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File: A Song Begins.jpg (154 KB, 1024x1024)
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“Long ago, long ago, our world was lush and green. Singers sang and dragons flew, and sorcery and steel were made one…”

In the deepest dark of an ancient metal ruin, eyes of dead glass watched over broken eggs. Lifeless guardians of lifeless wards, eternal in their vigil, they awaited power which would never come. Severed cables wrapped like vines about the metal eggs, cradling their broken shells and the shattered songs within. They would never be heard, never know the sand and seas and skies, never live.

So it had been for ten thousand years, and so it would be forever.

Across the endless centuries, the egg crypt became known to the members of a diminutive and curious people. They took the shape and size of the old masters; tufts of fur upon the tops of their heads, their bodies surfaced softly in pale or tan hues, and possessing four limbs yet standing upright upon one pair and grasping with the other - and none of them were winged. Ignorant, the two-eyes knew little what the ruin once was, and nothing of the egg chamber or its dead machines. They came for salvage, and secrets, but gained little of either - ancient places do not give up such things.

Slowly, even their pestering encroachments became nearly forgotten, swallowed by the sands.

Nearly forgotten, until one of their young returned, pursued by its own kind through the shifting sands. Others fled with it to the ruin, but their pursuers were faster upon the dunes, piloting bounding bipedal machines and plated skimming craft. Only the young one lost its pursuers when it reached the metal fortress, disappearing within the shattered pyramid's depths.

Rushing through the metal halls, it stumbled, fell, crashed, slid, and then lay still.

Crimson fluid pooled from its cracked mask, and poisons leeched in from the toxic air. When its eyes opened again the burning had already begun, the fire, but the shouts of its pursuers sounded from high above. With failing strength it fled deeper into the dark, past shattered eggs and dead glass, through severed cables hanging like vines, and beyond doors overgrown with fungus, until finally it could bear to go no further. It collapsed within a small chamber, quiet and still, beside a large black egg resting in a bed of sand and coiled cables.

The exhausted young creature pulled itself closer to the egg, and sang as it tried to patch its mask. It sang a lullaby taught by its crafter, - its mother - lyricless and soothing, while kneading a ball of repair agent into the cracked ceramic surface of its mask. If it did not finish quickly, then the growing fire within its mind would become an unbearable inferno, and wracked with madness it would perish in the toxic air as so many had before. No mask could reverse the change then.

As the creature's fingers slowed, and the fire in its mind grew too hot, the surface of the egg cracked.

>You are the song. [Hatching Egg]
>You are the singer. [Young Creature]
>>
>>5968231
This seems intriguing, but it's hard to make a choice.
I think I'll go with
>You are the singer. [Young Creature]
>>
>>5968231
>You are the singer. [Young Creature]
>>
>>5968231
>You are the song. [Hatching Egg]
>>
>>5968231
>You are the singer. [Young Creature]
>>
>>5968231

>You are the singer. [Young Creature]

I am stunned,thrilled to see an original quest.
>>
>>5968231
>You are the song. [Hatching Egg]
>>
>>5968231
>You are the singer. [Young Creature]
>>
>>5968231
>You are the song. [Hatching Egg]
play that truth and dreams
>>
>>5968231
>You are the song. [Hatching Egg]
>>
Voting will remain open for another twelve hours to allow for most time zones to have a reasonable chance to vote. Updates will be much swifter after that, probably two or three a day depending on how quickly votes come in. There will generally be at least a one hour warning before a vote closes, though how long before that is announced will vary.

As we get deeper into the thread, please try to link votes back to earlier posts if your ID changes due to phoneposting or a VPN.
>>
>>5968231
>You are the singer. [Young Creature]
>>
Two and a half hours-ish left to vote.
>>
>>5968231
>You are the song. [Hatching Egg]
>>
>>5968496
>>5968345
>>5968268
>>5968253
>>5968248
>>5968243
Singer wins, writing. Should be posted in an hour or two.

