something." There was clearly not a book in her hands; she hadn't found anything worthwhile yet, apparently.
Clera was reminded: She had been reading a book before. After looking around briefly she located it on the floor nearby, and picked it up, dusting it off a bit. "Just wake me next time—if there is one," she said sternly.
"Yes'm," Aria nodded, and collapsed back onto the couch for the moment. The winged girl followed suit, taking a much gentler approach in returning to her prior perch on the chair.

"...Clera—the one from here—brought up something in my dream we had not yet considered," she said.
"Your 'final skill', to merge entirely with the demon...does its description say anything about what happens to the demon's mind, relative to yours?"
"Uh.." Aria took a moment, closing her eyes to review the description in the menu. "Lessee, no, it just describes what happens to my stats and how the other skills're affected."
"Is not the demon in your sword asleep right now, its consciousness and full power locked away?"
"I guess? That is the impression I get from the way things look in my dreams," she said, opening her eyes again.
"But if you were to merge with it, and your minds become one, then its mind may hold as much sway as your own. Possibly more—the demon has lived far longer, and so has more memory of being itself."
"Huh. I hadn't thought of that. I mean, I'm already worried a little about not being me with this Ares stuff going on..."

"If we do not know how it works, then it is too great a risk, is it not?"
"You're right. We just need to..ask an expert on demon swords or something. Hey, maybe the Captain would have some idea! Or Mira can explain how she eats demons without, like..." She made a vague expression with her hands.
"The demons a witch or warlock eat are already dead," said Clera, pulling from the native personality's knowledge. "Their souls are consumed for power, so expecting anything of their former memories or behavior to persist is like expecting the smoke from burning a log of wood to reveal how old the tree was." She paused for a second. "...Granted, there may be some way for science to determine that, but..."
"I get your point, yeah. But hey, it's a long way off before we're even to that point in the first place. I'll start asking around with people who might know, and maybe we'll stumble on the facts of the matter before we even need to worry about it. And...if we still aren't sure when the time comes, then I just won't take the skill until we are totally sure. Or we...find some way to 'kill' the demon's mind before I merge with it, or something."
"That seems best," Clera agreed, nodding.

Aria flipped around on the couch until she was halfway across the armrest, leaning Clera's way. "So hey, what were you reading?"
The winged girl showed her the cover of a basic primer on magic, something like a textbook for first-year students at a school of magic. She then halfway offered it over.
"Uh, no thanks...I don't think I'd understand much of it," Aria waved it off, and it was set down on an end table. "The 'other you' drew you to that, you think?"
"More the opposite...I was curious to read the sort of book she would have been highly familiar with. However, she memorized this one a long time ago and gave me that knowledge as soon as I fell asleep."

"Oh yeah! So, having your magic burned out doesn't mess with your link to the other you, even though she's supposed to be the source of your power or whatever?"
"Uh..the link is directly between our souls, which runs deeper than our magic," she said, her tone of voice and cadence slightly different from usual. "She has to use her power to channel mine, and that's where the link is broken." The winged girl paused, blinking a couple of times. "I mean...wait, how did I..."
"That's new...I think the 'other you' came out and answered," Aria said. "She's not starting to take over or anything, is she?"
"No...she explained to me in our first dream that the 'extra soul' of an Empath takes on a purely submissive, supportive role, usually not even affecting the person as much as she had been then. We are...entertaining the possibility that things are different due to the nature of what happened, since I took on much of her appearance." She frowned slightly. "While awake, I usually cannot tell the difference between her actions and my own unless I really think about it."

"Is it..scary, being two people at once?" said Aria, with a serious expression.
"I...a little, I'll admit. We...have not really disagreed yet, at any fundamental level. While awake, the cooperation and communication occurs without either of us consciously aware of it. It's all very convenient, and doesn't really feel, 'normal'," she said. "I doubt I'll ever get used to it."
The shifter nodded, pulling herself back to sitting on the couch. "Honestly, I'm asking because it seems like I'll have to deal with something like it soon. I guess Ares is something different, though—not another soul, just a collection of memories I have but can't remember. I want to say 'false' memories, but..."
"You don't feel as if they are," Clera said quietly. "Is that it?"
"Yeah...that's what bugs me. I mean, I know what life I lived, and who I really am, and with the gods possibly involved any amount of evidence can be planted to make it 'real', up to and including someone remembering 'me'. But I can't shake how it it felt when I almost remembered that night..."

