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The monsters have taken over earth! 115 years ago.
After multiple generations of war, subjugation and conquest, man- and monsterkind has learned to coexist together - somewhat. Make no mistake, the demons, feyfolk, angels and their like continue to run the world, but to build and maintain a stable empire, dogmatic tyranny gave way for pragmatic mutualism. After mankind had been completely overthrown within months, monsters turned their ire towards rivaling factions, making up the bulk of the conflicts that arose since the dawn of the apocalypse. And while the three remaining monster factions hold as much resentment for each other as they did at the beginning of the apocalypse, they all grew to temper their ideals and granted the humans they once enslaved more rights, moving the civilized parts of the world towards a society where the former apex species of earth can live relatively stable - though mostly oppressed - lives.
One of the main reason for monster-human collaboration is Orgone - a supernatural resource almost exclusively generated by greatly intelligent lifeforms (in other words, human). As the only form of nourishment for monsters in this plane, it was once harvested from the brains of their victims, but after accepting the unsustainability of their ways and the strain on their resources threatening their position in the power struggle, the role of humans changed from pure cattle to servant to even equal, depending on where you live. After all, why engorge yourself on the raw Orgone once at the cost of a perfectly good human, when you can invest in their survival and feed off their excess psychic energy their orgone field emits?
>>
Our story begins in a Springfield, a town of about 2000 people located in what once used to be Belarus. Soil that actually isn't too acidic to grow potatoes originally attracted small groups of farmers and allowed a small settlement to grow into a sizable community of men and monsters, with enough simple amenities to keep its population comparatively happy and - more importantly - working. The town sits at the outskirts of its ruling faction, keeping its influence and customs relatively light, at the cost of monthly tribute. But which faction rules over it?
>>
> Led by the Host of Archangels, The Order of Elysium is a cadre of knights and necromancers, laser-focused on the goal of military conquest of the world. They have the largest number of troops and they’re the best trained fighting force in the world, making their goal a scary possibility for everyone else. These advantages have one common origin: Warriors of Elysium who fall in battle are raised as ghostly knights and enemies of Elysium become mindless zombie soldiers. With the reward of an afterlife as a provable fact, it should be unsurprising to learn that their morale is always high. The Order’s warriors live to the fullest and die young, then they’re raised as eternal soldiers to enjoy the thrill of battle once more. It is easy to see why indoctrinated humans would choose to serve them in the front lines with fervor and zeal, though less capable candidates will have a lifetime of grueling servitude ahead of them.
>>
> Led by the Fairy Council, the Principality of Arcadia is an isolationist nation of scientists and wizards, more interested in unveiling the secrets of the universe than in waging war against its enemies. The Principality’s most important advantage over its enemies is their mastery of large-scale orgone manipulation. Arcadian cities are linked together by a network of Fairy Rings that allow instant transportation, protected by Midsummer Maypoles that redirect emerging Psychic Storms to enemy territory and kept clean and safe by the self-aware elementals of the Hermetic Megaliths, an automated system inside and outside the walls. The Principality sustains its high-technology lifestyle through a feudal system, with the families of the Fairy Council at the top, their servant humans and monsters in the middle and serf humans at the bottom.
>>
> The Children of Gaia is a cult of dragon worshippers, with each major section of its territory being under the control of a different dragon clan, brood or family lineage. They forsake large settlements and instead encourage many small communities, using druidic magic to make the land fertile again. Of the three major factions, they have the most controlled territory protected by the largest menagerie of pactmakers in the world. The Gaians are starkly against technology of the industrial revolution and beyond, so anybody caught with a working cell phone, motorcycle or assault rifle will need a very good reason for doing so or risk being subjected to extreme punishment. Humans who don’t wish to make a pact and fight alongside Gaian monsters are ostracized. In theory, pacifists are instructed to work the arable land, pay a periodic levy and are supposed to make plenty of babies more ambitious than them. In practice, other Gaians - even the humans - look down on and consider them a safe target to vent their frustrations on, if they don't disappear from one day to the next.
>>
>>5360112
>the Principality of Arcadia
>>
Dragon wife is tempting. Very tempting. Unfortunately, I consider advanced plumbing to be a necessity.

> Led by the Fairy Council
Backstabbing our way to the top in true fairy fashion sounds like a blast, and not!Valhalla is laaaaaame.
>>
>>5360111
>> Led by the Fairy Council, the Principality of Arcadia is an isolationist nation of scientists and wizards, more interested in unveiling the secrets of the universe than in waging war against its enemies. The Principality’s most important advantage over its enemies is their mastery of large-scale orgone manipulation. Arcadian cities are linked together by a network of Fairy Rings that allow instant transportation, protected by Midsummer Maypoles that redirect emerging Psychic Storms to enemy territory and kept clean and safe by the self-aware elementals of the Hermetic Megaliths, an automated system inside and outside the walls. The Principality sustains its high-technology lifestyle through a feudal system, with the families of the Fairy Council at the top, their servant humans and monsters in the middle and serf humans at the bottom.
>>
>>5360126
>>5360130
>>5360132

Arcadia it is. Typing.
>>
>>5360116
>>5360133

The presence of Arcadia is scarcely felt, but has been increasing over the years. You've been hearing stories about various new machines and infrastructures being constructed in neighboring towns, and have come in contact with the odd council agent visiting the area for what they explained was surveyance and collecting data. You still haven't seen any of the magitechnological megastructures, but a lot of folks here would prefer to keep it that way and just be left alone.
Springfield is populated by roughly 80% humans and 20% monsters, a common distribution for a town of this size. It ensures no monster goes unfed and no orgone goes wasted. You are amongst the humans, having been born and raised here, and helped the community since your early teens.

Choose a
> Name
> Gender
>>
>>5360143

> Farmer: Your father was a farmer, and his father was one too. You're accustomed to manual labor and early mornings, and even picked up a little ecomancy to help with the crop yield. It's hard work, but it's honest. [Arts and Craft, Fortitude, Medicine, Survival]
> Scholar: Not nearly as glamorous as it sounds, you are seen as one of the resident "whiz kids". Your boundless curiosity is underutilized by the town's mundane requests to find a good spot to build a well or to get rid of the parasites killing the crops. [Academics, Medicine, Orgonomy, Perception]
> Watchman: You like to think of yourself as a deputy, but really you are a glorified social worker. During the 5 bandit raids you've witnessed as a Watchman, you were delegated to evacuate the children, but you hope you can make a greater effort in keeping the town safe. [Agility, Etiquette, Fortitude, Perception]
> Diver: You, like any other good diver, are always on the lookout for the remains of settlements from before the apocalypse. A valuable artifact can make you a mint, but your findings have generally been scrap and resources for your town to repurpose. [Agility, Perception, Stealth, Survival]
> Engineer: You have a great fascination for all manner of technology, be it fey- or manmade. Though you weren't smart enough to get picked for a university of Arcadia, you still try to repair whatever might or might need fixing and use every rare visit of an official Arcadian technician to bombard them with questions. [Academics, Arts and Craft, Electronics, Perception]
>>
>>5360144
Forgot to add:
Choose a background and 2 corresponding skills, one of which you wish to excel in:
>>
>>5360144

Skill Explanation:

> Academics: A catch-all knowledge Skill that covers theoretical but not practical knowledge of the natural sciences. Want to know Physics? That’s Academics. Mathematics? Academics. Psychology? You guessed it, Academics.
> Agility: Makes you nimble and flexible. It covers performing parkour, various acrobatic stunts and slipping from ropes restraining you.
> Arts & Craft: What painters, masons and engineers all have in common. It lets you create, fix and repair objects.
> Electronics: For the use of computers, mobile devices and gadgets of all sorts. Computers can do so many things that Electronics could arguably be used to replace many other Skills - as long as you have access to one.
> Etiquette: For navigating the social jungles of polite society. It represents being a person of certain importance or at least faking it well enough that no one can tell you aren’t one. With it you can get to places other people aren’t allowed in, forge documentation that looks official and make business deals with the most important people in town.
> Fortitude: Represents your body’s muscle power and endurance, whether it is natural or trained. This Skill is what lets you break things with brute strength and endure the myriad hazards of the wasteland.
> Medicine: Keeps people (primarily others, but also yourself) alive and in good physical and mental health. The Skill also comes with knowledge about the capabilities and limitations of the human body and mind.
> Orgonomy: The science that encompasses all things that were once considered beyond supernatural: Magic rituals, psychic powers, mythological beasts and more. You don’t need this Skill in order to manipulate orgone (you gain orgone techniques from your Class), Orgonomy simply represents formal training and knowing how orgone techniques work.
> Perception: Gathers information from your surroundings. Used to notice secret passages, pick up clues and people lying in wait for an ambush.
> Stealth: Used to not be seen and hiding in plain sight. Stealth can be used to camouflage or hide yourself, but also to shadow someone while concealing your presence in a crowd.
> Survival: How you fend for yourself in the wild without many of the commodities of modern life. This is a broad skillset that can do many things, from knowing what to eat and where to sleep, to guessing the weather for the next 24 hours, and even can function as a social skill against mundane animals or animalistic monsters.

This system uses a D10 for skill checks, rolling high for better results. The results range from Failure, Success with Twist, Success to Success with Bonus, with similar mechanics for combat rolls.
>>
>>5360143
Going with a ultra generic name google gave me, hope I didn't screw up the eastern slav naming.

>Sergey Ivanovich Kozlov
>Male

> Diver: You, like any other good diver, are always on the lookout for the remains of settlements from before the apocalypse. A valuable artifact can make you a mint, but your findings have generally been scrap and resources for your town to repurpose. [Agility, Perception, Stealth, Survival]

>Stealth
>Perception
>>
>>5360150
It's been over a century, spelling tends to get thrown around.
You can also make either stealth or perception the skill you excel in, which one should it be?
Also, writing.
>>
>dealing with the fae
>as a second class citizen
>not having etiquette
It's like you want to get cheated and/or turned into a pig.

>Sergey Ivanovich Kozlov
>Male
> Watchman
>Etiquette, Excellent Perception

Doubt we'll be a heavy hitter in this world as a human, so it's time to play to our species' natural strengths--ingenuity and deception.
>>
>>5360163
>>5360150
Gonna take the excellent perception from >>5360169 , making us trained in Stealth and excellent in Perception.

Your name is Sergey Ivanovich Kozlov, a 20 year old diver and son of mechanic. Your name is quite the outlier, with names like John or Carl being more frequent, but some feyfolk claimed it would have been more common back in the early apocalypse years, so you assumed your family actually didn't migrate from the west to here. Your dad would have liked you to take over his workshop, but ever since you've been invited to a trip to a nearby pre-apocalypse ruin, you've been fascinated by the art of diving. Braving a hostile environment, discovering the remains of a now dead society and digging up the relics that tell their history, culture and way of life gives you a kick like nothing else does - it doesn't hurt that you can earn tons of biomark for rare finds. Not that you'd actually sold or even found anything valuable - you've only managed to fish out scrap and small trinkets and toys that might have held sentimental value at one point. Regardless, you still manage to be an asset to your community by picking out materials in decent condition that can be repurposed for repair and manufacture.

It's late morning and the town has been a bit more active since according to the Baroness, an official technician is supposed to show up today. The kids too young to work are running up and down the main road in anticipation, and the town hall is actually busy cleaning up their offices and preparing the paperwork required for the visit. The more pragmatic of the townsfolk are working hard as always, even during what will surely be a scorching hot day, not interested in unnecessary distractions - development or not, the tribute must be met.

> Head out to track down a lead
> Visit the town hall
> Look for work nearby
> Other (Write-in)
>>
>>5360181
> Look for work nearby
Neutral option, I guess. Let's take a look at what's on offer.
>>
>>5360187
Writing!
>>
>>5360181
>>5360187
>>5360188

Deciding that with the murmuring there must be a couple folks who could use the help, you step out of your home and head for the Parker farm, where sure enough, your buddy Sam is already occupied tying crops to iron rods sticking out of the fields. You shout a quick "Hey!" and approach him.

"Heya, Ser. Decided to quit chasing trash heaps and grow crops like a normal person?"
"Hardly. Just figured you could use the help."
"Actually, I really do. Pop's back has been getting worse, so I've been trying to take his share of the work so he can actually get some rest."

You take a glance at the small sprouts Sam has been handling. They seem to be recently planted, and the small leaves aren't reminiscent of anything you've seen before - not that you are an expert in botany or anything.