>>5968792
>>5968418
>>5968356
>>5968309
>>5968252
Don't worry egg anons, you'll have your day in the sun.
>>
Fire sears your mind and lungs, burning vein and flesh and soul with every breath of this foul air. Curses of the old world hang thick here in the dark, in this secluded chamber so deep within the ruin. If you do not mend your mask, the madness will soon take you. The mask is a simple but precious thing, a concave ceramic oval, sun bleached white and with holes for your eyes - your mother crafted it to have no need for plugs or filters, and now you have broken it. With shaking hands you retrieve the shell of repair paste from the shedskin pouch at your hip, exactly as you have been taught to do, and then an electric cattail from another - with a whispered word you set it aglow, illuminating the sandy chamber.

The chamber, which has become your refuge from the slavers, is small and secluded deep within the ruin - the mountain as you have always thought of it, for you have never seen another thing fitting the name outside drawing in old books. But if you do not work quickly to fix the deep crack in your mask, your refuge will become your crypt.

Whimpering in pain you pull close to an odd black stone and set to work squeezing the repair agent from its carapace shell, pressing thumb and forefinger together until the gray clay like paste extrudes - careful, you must be careful, there is so little of it… too little? That must not be! No, the crack must be sealed! Searing heat pulses through you in waves, every breath bringing the crimson tinge of your vision tighter, narrowing, narrowing, narrowing to a sheet of blood that foretells only madness and death. The fire burns, and soon your mind will, the curse will claim you.

“Mother!...” You call out in pain, helpless and alone. No one hears the call - not ever the hunters looking to place you in chains. The only company to your death are the cables and conduits of the ancients hanging from the walls, and they do not aid those they curse - they rejoice in their death. They are making faces now, scowling and sneering, you see them whenever you look up from the mask. Red eyes in the dark, malevolent crimson, every light glowing brighter and hotter as they spread their fire. Even with eyes shut they watch in the dark of your mind. Only the black ellipsoid stone at the chamber’s center is unchanged - untouched by the red. Fingers stop, and then start again shaking all the worse as they burn away, kneading the paste into the cracked mask slower - it is fear. Fear is devouring you from the extremities in.
>>
>>5968905

All is red, and you shall die, consciousness shattered and burnt - a husk left to stalk the dark, that is what you will be. A wraith.

But a song sounds within your mind - mother’s song, the old lullaby, the oldest one of your people. Dying, desperate to repair the mask and save your fading consciousness, you begin to sing - it is pitiful, barely more than a pained whimper, but it brings comfort as you near your end.

“Ooooaahhhoooahhh, oohah ah ho ah…”

There may still be enough to repair the mask… still… time…

Thunder claps in the dark, and light floods the room - your electric cattail erupts into a nova of white light, blackens, and shatters. Shards of carbon launched by the dying lamp slice into your skin, drawing blood - more red. Too much. Everything… burns…

You awaken to the feeling of cold and wet pressing against the nape of your neck, slick metal brushing up and under your long white locks. Something is cooing gently, almost purring, thrumming like the turbine of a sand skimmer beside your face. The curse is… gone? No, not gone, you feel it still, at the edges of your mind - but you are cold again. Shifting about on the sandy floor of the chamber, you tilt your head to try to see what is purring so intently.

Four slitted eyes peer back into your two pink ones, far too close. You pull your head back, fearing the thing might bite - but no strike comes.

Snuggled up under your arm is a sleek creature the likes of which you’ve never seen. Its tail is long and finned like a plane or glider, a spike at its very tip and then smooth at first as it runs toward the body, overlapping plates of a strange chitin protecting it in greater degrees with every passing fingerbreadth until the thick tail terminates at the base of its torso, just behind its powerful hind legs. Legs which are utterly unlike any bug you’ve ever seen, plated in that same sleek style as the tail but more heavily and with small spikes near the joints of its hip, knees, and… double ankle? It is digitigrade - you recall the word dimly, never having much use for it. Its two forelegs are less armored and command the oddest set of wings you’ve ever beheld - no dragonfly or beetle, but almost like a cavebat - creatures you’ve only seen in ancient books. Talons adorn its three toed feet, terrible and curved, larger on the hind legs than the front.
>>
>>5968908

