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Long before you were born, a blind man accepted the hand of terribly wise men in the hopes winning the hand of an equally terrifying woman. He followed their advice, grew to trust them at their word, and why wouldn't he? The future unfurled as they said it would, time and time again. With their hand at his back he navigated the unknown, grew fat, grew old, grew happy with a family he cherished... So when they spoke to him of a danger far greater than man, he believed them. When they told him what must be done to protect all he had gained, he believed them.

Long before he was born, a brother took upon himself the solemn duty of seeing his sister murdered for a greater good. He had read the now ancient texts and heard the whispers in Luna's gentle glow, and he knew what was at stake. He volunteered himself to be the one to see it done, because he would have no one else shoulder the sin in his place. Why them? What blessing of fate led them to this end? It was cruel enough to recognize the necessity, but crueler still to let him decide for himself if divinity were to blame, or pure, random chance.

Between the two, you could only imagine how many times the scenario had played out. How many lives had been wrapped up in the fold, then subsequently lost in necessary sacrifice. For what? Dryad's continued imprisonment? The prevention of some ill-defined danger it may spread through its favored? If that were all it took, then why had Artemis taken up purpose in political meddling? What did they stand to gain from the ensuing chaos?

Questions without answers. In the first place, the only ones who could answer them were Artemis themselves... And even should they answer, you struggle to conceive something worth everything they'd done. That they continued to do.

Maybe your cousin had the answers, though. Or, if not, maybe he had made the right choice in deciding to meet with the ones who did to find out more. You had to believe that he had something like that in mind, because the alternative was that he'd well and truly turned his back on his own family and abandoned you all. That he'd been stupid enough to be enticed away by some lurid harpy and promises of authority, power, or righteous purpose.

...Though maybe you weren't so different.
>>
Of your only living family, your aunt was hanging by the thinnest threads onto life, and you'd taken that opportunity to seize authority of the house. You'd already made your resignation towards one day having to come into conflict with your cousin. The only one left in the list was your uncle, and even at this very moment you found yourself occasionally weighing the pros and cons of simply killing him for what he'd done.

Had becoming Head of House Valen vested you with the role of being judge and jury to your family's actions? Legally... Yes. But personally... What clamped around your insides and left you growing only more distant as your uncle pleaded his case, the single thought that made you wonder if the calm you felt was the result of Shade's scar, or merely the result of numbness spreading through you, was-

"Was it just me...?"

The words filtered soundlessly off your tongue, carried without form in a sigh.

No... It couldn't have just been you. You all cared deeply for one another, you couldn't believe otherwise. But then, how? How had all four of you, convinced you were doing the best you could for each other, ended up so broken?

Or maybe that was too generous to say for yourself and your cousin. The two of you may have loved Clara and Byrn, but until recently you had been so preoccupied with your own life that the effects of your actions on your family as a whole barely occurred to you; You've no doubt much the same could be said of Caylen.

But he was gone now, and you were here. Home. Forced to stare at the crumbling pieces of the only family you had left.

Your eyes drifted shut.

You are Irue Valen, blood heir of House Valen.
>>
You legally became an adult after declaring your intent to take Rite of Initiation, to choose an individual to be named your Testament and win their trust and loyalty. In your hubris, you thought only to inconvenience and spite the family you'd felt was trying to push you around and chosen all three of your candidates, just to incur the greatest financial drain on them you could for daring to even put you in that situation.

Thinking back on it now, the childishness of it all wrung a sardonic grin from your lips. Reality had set in not long after, and the struggle to earn their trust, much less their loyalty, would go on to exhaust and break you down in ways you couldn't have prepared for. Your pointless pride, your baseless confidence, your self-centered ego... If the rite was a test of character, you see no reason you should have passed. You failed every step of the way.

Always scrambling to keep it all from falling apart. Desperate bids for deals and compromises, for promises made that you would eventually have to confront you had no ability to fulfill.

...Still, you had passed. Found yourself struggling for answers, trying and failing to bottle your emotions and stress up and handle everything yourself. It took coming into contact with Dryad to finally make you crack, and once that first crack started, the flood was soon to follow. You took a risk and bared your all, forever changing the kind of relationship you had with your Testament in the process.

People who made you feel at ease. That you could feel safe in trusting, even when given the opportunity to hurt or use you. People you genuinely had come to care for, and felt accountable towards. That you could take hand in hand and support one another without hesitation.

After your family, your Testament meant the most to you. Meant everything to you.

...But Kara wasn't here, and neither was Asche.

And, as your eyes slowly reopened, as you stared down your uncle, you knew that the warmth and safety you had felt with your family had quietly left as well.

You are Irue Valen, and after the betrayal had passed, you were left feeling very alone... And helpless to stop it, with the people you cared for most slipping away from your grasp like grains of sand falling through your fingers.
>>
"Irue, kiddo... Let me help you."

You shook your head slowly, thoughts synchronizing with your feelings with the motion. "No. You no longer have that privilege."

"...What?" Byrn stilled, studying you in concern. You let your eyes dip to the floor just long enough to gather yourself before continuing.

"Setting aside what Artemis has done to create Nymph's Wood," because it was a lecture all on its own that you doubted the man would understand your side of, much less the side Artemis had tried to explain to him, "They are responsible for causing the civil war and subsequent collapse of Teranford, and likely the isolation of East Heaven. Through you, House Valen has also been made to dance to their tune, and now we're on the cusp of what is like to be the third civil war they've caused."

"You can't possibly believe that." your uncle scoffed, "East Heaven's borders closed due to their royal family squabbling over who had the right to succession, and Teranford-"

"Salamander was driven from Teranford." You cut in, "The Mana do not abandon the world, much less their Throne, Byrn. Salamander was forced out by a sudden abundance of Nymph's Wood, which served as a catalyst for the war that would split the nation. By your own admission, Nymph's Wood was a cultivation of Artemis, which begs the question of who else would have such a glut of the stuff as to terraform a desert with it if not the people who made it in the first place?"

You waited for a retort, but couldn't bring yourself to feel satisfied when the man had nothing to say. "At most the involvement of Artemis in East Heaven is something I can't confirm yet, but one of the healers acting as our guest probably can, should she feel so inclined." You imagine there was a great deal about East Heaven she could tell you if she felt so inclined. The problem was getting that inclination in the first place. "And as for La'Fiel..."

You trailed off. You didn't need to explain it further, when this conversation itself was a result of the fact being argued.

"...I don't see further debate being productive, kiddo." Byrn rumbled his frustration. "It's clear I'm not getting through to you, and even if what you say about the wars is true, the threat Dryad poses to our family, and the world, is too big for me to not take action."

"..." You raised your Shade clawed hand, outstretching your serrated fingertips towards your uncle - And as your wrist passed the unspoken space between you, Lily's tendrils receded further up your arm to avoid him. "I didn't come here to debate you, Byrn. I came for answers."
>>
There was only so far against the wall he could press himself before your fingertip reached the neck of his shirt, and with a dispassionate downward flick, the fabric shore in half down to his portly belly. You barely felt the resistance, like slicing through jelly with a knife... And beneath the silken layers, your suspicions were proven true. A single flower bloomed over his heart, its vines weaving in and out of his flesh across his torso... No doubt having grown thoroughly attached to his ribcage like a lattice.

"...Of course." You sighed, letting your hand drop to your side. "You let them implant it in you as well."

"If I hadn't done at least this much, I would have been defenseless." Byrn attested, "...And if I hadn't had them do it to me, there was no way I would have let them do it to my wife."

"Yeah." You offered a hollow agreement.

>Kill your uncle. Your family was already broken, better to clean up loose ends.
>Leave him to imprisonment. You couldn't waste more time on him.
>Forgive him. The bond of trust was lost, but he wasn't your enemy. He was still family.
>Other? (write-in)
>>
Previous Threads:
http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Valen+Quest

Where things are said: https://twitter.com/Riz_QM
Where things are asked: http://ask.fm/RizQM

Assorted Supplemental:
Irue Things (up to 74) - https://pastebin.com/PchcdWpw
A List of Forgotten Things (up to 74) - http://pastebin.com/kPEscJ3h
Irue's Memoirs (Scares the QM to update) - http://pastebin.com/sWnicrK7

Arc I - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DMjxLjSbvr-xcxqX9M_ysKaBV1zkUmu5/view?usp=sharing
Arc II - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cXL1fIYb22IqQ51wWUp3-IMZa2nV5TY8/view?usp=sharing

"Really I'd say anybody catching up should read threads instead of this because of what goes on in them, so this is more for looking back I'd say." - Ebook anon

Write-ups:
Kara's Day Out - http://pastebin.com/8ZbiSKLs
Adventures with Asche - http://pastebin.com/RNviCBJu
The Reclaimed Doll - http://pastebin.com/n6miP1qT
In Your Shadow - http://pastebin.com/EfeeHFAE
Friends Forever - http://pastebin.com/Yn0QaTVB
The Woman Beneath Steel - http://pastebin.com/pMGgiHC3
Paper Flowers - https://pastebin.com/Pk0W7rEm
Merciless Compass - https://pastebin.com/8Hy0krxv
Better Strangers - https://pastebin.com/mvShXpCt

Misc notes:I have answered many Asks. Anyway, halfway through may is basically April.

Memo:
1. Work through dying before it causes issues with the Shade scar.
2. Return and investigate the Dryad Shrine
3. Investigate the Valen catacombs

Itinerary:
1. Discern knights with an affinity for Mana worth polishing.
2. Contact the Crown
3. Track down Asche, who left to find the descendant of the Ice Queen's bloodline.
4. Track down the Tier siblings, currently located in Resuri.
5. Expedition for resources to the north.
6. Unfinished business at the Ruined Shrine.
7. Meditate to Shade today with bracelet removed to try and deal with the claws

Current Goal:
What's On Your Mind:
>>
>>5273573
>Kill your uncle. Your family was already broken, better to clean up loose ends.
Die you disgusting parasite!
>>
Hi Riz! You're 5 months early!

>>5273573
>"...And if I hadn't had them do it to me, there was no way I would have let them do it to my wife."

This guy. I notice you're still in one piece you cheeky fucker.

>>Leave him to imprisonment. You couldn't waste more time on him.

He might be of some small use later. Until then,
>explain what it means to implant NW into your body, explain that whatever happens to him he will be unable to die until the plant is physically removed or destroyed.
>such is the fate he dealt Clara, and if she dies during the removal perhaps we will bury him alive to endure as a living corpse for centuries untold until he stops thinking
We'll probably just rip out the plant and kill him normally but there's no reason not to let him sweat.
>also you're on quarter rations from now on. Its not like you can starve to death any more.

We could use him as a dry run for the removal later. Just throwing that out there.
>>
>>5273573
>Leave him to imprisonment. You couldn't waste more time on him.
I wonder if the Bracelet would work on him now, since he has been integrated with the Nymph Wood.
>>
>>5273674
This is a funny idea. Let's try it.
>>
>>5273573
>Forgive him. The bond of trust was lost, but he wasn't your enemy. He was still family.
>>
>>5273564
Welcome back.

>>5273567
>and you'd taken that opportunity to seize authority of the house
More like finally claimed our birthright, but who's counting?

>>5273573
>Kill your uncle. Your family was already broken, better to clean up loose ends.
He has exposed himself as a traitor and a fraud to his core, and he is a considerable liability. And I harbor a spark of worry about him having a "man on the inside" that could spring him.


>>5273674
If he was integrated with a Dryad creature, it might've done something. But iirc, Nymph's Wood doesn't react to bracelet, which makes sense with the current theory about the wood's nature.
>>
YEAH, this guy has been an artemis plant from day one. i say we done kill this mother fucker. yea
>>
>>5273573

>Forgive him. The bond of trust was lost, but he wasn't your enemy. He was still family.

How droll, he's turned himself into an abomination.

Even if he can be easily killed (which is an if based on Clara's condition), he's more valuable alive, he's one of our few remaining levers on Caylen, and an useful specimen for figuring out how the hell to put Clara back together.

The difference between ourselves and Byrn is some nebulous confluence of power and fortune. Our most trusted allies now were once as wretched as he is, and they would chose no different if they were given only that opportunity.

He IS pathetic and loathsome, that is true, but that cuts both ways. He's quite literally not worth killing for the weight it will put on Irue's mind. Further, his death would count against us: We've already started accumulating dangerous stories the moment we ascended to head of House Valen, killing our regent is politically inconvenient.

I say we keep him here. Figure some useful countermeasures against escape and enemy contact and move on to more important things. In the rare case that Artemis finds enough value in him to extract him, that very scenario would be one of our best leads to rooting them out.

And to be perfectly frank, he wants to die. You know it, I know it, and in Auntie Clara's house, we use spite. If he does not have the will to be useful to family he betrayed, we will assign him one.

Why would he ever think he would be permitted to escape this?
>>
>>5274069

I should note that it wasn't a mistake to take that prompt. He can't be allowed to roam free, but there's no point in hating him or ignoring him. He's not any more pathetic than Caylen galivanting on his own little adventure as the "hero"

It's in his stupid, spineless nature. To hate him is to give him more credit than he's due.
>>
>>5273573
>>Kill your uncle. Your family was already broken, better to clean up loose ends.

Blood for the blood god
>>
Will be updating a little later tonight!

>>5273607
I'm a month late! Late!
>>
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>>5273587
>>5273832
>>5274110
Kill!

>>5273607
>>5273674
Leave him to be dealt with later.

>>5273829
>>5274069
You couldn't bring yourself to hate the man.

There's a first time for everything, today's first time is Irue killing someone with their own hands! No more will our death tally be relegated to indirect slaughter.

Curious path we've chosen, but writing!
>>
>>5274592
This sort of result makes me wish that contentious votes were a binary choice so votes don't get "split" like this, especially with something so important.
>>
>>5274607
That's an interesting idea! From a voter/user standpoint that would work out really well, but it creates difficulty on the other end when important outcomes have... Well, more than two possible outcomes.

This vote has relatively little to do with Byrn dying, for reasons another anon caught onto, and is significantly more responsible for shaping Irue.
>>
>>5274609
Ways to do things simultaneously I have seen that other threads do is either
"Modifiers" e.g.
> Option "A"
>> Sub-Option "1"
>>> Modifier "a"
>Option B
etc.

Where each vote is "siloed", and taken independently, so should say Option "A" win the vote above, votes for it's Sub-Option are tallied, so on so forth until everything is exhausted and a result is had

Or

The other one would be to move to a "limited preference" system, where voters can select some number of options (could be a single alternate choice, a set number, up to the voter, or all in order of preference, each changes the exact "mechanics" behind how to get what you want and the influences of voting).

of Options "A"~"E"

>Option "A"
>Option "D"
>Option "B"

The choice(s) with the least votes are reassigned according to "their" next preference until any "option" has more than 50% of the total votes cast, (limiting the number of preferences means that you can prevent a choice by not listing that option and therefor eliminating a possible vote for that outcome should it be one of the last rounds of redistributions, or a "competitor" in it's place), though this has other issues that could become noticeable / exploited (however unlikely), and we do have dice to resolve any ties we get anyway, so an even number of voters doesn't matter, and should a majority option not eventuate, you could either have people revote from a more limited pool of options, only allow votes with all options listed be valid or take the "Plurality candidate"; option with the most votes.

Not to make you change just something to think on, though if you were going to try it I would recommend waiting until a vote with lower "stakes" comes around if that ever happens
>>
>>5274624
>lower "stakes"
No such thing. If we had to vote on the color of underwear to put on for the day, it would be life changing.
>>
>>5274592
Aww dammit, can I still vote for not killing him? I fear for Irue's psyche if she does that.
>>
At this point, could you still forgive your uncle? Your gut twisted upon itself just looking at him, telling you just how unlikely that would be. You didn't hate him, couldn't hate him, but there was something there in its stead. A grudge, maybe? Or disgust? Or maybe just the anger and distress he'd caused that you had no outlet for. The seething, roiling desire to... If not get revenge, then to at least find some way to ensure he could understand just what a miserable thing he'd done. To understand the feeling he'd left you holding.

"So, what now kiddo?" Byrn adjusted his now separated shirt, plump fingers fumbling over the uselessly pinned buttons on one side. "You've taken control, so I assume I'll be sitting in a cell for quite some time?"

You lifted Lily from your face, gently disentangling the attentive child's vines from your hair in the process. Byrn's gaze followed her more than it did you, suspiciously glowering at the little Dryad apparition as you set her aside and softly shushed her curious complaints.

"I thought about it. Leaving you locked up, at least until aunt Clara could wake up and judge you herself." For all the wrongs he had done you, you held no delusions that his crimes against you outweighed that of the ones against your aunt. No, in a better world, she would have been the one to pass judgement on her husband for what he'd done. "I suspect you're worth keeping around, as well. You've worked extensively with Artemis, and Caylen... Caylen, Caylen, Caylen..." You trailed off, flexing the fingers of your ruined wrist contemplatively. You still felt nothing from it, even as the Shade scar's presence colored your skin with ink-like tendrils. It shouldn't be operable, but you'd become quite dextrous with it out of necessity once the claws had manifested. "Caylen would be very upset if something happened to you. I don't know if he'd ever forgive me."

"I may be able to answer some questions." Byrn agreed, finally taking his eyes off Lily as you stepped towards him. "I'd like to avoid interrogation, if possible. Not a fan of pain. Not that I think you would do anything rash, kiddo." He levied a disarming smile your way. "So, what do you want to know?"

"I don't want to know anymore from you, Byrn. What I want is to help you understand."
"It wants its siblings to understand."

"...Pardon? Understand what?"
"Understand what, exactly?"

"What you've caused."
"Pain. Suffering. Rejection. Loss. The way it feels to have the things you love ripped away. Loneliness."
>>
Your foot crossed the threshold of Nymph's Wood's safety, unhurriedly advancing on the larger man. Lily had to be set aside for you to do this, because that child would have never allowed you to get this close. And, in truth, without Lily you were rather outsized by your uncle. He certainly had you in weight several times over, and his raw physical strength could probably haul you off the ground with minimal effort.

"...Irue, think clearly. I know you must be upset with me, but if you lose yourself to revenge now, you'll regret it."
"That sounds a lot like hate."

"This isn't revenge, uncle." You raised your claws to strike.
"It's not."
"It's education."

You couldn't feel the claws parting his flesh, nor the depth of the lacerations as you shred through fat and muscle alike, but the smell of blood was overpowering... And the flecks splattered across your face burned. Lily watched on, her attention undoubtedly rapt on your every move, as your arm lashed out to carve the necessary lessons into Byrn's body. The biggest problem was simply that he didn't want to learn. He'd let himself be crippled to catch your arm, and with it trapped once more in his grasp the scenario from before his arrest swiftly repeated.

Without a chance to let you recover, his sausage like fingers clenched and the whole of his sizable weight was swung around to deliver a meaty hook to your temple. Your head whipped around with it, the rest of your body crumpling nearly to the ground from sheer physical shock as he tightened his iron grip on your clawed hand and kept your slackened body aloft with it. "Mana damn you, Irue!" He growled, rearing his mallet like fist back to strike again. "We didn't have to do this!"

A second blow to your temple bounced your skull off the floor, and the third and fourth which followed... Your body jerked with every blow your uncle landed, and they continued to rain. Wild, heaving strikes, like being manhandled by a boar. With every strike, Lily continued to watch, separated from you by the Nymph's Wood warding.

Finally, his haggard beating came to an end. He gasped for breath, lifting you from the floor by the shirt with both hands to roll your head limply about your shoulders. "Dammit. Dammit all." He cursed between breaths, "Everything's going wrong. Luna only knows what to do now..."

Weakly, you managed to lay your uninjured hand on his arm, and in doing so snap his attention back to you as you pulled your head forward... And sheathed your serrated claws between his ribcage. "The Paladin hit a lot harder..." You groused, squinting dizziness from your eyes while ink-like clouds swirled thickly across your skin, dispersing back beneath your pale complexion to expose the unblemished surface.
>>
You had barely started getting your feet back under you before Byrn had shoved you away, leaving you sprawling uncouthely across the flower garden Lily had made of the floor - Said apparition wasting little time in reaching out to caress your forehead.

Sitting up, you shook your head lightly to clear the remaining dizziness. There'd been a vague feeling of impact, but nothing more. You were scared for a moment, but fear had quickly given way to motion sickness, and you felt a little nauseous still... You cracked an eye open, having felt safe in taking your time recovering given Lily's proximity, only to find your uncle trying to sputter something at you desperately. He tried, his hands clutching at his chest where deep scarlet poured freely, but only viscous, wet rasps escaped.

You shook out the twinge in your arm, flinging a shredded chunk of your uncle's chest cavity to the floor with a heavy splat. You imagined bits and pieces of some organs were in there, but you knew little and less of biology, and it all looked like hamburger now anyway. "Ah..." You held a hand to your head as you finally got back to your feet. "Now look what you've done." You stepped over the discarded viscera, studying Byrn's labored attempts to wheeze breathe into shredded lungs. A frown tugged at your lips, and you waited. Looked the man in his eyes and resolved yourself to be the witness to your uncle's final moments.

...His final, pained moments.

His final, pained, wheezing moments.

His-

Your frown deepened. Then, your eyes widened.

"It won't let you die, will it?" You murmur, stepping towards the man. You stood over him for once, looming over his slumped body after he'd dropped to his knees, trying to form words, to form a response. But, if he hadn't managed to by now... He wouldn't be able to. Dryad may deny death, but it couldn't heal your injuries. The best it could do was keep you alive, no matter how battered, broken or ruined your body became. You knew that rather intimately.

You knelt before him, looking your uncle in his tear glazed eyes, and laid your clawed hand gently, and ever so carefully, on his shoulder. "I'm sorry." A simple, heartfelt apology. "For what it's worth, I don't hate you. I'll never be able to forgive you for what you've done, though... And you're going to have a very, very long time to understand why." You squeezed his shoulder, carving sinew and tendon in the process of what would otherwise have been a reassuring gesture.

And Lily watched on.
>>
The guards outside the door stood stiffly at attention when you finally left the room, covered in bloodstained clothes. You stood at the threshold of your uncle's room, with Lily now once more resting along your forehead, momentarily at a loss. Nymph's Wood was going to do everything it could to prevent your uncle from dying, and you have no idea how similar to Dryad it could be in that regard.... But unless you picked the man's body apart to surgically remove the plant from him, killing him wasn't quite as certain an option as you'd expected it to be.

You wiped at your face with an undirtied sleeve, dabbing ticklish moisture from your eyes before tears could form and frustrate you further.

Maybe your uncle... Maybe Byrn had been right. Maybe Dryad had influenced you more than you knew. But maybe you were starting to understand how Dryad felt, and the feelings its siblings had left it with in that unending nightmare.

Whichever the case, so much had gone wrong in that room. You couldn't even kill him now without torturing him, thanks to Nymph's Wood... But you had meant to kill him. To bury your affection towards him once and for all and clean up a blatant loose end.

...Maybe the only family you had left were just broken pieces, but with this you were letting even the pieces fall from your shaking hands.

"Ser Valen?" You nudged Lily's mask with your knuckle as you wiped your eyes one last time, letting her slide down in place to hide your face. The redness in your eyes at the moment had nothing to do with your bloodline.

"What?"

"Do we..." The guard hesitated, "Are there new orders, or should we continue to keep watch?"

"...Stay here." He wasn't dead. You sniffled undignifiedly, clearing your throat.

"As you wish." The guards returned to their post, and you...

>You needed to work. You had a lot to do, and all of it would make a good distraction.
>>Hunting down the sole remaining Artemis agent still hiding somewhere.
>>'A Spider's Web'
>>Filching out what details you could of the territory from Byrn's dealings.
>>Other? (write-in)

>You needed to unwind after that.
>>'A Spider's Web'
>>Address the nightmare colt that had accosted you.
>>Check on your aunt.
>>Seek someone out to spend time with (who?)
>>'A Spider's Web'
>>Other? (write-in)

Alright, let's try it out! Pick your main option and your sub-option, and we'll go from there.
>>
>>5274730
>>Hunting down the sole remaining Artemis agent still hiding somewhere.
>>'A Spider's Web'
>>
>>5274730
This was horrifying. I'm afraid for what you anons did to Irue with your careless vote.

>You needed to work. You had a lot to do, and all of it would make a good distraction.
>>Hunting down the sole remaining Artemis agent still hiding somewhere.
>>
>>5274730
>You needed to work. You had a lot to do, and all of it would make a good distraction.
>>Hunting down the sole remaining Artemis agent still hiding somewhere.
Let's get this out of the way.
>>
>>5274730
I'm presuming the different prefixes are option and sub.
>>You needed to work. You had a lot to do, and all of it would make a good distraction.
>>Hunting down the sole remaining Artemis agent still hiding somewhere.
How we're going to do this, I don't know. They very well might already be gone. But the sooner that any further potential of meddling vanishes the better.

>You needed to unwind after that.
>>Address the nightmare colt that had accosted you.
We're gonna need wheels. Or legs, but Rinnier might not always be an option for that, and I don't think she gives rides.