"Is that corn? Doesn't look like a potato leaf to me."
"Both wrong, it's grapes. Apparently some has been growing around the shed, and pop decided to spare some patch to cultivate it. It's a bit of a gamble, but if it pays off, we'll be able to make wine - fey nobles go nuts for that stuff. Hopefully the rumors are true and we're actually getting one of those weather control things."
"Oh yeah, you-" "One second!"

Sam cuts you off, kneels down and takes a deep breath. He then lays an open hand on the soil around the sprouts. You don't see anything, but you feel like the leaves might have gotten a bit more vibrant. He then gets back up, dusts off his knees and gives you a signal you interpret as go ahead.

"Magic?"
"Yup. This being a new plant and all, we have to take it slow. You gonna help or what?"
"Oh yeah, sure!"

He hands you a basket full of rusty snippets of wire with uniform length and instructs you to gingerly tie them around the supports, allowing him to focus on ecomancy. You continue this for a bit over an hour, idly talking now and then. After looking back at the two lengths you've completed, something springs to mind.

"Ah, I remembered I was meaning to ask you something."
"Oh shoot, sorry. What's up?"
"You know about the technician that's supposed to show up today? You got a clue what he's here for?"
"No idea. I mean, I hope they'll finally build the weather machine, but it usually ends up being something else. You're gonna beg them to let you tag along again?"

> "Of course! Fairy agents get the coolest shit!"
> "Nah, I've grown to like it here."
> "Dude, I got over that phase years ago. Diving is more of a freelancer job, anyway."
>>
> "Of course! Fairy agents get the coolest shit!"
Never lose your love of magic.
>>
>>5360262
Forgot to post, writing.
>>
>>5360224
>>5360262
>>5360290

"Of course! Fairy agents get the coolest shit!"

Your eyes light up while your friend just resigns to rolling his.

"I mean, gauss cannons, nightvision implants, teleporters,... imagine what you could do with all that stuff."
"I can't. Mostly because I have no idea what a gauss is."
"It's an, uh- electrical term? You shoot lightning. Yeah."
"Right. Anyway, thanks for the help, bud. I gotta head back in and see if pop hasn't found his way into the shed again. He hasn't been yelling at me for a while now, and that concerns me."
"Glad I could help. Talk to you later, Sam."

You dust off your hands from the residual rust and part ways, making your way back into the heart of the town. It's still fairly early, but the streets seem as busy as ever. As you pass the town hall, you hear a sudden yell from your left.

"Hey! Kozlov kid! Perfect timing!"

You turn around and see a redcap woman leaning out of the window. The floor in the building is raised, but even then she is below eye level. She waves at you and gives you a toothy grin you usually see when she wants something from someone.

"Don't just stand here, come in! Make yourself useful."

> Oblige her request and head in
> Refuse and head to your father's workshop instead
> Make an excuse and begin heading out to diver
> Other (Write-in)
>>
>>5360293
> Oblige her request and head in
Hopefully this doesn't take too long. We're waiting for that technician, after all.
>>
>>5360342
Writing...
>>
>>5360348
QM, you'd do well to slow it down. Locking in votes after 15-20 minutes and a single reply rather diminishes the collaborative component of a quest and people won't stick around if they don't have an opportunity to participate.
Quests usually allow at least a few hours for a vote for this reason unless they have very large user bases to allow rapid-fire posting.
>>
>>5360362
Alright, I'll wait longer. Sorry, this is my first time writing and I usually read archives, so I don't get to see the spacing.
>>
>>5360293
>>5360342
>>5360348

[1/3]

You give her a weak wave and make your way into the town hall, grimacing after she has turned around. Inside the the building you are greeted by a 7 foot growth of bark and vines, topped off with five massive red-white dotted petals. You remember Gora once smelling like a carcass, but ever since he got temporarily reassigned his scent has been pretty neutral.

"Hello, Gora. Gretzel wanted to see me."
"Gó áhead."

His reply is short, but still manages to be drawn out - plantfolk tend to be that way. Same with his odd accent, which is supposed to be common for anyone with Primal as their mother tongue. You wish him good luck at work and head inside the left office. Despite the fact that the cleaning staff has been at work for a few hours now, her cramped little office continues to look like a psychic storm spawned and rained documents. Gretzel - in her slightly oversized office chair - just waves you in, without a hint of shame on her face.

"OK, we're up to here with paperwork and on top of that, the Baroness insists on having everything squeaky-clean. The whole staff is running thin right now and I'm already busy, so go ahead and cleand up for me, got it?"
"You know, if you are going to make me do your work, you could at least say please."

The redcap look shocked that you would even dare suggest such a thing.

"Excuuuse me? First of all, I'm still weeell above you in the pecking order, so you gotta do as I say. Second, I told you cleaning is the staff's job, not mine, and even if, even if we were to assume there is the slightest chance that *I* would have to clean up my office I possibly couldn't because I'm still supposed to fill out form after form for what could very well be the rest of the DAY!!!"

As she takes a breath after the barrage of words, you cross your arms and glance at her desk.

"Your computer isn't turned on."
"IT'S CALLED PAPERWORK! IT'S PAPER! And you don't even have a computer, what would you know?"
"I'll just see if one of the cleaning ladies has some time to spare, okay?"
>>
>>5360450

[2/3]

You turn around and predictably, as soon as your hand touches the handle, you hear a thump and feel something gripping your leg. Sure enough, Gretzel went from barking orders to groveling in the blink of an eye.

"Okay FINE FINE FINE! I just wanna do my work but the Baroness told me I *have* to clean up the folders and trash in here before the staff is allowed to clean the floors and windows in here AND if the bigwigs get here before then they are totally gonna send me to some hellhole factory so please please PLEAAASE just help meeeee!!!"

Towards the end, she turns into a sobbing mess, and you try to adjust your feet so her snot won't stain your pants. God, she's one ugly crier. Still, as much as you'd like her to fix her own mess for once, you agree to help her - knowing her, she'd flee the country before she sorted her folders.

"Kozlov. Thank you so. Much. Your services for the council will not go unappreciated."
"Uh-huh, sure. Just tell me where you want these to go."

Under Gretzel's instructions, you slowly restore order to the paper pandemonium that is her office. At first she got her kicks pretending to be a high noble ordering her butler around, but after threatening to walk out once more she quickly cut it out and actually started working by idly filling out forms. She can and will be a real piece of work, but as a servant fey she is much more down to earth than the nobles, and though she is in fact higher in the caste than you or almost all humans here, these rules aren't as strictly enforced as they supposedly are - probably since this is a tributary town and rather remote. You'd hate to live in a large city, where you actually have to answer to monsters like Gretzel. Then again, they probably wouldn't be as lax with her work ethic, either.
After you've made considerable progress with her shelves, the redcap accountant strikes up a conversation.

"Man, I wish we had more young guys like you around here."
"Are you objectifying me?" You raise an eyebrow.
"Ew, no. I'm talking about your orgone field. It's so much better than the stuffy one you usually get around here. Too many geezers in this part of town."
"Oh, you're feeding off mine? How does that feel, anyways?"
"Uh, good, I guess? Like you're getting healthy? I mean, the question is like me asking you how it feels to get energy from a meal."
"I thought monsters can eat food."
"We can taste it, but it doesn't do anything for us. Unless, heh, you mean brains..."

She gives you a wide smirk and licks her lips. You know she is messing with you, but it's still a bit unsettling. After a few long seconds, her face shifts into one of seriousness and slight fear.
>>
>>5360451

[3/3]

"Ok, seriously though, that was a joke. Please don't go tell anyone I eat brains. The last thing my report evaluation needs is an investigation on my ass."
"Nnnnoted. So really it's about who can get nutrients from what?"
"Hah, no. Orgone is a way bigger deal. We need it to exist in this plane of reality in general. Without it, you turn into crystalized orgone. Obviously, we didn't need it in the feywild, but that ship has sailed. A-at least, that's what I've been told. What with me being a fourth generation earthling and all."
"Oh wow, that's the first time I've heard that. I thought you just go hungry without it."
"Yeah, that's just easier to explain."
"Then do you know what it's like for a pactmate?"

She stops to think for a second.

"Well obviously I have no personal experience. But when I was working in New Minsk I talked to a former colleague who made a pact. Said it's like you don't even crave the stuff anymore - she could still feel the fields from other people, but didn't need to feed off it. Weird, huh?"
"Did you ever want to make a pact?"
"Back in New Minsk? Obviously. If you're a redcap or a pixie, it means you're automatically going up the feudal ladder. Thing is, that's not up to you - pactmaking is heavily regulated around here. Neither human nor monster gets to pick. Now that I got stationed in Bumfuck, Nowhere, I'm pretty happy being a solo fey."
"With that workload, you'd have to be...", you mutter under your breath.
"What you say?"
"I said I'm done. That good enough for her majesty?"

You gesture at her furniture, highlighting the sorted accounting books and empty trashcan. There's still plenty of dust, ink spills and other signs of a mess, but you figure at this point the staff can take over.

"Oooh, you actually did it. Thanks a bunch."
"I'm glad you're happy with it, but now you have to do something for me. Can you make sure I can assist the technician? I'd like to have a chance at talking to him for a while."
"Kozlooov, you know I can't do thaaat! That would be abusing my position as accountant of the council!"

You cross your arms once more and shoot her a incredulous glance.

"Relax, just janking your chain. Besides, that's nothing compared to council favors. I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks, Gretzel. Just let me know if you know something."

The two of you say your goodbyes and you exit the town hall. Gretzel might be legendary at getting out of work, but when it comes to favors, she's proven to be reliable - that might just come from working under nobles in general.

> There should be some time left before the technician is supposed to arrive, is there anything you want to do until then?

> Stop by your father's workshop
> Head home and get your collection of findings, maybe there's something that could impress the technician
> Play with the children in the street until the technician arrives
> Other (Write-in)
>>
>>5360452
I am wondering whether I am prioritizing worldbuilding too much over advancing the story. Are you comfortable with this pace, or do you want me to trim the dialog and exposition?
>>
>>5360452
>Play with the children in the street until the technician arrives
>>
I really wish the auto-refresh would work properly. I have to go to bed, will be writing at work.
>>
>>5360452
> Head home and get your collection of findings, maybe there's something that could impress the technician
Gotta know more about ourselves if we want to advertise our skills.
>>5360453
I think it's going along at a decent pace--I actually prefer a slower story and was worried that you were focusing too much on narration with the earlier posts, but the latest update smoothed that over. I liked how you used the interaction with Gretzel as a chance to show the difference in human-fey relations in the cities and out on the fringes of their territories. The insinuation that Gora is a rafflesia also adds a bit of color to your treants/plantfolk, since most media I see just portray them as bog-standard fill-in-the-blanks plant monsters. You've got something nice here.
>>
Sorry I didn't participate today, I got up early to make an appointment. Will try and participate tomorrow.
>>
>>5360738
Glad you enjoy it.

>>5360452
>>5360498

[1/2]

Thinking their parents might appreciate someone watching over them, you decide to play with the kids that still appear to be very chipper. You humor them with some soccer and tag and answer their questions about diving to them best of your abilities. After a while, Gora comes stomping along and lets you know the Baroness appointed you to acommodate the technician during his stay - looks like Gretzel came through. He hands you some document and asks for your signature, standard fare, really.

"Shé'll bé thére ín án hóur. Át thé háll.", Gora informs you.

Oh, the technician is a woman? You don't recall any of them being female, human or otherwise. You say goodbye to the kids and make your way back to the lobby, where you watch Gora work. He's moving sluggish, but he's constantly in motion and makes no wasted movements, like he figured out exactly what to do next at any given moment.
Your observation is interrupted by the sound of the double doors in the back swinging open. You rise from the chair and give a little bow - as colloquial as you can afford to be with the servant monsters, nobility does demand respect, after all. Your town's baroness, fairy Selène steps out of her office, her heels clacking on the stone floor with purpose.
>>
>>5360948

[2/2]

"Good day, your highness. You asked for me?"
"Ah, you are Kozlov, correct? You may raise your head."

As you straighten your back, your eyes rise above her, making you about a whole head bigger than you. Nevertheless, her expression radiates confidence and charisma. It is then that you notice that she has replaced her usual breathy wardrobe with something more elaborate and formal looking - most likely official attire.