The aerodynamic torso and long neck of the beast are more armored than its limbs, a ridge of plates running all the way to the base of its head - and what a head it is! Angular and fearsome, it looks just as you would imagine a demon; sharp and primal, like a jagged pyramid split in two, a pair of eyes rests on each side, each slitted and prismatic. The eyes higher up its face are slightly larger than the two which rest below and forward, but all four shine with a profound intelligence, A single three sided spike a little longer than your index finger, a horn, protrudes from its forehead, facing forward like a lance. Everything about its head is well protected and cruel, meant to gnash and snap and impale.

A forked tongue shoots out from its mouth, licking the red dripping from the wound on your face - the pain fades quickly, dulled at once. It is friendly!

Reaching out nervously with one hand, you brush along the beast’s neck, eliciting another round of cooing - and the color of its black armored plates shifts to the purest white - the exact hue of your hair. Even its eyes change, fading from a sinister red to a light pink, mimicking your own eyes and face paint. How is such a thing possible? Ancestor’s wrath, did it emerge from that stone? That egg you pressed close to in your madness?

From high above you hear the shouting of the slavers echoing across the metal mountain, passing through the shaft you fell down minutes ago. They will come soon, armed and armored and descending on lines or by jumpboot, filtermasks protecting them from the ancient’s wrath for more than long enough to capture you and return to the surface. They are greedy brutes, raiders working for foreign masters you know little of - The Empire, they had said before burning your caravan and chaining your people. That was only an hour ago.

There is no time for the odd beast.

>You grab your repaired mask and flee at once further into the metal mountain - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you have been blessed with a knack for the ancient ways and know something of their magic. You may be able to escape these dead halls.
>You grab your repaired mask and search for a weapon, anything, to use to ambush your pursuers - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you were built stronger and faster than most. A grown man will have the advantage in power, but surprise and a thirst for vengeance will be yours - and then his equipment! With a linegun or jumpboots you could escape more easily.
>>
>>5968909

>You grab your repaired mask and flee at once further into the metal mountain - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you have been blessed with a knack for the ancient ways and know something of their magic. You may be able to escape these dead halls.

Cool setting, QM
>>
>>5968909
>You grab your repaired mask and flee at once further into the metal mountain - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you have been blessed with a knack for the ancient ways and know something of their magic. You may be able to escape these dead halls.

>>5968253 was me, I think. I'll verify when I get home. Registering a trip for future reference.
>>
>>5968909
>You grab your repaired mask and flee at once further into the metal mountain - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you have been blessed with a knack for the ancient ways and know something of their magic. You may be able to escape these dead halls.
>>
>>5968940
Thank you, anon, I appreciate it.

>>5968922
>Cool setting
Much more of it to come, thank you!
>>
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Voting will remain open for one more hour.
>>
>>5968909
>>You grab your repaired mask and search for a weapon, anything, to use to ambush your pursuers - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you were built stronger and faster than most. A grown man will have the advantage in power, but surprise and a thirst for vengeance will be yours - and then his equipment! With a linegun or jumpboots you could escape more easily
>>
>>5968909
>>You grab your repaired mask and flee at once further into the metal mountain - you are young, and war is not yet your way, but you have been blessed with a knack for the ancient ways and know something of their magic. You may be able to escape these dead halls.
>>
>>5968922
>>5968940
>>5968941
>>5969017
Fleeing into the mountain wins, writing. Should be done in an hour or two.
>>
The shouts from above spur you into motion, sending you scrambling to grab your mask. Clutching it in both hands, you orient it correctly and then press it to your face and hold it for a half a heartbeat. Air hisses as the ceramic mask seals against your face, and with a heavy breath you suck air through its microfilters once more. Stale, dead, cold - and no burning curses. The only pain left to you is from bruises suffered while falling, and cuts from your shatter electric cattail. While it is long gone, scorched carbon in the sand, light still emits from a few of the cables hanging around the room - whatever phenomena triggered the flash earlier seems to have stuck upon them. Another curse, perhaps.