After staring into space for a moment, Aria jumped onto her feet. And instantly regretted it, falling back onto the couch again and holding her head. She took a moment to recover, then looked at Clera, nodded, and got up again—slowly this time. "I can't keep spinning this around in my head. I want to go write those notes for Loren, so that I'm doing something, and then maybe I'll actually find a book."
The winged girl nodded, and stood up also. "I think a distraction would be best for me as well, at this point..."

Rose was glad she hadn't missed a storm back in her forest. The rain always made the plants so happy, and she didn't particularly mind it herself. A small fragment of her mind wondered if it was going to hurt the new dress she had on, but..well-made clothes usually weren't particularly damaged by just getting wet. She could take it off after the storm ran its course, change into something dry from her inventory, maybe hang it out to dry and it'd be good as new by sometime the next day. A vague memory insisted that it was mostly snagging on thorns or getting too excited with her claws that had destroyed previous outfits, and likely represented the greatest risk to the new ones as well.

Once she had tended to the plants, the dragon-girl took a few more experimental flights. Her old self had never dreamed of being able to do this, and the new self felt a deep sense of nostalgia that made it all the more satisfying. It would be so easy to get to and from town this way, and see all the nice girls she'd met there...! Besides, if any flying monsters got too close to her forest then she could actually chase them down this way. Her human memories said something vague about going high up in the air during a thunderstorm being a bad idea, risking a lightning strike; her dragon memories insisted that it wasn't that big of a deal; the rain and air turbulence was more trouble for sustained flight than the lightning was a risk. Maybe she'd been struck by lightning before and been basically okay afterward? With how sturdy she felt, that almost sounded reasonable.

..She had forgotten all about dropping hints to each quartet of girls that the other was from Earth. But there was probably plenty of time to figure that out, the next time they met. Rose went to work gathering some more of the herbs and flowers that the people in town had liked the best, in preparation for her next trip. Maybe she'd stay here through nightfall and come back the following morning. Being with people was wonderful, but it could be overwhelming after long enough...and she had to keep her 'hoard instinct' in check, anyway.

After a while, she landed, perching herself on a treetop to watch the storm: The distant lightning and thunder, the rain, the wind blowing through the trees. She knew that many people, her old self included, might have found these conditions miserable to be out in, but somehow it now just seemed...relaxing. Like watching waves on the shore, maybe. But she couldn't go to sleep, either—there was a small risk, after all, of a fire sparked by a lightning strike. It rarely ever happened, especially to her trees, and yet...
That was why watching storms always seemed to put her in this attentive yet relaxed state, a kind of quiet meditation very different from her usual excited self. There had been thousands of storms like this, and the smell and sound of it carried more meanings than she could ever coherently express. Some emotions without consciously available sources rolled through her; she could feel forgotten memories from ages past while she was like this...but not quite reach them.

Maybe that was for the best...the person she had really been didn't want to be buried completely beneath eons of memory, and she was happy with the way things were now, ever since Nora had come to her forest. She was out of the confused, animal haze she had lived life in for a very long time, had made friends—again..? For the first time..? It was hard to say. Things just seemed livelier and more fun now; even fighting monsters was more exciting with friends around to help out. There was a whole town of people nearby who at least regarded her as an ally, and not as a freak or horror. That was enough—all of that together was more than enough. Besides, not all of the emotions echoing from those buried, distant memories were pleasant ones.

Katherine watched the wolfgirl pet the wolf for a moment. You know, doesn't really seem like you need a translator.
What do you mean? Lynn asked.
Whenever the wolf makes a noise, he just seems to intuit exactly what it means right away. Or at least, the emotion behind it, which is usually plenty to understand.
I don't really know when or how I learned it, he said. I guess it's just because I'm 'part wolf'?
The wolf could be like turning into some kind of familiar for you, thought Lynn. Hey, maybe we're a few days off from you being able to see through his eyes and stuff! Zack paused just long enough to give her a brief half-lidded look.