"The technician is due to arrive between 30 and 60 minutes. According to the mail from the department of development, they are to take several readings, followed by some installations. You are to assist her and her team in navigation, orgone supply, human provisions, as well as any other services they deem necessary for their assigned tasks. They have been given permission to peruse the biomark supply for the guests in town hall and, should the crew include humans, the establishments of Kingsley and Petrov. Please refrain from doing anything that would interrupt or impede their work and more importantly, please do not divulge any information relevant to Springfield or its governance they can't prove is directly relevant to their research or engineering. Should they engage in any activities that violate their boundaries as agents of the Department of Development of New Minsk, you will refuse any further cooperation, report to me and not engage with them until I tell you so. You did sign the waiver, as Gora told me, and as such, failure to do so will result in penalty yet to be determined. Understood?"

You gulp. You glossed over the document you signed earlier, but you must have overlooked that part about 'penalty'. But the job seems basic enough, right? Punishment or not, the baroness speaks more legal jargon than English, so she's just covering her ass - probably. Definitely.

> "Understood."
> "Penalty, your highness?"
> "I changed my mind. Can you get someone else to do it?"
>>
>>5360954
> "Understood."
Let's, uh, read that document later.
>>
>>5360992
Writing.
>>
>>5360954
>>5360992
>>5361020

[1/3]

"U-Understood, your highness."
"Excellent. Remain here and greet our guests accordingly. They are not nobility, but they still outrank everyone here - excluding myself, naturally."

You figured as much. Anyone sent here from the council is going to be more important than you - it's a good thing the technicians and researchers tend to be a bit more easy-going. You remain in the lobby, where it is cool, while Gora gives you some pointers on how to properly address and behave as an assistant of a council agent. He does so without ever stopping stamping documents or typing on his keyboard - he might be slow, but he sure can multitask.
Some time - probably more than 90 minutes, you hear the sound of large engines howling and dirt being torn up from heavy tires. You hurry out the door and spot two large vans rolling in! On their side emblazoned is a symbol of a butterfly wing surrounded by a ring of thorns - you recognize it as the crest of the fairy council. The children are pulled aside by their mothers to make way, and the large vehicles park just in front of you.

From the cars step four persons. Two humans - both female - a dark-skinned fairy and a humanoid that seems to be made of stone - earth elemental, perhaps? As they approach, you notice that the shorter of the two women actually has pointed ears black skin - not brown, but actually black. She doesn't have wings, though, so is she an elf - a fairy-human hybrid? The other one seems to be one too, as she has white hair and pointed ears. Can't say you've seen the light grey skin before. She is also very tall, maybe even taller than you. You take a glance at her shoes and to your surprise, she isn't wearing heels; just combat boots, similar to yours - although hers look cleaner and more sloppily tied. You don't see too many pactmakers, let alone hybrids, so you always try to guess the species of their pactmate, even if you aren't very knowledgeable on the different species. You shift your focus to the fairy, but almost too late to be polite you notice that the tall woman already stopped in front of you. Behind half-rimmed glasses is a blank expression that either indicates professionalism or apathy, but the bags under her eyes and slight frown unambiguously signal a lack of sleep. She wears a slate-colored turtleneck sweater and a matching skirt that a few inches before her skirt - the only thing that makes her look like an official is a white labcoat with a few badges attached to the collar. You quickly bow your head in reverence, slightly higher than with the baroness, just as Gora advised you.

"Greetings, representatives of the council. I welcome you to Springfield."
>>
>>5361060
[2/3]

You wait for her reply, but are met with silence. Unsure what to do, you peek up slightly and see that her eyes are closed. Did she- did she fall asleep?
The both of you are jostled by a voice behind you.

"Ah, I see our guests have arrived. I hope you had a pleasant trip to this little corner of the faedom."

The Baroness gracefully steps down the two stairs from the town hall entrance. Her voice sounds sickly sweet. The tall woman in the labcoat gets her bearings and bows her head towards her superior, the rest of the crew following suit. Though all of their greetings are a bit deeper, the black-skinned girl knocks hers out of the park by clicking her heels and swiftly bending at the waist at a perfect 90 degree angle - you didn't even know that was possible. Labcoat lady clears her throat and speaks up.

"Hello. Baroness Selène, right? Nevada from the House of Daedal. We've been sent by the council t' conduct-"
"To conduct studies and whatnot, yes. Perhaps we can elaborate further over some tea inside my quarters? It must be dreadfully hot in that bulky sweater of yours."
"Uh, thanks for the offer, but we'd really like t' get started right away. Trip's been a bit rough, and we'd like t' make sure the equipment hasn't been damaged."

The lips of her highness are still smiling, but her eyes aren't anymore.

"Well, I suppose we could delay the tea. But I still insist on-"
"Right, sure, looking forward t' it. Quick question, you know your current population size? Give or take 3.5 people."

She looks between the two of you as if to see who answers first. You look back at her highness, unsure whether this would constitute as "information on Springfield irrelevant to their work". You are met with a royal eye roll and answers for the two of you.
>>
>>5361062

[3/3]

"The... last caucus from eight weeks ago totaled at about 2030 people, I believe. We could check the official records to be sure, if you would prefer."
"Nah, sounds 'bout right. Lots of traffic in and out the town lately?"
"N-not particularly. The tomato harvest isn't due for-"
"Last psychic storm... That was 97 days ago. Correct?"
"I believe so. I think it's best if we-"
"If I may be so bold, your highness, we really gotta go now, big schedule ahead. That the intern, right?"

She points at your face. The baroness barely has time to nod, while you don't have the time do anything before she grabs your collar and pulls you along towards the back of the van where she actually addresses you for the first time.

"Hey kid, we'll be heading a bit further out where we can set up our stuff. There's only four seats between both cars and the back's all full, so be a dear and just, uh, hang on the back, ok? There's some handles, so you're not gonna fall off or anything."

You are so taken aback by her proposal that it doesn't even fully register.

"Uh, don't, don't you want something to eat? It's a bit past noon-"
"Look, I really don't wanna be near that hag any longer than necessary, so I'm gonna start the car now. You're free to get us sandwiches once we're there, but if you're not gonna hitch a ride you are free to run behind us."

Before you can reply, she is already opening the driver's cabin and yelling at the other van.

"PAN! Get off the wheel, you can't drive stick!"

Without looking back, she gets in the car and slams her door shut. The engine springs to life - it looks like she is actually going to drive with or without you!

> Grab onto the back of the car
> Wait to see if she's bluffing
>>
>>5361063
> Grab onto the back of the car
>Wave farewell to the baroness
In for quite the ride, huh?
>>
>>5361063
>>5361064

[1/4]

You instinctively leap at the slight ledge formed by the rear bumper and grip the handle tightly. The car wastes no time speeding up and as you pass her highness, you both exchange a look of disbelief, possibly for different reasons. Not knowing what to say, you gingerly wave to her with your left hand.
As you pass the last few houses of this town, your mind starts to wander. Are they even who they say they are? What if they were spies or- no, they wouldn't just roll up to a small town, say a few words and drive off with a nobody in tow. But what if they are gonna drive for hours? Labcoat Lady - Lady Nevada - said they would move a bit further, but how much? For all you know, "a bit further" could mean a few dozen miles for someone who probably teleports across the globe on the regular. What if you never get to see your town again? Are you even going to survive the trip? But you could still jump off! You'd get an earful from the baroness, but at least you-

A shove, a knock on the head, and the feeling of gravel hitting your back.

It takes a few seconds to piece together that Nevada does not care for braking gently. The humming of the idle motors stops, and you can hear the crew getting out.

"Christ, if I'd known the baroness was gonna be such a stuck-up bitch I would have just sent her a writ of apology and gone straight to work. You heard her call my sweater 'bulky', right? Ok, fellas, we have a perim- Oh, you're actually here."

Lady Nevada stares at you as you try to get your bearings. As you look back from where you came from, you can see you actually aren't that far away from town - about a minute or two away on foot.

"Uhh, don't tell your baroness I called her a stuck up bitch. And help us get our stuff out. Please."

She makes a wide step over your legs and swings the trunk door open, almost hitting you in the head with it. Looking at the contents, it really is packed with crates and boxes. While the elemental and the black-skinned girl follow suit and start unloading the trunk, the fairy, a male that looks about middle age and seemed a bit shorter than you, stops in front of you and reaches his hand out. You grab his hand - it is much softer than the calloused hands of a farmer, but his grip might very well be even firmer - and helps you up your feet.

"Do not take it personal, serf. The Doctor is just very focused on her work."
"Uhm, thank y-"
"Now do not dawdle, there is work to be done."

He walks from you just as quickly as the others and grabs a large crate he seems to handle effortlessly by himself.
>>
>>5361331

[2/4]

You spot the black-skinned girl carefully pulling out a bundle of long aluminum beams. At the rate she is going, the other end of the beams will slide off the trunk any second now, so you quickly move to intervene before something gets damaged.

"Careful, you're about to drop them. Can I help?"
"There is no need, thank you."

Now that you get a closer look, you notice some unusual details on her. Like how her eyes are a vibrant red, almost magenta, and the white flowers from her temple being an unusual shape - wavy and curly petals curling around long stamens with the same sheer color. Despite your staring, she doesn't pay any attention to you and maintains a stern and focused expression.

"Please, step aside."

Unsure what to do, you move away from the car, but still keep an eye on her - she can't balance the beams from one side, right? She finally stops with the end of the bundle just teetering on the edge. But despite your attempts to guess what happens next, you certainly didn't anticipate the black pigment of her skin seemingly being being spirited away! Sprinkles of onyx float in midair, where they accumulate and begin to form a feminine shape. As the last of black color peels off the girl, the shape solidifies into a figure and with a black flash, another girl that could be her twin now stands in front of her. It happened in less than two seconds, but it felt like slow motion to you. The new girl appears to be a bit taller and has more slender features, but has the same dark complexion, red-magenta eyes and white flower. However, the first girl now looks a lot more human, with creamy pale skin and dark green eyes. She glances in your direction, meeting your eyes, and then quickly looks downwards.

"I believe you've been told to assist in the unloading. It is irresponsible and rude to idle."
"We did not bring you out here to just gawk.", the technically-second-but-now-only-black-skinned girl speaks up.

Her voice is deeper and more aggressive than that of the other girl's, but you still hear a lot of similarities. Is she the fairy? Or is she an elf? She still doesn't have wings, but at this point you are not even sure if that's even a fairy. Can hybrids split like that? Or maybe it's some form of magic or technology? As much as you'd like to take in what just happened for another minute or so, after being asked to three - well, four now - people to do your job, you grab the nearest unobscured box and get it out of the van.
>>
>>5361333

[3/4]

With all six of you working together, you've set up a small field lab after just 40 minutes or so. There are still plenty of unopened crates in the van, but Lady Nevada told you they won't be necessary until later. As she is intensely turning knobs and tapping away on two different keyboards, the black girl is approaching her. This one looks like the first one, so she might have reverted whatever happened earlier while you weren't looking? This is still a mystery to you.

"Lady Doctor Nevada..."

No response. Her body language is completely different, sheepishly keeping her head down and keeping her arms close to her body. After waiting a few seconds, she clears her throat loudly to get her superior's attention. It seems to work, as she stops typing.

"Whut? Oh, I guess it's time, huh? Sorry, I got a lil' distracted."

She looks over to one of her multiple notes.

"Springfield boy, you can get those sandwiches now. Two biomarks for the pures as well."
"Right, Lady Nevada!"

You sprint off towards the city - they probably haven't eaten in a long time, and you do want to get on their good side. You head inside Petrov's deli, who seems to already be aware of the situation. After stocking up on food, you also remember to swing by the town hall and ask Gretzel to give you some biomarks. As you sprint back, you realize you could have left a status update for her highness... Too late now.
As you return to the vans, you can tell the crew finished their preparations and appear to be working now. The elemental is holding some device wired to the van, moving in accordance to Lady Nevada, who is sitting in the same chair as before, staring at one of the five screens surrounding her.

"...looks good... Okay, you know the drill. Fifteen degrees clockwise, then we'll run it again."

The black girl is standing on top of the other van, of all places. She isn't paying any attention to the tests, and seems to look off in the distance. You are wondering where the fairy could have gone, but you then spot him inside the trunk of the van with the many cables running from it - apparently, they've set up another set of instruments here, which he is in charge of.
>>
>>5361334

[4/4]

"Lady Nevada? I brought your provisions... I wasn't sure whether you eat meat, so I brought both for each of you."