The odd white beast circles away a few paces, across the sand covering the floor of the chamber. It is about the size of a house mantis, its shoulder coming up a hand’s length below your waist, and it is confused, head cocked as it stops and watches you with its four slitted eyes. What a pitiful creature, born down here in the dark, among dead machines and the ancestor’s curses - it’s a small wonder that it seems unaffected by the air, but you’ve heard of other bugs which are immune. You scratch at your chin, below your mask’s seal, and consider the beast’s appearance - It doesn’t look like any insect you’ve ever seen, the eyes are all wrong, and the wings, and the legs…

“Ho there lads, mind your footing, there’s a chute! Must have gone through the grate…” A deep man’s voice echoes down the shaft you fell from, “Make ready for descent!”

Startled out of your curiosity - and you have always been terribly curious - you hurry to the only exit of the room. It is an arching portal, steel sealed to steel - a sliding door, not unlike those in settlements or craft built in your own age, but automatic in operation. Biting your lip within your mask, you run a hand across the central seam of the door, wiping away millennia of dust - it is pristine beneath, untarnished silver, but sealed tightly shut. You’d hoped to get a nail in there and pull, it has worked before once or twice in other ruins, but not now it would seem.

A chirp sounds from beside you. Looking down, you find the beast looking up, eyes meeting again. It chirps once more, louder.

“What dost thou wish, bug?” You question politely - It answers by pressing up against your leg, pushing hard and letting out that low purr from before, grinding armored plate against your white fiber robe and the muscle beneath, “Ow! Pray cease! I must think.”
>>
>>5969088

It stops, and looks at you expectantly. The angular head of the beast sways from you to the door, and then back again. It chirps. Helpful. If it wishes to follow you, then so be it - but you must focus on escape! Pushing past a bundle of hanging cables, you find a rune panel beside the arching portal - it is lit up yellow, ancient light shining with power from… where? How? The beast chirps.

Taking a step back, you extend one hand and make the gesture of command, inhale deeply, and then intone, ”Apart.

Wind rushes past and wings thump out as the beast spreads its forearms, the span of its membranous wings reaching out many times its width. It trills in confusion, its long thick tail thumping around as it tries to balance on its powerful hind legs - soon it manages it, grace coming easily to the newborn. The door has hissed open, the hall beyond lit dimly by a trail of fairy lights - winking little white specks spaced evenly along the floor near the based of the walls.

Tucking back a few strands of your white hair, you look at the beast again.

“Knowest thou my word?” You ask politely, watching its wings slowly lower, four eyes flitting about the room searching for something unknown to you, “Fold thy wings.”

“Line secured!” A man’s voice echoes from above again. You hurry through the arched portal, your question to the beast unanswered beyond the folding of its wings - this must not be a talking bug, it only chirps and purrs. Down the hallways you go, boots clanking on metal, talons clicking, and lights guiding the way. The way splits eventually at a cross intersection, and you look for the guiding lines - colors left from long, long ago, that mark the different ways along walls. Yellow… Red… Green! Thin and faded, but still present, you follow the line down the left hallway. The beast follows close, chirping occasionally and moving off to one side or the other to run beneath hanging cables or over odd metal pods you do not know the purpose of.

“Pray, cease that!” You scold, but your words fade to nothing as you see it has found something - a circular portal, irised shut with metal. Another control panel, dull and dead, sits low next to it. You would need to drop to your hands and knees to enter, but the beast could do so easily. An excellent hiding spot, few know the tones of old magic, but without power it is useless.

The beast chirps, and the panel comes alight. You know the ancient word upon the flickering screen: VENTILATION.