I'm hesitant to suggest this especially since, while I wouldn't have gone with trying to snuff out Byrn, the inability to do so provides some...opportunities for study. Is it worse to try and kill your uncle or to vivisect him? Honestly, the former is just court politics, though the latter might be objectionable.
It's not something I'm partial to doing because I don't know how much we really need to learn about the interaction between the Nymph's Wood and a human body right now, I'm just floating ideas.
>>
>>5274849
>Is it worse to try and kill your uncle or to vivisect him? Honestly, the former is just court politics, though the latter might be objectionable.
Our moral compass caught fire and melted during our handling of Ari's torture room, so I don't see why we would have a problem with it. We've got more pressing things to deal with, but any moral objections are long gone.
>>
>>5274733
whoops I confused the format. Basically hunt down the artemis agent
>>
>>5274730
>You needed to unwind after that.
>>Address the nightmare colt that had accosted you.
>>
>>5274730
>You needed to unwind after that.
>>Check on your aunt.
We're probably going to need to wind ourselves back up in order to do what comes next.
>>
>>5274853

This is the problem with it. It's tautological.

The end of morality is not when you do evil or do not do good, but when you ignore the difference.

It defeats the purpose of the exercise to be upset at a decision. That said, forgive me if I fight tooth and nail against the amoral Irue.
>>
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I felt drained and empty for the remainder of the day after reading this.

tfw valen quest

>>5274730
>You needed to unwind after that.
>>Check on your aunt.
>>
>>5275262
Anon the thread just started, you can't be like that yet! We still have so much time for it to get worse.
>>
>>5275282
Riz have we ruined Lily?
>>
>>5275400
Being a parent is filled with worries like these, anon!
>>
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>>5275262
>I felt drained and empty for the remainder of the day after reading this.
pic related

By the way, I hope we get out of this bloody clothing before doing our next task. We don't need even more rumors going around about us.
>>
I'm afraid to even really look at the story posts after seeing what was being voted on, given that I still haven't caught up. However, seeing all the dejected voices in the aftermath, I almost wish I voted despite not know what is going on.
>>
I liked the update, for one. Haha
>>
>>5274733
>>5274757
>>5274835
>>5274849
Need to work!
Sub option that won here was hunting down the remaining Artemis agent. With the web.

>>5274849
>>5275001
>>5275051
>>5275262
Need to unwind!
Suboption that won here was nothing, because you tied on checking on your aunt and dealing with the colt.

First test of voting system lead immediately not just to a tie, but a tie where if one side won, it would be tied again anyway.. Gonna flip a coin on this if no one breaks the tie in the next ~15m or so, then get writing!

>>5275806
Old anon catching up, or new anon? It's really surprising to think there might actually be new anons even these days. How far have you caught up so far?
>>
Rolled 2, 2 = 4 (2d2)

>>5275878
1. Finding artemis!
2. Unwinding!
2a. Check on your aunt
2b. Go confront the colt.
>>
>>5275878
I was the anon that was still catching up in recent prior threads. I only ever caught the very first thread live, I've been catching up ever since when I have the time.

I actually can't remember where I last was in catching up, I think it was something big to do with Dryad or something.
>>
You needed to unwind. You'd already done all you could looking through Byrn's records earlier, and short of 'A Spider's Web' or Lily, you didn't have many ways you could feasibly help Rinnier and the house guards search out the missing Artemis agent. No, the more you thought of things you should be doing, the more you felt like what you needed was space. Something to focus on that didn't have any overarching stakes or stress attached to it. A distraction.

Fortunately, this place had plenty of those. In fact, there was an unexplained immature nightmare lurking out in the stables just waiting for you to go be distracted by it! The thought didn't arouse much enthusiasm in you, but it was at least enough to make you curious.

Aunt Clara's Testament, Ser Stomperson, had inflicted a storied degree of miserable experiences and traumas upon you from as far back as you could remember - Perhaps unfairly, this had contributed handily towards a general disdain for all horses. While you weren't an expert on Manaborne beasts precisely, you had the general understanding that Nightmares were all, by nature, foul and dickish creatures; Despite taking the form of a horse, they were theorized to be primarily carnivores who deliberately taunted, harassed, and played with their prey before killing it. A side effect, you remember reading, that many scholars attributed to Shade's influence.

They were correct, in a sense, as your aunt had been fond of noting that Ser Stomperson could smell your fear. Manaborne beasts associated with Shade often displayed inexplicable empathic capabilities... While it was true nightmares were carnivorous, a fair portion of their diet, some few studies speculated, consisted of emotional vampirism. Which was to say, there was a very real chance that Ser Stomperson derived some form of snacking from the ire and misery he'd rampantly caused to those around him, and the possibility pissed you off.
>>
Memories of suffering to the ill-natured bastard didn't help your lack of enthusiasm dealing with the colt, but it was a relief in its own way. A relatively harmless sort of anger and frustration, which you could just let yourself be mad over without any extra baggage. Fortunately, you weren't going to have to deal with said Testament today, and with any luck the colt would be less of an all-round asshole than its sire.

Unfortunately, this reminded you that Ser Stomperson was dead now - thanks to Artemis - and this left you dangerously threatening to circle back to the very baggage you were trying to put aside for the moment.

Shoving it all out of your mind, you come to a stop in front of the closed up stables. Everything was still firmly shut, just as you'd left it after scrambling free of the thing's impromptu ambush the first time around... So it should still be inside.

Knowing its general location didn't quite help you though, since the insides of the stable were pitch black. Even if you could see in the dark, nightmares quite literally disappeared in the darkness. It was part of how they hunted.

Your arms crossed, careful not to accidentally ruin your bloodstained clothes any further with an errant finger swipe. You could set about weaving to not have to deal with its ability to hide... Or try to use Lily's ability to sense life to deal with it in a less accurate and objectively inferior in all ways manner. The affectionate child's leaves gently brushed across your cheek when the idea crossed your mind, perhaps catching a hint of your thoughts through the bracelet's connection.

You nudged the vine gently, feeling Lily wiggle as you pet her, and let your eyes unfocus while staring up at the stable doors.

...What was your plan here? Nightmares were sadistic bastards at the best of times, and you have no idea if the recent death of Ser Stomperson had left this one in an even worse mood. Were they a family-oriented beast? Could they even feel affection? You have no idea. You didn't even know what it was here for, it was just something your aunt did at some point. Some pet project of hers, maybe.

>What is your goal with this thing?
>>
>>5275984
>Tame it
It's still young, so if we're going to do it, let's do it now. I doubt it will be easy but might as well try
>>
>>5275984
If we're to establish rapport, and more importantly, command, over this beast, we'll need to understand it. As a Shade beast, though, we do have a decent amount of experience in dealing with such things...as well as being somewhat of a Shade beast ourselves.
As this colt is Ser Stomperson's progeny, perhaps, a good thing to try and attune to with Shade might be a feeling of vengeance? That's certainly been cultivated by smearing ourselves with Uncle's blood. Never say to anybody "I'm covered in my uncle's fluids"
So to specify:
>Attune to Shade- Try and build an empathetic link with the Nightmare.

My prediction for the future:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8DTGd9XQtw
>>
>>5275984
I have no idea what to do with it. Are we planning on stealing it away from our Aunt? If so, we might be able to swing an angle in our shared Shade leanings. Of course, knowing Shade's competition and challenge aspects, that'll just make the thing even more difficult to handle.

Frankly, I'd rather stay away from it entirely, but if we're going to interact with it I dunno what other reason we have to interact with it.

Could always burn down the stables with the colt inside as a final revenge on Ser Stomperton.
>>
>>5275984
Kill it.
>>
>>5275984
>>5276398

Being a shadetouched creature, we need to remember it's entirely possible to impress it (in the archaic sense of the term)

It's not insurmountable, and despite being aloof, it is not unreachable.

I say the simplest way to do it it is to walk in there. I don't know why we decided to approach a shade-touched creature to wind down, but the way to do it is probably as follows.

We enter, bold as brass, and wait. It's going to see us, unstable and upset, and it's going to see prey (or at the least, a target).

So we play with it. It tries to scare us, we run. It chases, we turn on it; force it into the dark again. If it strikes, we evade, and we give it a swat on the flank (with the normal hand, please) for the attempt.

The goal isn't to be stoic and deny thing thing, it's to work out our emotions the same way you'd work muscles in therapy. Fear, and relax, anger and calm, up and down, until we've gotten everything warmed back up and balanced.

Let's note that the nightmare remains an adversary in that exercise. An animal, no matter how smart it is. If we let it, it will run us to physical and emotional exhaustion or worse.

But that's Shade baby.

In any case I think that's going to be a more effective (if a bit riskier) option than trying to Nightmare whisperer it from outside.

What are we afraid of anyways?

Oh, just everything. I expect this scene to end in tears, but they might be useful ones. Just make sure we change clothing as soon as we've worked our tension out as best as we can.

>Play with the Nightmare; Hide and seek, scare and flee, cry and laugh.
>>
>>5276569

Line six: deny the thing*
>>
Will be tallying votes and writing shortly!
>>
>>5275993
Taming!

>>5276386 (Shade meditation specifically)
>>5276569 (light hearted mutual abuse)
A form of rapport!

>>5276398
NTR and or death!

>>5276546
Death!

Alright, writing!
>>
A piece of you seriously considered just burning the stables down around it. Nightmares could be a menace, and if it got free and started preying around the countryside then the number of people it'd kill before anyone managed to catch it wasn't something to sneeze at. The fact it would serve as one final, spiteful closure towards your memories of its sire was a coincidence, of course - You've been slipping lately, but you wouldn't kill a child because you hated its parent.

...But if it just lined up that way coincidentally, then- Wait, no. You shook your head ruefully, managing a grim smile despite yourself. Not going to entertain that any further.

So if it wasn't getting put down just yet, your only real options here were to ignore it or try to bring it to heel before it got itself into trouble. You weren't experienced with horses, but you vaguely remember something about breaking them in by riding them? Did that apply to nightmares? They were more a Manaborne beast than a horse... Which theoretically worked out better for you, because you knew a lot more about Mana than you did horses. So if you were to take a guess at how to deal with a Shadeborne beast then...

You rested a knuckle against your chin while you thought it over.

"...It's still riding, isn't it?" You finally murmur, eliciting a reassuring rustling from Lily's vines. "Alright, fine. Exercise it is, then."

You've no idea how long this thing has been locked up in that stable, but if it fed on negative emotions then you'd be damned if you weren't a snack right about now. "What could go wrong?" You direct the question up at Lily while urging her to retract the vines keeping the stable shut. "Worst case scenario it tries to eat me."

"Eat me~" Lily trilled back merrily.

Your eyes roll as the gates wrench open, throwing wide the gaping black maw of the unlit stables to allow a puddle of sunlight to pool just around the entrance. The scent of dried blood washed over you with an almost physical force. Less of a surprise this time, but enough to make you wrinkle your nose all the same... And then tug the beginnings of a frown out of you as you stepped inside.

This thing hadn't been fed in a while as far as you knew, and it was a carnivore. It'd just been left to starve in a place that stank of blood.

You heard the clops approaching the same moment this thought occurred, and in that moment you weren't sure which led to the nervous chill down your spine screaming at you to move.
>>
Meanwhile...

"I just want to sleep..." A man whined pitifully from among his group, shuffling and stumbling in varying states of dignity through the Valen estate halls. "Why do we have to wake up so early? I wasn't this exhausted when we were camping outside that noble brat's house."

"Ser Caylen." Another hissed a correction, shoving the whining man forward. He very nearly fell over from it, but caught himself on the tiredly extended arm of one of the few women in the group.

"Listen, I don't know their names," The man stressed, "There's the feyliege, that bombshell Lamandra, and the creepy one. Amy?"

"Fuck's sake, Barret." The one who'd shoved him ran an aggrieved hand down his face. "Ari. Her name is Ari, and if Miss Lamandra heard you just now, none of us would be saving you."

"I'll take her over the instructor we got." Barret sniffed. "When she's not barking orders she's kinda pretty, sure, but... Man, by the time we're done I couldn't get it up even if someone was working it, y'know? I'm too tired!"

"I don't want to keep listening to this conversation." A woman growled. "Carla, why don't we check out the gardens until our evening session?"

"Ah? Yeah, sure. I heard there's really peppery flower blooming there." The woman holding Barret up perked up, almost dropping him to the ground as she split off from the group. "See you at dinner, boys."

"W-wait, hold on!" Barret stammered, "Carla, you get me, right? We're comrades in this right?"

"Uh..." Carla let the question hang awkwardly. "Nah, I got what I wanted."

"W-What?" Barret came to a full stop in the hall. "No way, bullshit."

"Way~," A lascivious grin split her lips as she taunted her fellow knight. "Shirt comes off an hour in, every day, like clockwork."

"I hate you. I hate you so much."

"And he's so hands on, when he's correcting our stances he'll just wrap his arms around you from behind and move you-"

"I take this as the highest of betrayals." Barret accused. "We are no longer comrades."

"Aw, don't be like that-"

"From today on, my extra rations are going to Thomas."

"Wait no, don't be like that! Barret!" Carla half turned back to the complaining knight, but switched her focus when something out the window caught her eye. "Hey, speaking of the little feyliege! Check it out, out by those stables."

"Huh?" That caught the group's attention, at least in passing, as they slowed their pace to watch their feyliege will open the stable doors.
>>
"How d'ya think that vine thing works, anyway?" Barret mused.

Carla's head tilted. "Eeeh... Ancient bloodline powers, maybe? I was telling Jenna about this rumour I heard back in Carona and-"

"Shade give me strength..." The woman who had broken off first trudged back towards the group to look out the window. "Carla, ancient bloodlines granting magical powers isn't a thing."

"Yeah? Well what about Lamandra, huh? Checkmate Jenna." Carla held her fist out without looking to receive a long practiced bump from Barret. "And since when did you swear on Shade, huh?"

"Since having to deal with you drove me crazy." Jenna deadpanned. "I'll pray to whatever gives me the strength to get through the day, and I can't afford a hangover while training."

"Hey, they went inside!" Barret shook Carla by the shoulder to get her attention, "Did your instructor tell you anything about what was in there? Ours just said not to go near it."

"Uh... A colt, I think?" Carla mused, looking to Jenna for confirmation. "Yeah, but like, not a normal on- Oh shit." The assembled knights cringed painfully as a stream of blond hair arced right back out of the stables and crashed into the grass. They watched on in dead silence as the noble they'd sworn fealty to laid motionless after the impact. "Is... Is Ser Valen okay?"

After a couple seconds longer, the little feyliege sat up and shook their head. They crawled back to their feet, shook out their arms and stalked back into the stables before disappearing into the darkness again. Silence reigned in the hall. Seconds stretching out awkwardly into an eternity... And then the little blonde noble was sent careening back out into the grass, hitting the earth like a smooth stone and skipping along the lawn before rolling to a stop.

"Oh... Oooof."

They got back up quicker this time, forcing themselves right back to their feet and jogging back towards the stables.

"What... What's going on?" Carla laid her palm against the window, then glanced sideways to her peers. "Should we uh... Should we go help?"

"I mean-" Irue's best shooting star impression underwent its third iteration, crashlanding with their spine bent in half. This preceded the quickest recovery so far, with the feyliege surging back to their feet and shouting something too distant to make out before sprinting back inside. "No?"

Barret's answer was more question than statement, and his eyes shifted side to side to seek corroboration on that sentiment. The knights murmured among themselves, somewhat torn on the idea.
>>
The fourth time, what came flying out of the stables was a young horse; Pitch black from nose to tail, with an unruly mane of inky smoke. Its four spindly legs splayed ungracefully along the lawn after hitting the ground, and, not to be outdone, its own drive to scramble back to its feet was a sight to see before it furiously shook its head and stamped clods of dirt up with its hoof. Ducking its head, it stampeded back into the stables.

Wordless, the knights waited.

When their feyliege made a complete flip before hitting the ground the next time they were ejected from the stables, a decision was made.

"Five gold on the horse."

"Carla!" Jenna hissed, "You are not betting on this!"

"I'm with Jen on this one." Barret agreed, "Besides, you ain't got five gold."

"Yeah? Fine. Two gold and I don't tell your instructor you wanted to jerk it to her."

"...Well, first of all." Barret looked offended, "three gold on Ser Valen."

"Barret! Don't encourage her!" Jenna looked aghast.

"Alright, alright, so is anyone else betting?" Carla ignored her friend.

"...What are you all doing?" A different voice altogether cut in. Carla turned with a grin that froze awkwardly on her face when she who it was.

"We're uh... Placing bets on who's gonna win." She managed to explain, "Haven't seen you in a few days, Miska. What're you up to?"

Miska looked past the knights, watching Irue back pedal into a stable post before diving out of the way before they could get sandwiched between said pillar and a pair of hooves. There was a brief moment when it seemed like the small blonde had managed to clamber atop their opponent and had begun riding it... Before it bucked up and slammed its rider's face into the lip of the doorframe to dislodge them.

Stoically, Miska slipped a satchel from her waist and handed it over to Carla. "Ten gold on my feyliege."

Carla stared dumbstruck at the money in her hand, but a cheshire grin bloomed almost immediately after. "Alright! You heard the woman, pot's 13 and Barret's dick goes unkicked if the horse wins! Five for Ser Valen! Who else?!"

Betting began in earnest.

>1d100, 70+ is a success.
>Current score: 4:2, nightmare's favor.
>You can have Lily help you if you want to add an extra +15 to all rolls, but this may constitute cheating to your viewers and endanger the pot. (This does not affect Irue though, the knight's gambling is their own business)

Should Lily perform a more active role in all this? Vote and roll simultaneously.
>Yes.
>No.
>>
Rolled 86 (1d100)

>>5277584
>>Yes.
LETS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
>>
Rolled 30 (1d100)

>>5277584

>No

It really doesn't matter who wins, but it does matter who tries.

Besides, Lily will need to drag us out of there when our absolute lack of conditioning catches up with us.
>>
Rolled 86 (1d100)

>>5277584
>No.
This is supposed to be Irue unwinding right?
>>
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>>5277693
>This is supposed to be Irue unwinding right?
Yes.
>>
Rolled 4 (1d100)

>>5277584
>Yes
Use all means at our disposal.
>>
>>5277693
I think this is Riz unwinding after having to write that horrible scene.
>>
>>5277583
>"Hey, speaking of the little feyliege! Check it out, out by those stables."
Oh no. An audience to our mule-headedness. They already thing we're bizarre, this isn't going to help things!

>"Carla, ancient bloodlines granting magical powers isn't a thing."
It, uh, kinda is a thing. Indirectly. The whole 'Mana don't distinguish between individuals and descendants' thing drives it.

>"Five gold on the horse."
Ok, admittedly, these guys are great. There's a very slapstick thing going on here. Can you imagine what Feyliege Quest would look like? We'd being seeing Rue's absurdity from the outside like this all the time.

>>5277584
>No.
We got this. We totally don't got this but it feels wrong to pull oakenrue into this mutual working out of issues.
>>
Rolled 86 (1d100)

>>5277584
No
>>
>>5277939
Ok at this point, this is getting a little spooky.
>>
Rolled 66 (1d100)

Best of three, right? it's over?
>>
>>5278062
This isn't Bo3, it's a matter of successes! one roll per vote, and if someone doesn't roll with their vote then I'm going to roll Xd100 on the tally to make up for it.
>>
Hey Riz, NW acts pretty different to the (limited) information we have on the fake artefacts made out of fragments. Among other things, it can chase a mana from its throne and occupy territory, almost like a mana proper. Seems like a far cry from the malformed tool/Jinn telephone thing, is it possible they've got some kind of pseudo-mana presence actively managing Dryad's domain now? Like, maybe wherever the nomads are from is its throne, and that's why they have higher birth rates like how you'd expect from Dryad's throne. There's the issue of Rinnier's "stigma" too. She was about as far away from Dryad as you can get when she lost her powers, and they didn't come back once she got away from the Nymph's Wood, which implies that there's some kind of favour or affinity at play beyond the ability of the automaton fragment tools. Also, Lily doesn't seem to love her, which would be strange if Dryad chased away Salamander but could be plausible if there's some kind of replacement Dryad.
>>
Rolled 27 (1d100)

>Three Failures
>Three Success
>>5277584
I will take on the mantle of arbiter of victory. Which is bad news for everybody but fate is a fickle mistress and who she brings over for the party a particular night isn't something you can help.
Except not really because there's still an outstanding roll anyways.
I'll vote for using Lily even though things don't seem to be swinging that way.
>>
>>5278185
M-maybe it's the number of successes rather than successes vs failures.
>>
>>5278185

Anon, we were 2 behind from the get go. The horse is gonna win on score, we gotta win by judges decision.
>>
>>5278176
>NW acts pretty different to the (limited) information we have on the fake artefacts made out of fragments.
It does! They are not the same. The tools you've found were never really born. They can only do the one thing they do. Nymph's Wood, on the other hand, was the "body" of one of the Mana.

It's not accurate to compare the two in form or function, because one is an unborn and artificial imitation, while the other is the mindless and ever-living body of God.
>>
Rolled 37 (1d100)

>>5277922
ah, figured it was Bo3. Rolling.
>>
Rolled 5 (1d100)

>>5277584
>No.
>>
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>>5277602
>>5277852
Yes!

>>5277609
>>5277693
>>5277922
>>5277939
>>5278842
No!

>>5277602
>>5277693
>>5277939
Success! + 2

>>5277609
>>5277852
>>5278062
>>5278185
>>5278230
>>5278842
Fail! + 4

Final tally: 10:5, with Lily kept out of it!

Unfortunately i'll have to update tomorrow. I just finished Dying Light 2 and the experience has left me genuinely too angry to formulate words.
>>
we did pretty ok considering the odds
believe in the power of dice
>>
Ah, well if you're counting the failures too then it was impossible from the start.
>>
>>5278866
Well the question is will it get easier if we try again?
>>
>>5278866
>>5278879

Winning would be nice (and keep Miska's pocket fuller, assuming they don't call off the bet after a particularly powerful toss), but the underlying objective is stubbornness. To the nightmare, we are thing that was tossed nine times and stomped right back into the dark, burning the same dark fuels it knows so well.

At the very least, two angry orphans got some good exercise.
>>
>>5277602
>86
>>5277693
>86
>>5277939
>86

That's...huh. Don't see that every day.
>>
>>5279500
Guess we got 86'd
>>
While others were betting coin and favors, you were betting something far more visceral. You weren't sure what it was yet, but the longer the squabble went on, the more personally offended you were becoming at the idea of losing to a horse. After several humiliating exchanges, Lily had opted to become involved of her own volition and slingshot the surprised nightmare clean out of the stable... A victory, but not one you counted.

The same could not be said for the colt, who evidently took the surprise attack very personally if it squaring up on you in the open sunlight was any indication. The time it took you to assure Lily you could handle this on your own very nearly got you trampled into the stable floors, and your mind remained empty for the next several minutes save for the ever recurring mental scream that you needed to move. It was a command you heeded - desperately - but you weren't trained to fight people, much less semi-invisible horses going wild. Your own movements were just as wild, just as frantic and fevered, as you strained every muscle in your body to avoid catching a pair of hoofs in your chest. Again.

The first time had hurt. Both physically, and your pride. It was your own damn fault, because genius that you were, you thought you were safe. You thought you'd moved far enough. You thought it couldn't stop that quickly or kick from that angle.

The only thought you had after having your breath driven from your forcibly compressed chest was that you couldn't remember ever doing a flip before.

Thinking went out the window after that. You'd just been swatting at it up until then, but feeling the ache in your chest actually made you angrier. It wanted to play? Fine! You'll play. You were going to climb atop the damn thing and ride it into the ground.

You succeeded too; gave the spitefully smug beast the slip and grabbed hold of its smoking mane to half-drag yourself up over its haunches. The smile born from wrapping your legs around its back certainly wasn't something born of joy. Grasping onto it bareback, with your thighs clenching around its heaving, boney frame, the catharsis from demeaning the thing into being your mount was intoxicating.

Probably why you weren't prepared for it to buck you into the door frame.

Lily continued to coo curiously at you, utterly mystified at what you were trying to accomplish... And increasingly resentful that you were getting to play and she was not. She was a well behaved child though, and contrary to her grumblings she didn't try to get involved again.

Had she done so, you're really not sure if the next half hour or so would have gone any better or not. It didn't go well, but could it have gone better? ...Eh.
>>
Moments of victories racked up quickly once you really put your mind to it. The time you spent desperately trying to avoid it lessened, and the time spent trying to mount, remount, or remain mounted increased. Every time the bastard aimed to smash you against a wall or peel you off against an overhanging beam and failed was as sweet as nectar... But those moments dried up all too soon. You weren't even sure why at first, but the answer was as frustrating as it was simple: You were exhausted.

You were quietly kind of proud of how much better you'd gotten over the past year. It wasn't anything to brag about, and no one you could tell it to in the first place would have been impressed, but you keenly remember how hard just trekking around the woods had been for you when the rite started. The stamina and general familiarity you'd gained with your fight or flight instincts since then put you on a whole other level from the homebody you used to be.

Personal victories, however, were not helping you win a stamina battle with a horse; You might have had the capability to compete on par with it for a little while, but, Wisp help you, you did not have the capacity to keep it up.