Well, if we really wanted to test your theory we'd need to find a 'normal' wolf, or maybe a dog in town, and see how quickly you pick up what it's thinking, Katherine said. Might be a fun afternoon. I'm sure I saw at least one pet shop in town...
Well, do you understand cats? Lynn wondered. Psychic abilities notwithstanding, did you know what the cats we were just fighting were thinking from their mouth noises?
I think it's pretty obvious they were in pain, for equally obvious reasons, said the catgirl. That isn't really useful evidence one way or another. Maybe we could see whether Nora's read anything about beastfolk being able to understand the related animal species...

The wolf uncurled slightly, enough to raise his head in the air and sniff. "What?" said Zack. "Storm's over soon?" The wolf gave a brief, affirmative bark before laying his head down again. "Well, that's good news at least. This rock floor's not a very comfortable seat..."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-52

" we are," said Rayna. They went around another couple of trees to stand before a very artificial-looking building. It was one story tall, made of shiny, sheer black material of some kind, in the precise shape of a rectangular prism jutting up out of the ground. It only went a short ways out to the left and right, but the dense foliage nearby made it hard to tell how far back it extended.
"This is 'ruins'?" said Mira, walking a little closer. There was a doorway—open, no door—right in the middle. "It looks like a modern art sculpture."
"It's certainly distinct from the castle Lynn and I woke up in." The fox-girl came closer too, and carefully put a hand on the wall. "...Or anything else we've seen in this world so far." There were vines running up and down much of the building, but the wall itself felt smooth and cool, like polished stone. "Any ideas there?" she asked Nora.

The elf walked up to the building, staring intently at it. "Th-the walls look like..heavily concentrated earth. I-it isn't naturally occuring the way materials used for the b-buildings in town are. More like somebody 'purified' st-stone...if that m-makes any sense."
"So...some kinda super-magic-based construction. I guess it would have to be something special to be so intact after...however long."
"Assuming it really is old," said Mira. "Anyway, standing around out here won't get us anywhere." She pointed upward, and a ball of light appeared from her index finger; then she started into the doorway, the light swirling and bouncing around in front of her. "Hey, stairs."

The others followed her; indeed, the doorway led to a small landing followed immediately by wide stairs going down. The walls inside were the same as those outside, but with considerably less plant life on them. There were some bugs buzzing or skittering around here and there, which only Rayna seemed bothered by. Finally, the stairs ended and the walls opened out to a tall, mostly-underground chamber, empty apart from the bugs.
Rayna put her hands on her hips, looking up and around. "Hmn. If the whole place is like this, my map's gonna be pret-ty boring."
"Actually, it looks kinda like this is the whole place," said Mira, swinging her light around. "No more doors or anything. But..."
"Yeah, it should be way bigger, based on what we saw outside."
"Um.." Nora walked up to the spot opposite the stairs. "T-there's cracks here," she said. "I-in the wall. Like, uh.." She pushed at it, and with a small grunt from her that part of the wall moved in slightly.

"Lemme help ya there..." The witch came closer and gave the wall a harder shove, making a door swing out into another room beyond. The hinge clicked repeatedly as the door moved, but it stayed open. "Phew. We totally shoulda had Zack along for this one."
"Aww, you're plenty strong," said Rayna. "Anyway.." She waved past the doorway.
"Right." Mira moved the light into the next room. This one was just as tall, but smaller otherwise. Come to think of it, the door was rather huge itself, maybe eight or nine feet up with enough width to still have the proportions of a normal door. There was a table on the wall opposite their entry, seemingly carved out of whatever material the wall was, and the wall past the table had some symbols engraved in it.

"Hmmn..." Mira walked up and climbed onto the table, running a finger across the symbols. "These seem kinda familiar, but I can't exactly place them. Some kind of magic runes, I'm sure..."
"Hey, shh!" Rayna whispered suddenly. The others turned to face her; her eyes were closed and her ears turning this way and that. After a moment, she opened her eyes again. "I heard metal I did back at the castle. Maybe the same kind of 'security guard' armor thing as you met there?"

"I really hope not. Zack couldn't even touch that thing," Mira said quietly.
"I'll keep us invisible, just in case," the fox-girl nodded. "Perhaps it has weak points you just couldn't see while running away from it in a panic."
"Yeah, maybe...anyway..." The witch turned her attention back to the runes.