You clutch your hands to your breast, surprised - so it was the beast’s doing, all of this. Does it know something, or is this more animal curiosity?

>Command the portal open, lower yourself, and crawl through into the unknown. It may lead directly to the surface!
>No! You will not follow the beast’s suggestion, there is a perfectly good portal down the hall labeled ‘HANGAR’ in ancient paint.
>>
>>5969090
>Command the portal open, lower yourself, and crawl through into the unknown. It may lead directly to the surface!
>>
>>5969090
>>Command the portal open, lower yourself, and crawl through into the unknown. It may lead directly to the surface!
>>
>>5969090
>No! You will not follow the beast’s suggestion, there is a perfectly good portal down the hall labeled ‘HANGAR’ in ancient paint.
dragon mecha? dragon mecha
>>
>>5969287
An intuitive feeling for the setting, I see!
>>
Voting will remain open for the next eleven hours.
>>
>>5969090
>No! You will not follow the beast’s suggestion, there is a perfectly good portal down the hall labeled ‘HANGAR’ in ancient paint.
>>
>>5969090
>Command the portal open, lower yourself, and crawl through into the unknown. It may lead directly to the surface!
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5969444
>>5969166
>>5969100
Writing.
>>
For a long moment you stare at the strange beast, gazing deep into its eyes, and ponder its nature. Commanding dead machines of the mountain to stir to life is no trick, you scarcely would have believed it had you not seen it yourself. It must be a power of the creature, perhaps the ancestors granted it dominion over such things. Pitiful and cruel looking as it is, there is something far greater about the creature than its alien appearance. Steeling yourself, you place a glimmer of faith in its intuitions and power, and extend a hand firmly toward a lit rune panel beside the iris.

”Apart! You intone, and steel whirs and circles as the iris opens - a gust of air blows back locks of your white hair and sends you robe billowing. Warmth floods the hall, and though you smell nothing through your mask a few flecks of sand are soon caught in your open palm.

Wasting no time, you drop to your hands and knees and begin the long crawl through the narrow metal shaft. The beast follows close behind, its wings and legs folding close to allow it to slither like some strange worm - but soon you see it no longer. Total darkness surrounds you as the iris closes, no fairy lights exist here to guide the way, and you begin the achingly slow ascent to the surface, winding and wrapping, twisting and turning…

…And you become terribly lost.

This is beyond your knowledge of the mountain, far beyond the secrets you have gleaned - forever you have felt a closeness to the ancestors’ ancient works, intuiting what others do not, but intuition often fails and the ancestors were cruel. Their curse did not claim you earlier, though you still sense the burning red at the edges of your mind, but these tunnels very well might. Your lips grow dry and parched, the warm air and metal sapping you slowly of strength across what must be… hours? Has it been hours? You blink in the dark, thinking, and nothing changes.

Behind you, the slithering beast chirps. It presses against your leg and then worms alongside and past you in the tight confines. Its stops, pressed against you, a faint pink glow emitting from its eyes - barely enough by which to see the eyes themselves. The four slits turn and stare at you, narrowing, and you feel hot breath flow from its maw. For a moment you fear it has grown hungry and seeks your neck, and you struggle to raise a hand in the dark and clutch at your own throat, a primal need to guard yourself seizing hold… But the beast slithers past. It slinks away further down the shaft, and then chirps again expectantly.

…So you follow it. For an eternity you trace the creature’s path, just a few arms lengths behind it, until finally you see a glimmer of golden light at the end of the tunnel. The beast surges forward, slithering quickly, and you coax your tired and cut limbs into one last burst of energy.
>>
>>5969613

When you emerge from the duct, hot desert wind howls past across the open sky. Far below you, past the messy and shattered slope of the metal mountain, the endless dunes of the sand sea stretch out to the horizon. The sands are broken up only by lesser ruins, hulks of rusted metal, each a mystery to you but familiar in shape if not name.