You needed an exit plan, and not one that hinged on catching an express escape via hoof. While you'd quickly started to flag, struggling to catch your breath between haggard dives and dodges, the colt seemed fine...? Or maybe better than fine. It might have actually gotten more energetic as time went on. If that was the case, you needed to end this now, before you got any slower and made a serious mistake.

The window you got knocked out of last time was one way out. You could weave your way towards it and make a break to dive through it after one last juke. It'd be a repeat performance, getting Lily to help slam and seal the stable doors before it could react... But if you were going to involve Lily after all this, you could just as well have her help humiliate the damn thing by tying it down before you left. You weren't so sure it would stay tied down, but you could at least try to tangle it up and walk out on your own terms as one final insult.

...But if you really wanted to put this bastard in its place, you couldn't just change your mind this late in the game and ask Lily for help. You'd have to figure someway to get out and shut the doors before it could rush you.

Further thoughts on that came to an abrupt end when you forced yourself to leap out of the way just before the nightmare's sharp teeth could snap shut around your shoulder as it trot past.

>Out the window, you've done it once already.
>Tangle it up! No such thing as a cheap victory.
>You've got to wrap this up yourself, but how?
>Other? (write-in)
>>
fuck!! what to do? more meditation sheeit?
what if we feinted to try mount it again, except we dashed back and closed the door instead. but even I don't think that will work.
>>
>>5280230
>You've got to wrap this up yourself, but how?
Try to contact the colt with the bracelet? It's manaborn, so maybe it has some contactable mana inside?
>>
>>5280230
>Out the window, you've done it once already.
>>
>>5280230
>Out the window, you've done it once already.

Be ready to draw blood I guess, can't hold back the claws when we're pushed up against the wall like this.
>>
>>5280230
>Out the window, you've done it once already.
Let's be honest here, it's won. Trying to squeak out and keep our dignity intact would be difficult if we were in good shape, nevermind our actual state. Frankly, I'm tempted to let it kick us back out again, and take that as our exit; if we pull a fast one I'm afraid it'll be annoyed enough to pursue.

We should try and close the doors before taking the emergency exit if we can to keep it from escaping though.

Can our spectators see the window from their position? If we go in and don't seem to come out, there may be some panic.

>>5280503
We not in danger as far as I can tell, so doing the equivalent of pulling a knife during a bar fight seems premature. We are going to have a lot of bruises and be in a lot of pain once the adrenaline fades though.
>>
>>5280230
>Out the window, you've done it once already.


>>5280656
>be in a lot of pain
Considering we still can't feel our wrist I don't think that's going to be an issue
>>
>>5280656
What do you think is going to happen if we become incapacitated in a room with starving carnivore? Lily will help us, sure but we're still in danger.
>>
Have a doctor's appointment today and will probably be exhausted by the time I'm back, so update probably tomorrow - unless I heroically pull myself together and manage it tonight.
>>
>>5280415
>>5280503
>>5280656
>>5280709
Okay, out the window!

>>5280397
Bracelet?

alright, writing!
>>
Breaths came hard and uneven; felt like you couldn't take one deep enough, and part of you wondered if the bastard was waiting for you to try before interrupting. You cut a withering glare towards your surroundings, following the clopping of hooves as it circled around you. They were slower than they used to be, but you were certain of it now: It hadn't grown tired. It was taunting you. Slowing down just to savor the hunt.

...Alright. No room for complex plans then, you just needed to get out. If it was confident enough to look down on you like this, then you didn't need Lily to do that much. You took a half-step back and ground the grit along the floor beneath your boot.

Its next charge pushed you towards the open doors, and with each stumbled evasion you managed, the closer you got. Under other circumstances that would have been what you wanted, but cornering you towards the stable entrances meant the colt itself was just as close to the exit. You tried forcing your way further in, but each ingress you made was met with rapid correction.

You were realizing a little late that the nightmare colt had its own plans. Probably to be expected from a nightmare, but annoying all the same. You offered the bastard a few choice insults in your mind, seeing as the breath you'd need to actually hurl them at the creature was a scarce commodity at the moment, and re-evaluated your situation.

Tired, hunted, and being herded towards an exit that would let the colt escape as well. It could leave whenever it wanted, but it hadn't. Why?-

The sudden echo of hooves preceded its next offense, which saw you lifted and tossed some feet back with your stance just barely unbroken.

-You'll worry about it later. Didn't have the time right now. Problem was, it was only going to be a matter of time before its plans came to fruition, and you were losing ground.

Perhaps sensing that frustration, the thing snorted. You weren't sure how much of the smugness in that act was just projection, but Shade take it all the same.

Fine! Fine. Who needs plans? Your plan? Fuck your plan. Ruining its plan? May not know what it was up to, but every step further back into the stables you managed undid just that much more of its work and, Mana as your witness, you knew how to spite something.
>>
When it came trotting up to you next, you braced yourself to be shoved around... Then made a break past its flank to sprint as fast as your weary legs would take you into the dark. You knew you'd gotten a reaction without needing to see it, just from the racket it made trying to turn about and gallop back. You hadn't msde it far before the colt caught up though, couldn't make it far, because the last position you wanted to be in was trying to run in a straight line from a mana damned horse.

Still, being run down like a dog had never felt quite so satisfying.

You ducked its next pass, catching its hind-thigh as it galloped past and sent you hobbling on one off balance leg before you caught yourself and dragged this miserable game of cat and mouse even further back. A few feet here, a couple tangential staggers there... Your chest heaved for air in this musty, suffocating place and you clutched your knees just to try and stay upright. For the strain it cost you, the distance you'd won back was pitiful... And you wasted what little opportunity you had to catch your breath just to snort at the bastard's irritable stamping as he circled.

"Hahaha..." Oh, laughing hurt. Pissing it off was worth the pain though, so you forced out a few more just on principle. "...Ha-Ohshi-"

It was the same evasion you'd made till now, maybe slower. Probably slower. Definitely slower. Not just because you were tired, but you'd been out of breath and too distracted gloating. You'd lost maybe a second, maybe a split second, of time reacting and the damn thing had chosen that pass to get rougher. What should have been a glancing blow caught you hard in the ribs, and in that fleeting, airborne second you had two thoughts.

The first was that it had been going easy on you as part of its little game, apparently.

The second, somewhere between the gasping wheeze it forced out of you as your ass hit the ground and skid your back against the straw strewn floor, was that it must have hated you laughing at it.

You rolled to your knees as quickly as you could, forcing yourself through the unpleasant if increasingly familiar process of manually restarting your breathing after having all the air driven from you, and scrambled to get back to your feet. Once it caught you on the floor it was over- But it knew that, and before you could manage a recovery it had already born down on your back.

Instinct took hold and you abandoned hope of standing up altogether, throwing yourself from all-fours to one side and splaying your finger tips to catch the floor as you tumbled. Your Shade-scar claws gouged a trail of violent rivets where you slid, providing the friction needed to arrest momentum. You had a chance then, one you wouldn't get again, to drive every screaming muscle in your body into launching forward into an off-balance, desperate, sprinting lunge.
>>
You caught the colt's flank just as it turned, driving your knee into its ribs while you scrambled half-folded over its back to find purchase on your newly regained mount. A circumstance you were none too confident in, and it was even less pleased about... But when it bucked you up, you finally managed to catch its smoking mane in the darkness and wrest your legs around it once more. Its hind leapt to try and dislodge involuntary passenger, but for every second you were worth you laid yourself flat against its back and clung on; Clung through its whinnying tantrums and violent upheavals. You wrapped its mane about your fingers until the tension burned, squeezing your thighs and calves flush to its boney flanks, and held on through sheer adrenaline.

There's no way to know how long that lasted. A couple seconds, or as many in minutes, all you knew were the blind instants where your body was aflame and you moved by touch to keep your hard-won victory... And then a flash of light, and like all the other victories before it, your body failed you - or your focus slipped - or any number of other reasons you may well never know the truth behind which left you sailing weightless through the air one more time before crashing unceremoniously into the ground.

Landing in a narrow shaft of light, you scrambled numbly to stand again. You stumbled, foot slipping even as you rose, and saw freedom ahead of you. That blessed window, so close, just a little more...

...But you hadn't managed a step before the nightmare was upon you, and its maw snapped shut as you ran. You heard it, and you heard it again, and again, and you didn't dare look back because the only thing to greet you would be teeth. You'd only just stretched out your hands to the stable window when your head snapped back and all sense of self preservation evaporated in a flash-point.

Its teeth closed around your hair, and you were rooted. It pulled back, and whatever success it felt crumbled when the heel of your boot arced through its jaw like a star carving through the night sky.
>>
The next moment you remembered was seeing the green, sun-touched grass racing up to meet you as you fell from the window. Some distant, far more responsible part of your mind calling to Lily to slam the stable doors shut as you laid there blearily.

A vacant stare towards the clear blue sky was all you could manage, and gradually you became aware of just how hard you were breathing. How hard your heart was hammering. How you couldn't so much as feel your muscles. You barely even wanted to move.

...The stable doors shook roughly. Hard enough you could hear them tremble from where you laid. Once. Twice. The repeated strikes drawing bitter laughter from the depths of your gut, and the laughter bringing aching pain along with it. You rolled onto your side, curling into a ball to hold your stomach as you laughed, and that half-manic, half-pained fit renewed with each desperate attempt the colt made to break down the stable doors.

You kept laughing even after it gave up.

It'd be some time before it finally died down, giving you the wherewithal to pull yourself together again. When you did though, you had to look down at the tattered mess of your clothes and sigh. Blood splattered, now ripped, scraps torn with no rhyme nor reason where you'd narrowly avoided its taunting nips in the dark. Your dress was well beyond repair at this point, short of cutting off a length of it. Even then, it'd take some doing to make it presentable again.

May as well just replace it. Another dress, maybe. Something easy to move in, lighter weight. Durable enough for travel... Whichever the case, couldn't keep walking around in this. You'd change clothes first, then... Something. You hissed under your breath, easing your feet under you once more, and wrapped your dignity about you as you walked back to the estate.

"...Bet I could steal some pants from aunt Clara."

>Just replace your dress. There's probably some of yours around the estate somewhere.
>Take the opportunity to borrow some of your aunt's clothes. Pants are more practical for traveling, anyway.

Additionally...
>Other ideas for outfit change? (include what character development you think has led to this choice)
>Strange ideas will be ignored.
>>
"...What was that about?"

Carla blurted out the first thing on her mind as she, and the rest of the knights, gathered around the windows. The betting pool had started strong, but the confrontation between the stable's occupant and their feyliege stretched out long enough to start making the whole affair uncomfortable. Even more so as said feyliege had started to visibly tire.

Not a word was spoken in the hall after both of them had disappeared back into the stable and out of sight, and that pregnant silence broke into varied murmurings once vines sprouted in front of the building. They wreathed the open doors, slamming them shut and sealing the colt and the blonde noble inside with tightly wound coils to bind the threshold - Which only proved more and more necessary as the occupants within tried to break their way out not moments later.

Concern turned to confusion once the blonde noble finally walked out from around the side of the stables, looking for all the world like they'd picked a fight with a grinder, and adjusted their hair idly while walking back towards the estate.

"How'd they get out?" Jenna muttered, glancing past the retreating noble to study the building. "Back door? Window?"

"Doesn't matter, who won?" Barret wasted no time zeroing in on what was important. "Cuz' it's looking like Ser Valen won, just saying."

"Oh fuck you, look at 'em." Carla gestured bluntly towards Irue, "That horse thrashed the little feyliege."

"Yeah but it's the horse that's all locked up still. That's a win." Barret insisted, turning to the others to try and garner support. "Right? Last one standing. Hey, hey you get me, right Miska? ...Miska?" He swiveled in place, frowning as he looked around for a missing face. "Oi, when'd Miska leave?"

"Probably around the time she realized she'd lost ten gold." Carla snarked.

Arguments resumed, but the knights had already begun to disperse. The distraction had taken up far more time than they'd expected, and their next training session was rapidly approaching.

>There's some free time here for Irue.
>Due to previous choices, you cannot opt to weave, take part in artemis hunting, speak to Tanya, or do anything related to interrogation and/or your uncle. All of those have either been taken care of or previously delegated.
>Some events will occur regardless of write-in
>>
>>5283931
>>Just replace your dress. There's probably some of yours around the estate somewhere.
we mixed up as a dude often enough even when wearing a dress.
>>
>>5283934
>and you didn't dare look back because the only thing to greet you would be teeth.
This was amusing, but I don't think we should repeat it; that thing is dangerous and malicious. Next time we might not get away so cleanly.

>"Oh fuck you, look at 'em." Carla gestured bluntly towards Irue, "That horse thrashed the little feyliege."
Agreed. You don't count "successful retreat" as a "win".

>"Yeah but it's the horse that's all locked up still. That's a win."
The horse wouldn't have been in danger of leaving the stables if we hadn't opened them up in the first place. I don't think that counts for much.


>?
Did we ever get the knight training up and running? Maybe go see how they're doing.
>>
>>5283931
>Take the opportunity to borrow some of your aunt's clothes. Pants are more practical for traveling, anyway.

>?
Get to work on our shade scar
>>
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>>5283931
>Take the opportunity to borrow some of your aunt's clothes. Pants are more practical for traveling, anyway.
>Other ideas for outfit change? (include what character development you think has led to this choice)
Besides outfit changes always being neat, this is an opportunity to properly shift into the appearance of our new place as head of the household. What with both aunt and uncle now being changed into roughly cubed steak. Though I'd advise against dressing exactly like Clara unless the first thing we do when we get to Caylen is bend him over a knee and spank him.
To that end, I'd probably want to look for a cloak or coat or something properly marking us as an authority figure, or some similar outward status symbol. I'm not exactly sure of what to go for, exactly- the weight of any armor probably isn't something Irue would take well.
>>5283995
Well if you'd rather make things certain one way or the other- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5A55eWbiBI
>Strange ideas will be ignored.
Or perhaps not. Really though these things can be readily solved by sufficient padding if it's a concern.

>>5283934
>There's some free time here for Irue.
Drop in on that training session. I very much doubt Irue would gain anything from it besides more bruising, but it'd be a good opportunity to see how well the knights are taking to it. A practical demonstration of their development and current level, before we inevitably send them to get massacred and finish the job we started so long ago.

As a side note, how much is ten gold to somebody like Miska? Presuming that the value of the coinage is in the metal and not a guarantee of value from the kingdom or whomever minted the money, considering the shaky status of the government...
>>
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>>5283934
Personally I'd call this a wash, it would appear that the colt had the same goal as Irue, and both of them remain unbroken. As far as the betting pool goes though, we took more of a beating than the horse so I guess Carla might have a point. Unless we order them to consider it a draw.

>Replace your dress.
>Take the opportunity to borrow some pants.
Get one of those long dress coats, wear pants underneath.

>(include what character development you think has led to this choice)
Irue is cool now, therefore she should wear a dress coat.

>There's some free time here for Irue.
>Check in with our knights, get their thoughts on how things are going.
>Get the instructors thoughts too.
>Ask Miska's instructor how she's doing. Do not be overheard.

If we still have free time after that,
>Meditate to shade, investigate the scar and attempt to control it.
>>
>>5284257
>Get to work on our shade scar
Don't want to lose our nifty claws though. Maybe if we keep putting it off we'll get more Shade powers?
>>
>>5284595
Somehow I feel like this is inadvisable without the counsel of a Shade adept.
>>
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>>5284510
>how much is ten gold...
oh boy... Alright, you can skip to the tl;dr for a short answer, otherwise, here we go.

So I've generally made an effort to keep things like economics out of the spotlight, because when it comes down to hard numbers of supply, demand and inflation, I'm just not knowledgeable enough to make anything close to immersive quality. I've got lore and worldbuilding that provides context for estimates, but the closer we zoom in, the more I shrug.

Even gold as a point of currency is a bit curious in setting because Gnome adepts can relatively easily locate mineral veins, right? This was one of the major reasons you wanted one on hand for your expedition to the north in search of your own source of iron. Well if we take that to mean any nation with the cooperation of Gnome could just excavate gold at rapid speeds and quantities then the value of gold drops quite a bit, right? That's strange on its own. But there is an in-setting precedent that minerals tend to most commonly and abundantly occur closer to Gnome's influence, which is to say, further south around the Teranford/Ephlesia area. Teranford uses an abundance of metallurgy compared to the other nations precisely because of this, and their natural affinity for Salamander providing the necessary flamework. This means that economically, Teranford would have been quite wealthy through sheer natural resources, before even touching on their ocean-facing nation status allowing for port to port trade with East Heaven and Ephlesia, as well as seafood and salts. Conversely, minerals are somewhat rare in La'Fiel - Rare enough that there's a cultural precedent which designates swords as being tools of luxury or status because the iron necessary to forge them compared to, say, spears or bows, is exhorbitantly priced due to lack of supply (and this has only increased after Teranford's fall, as they served as the primary exporter of such minerals).

Gold as a unit of currency would then make more sense in La'fiel as a legacy policy inherited from East Heaven, where the people who originally founded the country were in large part merchants and some disenfranchised individuals from the already established kingdom which occupies a somewhat vague powerhouse category, but given La'Fiel's general lack of said minerals, the only way they would be able to sustain such a unit of currency would have been to leverage significant trade efforts in order to import it from elsewhere, meaning their economy's health would be dependent on the continued health and willingness to trade of East Heaven (locked down) and Teranford (fallen). The moment they were cut off from that, the accessibility of new gold flowing into the nation would become stringent.
>>
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>>5284510
>>5284607
At this point the economy would be crashing even if the royalty weren't staging a powergrab against the nobility and disrupting internal trade access. It would be prime time for the nation to begin trying to force a new currency forward less reliant on gold/minerals, or alternatively, minting the same visual coinage with less and less gold purity, eventually introducing other mineral (or non-mineral) denominations. A whole quest could be run purely on being a merchant trying to navigate La'Fiel's economic landscape during all of this, and I'd probably adore it Spice & Wolf Quest! Let's go! but I do not trust myself to have the knowledge to run it consistently, or to any form of satisfaction.

So with the context for the national economy in place, we can return to the original question of how much is ten gold worth, and the answer is that, due to a lack of supply (Teranford/East Heaven), and a surge in demand (nobility and royalty both readying for war), the economy is undergoing a severe deflation, which means pure gold coins will dwindle in circulation and consequently their value will rise significantly. The royalty and/or individual territories may be in the process of trying to arrest this economic freefall by changing over currencies, but gold is, and always be, universally accepted.

TL;DR
a piece of gold could probably be likened to between ~50-75 USD. It used to be worth quite a bit less and in the future it will be worth quite a bit more. For your knights, their pay is a matter of schrodinger's money, Most of their day to day needs are taken care of, but they don't really receive money, because up until recently, Irue's only source of money was the mayor's stash you secured back in the first arc... And that went mostly towards Carona.

As a result, what they're betting is most likely just the remnants of whatever savings they had managed to scrounge together and carry with them after being driven from their homes. How much each of them has will vary, but it's unlikely any of your knights have more than ~30-40 gold on them. The average is probably much closer to... Well, somewhere around ten. It'd run out in a month or two if they had to take care of their own needs.
>>
>>5284598
I think any counsel offered by a shade adept would be inadvisable by default.
>>
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>>5284510
>>5284610
As a final amusing note of trivia, due to the economic circumstances, some of your knights have technically become richer after fleeing their homes with only their life's savings than they were when they were actually making a regular income. It's genuinely questionable as to whether your knights are even aware of how the economy they're operating in has changed, and subsequently, what the actual value of the money they're carrying is worth. They've been outside the system for quite a while, and so are operating on outdated value estimates.
>>
>>5284607
>>5284610
>>5284616
Nerd.
Hey Miska's single relationship status is now also her wallet status
>>
>>5284612
>>
>>5283995
dress!

>>5284257
>>5284590
Pants!

>>5284510
cloak, coat, something authoritative....

>>5284590
dress coat thing!
---

>>5284017
>>5284510
>>5284590
Check on our knights!

>>5284257
>>5284590
>>5284595
Self reflection!

seems we are fairly uniform in our desires. Writing!
>>
>i got lost in the woods and missed thr vote
>the dress votr, my most anticipated one
Damn you, nature...
>>
>>5284969
What would you have voted for?
>>
>>5285020
Not sure I was gonna do sum thinking. Maybe would have supported ur idea king
>>
Kara would have carried you.

It was an idle thought you had, shuffling through the halls in your ruined clothes. You were tired, and with the adrenaline high wearing off you were starting to realize just how hard you had pushed yourself. It was nostalgic, in a way. This kind of feeling was something you felt almost every night back when the Rite began, but it had been a while since you'd pushed yourself like today. You let yourself be so focused on moving your body that the rest of your thoughts and worries just... Slipped away. Temporarily, at least.

The way you were shuffling along now, you could still get around on your own. It wasn't a desperate, crippled hobble. You just moved slowly, lifted your legs as little as possible, and took smaller steps. Shorter strides. Longer strides would make your muscles hurt more, and if you were careless your knees might give out for a second or two; a little embarrassing, but nothing to worry over. You were fine. Just a little tired.

...And Kara would have carried you.

It would have been much more embarrassing than just losing your balance, to be seen piggy backing on the taller demihuman through the halls. You had an image to keep. Silly things like that wouldn't help cultivate the sort of respect you felt a leader needed. Even worse if she'd just scooped you up and princess carried you. Or, Mana forbid, slung you over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes! It would have been mortifying.

a wry smile found itself across your lips and you shuffled along, letting your idle thoughts take their course. The hallway felt just a little quieter as you went. It was that silence which baited out your reminiscience more than anything; the warm nostalgia of how far you've come inevitably washing up other, less inspiring memories. The constant chatter you'd have with Asche, the shouting matches you'd always end up in with Rinnier, the frantic uncertainty over how to handle Ari, and how Kara always brought a certain chaotic sort of energy with her where ever she went.

You don't think Kara ever really respected you as a leader, in retrospect. Or maybe she just never really saw you as one. For as much as the demihuman liked to let others do the thinking for her, she never really fit well as a subordinate. Too independent, too irreverent, too willing to just disregard her task in favor of whatever she felt at the time. She'd have laughed from the side of the stables while you got into a fight with a horse and given you a dumb little thumbs up after bailing out the window and laying there exhausted.

The night you rooted Artemis out of Carona she'd come to you, at the climax of all your efforts, painted in blood, hurt and desperate. She wanted your help. She didn't know what to do, or what could be done, and when she was that vulnerable, she turned to you without hesitation. She trusted you, not as a leader, but something else... And you laid down everything to meet that faith.
>>
Rinnier had been disappointed, you know, but she understood. She'd said as much; it was just the way you were. You can't imagine what you gave up that night to be there for Kara when she needed you, nor whether you being there made a difference for her in the end... It certainly didn't feel like it did. You'd rarely felt as helpless as you did trying to care for her that night. But, even still... Remembering her boisterous smile, all tooth and fang, the choice you made wasn't a mistake.

Kara would have carried you, embarrassed you in public to do it, because you were tired and she cared. She wasn't here now, and you were constantly just a little too much silence away from being reminded of that.

It took you years to get over losing your family when you were younger. Years spent drowning in depression, then bottling it up and repressing it for all you were worth. Distracting yourself so you didn't have to deal with it, and never letting yourself think about the people you'd lost. The time you spent with them. All until enough time had passed that you weren't so raw, that you could afford to gingerly begin remembering your sister without feeling the pain of her loss so horribly. Even now, you kept a cautious distance to those memories.

For a long time, you thought that was what getting over it meant. That was simply how trauma and loss worked. It was always going to hurt, and you just had to handle it carefully.

Grief, you've learned, is a process.

You're allowed to hurt remembering something. The more you loved or cared for something, of course the more it hurt to acknowledge it was gone... But you still feel just as strongly about it as you ever did. Those feelings didn't change, they just became more complicated.

You were starting to understand how to remember the warmth with the loss.

Maybe it was time you re-examined yourself.
>>
"Ser Valen?"

A familiar voice finally scattered your thoughts, and you turned to find Miska pensively inspecting you. She held herself stiffly, posture straight, though lacking the animated energy she used to have. Her irreverent optimism died with Fen, and it was a topic you had no idea how to broach... And increasingly doubted you had any right or reason to do so. "Miska?"

"Are you..." Her words did not fumble, so much as wilted. Drying on the tip of her tongue. "I saw what happened at the stables." She finally concluded, leaving the neutral observation to sink between you.

"Ah." You grunt some form of acknowledgement, unsure how to feel about that. "And?"

"You looked hurt, so I came to check on you."

"Oh." She wasn't going to ask why you picked a fight with a horse? You had to wonder if anyone else had seen it, but were mildly afraid to ask. There were no answers to that question that would make you feel better. You performed a slow wave with your arm, "I'm fine. Tired, mostly, but all it really did was mess up my clothes. I was due for a change in outfit anyway."

Miska's gaze lingered heavily over your torn apparel. It took you a while to realize she was looking at the blood splattered across it. You patted it absently, shaking your head. "This isn't mine, don't worry. I didn't get hurt."

"Someone else's?" She wondered. You gave her a nod, and were thankful when she chose not to pursue its origin any further. Her heels clicked together in a salute - This one you dimly recognize as one Alouette's men often gave to her. "My apologies for interrupting you."