Nora was looking around at the rest of the room. Just like the previous one, it appeared to be a dead end, but it also had cracks indicating the same kind of closed doors, one to the left and one to the right.
"Oh! Yeah...I'm not sure where I remember this from, but..I should be able to activate these," said the witch.
Rayna asked, "Are Or some kind of trap?"
"Not sure. Well—the first one just makes light. Maybe all over the building. But the others turn things on or off and I dunno exactly what."
"Let's, try the light at least then?"

Mira chanted something quietly, and the rune she'd indicated as the 'first' one glowed faintly with a purplish color, and then the ceilings of both rooms they'd come to so far began to glow. The light was a pale blue, dim but enough to see the way around. " feels like it's lost most of its power," she commented. "...How do I know that?"
"Well, at least we can see without your light-orb thing," said Rayna.

The witch looked around the room again, and finally noticed that Nora was closely examining the hinge of the door they'd opened into this room. "What've you got there?" she said.
"Um..i-it almost looks..mechanical? B-but not exactly. Th-there's something, like a channel through the wall going from it." She turned around slowly, her eyes following something neither of the others could see, and eventually settling on one of the runes next to Mira. " the doors have some sort of magic to open them automatically," she said.
"..Which would explain what these runes are supposed to turn on and off!" she said excitedly, turning back toward them.
"Uh, we're not totally sure any of those isn't a trap, though," Rayna pointed out.
"We'll be careful, then. Go one at a time. You listen for any extra gears turning or whatever."
"Oookay..." She tried to make it clear this still seemed like a bad idea by the tone of her voice.

Zack found himself standing before a cave with Katherine once again. Well, there were a couple of other people involved this time. Lynn started to say something, and he quickly waved to cut her off. Quiet. They're right inside.
Oh, yeah...I keep forgetting we can talk this way. I was gonna whisper, though.

...Anyway, how many do you think we're dealing with? When we ran into Rast there were just two, and that was enough to be trouble.
We'll be fine..the four of us must've taken down like a dozen dire wolves in that guy's pack, Katherine responded, indicating the white-furred beast. Zack took a second to look at him, thinking back to that time, and it occurred to him that he'd sported a lot of visible scars back then...which were seemingly mostly gone now. Maybe they'd just been shallow wounds from previous fights with the pack or its opponents, or fur had grown over them...but even thinking that, surely some of it should still be visible?
He kept it mostly to himself for the moment. Nora and Mika were doing a lot of crowd control..and he cut off the fight early to 'challenge' me. But I think we'll be fine if we use this entrance as a choke point. Glancing at the wolf: Two of us can hold it, Kath get anything that dodges us to come after her instead of long as you can shoot around us.
I can handle that. But still—any clue how many?
I can feel at least ten just in there, the catgirl thought back after a moment's reading. There are probably more deeper in that'll get alerted once we start.

Zack gave a vague signal to the wolf and stepped up to the mouth of the cave; he seemed to understand, taking up a position next to the alpha. So, what's our opening move? Lynn thought, moving uphill a bit to where she had a clear shot. You want fire? Lightning? Ice fragments?
We want to push them out here. so get some fire in as deep as possible, Katherine suggested. I can give it an extra push and maybe direct it to land in one of them. She also sent over a spatial sensation of about where the closest few of the wildcats were, while the archer drew her bow back and carefully aimed.

A streak of fire flew by next to Zack, lighting up the cave on its way in; in a moment, there was a roar of pain from one of the cats inside. It didn't take long for them to start running out to the mouth of the cave after that. The knight swung his sword right through the throat of the first one to come to him; the second dodged, jumped at him, and got bashed by the flat of the blade, thrown to the cave wall, in response. The wolf pounced on the first cat to arrive, tearing its throat out with terrifying precision and tossing it aside like an unwanted doll before going to do the same to the next.
A fifth cat arrived, yowling in rage; an arrow went into its throat and electricity sparked through its body, stunning it long enough for Zack to quickly stab it with his short sword. Then the one he'd thrown a moment ago came back; he kicked it in the side, flipping it partway onto its back, and followed up with a slash to its exposed underside, finishing it off. The wolf's second victim fared no better than the first, but the third cat to come to it was more ready, stopping a small distance away and poising itself to pounce at him. The wolf growled, but sat and waited patiently, and when it did attack he moved just aside of its claws gracefully, responding with his own claws straight to its stomach, knocking it to one side. Katherine drove a knife into its skull before it could stand back up.

