Monday, January 1, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-43

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Aria woke to a voice. "...remarkably well. However, I was unable to assess whether there was any mental damage. What brain damage there might have been had already been healed when I got to here, which I assume is your doing." She was lying on her back on a moderately soft, but not quite comfortable, bed: Probably a hospital or ER-type bed, or something. She hadn't ever needed a long hospital stay back on Earth, but this basically matched her expectations of those.
"That is correct. But it was surprisingly minor to begin with." Aha, Clera's voice! Not just alive, but apparently well enough to speak with the doctor like a fellow professional healing person. That was good. "What do you mean about the mental damage?"
"My usual scanning spells for it return jumbled nonsense, and the higher-detail ones suggest a subconscious entanglement with some other mind, but little else among the noise besides a large quantity of thoughts about blood."
This seemed like a good time to interject. "I get that a lot," Aria said, and thought she heard at least one of them jump "Hey, is it safe to open my eyes or sit up?"
"...Slowly," the non-Clera doctor said. "Your injuries were too severe to avoid some lingering side-effects."

The shifter did as she was told, first opening her eyes, then waiting a few seconds, and when that seemed not to cause any problems she carefully pushed up to a sitting position and gingerly looked around. Indeed, it was some kind of...maybe an operating room, but without the usual mechanical tools or whatever because magic. The resident doctor, a tall, stern looking elf lady, was on the left of the bed with Clera next to her. "How is it?" said the elf after a moment.
Aria closed her eyes in a bit of a wince and reopened them, then repeated that exercise another few times. "Ough...don't think the room's s'posed to be spinning."
The winged girl looked concerned, but the elf nodded as if fully expecting this. "The vertigo should wear off over time. Are there any holes in your memory?"
"Uh..." She thought back for a moment. "No new ones, I think. I already have amnesia from some wards or something on this demon sword I got."

"...I assume that is the other mind entangled with yours?"
"Yep! Hey uh, is vertigo gonna keep me bedridden, or..?"
"You should be perfectly capable of standing and walking. But I suggest taking changes in the elevation of your head slowly, and not walking long distances alone." Her expression turned especially severe. "Do not try to fight anything until it clears. You almost died of that skull fracture, and I won't have you getting killed by foolish impatience right after so much effort was expended to keep you alive."
"Y-yes'm." Aria tried to nod, but had to stop when that made her head start swimming again. After that she turned on the bed so her feet hung off the side facing the doctor and the doctor, and dropped down, leaning both hands on the bed behind her to carefully stand up.

"Hi there!" As planned, Katherine caught the Captain on her way back to her office from inspection.
She stopped. "Hello."
"Um, I was showing Rose here around town, and she had an idea if you've got a minute to talk?"
She looked over to the dragon-girl, and then back at Katherine. "...Come in. I have something to ask myself, anyway." Then she led the way to the office, unlocking it and leaving the door open long enough for them to follow.

The catgirl let Rose have the seat right across from the desk, and took one a bit off to the side. Now it was time to see if plan A was going to work. "Well, what was your idea," said the Captain flatly.
"Um, so like...there are a lot of buildings and stuff all over town, and not really a lot of," said the dragon-girl, managing to remember the word she'd been taught recently, although part of her knew she should really have already known it. "So, I thought if there was some room somewhere, maybe I could grow a reeeeally tall tree," she said, making a tall space between her hands as if to illustrate how tall. "So if anyone gets lost, they'd be able to just go there to meet up!"
"Hmn. You'd need some land for that, of course," said the Captain. "Well, I'm sure we could use a public park anyway at this point. I'll speak with the nobles about the idea; it'll probably be a few days before I get a definite answer one way or the other. But you understand that if you do this, you are giving the tree and any other plants there to this town. You can't think of it as a second hoard."
"Mhm!" Rose nodded. "My forest is big enough. Anyway, you've been really nice to me, so I'm happy to help!"