"No, it's fine. You weren't interrupting anything." You assure her with a shake of your head, "How are-" You? "-the knights?"

"I'm told they're managing."

"Managing?"

"The training is difficult." Her explanation provided little in way of... explanation. She didn't act like the topic even concerned her. "The instructors would know more. The next training sessions will begin very soon."

...You had considered dropping in on them after getting redressed. It would be better to see for yourself how your knights were handling themselves after the couple days you'd been here. Speak to their instructors like Miska suggested to get more first-hand insight into how things were going. "I've got time, I'll talk to them later."

Miska's salute held, but she didn't reply. After a second she came to a decision. "I wanted to thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn like this."

>Order Miska to accompany you while you figure out new clothes. You could do with some company.
>Dismiss her, her training is set to start soon and you've taken up enough of her time.
>Give her a gift (what?)
>Other? (write-in)
>>
>>5285050
>Order Miska to accompany you while you figure out new clothes. You could do with some company.
I can't think of a suitable gift.
>>
>>5285050
>Order Miska to accompany you while you figure out new clothes. You could do with some company.
>Give her a gift (what?)
Let her pick out some clothing? We have a lot of stuff here I guess but Irue would know more about that than us.

>Introduce her to Lily
>>
>>5285050
>Other?
Talk about why she wants to learn like this.
>>
Riz how injured does Irue look right now?
>>
>>5285050
Is she holding the salute until we give her leave to drop it?

>At ease
>>
>>5285165
Your clothes are bit, torn, shredded, dirty, and stained in blood. Irue? No open wounds. Not even a scratch. No visible bruising. You just look worn out and distracted.
>>
>>5285376
Wtf, why?
>>
>>5284951

>>5284595
>Self reflection!
psst, that's not a vote, that's a quote referencing the quoted comment. Suppose I should have made that more clear.
>>5285050
>Reply with something to the effect of "you all being better trained is good for everyone".
This is to cover responding to that last line. I'm aiming for reassurance and an expression of mutual benefit.

>Ask Miska to accompany you while you figure out new clothes. You could do with some company.
Maybe she can minimize the impending fashion disaster.
Not sure why the default options have us ordering her around though. Something about returning formality with formality?

We don't have anything gift-like to offer her I'm aware of, and a gift out of the blue would be odd anyway.

>>5285376
That's... odd. We should be black and blue at the very least.
But gift horses and all.
>>
>>5285943
This is a good point, I'd rather ask her than order her.
>>
will be updating later tonight!

>>5285943
>>5286129
>asking vs ordering
Noted!

>>5285422
>>5285943
You've never really had marks left on you. You've been impaled twice, burned, beaten and broken several times, but you don't have any scars or blemishes. It's debatable as to whether you've even had bruises, anon. it's been this way since thread one! Anons also made a choice some time ago, and you have been slowly growing into the consequences since.
>>
>>5285050
Oh, aside from something from the family wardrobe we could also offer to tutor her in meditation. That could count as a gift, if she appreciates opportunities.
>>
>>5286783
>but you don't have any scars or blemishes.
Then what's the deal with our wrist? Apparently we had weird healing before and after breaking it, but that injury alone has lingered painlessly.

>>5286867
Not a bad option in theory, but we are perpetually short on time already. Adding more things to that perpetual todo list might not be the best idea.
>>
>>5288158

My assumption is that it was staying broken due to mana interference.

Not 100% on this, but I think that we've been absolutely soaked in Dryad mana since time immemorial (Quite literally, considering how much of it we were drinking). Being dyed in that for years has to have some effects.

When we're damaged, everything puts itself right back where it's supposed to because that's what an Irue is supposed to be shaped like. We probably weren't immortal, more like timeless. (This may have changed/exacerbated after we literally came back from the dead)

So we've got an arm that's aggressively colored with Shade, and the Dryad in us can't put it to right because the other mana is in the way. We need to eliminate it, harmonize them in some way, or accept the effects as permanent (and potentially progressing)
>>
>>5288178
>So we've got an arm that's aggressively colored with Shade, and the Dryad in us can't put it to right because the other mana is in the way.
Assuming the rest of your theory is right, there wasn't anything Shade-based going on with our arm or the source of the injury. Why would Shade have been interfering with it?

>We need to eliminate it, harmonize them in some way, or accept the effects as permanent (and potentially progressing)
I'm game it accept it, the claws are impressive and make us maybe 2% more combat effective.
>>
>>5288178
I think we got that injury much earlier than the Shade claws
>>
>>5288848

That's the reason I was discussing progression. We have a timeline of our complicated history with Shade, but it's not necessarily complete. If my theory is correct, its origins could literally have spawned at any time after Irue stopped partying hearty with Faedka.

Hell, with the broadest possible strokes, we've been a prime candidate to have a Shade affinity for ages, we just also passively rebuffed the affections any active Mana.
>>
"The more you all learn, the better it'll be for all of us." You muse, "I was fortunate you all had such diverse skillsets in the first place, or Carona could have been handled much worse."

"Maybe." Miska's eyes shifted away.

You frowned slightly, feeling the conversation hovering perilously close to delicate topics. "What about you, though?"

"Me?" Miska looked back at you, tilting her head curiously.

"You. Why are you interested in learning like this?" Left unsaid was how she'd never struck you as a fighter, per se. Boisterous, enthusiastic to a fault, but this was different. Someone who would fight wasn't necessary someone who wanted to.

"My best wasn't good enough." She answered flatly. The clipped, bitter sentiment lacing her voice was one you were bitterly familiar with, and had felt yourself more than once. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the furtive silence born from her response stretched long enough for her to proffer a non-sequitor. "Are you aware some of the other knights have started idolizing you?"

"No?" You're forced to blink at the sudden change in topic. "Occasionally I catch wind of new rumours, and Dullem-" Dullem kept you appraised of their uncertainties regarding you, but that was more of a root problem than whatever strange symptom it might go on to spawn. Like being made an idol, apparently. "...Dullem doesn't report things like that often. Why?"

"It's easy to believe you can do anything." The girl mustered an empty smirk, just barely teasing the expression before it faded. "You made an amazing first impression, swooped in and changed everything, and then you just kept doing things. After what we'd all gone through, having someone like that to follow was inspiring. The more outrageous things you did, the easier it was to pump our fists and go 'Yeah, that's our feyliege!'."

Her fingers curled together at her side, flexing her arm in faux-triumphant as she spoke. "Didn't matter what we could or couldn't do, if we trusted you, you could make it work somehow." she opened her hand thoughtfully, closing and opening her fist testingly. "Stupid, isn't it?"

You stayed silent, unsure how to answer. In the first place, you doubted you were the one she was asking.

"There are going to be times when you're not there. When those times come, we need to be stronger. We need to be better. So that when things like Carona happen again, we aren't left praying you'll be there."
>>
Did she blame you?

It was hard not to wonder if, to some extent, she held you responsible for Fen's death. There was plenty of that blame to go around, if you thought about it: You, for not being there. Artemis, for instigating it all. The people of Carona for being the ones to do it... You'd understand any of them being the ones to bear resentment over losing her fiance, but what writhed in your gut was the recognition that she had settled on blaming herself most of all.

You knew those thoughts. The feelings they stirred. The way it could drive someone.

Her grief had to find an outlet somewhere, and any of those options were just as healthy or unhealthy as the others... It was just the uncomfortable feeling of seeing yourself in her that made you so want to reach out, to say something. You drew a breath, knowing there wasn't an answer. The blurry line between associate and subordinate only served to further complicate the matter.

"Miska..." You hesitated, "How about following me for a bit? I need to change out of these rags, and we can talk more in private."

She hesitated in turn, considering something carefully before answering. "Is that an order?"

"No, just a request."

"Then uh... I'll have to take you up on it another time, Ser Valen. My next training session starts shortly, and I should be going now."

"Ah." Well, you weren't going to force it. "Some other time, then. I won't hold you up any longer."

Miska nodded, excusing herself in an unhurried manner before leaving you alone once again. You'd had a vague idea what you'd spend your time on after changing, but meeting with Miska had settled your decision to check in on the rest of your knights. You shook your head after she left, turning your attention back to the matter of your ragged clothes and made a snap decision.

You were raiding your aunt's closet.
>>
Your aunt was an imposing woman. You had some vague idea that she was formidable, if only because you knew Alouette and Clara had been regular sparring partners, but where that actually put her in terms of skill was beyond you. Since she wasn't an adept it almost assuredly ranked her lower in threat than Alouette, but that wasn't a fair evaluation at all; You weren't sure of anything higher in direct threat than Alouette save for Dryad. Probably.

...Probably.

Setting aside those unsettling thoughts, you threw open the doors to your aunt's wardrobe and took in the hall of formal wear hidden within. It was a lengthy isle, stuffed on either side with... Mostly things you couldn't recall your aunt ever wearing. Dresses, shawls, an assortment of hats and gloves. You paused in front of a particularly shiny dress, left to adorn a mannequin's torso, and ran your fingertips along its surface in idle wonder; It felt similar to silk, but the fabric shifted curiously under pressure in the wake of your touch. A card pinned to the mannequin's neck claimed it was made from basilisk scales.

A half-mask further in was almost laughably garrish to look at it, piled to the brim with brilliant, fluffy plumage that occupied a space several times larger than the mask itself. Elsewhere, a set of opera gloves were studded with rows of refractive crystals, shimmering under the wardrobe lights. Those, you noted with some confusion, had a couple of said studs around the knuckles conspicuously missing - And signs of blood stains long dried into its surface.

You could spend some time in here just looking at all the strange specimens that had somehow made its way into your aunt's closet... You definitely weren't wearing any of this stuff, and it wasn't at all what you were looking for in the first place. You shut the doors to that particular fashion realm and opted instead to begin rooting through her drawers for something useful instead.
>>
Blouses, tunics, a few more dresses - some you actually recall her wearing! Your eyes shifted back and forth between the drawer contents as you one-handedly checked through them, dismissing one thing or another as not being what you were after... Before lighting up when you finally stumbled across some pants! They were... Loose? Very loose, particularly around the hips but a belt could fix that. No, they were loose around the legs, and you had to guess that was by design. These weren't the sort of form-fitting pants your aunt had typically worn when riding Ser Stomperson. They were comfortable enough, but you doubted their ability to fare through woods and caves very long.

...Tossing them aside, you leaned against the cabinet and blew a stray strand of hair out of your eyes. Were riding clothes a thing? Like, a special specific thing all its own? You guess it made sense, it wasn't quite armor, but it had been made to survive a very particular activity.

Looking at the bit and torn rags of your current ensemble, the desire to steal something which could survive your own escapades increased quite markedly. The problem, then, was where would she have stored it...?

You sighed, pushing off the furniture to leave the room. Lily was more than happy to help you locate the nearest person... Which turned out to be a guard, who was utterly incapable of answering your questions. The second person however was part of the house's serving staff, and they... Also could not answer your questions, but they directed you to someone who could answer your questions, and it was in this way that you finally wound your way towards the high-ceilinged, mostly empty room your aunt had commissioned for personal use.

Stored away in a glass-paned cabinet were several sets of clothes you recognized on sight as your aunt's. The clothes she'd worn while riding, the ones she'd worn while sparring. Having the opportunity now to actually handle the clothes in question, you were surprised at how heavy it all was; It reminded you of how uncomfortable you'd been making the transition from slippers to boots. For weeks it felt like you had been hauling weights around on your feet when you walked, but the change had promised less sore feet when exploring, so you'd suffered through it. You'd honestly not given it much thought beyond that, but... It was basically the same thing, wasn't it? More resilient shoes meant heavier shoes. More resilient clothes meant heavier clothes.

Trying on a pair padded with black leather along the inner thigh and calves, you amended that they were also much less comfortable. And they were still loose around the hips. Still... The fabric on these things was tough enough you could probably slide down a cliff and not come out any worse for wear.

Necessary sacrifices.
>>
You tried one of the shirts on as well, but it wasn't going to cooperate no matter what you did with it. You were better off just filching one of the lighter weight blouses and just wearing a coat over it. She had an assortment of knee-length coats that could almost pass for formal wear back in her actual wardrobe.

You weren't looking forward to wearing one of those heavy coats around. Even winters in La'Fiel weren't terribly cold. You'd probably spend more time being hot than you would stumbling into another ice-themed Atelier.

More time than you would have liked was dedicated simply to hunting for clothes as you trekked back and forth across the house, trying to cobble together an outfit you wouldn't be too uncomfortable in that would still meet your vague desire to not lose chunks of fabric to wear and tear and the occasional tooth or claw. Laced boots you'd already grown accustomed to the weight of. Tightly fit pants, reinforced with strips of black leather to keep chafing to a minimum... And after much frustration dealing with the addition of a belt around your waist, you resigned yourself to simply having Lily weave her vines in one's place to keep them snug.

Caught between whether to try for an actual shirt or simply wear another dress, you opted for what you were relatively sure was one of Alouette's exercise shirts. Partially because it was light-weight enough to breathe in, but mostly because it also let you steal one of her cool coats.

Vitally, the coat had pockets. You weren't sure what you were going to put in those pockets, but now you had them. The coat itself otherwise had no insulation to it, and largely seemed to just function as an extra sheet of tough fabric between you and the world. It was heavy, but not so heavy you were miserable... And breezy enough when left unfastened that you wouldn't need to worry as much about the heat.

...You also accidentally created a shredded slit down one of its sleeves in the process of putting it on, so you decided that meant it belonged to you now!
>>
With far too much time spent figuring out clothes than you expected, you weren't sure how much longer your knight's training sessions would be going on before they broke for the day and people started preparing for dinner. The estate wasn't small by any means, but the sudden crowd you'd brought on such short notice meant they'd been eating where they could find space rather than in a specific location for a while now.

The serving staff had been busy clearing out a social hall to be repurposed into a mess hall for the time being, but you hadn't kept up with the progress on that. If it was where you were thinking it was, that place was always locked up unless Byrn was trying to host a gala.

>Check in on your knights during training.
>Track down the knight groups that volunteered for special training.
>Wait a bit and drop in to eat with your knights instead.
>Other? (write-in)
>>
>>5289596
>Wait a bit and drop in to eat with your knights instead.
>>
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197 KB JPG
Oh yeah, the quest!

>>5289596
>Track down the knight groups that volunteered for special training.

I wanna see her in action.
>>
>>5289587
>"My best wasn't good enough." She answered flatly. The clipped, bitter sentiment lacing her voice
Man, it's hard to see her like this. She used to be so much happier. More things we've screwed up.

>"Are you aware some of the other knights have started idolizing you?"
We shouldn't allow this to fester, I think. Too much potential for it to get out of control.

>'Yeah, that's our feyliege!'
Not that Miska cares anymore, but I thought that was an internal nickname, not one most knights would be willing to call us openly.

>Did she blame you?
Directly? Maybe not. Indirectly, I think so, yeah. We didn't do it, but our handling of that mess allowed it to happen.

ignoring our atrocious fashion sense...


>>5289596
>Check in on your knights during training.
It'll be good to see how they're coming along. And there's potential in reflecting on everything that's changed since we last watched our knights training on these grounds. In our situation, in them, and in us. Heck we could even pop down and try the weapon drills again, only this time after applying the secret technique of taking our bracelet off first.
>>
>>5289596
>Wait a bit and drop in to eat with your knights instead.
now we are fitted out and ready to start dripping on these hoes
>>
the training is almost over and they're probably too tired to do anything else, so other options seem out of season right now.
>>
>>5289596
>Track down the knight groups that volunteered for special training.
>>
>>5289596
>Track down the knight groups that volunteered for special training.
It's probably for the best that we identify the cream of our crop. Especially considering we basically recruited from dregs, which is sort of normal for conscription anyways but putting the best people in leadership positions will help the performance of the lot. Especially once we get more people.
I mean, we definitely need more cannon fodder if we're going to be taking this seriously. Enough blood to paint a city, enough meat to feed the engines of war, and enough fire to barbecue all that tasty meat.
Speaking of butchered meat, I can't recall, what does Clara look like? The eyes are obviously identical.

As a side note-
>Ask the knights present what they think of our new apparel.
While the wardrobe is still close and all that.
>>
>>5289614
>>5289793
Eating!

>>5289616
>>5290000
>>5290254
Special training!

>>5289712
The sane people that did not volunteer for special training!

>>5290254
ask for wardrobe impressions!

Alright, will probably get writing tomorrow! Having to deal with some issues in the meantime.
---

>>5289712
> I thought that was an internal nickname
You've been called this to your face before. By Miska, even! Dullem did not approve of it, and most of your knights weren't brave enough to actually say anything about it to your face. It is something of an internal title though, more of a nickname they have for you than anything else.
>>
dont ask what they think, asking about that stuff is below us
>>
You didn't particularly feel the need to make a social visit with your knights. Not right now, anyway. There was endlessly something more to do to better establish your image and relationship with them, but today was just a check-up on how they were doing. To that end, you decided to pass on waiting for dinner; What you needed wasn't so much to see your knights, but their instructors. People who could give you an actual idea of how things were going.

That presented a brief problem in that you technically had two subgroups of knights: The ones who had requested specialized training, and the ones just here to learn the basics. You didn't really have expectations of them, since in the first place you had no idea what you could expect from this whole effort, so between the two of them you would be satisfied if the crash-course in combat training your knights received just made them more organized and familiar with the process... But if you were going to look in on them, you were admittedly more curious how the special training group was doing.

Finding them was a simple task. Even if you hadn't been involved in organizing their training, it only took a few cursory questions to the staff to learn where to go, and in a short order you were given a couple locations.

"Why are there so many?" You tried to keep a mental note of what one of the house guards was telling you.

He laughed, "I heard there were specific requests for their instructors, so the guys who volunteered decided they'd split their groups up on their own."

Your face scrunched up, some vague approximation of an expression being made. "Right, I remember now." Some of them had some peculiar requests for instructor criteria. You had to wonder what the reactions to seeing those requirements for the first time were among the guard staff. One of them had wanted a younger blonde for some reason, and that was just one of them of the odd ones you recalled off the top of your head. There weren't a whole lot of your knights who had asked for special training, and of the ones who had, relatively few of them had requests that overlapped to any significant degree... If there had been instructors found for everyone, that little group was receiving very attentive instruction.

And true to form, when you did find them, each group was no larger than three to five knights per instructor. You struggled to put names to faces you had only seen briefly, but some stuck out.
>>
Barret in particular was part of a relatively large group of three, including himself, which you drew you to them first simply because of the constant screaming. Their instructor was a relaxed looking woman who bore an easy going smile with starry eyes who stood alongside her three erstwhile students, going through each step of the physical movements along with them.

At a glance it was similar to a dance, but there was a distinct sense of violence inherent in the way they moved which made its purpose clear. wide spread legs and bent knees saw their center of gravity kept low, with each arcing step thrusting their weight behind a strike or kick. From your knights those imitated assaults were an energetic display, but the fluffy haired instructor's silhouette cut a frighteningly precise performance. Each strike was accompanied by the audible snap of her sleeves whipping, and it was clear even to someone like you that when her leg lashed through the air it was towards some imagined target.

The woman breezily chirped some signal and they all moved in synch, followed by a chorus of wordless aggression out of your knights. Occasionally she seemed content to simply hold a position, thinking something over, while other times the pattern would repeat immediately - Or in rapid, unrelenting succession.

You held yourself back, just observing as the instructor held a statuesque pose with the blade of her foot arcing sharply just beneath her neck. Each of your three knights attempted the same, their weight shifting uncomfortably on their pedestaled leg as a motion meant for a moment stretched into seconds, which threatened to become minutes. The instructor's eyes closed, a peaceful smile resting patiently across her face as she simply seemed to relax there... Until one of the knights tilted too far and lost the delicate equilibrium.

All at once the remaining two's posture slackened, even as the one who stumbled cursed under his breath. The laid back woman serving as their instructor held her position for a moment longer, smile growing just a fraction, before she calmly withdrew her leg and set it back on the grass. "Positions, boys~" She clapped her hands together with a gentle purr, sending all three of them whimperingly to the ground to begin push-ups. She was preparing to join them for that as well when she noticed you watching and waved her palm invitingly. "Ser Valen! We weren't expecting you, it's good to see you!"
>>
"I just wanted to see how things were going." You said, "What were you doing just now?"

"Just a little exercise." The instructor smiled, "It's good practice for building muscle memory. It's very relaxing!" Her smile was almost blinding in its purity, which almost made you miss the way your knights had taken your conversation with her as an excuse to just lay face down in the grass and rest. If the guard instructor noticed, she didn't seem inclined to turn her attention from you to acknowledge it. "Would you like to join us? I don't mind teaching one more~"

"...Another time, maybe. I'm already exhausted." You politely waved off the invitation as your sore muscles protested against the idea. "Is everyone learning like that?"

"Hmmm..." She brushed a tuft of her downy hair from her forehead, giving a sing-song answer. "Dunno~ We're all doing our own thing, I think."

"Really?" Leaving the organization of this up to Rinnier left you curious. "Is there at least a general curriculum?"

The instructor shook her head, "Miss Lamandra put together a list for anyone interested and if we fit the profile, we got to pick our groups! What we do with them after that was up to us~" She beamed warmly at the three ground-bound knights, kneeling onto the balls of her feet in front of Barret to run her hand through his sweat-slick hair with gentle, affectionate strokes, "These boys are mine~"

Well. She seemed nice enough. "What are your plans in training them?"

"Ooh~" She hummed a melodious tune, "I don't know yet. We've spent the last few days just getting to know each other?" Her head tilted to one side, cupping a cheek with her palm. "We'll see~ I always think better after working my body a while, so we'll think of something together."

You thanked her for her time, idly trying to remember what kind of instructor Barret had asked for as she gave you instructions to the nearest group from her. She bid you farewell and continued to stroke the hair of your collapsed knights affectionately.

"No one gave you permission to stop, boys~" You caught the tail end of her sweet humming as you left, "thirty more now, I'll do them with you!"
>>
The blonde instructor you found was working with two young women, one you distinctly remember as Carla. Hers was the strangest request, if only because you didn't really understand what hair color had to do with learning - and asking for a blonde specifically had left you slightly self-conscious of your own hair and what hidden properties it could apparently inspire. Her instructor's was more of a straw-blonde though, significantly less golden than your own. And much shorter, as even in the midst of a workout, the sweat beading along his brow wasn't enough to drag it into his eyes.

His shirt had been discarded elsewhere in the twilight hours, leaving his lean body to almost glow from the warm, fading rays of sunlight cast across his skin. He moved carefully, guiding Carla's arm into position from behind - Adjusting the angle and height with which she held a small knife before firmly pulling it through a short arc by the wrist. "Try not to extend your arm to the point your elbow locks. The blade is your range, so stay comfortably within your space and let it make up the difference."

The man's instructions came out in a dulcet more smooth than deep, enunciated with a clear and calm purpose as he made sure the other woman mimicking Carla's position could hear as well. "Jen, do you have a feel for it?"

"I think so." The other - Jen, apparently - responded. With careful, deliberate motions she made a similar arc with her knife. "Like this?"

"Right, good. Good job, both of you." He stepped away from Carla and took up position in front of Jen's knife, placing his hands lightly against her wrist and elbow. "Maintaining your space is vital. The strength in a small arm like this is flexibility. You want to slash and stab, but never more than necessary. Avoid conflicts and aim for soft targets-" He manipulated Jen's arm to place the tip of the knife to his throat, then against to his arm, stomach, and thigh. "The head is a fine target if you can manage it. Even a shallow cut on the forehead will bleed profusely, and blood in your enemy's eyes makes other targets easier... But everyone will protect their face, so don't obsess over it. Be opportunistic. Work carefully, see what targets they give you, and then feel comfortable disabling them piece by piece."

"Alright." Jen nodded as he stepped away, making a couple more testing swings with the knife to test her range before she noticed you. "Oh, Ser Valen."

The instructor's head snapped up quickly, his posture stiffening not long after as he quickly pat down his sides and started scanning the ground for his shirt. "Ah, Ser Valen! I uh... I didn't expect you to- Welcome?"
>>
"I'm just seeing how things are going." You wave off his nervousness, "I heard each of the instructors are doing their own thing. Knife work?"

"For now." The man agreed, seeming to slip more at ease with you. "I want to see how the ladies handle archery if we have time, but I thought getting them more familiar with a knife would be the most immediately helpful skillset."

"Knives and bows?" You arch a brow curiously.

"I heard they spend a lot of time in nature." He reasoned, "So the best thing to be familiar with for self-defense or offense should be items you'd already either have or want to have. Bows are excellent hunting tools and you need knives to clean and dress whatever you catch."

"Hmm..." You roll the idea around in your head. It felt familiar. Despite his comparative youth, he seemed a much more thoughtful teacher than the last one. "Anything else?"

"Else? Well..." He fumbled for a second, taken offguard by the additional question. "I want to cover some basic fletching, definitely. If we have time-" He scanned you for some sign you were approving of his lesson plan, but, almost tragically, all he could see was Lily's mask and your own idle curiosity. "Sneaking practice?"

"Sneaking?"