You hold out a sandwich as she looks up from the screen.

"Oh, good job. You can leave the biomarks in the van. I don't need any though, I'm on a diet."

She reaches into one of the deep pockets of her labcoat and pulls out a bag of... french fries? Were they in there the whole time? She starts munching on them.

"You can give mine to her."

She points behind you and you turn around. The girl who was on top of the van just a few seconds ago is now right behind you. She stares blankly into the distance, but you can spot her occasionally darting her eyes towards your hands.

"Uh, here you go."
"I thank you for your swift service."

She politely takes over the bag, takes one step back and sets it down on the ground, but as soon as she fished out a salami sandwich she rapidly removes the wrapper and takes a big bite out of it. In the meantime, the fairy has picked up one of the biomarks. He fiddles a little bit with the coin while keeping an eye on the gauges and meters before chomping down on it.

Now seems a good time to exchange some words, who should you talk to first, and what should you ask them?

> Lady Nevada
> The fairy (you believe she called him Pan?)
> The black-skinned elf girl
> The earth elemental
>>
Sleep now, writing tomorrow. Hope you like it.
>>
Very nice. Bit tough to make a choice. On the one hand, Nevada js technically the one we came to see to begin with. On the other hand, she's clearly off in her own world and there's a nonzero chance of us getting little out of her/being ignored entirely.
Blackskin and her partner seem a bit standoffish for now. Could probably make an argument for endearingly bumbling through a conversation with them, but it's more likely we fuck up and risk getting our orgone harvested straight from the source kekw.

> The fairy (you believe she called him Pan?)

Between him and the earth elemental, he seems the most conversational.

>Ask Pan for everyone's names and how long he's been working with Nevada for.
>What are they here to do, specifically? Is it the weather machine you heard rumors about?
>Surreptitiously find a place to give that binding document a bit more than a skim, assuming you brought it with you.
>>
>>5361362
+1 I can agree with this logic
>>
>>5361336
>>5361362

[1/4]

You decide to strike up a conversation with the only person here who seems to be in the mood to talk and peek your head inside the van. You take note of his fairy features - his crown reminds you of short but wide antlers with smooth and slightly green bark, and his wings are covered by matte green elytra, not unlike a beetle.

"Excuse me, Sir... Pan, is it? Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Sir Pan of the House Daedal is correct. I can spare you some time, so ask, serf."
"I was wondering if you could tell me the names of your associates... I figured it'd be good for me to know."
"Very well, you already know of Doctor Nevada and myself. The young woman to your left is Gwynn."

You wait a second for him to move on to his last crewmate, but he just looks at you as if awaiting the next question.

"...a-and your last associate?"
"What do you mean?"
"The... the elemental?" You gesture to your right.
"Elemental? He is not an elemental, he is a construct, and neither is he an associate. More like a tool, servant at best."

You're a little taken aback - you heard stories about fairies treating servant classes poorly, but 'tool' seems really rough. Lady Nevada chimes in, still munching on her fries.

"You never seen a construct? He's right, at least for that one - we ended up not givin' it sentience. They're fabricated monsters; I had it made t' help with research and construction. That, and I don't trust the two t' drive."

The construct remains motionless as it holds up the device. Sir Pan continues.

"But if you must know, he answers to 'Rho-25'."

You hear a hum come from Rho's direction and see a green light emanating softly in the middle of where his face would be.

"Carry on, Rho.", yells Sir Pan without looking and the light fades away.
>>
>>5361876

[2/4]

"How long have you been part of this crew?"
"Technically, this crew has only been established a year ago, but I have been working in service of Doctor Nevada... 6 years before that."

"I'm a little surprised she is your superior. I thought fairies outrank humans, even if they are elves."
"They usually do, but there are a number of exceptions. In my case, I... was demoted."
"Oh... Sorry I asked-"
"But that does not make her any less of a capable scientist."

His face grows a little more stern, as if squashing any suspicions of mediocrity on Lady Nevada's part before they can arise.

"Well... What, what is it you are actually tasked to do? Is this for a weather machine?"

Pan hesitates, but once again, Lady Nevada speaks up.

"Weather controlling unit, and no. But it ought t' help against psychic storms, if that's what you're askin'."
"Oh! Well, what does it do?"
"Classified, can't say." Another handful of fries go in her mouth.

You notice that despite having eagerly snacked on for five minutes now, the bag of fries looks as full as ever - you can't help but ask about it.

"Lady Nevada, that's-"
"Okay, first of all, from now on, no 'Lady'. I hate that stuff. I have a doctorate, so call me 'Doctor Nevada'."
"A-alright, Doctor Nevada. I was just saying, that's a lot of fries you are eating..."
"You callin' me fat?" Lady Nevada is staring daggers at you.
"Nonononono! I'm talking about your bag! It's not running out! I would never, I mean, I didn't mean to..."

Her expression returns to the usual apathy. She holds up the bag and gives it a little shake.

"Oh, well yeah. They're bottomless fries. They don't run out."
"What? You can just create food like that?"
"Yup."
"With that technology, why do we even have to grow food, then?"
"It doesn't work like that. The bag is a biased magitechnological conductor I use to create fries, and only fries for that matter. When you look at the orgone expenditure, it's actually a slight caloric deficit. Just wanted somethin' t' munch on."

You are looking for words, but you can barely understand what she just said - you've never been good at orgonomy. She just takes another bite straight from bag.

"Tffd yh mm- ah, told you I'm on a diet."

Her workstation gives off a beep and she immediately swivels back to stare at a screen.

"Okay, breaktime's over! Goin' over the readin's, then we can install the first node. Kid, no botherin' till we need you for somethin', we're busy. Except for Gwynn, I guess. Gwynn, you're not gonna find an ambush, so come down there!"

You look to your left and see Gwynn has already returned to her post on top of the van.

"Apologies, Lady Doctor Nevada, but just as you are giving it your all, I could never aba-"
"Fine, no need t' run down your creed."
>>
>>5361881

[3/4]

Now that everyone seems to be occupied with something, you figure it might be a good time to actually look over the contract. The original is back at town hall, but Gora did hand you a copy, as is custom. You make an honest effort trying to understand the legalese stuffed on this double-sided sheet of paper, but it's no use - even after starting over twice, you couldn't even find which part refers to withholding Springfield secrets.

"Did you sign this without reading?"

Your heart skips a beat as you hear a voice directly behind you. You turn around and see Gwynn - this time again with light skin and green eyes - has once again made it down the car with you being none the wiser - she's exceptional at sneaking up on you. You wonder if she did end up abandoning her post, so you look back up to the van and see her taller double is apparently covering for her. She looks at you and gives you a look that could mean condescension, disgust, frustration or something entirely different, as long as it is not positive. Better to avert your eyes. Looking down at Gwynn, you notice what seems to be two identical sheathed weapons secured on her hip. A sword, maybe? They both are died a deep violet, almost burgundy, and run into a fine point. The handles end with a large and elaborate circular guard that reminds you of her flower.

"Well... I glossed over the important parts..." She shakes her head and lets out a sigh.
"Please see to it that you do. The juridical branch of the council spends a lot of time and effort detailing each of these contracts, it's disrespectful to not engage with the fruits of their labor."
"Oh, I'm sorry, but I have a hard time parsing it..."

She begins mumbling to herself, pacing around a little.

"...of course, tributary members of the feydom wouldn't have... it would only be fair to..."

She faces you again, straight as an arrow, and gives you a light bow.

"Apologies. I did not consider you lack of education. Please allow me to rectify my mistake by reading the contract for you and clearing up any uncertainties you have."
"Oh, thanks."

You hand her the contract, and she immediately starts reading. After turning over the page twice to double-check and mulling over it for a bit, she addresses you.
>>
>>5361883

[4/4]

"I assume you want to know the clauses and your legal obligations?"
"Baroness Selène gave me a quick rundown, but yes."
"Well, it seems like a very basic agreement for a contractor gig, with standard caveats for the nature of our visit. Non-disclosure agreement, outlining of obligations, temporary license to travel and the right to refuse service if it would violate the interests of the council. With your contract expiring after 24 hours without renewal, you are entitled to .1 sick days, though you've relinquished your right to contact the bureau of complot investigations regarding any matters involving your duties for the duration of the contract for 20 months after termination without a writ of permission from the high council. Don't worry about the last part, it's very common. Overall, you shouldn't have any problems as long as you do your job properly. Pretty amicable for a serf, in my opinion."
"Oh wow... I didn't know contracts were so... thorough."
"Well they must be. Obligation is the cornerstone of the council, and without them we couldn't hold those who'd try to shirk their duties accountable."
"Wasn't there a part about... penalties?"
"Upon major infractions, yes. Minor ones are usually punished with a reprimand, community service at best - depends on how clean your record is. But one for major ones like abandoning your duty against the wishes of your superior or leaking sensitive information is agreed to be determined for up to 3 months by the contract provider - in this case, your Baroness Selène."
"Oh."

I start to feel a little numb. You have no intention on refusing to help them and head home, but your mind still creates vivid images of what she could do to you. Could she repossess your house? Make you work in a coal mine for the rest of your life? Hang you?

"D-Don't look at me like that. There are limitations to what she is allowed to do, so can't ruin your life or anything. Make it a bit harder, at best."
"Wow, thanks. Knowing that, I feel better already."
"You are welcome." She gives off a slight smile and returns the contract, which now feels five pounds heavier.

> "I'm getting a bit hungry. Where did you put the sandwiches?"
> "Who is that on top of the van?"
> "Where do you fit in with the crew?"
> "Are those swords? Can I try holding them?"
> Other (Write-in)
>>
>>5361884
>"If it's not too impolite, can I ask about... uh, the person on lookout over there? What's the bond between you two?"
>"You're nice!" Avoid adding "more than I thought." That would not be good.
>"What are your weapons made of? I'm a diver, but I've never seen anything like them."
>>
>>5361884
>> "Are those swords? Can I try holding them?"
>>
>>5361884
>>5361917
>>5362017

[1/3]

She turns around and starts moving away from you.

"Oh, if it's not too impolite, can I ask-"
"I'm sorry, but I really don't want to stay from my post any longer. I just wanted to clear up your issues with an official document."

You are a little disappointed, you were hoping you finally got someone from them in a talking mood. Thinking about where to go from here, you realize you haven't eaten anything all day.

"Well, before you go, could you at least tell me where you put the sandwiches? I bought one of them for me."

Gwynn stops dead in her and turns around. She is fidgeting with her hands, and avoiding your eyes.

"Oh! I uh... I'm afraid I must have eaten them... all... already..."
"You ate all of them? There were enough for four to five people in there!"

With unseen urgency, she rises up, clicks her heels and bows down to you, going almost as low as she did for the baroness.

"THOUSAND APOLOGIES! I wasn't aware some of the provisions were yours and I assumed they were reserved for just me and her Lady Doctor Nevada and I hadn't eaten since yesterday and..."

With each word she sounds more and more on the verge of crying. You are at a loss, you've never had a knight bow to you, let alone with so much reverence. You look up to her black double, who looks a bit embarrassed as well. As your eyes meet, she quickly looks away.

"Oh, uh... It's fine, really! I can just get more, and I... You may... raise your head?"

She slowly rights herself up, but keeps her eyes on the floor.

"I am so sorry. I meant to save some for later, but I couldn't help myself... If only I've shown some restraint, you'd still have your sandwich..."

"Honestly, it's just a sandwich! I can come back with another in like, 10 minutes!"

"Be that as it may, I'm in your debt. Please, if there's anything I can do for you, tell-
"OH COME ON!"

You both look up and see the black Gwynn stare you down.

"Gwynn, ye be NOT doing aught for that ass. *He* be a SERF. *Ye* be a KNIGHT. He be appointed to serve ez, so if ye wanna take iz food, ye TAKE it!
"Privileges aside, he paid for it with his own coffers, and it's unbecoming of a knight of the council to succumb to my gluttony. I already ate Lady Doctor Nevada's share, and I really should have-"
"Oh, drabbet- Would ye act yer part already? Ye getting peshed around by a serf!"
"This isn't up for debate. I got us in this mess, I'll get us out of it. Durga, I apologize in advance."

Gwynn turns around to face the other girl and widens her stance a little.