"Good. Was there anything else?"
"Uhhm..." The dragon-girl was thinking. Hopefully about how to ask a certain question. "So uh, how long do humans live, usually?" she said. Oh, right. It hadn't occurred to Katherine that maybe they lived longer here than back on Earth, despite being called the same thing.
"Normally not much longer than a century at best," said the Captain. "Why?"
"Well, it's just, I heard someone talking about you a while ago and it sounded like you were, um, you might be older than you looked," she stumbled awkwardly.
"That I am," the Captain started.

Okay, this was what Katherine had been waiting for. She tried to read the Captain's mind—just the surface thoughts, of course, nothing invasive—to see her actual age. "My circumstances are unusual. I am cursed with an inability to grow old." There was...nothing there. It was like trying to read the mind of a statue. Normally there would at least be a pre-echo of whatever the person was just about to say, but not even that was persent. "Dragons and elves have no trouble living a long time; it's in their nature. But humans just aren't built for it. It can become very hard to bear." Trying to dig slightly deeper gave the same—nothing, as if there wasn't a mind there at all. Except there was one, it was just apparently blank. Not wanting to risk being noticed, she had to stop there. "So most of the time I pretend to be only as old as I look, which can throw people off. It isn't intentional."
"Ohh, okay." Rose nodded, accepting the explanation. Katherine had to conclude that the Captain had somehow made herself immune to mind-reading. She definitely wasn't a psion herself, right? So it was something a person could just learn to do. And Rose was ancient-age, so...had she taught herself to resist mind reading too, just in a different way? Well, at least the Captain's out-loud answer implied she was probably over a century old. That was more of an answer than she'd had before.

"Yeah?" The catgirl didn't miss a beat, thankfully. It would be awkward if the Captain knew she had tried to read her mind a moment ago.
"The next time you're together, bring the rest of your party to me. I have an important request to make."
"Sure," she nodded.
"Ooo, can I help too?" said Rose excitedly.
"If you want," the Captain shrugged. "It can wait a few hours. I need to talk to someone else about this anyway. There is one other thing I need to speak with you privately about, before you leave. If you wouldn't mind waiting outside," she added, turning the dragon-girl.
"Oh, um, okay!" She got up and headed outside.

After seeing the two out into the hallway, the elf rushed off to go take care of another patient. Aria stood in front of Clera, staring down at her for several seconds. "...What?"
"Well, this is awkward. And I don't know which to say first. Thank you, I'm sorry?"
Dr. Kellen's expression didn't change. "Sorry for what exactly?"
"Well, first of all, letting the demon goad me into charging in all Leeroy Jenkins style at the worst possible time, and then you had to come bail me outta trouble and fix the resulting head wound, so thank you for that..." The shifter fidgeted with her hands nervously.
"You just need to remember this the next time you ar econsidering behaving like an imbecile," Dr. Kellen said with a terrifying glare.
"Oh, believe me, I will. Also though, uh, I kinda, almost killed you."

Aria wanted to look away instantly but remembered to do it slowly rather than risk her currently fragile sense of balance. "There was a second or two between that hit on the head and going unconscious where I was still walking around and carrying the big sword but I couldn't see anything but I could still feel the blood everywhere, and you ere bleeding and I almost just—"
Clera cut her off with a sudden ambush-hug. "Uh..." She wasn't really sure how to respond to that.
"Consider it forgiven." The hug was released almost as quickly as it had started. "You fought what are effectively your basic instincts to not do it, and clearly you were disgusted with yourself when you realized what had almost happened. That is good enough for me. We shouldn't keep the others waiting any longer."

With that, Dr. Kellen started off toward the waiting room, and after the two or three seconds it took to process that happening, Aria followed. "I have seen that kind of panicked expression before," Clera remarked. "It is usually a good sign."
"Panicked? Who's panicked? I just feel...out of my depth, is all. I've never almost killed someone before. Or even wanted to! So I just don't know how to deal with it."
"You did not try to hide the truth, and you wanted to apologize even though nothing actually happened. That indicates to me that you are handling it well enough." And now they were at the waiting room door, which Clera immediately opened and waved her through.