"Stealth. Stealth practice." He corrected quickly. "Like how to hide well, or minimize sound when moving quickly. That sort of thing."

"...Are these things all the guards here just know?" You have to ask, because when you thought of guards you certainly didn't think of some guy with a knife hiding in a bush. A thief, maybe. Or a hunter. Or some political intelligence agent- You think they did sneaky things.

"No, Ser Valen. Er, well, I can't answer that- It's something I know because my pa' was a hunter. I grew up on this stuff before coming to work here."

"...Your father was a hunter?"

"Yes, Ser Valen!"

"And he taught you how to use a knife and bow?"

"Yes!"

"He taught you how to use a knife like that?" You gesture skeptically towards your knights.

"Ye- no, I mean. He taught me how to use the knife, yes, but using it on people is something I learned from the captain."

That caught your attention, you leaned in with more interest almost immediately. "You learned from Alouette?"

"I had the opportunity to learn from her on a few occasions." He affirmed proudly, "She invited me to train with her unit on several occasions, it was very enlightening. The way she explained things made me feel stupid for not realizing them myself, so I'm hoping I can pass on at least a little of that, Ser Valen."
>>
Your evaluation of this guy went up yet another notch or two. "Well, don't mind me then."

"Oh, you're no bother, Ser Valen. It's getting late anyway, so we were going to wrap it up soon for dinner." He assured you, scooping up his discarded shirt in the process to wipe the sweat from his face and chest.

You were pleased to note your knights kept a close watch on their instructor, nodding to him before addressing them. "You both seem like you're paying close attention to your instructor, so it probably doesn't need to be said, but soak up anything he has to teach you."

Carla grinned broadly. "Won't take my eyes off him, Ser Valen."

"They're both quick on the uptake, Ser Valen." The blonde guard added proudly, "They've kept up with everything I've asked of them, I'm honestly a little surprised. Some of the other instructors already had their some, or all, of their group shuffle back into the main training class."

Two groups, five people... You felt like the number was a bit low compared to what you remembered. Was that it? "How many instructors are left?"

"four, last I heard? Counting me, of course."

"And knights?"

"I... Couldn't say, sorry. Besides the ladies here, Mel's got three men still working with her unless anyone quit today. I haven't spoken to the other two instructors."

>Spend the rest of training time learning more about one of the two groups you found (which? and what do you want to know?)
>Try to catch the remaining two before training ends
>You've seen enough, better to retire.
>>
>>5292018
>You've seen enough, better to retire.
Now this is show business
>>
That girl is FUCKED
>>
>>5292018

>Try to catch the remaining two before training ends

Our attention is valuable. It supports the legitimacy of the trainers and hopefully suggests pride in those who took the harder road.
>>
>>5292018
>Try to catch the remaining two before training ends
For reasons outlined here >>5292528 but also to see who the other two subsets are, because I'm seeing specialists.
I'm not sure if the first one is a Jinn Adept or just a yogi, but the second one might give us some good scout trainees. It's good to know what might be in store for us regarding future assets.
Also so that we don't see completely clueless when we talk to Clifford about it.
>>
>>5292018
The dudes are getting screwed over, and the chicks are getting exactly what they want. Dang it, at least punish everyone equally for picking instructors based on fetishes.

>Her head tilted to one side, cupping a cheek with her palm.
Yeah, uh, let's try to avoid being in the same space as her again. She's really creeping me out.

>Try to catch the remaining two before training ends
Might as well round things out. Plus, it'll hopefully give a little insight as to what specialties we might end up with.
We've already got martial artists and rangers, maybe we'll get heavy armor/weapons or bodyguards?
>>
>>5292594

They have every opportunity to beg off. They are either getting what they deserve or deserving what they get.
>>
>>5292018
>Try to catch the remaining two before training ends
>>
>>5292018
You guys are weird, the creepy girl is cool.

>Try to catch the remaining two before training ends
Sweaty gave out some pretty good advice, we should follow it next time we fight someone.

Incidentally, Miska was giving off big wisp vibes earlier. I wonder if it would be exploitative to train her after all, Wisp seems pretty miserable.
>>
Yea the instructor is cool actially
But how about the rest doe.
>>
>>5292437
retiring! you're done for the day.

>>5292528
>>5292543
>>5292594
>>5292636
>>5292690
More touring! Who else we got?

Writing!
>>
>>5292738
Irue is probably the craziest person on screen at any given time, honestly.
>>
>>5293946
The person part might be debatable.
>>
Irue is questionably human and is heavily influenced by a consensus of various stupid and contradictory voices inside her head. WOw! Keep trucking, rue
>>
>>5293040
Technical difficulties have occurred to no one's surprise, expect the update later tonight.
>>
"I'll leave you to wrap up, then." You said. "I still need to see how the other two groups are doing before they break for the day."

"Okay. Thanks for coming out to see us?" The guard instructor seemed unsure how to react to your visit. He snapped off a quick salute as you left, turning back to his students with a distracted laugh. "How about we call it early today?"

You heard Jen agreeing while wandering out of earshot. Dusk was rapidly approaching, which hastened your tired pace towards the remaining two instructors, or, at least, where you'd been told you might find them. One was more suspect than the other in that regard, but as fortune would have it the one most likely to be found was also the closest to you already.

Rounding the stone brick path, you found your way towards the estate's armory. The third instructor was supposed to typically hold their lessons nearby, and seeing the amount of equipment propped up against the wall, you understood why the proximity mattered. Maces, flails, a pair of whips, several sizes of wooden shields, short bows, longer bows, crossbows, knives, throwing axes, hatchets... You wouldn't be surprised if a pair of nearly every armament had been dragged out.

The knights were sparring with wooden staves under the watchful eye of an older, bearded man. He kept a steady frown as they moved, trading probing strikes from a distance. When they did finally move in it was with heavy strides, and thrusts that carried behind it their full weight as a driving force. A thrust indiscernible from a stunted charge, turned aside by its target with a deft pivot - which fed into a counter which required the wielder make a quick revolution with the length of their staff.

"Stop, stop!" He barked, running a hand down his face even as your knights stumbled in bringing their weapons to a halt. "What do you think you're wielding? Bloody oak trees? You think there's sand under this grass?"

"...What?" One knight, a man, just looked bewildered at the outburst as he set the tip of the wooden staff in the ground. "What did we do wrong?"

"It's a staff, not an anvil. It's not got the weight! You've got no threat whirling around like that!" He gestured accusingly between them, "I thought you said you knew how to use these things!"

"It's what we've trained to use the most." The man grumbled defensively.

"Trained? You trained for this?" The guard instructor gawked, "Who in Gnome's towering teats trained you?"

"Miss Lamandra." The other knight, a woman stepped up beside her partner, tightening her grip on her staff with a clipped tone. "It's the basics of what was taught in the Teranford royal palace."
>>
The guard looked to open his mouth again when she'd taken a stand, but instead made a rumbling noise from somewhere under his throat as he stroked his beard. His frown deepened, and he held his hand out... Then snapped his fingers impatiently. "Don't just look at me, one of you give me your staff!"

The woman was quick to hand over said staff, glowering at her instructor in the process for what little he seemed to notice or care, and returned to stand beside the other knight. If the bearded guard was offended at the curt treatment, his focus on weighing the staff in his hand didn't show it. He held it in one hand, testing the balance, and then shifted a few cursory swings from its haft, only to grunt in dissatisfaction. Without further delay, he chucked the staff over his shoulder and let it thunk into the grass behind him. "Garbage. May as well throw that other one away too, y'don't know how to use it."

"We've trained in polearm work for over a month!" The man argued, throwing the staff to the ground. "What's so horrible about what we learned you old bastard?!"

"Nothing." He harrumphed, turning his back to your knights to sift through the rows of weapons and arms. He spared a glance at you, giving you a nod in acknowledgement but little else, before resuming his search. "Teranford's polearms are damn near solid metal. Heavier than your clodfoot after a round of proper spirits. They use that weight, an' how sturdy their damn staves are, like they're swinging around damn hammers. That-" He pointed irritably at the discarded staff, "-Is a stick. S'made of wood. Could use it as a javelin for all it weighs, and more than likely t'crack if you swing it like you were and actually hit something. Y'been trained in polearms, but not the local sort. Fuck me."

An awkward glance was exchanged between the two knights, "Miss Lamandra did say we wouldn't get the full benefits because our staves weren't as heavy as the ones back in Teranford, but it can't be that different?"

"It's the principles!" The bearded man groused, "Bah, forget it. No point trying to explain it to you. Here, take these hatchets." He hefted two pairs of handaxes, handing them over roughly to the knights. "Sometime today, we ain't got long till the sun's out!"
>>
"You said we didn't know an axehead from its handle yesterday." The man muttered resentfully, taking the hatchets with no little sign of disdain.

"Aye, and you still don't. But the only weapon you do know your way decently around is one we don't have."

"Then what-"

The knight's protests were cut off when he abruptly raised his axe to prevent the guard from bonking him over the head with a short, wooden eskrima. It was a successful block, but only led to the guard ripping the short stick's length down the shaft of the axe to rap across your knight's knuckles. The shock of his fingers being struck loosened his grip on the axe, and in a single deft reversal the guard instructor caught the hatchet under the blade with his eskrima and ripped it from the knight's loosened grip.

Then he was bonked on the head.

"You ain't gonna be a master of anything, don't got the time to teach you either." The guard growled. "Till you two fuck off or leave, your only assignment is to not get the crap beaten out of you. I don't care how you do it, I don't care what weapons you use, but when I disarm you then whatever weapon you just dropped is banned the rest of the session."

"That's how you're going to teach us? That's not even teaching you brute." The woman scowled, and in short order was having to try and prevent being smacked upside the head with a stick herself. She lost an axe immediately, much the same way her fellow knight had, but quickly blocked the follow up bonk with her other axe... Only to nearly lose it in the exact same manner - But stubbornly tightening her grip on the shaft kept it in her hand.

It mattered little, because he just kicked her in the stomach and then grabbed her by the back of her shirt and shoved her face-first into the ground. "If I had a few years I'd explain the nuance to what I just did t'ya, but I reckon I got a week or so, tops. Maybe a month?" He glanced back at you, rolled his eyes, and then spit. "Shit if I know. Anyhow, principles are lost on you brats, so I'm just going to beat some survival sense into you. Get familiar with whatever you pick up, maybe you'll learn a thing or two before we're through."

You've forgotten entirely what sort of instructor these two wanted. Rinnier would know, probably something to ask her later, but whatever they wanted you were taken aback by what they got. You had no idea if this was an actual learning method for combat, or what the guard was hoping to accomplish in doing it. In a way, it almost reminded you of Kara sparring with her pack the last time you'd come; That same overtly violent energy so casually handed out.

>Leave them be, he knew what he was doing.
>Interject, they signed up for specialized training, not abuse.
>Ask some questions to try and cool the frustrated atmosphere before you leave (what?)
>other? (write-in)
>>
>>5295861
>Leave them be, he knew what he was doing.
>>
>>5295861
>Leave them be, he knew what he was doing.
I'm presuming this is hardly his first time training peasants to become killers.
...
>Join in
Look we're not too much worse off after having the shit kicked out of us twice already, what's another time? Plus we can build some rapport that way, let the knights know that we're not just throwing them into the fire to watch them burn.
Maybe we'll even learn something.
>>
>>5295859
>Y'been trained in polearms, but not the local sort. Fuck me."
It's probably for the best they move on to other arms, then. Training heavily in exotic weaponry sounds like a great way to be in a world of hurt when you inevitably lose your weapon and can't replace it.

>>5295861
>Leave them be, he knew what he was doing.
We don't know a spear from a halberd, we've got no business sticking our nose into martial affairs. Plus, it looks like his teaching style will give them familiarity with a large array of weapons, which is far from a bad thing.

And these grizzled old soldiers usually know what they're doing, even if they are surly. "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young."

>>5296074
I'm game to give weapon drills another go, but I assume we'll cause less disruptions if we join one of the main classes instead of the specialist's sessions.
>>
>>5295861
>Ask some questions to try and cool the frustrated atmosphere before you leave (what?)
>other? (write-in)
Pups are still at their mothers teats after 3 weeks. Please remember this going forward.
Will you make these guards pups or wolves with the same amount of time?
>>
How recovered are we at this point? Is joining in feasible at all?
>>
>irue just fought a magical beast and was described as being tired just last post
>dis guy wanna go to training in combat
I gotta respect the hustle but I also gotta say no.
And we just got an outfit change too. we gonna rip that up as well?..
>>
>>5295861
>other?
Make a note to order some Teranford staves made. It's a pipe with lead junk inside, not something that's had to make.

>>5296461
Don't forget Irue has weapon allergy.
>>
>>5296461
You're pretty exhausted. emotionally and physically.

>>5296701
The issue with making them, besides the forging process and designs, is in the material. Traditionally, Teranford's polearms were made fully of metals, making good use of the nation's abundance of mineral and ore. La'Fiel, conversely, has such a lack of it that the process of making a sword is often considered a luxury. This is why those issued swords either have them as a matter of ceremony, or they're terrifying enough to have earned them as a mark of status.

It can be made provided you find someone familiar with the blacksmithing process, but it'll be a strange investment.

Anyway, will call the vote later tonight!
>>
>>5296762
Ah, I forgot about that detail. Then let's leave the trainer be. Though I wonder why he won't just teach them the spear.
>>
>>5296701
Personally, I'd vote to try and leverage that knife advice we just heard for our claw. Take a supporting role and opportunistically bleed him with shallow cuts. However if we're still exhausted then we'd only embarrass ourselves. Maybe we can try him some other time.

>>5295861
>Leave them be, he knew what he was doing.
>Try to explain his rough handed approach to the knights
Out of all the things he could be teaching them, practical fighting experience might be the best choice. He might be a big asshole, but fighting him will make you strong. Probably.
>>
>>5296701
The weapon issue is tied to the bracket as far as we know, and can be solved by putting it in our pocket.
>>
>>5296762
Wait...

Could Lily produce a heavy enough polearm to suit their needs? Make it out oak or something, maybe give it a bit of extra length or girth to compensate further?
>>
>>5296784
>Though I wonder why he won't just teach them the spear.
I think what we just missed from that conversation was them going "we've been trained with staves" and him going "show me what you know".

It's not that he's unwilling to teach them on spears, it's just that their "staff" training is totally useless with normal staffs, which means they are worse than untrained, as they will have inevitably picked up bad habits from the other training.
>>
>>5297439

This is exactly it.

They've been trained with heavy polearms (which we can't blame Rinnier for: She was imparting what she knew, and does not have the full background to know that her weapon instruction is not applicable to La'Fiel armories.)

There's also little point in continuing up that line of training as the likelyhood of collecting a useful amount of Teranford arms and specializing individuals in their use is low. As it stood, the singular example we sourced is only marginally useful, allowing Rinnier to apply her adequate combat background in her own case.

>>5297299

Any effort we spend on emulating Terranford arms would be better spent in sourcing or enhancing La'Fiel arms. For the same effort and resources we could (probably) imbue polearms with the weight and strength necessary, we could invest that same mana, knowledge and time into developing one of our specialists or sourcing equipment like armor with a much higher return on investment.

>>5295861

>Leave them be, he knew what he was doing.
>Try to explain his rough handed approach to the knights

A generalist is a specialist of their own. If they learn only a half dozen things about the kinds of weapons they can desperately scrabble from a muddied furrow or dump out of a looted warchest, they will save lives, including their own.

They're training under a genuine man-at-arms. They may never understand the luck they stumbled into, and they should probably be informed. Soak it up, weapons, bruises and all.
>>
>>5295867
>>5296074
>>5296179
>>5296917
>>5296784
>>5297551
Leave them be, he's qualified(?)

>>5296074
push ourselves even harder!

>>5296387
Something about teats!

>>5296917
>>5297551
Talk to your knights briefly!

alright, writing!
---

>>5297299
There are certain types of wood that are incredibly dense and resilient. Colloquially it gets nicknamed ironwood, but the trees themselves have their own specific names. Lily absolutely could grow these in mass if you had some saplings of them!
>>
"Before you continue, I'd like to address some things." You still wondered if things may have turned out differently if you'd intervened back then. You had no intention of trying to soften their training here, but... The situation felt too familiar to ignore, and you didn't want to repeat your regrets. "Do you mind?"

"Not at all, Ser Valen." The bearded guard stepped away from his two charges, ceding the floor to you with an upright posture.

You'd almost expected some sass given his attitude, but... The guards of your family's estate were professionals. Each and every one. They had to have been, to qualify for the position in the first place. You nodded your thanks, then turned towards the knights. "What do the two of you think you're lacking most right now as knights?" You paused, noting almost immediately the frustration and confusion. "No, let me correct that. If you were to take a guess at what all of the knights are lacking most critically, what would it be?"

"...Training?" The man hazarded, giving his partner time to get back to her feet. "That's why we're here, at least. We wanted to learn how to fight."

You nodded slowly, rolling the answer around in your head before responding. "Yes. Close, but not quite. What about you?" You turned your attention to the woman, who just looked lost.

"I'd've guessed training too, Ser Valen."

You nodded again. "Neither of you are wrong, but more directly, it's experience. Training will help you get that, but there's a number of other ways you could get experience as well. Some instill discipline, some risk your lives, some require manners. At the end of the day you're here for experience, so that the next time you end up having to use a weapon you know what to expect."

"Yes, Ser Valen." The response is forced. It was the sort of acquiescence you knew was shoved out over a small pile of grievances.

It brought a wry grin to your face. "You're already frustrated, and I'm not going to tell you not to be. Get as angry as you want, come up with as many plans as you can to try and get even. He gave you his blessing to do exactly that, and I'm giving you mine." They glanced at each other furtively; A split second's mutual search for affirmation. You continued, pretending not to notice. "What I will say though, is soak up everything you can learn from this experience. If you're disarmed, try to understand how, or why. If you fall, remember what led to it. Iterate as best you can on your failures."

Their shoulders loosened, sinking visibly as the anger that left them tense ebbed just a little. "Alright, I understand." The woman grit out, more reluctant than proud. Her eyes still smoldered, an ill-intentioned glower pinned on the bearded guard beside you. Whatever relationship they'd forged with this man over the past couple days, comradery had apparently long been thrown out the window.

You turned towards their instructor. "Anything to add?"

"Not at all, Ser Valen."
>>
"Nothing?" You prodded, "All of the guards have free reign to train their groups as they please, I have faith you all know how to get results."

"That's an interesting thought." He admitted, scratching at his beard. "Why don't you join us for a bit, Ser Valen? Seen your cousin get his ass beat by the captain pretty often, m'curious to see how you'd fare."

"I'd fare miserably." You deadpan without hesitation.

"With a pair of claws like that?" His gaze drifted down to your Shade-wreathed hand. "Carrying around those things all the time, y'give the message you know how to use 'em."

"I have a vague idea," You admitted, wiggling the talons amusedly. You raise your arm however, showing off the partially shredded sleeving. "But it's not like I'm trying to show them off. I don't know how to remove them."

Understanding dawned in his eyes and he chuckled. "Ah, my apologies for the misunderstanding then, Ser Valen. Seen cadets get too proud of their arms and get themselves into trouble strutting around with them before. Afraid I've misjudged you on that."

You smile tiredly, snorting softly at the idea. "It'd do me well to get some experience myself either way. I've gotten through a lot until now that I probably shouldn't have... Problem is, I've got so much to do that I'm usually busy with some new trouble before I have the chance to practice in the first place."

"Take it from me Ser Valen, luck is its own sort of skill." He chuckled ruefully, "If you ever feel like joining, I could probably handle beating a third greenhorn a few hours a day."

You sighed, shaking your head as you drew away. "Have my fair share of getting beaten dealing with that nightmare colt left in the barns. I'm afraid I'll probably have to pass."

"Hoho? You've been trying to break the boy?" The guard's interest perked, and your knights along with it. "How's that going for ya?"

Your chin dipped, and few a few seconds you just stood there silently.

"...We're coming to terms."

"Heh." The guard turned back to your knights. "Alright, that's enough of a break! Back to it!"

"Wait-" You grabbed his attention briefly before leaving yourself. "There was an instructor that wasn't so easy to track down. Do you have any idea where I might find them?"

"Mrgh? Ah, Salhade. I remember the old man taking an interest in all this. There's a clearing a bit into the woods, just follow the path from the gardens. That'd be my bet."

You filed the name away, feeling it niggle at your memory somehow. It wasn't a name you'd heard recently, probably not even in recent years, but it sounded familiar. "Alright, thanks." With your destination in mind, you hurried off. It was getting late, and the longer it took you to get there, the less likely you were to actually catch them.
>>
When he'd said there was a path from the gardens, you knew roughly which path it was. There were few paths leading from the estate out to the woods, and this one in particular was one your sister had dragged Caylen and you down multiple times. You even somewhat recalled what clearing it might be, and so you felt no little amount of nostalgia retracing the steps of your childhood... But this path was much longer than you remembered. It really was a surprising distance from the estate.

The instructor's hunch turned out to be correct though, as you heard the voice of your mark before you saw him - A somber man, speaking in a measured and patient manner. "You underestimated the threat a knight poses."

An indistinct grumbling responded, and you stepped into the clearing to find balding man with milky white facial hair, trimmed neatly to his cheeks. He wore a simple brown coat, too light weight to truly keep anyone warm, and sipped casually from a small flask. He sat at a small wooden table across from Miska, looking over a board arranged between them, illuminated coolly by small motes of light orbiting aimlessly around the pair. Miska noticed your entry, looking over the man's shoulder at you curiously, but turned her attention back to him.

"Your pawns didn't give me much room to move." Miska defended herself, "I was busy trying to keep your bishops out."

"Consider it a harrying tactic." The man, you should have recognized him but even now you weren't sure you'd ever met him. "I dictated the front line with the pawns to restrict the active field, but never had any intention of overextending my bishops. They were in place to take the opportunity of a misplay as you presented them."

"So I noticed..." Miska grumbled again, furrowing her brow intensely while studying the board. "Then your knight broke the line and started eviscerating my back line."

"A knight is a delicate tool. Surgical." The man, Salhade, agreed. "They're difficult to handle, for both the user and the opponent."

"At least it took longer than last time." Miska sighed, the two of them beginning to gather their pieces into a small satchel.

"Same conditions next time?" Salhade inquired, slowly getting to his feet. You caught a glint of light off something metallic concealed under the hem of his cloak.

"Yeah, I'd rather you without rooks than anything else."
>>
Miska's instructor waved his hand dismissively, signaling the little motes - ambient Wisp mana, you realized - to wink out gradually. He turned to you, and for a brief moment you caught sight of the fading light glimmering off a hilt at his side before the cloak settled around him. "Ser Valen." He seemed to recognize you at first, but settled for a formal greeting after a moment. Beyond the greeting, he didn't seem to pay you much mind.

This man wasn't one of your guards. It was frustrating, but you couldn't place him.

>Inquire about the training.
>Ask more about him. (what?)
>...You remember now, he was- (who?)
>Other? (write-in)

This is not a Forgetting, there's only context clues to go on.
>>
>>5297942
If he were the missing healer then he'd have already scarpered, having leave to get this far from the estate. Right?

>...You remember now, he was- (who?)
Irue got lost in nostalgia after she heard his name, is he one of our childhood tutors?

>Inquire about the training.
Training tactical acumen I guess, a gap in our skillsets to be sure. Though, what else is he teaching her?

>Ask more about him. (what?)
It's a little embarrassing but I suppose if no one guesses correctly we can just ask.
>>
>>5297942
>Inquire about the training.

This does sort of feel like one of those things Luna "borrowed" for whatever reason

If I had to guess, maybe the Archivist, "Priest" / Shrine Representative, Magic / tactics tutor.
>>
>>5297942
>...You remember now, he was- (who?)
>for a brief moment you caught sight of the fading light glimmering off a hilt at his side
One of our family's knights? Only knights can carry swords, right? I wonder if he plays any role in the upkeep of the mini atelier down in the library. It was powered by wisp illusions as I recall.
>>
>>5297939
>feeling it niggle at your memory somehow
PANIK
>It wasn't a name you'd heard recently, probably not even in recent years
KALM

>...You remember now, he was- (who?)
Probably one of Caylen's tutors
>>
>>5297938
>"If you ever feel like joining, I could probably handle beating a third greenhorn a few hours a day."
We'll have to take him up on it one of these days, but I'd still like to sneak into the back on one of the general classes a few times first, so we don't completely embarrass ourselves.

>>5297942
>Miska's instructor waved his hand dismissively, signaling the little motes - ambient Wisp mana, you realized - to wink out gradually. He turned to you, and for a brief moment you caught sight of the fading light glimmering off a hilt at his side before the cloak settled around him.
So, a Wisp user and a swordsman. Swords are rare due to cost, iirc, so whoever he is he likely knows his business.

But what is someone not under our employ doing teaching our knights?

>Inquire about the training.
Shame we missed the actual fight-y bits, but we can settle for just asking about it.

No idea who the guy is, aside from a vague speculation that he's another of the Wisp healers, but that seems very unlikely.
>>
>>5297942
Wait, is this guy a fucking paladin?
>>
>>5298469
If wisp mana won't touch us 'cus of Dryad mana then how come we have shade stuff?
>>
Bit delayed until the weekend, sorry!