"Oooh no, ye don't! Yeent-"

Before she can finish her sentence, a black flash emits from Gwynn. As it fades just a fraction of a second after, she is gone. You look up and see the other girl surrounded by a faint black glow that quickly peters out. Wait, she has Gwynn's swords... and she is not as slender as before? So this is Gwynn again?
>>
>>5362229

[2/3]

"Sorry for the outburst of my twin. She probably would have gone on like this for a while, and I don't want to disturb the work of the others. I still owe you one though, but I won't be able to leave the roof for the next few hours."

You still try to make sense of all of this. Are they both elves? Can she clone herself? Then why did she call her her 'twin'? Instead of racking your brain over this for the next few hours, you decide to just use this opportunity.

"Okay, how about this? You can stay here, and I'll ask you some questions. That seems appropriate reimbursement for sandwich theft."

You see her wince a little as you say the word 'theft'. She really takes this personal.

"Alright, that's a fair deal. I'll tell you what I know - provided I'm at liberty to tell, of course."

She sits down to get a little closer to the ground, but still keeps throwing glances into the distance.

"Okay, for starters, who was that? How are you related?"
"That's Durga. She's my twin, isn't that obvious?"
"...no? I met some twins, but they can't merge."

She lets laugh and immediately catches herself, blushing slightly.

"Ahem, no. She's not my biological twin, but my spiritual one. We're pactmates. Have you never seen a changeling before?"
"No, I am hearing this for the first time."
"Odd, but makes sense given the position... Okay, in accordance to the department of anthropological planning, 2% of the fairy population is selected for an exchange program. Custody over them is given to an approved family of compatible structure and, in exchange, the fairy's parents are tasked with raising the offspring of the human party of matching developmental level. At the end of adolescence - usually when the fairy reaches the age of 24 - the exchanged children enroll in a training facility, and after nine months, they form a pact - at which point, they're officially considered a changeling."
"...Do you have every lawbook memorized?"

She clearly feels very proud of herself right now.

"Every vassal really should be expected to do so. The way I see it, we can't do our job unless we know every facet of the law."
"So let me get that straight: You and Durga-" She clears her throat and stares daggers at you.
"-sorry, you and Dame Durga-" She approves.
"-you swapped parents, grew up in each other's households, trained together and then formed a pact?"
"To summarize, yes."
"And you aren't a hybrid? Even though you are an elf?"
"I'm not a hybrid, so I'm not an elf. I can still summon Durga, so that makes me a summoner, if you had to put a name on it. And my features are very common for changelings, you don't have to be a hybrid to get them.
"Is that also why she has no wings and black skin?" She closes her eyes and lightly massages her temple.
"No, that's because she's a drow. They're all wingless and have an onyx- Ow!"
>>
>>5362233

[3/3]

She now is gritting her teeth and supporting her head with both hands. Is she getting a vision? You ask her if she's alright, but she's still distracted. After a few seconds of rubbing her forehead, she takes a deep breath and blinks a few times.

"Argh, sorry. No, I'm fine. It's just, while I can control whether I am fused to Durga or not, I can still hear her inside my mind. And she can give me a mean headache if she's mad at me."
"You can hear her? Is that a changeling thing or a summoner thing?"
"Actually, it's a thing for all pactmakers. If your mate can speak, they will speak."
"That sounds potentially... annoying."
"Durga's very considerate - usually. I can focus on outside noises instead if I really wanted to, but we've promised not to do that."

"I almost forgot, I meant to ask you. Are these swords on your hip? I'm a diver, so I like to find out as much about weapons, but I've never seen this model before! Are they custom made?"

Her face lights up.

"Oh, you like them? Lady Doctor Nevada developed them specifically for us! I normally don't do this, but they were so nice that I had to decorate them!"
"Can I try holding them? I'll be careful, promise!"

Just as quickly, her face turns to shock. She clutches the left blade defensively and looks at you as if you suggested to throw them into a furnace.

"I couldn't! They're one of a kind! Well, two of a kind! Lady Doctor Nevada gave them to me! Well, this one is mine - the other one belongs to Durga!"

You try to calm her down and promise to not touch her swords - neither hers nor Durga's, to be accurate. After realizing her weapons aren't in danger, she clears her throat and looks to the left and right, like she realized it's been more than 30 seconds since the last time she checked our surroundings.

"Honestly, it's good to see you care so much for your Lady's gifts. You're nicer- well, you're a nice person, Dame Gwynn."
"Oh, I appreciate it! But, I was just acting out of everyone's best interest! I don't think it constitutes as niceness when you consider the circumstances."

You are unsure whether she is playing hard to get or she has zero people skills.

> Is there something you still want to ask or tell her, or do you want to get something to eat?
>>
I was hoping I could get some feedback; I'm still unsure what is preferred.
Do you want shorter updates with more options or do you prefer to skip more obvious picks and move the scene ahead to a more clear prompt?
Do you prefer hearing Sergej's impressions or do you want to leave this up to you?
Did the last update seem like vetoing your suggestions?

And yes, I forgot to give Durga her accent in her first appearance.
>>
>>5362244
Don't be afraid to use the personality you gave the PC. I think we've fleshed him out enough by now that you can "skip" more obvious picks, though a few more choices down the line to continue expanding his history and characterization is never a bad thing. It comes down to what you think works better for you, QM--you've been doing great with update speed and size, actually.
I think the second question really comes down to a reader's personal preference, but I've always found it more interesting to hear our PC's thoughts as a living, breathing character. It should be more fun for you, as well.
Finally, I'd say you did a fine job with incorporating the votes. It's alright if you have to twist things a little or veto them entirely if they don't sound right; just make sure you declare your intentions to do so beforehand. At the end of the day, the QM is the one in control.
>>
>>5362238
>"Either way, I appreciate it."
>See how close Dr. Nevada is to finishing her readings. If you have time, go grab something to eat for yourself. Offer to get Gwynn some extra if she's still hungry.

Boy, I sure hope this doesn't hurt our wallet.
>>
>>5362330
Thanks for the feedback. I'm learning!

>>5362238
>>5362346

[1/2]

"Either way, I appreciate it. Thank you for the help."
"You're welcome. If you're going to get something to eat for yourself, just say they're for the council's vassals. I'd feel bad if you had to pay twice."
"Got it. Should I bring some more for you too?"
"That- No, I've had enough."
"Are you sure? The town is paying for it. Kingsley makes really great dumplings."
"...dumplings would be nice. But just one for me!"

You nod and give a slight bow to make your exit. Before you leave, you see if Dr. Nevada wants something-

"Not now. Debuggin'."

...Well, so much for that. Once again, you make your way back to the town center, this time ordering dumplings, and bringing a few canteens of water. As you make your way back to the vans, you notice that they've started to build something. Rho, the elemental- no, construct - is deploying a platform, while Sir Pan is assembling a rig and attaching strange looking gadgets prepared by Dr. Nevada. In the meantime, Dame Gwynn is returning some parts of the station into their boxes.

"There you are. Help Gwynn puttin' the boxes back in the trunk."
"Oh, are you done already?"
"Hardly. After bootup n' diagnostics, we gotta do this five more times."

You put the food and water aside and offer your help to Gwynn. She insists that storing the components is too sensitive of a step, but insists that you should stow the boxes back into the van instead. With Dr. Nevada's instructions, the two of you remove more and more of the lab as the others finish construction. After the entire mobile workstation is back in the van, you all wait for Dr. Nevada, who is switching between flicking switches on the deployed machine and fidgeting with some sort of handheld device. You take the opportunity to finally get some food in your system. You notice Gwynn stealing glances at you - or rather, your dumpling - and after a few bites, she chimes up.

"...I guess I should eat mine before it gets cold. I don't want food to go to waste."

You hand her the bag with her share remaining. As she starts eating, Dr. Nevada gets up and put the device back in the breast pocket of her labcoat. Facing Rho-25, she holds out her hand.

"Alright, we're done here. Rho, sentry stone."

A stone that makes up part of the construct's body about the size of the fist detaches from its body and lazily floats towards her outstretched hand. She snatches it from the air and tosses it next to the new construction, where it rights itself up.

"What... was that?"
"Sentry stone. Detects nearby orgone activity. In case some yokel shows up and wrecks the node. Now let's move on, still plenty t'go."

Everyone heads back to the car, but before the doctor closes the back of the van, she turns to you.

"Now that we have s'more space, you probably can squeeze y'self in there for the ride."
>>
>>5362874

[2/2]

You consider it for a moment, but then realize that an emergency brake with you between all those heavy crates could be a serious occupational risk.

"No thanks, I'll stick to the outside for now. But if it's not too much, I would be glad if you could stop the car a bit more carefully next time."
"...Suit y'self."

She shrugs and slams the door shut. You immediately hop on the back of the car, knowing it will zoom off any moment, and hope you will have a better landing than last time. You drive across the plains, occasionally maneuvering around fields of corn and from the looks of it, circling around the town. After few minutes the van stops abruptly. This time you don't hit you head, but get a blow to the chest that knocks the wind out of you. Still, you manage not to fall - either you were more prepared this time, or because Dr. Nevada actually listened to you. Probably the former. It is also at this point that you see the van driven by Rho behind you is decelerating more gently - you really should have hung onto their car instead. You open the trunk and grab the first crate containing the screens of the lab.

"Are we setting up the same way as before?"
"Yup. Put them over here, we might need this spot for the node."

This time, you manage to contribute a bit more. Dame Gwynn summons Dame Durga once more, who refuses to talk to her twin, but she's cooperating regardless.
With setup complete, everyone returns to their position, with Gwynn teleporting up a tree to get a better view. Dr. Nevada actually looks more relaxed this time around munching on her fries; probably because they worked out some problems with the first node. Since now seems like a good time to exchange some words with her, you work up the nerve to ask her something.

"Everything going alright, L- Doctor Nevada?"
"For now. I'm still expectin' this t' bite me in the ass, but at this rate we should be done b'fore midnight."
"Will you be staying the night?"
"Not if I can help it. Last thing I need is t'be in a room with only one exit n' that cu- ...Selène on my trail."
"You sound like you have history together."
"Christ, no. I just can't stand nobles like her. I shaped my career to minimize contact with them."
"I don't mean to offend, but why work for the council at all then? Aren't there other options?"
"Hah! Kid, in Arcadia, there're no other options if you're doing STEM. 'Sides, the council's done a ton for progress. Just hate the politics is all." Munch.
"So it's true that you can't form a pact without the council's permission?"
"N' then some. The council decides who binds with who. Why, do you wanna form a pact?"

> "Definitely. I've always wanted to!"
> "I don't know. Maybe if I meet the right monster?"
> "No, I feel like it'd be giving up your humanity."
> Other (Write-in)
>>
>>5362878
> "I don't know. Maybe if I meet the right monster?"
Saving ourselves for marriage kekw
>>
>>5362878
>>5362927

"I don't know. Maybe if I meet the right monster? I mean, I don't think I would want to make one no matter what, but it does sound really amazing. But I've seen a lot of different monsters-"
"Debatable..."
"...I've seen several different monsters, so if I meet one I think I'd have a lot in common with, I probably would do it. Wait, it really seems like I'm talking about..."
"'bout sex, I know. Lots of similarities, down to how you romanticize it. Tons of young adult crap that sounds exactly like you right now."

You look to the floor, embarrassed to hear a Lady talk about sex so casually. You aren't sure how to continue the conversation, but Dr. Nevada puts her magic fries away and breaks the silence.

"Question, then. What's your obsession?"
"...Excuse me?"
"You know, somethin' that keeps you goin' every day. Somethin' you would give up everythin' for."
"I... don't think I'm really obsessed with anything in particular."
"Bullshit. Everyone's got one, even if they don't realize it - 'specially if they don't realize it. Might be power, might be revenge, it might even be wantin' to help the poor. My obsession? Scientific advancement, obviously. But if you don't keep yours in mind, you won't know until it's too late. You might say you won't let that happen, but if you lose y'self, you end up putting children against the wall 'cause you're savin' the planet. Seen it happen m'self. So, I ask again, what is your obsession?"

She furrows her brow and smirks widely, like a spider watching a fly struggle in its web. You haven't been this nervous in quite some time.

"Well... if you put it this way, I guess I...

> "want more excitement in my life. I'm always trying to get away from a boring life."
> "would like it if I had enough money, to give everyone what they need."
> "want to have the power to take care of everyone important to me."
> "believe in fate. I think I'm meant for more than just this."
> "am also really fascinated with science. I think it do a lot for us."
> "don't like the thought of people abusing the innocent."
> "always thought it was important to share knowledge and information."
> "wish we could be more free. The council is overstepping it's boundaries."
> "I... Actually, I really don't think I have anything like that."
> Other (Write-in)
>>
Hmm. So far, I don't think we've seen anything that'd characterize him strongly enough for an obsession. I'm leaning towards either a variation on excitement, or admitting that we don't have anything like that... yet.
How about this?