Another one came for Zack, taking a running jump and forcing him to sidestep. It caught a rock attached to one of Lynn's arrows square in the face, knocking it back into his range to quickly stab the short blade through where he was pretty sure the heart was—anyway, it quit moving once he did that. The next cat pounced at him while he was trying to pull the weapon out again, but the wolf intercepted it, tackling it to one side into a brief roll before landing on top and tearing that one's throat out, too. This left the wolf's side open long enough for one cat to run out; Katherine pulled it in her direction and started chopping it up with her knives, easily dancing around its attempts to strike or pounce at her.
The wolf stood back up, and Zack crossed to the side it had been covering until now. Then the tenth cat arrived, moved in and tried its claws on the knight but only hit armor. He grabbed one of its paws and threw it over on its back before stabbing it in the same way as before. An eleventh one tried to run around the wolf; he stuck out a paw and tripped it, and it skidded clumsily across the ground briefly before having the giant white wolf land on top of it, crushing it briefly before digging his claws into its head and pulling its head back until it snapped. Katherine finished off her opponent, getting a knife into its mouth and jabbing it up at the brain, and then the last of them arrived; an arrow coated in ice landed just in front of it, the ice shattered into pointed shards that hit its muzzle and throat. It yowled, pawing at its face in pain until Zack stabbed it through the back with his main sword, putting it out of its misery.

Lynn nocked another arrow, and everyone remained tense for a moment, Zack and the wolf resuming their post at the cave mouth. Everyone except the human could hear distant cries of the surviving cats echoing faintly in the cave as they fled out some other exit, and after a moment Katherine moved to a more relaxed stance. I think that's it, she thought to the others.
Lynn nodded, putting away her bow and returning the arrow to the quiver before walking up a little closer, looking around. Looks like we got twelve of them.Probably enough to count as 'thinning them out', right?
Yeah. Zack moved closer to the wolf, and said aloud: "Good work." In response to the praise, it gave a small 'hmph' kind of growl, sat on its haunches and looked up at him, wagging its tail slightly.
No kidding. He does as much work as any of us, though Lynn. Once the others are well, we oughta split into three parties for small jobs, with that guy as one of our DPS or tanks.

Sooo, should we do something with all the bodies? she thought, looking around at them. Somehow I feel like it'd be a waste to just leave them here...
We could sell them to a tanner or something, I guess...I know I don't want any cat corpses anywhere near our house, said Zack. He knelt over one of the bodies and tried picking it up in his hands. "Hmn. Never mind, I don't think this counts as an 'item'," he reported.
"Wait, didn't we find gold on that wolf we killed, way earlier?" said Katherine. "Or rather.."
"It disappeared, and a bag of gold appeared in its place," said Zack, nodding.

"Really? We never had anything like that happen," said Lynn.
"Neither did we, since then. The goblins stayed corpses, and just about everything else..."
"I think we should consult an expert," Katherine suggested. "If we report that as something strange we encountered on our way into town, say..."
"Yeah, we didn't think it was weird at the time because 'this was a game', but it does seem weird now," said Zack. "...Hmn?" Looking around, he noticed that the wolf was standing at attention again, sniffing the air and clearly agitated about something.

Mira tried activating the rune that Nora said was connected to the door on the right. It glowed faintly, and then the door swung itself open. "See? No problem," she said, hopping down off of the table. "I guess we should start checking out what's that way, and then come back and open the other door?"
"Hey!" Rayna whispered suddenly, grabbing the witch's wrist for a second. Then she breathed, "Quiet..."
Nora took a step away from the newly-opened door; they both gave Rayna a questioning look for a second or two. Then they could hear it: Clank-clank-clank-clank...metal boots running toward them. The fox-girl finally released Mira's hand, and she made a gesture suggesting a return to the larger chamber, which they did, watching the smaller room with the glyphs from there.