>>5298469
It's very possible! Paladin is a title given by the Wisp dominion to those of particularly distinguished martial prowess. If he has even a passing association with the Shrine, you can probably assume he has been granted that title.
>>
>>5300083
Do adepts of other mana have titles like that too?
>>
>>5298016
>>5298017
>>5298183
Training inquisition!

>>5298016
Just ask who he is!

Very much delayed, but writing!
---
>>5302715
There are organizational titles within the dominion for each Mana, but few of them are meaningfully recognized outside of said dominion. Paladin as a title is given in recognition of martial prowess over anything else, so naturally it is one of those universally recognized titles due to the strength it conveys. A similar one would be the Luna dominion's "Sage", which conveys a different form of unparalleled expertise.

In case this sparks a form of connection, yes, Mint being formally titled the Lavender Sage doesn't actually mean she bears this title. She is officially recognized as a "Saint" by the Shrine, which is a largely meaningless title that floats vaguely above just about anything else in terms of honor and clout, but has no particular responsibility or place in the hierarchy. For obvious reasons, this title is typically given post-mortem. Her designation as Lumiaceae, the Lavender Sage, is one given by East Heaven as a cultural nickname.

Although there are some in Luna's dominion who may argue she deserved the title of Sage for her ability to utilize several different Mana, as that capability implies a form of unparalleled expertise all on its own. That walks the road of scholarly debate however, and so is irrelevant to the original question.
>>
One of your old tutors? No, that's not it. Someone skilled enough to own a sword was more likely to have been Caylen's tutor, but you don't think that's it either. You're sure you've seen this old man before, but where? "I'm sorry, you don't seem like one of the estate's guards."

"Hoh, no, I suppose not." Salhade chuckled to himself. "Well that's fine, I would have been quite surprised if you did remember me. My name is Salhade, a Paladin, if that makes any difference to you. I'm an on-and-off again guest of the estate, you might say."

"Irue Valen, head of the house." You introduce yourself, still feeling oddly offput by his familiarity.

"I heard you made quite the ruckus when you arrived." Salhade nodded, "You were still the heir a few days ago, but certainly wasted no time seizing authority with your aunt incapacitated."

"...Do you have an issue with that?" You weren't really sure what he or you could do if the man did take exception to your new position.

Fortunately, he just shook his head. "Hoh, hardly. No, with all respect due to your household, your family's business is none of my concern. My student may have had something to say about it, but I've no intention to speak on her behalf."

"Student?" You continued digging through your mind, trying to place where you've met him before. It was on the tip of your tongue, but...

"Mm. Alouette has a complicated relationship with your family, or so I understand."

Oh.
>>
You stare at the man blankly, feeling the implication take its sweet time sinking in. "You know- you trained Alouette?"

"There was a time I trained her, yes. Lest you get too strong an impression of me, the student has long surpassed the master." He gave you a humble grin. "Still, for whatever reason it seems she has some lingering fondness for this old man, and so your aunt bid I was welcome to come and go as I pleased. Though, I suppose that privilege is at your discretion now."

You remember now. Vaguely. Alouette had introduced your sister, Caylen and you to him in passing. "No, you're absolutely still welcome!" You assured him quickly, "Alouette introduced once, didn't she?"

"A long time ago." He agreed. "I was in the area and thought I might catch my student for old time's sake, but seems she's been quite busy these days."

Busy was a way of putting it. You can't help but frown, "How much do you know?"

"Only bits and pieces." Salhade shook his head, "Alouette's off guarding Clara's boy, and they appear to have had a lover's quarrel or some such."

"A what?"

Salhade waved his hand dismissively. "Nevermind. I was just trying to decide what to do next when you and your entourage arrived. I hope you don't mind that I stuck my nose into this little training exercise you put the guards up to?"

Even if Salhade hadn't been the one to train Alouette, his sword and the title of Paladin more than qualified him for the role. That he'd shown interest at all was a windfall you couldn't begin to estimate. "It's unexpected, but I'm thrilled you were interested. How much longer do you think you'll be around?"

"A while." He answered vaguely. "To be quite honest, I came to the territory to escape being harrassed by the local lords and the Crown. They're all quite pushy."

"How so?" You somewhat doubted you would fall into the same trends, but you were curious what had chased him out here.

"Oh, politics." Salhade sighed wearily, "Dinner will be ready soon, why don't I tell you a few stories as we go? Miska?" He turned aside to address your knight, who had been standing somewhat awkwardly in silence as you talked. "That's fine with you, isn't it?"

"I am getting hungry." She admitted, "It's not a problem if I walk with the two of you?"

"If you're not tired of me for the day." Salhade assured, "And you, Ser Valen? Do you have any objections?"

"No, though I'd hoped to catch you during your training to see how it was going."

"We can talk about that, too." Salhade allowed, leading the two of you back towards the estate.
>>
"I noticed you were playing chess when I arrived. Is that part of the training?"

"No, I'm afraid that's just an old man's hobby." Salhade laughed, "We called an end to today's work some time ago, but it is an indulgence of mine to wind down afterwards with a light game or two. When I can find a partner, at any rate."

"I didn't know know you knew how to play, Miska." You glanced over at the tired knight speculatively, but she scoffed.

"That's cause I don't, Ser Valen. Salhade is teaching me the rules."

"She has no talent for it." The man offered bluntly, eliciting an indignant growl from Miska.

"Sorry I'm not a savant." She said.

"Oh, don't be offended my dear." Salhade relented, "Prodigies are dreadful. I myself have no particular talent for it either!"

"Bullshit." Miska shot back aggravatedly.

"There's a difference between talent and experience." He intoned with a playfully conspiratorial expression. "You do things enough you start to learn some tricks and recognize situations you've seen before. I'm rather poor at the game myself, but I've played it long enough to know my way around."

"And that's why you keep beating me with handicaps?"

"You are looking too far." Salhade returned chidingly, shutting Miska up as she opted simply to grit her teeth.

"What do you mean?" There was context in that exchange you were missing, you were sure of it. Salhade, seemingly aware of the discrepancy, laughed softly to himself.

"Haa... Let me think." His eyes closed, a pensive expression overtaking his face while you walked. "Ser Valen, am I wrong to say you've met with the other instructors already?"

You shook your head, playing along. "No, I met them before finding the two of you."

"Mm. Then, if you would indulge me, which of the three do you think is the most accomplished warrior? Or, to be more direct, which do you think is the strongest? If they fought, who would win?"

You hadn't seen much of them, but from your impressions... The younger blonde man was probably not in the running. Which meant either the man-at-arms or that fluffy haired woman. "It would depend, wouldn't it? On the circumstances they fought under."

"Hoh, that's an excellent consideration!" Salhade's eyes sparkled, impressed. "However in this case, I am confident that there will always be one winner of the three. You might stack the odds against that winner as much as you'd prefer, maybe even lop off a limb, if you so please, but they will still win."

You blinked, put off guard by the scale of that kind of answer. "Who?"
>>
Salhade just waved off the question, "'Who' isn't the right question, Ser Valen. 'Why' is. 'Why' do you not know 'who'?"

"...Should I?" Was one of them particularly famous? They were all just guards at your estate.

"No." Salhade put an end to the notion almost as quickly as it had been planted. "When one evaluates another, they do so relatively. Relative to yourself, and to other benchmarks you are familiar with. You know my dear student, so I imagine you would agree Alouette is quite undefeatable by the guards at this estate, yes?"

"Yes." The answer is reflexive. Alouette was a monster.

"Then, what about myself?" Salhade prodded, "Am I similarly undefeatable?"

You looked at him, coming to a stop as the old man stood patiently under your speculative gaze, and your eyes lingered on the hilt of his sword. "Yes?"

"No." He corrected with a laugh, "There's a handful of guards here who could give me a run for my money." He flashed a warm grin, "But I appreciate the vote of confidence, Ser Valen."

"...I don't understand." Setting aside the unexpected self-evaluation, you tried to fit the questions back into context.

"That's the point we start from." Salhade agreed, "Not understanding. When we, ourselves, lack experiences, we struggle to identify the experiences of others; There is only so far beyond your own capabilities that you can accurately estimate. Ideally, we must first thoroughly evaluate our own limits, and from there, we can begin to understand where we stand in comparison to others."

"So when you said Miska was looking too far..." You trailed off.

"He meant that I was too bad at the game to judge whether he was good or bad at it." Miska concluded, irked.

"Is this part of what you've been teaching her?"

"All conflict begins with the self." Salhade returned, "So any attempt to improve yourself must similarly begin there. Self awareness, both of your limits and your state, is where we start. Learning to recognize when there is nothing you can do, and when doing something can make all the difference."

You fell silent, letting the conversation sink in on its own terms. "I didn't expect philosophy to be on the syllabus for combat training." You admitted after a time. "Not that I disagree."

"She is learning to handle herself as well, fear not." Salhade assured you with a laugh, "But it is my personal belief that why one fights is more important to a warrior than how. I imagine young Miska will have plenty of opportunities in the future to polish her skills, so it is preferable that she spend the time she has now polishing herself."

"Can we not talk about this while I'm here?" Miska groused.

"You are the one who wanted to accompany us." Salhade reminded with a twinkle in his eye.

"Yeah, but this feels bad. Like my privacy is being violated, or something." Miska insisted. "At least don't do it in front of me."

You proffered an apologetic smile, letting the matter drop alongside Salhade.
>>
"Anyway, what Ser Valen really wanted to know is how much ass I can kick now." She insisted, carrying the conversation onward.

"Oh, is that so?" Salhade feigned surprise, "My apologies, I didn't realize. Unfortunately, young Miska is also quite poor at that."

"Hey!"

>More about Salhade (what?)
>The circumstances of the nobility and Crown
>Other? (write-in)
>Break off to go rest
>>
>>5303169
>More about Salhade (what?)
How did he earn the title of paladin?
>The circumstances of the nobility and Crown
>>
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Irue is already exhausted. if another vote is pushed to go do some bullshit I'm gonna stomp one of you bitches out
>>
>>5303169
>The circumstances of the nobility and Crown
>Other? (write-in)
Explain what Calen and Alouette is up to and that they are mostly responsible for happened with / to Clara, see what he thinks is up since he probably has a better idea of what is going on in her head.
>>
>>5303169
>The circumstances of the nobility and Crown
>More about Alouette
I want to know what could cause her to attack Clara. What makes her move and what determines where her loyalty lies. Because we'll likely have much more chances of success talking her down than fighting her.
>>
>>5303169
>Break off to go rest
>>
>>5303164
I like this guy, he knows his business.
The gentle bullying of Miska is weirdly constructive, I think. I get the impression he's trying to keep her mentally engaged (and thus away from ruminating on her loss). Hopefully it works as intended.

I'm surprised he didn't comment on our claws, especially considering his affinity. I imagine that even without the claws themselves being visible, we carry that arm oddly due to a mix of the ruined hand and the danger of accidental slicing.

>>5303169
>The circumstances of the nobility and Crown
I'm willing to also mention the situation with Alouette's defection, but we ought to be mindful of her connection to him, so avoid too much detail and drop the topic if he starts to show a negative reaction.
>>
>>5303169
>Ask if he's visited Clara
If he has,
>Ask what he makes of her condition.
Try to get a feel for his views on the NW and if he can be useful fixing Clara
>>
>>5303183
Salhade!

>>5303183
>>5303190
>>5303211
>>5303448
What drove him here, anyway?

>>5303190
>>5303211
give him more info on Alouette's movements!

>>5303852
Ask if he's visited our aunt!

>>5303374
Resting!

Writing!
>>
You listen to the one-sided bickering for a while longer, opting to steer the conversation in a different direction once a lull presented itself. "You mentioned you were a paladin?"

"I am." Salhade acknowledged.

"How did you get that title?" The actual process of receiving the title wasn't something you had looked too closely into. "Is there a test? Do you have to have made some kind of achievement?"

"Hmmm..." The older man nodded along thoughtfully, then turned a question back onto you. "What do you know about the title?"

"It's given by the Wisp dominion in recognition of someone's martial ability." The simplest of answers, but you could dig a little further. "It's particularly notable in that it is a title whose prestige is recognized even outside of the Shrine, so in that respect it is something like a seal of guarantee for someone's skill."

Salhade chuckled, turning a nostalgic eye your way. "True enough, that's exactly what it means these days to be a paladin. In the past it was a little different, but not by much."

"Different?"

"Well Ser Valen, you said it yourself: It is a title recognized outside of the dominion." Salhade agreed, "It certainly wasn't made to be that way, and it's rather queer if you think about it, isn't it?" He held out his hand towards the estate, "There are many excellent warriors that have never known Wisp's affection, and because of that they will never bear the title of Paladin. Can it be considered a seal of guarantee when the dominion itself does not care to acknowledge anyone outside of Wisp's influence as a candidate?"

"...For Wisp adepts specifically." You allowed, but the answer felt wrong. Or rather, the answer itself wasn't wrong, but it wasn't the conclusion you should have come to. "Ah, then if that were the case there should be a similar title from every dominion."

Salhade beamed, "Ah, Alouette. You make an old man jealous." He shook his head when you and Miska both shot questioning glances his way. "There is one other title universally recognized. Would you like to guess?"

"Sage." You had no need to guess, this was well within your realm of expertise. You stroked Lily preemptively, trying to keep the little Dryad apparition soothed as you turned to a mildly volatile topic. "A recognition from the Luna dominion regarding an unparalleled expertise in a topic."

"Right you are!" Salhade's smile grew wider, "Now I don't claim to know the inner workings of that dominion, but you can rest assured that such a title wasn't made for the benefit of outsider recognition. The Shrine typically does not care much for anyone outside of the Shrine itself. So, Ser Valen, what do these two titles have in common?"
>>
"Outside recognition?" Again, an answer that wasn't quite the answer. There was another angle. They were titles universally recognized, but not created to be so... "The Shrine didn't intend for those titles to have the recognition they do now... Oh, I see." You frowned as the gears in your mind shifted. "A different perspective, then: It's not outside recognition, but recognized from the outside."

"Quite right. Recognition came from outside." Salhade intoned, "You seem quite knowledgeable on the topic, so I won't go into the Shrine's stance on intervention. Suffice to say, the idealized form of the Shrine is as an island, Ser Valen. The reality, however, is messier. When someone has power, they look to grow that power - and when they encounter others with power, they think of how to use that power to best benefit themselves. This is why the Shrine was founded, after all." He kept careful watch on you as he spoke, somewhere between a story and a lecture. "So that people of power, organizations and governments, could not use their power to exploit those favored by Mana for their own ends. The problem, however, is that our best intentions rarely exist beyond the grasp of human nature."

"What does this have to do with paladins?" Miska interjected bluntly, "I can't follow this human nature stuff."

Salhade mused over the question, then turned to you. "Ser Valen?"

"...The Shrine was originally founded to protect those favored by the Mana from exploitation." You took the prompt to summarize to Miska, "They adopted a policy of noninterference in political matters explicitly to keep themselves, and their members, free- no, I should say guarded- from that possibility."

"Okay, and what do the paladins and sages have do with that?"

"Having become a powerful faction in their own right, they couldn't operate independantly. They had to form relations with the factions around them, and that meant finding ways to benefit one another." Your brows knit together, finding a new facet to what you already knew. "Recognition came from outside... Sages and paladins were what benefitted other factions."

"Excellent deduction, I see now why Alouette was often proud of you children." Salhade praised you easily, "In both cases, the Luna and Wisp dominions broke the Shrine's overarching policy of noninteference and extended their resources to the outside. Or, maybe 'broke' is too harsh of a word... 'bent', perhaps?" Salhade mused on the difference for a moment. "In the Wisp dominion at least, there is an unofficial leeway granted to those ranking as Paladins allowing them to become more integrally connected with the affairs of the outside world, and in exchange for this leeway, the Wisp dominion has amassed no shortage of clout and favorable terms for the Shrine. They hold the second strongest presence within the Shrine, right after Luna."

"You're describing paladins and sages as mercenaries." You note acerbically.
>>
"We are free to choose who and what we get involved in as we wish." Salhade corrected unconcerned, "If we choose to become engaged in worldly affairs without these convenient titles, we are choosing to disassociate ourselves from the Shrine, as well as the benefits and support it offers those beloved by the Mana. So far as I am aware, only the dominions of Wisp and Luna have adopted permissive attitudes in regards to that, and as such, only they hold titles considered universally recognized."

"Cool, but how did you become a paladin?" Your conversation largely had flown over Miska, who still wanted an answer for the original question.

"Oh, that's a boring story. It's not important."

"Everything you just told us was boring!"

The old man's laughter did little to assauge Miska's frustration. You offered your knight a consoling smile, but otherwise left her be while mulling over what Salhade had mentioned. "So as a paladin, you were being harassed by the nobility and the Crown to try and join their cause?"

"In short." Salhade affirmed, "Awfully persistent. Try to stay an inn, get woken up the next day by some noble's entourage inviting you to their mansion. Try to buy supplies, get offered suspicious 'good will' deals." He grumbled example after example, seemingly growing tired and fed up just remembering it. "The Valen territory has never wanted a thing from me. A man can sit at his campfire and eat his fish in peace without some self-important fob trying to entice him to a formal dinner. Lovely place." He cut a meaningful glance in your direction. "I pray it stays that way till the day I die."

"I don't know what Alouette would do to me if I drove you off." You admit blithely, much to Salhade's warm amusement.

"Oh, I doubt she'd do anything. You children are..." He trailed off, making a strange expression before shaking his head. "She's much too soft, at any rate."

"Have you visited aunt Clara?" Sensing an opportunity to maybe learn more about your childhood caretaker, you turn to prod the old man in another direction.

"No, I'm not much of a healer and we don't have a strong relationship in the first place." Salhade denied.

"You don't?" Your head tilts."But she granted you permission to come and go, that's pretty big."

"A gift to my dear student, if anything." Salhade mused, "Alouette vouched for me, and so I come and go on her visa, so to speak."

"You're not worried it might get revoked with the current situation?"

Salhade came to a stop gradually, looking at you curiously. "Will you revoke it, Ser Valen?"

"No, but, I mean... What do you know of what happened?" You'd started on this topic earlier, but didn't quite pursue it. Maybe now was the time to.
>>
Salhade's small grin faded with the question, and he crossed his arms to give it some proper consideration. "Alouette and your aunt were in an altercation of sorts. To my knowledge, Alouette has chosen to support young Caylen, which put her at odds with his mother and resulted in a fight. I've heard Clara Valen returned quite injured from it."

"If you're here on Alouette's behalf, then what she did may be considered betrayal. It could jeopardize your welcome here once my aunt wakes up."

"Hmmm..." Salhade nodded, "Nothing to be done about it if it does." He shrugged, "but I'm not worried."

"Do you have any idea why she would have..." What's the word? Betrayed? Defected? Rebelled? The taste of any of them leave bitterness on your tongue just thinking about it. "Done this? Why she would have sided with Caylen?"

"If you're asking for specific answers, I'm afraid you'd be better off asking her directly." Salhade discouraged your curiosity apologetically. "But I don't believe for a moment that Alouette has taken a 'side', so to speak. Much less against Clara."

You don't really understand. You couldn't understand what she'd done, much less why she did it, and your greatest fear was that Artemis had somehow gotten to her as well... But the confidence in which Salhade simply believed in her was baffling all on its own. "Then why?"

The elder paladin shook his head, signalling a wish to move on. "It's not the first time they've gotten into a fight, Ser Valen. Those two have a history of doing unnecessary things because of each other. Whatever fears you're having, I think it safe to assure you they are unfounded."

His reassurance meant nothing to you, partly because you weren't even sure what fears you did have. The whole situation was some formless ball of stress and anxiety that made you want to scream and/or throttle your cousin violently. You walked on in a silence, one awkwardly participated in by Miska who had gotten lost somewhere in the discussion of Shrine politic and then never quite rejoined. You were about to take your leave to rest when one of the estate guards appeared to flag you down, jogging to intercept your group quickly.

"Ser Valen," He offered a quick salute, "Miss Lamandra needs you."

"She what?" Lily's mask conceals the owlish blink.

"The missing agent has been detained. She requested you come as soon as you could."

You jolted alert, briefly emerging from the creeping haze of fatigue that had been gathering. "I need to handle this, I enjoyed getting a chance to talk!" You nodded to Miska and Salhade both before hurrying away.
>>
You weren't sure what to expect from the captured agent, but the man before you looked... Non-descript. Short hair brown hair, slightly unshaven, a bit chubby. He wore the same sort of clothes you'd expect to see on anyone from Carona, setting him distinctively aside from the upper-crust of society, but not such that you'd think he was destitute. Your own knights had looked much worse off than him. Really the most eye-catching thing about him was the way the ropes criss-crossed his body in some bizarre tortoise-shell pattern, but you doubted that was his own choice.

"We caught him trying to find out what happened to the healers." Rinnier greeted you with business, "I've got to admit, the staff here are incredibly loyal. One of the serving staff actually lead him to us after he approached them for information."

"Aunt Clara was picky about who she hired." You met the man's eyes, having become the sole object of his attention since you entered the room. He was less panicked than you thought he'd be, given his circumstances. "You're not an adept."

"No, Ser Valen." He affirmed, shifting uncomfortably in his rope binding.

A Wisp adept wouldn't been caught like this. A Luna adept would have sent Lily into a frenzy. There's still the possibility of he was favored by one of the other Mana, but not being an adept was arguably a benefit of its own when trying to go unnoticed. You glanced at Rinnier, "Have you learned anything from him yet?"

"No, I had someone go find you as soon as we'd caught him." She shook her head, "I made sure he wouldn't be running away in the meantime, but interrogation is Ari's job."

"...Is that how you're supposed to tie him up?" You look him over skeptically, but Rinnier nodded.

"It's something my older brother learned to restrain his night guests, so it'll work here."

You blink, and your eyes drift towards the floor for a moment, finally turning to meet Rinnier's gaze. "Night guests?"

"Assassins. He was royalty, in line for the throne."

"Ah." You guess that made sense. The two of you turned your attention back towards the Artemis agent. "So, how cooperative are you going to be?"

"As much as I can be." The man offered unhesitatingly, keeping unbroken eye-contact... Well, eye-to-mask contact."

"Really?"

"I don't like pain, Ser Valen." He nodded very seriously. "I'd rather not got through any interrogation if I can help it."

"...You are surprisingly uncommitted to your cause." You observe blithely. "What guarantee do we have that any of what you tell us will be true?"

"Do you have a Luna adept? I'll freely submit to verification for anything I say."
>>
The tip of your lips tugs downward. If he were being honest, that was a bold claim to make. You knew firsthand how difficult it was trying to conceal things from Luna adepts, and your continued ability to do so largely hinged on Mim being polite as a favor. Either he really was going to tell you the truth, or he had something in mind that would cover him in that event. Knowledge of Dryad leaking to a Luna adept may be threat enough, in that case...

"Ari's been successful so far, there's really no harm in giving him to her anyway." Rinnier noted, evidently coming to a similar doubt in the man's honesty.

"W-Wait, you won't even give me a chance?" The man interjected quickly, "Really, you can ask me anything! I'll tell you what I know!"

"What's your name?"

Relief softened his expression, "Alan, Ser Valen."

That lined up with what you knew, but it was also trivial to assume you'd learned as much from the others. "Who do you report to?"

"Moll is our cell leader."

"How big is your cell? How many of you are there?"

"Three, Ser Valen, counting myself." You shook your head, only for Alan to hurriedly begin stammering. "Three! My cell is three members, but we were joined by another for operational support."

You frown, unsure how you felt about this exchange. Looking to Rinnier only showed an inscrutable expression, so you hazarded she was similarly conflicted. "What operations have you been involved in?"

"I helped pass messages and gather intel between agents around Byrn and Caylen Valen, and those working in Carona."

"He's useless to us. I'll get one of the guards to hand him over to Ari." Rinnier mused, and for a moment the statement took you off guard. She shifted her eyes meaningfully between you and the prisoner, "I'll be back in a moment."

"Wait! I have contacts in Murla, too!"

You watched her go, and a vague understanding of her game pieced together. "I'll come with you, we need to talk about our next move."

"I can tell you where the Tier family was taken!"

"I already know that." You waved off the attempt, turning your back on the agent.

"Where the behemoth is!" That one you didn't even bother to acknowledge. "The poison that was used on the Leids! Where Caylen Valen is going!"

You stopped. The Leids were the second of House Valen's only two vassal families. The title of 'vassal' was largely a formality these days, as the family had naturally dwindled from a large house to... Well, a singular family. You weren't even sure how many were left, but as a result, much of their original capacity as armsmasters for House Valen were handed off to local production within the territory. You don't think you've ever even met them, seeing as how their latest generation had been rather sickly even from birth.
>>
>Take him on his word, get information now. If you acted quickly, you might make use of it.
>>About Caylen and where he's going
>>About the Leids
>>About Murla
>>About the Tiers
>>Other? (write-in)

>Hand him over to Ari. It'll take a few days, but you can at least guarantee the information.
>Step out to consult with Rinnier (over what?)
>Other? (write-in)
>>
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Discovered today that even more of the ask.fms have vanished, furthering my belief that there's a rolling cut-off in age before they get deleted from the archives. I actually have no idea how much assorted trivia has now been erased!