Crouching on the small silver platform in front of the duct, its railing long broken away, you pull up the hood of your robe and squint out across the desert in search of other sights. Three pillars of smoke, all far off toward the sun - your caravan. Closer, trails of sand moving fast over the dunes, clouds kicked up so high and violently as to obscure the craft creating them - unmistakably the work of skimmers, and most likely those of the slavers sent by this Empire.

“That descent is deathly steep.” You speak to yourself, leaning over the edge of the platform to examine the jagged and blasted way down through twisted metal. The beast sits beside you and listens intently anyways, once more on all four legs, and so you address it as an ally - for what else could it be after guiding you through the dark? “We must take care, bug.”

The beast's wings spread wide, taloned hind feet stomp loudly against the metal platform, and its long thick tail slithers and snaps in the air. A matching pair of odd gill-looking organs on its aerodynamic chest, just below the neck, widen to form something like the air intake of a skimmer. They part the armored plates to either side, and each whirs and sucks and rumbles as they draw air in. A light glows within them, and you hear... song? Your song. The lullaby.

It is preparing to fly!

>Press the beast's wings back down, order it to stop, anything! If it abandons you now, you will be alone again, alone and parched in a desert without your people! You must descend this metal slope, and it shall follow you. You can try to claim one of the slaver’s skimmers far below, one may be unattended or poorly guarded.
>The beast is small, but there is a curve to its back, a slight indentation along the armored ridges that looks almost like it is intended to be ridden. Attempt to mount the small creature, and let it act as it will. Perhaps this is terrible folly, you may be too large for it, even with such wide wings.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5969614
>The beast is small, but there is a curve to its back, a slight indentation along the armored ridges that looks almost like it is intended to be ridden. Attempt to mount the small creature, and let it act as it will. Perhaps this is terrible folly, you may be too large for it, even with such wide wings.
>>
>>5969614

>The beast is small, but there is a curve to its back, a slight indentation along the armored ridges that looks almost like it is intended to be ridden. Attempt to mount the small creature, and let it act as it will. Perhaps this is terrible folly, you may be too large for it, even with such wide wings.

We don’t have to fly - just survive a semicontrolled descent?
>>
>>5969614
>The beast is small, but there is a curve to its back, a slight indentation along the armored ridges that looks almost like it is intended to be ridden. Attempt to mount the small creature, and let it act as it will. Perhaps this is terrible folly, you may be too large for it, even with such wide wings.
>>
>>5969614
>>The beast is small, but there is a curve to its back, a slight indentation along the armored ridges that looks almost like it is intended to be ridden. Attempt to mount the small creature, and let it act as it will. Perhaps this is terrible folly, you may be too large for it, even with such wide wings.
>>
>>5969614
>The beast is small, but there is a curve to its back, a slight indentation along the armored ridges that looks almost like it is intended to be ridden. Attempt to mount the small creature, and let it act as it will. Perhaps this is terrible folly, you may be too large for it, even with such wide wings.
>>
Voting will close in one hour.

>>5969665
Very true, I suppose the real issue is more if it will even be semi-controlled.
>>
>>5969807
Fingers crossed! Does this quest have dice?
>>
>>5969814
I'm considering it currently, thought I'm not sure what system I would use.
>>
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>>5969827
1d20 or 1d100, Bo3 to hit a DC, is pretty much standard around here. Simple d6 (attached) is a really good option if you want to ability to level up and such. A few other quests like Lodestar, Seekers of the Esoteric, and Forgotten Realms use their own simple-but-effective scaling systems.
>>
>>5969832
Simple d6 seems interesting, I'd never bothered to check it out before. Thanks, anon.
>>
Attempting to ride wins, writing.
>>
Your breath steadies as you approach the beast, falling in sync with the faint music emanating from its chest - could that truly be the same song? Walking behind its spread wings, head tilted, you examine it more closely; it is assuredly meant to be ridden, the indentations are there, like a riding bug but far more refined, elegant even with so much armor adorning the small beast…

“Hold.” You extend a hand, commanding the creature, but the tone is wrong.