>"I'll admit--living out here hasn't given me many opportunities to find the passion that you speak of. But if I had to say... Is there anything stopping me from going out to discover it for myself? I want to see the world and what lies beyond. I want to see the highest peaks of man and monster. I want to be free to make my own way--I want it all. Maybe then I can make a choice. Is that too greedy?"

Delivered in a vaguely apologetic manner, I suppose. Feel free to adapt it however works best for you, QM.
>>
>>5362948
>>5362970

[1/2]

You think of some things, but nothing seems quite right.

"I'll admit - living out here hasn't given me many opportunities to find that kind of passion. But if I had to say... Is there anything stopping me from going out to discover it for myself? I want to see the world and what lies beyond. I want to see the highest peaks of man and monster. I want to be free to make my own way - I want it all. Maybe then I can make a choice."

Her smile vanishes. The way she looks at you, you might as well have talked Primal backwards.

"...Christ, kid, you're delusional. I like that you wanna give it some thought. But runnin' around n' broadenin' your horizon isn't gonna keep anyone fed, or alive, for that matter. You're expectin' a lot of leeway, n' you're gonna run out of people givin' you that courtesy long before you get t'where you wanna be."
"I... The way I see it, I..."
"Look. Nothin' wrong with bushy-eyed idealism - as long as you can keep that part of yours shut at a moment's notice, or someone's gonna shut it for you. If you're in the feydom, experts decide what you're good at, n' what you should do. N' they're real good at that, so I don't have a problem with that. Point is, there's lil' patience for some hick goin' sightseeing t'find himself while wastin' his best years."

She crosses her arms and lets you sink in these words. Once more, the computer behind her beeps, so she swivels around and types away. Even after giving Rho the go-ahead and letting the computer do its thing, she doesn't turn around. You don't think you're going to get any headway arguing about your beliefs, but you have an idea.
>>
>>5363070

[2/2]

"Well then, which occupation would let you see the world, then?"
"Huh?"
"You said you couldn't go explore if it doesn't benefit the country. But surely there has to be some job that involves a lot of travel and different experiences."

She turns around again and looks intrigued.

"...Different experiences? Strike teams, then."
"Strike teams? Are they military?"
"Do they teach you anything 'cept gardenin' out there? Yeah, Strike Teams're an offshoot of the Arcadian army. Small groups of specialists that do high value/high risk shit like securing territory, scouting or securing enemy targets. Technically, we're a strike team too because you gotta have a changelin' commander if you're doing a council mission in tributary land, but only one of us has the full martial trainin'"
"That sounds ideal? How can I become o-"
"You can't."
"What? Why?"
"Strike trainin' starts at an age of 12 n' goes on for 6 years. How old are you, 19?"
"...twelve years..? Oh! Twenty, actually."
"Right. So even if you start today n' somehow skip all that basic education you're missin', you'd be 26 by the time you're done. At which point, you're way past rookie age, n'have zero field experience. The fairies treat human life expectancy as a joke already, so you'd be dead weight. Not to mention you're probably not gonna get an approved pactmate, and if you do it below the books, you're barred from all council activity."
"What could possibly take 6 years of training?"
"No idea. You'd have to ask Gwynn or Durga. But given council education, there's probably a lot of fluff. Still, you're not gettin' around it."
"So I'm screwed then? Why would you even get my hopes up like that?"
"'cause I thought it'd be funny."

She studies your dejected face and raises the corner of her mouth slightly.

"Yeah, it's funny. Consider it payment for the Q&A, I don't just hand those out."

Feeling like she got what she wanted out of this exchange, she returns to her screens and retrieves her bag of chips.

> Do you even have anything left to say? Or are you done for now and just keep helping them get their job done?
>>
>>5363074
>"Even if it's a waste of time, it's something I can look into. Thank you for the information, Doctor Nevada."
>Try to ask either Gwynn or Durga about it if you get the opportunity. Otherwise, continue helping them with their work.
Blah. Way to take the wind out of our sails. Well, nuts to you Nevada, human greed will always see us strive for the stars. That's our grand sin; the endless lust and search for something greater.
>>
>>5363074
>>5363275

[1/4]

"Even if it's a waste of time, it's something I can look into. Thank you for the information, Doctor Nevada."

She doesn't reply, or even turn around. She does wave at you, however. You'd like to talk more about strike teams with Dame Gwynn, but with how high she is sitting in that tree, you don't want to yell, and you don't want her to make Dame Durga cover her shift.
Within an hour, the next node has been completed. The time spent on the computer was significantly shorter, but actually deploying the device wasn't any faster. At node number 3, you catch Gwynn before she has a chance to teleport to some remote lookout. She looks pensive at first, but her bright red eyes widen as you mention you'd like to talk about strike teams. She doesn't want to stay on the ground, but she'll gladly comply if she can at least get a better view from on top of one of the vans again.

"Alright, I'm so glad you've taken up an interest in the military branch of Arcadia! Do you want me to start with the history, or would you rather hear about statistics?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could tell me if there's some way I can become a member of a strike team, even if I haven't had the training from childhood."

Her excitement melts away, leaving sadness in her eyes, as if she's looking at a baby bird that has fallen from its nest.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. Without special education from an early age, it's impossible to meet the rigorous demands of the board. And aside from that, service in a specialized branch of the army is not voluntary - you would have to be chosen. There are some exceptions where people of great expertise or great import become effective members - such as Lady Doctor Nevada. But in her case, she is an expert in her field, with even more years of study and experience. I know it's not what you want to hear, but I'm afraid you just have to accept that this life isn't for you."
"Yeah, Dr. Nevada made that clear earlier..."
"...Sorry if Lady Doctor Nevada acted rather... blunt. She can be a bit abrasive, but she does have everyone's best interests at heart. And don't worry, uh... Oh, I haven't heard your name yet!"
"It's Sergey Kozlov, Miss."
"As I was saying, Sergey, there are still many important occupations that let you contribute to society!"
>>
>>5363394

[2/4]

"Oh? Like?"
"Well, there's the thorium mines, the council is always open for transferals there! And-"
"Sorry to interrupt, but I think that's not my cup of tea. Why does the training take so long, anyway? It's like, 6 years, right? Dr. Nevada said there's a lot of 'fluff' to it."
"She said that, didn't she? She tends to be dismissive of the conduct necessary as a vassal, but I think it's paramount. But to answer your question, the standardized strike training consists of three parts: theory, physical training and dry runs. There's some overlap, but you spend about half the time with theory, and half of the remainder on physical training. For the last semesters, you're assigned to different active strike teams to participate in and learn from low-risk missions. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say our Lady Doctor Nevada is convinced that most of the theory is unnecessary, but I found it very gripping! I know it isn't much, but I could give you a list of the required reading material so you could at least have a chance at educating yourself just like a strike member!"

She gives a little fist pump to lift your spirits.

"I was hoping for something a little more... hands on. Did Dame Durga go through the same training?"
"Oh, yes. In fact, this training is almost identical between twins, to maximize similar experiences. It helps increase chances for a successful pact."
"Is there at least something I would be eligible for that lets me get around as much as possible? Like diving, is that something I could do?"
"I hate to sound like a broken record, but diving is only allowed for licensed divers with a diving permit granted by the baron or baroness of the province the ruin is located at. By law, any items found at or in the ruins are property of the house residing over it, so retrieval tightly controlled."
"And let me guess, I'm not allowed to become a diver either."
"...yes, you're right. Unfortunately, there isn't really much reason for a serf to travel a lot - at most, they move once after they receive an order of transferal, and then never again, unless it's for tourism."
"Why do all this? Why not give people the chance to let them figure out what they are good at?"

She gives you a look you can't quite place. Pity, maybe?
>>
>>5363398

[3/4]

"The thing is, there really is no need. The council has developed expert systems to determine aptitude in all sorts of fields, and they get adjusted once every year. If someone would actually go against the council's recommendation for their career, there is a 98% chance they will be less successful."
"But success isn't everything! What about happiness, does that factor in at all?"
"Of course! Wellbeing is directly correlated to efficiency, after all."
"And what about me? I never had the chance to prove my aptitude. What if I could have been an amazing strike team leader?"
"I'm sure you're talented, and I understand that there are edge cases such as yourself, but they're statistically insignificant and if we abandoned the system we have right now, productivity would suffer to the point where we can't sustain our population! We'd become a sitting duck for enemies of the state and the forces of nature. And from what I have heard of the other factions, I would choose Arcadia over them any day. It's not a kind world, and we all have to make sacrifices."
"Does Dame Durga think the same about this?"
"She'd have given you the same words, yes. Well, more crass, all things considered. She doesn't hold serfs in high regard."

You let out a heavy sigh. A whirlpool of emotion is going through you right now, and you do your best to make sense of it. First and foremost, you're distraught that your dream is a legal deadlock; you're angry at the council for their obscene amount of arbitrary rules; you're upset for being born in the wrong place and ultimately, you're mad at yourself because you realize that in spite all of it, Gwynn does has a point. Even isolated from the rest of the feydom, it's impossible to ignore the many stories of scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements. Your father told you that they didn't even have running water when the town was under Gaian control. Are you being selfish for demanding exceptions in a system working towards improving the lives of the most people possible? Trying to make sense of what is the right thing to do feels like climbing a cliff slick with rain - every step feels exhausting, and you constantly slide back and have to start over again.

"I can see this is troubling you, and I'm sorry for bringing this up. But I promise you that sleeping over it will help you get your thoughts sorted, and given time, you'll be able to find a way to lead a happy life that all parties involved can benefit from."
"Thanks... T-thank you, Dame Gwynn. I appreciate you taking your time from lookout to talk to me."
"The looko- Oh no! I forgot all about it! Dangit Durga, why didn't you say anything..."

She shoots up and scans all directions, ignoring you, and everything else that isn't far off in the horizon.
>>
>>5363403

[4/4]

The work of the crew progresses smoothly and aside from some temporary problems with the readings, the six of you manage to set up four out of the six nodes before the sun makes its exit. Your mind is still full of thought, but the tasks given to you give you brief respite from them.
After making it to the second to last site and unloading all the crates, Sir Pan asks you to get some more water - not that he needs it, but he thinks neither Dr. Nevada nor Dame Gwynn are going to ask for it unless they have it right in front of them. You head to a nearby farm owned by a friend of your father and get permission to fill up the canteens and make your way back - this time considerably slower, partially because you are getting exhausted from all the loading and unloading of heavy equipment, but also because you are occupied with the words of Dr. Nevada and Dame Gwynn. Maybe- no. But what if you- no. In that case-

Oh.

As you are getting close to the field lab, you can see Dr. Nevada talking to Dame Gwynn - her unfused form, that is. You look around and see that Dame Durga is covering for her twin perched up on top of the power pole, facing away from you. This is the first time you've seen any of the crew exchange more than a few words, and Gwynn seems to be rather invested in the conversation, so you are a bit curious about what they might be talking about. You might be able to sneak up to hear what they are say, if Dame Durga doesn't spot you first.

> Try to sneak up and listen in (1d10 for Stealth and 2d10 for Perception)
> Look for a hiding spot and approach after they are done talking, pretending like you just got here (1d10 for Stealth)
> Just approach them and ask what they were talking about
> Other (Write-in)
>>
Did a quick reread of the earlier posts.

>ever since you've been invited to a trip to a nearby pre-apocalypse ruin, you've been fascinated by the art of diving. Braving a hostile environment, discovering the remains of a now dead society and digging up the relics that tell their history, culture and way of life gives you a kick like nothing else does

With the ideals submitted before, I think we really are better off trying to pursue our dreams at the frontier as some kind of explorer/archeologist-adventurer. Considering this is apparently baseline Earth with the monsters having invaded from separate planes, though, this might not be as exciting as it could be (unless QM has something up his sleeve about this setting). Hm. Maybe we can adapt this to something associated with Strike Teams, though unless we've got secret protagonist power, our chances are looking pretty slim.
Realistically speaking, I suppose the first step we should take towards our somewhat-lofty goals is to just get out of this town. Easier said than done, though, as we've still got family and the like tying us down here.