Unsure how to address that. Ask.fm seems a rather poor platform for continued use given this revelation, but I'm not really sure where a better place to receive questions/vomit supplemental trivia would be - and I don't think many people are terribly interested in that kinda stuff anyway, so maybe the question is moot.

I'll be considering how to manage archiving what's still up in ask.fm in the meantime.
>>
>>5306629
>Hand him over to Ari. It'll take a few days, but you can at least guarantee the information.
You will write all of those things down for us to read at our leisure
>>
>>5306647
I... I already writ them down, anon!
>>
>>5306649
I was talking about Alan fool!
Actually, he is very eager to snitch on his fellows. How about we coerce him to work for us? Anyone agree? He could be useful
>>
>>5306628
>Hand him over to Ari. It'll take a few days, but you can at least guarantee the information.
There is nothing we could make immediate use of.

as things are it's not like we can go launch raids on whomever else is in on "the conspiracy", though list of names would be useful for crosschecking.

>Other? (write-in)
Go back to work on trying to establish a connection to the NW samples
additionally a diagram of the incision points made during the operation on Clara would be useful for our eventual attempt at backtracking, should that happen.
>>
>>5306631
I am interested in that stuff (not enough to create an account though, I hate spurious accounts)

>>5306629
>Offer him a chance to impress us with the breadth of his knowledge. In a written form. Without us present. And about the things he thinks we know as well. If we decide he didn't know enough, or we find out he lied or omitted something that we already knew, he won't have a second chance - to Ari with him.

This has to motivate him to offer as much info as possible on any topics he can without giving away what we can and can't fact-check.
>>
>>5306692
Oh, and put him on a time limit so he can't compose himself.
>>
>>5306692
>>5306694

I like this idea. It's fundamentally like how Ari was breaking the cell, but we give him the opportunity to avoid the treatment in the first place.

But we really need to consult with Rinnier about this. Another 3 minutes can give us a much better idea what to prioritize and what can be applied immediately.

>>5306629

>Consult with Rinnier about priorities and actionable information
>Give him the opportunity to spill to avoid being handed to Ari (Make mental note, if this works, give Ari credit for the results, even if we ought to make sure her methods are better constrained next time.)
>>
>>5306724
I think we shouldn't consult with Rinnier if we take the course of action I proposed. Our decision should look spur of the moment, like there's no stakes in it for us. Consulting beforehand will make it obvious that this is a manipulation attempt.
>>
>>5306748

That's fair, and actually taking the opposite tack would work better.

If we "handed" him to Ari and told her that he's very cooperative and we would like to see what he writes immediately before punishing him, we can put maximum pressure on him, earn some time to confer with Rinner, keep from undercutting Ari and even keep our friend here's dignity intact if he's not a dirty liar.

Does that sound like a better strategy?
>>
>>5306751
It is a better strategy in pragmatic terms, but I don't want to corrupt Ari further...
>>
>>5306751
Btw we can confer with Rinnier while he's writing, I specifically stated that we shouldn't be present (so it seems it's not that important for us and so he can't gauge our reactions)
>>
>>5306755

If you're concerned about Ari corruption, we've long gone past that.

There's a bit of a tightrope problem we have right now. If we don't engage with Ari on a practical, meaningful level, we don't actually have any levers on her behavior. The way she got here is a combination of unexamined trauma (including some directly related to ourselves) and uncritical positive regard.

For us to have any useful opportunity to guide her at this point, we need to keep her in a position of responsibility and accountability and direct her from there. This means accepting miss-steps and directing from there. She got the results we wanted by applying practices more likely than not derived from her own experiences.

Or to be more direct: If we undercut Ari's task, she will not be receptive to any guidance we give her: She will decide that she disappointed us and react negatively, be it shutting down, groveling for affection, _more_ drinking or lashing out.

>>5306629


In any case, that's my current vote. Changing >>5306724 to

>"give" the man to Ari, asking her to skip to getting him to spill the beans since he's "so cooperative"
>Pow wow with Rinnier on actionable directions to go based on the teasers of what he seems to think would make him useful.
>Check answers, if good, he gets to keep his dignity. If bad, Ari gets to keep him

Also, and besides, some self care is probably really important at this point: There's no way we're not running on fumes right now.

>Acknowledge Rinnier and Ari's good work, then take a break.
>>
>>5306626
>You couldn't understand what she'd done, much less why she did it, and your greatest fear was that Artemis had somehow gotten to her as well...
As far as we can see, she either got hoodwinked something awful, or she's been corrupted by Artemis. Neither option is particularly flattering.

>"Do you have a Luna adept? I'll freely submit to verification for anything I say."
Considering all this mess is tied to the Infection and by extension Artemis, that doesn't mean much. Worst case, he's an Infection vector to a clean Adept.
Plus we've got too many lethal secrets to be playing Q&A with Luna Adepts.


>>5306629
this.
>>5306692

>>5306631
>I actually have no idea how much assorted trivia has now been erased!
But surely you keep a local copy of everything you've posted, as is good practice?
I'd suggest you start if you're not; You never know when one of the archive sites will crash and lose a bunch of threads.
For the ask stuff, you could always dump that stuff at the end of threads.


>>5306755
Ari is lost on multiple levels, the least of which is her Infection. Thinking about working with her literally makes me sick to my stomach.
Encouraging her in any way is stupid.
>>
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>>5306783
>local copies
I have a back up of the entire quest, and an active file of the quest. There's also the pdf compilations, I guess, but I don't maintain those. As for the stuff on the ask? I never recorded any of it!

I probably could just dump the ask.fms in the ongoing threads though, you're right. Some people have expressed a preference in not reading them because of dislike for non-IC information though, so eh.

I may just end up having to make a google doc or something with all of them copy/pasted into it.
>>
>>5306793
>Some people have expressed a preference in not reading them because of dislike for non-IC information though, so eh.

As long as it's after you've formally ended the thread, I don't think that'll be an issue. You can also put a marker at the top of each such post if you want.
>>
>>5306783
>Thinking about working with her literally makes me sick to my stomach
Hahahaha dawg keep it cool. It's a quest. Everybody could get killed next post, get grooving with it, don't be sad, have fun.
>>
>>5306768
Seconding this I suppose. I wonder if Rinnier is aware of our attempted execution.

>>5307149
>shadeposting
nice
>>
>>5307375
>>5306629

>>5306652
He's either a competent enemy actively attempting to deceive us or a coward who sold out his team the second we walked through the door. Either way I don't want him on our side.

>>5306656
I do also want to the NW problem before Irue crashes
>>
>>5307396
None of that means he couldn't be useful. But yeah I changed my mind anyway.
>>5306768
Supportan this guy. And go rest after
>>
>>5306647
>>5306656
>>5306768
Disregard time sensitive information and acquire guaranteed facts!

>>5306692
>>5306724
>>5306783
>>5307414
>>5307375
Disregard time sensitive information for solo confessionals!

>>5306656
>>5307396
Connections with nymph's wood!

>>5306768
Consult with Rinnier!

Votes are a bit messy, but the general consensus seems to be to hand him over to Ari to make confessions, talk to Rinnier in the meantime, and then let Ari interrogate him if he turns out to not be useful. In all cases, the decision has been made that you'd rather go over this slowly and carefully at the risk of being too late to act on what you learn.

A little busy cleaning up, but will get to work!
>>
Time sensitive or not, taking an Artemis agent at his word was a problem. You thought over what to do with him for a moment before making a snap judgement. "Write down what you know. I'll look over it later and see what might be interesting before making a final decision on what happens to you."

"Yes, Ser Valen. If that's what you want, I'll do it! Thank you for sparing me."

Your hand hovered over the door knob, "I said nothing about sparing you. You're being introduced to our interrogator as a guest. How useful you turn out to be will determine whether you keep that status or not."

With that said, you slipped from the room and shut the door behind you. Rinnier was waiting for you outside, and she wasted little time looking to you for answers. "How did it go?"

"I'm turning him over to Ari as a guest, and he's agreed to write down what he knows to try and prove he's useful to us." Not like he had much of a choice. "He gave a few examples of things he could tell us, but I'm wary of taking an Artemis agent on their word."

"Anything that stood out?" Rinnier's arms crossed beneath her chest, shifting her weight from one leg to another while you briefly recap the agent's bait. She frowned as you went on, visibly sifting through disappointment and curiosity. "Most of it is things we either already know or don't have much need for anymore." She summarized succintly, "Information on Murla would be useful for future operations in the area. I'm not familiar with the 'Leid' family though, who are they?"

You shake your head, "A vassal family of the Valens, like the Tiers. That's about all I know though, I can't say they ever came up."

"So one of our vassals got sold into slavery and the other was poisoned?" Rinnier snorted, "With your aunt in the state she is, if we hadn't shown up then this whole territory would have been decapitated by now."

"Even as it stands we're still crippled." You sigh, "But it could be worse."
>>
"What are the Leid family responsible for?" The redhead's attention shifted speculatively, "I've gotten accustomed to you having weird gaps, but it's the first time I'm hearing of them."

You cut your Testament a dirty look, then wracked your memories for an answer. "What they were responsible for was arms, but these days I don't think they actually do anything. The household dwindled over time and now most all of House Valen's weaponry is sourced through local productions in the territory."

"Vassal in name only, huh? ...When you say they dwindled, do you think they've been poisoned down to the state they're in?"

"I can't say that's not the case," You allowed, "but from my understanding it was just fertility problems. This was probably going to be the last generation for them anyway."

"Then they're useless to us." You looked up at Rinnier surprised, and she just shrugged. "We have limited resources as it is, and we'd be trying to save someone that can't help us in the least. I know it sounds cruel, but we have more important things to deal with."

It was a cold line of thought, but she was right. The only hitch to it all was a lingering suspicion over Artemis' involvement in the first place. Why go through the effort of trying to quietly kill a family that didn't matter?

Without a way to answer that, you temporarily set it aside. "So Murla is worth looking into." You recount, "We're already dealing with the behemoth, Carona is handled... We know where the Tiers are, or where they were taken, at least." Asche had gotten you that information before she vanished. The longer you took to do anything with that information though, the less likely it would amount to anything. "We know where Caylen is going already..."

"Do we?" Rinnier countered, "We suspected he was going to meet with Artemis, so we assumed Ephlesia."

"Right?" You nod.

"But from everything you told me, that agent only seemed to be aware of operational information in the immediate area." One of her arms unfolded, a fingertip gesturing vaguely towards the Artemis agent's room. "So there's a chance Caylen never left the territory, and his meeting place was within our borders this entire time."

"So we could still go retrieve him." You murmured. Your teeth grit moments later. "No, if Alouette is supporting him, we have no way of forcing Caylen to return. At best I could try and talk him out of whatever stupid idea he's gotten in his head in the meantime."

"Or try and convince Alouette to withdraw her support." Rinnier noted.

You grimaced uncomfortably but didn't deny the idea. Without her, he was just a stupid brat.
>>
"In either case," Rinnier continued, "This is probably all we can do for the day. Are you okay?"

You nodded reflexively, but when you went to assure her... The words wouldn't form. Your bobbing head reluctantly came to a stop and you sighed. "No. I've had a horrible day."

"You look horrible." Your Testament affirmed quietly. "I'm here if you need me, but otherwise now seems like a good place to call it a night. We can come together tomorrow to decide on what actions to take."

"You alread spoke with Tanya?"

This time it was Rinnier who grimaced. "No, I've been preoccupied finishing up my research and hunting down that Artemis agent. Both of which I've finished now, by the way. I had planned on talking to her tomorrow as well... After some last second preparations."

"Preparations?" Your head tilted inquisitively.

Rinnier gave a single bitter laugh. "Nothing special. Negotiations are delicate so I want to calm my nerves. I don't want to mess up. "

"Ah." You let yourself try and relax, idly stroking one of Lily's leaves to the little Dryad apparition's delight. "What did you find researching?"

"Not a whole lot. I have... A little confidence their expedition could be retraced with some effort, but remember when i said 'weather willing'?"

"Yeah?"

"Weather will not be willing." Rinnier deadpanned. "Whatever they took from that last expedition angered the Mistral. Anger might even be understating it."

The apparition which destroyed Carona was a Banshee, though coloquially it had the nickname of 'Mistral's Child'. True to form, the sheer scale and scope of the two could hardly be compared... Where the Banshee could have destroyed the area surrounding a town, the Mistral dominated near all of the Northern Wastes. To make matters worse, the Mistral had long since been confirmed by the Shrine to have matured into an Aspiration, which meant fighting it was an even more difficult prospect.

"So what did they find?"

"That... I'm not sure about." Rinnier hesitated. "East Heaven seemed to believe it was Mint's legacy, seeing as the key to finding it was the Lavender Sage's journal. The records don't explain what was found, just that they found it. Trying to take it from its resting place attracted the Mistral's attention though, and they nearly lost the entire expedition escaping the Northern Wastes in the aftermath."
>>
"So a Saint's legacy guarded by the Mistral." You summarize, "Maybe it's calmed down since then? It's been how long?"

"A little under twenty years. Nineteen? Eighteen? Somewhere around there." Rinnier guessed, "I couldn't tell you though, Tanya would be the most informed of Mistral's current state if she really came from the wastes."

"Plan on asking her?" You raised a brow curiously.

Rinnier shook her head immediately though. "If I find out all the better, but the less I let on that I know anything about what's up there, the more likely we are to dup her into not realizing we removed the record she's looking for. Still..." She trailed off. "Learning more only made me more curious. Mint's legacy was left in the ruins of a land that has never seen civilization, and those ruins were inscribed with the same language they found on the fragments in the dead zones."

The two of you mulled over the implications, but it wasn't something an answer could be found for. "So what's next for you, then?"

"For me? Negotiating cooperation out of Tanya. For this...?" Rinnier gestured vaguely in reference to the conversation. "...I don't know. The only other places we could find information would be East Heaven, and I can't imagine getting anything from them on the matter, or the Northern Wastes, which..." She looked resigned. "I want to know more, but I'll probably have to stop here."

You sighed, finding yourself sharing her disappointment. "Tomorrow, we need to make decisions on what we're doing next."

She flashed a teasing smile, "Getting restless between adventures?"

"Yes." You answer flatly, drawing a warm laugh from your Testament. "We've got a lot to work on, and time isn't on our side to keep staying here. We know where the Tiers are, but the longer we wait, the more likely they'll be moved. There's other towns we need to secure. Whatever else this agent gives us-"

"Alright." Rinnier soothed, "I think there's still more that can be handled using this place as a base, but you're right that we don't have the luxury of staying for long. If we could just stay connected like we were that night in Carona, we could afford to split up and coordinate remotely..."

>Am I forgetting something...? (write-in)

"It only lasts a day." You remind, and Rinnier clicked her tongue disappointedly.

She shook her head, crimson ponytail flicking back and forth lazily. "We'll figure something out. Get some rest, Irue."

"Yeah." You yawn, lingering. "Rinnier?"

"Hm?" Her red eyes flit back to you curiously.

>"Good night."
>"Stay with me?"
>>
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http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Valen+Quest

And we are archived.

I'll lurk the thread for a bit to try and answer some questions if I can.

Apologies to all anons who participated in Valen Quest but died at their keyboards wondering when QM would finally stop.

To those who did not make it to the end, we will never forget your sacrifice.

There will be one more small update after this one, and then I plan to spend the rest of the time till the thread falls off the board posting over some trivia from the ask.fm in an archiving effort. We have a while before the thread falls off, but I expect to be busy the coming week so I figure it's safer to wrap it up here.

Next thread... I want to say soon, but my internet access seems like it'll be questionable for the coming month. three months. I'll post on twitter when I actually have regular internet access again once the problems conclude and then go from there!

If the thread is still up when I've got time after this week, I'll look into pooping out a write-up, if anyone's interested in that. You can vote responding to this post.

>Kara
>Asche
>>
>>5310664
>"Stay with me?"
>>5310668
>Asche
Bring on the ASCHE
>>
>>5310664

>Forgetting

We still have the Jinn branch somewhere? We can't be certain it's secure, but that might be a lead on getting a bit of range. If we need to source another both Byrn and our agents here represent a possible vector for getting one.

>Vote? Vote!

I'm staying neutral on the vote this time.: Irue could use some comfort tonight, but I'm not 100% sure Rinnier would be appreciative to the kind of memories that may be running in Irue's mind tonight. Can't honestly decide.

>Kara

Come on Riz, Salt the wound.
>>
>>5310664
>"Stay with me?"
>>5310668
>Kara
>>
>>5310664
A Forgetting in the last post, how cruel.
>It's probably about Jinn branch

>"Good night."

>>5310668
Thanks for running!
>>
>>5310664
>"Stay with me?"
>>5310668
>Asche

>Next thread...the coming month. three months.
Six months, got it! So how'd we do?
>>
>>5311489
Honestly I am surprised anons enjoyed the thread at all! There was a lot of waiting, both for the thread to happen and in the thread between posts, for updates which progressed very little. You did some interrogation, wrapped up taking control of the house, and then spent most of the rest of the thread just talking to people and unwinding. I worried a lot of you would be bored.

Some new relationships were established, old ones given a little more of a spotlight. It's taken much longer than I'd like, but I have a solid outline for how things are progressing from here... Which is to say, there's roughly three major plotlines spinning simultaneously and I'm feeling comfortable beginning to expand on them by fleshing out bits of the setting and moving on to new members in the central cast. I'm excited for where we're going in the immediate future, because it feels like we've spent a very long time spinning our wheels without much external influence from the rest of the world.

That said, I'm always more curious how my anons feel like they're doing and where they're going than vice-versa. People seem content? Contentedness leads to boredom and disinterest though, so I'm not sure how I'm comfortable with it.
>>
>>5311516
The levels of delusion you are on to think we don't enjoy even "slow" Valen threads.
>>
Maybe it's just because im a historyfag, but I think we're not doing this leadership business very well at the moment. This is because Irue has autocratic power, Irue IS House Valen now so Irue needs to be out there showing that. We have almost no public presence, and our whole ascension is shrouded in secrecy. Gotta get out there, make some appearances and drill it into people's minds, or we rule the place only in name.
>>
>>5310664
Oh, is it time for Valen Quest first sex scene by OP?
>>
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>>5311590
Strictly speaking you do rule it only in name currently. You've abruptly taken over with no guidance from your predecessors regarding the state of your holdings or the greater political situations abroad. For all the rest of the territory knows, its regents are still Clara and Byrn.

Rinnier has alluded to this briefly in mentioning she can think of other things to do from the estate, and most of those things are administrative in nature. Getting a grasp for what you're working with, how the territory is managed, your budget and income, etc. All of those are things very important to successful leadership, and coincidentally, things Rinnier has a great deal of experience in. Unless you specifically have need of her elsewhere, she's liable to make the estate her new headquarters and begin digging her nails into your newly acquired infrastructure and influence.

>>5311597
Technically, Valen Quest has a sex scene, but it's not been part of the main quest and was written with an intent that had little to do with arousal. When I first started the quest, like, in the first thread or so, I'm pretty sure I noted that it really wasn't a lewd narrative... In that same thread, where the Testaments were introduced, I remember anons immediately asking if it was their vote to choose a waifu, and I asked them not to think of it - or the characters - in that light. It's been a really long ride since then. It's interesting to think about, because it's common knowledge to just about everyone that anons try to steer towards waifus, or are terrified of coomers or what not, but most of Valen's playerbase has... Not been that?

I'm not really against intimacy though, despite what the initial warning implies. I had no interest in trying to catch people's interests with smut, and I'm still not really interested in writing sex for the purpose of having something to be horny to. If it ever did come up on-screen then it'd be the result of a very slow-burned and organically developed process, and I can't promise it'd be arousing in the slightest. That said, I find it incredibly hot when there's emotional chemistry and investment between the participants. Lovey-dovey handholding sex with cuddling is my fetish.

Of course the opposite is also theoretically true. Treating not as a lewd event but something more impactful doesn't necessarily mean the impact is positive, so it's not impossible your first on-screen sex scene could end up being something horrific and deeply traumatizing. For you and the character(s) involved.
>>
>>5311618
>Valen Quest has a sex scene
Are you talking about that joke post an anon pulled off with a fake trip? I gotta go read dat shit again.
>>
>>5311626
No, it's in one of the write-ups.
>>
>>5311627
oh damn.
I started reading the archives anyway, I must say that Irueposter was a national treasure. I wonder why he's gone silent now.
>>
>>5311516
>I worried a lot of you would be bored.
I'm not bored so much as slightly paranoid about the amount of time that Clara has left, before things become irreversible assuming that that point hasn't been passed already , and as such would prefer if we got on top of the NW / operation side of things, though we keep seeming to putting that off and seeing it slowly fade into the background.

I'm also sort of surprised that we haven't heard about her waking up yet, though we may have forgotten to station anyone on her door, or ask that we are alerted to her waking up, though the screaming / noise will probably attract someone's attention.
>>
>>5311637
She drifts in and out of consciousness. There's not a lot of screaming involved. So it's not like she hasn't woken up, but how long she's awake for is another matter entirely, so it's not really worth alerting you only for you to rush there and she's back asleep. Spending time just being there with her is your best chance at catching her awake - so, to wit, you can speak to her whenever you want really. It'll just take up a fair bit of time.

>>5311633
Many anons have come and gone. To this day I think of Luvianon, who vanished into the midsummer night, never to return.
>>
>>5311641
>she's back asleep
The fact that any pain meds should have worn off by now, and that she can sleep is a massive red flag that things are still going sideways.
>>
>>5311641
how's questing, you enjoy running the thread? how are things?
>>
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>>5311651
Questing is... Worrisome? I worry a lot, it's how I am. I worry about people getting bored, I worry I'm getting worse at writing, I make terribly unnecessary and often irrelevant comparisons and fret. Overall I enjoy it, or else I wouldn't still be doing it, but despite Valen's general progression broadly being planned since its inception, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't wondered if maybe it should have ended when the rite did back at Arc 1. All of the stated goals had wrapped up, momentum had reached a good point, I think I could have stopped the quest there and no one would have been disappointed.

That didn't happen of course, so we're in it for the longhaul now.

Things besides me questing are less fine. A lot of the quests I used to follow have dropped off, but I try and keep in touch with their QMs. Sometimes I poke my head into new quests to see how they're doing, but it's rare I stay long. None of the QMs lately have had a writing style/quality that was capable of keeping me engaged.

I'm actually super picky about writing quality! I read a lot, almost constantly, and if the quality isn't to a certain degree it can make me physically nauseous to try consume. I assure you that's not a joke or exaggeration, bad writing and narrative execution actually makes me sick. In the past I've read some things so horrible I walked away from it with a splitting headache, disoriented, and wanting to throw up. It's not like the content itself was uniquely bad, but that I'm sensitive to it. I have a history of going into obsessive stupors where the only thing that keeps me from crawling out of my skin is reading - and I don't mean reading narratives. I've huddled in a pantry forcing myself to read nutrition labels and ingredient lists just to stay calm on a handful of occasions.

It is my everpresent and ongoing nightmare that one day I try and readback my own writing, which any writer or creator will attest is already difficult, and find it so horrible it starts making me sick.

...Though at the same time, recently I've encountered people who have what I can only describe as mediocre or just decently average writing who are making like 42k/year on patreon just pooping out short stories, and it's one of several occasions which has left me experiencing existential moments of questioning. Times where you're like "no, I'm nowhere near good enough to make a living or ask for money doing X" and then you run face first into someone you know is worse than you at something not only doing it, but doing it lucratively, and you start disassociating as you question life.

Anyway this post has rambled on a bit, in summary, things are decent! Much better than they were a year or two ago.
>>
>>5310658
>"We have limited resources as it is, and we'd be trying to save someone that can't help us in the least. I know it sounds cruel, but we have more important things to deal with."
Pretty much, yeah. Martial vassals are something to be avoided when possible anyway; if they get ambitious, they can be extremely difficult to deal with.

>No, if Alouette is supporting him, we have no way of forcing Caylen to return.
I'm minorly tempted to try and pull an anime and arrange a showdown between the student and the master. It's a horrible idea, but it would certainly be interesting.

>"Or try and convince Alouette to withdraw her support." Rinnier noted.
I'm assuming she's Infected, presumably gotten from Caylen. Even if we had the opportunity, she's almost certainly lost.

>>5310664
>>"Good night."

>>5310668
Thanks for writing. See you next year!

>>5311516
>I worried a lot of you would be bored.
Riz we have begged you for slow threads in the past. While I am wearing a little thin on the murder mystery thing with the healers, everything else is perfectly fine. You write great characters and worlds, but we blaze past them so often it's nice to stop and smell the roses before they burn down. We will have to move on again (soon, if I'm any judge), but I've enjoyed our time getting to flesh out the characters and world a little more.

>>5311590
This has been a problem for the whole quest. People weren't even aware we existed, nevermind that we were the heir (and later, actual head). I am wondering who's going to be dealing with all the paperwork while we're out there getting punched in the face, though. Rinnier would be a good fit, but I don't think she'd appreciate being left behind much and she's fun to have around.