"Hey!" Rayna waved at them right away. Both of them got up grinning to come over to them.
"Good to see you up and walking," said Lynn. "I don't think I've been happier about magic healing than I am right now."
"Um, kidding. I don't need a professional opinion to guess: Coma forever, or paralysis or something..if not death," said Aria. "I guess you must've helped carry me to town? Thanks for that."
"Mhm. Rayna was just complaining about her arms getting sore."
"I was not! I mean, I was, but not because—urrgh."
"I get it, there's just too much muscle weight to carry," said Aria, flexing an arm jokingly. It got a laugh out of the two of them, but if Clera thought it was funny she restrained herself.

"It is not all good news," said Dr. Kellen. "Neither of us will be of much use for the next two or three days."
"Yeah, I—wait, whaddyou mean 'neither'? I can just, stay at the inn, or hire someone to babysit me if I have to go somewhere, or like, get a guard to do it."
Clera shook her head. "I suffered a magic burnout, and cannot use those powers until I recover from it. This should conveniently only take a day or two, which is just as long as your side-effects are projected to last."
"Hmn. Well, it's not like we're starving for money anyway," said Lynn. "We could just take a couple of days off, maybe. Or the two of us would work together well enough on not-so-dangerous missions so we could keep an eye out for another of those."
"You've had a not dangerous mission?" said Aria.
"Yeah, well, looking at the place we first found you was supposed to be one. It was one until you showed up. But also, we killed a bunch of monsters on our own pretty early on anyway."
"With your boyfriend's help," Rayna added.
"Hey, we were rescuing him." Aria couldn't help but notice there was no objection to the use of the term 'boyfriend' there.

The catgirl hid it well, but she was a little nervous about this private conference. Maybe the Captain had detected the attempted mind-reading after all and was going to yell at her for it. Then again, she reminded herself, the worst that was likely to happen would be a brief scolding to the effect of 'don't do it again'. Still, the nervousness persisted.

The Captain's face was unreadable as ever. Knowing she couldn't just get a read on what was going to happen from the surface of her mind was deeply uncomfortable, and that was even stranger. Katherine hadn't had these powers a month yet and was already so used to relying on them for social interaction that it worried her not to be able to do so. If people could shield themselves against these powers, and she ever wanted to be any kind of ruler, she would have to retrain herself to read and talk to people without the help of her powers. For now there was just the Captain of the guard staring her down until Rose remembered to shut the door. And then...

"I found out something about her," said the Captain. "Her"? What her? The human woman's eyes were aimed at the door, and after a second Katherine picked up that she meant Rose. "I believe I know where she came from, and why she is out here."
"Really? I've been, kinda curious I guess.."
She nodded. "There is a fable said to originate from the mountains in eastern Jasith. They say that once there was a human town there, right in the middle of those barren lands, not especially large but not small either. Their fields were more fertile than the land nearby, and they were by no means wealthy, but they lived well and securely as a result. For a while they didn't know why their land was so fertile, but eventually they saw the reason flying above."
The Captain leaned back in her chair a bit. "It was a gold-scaled nature dragon. The sight of it flying above their town, or watching them from atop the hills nearby, terrified the people at first. They feared they had trespassed and were moments away from being wiped out. They tried sending the dragon women as sacrifices for a while, but at first it flew away from them as if fleeing, and when they eventually found the dragon's real home, it still accepted the maidens reluctantly.
"The first of those maidens thought she would be eaten for sure. Instead the dragon carefully broke her bonds and asked if she would be willing to stay a short while to talk. He seemed shy but curious about the humans, how they lived and what they liked. She thought he was just playing with her, only to catch her when she turned to leave, but when she eventually did he made no move to follow. The next several 'sacrifices' went much the same. For a few generations the dragon would accept a maiden as a guest, speak with her for a while, and then let her go home again. From those talks it became clear that the dragon was fond of the humans, particularly of their women. Later talks revealed a sudden interest in deeper magic, though none of that village knew much about it."