> Just approach them and ask what they were talking about.
>Try to approach from an angle where they won't immediately see you coming, walk slowly to maximize eavesdropping potential, but don't make any overt attempts at sneaking up on them. Don't give them a reason to distrust you.


If we catch a few notes here and there, we'll hopefully have a better idea of what they're talking about. We have a nice excuse to approach them with the water. If Durga tries to catch us on dragging our feet, we're tired enough to justify it.
Mostly just trying to strike a middle ground between "casual eavesdrop" and "just ask."
>>
>>5363407
>>5363419

[1/3]

Just standing within earshot of the two of them shouldn't be wrong, right? It's not like they are talking about anything malicious, and you can't think of a reason why you'd get in trouble for it. Your steps become shorter and more deliberate, and you tend towards the vans to increase your cover just a little. Fortunately, the wind is in your favor, carrying the soft voice of Dame Gwynn and the monotone mumbling of Dr. Nevada towards you.

"...hours since you have last slept, and even then, that was only three hours at most! With all due respect for your judgement, Lady Doctor Nevada, for the sake of your health, I implore you to take a rest!"
"Not happenin'. Even if I tried, I'd just be squirrely till we're done we're this. I can sleep after."
"But then it will be too late, and you would just insist on driving back for another two hours! Please, if you won't take up Baroness Selène's offer to stay for the night and simply delay the completion of the array, at least allow me to dr-"
"No way. Not happenin'. Sleep depriv'd or not, you drivin' would not be safer."
"Oh, Lady Doctor Nevada, I wish you would put your trust in me..."
"I trust you. I don't trust Durga on the wheel."
"...still, I would be much more relaxed if you would use the shelter made available to us before-"
"AY! Ye sleeping stending or somwhat, serf?"

You, as well as the other two, perk up up. Looking up, you see that Dame Durga has spotted you. You turn to her and give her a bow.

"Sorry, Dame Durga! Just got a little tired is all!"

You make your way back to the two women talking.

"Oh! Sergey, you have returned already! I didn't notice you!"
"A hillbilly sneakin' up on a changelin' commander? Better step it up, Gwynn."

The doctor's dry delivery is betrayed by a slight smile, but Gwynn gives her exaggerated bow regardless.

"Apologies, Lady Doctor Nevada! I loathe to make excuses, but my sensory enhancement only works on sight and my aptitude for neuromancy was insufficient and-"
"Yeah yeah, I know. Just teasin' you."
"Gwynn, drink up! Ye havent drenk aught in ages. Pleaze, ye too, Ledy Cr. Nevada.", Dame Durga chimes in from above.

You hand them the canteens and they both empty half of them in one go - they really were thirsty. You are a little curious if they are apprehensive about their conversation, so you decide pry a little.

"I couldn't help but notice the two of you were talking together. What were you talking about?" Gwynn briefly glances to the right, but then looks back at you again.
"...Oh, I was just recommending our Lady Doctor Nevada to take some time to rest! Her dedication to her work is so great, that she often neglects her own wellbeing! Technically, as strike team leader, I could send her on suspension to force her to take a break, but I'm afraid she would ignore my orders and risk infraction..."

Well, everything checks out.
>>
>>5363799

[2/3]

"But Lady-" you start, but she cuts you off.
"Uh-uh. Doctor Nevada."
"But Dr. Nevada... Wait, why don't you reprimand Dame Gwynn for the same mistake?"
"Oh I've tried. Thing is, I gave up 'cause they both of them can't get themselves t'drop the title."
"As is dictated by elementary council etiquette! It is no exaggeration to say that forgoing the title of a member of the Arcadian hierarchy of a higher rank than oneself is akin to spitting in the face of Her Supremacy herself!", Gwy- Dame Gwynn exclaims.
"...as- as I was saying, Dr. Nevada, do you really not just want to stay for the night? You could sleep after you are done here!"
"Yeah, that's not on the table. Still got stuff t'do afterwards. 'sides, I sleep best at home."

It seems like she really earned those bags under her eyes. The elf continues.

"Alright, enough for now! I greatly appreciate your concern, bla bla bla, back t'work. The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can get that sleep everyone desperately wants me t'have."

Dame Gwynn lets out a sigh of defeat and - in two blinks - takes Dame Durga's place, literally. You continue to help when needed, and while you sometimes catch Dr. Nevada's eyes fall shut, she always jolts up seconds after and resumes. With the darkness setting in, you also set up wired poles that flood the surroundings with light - much brighter than the gas lamps you are used to at home, or even the lightbulbs at town hall. True to her word, you manage to construct the sixth node in time - 22:30, according to Sir Pan.

"Ok, kid, sitrep. Last node's done, but we still gotta go through sync n' run some test before get the whole thing runnin'. We still need the lab out, but we'll do that on our own. Thanks for the help, you can go now."

That was rather... abrupt. Dr. Nevada slumps back in her chair and studies the multiple streams of numbers across her screens. Sir Pan looks occupied putting back the remainders of the crate containing the last node's segments, and Dame Gwynn... Well, you can't even see her in the darkness around you, but she most likely found a high spot somewhere. Unceremonious as it, it looks like this could very well be the last time you see them. Do y-

"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Kid, come here."

You are surprised by Dr. Nevada's sudden expression. Did she remember something left for you to do? You dream up a scenario where she suddenly gives you a document signed by the Fairy Queen Herself, declaring you an honorary member of an Arcadian strike team, but you quickly dismiss these silly thoughts. She digs around in the open van and pulls out something.

"Thought you could use this."
>>
>>5363800

[3/3]

In her hand is a well constructed cylinder, about the size of a hammer, with metal trimmings. You can see a button located where your thumb would be, and one side of it opens to a socket containing glass reflecting the light from the poles in every direction.

It's a flashlight.

"That's a flashlight. You press the button, and light comes out."

You know what a flashlight does.

"T-Thank you, Doctor Nevada."

You take the flashlight from her and without another word, she returns to her chair.

> Is there something you have left to say before you go?
>>
>>5363802
>"I'll take your advice to heart, but I'll strive all the same. Thank you, Dr. Nevada, and goodbye."
>Wave farewell to the others, too.
D E T E R M I N A T I O N
>>
>>5363815
Oh yeah, and tack on a "I hope we meet again" somewhere in there. For the narrative hook kekw
>>
https://youtu.be/32L0PQ3DKl8
>>
>>5363802
>>5363815
>>5363817

[1/3]

"I'll take your advice to heart, but I'll strive all the same. I hope that we can meet again. Thank you, Dr. Nevada, and goodbye."
"...uh, yeah, till next time.", she mutters, only partially paying attention.

You move on to Sir Pan, who stands up to face you as you approach.

"I wanted to say my goodbyes, Sir Pan. I hope I could be of use."
"Ah, serf. Good work today. I only noticed it in passing, but it seems like you had some things to say to the Doctor and Gwynn. I can tell you are upset with the conclusions, but it pays to be prudent. The politics of the Principality are always changing, and while certain doors are not meant for you to open, others could unlock themselves without needing to be pried open given time."
"You mean the laws could change?"
"I do not want to give you any false hope, but over the years I have been a vassal I have seen the political landscape alter a great deal. Factors both inside and outside of Arcadia necessitated progress in many different directions. It happens all the time."
"So it might be possible for the restrictions on occupations to loosen?"
"They are very fundamental of our way life, but I am not so arrogant to say that without the shadow of a doubt, they are immutable tenants. Perhaps your children or grandchildren could see such a life, it is hard to say. We live in fast times."
"...Understood, Sir Pan. Good luck with the rest of the project."

Right, fairy lifespan. You can tell he's genuine, but it doesn't make it any less demotivating. You give him a bow, and then scan the surroundings for Dame Gwynn. You spot her - as anticipated - in the nearest tree. She looks your way, shielding her eyes from the flashlight.

"Lady Gwynn? I wanted to say goodbye."
"Oh? Lady Doctor Nevada relieved you of your duty already?" You nod.
"Hold on, let me just..."

She tilts her head back a little and pauses for a short while. She then hops off the branch and in a literal black flash, leaving Dame Durga behind as she drops onto the ground.
>>
>>5363972

[2/3]

"Once again, I want to apologize to leave you so disappointed."
"It's- it's fine, really. If anything, I think I'm done hearing apologies. N-no offense."
"I understand. It is a shame you couldn't have been born under the jurisdiction of the council. Perhaps if we could accelerate the annexing of extraprincipial Arcadian soil and do away with the practice of tributary towns, none of this would have to happen."
"I... I guess that is one solution. But for now, I think I want to focus on moving on and finding a way to reach my goal on my own, step by step."
"An admirable attitude, Sergey. There might be a chance you could see me again, at which point I would welcome hearing of the steps you plan to take."
"We could see each other again? So you're coming back?"
"Oh! Well, there is, erm, a chance I am elected to lead another escort mission like this here! Or there could be an invasion! Well, I- I would dread that to actually happen, but there are certainly multiple circumstances that could lead me to Springfield again!"
"Right... In any case, I thank you for all the help you have given to me. I learned a lot today."
"I am glad to have been given such an attentive assistant, one outside the influence of the council, no less. Truth be told, when I saw that a mere serf had been elected to assist us, I was worried you would be most uncouth, but your behavior had been exemplary. I am impressed with this town's ability to nurture such respectful citizens, even without the guiding hand a principality settlement is gifted with."
"I... guess we just have a very good community going for us. Everyone knows each other, and we stick together."
"Correct, attributes that make Springfield a rare find in times like this indeed. I know your occupation leads you to wander, but I hope you can accept that staying here is of great value on its own."
"We'll see about that. Goodbye, Dame Gwynn. And please, send my regards to Dame Durga."
"I thank you for your service, Sergey Kovlov. I wish you a good night."

You bow to Gwynn and she humbly accepts. You make your way back and look up to the night sky seeded with stars. You still have no idea where to go, but Gwynn's last words did cheer you up a little. You finally make it back to your house, stumbling through the front door. The lights are off, but you saw your dad's shoes sloppily placed next to the entrance - he must be asleep already. You properly align his shoes, take off yours and make your way to the kitchen, where you spot a note.
>>
>>5363978

[3/3]

You smile. It's not many times you end up not seeing your father for the whole day, usually only when you're making a long trip for a distant dive, or he has to leave town to repair one of the pumps. You check the bag next to the note and you see that it contains a dumpling - the same you've had earlier. Nevertheless, you gladly eat it again, even if it's cold by now. After getting ready for bed, you lie down and stare at the ceiling. You give it about a minute, but then come to a realization. While your arms are tired and your back is strained from all the physical labor, your mind is still moving a mile a minute. All the many impressions of today are floating through your brain right now, and it's trying its best to make sense of it all. Between remembering faces and reconsidering words and riding out emotions and lamenting problems and looking for solutions for them, you aren't getting any closer to sleep. After 10 more minutes of just lying there, you sit back up on the edge of your bed. Maybe you should do something else and try again a bit later?

> Head to the town hall to give a report. (Gora tends to be up really late, maybe he's still here)
> Go back to the nodes and see if you can watch them get activated.
> No, just lie back down. You'll fall asleep eventually.
>>
>>5363979
> Head to the town hall to give a report. (Gora tends to be up really late, maybe he's still here)

I like Sergey
>>
>>5363979
> Go back to the nodes and see if you can watch them get activated.
I'm also coming to like Sergey. He's come into his own a bit, here. There's room for him to grow, but the struggles of the world he's been born into has given him a nice bit of depth so far.
>>
>>5363979
>>5364669
>>5364693

[1/2]

Gora might still be up, right? He tends to work pretty late into the night, even if he's a mandrake. You aren't sure if there needs to be an official report, but your sleeplessness seems like a good excuse to at least head to the town hall and let him know the crew is done and let you go, if he happens to still be here.

You throw on some clothes and make your way to town hall - sure enough, there are still lights coming from the reception. You see Gora shifting some binders in the cabinet behind him.

"Good evening, Gora."
"Évening, Sérgey. Stíll úp?"
"Yes, I was relieved not an hour ago. I just wanted to tell you the council technicians are done - well, they might still be setting things up, but they were able to install everything just fine. Am I supposed to write a report or something? I'm not sure how this works."
"Yóu'll háve tó ínform Bároness Sélène... bút shé léft á féw hóurs ágo. Thánks fór létting ús knów."
"You're welcome. Do you know anything about what they are building? They said it's not a weather machine, and that it's classified. Y-you don't have to say anything if you're not allowed, I'm just wondering."