>>5311618
>with no guidance from your predecessors
Small things like this really show that Aunt was never intending on willingly stepping down as regent. It makes me wonder what her long term plan was for us. I doubt she'd have killed us outright. Maybe a soft permanent house arrest?

>I'm not really against intimacy though, despite what the initial warning implies.
Just do us a favor and say no. Far, far too many quests stories have romance. It's been a real breath of fresh air to not have to deal with that particular mess in this quest.

>>5311671
>A lot of the quests I used to follow have dropped off,
>Sometimes I poke my head into new quests to see how they're doing, but it's rare I stay long. None of the QMs lately have had a writing style/quality that was capable of keeping me engaged.
>I'm actually super picky about writing quality! I read a lot, almost constantly
I feel that. /qst/'s chicken/egg quest/reader problem certainly doesn't help.
>>
>>5311618
>For you and the character(s) involved.

What do you mean, are you going transform Irue into Aeon mode mid coitus or something? Irue was secretly a super hermaphrodite with 7 cocks this whole time? What are you hinting at here?
>>
>>5311516
We got shit done this thread. We achieved useful stuff. We were more or less competent. Of course we'd enjoy it!
>>
>>5310679
>>5310842
>>5311489
Stay!

>>5311253
>>5311690
Good night!

>>5310679
>>5311489
Asche!

>>5310758
>>5310842
Kara!

We're tied on write-ups, so... Anyway, writing the last update! After I finish it, I'll start trying to compile the ask.fms today.
>>
>>5312707
The solution is obvious.
Do both.
No, just kidding. If a break is needed do the Maid.
>>
Now that you had her attention, you found yourself wondering just what you had wanted to say. There hadn't been any particular reason you called out, only... You didn't want to be alone. Seeing her waiting for your follow up, you floundered internally, trying to think of some excuse to make. Something else to say. Thankfully, dredging awkwardly through your memories gave you just that.

"If it's communication just between us, we do have something. The Artemis agent back in Carona was using-" Your tongue tied for a moment as you decided not to actually explain it was some form of artificial, aborted apparition. "-a device to communicate with the paladin and his mercenaries. From what I can tell it's only usable between the two devices, but since I have the paladin's half..."

"Then we'd just need to find the other half and we'd be able to coordinate remotely!" Rinnier's eyes lit up, "It's probably still in Carona. With Artemis rooted out, procuring it shouldn't be too difficult." A satisfied smile tugged at her lips, "Oh, that changes everything. We might actually be able to speed up a lot of things I had in mind if this pans out..."

"We'll still need to find it." You note, trying to think if there was some way to fish it out more easily. 'A Spider's Web' could find it, probably.

But Rinnier shook her head, "I'll send a runner to Dullem to turn it up. There are things I need back in Carona still, so I can pick it up when I go back to get the rest of stuff I left there."

"You're moving it all here?" You hadn't given much thought to actually staying here. Or leaving Carona, truth be told. As much as you loathed the place, you'd secured your place in it through no little amount of suffering. Conversely, this estate felt more foreign to you than that hateful little town did at this point.

"Do you know how big a deal it is that you seized control here?" Rinnier laughed. "We have a tap into the pulse of the rest of the territory, we have actual well trained, disciplined security. We have money!"

"Not that much money." You correct, wincing over the financial records you'd read through.

Rinnier paused, her excitement temporarily suspended. "What do you mean? I haven't had the chance to go through any of it since I've been organizing our security."

"Well..."
>>
You could blame it on Byrn, and you're pretty sure that he did, indeed, have a healthy share of blame for the strange investments and misappropriated flow of money. He'd been funding the mercenaries in Carona after all, and once your aunt had authorized a stipend for you to help govern it, he'd redirected that too. There were also miscellaneous accounts being balanced in most of the towns in the territory that you couldn't see an immediate return or reason for. That last thing felt suspicious, but you also weren't familiar enough with the businesses or the auditing process to say whether it was a problem or your own lack of understanding.

And while all of that absolutely contributed to the problems at hand, and not funding Artemis' strangling usurpation of the Valen territory would have saved a pretty penny, the biggest culprit to all of this was...

"You spent how much on me?!" Rinnier gawked.

"Not just you, Kara and Ari were included in the total." You defend, "You just cost the most."

"Well, yes, obviously I cost the most. I'm royalty." Rinnier thrust her chest out in faux pride. The moment was short-lived though, as she buried her face in her palms not long after. "This has to be a scam. Or an excuse to funnel that money elsewhere." Her voice came out muffled, "Oh, I can't believe this... No." She cleared her throat, straightening up to face you again. "No, it's not great, but this is still better than where we were. We're not in debt, we're still operating in the black."

"The black?"

"Positives." The former princess elaborated, "We're not losing money. It's not the windfall I'd expected it to be, but we still have far more than we did a week ago. The sooner I can get a grasp on where we stand and begin making adjustments, the better."

You mustered a faint smile towards your Testament. "Alright, I'll leave it to you, then. Once communication is in order, I think I'll set off."

"Set off to where?" Rinnier turned her attention back to you. "Weren't we going to go over it tomorrow?"

"We are, but I know I'm going somewhere." You nod, casting a sideways glance down the empty halls. "We took control here, but for the moment it's in name only. I'm going to need to make appearances, and there's probably some things I need to handle myself as well." You grin at Rinnier, "Besides, you were the one who kept saying I needed more of a presence, right?"

"...Yes." Concern flickered through her eyes as she looked over you, finally returning the grin with a small one of her own. "And it'll be better this time since we can keep in touch from now on. I won't have to worry you've gone and done something stupid without anyone watching."

You remained silent, not feeling the energy to bicker back and forth as you normally would. The corner of Rinnier's lips wilted at the unexpected lack of response, and she sighed. "Alright, well. Get some rest Irue, we'll talk more about it tomorrow."
>>
You nodded, watching her turn to leave... And swallowed thickly, reaching out to grasp at her sleeve.

"?" Rinnier's arm pulled back, drawing her back around towards you. "Irue?"

"...I'm probably going to be gone for a while." You murmur, holding nervously to the fabric. She wasn't pulling away, and it was enough of an allowance that you tried to put words to the feelings you were struggling with. "So... Just for tonight, I... Would you..." You swallowed again, "Stay with me?"

Silence reigned, and part of you immediately hated the idea. The way you'd exposed yourself like this. Wanted to just let go and drop it altogether. But... You held on, because the alternative of spending tonight alone was so much worse.

"...Yeah." Rinnier finally stepped in and took your hand, "Let's go to bed, Irue."

You nodded quietly and the two of you left without another word.
>>
That's the end of the thread, quest wise. I'll start poking at some write-ups and post them here if the thread is still up when I'm done with them!
>>
This is the kind of fun that Rinnier haters want to take away from us. Cute
>>
>>5312848
I like Rinnier but I hate yuri.
>>
>>5312707
>Kara

>>5312830
>"No, it's not great, but this is still better than where we were. We're not in debt, we're still operating in the black."
The immediate followup question here is the question of incomes. How do we make our money, and is it interrupted? Are we running entirely out of reserves right now?

>>5312870
same.
>>
>>5312870
Irue is a woman?
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>>5313213
We just don't know?
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>>5313213
It's pretty clear, yeah. If nothing else, the arranged marriage was with a dude. Seeing as the point of political alliance marriages is the mixing of blood in the resulting child (thus 'welding' the two groups together), there's no point in gay marriage.
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>>5313359
But that wasn't arranged by our parent's but Clara and Byrn, so there is still a some doubt to if they had known about whatever the doll they recovered ended up being used for I have a feeling it was either Irue or Ari, though at this point considering all the mana troubles we've had its probably Irue

So there is some concern that the doll would be infertile, though with Dryad's help that probably wouldn't be an issue.
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>>5313359
I remember there being an ask.fm question that was related to that, actually, and there was a note that because of Dryad's wane there was a corresponding decrease in fertility- so it'd be relatively easy for a political marriage to fall flat since the natural force of life itself was lacking in one or both of you. I can't remember the entirety of it. Having two children would be extremely fortunate in such times where the world is slowly dying from decline of ability to reproduce or grow, wouldn't it?

Though my memory isn't the best so feel free to take that shot out of a himalayan rock salt shot cup.

That said, Irue acts like a chick. An autistic chick, but a chick nevertheless, and as far as looks go appears more on the feminine side of androgynous. I don't recall a single time anybody in the narrative assumed Irue looked male, and there's an insecurity over being an ironing board, or looking less feminine than the milk truck Caylen ran off with.
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>>5313383

Our Mana trouble may also have something to do with being a lush pounding back Feydka like water.

There's little reason it couldn't be both though.
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>>5313484
>Our Mana trouble may also have something to do with
Apart from with Dryad, can we actually say our standing has improved at all since we stopped, since we never really tried other than once or twice before we stopped?

>pounding back Feydka like water.
But that's the thing if we had to not stand out to Dryad, we would need to have a similar signature to the other Valens to you know act as it's keeper and sidestep the Valens's generational blood tithe to the Forest with an undying Warden / Companion and keep it asleep, and so would need to be constantly upkept and faked so would explain why Ashe kept stocking up on it even though we didn't want it, and where it was procured from, though to a degree we still don't know where it was being bottled, or otherwise produced / circulated.

and why they (Irue's Parents) went looking for the doll in the first place and why they were so happy to actually find it.
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>>5313516

If I'm understanding you correctly, you're suggesting we've always been the substitute? Something so close to being a Valen daughter that the real Heir could duck her inevitable responsibility until an "unfortunate" incident where the only things that remained of the main Valen bloodline is a maid doll and a noble doll in an simple, if important dance?

That we did not so much drink Faydka purge any affections of other Mana from our body in our past, but rather so that we were dyed in Dryad's so thoroughly we would be accepted until she loved us for our own shades?

It's an idea with unfortunately long legs.
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>>5313473
>spoiler
I don't think things are that bad yet. If the birthrate was around 1.0, the world's population would be halving every generation, which would cause massive societal issues and likely would be a fairly common topic.

>>5313484
>Our Mana trouble may also have something to do with being a lush pounding back Feydka like water.
It could also be just that none of the Mana are interested in us, despite our interest in them. Favored are few and far between, no?

>>5313516
>But that's the thing if we had to not stand out to Dryad, we would need to have a similar signature to the other Valens
No one really knows how the Mana pick their favorites, track their lineages, or when they differ enough to be 'different' which they must at some point, otherwise pretty much everyone would be favored by now.
Plus doesn't Dryad supply the stuff anyway via the Fae? And wouldn't such a ruse imply Rue was fed an alcohol-analogue for her entire childhood?
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Home, Sweet Home

A tongue of flame danced carelessly, casting its warm, flickering light through the darkness. Every crackle from its body prickled your ears, with hazy shadows casting themselves relentlessly against the walls; They shivered, trembling in silence, and watched you with their dark eyes. As long as you the fire stayed lit, they couldn't hurt you. They couldn't reach you. No matter how far their arms stretched, or how distorted they became. All you had to do was stay here by the flame, knees hugged to your chest. All you had to do was watch the flame.

Your mind was a careful blankness, but you knew how delicate that was. You could feel their eyes boring into you from the walls. The way the shadows watched. Those towering to the ceiling, who loomed over you through the smoke, and the ones who peered at you from behind the smallest clefts in the rough stone. Outside you could hear the howling, and it hadn't stopped. It filled your ears even when you slept, and at times you heard them inside of it. You watched the flame with sunken eyes and desperately quashed the beginnings of any thought that wormed its way into your consciousness. Good or ill. They promised to lead you to the same place.

...You never liked to think. The more you thought, the more confused you became. The more difficult it was to make decisions. The more you made people angry. Disappointed. You were fine letting others think for you, just going with the flow and doing what you were told. It was safer that way. For everyone.

A howl ripped through your ears and you flattened them reflexively, but the flame reflected blankly off your eyes flickered weakly. The little pile of wood scraps stacked together, charred and blackened as its food, shifted precariously and sent the observing shadows into titters. They stretched, swaying wordlessly as their gaze came closer - They came closer. You reached towards the ash-filled basin with unfeeling hands, softly, gingerly, holding your breath while you begged.

'No.'

Just push the pile of wood back together.

'No.'

Ignore the eyes. Ignore the howling.

'No. No, no!'

Your fingernails dipped into the burned remains, numbly squeezing it together. It glowed in your palms, coals still shining orange, hidden beneath the white-black debris, and you refused to breathe. You focused on the flame, the tumbled tinder it danced upon, the way it scorched black. It was fading, and with it the darkness closed in around you. Hundreds of tiny needles pierced your back, prickling every inch of your skin with the instinct that you were being watched. The flame flickered weakly in your hands, and you were too terrified to let your eyes drift beyond its dwindling smolder to the crowd that loomed around you.
>>
Careful... Carefully... You just had to push it together. You just had to keep the fire going. You... Your hands trembled, and the shadows writhed in the corner of your eye. Monstrous hands reached for them, encircling you and the crowd as you tried desperately to keep it going. They swallowed the eyes, crushing them bit by trembling bit, and you refused to look.

But you could still hear the howling, and it called your name. All your careful efforts left in vain when you startled and your hands clasped together in a cloud of powdered embers. You couldn't even feel charred wood splinter and break between your fingers - Only watch in horror as the last of the fire vanished and those monstrous hands snapped shut.
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"Kara, I'm back." A sandy blonde youth shook the icy sleet from his body as he ducked back into the cave he'd marked. He paused at the threshold, frowning at how dark. "Kara?" He had to shout over the howling winds, trudging inside as his eyes gradually adjusted to the dark. At first it was silent, and he briefly entertained the idea that she'd left, or maybe fallen asleep - The latter would have been preferable. She barely slept anymore, and what little she did have was restless. The former... He'd have to drop what he'd found and rush out to find her. Tracking by scent out here was damn near impossible, and as heavy as the storm was he'd lose her tracks in under an hour.

There were too many ways things could go wrong if she'd left. Just falling would see her buried in an instant, to say nothing of unstable snow drifts or false-ground.

He was just about to throw everything in his arms to the ground and rush back out when he finally spotted her, curled desperately before the remains of the fire he'd set before leaving. Either he'd taken too long to come back or he'd overestimated how much longer the fire would last... But the cave was still warm. Or as warm as a natural shelter could get in this place. It couldn't have been out for long.

"Good news sis, I caught a couple of snow hare." He'd figure out how to deal with them later. He wasn't a great cook, but it's not like they were strangers to just eating things raw. Or they hadn't been. It'd been almost a year since they'd had to eat something raw and his sister had become a picky eater because of it. He'd tried sharing a deer with her not long after leaving Carona and she'd taken one look at it torn off haunches and thrown up. Things had to be cooked now, so he was doing your best to learn how that worked. "What happened to the fire?"

"-m'sorry..."

The kid turned his golden eyes on his sister, forcing a reassuring smile he wasn't sure she could see. "Don't worry, I got more firewood too. We're gonna be stuck here until morning at least. Might even need you to help dig us out at this rate."

"...Sorry."
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He ignored his sister's whimpered mantra with forced familiarity, setting down next to her with an armful of branches and kindling at his side. "It's okay, I'll get the fire started again. Are you hungry?" She ignored him, begging weakly for forgiveness, and he, in turn, ignored her. It didn't matter how much time he spent telling her it was alright, it wouldn't snap her out of this. "Once we get a little further north we can start looking for a new pack. Or maybe we'll just start our own this time, what do you think?" He listened to her whimpers, and carefully maintained his brittle smile. "I'm old enough now we don't have to rely on others, and we're experienced leaders now. Managing a pack's not so hard."

A soft series of cracks barely made themselves heard over the howling wind, and in short order the fire pile was made once more. He could barely feel his fingers from the cold, and the kid scowled irritably at the thought of how much of an edge he'd lost living near the humans. Cold like this shouldn't even bother him.

In moments the acrid scent of smoke hit his nose, and not long after fire sparked into being once more. It'd be a few minutes before it was big enough to start fighting off the chill, but he had enough wood to keep it going through the night this time. He turned a satisfied expression towards his sister, "Alright, fire's going again! How about dinner?"

No response. She'd buried her face in her knees and curled into a ball in the darkness... But he frowned when he noticed the soot that painted her hands. By the faint firelight he could make out the burned skin of her fingers slowly healing. He reached a worried hand out, barely brushing her shoulder in concern. "...Kara?"

"Don't touch me!" A horrified, desperate scream ripped from her as she scrambled back, knocking the fledgling fire apart as she scrambled from the fireside to the edge of the cave. Where the wall should have stopped her, it instead cracked under the impact of her frantic escape and set the cavern as a whole shuddering dangerously. "D-Don't... Don't get near me..."

The younger demihuman sat frozen, slowly curling his fingers into a fist as he watched his sister beg. "Alright." He choked out, beginning to rebuild the firepile. "I'll make dinner then. You uh... Rest, sis."

Soon the flame was coaxed back to life, and Raid warmed his palms against its dancing tongues. "...Welcome home, us." He murmured to himself, trying to figure out what to do next as the familiar sound of the Mistral's howl echoed in from the cavern's mouth.

Home, Sweet Home - End
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Got to wonder when we'll end up going into the wastes ourselves. Feels inevitable for some reason
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There's more time in the thread so I'll see about poking the Asche write-up as well. After that's out, I'll probably post a few of the ask.fms over in chronological order, from the earliest I can find on forward.

Or maybe I'll just toss them all into a .txt. Or both. I am unsure how I'll handle it just yet - Need to upload Home, Sweet Home with the rest of the write-ups.

>>5313968
Never inevitable, but it's there if you want! There's a lot of places in the world you could go that could shed more light on the overall story, but going there - or even finding anything about it - isn't a necessity.
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Oh what the fuck, I stopped checking qst ages ago... Let me just figure out where the hell I left off. There better not have been a dozen threads since last time or I will go bald

What have I missed? Did we fuck something up yet?
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>>5314087
We've been doing amazing and we're on our track to fix everything. You should totally read up.
Also we're about to get a double write up combo. Bring up the ASche. Asche is great
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>>5313952
What the fuck. This is horrifying.
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>>5314184

It's frankly better than I expected. You don't come out of killing your family whole.

What's done is done however. If we cross paths again, we may need to lend a hand; Raid has not, and possibly never will be equipped to help his sister out of this.

We might not be either. It might be one of those wounds that only heal with time or death.
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>>5314087
There have been 4 threads in the past 2 years, you should be fine. Riz has a twitter if you're inclined to catch threads live.
>spoiler
Don't ask questions you don't want answers to, anon.
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Long Live...

You stared up at the man with placid, sea-green eyes. He had denied your entry twice now, though the second time it was at least not at the tip of a retinue of spearheads. "You shouldn't be here," he'd said. "State your purpose," he'd said. "Get out of here and pretend you never saw us," he'd said. You'd just looked at him. Of the sparsely armored infantry which had prevented you from going any further, you were certain they took their cues from this man. He was their commander, and so you looked only to him, waiting for him to change his mind.

He hadn't.

The most to come of your patience was his decision that you were harmless, and with it came a more civil greeting. And the reiteration that you were not welcome here. The man's voice continued to drone on, but your attention was elsewhere.

'If you take too long... you might not have a place to come back to.'

How long had you been gone? A week? More? Dryad's host was no doubt replete with the sealed Mana's affection by now. The conversation you'd shared before you left had lingered beyond its welcome, and it came back unbidden during the silence. Did you have a place to return to now? Had you taken too long? Was your heart's keeper worried? Were they doing well? Did they feel your absence?

'How much time do you want Irue to waste looking for you?'

The most imperceptible of scowls tugged at your lips. You had no reason to dwell on the stupid things that descendant asked. In the first place, why she thought herself qualified to comment was beyond you. Did she think just because your heart's keeper had confided in her once that she was suddenly in a position to understand them? To speak on their behalf? To judge you?

If you hadn't come out here, the Atlach-Nacha would have been swarming by now. Your deal with them had given that ruined town a chance to recover, and in turn, your heart's keeper a reprieve they sorely needed. You had even garnered the location of the family that your heart's keeper had sent you to rescue once. No doubt by the time you returned, they will have already been fetched and been put to work benefiting whatever plan your heart's keeper had embroiled themselves in this time. By any reasoning, your presence here was beneficial. What you did, what you were doing now, was useful.

'You're just running away like a child, hoping someone will bring you home.'

...The echo left behind by that woman had struck a mark deeper by pure chance than she'd any right to. It wasn't just about now, but then as well. It was how you'd met! One of the few memories you still clung to fiercely as the ages passed. There were terms used to describe you, poetic epitaphs which refer to you, but all of them were deemed too complicated. You were content to forget them, they held no meaning to you - But that...?
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Memories of your time with that one were everything to you. You clutched those halcyon days close to your heart. You'd both gone through so much to reach where you were now... A broken shadow and... In some ways they hadn't changed at all, now that you think about it.

But they had changed. And they'd forgotten. Or rather, been forced to forget.

And now here you were, stirring your own hole-ridden memories with uncertain, bitter feelings. Trying to deny you had run from your heart's keeper like you'd run from home. Trying to justify your mission. Trying to convince yourself that you still had a place to return to. You always had a place to return to. Home was where the heart was, and you'd had many, many years to come to peace knowing exactly who kept yours.

You laid a hand to your chest, letting your eyes drift shut as the man prattled on about something. It had taken long enough, but you were certain you still kept theirs. There were some things time wouldn't change.

"Miss? Are you... Listening? Are you alright?"

You exhaled, breathing out a puff of chill fog into the warm evening. What confusion the man had was swiftly replaced in panic and a scream which lay stillborn in his throat as ice encased him.

You were being ridiculous, you realized. You needed to wrap things up here and return quickly. You missed them.

The infantry that had stood down sprung into action - "Adept! She's an Undine adept!" - wasting no time in treating you as the threat they now knew you to be. The speartips they greeted you with prior slammed home without hesitation, blunting upon the faint-silver shell which protected your precious uniform. The eight of them stood motionless, stunned and confused. Their spears crashed against the shell in a show of rhythmless bass in a determined effort to keep you stalled, to buy time. You grasped the shaft of one of the offending tools lifting it, and its wielder, in a single dismissive motion and swept the rest of the infantry aside.

"W-Wisp?!" One of the fallen infantry groaned, gathering himself from the ground as you walked past the group of them. "Wisp adept!"

"Why in Wisp's name is there a paladin attacking us?! Where's Emil?" Your eyes opened to your own reflection in a phalanx of shields, the assembled forces of the camp that was springing to delay you long enough to organize. "Evacuate the prince! Someone contact Artemis, we have to-"

The earth churned, ripping open its chasm-like maw beneath the assembled soldiers. Rupturing stone drowned out all sound for the brief, fateful moment it took to swallow the unit whole and bury them beneath the upturned ground.
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You paused atop their living graves, catching sight of the scarlet which bled through your irises from a half-submerged shield's reflection. It brought you to a full stop, earning the briefest slip in your stoicism; That wasn't right. You blinked, and then again. Closing your eyes forcefully before opening them again and... A familiar sea-green stared back at you once more.

There were terms used to describe you, poetic epitaphs which refer to you, but all of them were deemed too complicated. You were content to forget them, they held no meaning to you. You are Asche, now. Just Asche.

You breathed a sigh of relief, unconcerned with the woman who'd rushed you from behind and lifted you bodily from the earth. She grit her teeth as she erupted into flames, stubbornly carrying you both from the camp even as she burned. You craned your head to see the camp getting further away and scolded yourself for losing your cool over something so... Immature. You'd worked so hard to curb your temper.

Those were your thoughts before the woman dove into a river with you, submerging the two of you into the flowing current to be washed down stream.

...Until the serpentine stream reared back and spat the two of you back onto the shore, near half a kilometer away. You landed with the suicidal woman, slamming into the ground unceremoniously, now cold and waterlogged. She sputtered beside you, hacking water from her lungs while you got back to your feet and straightened out your soaked uniform. You were set to ignore her and just return to the camp when her hand closed around your ankle like a vice.

You stared down at her, weighing your options as you heard the commotion in the distance. You'd already begun to request Jinn sever her arm when she finally finished choking. "I won't... Hueg... Let you hurt- augh... The prince...!"

"..." You stared placidly down at the soldier, then back to the camp, and allowed yourself a single, very quiet sigh. "I won't."

"...What?"

"I need your prince." You try to choose the right words. It was so complicated talking to people that weren't your heart's keeper. If you weren't careful, they'd just keep demanding more explanations.

"Why?"

"I was sent to protect him." You could already see more questions forming on the battered woman's face, hurrying to head them off so you wouldn't stuck here any longer than necessary. "To bring him to someone who wants him safe."

"Who? Where? Why would they-"

Your sea-green eyes rolled skyward and you just began dragging the woman with you across the ground as you walked.

Long Live... - End
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from here on out I'll be copying over some ask.fms to the thread. I haven't decided if I'll try and archive them all in-thread or just stuff them elsewhere, but since I'm copying them into a local file anyway I figure I'll also leave a few here until the thread falls off.

I hope everyone had fun!
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>>5315217
Why are all our but one of friends psychopaths. Is Rinnier secretly a psychopath too?
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>>5315220
I most assuredly had fun! Thanks for running.
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>>5315256
...Secretly?



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