Before long, Rayna's suspicions were confirmed. Something resembling a suit of armor with glowing red eyes ran into the glyph room, its helmet-head gazing around. The armor itself was cracked and dented, completely gone in places; it looked through some gaps in the torso and legs to be completely hollow. After a long, tense moment, it seemed satisfied that there was nothing there, and turned around, walking back out the door it came from.
They waited until it was out of earshot—well, for the two of them without fox ears at least—and then breathed a small, collective sigh of relief. "Seems like it's fooled easy enough by my illusions," said Rayna. "I dunno what I'd do if those eyes had truesight or something."
"Well, the bad news is that we probably do need to eventually destroy it," said Mira. "It definitely won't be safe for researches to come in here with that thing patrolling around."

"Hmn. You think the three of us can do that, or do we need backup?" said the illusionist.
"Well, honestly all we tried last time was Zack briefly duelling it and Kath mostly drawing its attention to run away. It was a really good sword-fighter, fast and stupid strong. But I think we might stand a chance with some explosions, maybe my scythe can do some damage if your illusions help me get strikes past its defenses. And—could you move that 'concentrated earth' around to hit it with?" she asked Nora.
"Um...maybe?" She tried pulling on some of the wall nearby. " good. I-it's all tied together, like the whole building is one big strand of stone," she reported. "I-if we could find something made the same way and smaller, I-I think I could move it, and it p-p-probably would be solid enough to hurt the armor, though."
"Alright. Let's go looking for something like that, then," said Mira, starting back into the glyph room. "After all, there's no hurry to fight that guy. We should find any weapons this place provides, and the battleground that gives us the most advantage. Hey, if we do find any traps we could even use those to our advantage, right?"
"Good thinking," said Rayna, following. "We just need to avoid being in the same room as it. Don't want it bumping into something 'invisible' and deciding to slice it in half rather than figure out what's going on."

"Hey, what's wrong?" Zack came a little closer to the wolf.
Katherine patched the wolf through so the others could understand him. Skywater is near, he said. Big, with loud falling-fire. His head turned to face the knight. Alpha, we should take shelter here until it passes.
"A rainstorm, huh?" said Lynn. "Well, I'm not afraid of a little water."
"I'd say thunderstorm, more like," the catgirl responded. "And considering one of us is wearing probably really conductive plate mail..."

Zack was still watching the wolf looking up at him, having noticed something in its eyes he had never seen there before. It finally occurred to him what it was: Fear. He understood after watching for a moment what was going on: The wolf was terrified of...probably not rain, but particularly lightning, and the accompanying thunder. "Any idea how long it will last?" he asked, although he wasn't really sure an animal could predict the weather that accurately.
Not long. Passing quickly; coming quickly, the wolf reported, a slight pleading tone bleeding into its mental voice. Zack looked at the others, having a short wordless conference and quickly coming to an agreement with them, and then said, "Alright. We can probably just wait it out then. Safer for me, at least." He started inside, and they followed.

A little deeper in, Katherine took out her fire-enchanted knife and activated it, making a small glowing light for them to see by. The cave had a good several yards where the three of them could all stand upright, and they got far enough in to stay dry before turning around to look out. Things were growing dark outside rather quickly, and the animal-girls could hear thunder in the distance now. They carefully took a seat; the wolf curled up nearly into a ball next to Zack. Then there was a deafening, tearing peal of thunder from just outside the cave, making all of them jump slightly from the nearness and suddenness of it.

The wolf had his eyes closed, and was visibly shivering even though it wasn't cold at all. It gave a barely-suppressed whimper at the next peal of thunder from a bit farther off. Zack cautiously put a hand on its back, and the animal visibly calmed a bit. Well, our team pet just keeps getting more interesting, Katherine thought between the humanoids. I admit I wouldn't have liked to be caught in that either, but I could've have managed...
How was he ever an alpha of a huge pack with such a crippling fear of storms? Lynn wondered.
All he had to do was order the pack into shelter when he smelled, and then put on a brave face for a while, Zack suggested, slowly moving his hand along the wolf's fur. It seemed to him to be softer than it should for a wild animal, and he couldn't feel any trace of those scars; something odd was definitely going on with this wolf. He barked softly in response, which Zack felt certain was a pleased or relieved sound, so he continued to gently stroke the wolf's fur for as long as the storm persisted.