He shakes his head - or rather, the wide, flower-crowned stump where his head would be.

"Nó, nó ídea. Íf sómething ís néed-tó-knów, sérvant clásses úsually dón't néed tó knów. Ánything élse yóu stíll wánt?"
"No, I'll just come back tomorrow to inform her highness. Thanks for always staying up so long, Gora."
"Nó próblem. Nó sún dóesn't bóther mé."

You say your goodbyes, and head back home. You are about to take off your shoes, but you then consider something: You might be done with your job, and whatever it is that they built is a secret, but there's nothing stopping you from watching them go live, right? And if they are already turned on, maybe you can see them do something interesting, like emit a forcefield or something. Do they have these yet? You grab the flashlight Dr. Nevada gave you and aim for the spot where you deployed the last node at a brisk pace.

As you spot the node, you can see that the surroundings are already empty - no van, no lab, no crates, no crew. It looks like they left already. You carefully approach the device, but you are unsure if it is enabled. There are some lights flashing, but they are the same you saw when it was on standby. You get closer to take a look at the display located on the side.
>>
> 317765: Pinging sister node... Ok
> 317766: Node array now on STANDBY
> 317767: Awaiting admin signal...

You know very little about computers, but the big "Standby" makes you think your hunch was right. So they're not here, but it's still not active? Maybe it's remote-controlled? Then again, they did leave those stones from Rho-25 with every node, so there's a chance they are still here, and just in the process of picking them up. If that's the case, you might actually see these things turn on, since Dr. Nevada said she'd prefer to get this behind her as quickly as possible. You sit down and wait for a while, keeping an eye on the display and studying the intervals of the lights to pass the time. After a while, a thought comes to mind. Is it even safe to stand near these things? There aren't any warning signs, and none of the crew ever said anything about them being dangerous, but this is classified high tech you are dealing with. Still, you feel like it might be best to get some distance, so you get up and move further away from the node, and the town.

Climbing a slight incline, you notice something. Is that a light in the distance? You make your way up and yes, there is artificial lighting coming from between the light shrubbery out here! You turn off your flashlight, just in case, and make your way towards it. The lit shapes become clearer, and... wait a moment, you know that van! It looks like Dr. Nevada and her crew are still here. Relieved that it's not some bandits or worse, you move towards the car. As you make out more and more of their station, you spot Dr. Nevada herself, sitting at her partially assembled workstation, and also...

A sudden force pressing against your back catches you off guard. You try to move your right leg to catch yourself, but something is keeping it in place, making you plummet towards the ground! It all happens in a flash so you are not quite sure, but you believe it was before your chest impacted the grass that both of your hands were pulled behind your back. You feel a tight grip on your wrists, as well as sharp pull in your shoulders as a result of your arms being forced in an uncomfortable position, and a large weight dropping on your back restraining your movement. Now what!?

> Try to stay calm and ask what they want
> Demand to know what's going on and who they are
> Try to break free (1d10 for Fortitude)
>>
>>5365127
> Try to break free (1d10 for Fortitude)
Probably just one of the twins but if it's not we should probably try to warn the agents that something fucky is going on. Plus we might impress them if we roll well enough. Like the quest so far.
>>
>>5365127
>>5365181

[1/3]

Your whole upper body may be restricted, but your legs still have some wiggle room. You jerk your hip forward to shift the weight of your assailant, and try to tuck your leg in to get better leverage. You actually manage to get your right leg in! Your arms are being clamped harder, stretching your ligaments beyond what they are used to, but you grit your teeth and push on. Your assailant quickly locks down your left leg, but the weight on your back isn't insurmountable, and with each shove, you regain a little more control.
Until the weight gets heavier. And heavier. As if someone was adding piles and piles of sand on your back, each passing moment makes it harder to get up. Still, you ignore the pain and push your leg harder and harder... Only for your foot to slip, and you are knocked prone once more. Bruised but not beaten, you try to move your other leg, but it feels just as overburdened - even if nothing is restraining it. As the discomfort from your overextended arms sets in, you fail to suppress a yelp in pain.

"AH! Let go!"

You struggle to get your arms in a more comfortable positions, but the assailant- lets you? The crushing force on your body lets up as well, but not so much that you can repeat your escape attempt.

"Wait, Sergey?"

Wait, Gwynn? You sigh a breath of relief. With how much she's been on lookout, it's no wonder that she'd charge the first suspicious person she'd see.

"This is bad. You really shouldn't be here."
"W-what do you mean? D-Dame Gwynn, could you... could you get off of me?"
"We... no, you have to return to Springfield. Now. That is an order." She stands up, but keeps your arms restrained.
"An order? Why? Are you under attack?"
"N-yes. Now get moving. If we hurry, we can still get you past the blast beacons before it's too late - you'll have to get as far away from them as possible."

She wrangles you off the ground and back towards town with an urgency you'd expect to see from Durga, not her twin.

"As far as possible? Are they dangerous? Wait, blast beacons? Are they going to blow up?"
"Oh shoot- Never mind that, no time to explain. Just know that your town will be safe. Now move, serf."

After mentioning 'blast beacons', her claim isn't very convincing, but her tight grip and brisk march leave you no choice but to comply. Is this an impostor? Or were they always planning to do blow everyone up? Any demands for elaboration are quickly shut down. You can't make out much in the dark, but you can see that you are getting close to the node, when you notice movement on the screen and the lights flashing in different patterns that before.

"Dame Gwynn, I think the-"
"Less talking, more walking, serf. Once we're pa-"

Gwynn's demand is cut short by the sudden eruption of a loud hum that reverberates throughout your bones. It seems to come from everywhere, but you are certain the beacon or whatever she called it is the source behind it. She stops dead in her tracks.
>>
>>5365225

[2/3]

"SHIT! RUN!"

Gwynn shifts her grip and breaks into a sprint away from the node, pulling your arm so hard you are not sure if your shoulder is still in its socket. You do your best to keep up, adrenaline pushing you to move faster than you've ever run before. You are still getting assaulted by the stings of the electric hum, which is slowly shifting between frequency and not getting any softer as you create more and more distance from the device - it might even be getting louder. The crescendo of signals is topped of with a metallic ping vibrating through the air, followed by silence.

You still aren't thinking of looking back, but from one moment to the next, your surroundings are bathed in a fuchsia light, only obscured by the long shadows cast from your bodies. Without warning, Gwynn tackles you to the ground, and a split second after you land, you hear a violent boom. You begin to turn around, but Gwynn immediately grabs your head an pushes it against the grass.

"Head DOWN!"

You barely make out the second word as it is cut off by a shockwave travelling through the air and making your ears ring. You feel the wind blowing over you, loose pebbles and sticks getting caught on your clothes. Some seconds later, the wind subsides, but the light is still very much present. You take a peek over to Dame Gwynn, who is still prone and keeping her head covered, so you decide against getting back up... A decision that seems to pay off, as you feel the wind picking back up - but this time, in the opposite direction. The jet of air soon reaches the same speed as before, and only seems to get more vicious from here. You lightly raise your shoulder to create a peephole between your arm and the ground and look back.
>>
>>5365229

[3/3]

You see violet, and lots of it. As your eyes adapt to the tidal wave of light overpowering the darkness, you can see that only a couple dozen yards behind you is a massive wall - no, dome - of bright fire, electricity and all manner of other energy swirling lazily, swallowing any debris that flies towards it. You can't just see your hometown, you can't even see anything in its vicinity. The blast subsists for what seems like hours, until the wind slowly begins to fade, and the dome of destruction fizzles out, returning the wilderness in darkness. You right yourself up to examine the damage, at a loss at what to expect, but the sight is beyond anything you could have anticipated.

You see.. nothing. No ruins, no fire, no smoke, no lights, no hint of a town. You turn on your flashlight, and realize that there is a perfectly smooth cut along where the wall of energy would have been. It leads to a decline so smooth, it could only have been machined out. The range of the flashlight doesn't reach far, but as far as you can tell, it's like someone engulfed your town in a sphere and deleted everything inside of it.

> Run for the town to check for survivors
> Run to Nevada to... You aren't even sure.
> Run away from Gwynn and her team
> Yell at Gwynn
> Other (Write-in)
>>
>>5365232
>Bite your knuckles to ground yourself. >"You said they would be safe. Please explain."
>Slowly back away. You have no chance in a fight against her. Break into the wilds if you must escape and make use of your Stealth.
>>
>>5365232
>>5365305

[1/2]

You want to scream, but your throat feels sewn shut. You want to run down look for your dad, the Parkers, ANYONE, but you are too terrified of what you might see - or not see. The only thing your body seems to be capable of doing is raise your fist to your mouth and bite down on it - hard. You taste copper, but you barely register the pain... A shame, it seems to help you get your thoughts in order. For some reason, you are trying to think of what to think of Gwynn right now. Furious, for erasing everyone you've ever known? Betrayed, for lying to your face throughout the day? Some sick sense of gratitude for pulling you out of the blast range? All these things feel more or less true, but one emotion trumps over all: Fear.
You are terrified of what could happen next. Were you supposed to die? Are you considered a straggler, or a witness of something not meant for anyone's eyes? As you consider the possibilities, the urge get away from her is rising and rising, until it surpasses the shock that is keeping you frozen. You manage to turn around and face her. Her stance is relaxed, but her face is stern, and her eyes are constantly jumping between focus and contemplation. You swallow, and finally find your voice.

"Y-you said... You said they'd be safe." Her brows relax a little, and she slowly raises her hands.
"They're safe, Sergey, I guarantee it. But for now, please, calm dow-"
"Calm down!? My entire life just got erased! I saw it! And you're telling me they're safe?"
"I'm not at liberty to explain, but no, it didn't get erased, and yes, they're still safe. Please, for now, you should go to Lady Doctor Nevada. She'll know what to do."
"You still care more about keeping secrets than me? I'm not doing anything until you tell me what's going on."
"...That wasn't a suggestion."

Her expression returns to a stern one, lacking in patience. You slowly start backing up along the ridge of the blast, but she matches your paces.

"You're gonna kill me, aren't you?"
"I had plenty of opportunities to kill you. I just saved your life. I know you're emotionally volatile right now, but-"

Emotionally volatile? You lose everything, she stonewalls you, makes demands, wants to send you to prison or worse, and now she has to gall to talk down to you like you're a kid throwing a tantrum? You can't bear hearing any more words from her lying mouth - so you start running.
>>
>>5365527

[2/2]

"...vious that- Sergey, STOP!"

Your body is exhausted, but the adrenaline is keeping you wide awake, and the shock is washing away all the aches screaming for respite. You don't even know where to go, but you know the edge of the forest is your best bet. You can hear her footsteps a good bit away from you, but you're certain Gwynn is gaining on you! The only way to lose her will be by hiding - dammit, the flashlight! You won't be able to see the ground, but as long as you have it on, you'll stick out like a sore thumb, so you turn it off.
You manage to pass the first trees, and after weaving between a few more, you hop over a shrub and slide behind a thick tree. You press your hand to your mouth and do your best to calm your breathing. You listen for footsteps, but all you hear is the blood being pumped in your ears at breakneck speed.

"Please, Sergey, last warning. I don't want to hurt you, so stop running. I know you're behind that tree, I can see your trail."

Despite not being able to make out any of her footsteps, you can hear her voice slowly getting closer. Sitting here, you can feel your adrenaline wear off, and the exhaustion settle in. Gwynn, on the other hand, is only beginning to sound strained. You know you can't outpace her in a fair contest, but you have one more trick up your sleeve.

> Try to escape one last time
> Surrender
>>
>>5365530
> Try to escape one last time
I don't mind if we get caught. I know it's more or less necessary for us to continue the story from here, and I'm curious as to where QM will lead us. I don't want to give up without a fight, though--just as a character thing.

Humanity will not go gentle into that good night. Sergey may be an idealist, but he'll fight for his dreams.
>>
>>5365530
>Try to escape one last time
Don't die Sergey it's be a rather drab ending
>>
>>5365530
Also Diver Orgonomy Technique time
>>
>>5365530
>>5365544
>>5365621

New thread at >>5366180
>>
>>5366188
Why new thread??
>>
>>5366216
It hit the bump limit, so I thought I could make a new one. Sorry, I don't know the rules too well, since this is my first quest.
>>
>>5366224
There are no rules, dude, that guy is being an idiot



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