"What happened next had to be guessed after the fact. It seems likely that the dragon found some kind of high-level spell which would change the caster to a form matching his deepest-felt desires. The dragon wanted to become human, at least enough to walk among them instead of watching them from afar. He wanted to speak to them face-to-face without seeing the terror in their eyes of the giant, powerful beast that he bodily was. The spell's effects were incomplete, and not entirely what the dragon expected, for his desire was not merely for humans but for the beautiful women among them. The dragon's new shape was that of a monstrous looking woman. Still, she felt sure it would be enough and ventured out into the town to try and meet the people.
"Of course, they didn't recognize her as the gentle dragon who had been their guardian for generations. They saw her as a dangerous beast or fiend or monster, something to be feared and fled from or fought against. Nobody would talk to her, and before long a mob came to try and kill her. Their weapons were nothing to her body, as it still had the resilience of a full dragon, but she was devastated at the people's reaction to her new appearance. Though she was surely capable of destroying the entire town then and there, it wasn't in her nature to harm the people she had protected for so long. Instead she fled, and believing she would not be welcome, never returned.
"The people learned only later that the dragon had disappeared. Years later, when their crops began to fail and their land turned barren, they remembered that he hadn't flown or appeared nearby in all that time, and sent a 'sacrifice' to his lair to try and plead for help. He simply wasn't there; the beautiful garden that had been his lair was just as frozen and withered as their crops that year. Eventually they realized what they had done, and hated themselves for their foolishness. Before long, most left the town for more hospitable lands, though a few stayed behind in the hope that the dragon would one day return. As far as anyone knows, she never did."

After a few seconds or so, Katherine realized the story was over. She then further realized she'd been leaning forward in her chair, her face on her hands and her elbows on her knees, completely captivated by its telling. She sat up abruptly, her ears standing up straight and tail stretching out behind her in surprise. " you think that dragon, is our Rose," she said, trying to camouflage her dazed state a moment ago. "Isn't it...just a fable, though?"
"Fables don't start from nowhere. If something happened generations ago then a fable or fairy tale is the best way to know something about it. Dragons who choose to take human shape are exceedingly rare, not the least because it is dificult for them to change forms in the first place," said the Captain. "Everything I've seen and heard about Rose's behavior matches with the personality of the dragon from the story. Unless you've seen something different?"
Katherine shook her head. "She's vicious to monsters, but...that fits in pretty well with being a protector type."
"If it is true, then I think you can trust her, at least not to betray you," said the Captain. "But you should still tread carefully. I don't doubt being rejected and attacked by the people she protected for such a long time left a deep emotional scar, which would persist even centuries later. Showing fear of her would be especially unwise."

"I don't think there's much of a risk of that," said Katherine, thinking on everyone's initial reactions to Rose. "Is there, uh, some reason you're telling me this specifically, instead of our fearless leader or something?"
The Captain shrugged. "I only recently learned of it. But I do know that psions often have trouble trusting someone they can't read, and an old enough dragon is bound to have a dense mind that even more experienced ones would have trouble with."
A mind being 'dense' was a new term for the catgirl, but she couldn't help but suspect the Captain was also referring to herself on the 'someone they can't read' thing. It wasn't exactly wrong; she'd spent all morning trying to get at what Rose was thinking. Maybe it would be better to stop picking at it for now. "Well, thanks, I guess. I'll go look for the rest of our party." She stood up.
"See you in a few hours."


  1. Now I'm left wondering if that is why Rosa was so reluctant to put points into a skill that might change her behavior.

    1. Minor point, but have you been reading "Rose" as "Rosa" this whole time, or using the second name intentionally? A quick search suggests I've never actually mistyped it as that.

    2. ...Well I'll be. I must have mixed it up in my head a while ago.