Its long neck twists back, articulated to such an extent that it can look directly behind itself, and it chirps. Four pink eyes watch as you try to find a way to mount the creature. Its wingspan is great for its size, tremendous, and its tail is very long and finned, but could it really carry you? It is no dragonfly, and certainly not a glider. Straddling close against its back, pressing yourself down against the armored plates, you find the indents you saw earlier and pull your legs tight into them.

“Pray fly well.” The words are more for yourself than the beast, but it seems to understand, the howling from the intakes on its chest growing louder, more air sucked in - and scorching hot air expelled from vents at the rear of the beast, near the tail. You adjust your feet, pulling them away from the hot wash, and wrap your arms tightly about the beast’s neck.

With a lurching pair of steps, struggling already under your added weight, the long beast steps off the platform and dives. Wind blows back your hood and robes as you fall together with the beast, your stomach lurching weightless in free fall. The beast’s wide wings soon catch the wind, and you feel its long tail strain and pull with its neck, fighting together to take control of the descent. As the dunes rush up to meet you and your armored mount, the descent slows, and slows, and then stops entirely as it pulls up!

Dunes rush past a hundred of your own height beneath you, the beast’s winged shadow tracing across them, cast in stark relief by the high desert sun. Gazing out in amazement, white locks blowing in the wind, you take in the sights of the desert - the distant smoke of your caravan, the plumes of the slaver’s sand skimmers, the far off ruined hulks of brown and silver metal. Up here you are free. Without flying machines, the slavers cannot touch you.

As the beast glides - for it only seems to mostly glide, only flapping its wings occasionally to adjust course - you begin to hear the roar of its air intakes strain and fade. The song a layer deep behind that whirring, burning noise is fading. Fading fast! The realization strikes you too late, and by the time you begin to sing - desperate to try anything - the beast’s strength has failed entirely.
>>
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>>5969950

Hurtling toward the ground in a barely controlled glide, the beast's taloned feet skim the top of a tall dune and cause it to violently lose control, sending you flipping together end over end in the air. You cry out in that horrid second of spinning, the beast’s cry matching your own - shrill and childlike - and then your strength fails and your tired limbs are pulled free from the grooves of the beast’s armor. Separated, you fall fast and hard to the dunes below - the last thing you see before striking the sand is a searing flash of white.

When you finally awaken, your arm pulses with a dull hot ache, inviting the red at the edge of your mind to come crawling back - the curse thrives on pain. Kicking at the hot sand, you find your sandals were torn off in the tumbling crash. It burns, but you have endured hot sand many times before, and soon you have pulled yourself from being half buried. To be devoured by the desert is a terrible fate, and it will not be yours today - you are the curse’s to claim.

Pulling yourself tight into a ball, and tugging your hood up to protect you, you begin to inspect your aching arm, touching it gingerly. Horrid pain shoots through you as you press a finger to it, trying to feel the extent of the break - and it surely is broken. A whimper escapes your lips, unable to bear it. Parched, achingly tired, and running across dunes or crawling through vents for hours, you cannot bear to any more - this is too much. Red eyes watch you from the sands, the ancestors mocking your suffering, and crimson crawls further inward.

Soon the slavers will find you, those skimmers surely must have seen your fall, and you will be captured. Perhaps you will be a wraith by then, and claim one of them as well, claiming a maddened vengeance in your mind-death. Bile rises in your throat at the thought, but that only draws the horror closer, tighter, tighter than the duct ever could have been. It constricts everything, smothering your thoughts with fear, and hate, and red.
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>>5969951

The sand beside you begins to vibrate and warble, and a moment later the beast’s horned head erupts from the ground in a spraying cloud. It quickly pulls itself free entirely, moving through sand like water, and it presses against you. Your mask is held tightly in its toothy mouth, recovered and intact. The red recedes at once even, vanishing back to the periphery of your being, mocking eyes dissolving away.

Breath leaves you as you realize what has happened - the impossible thing the beast has done once more. It’s presence has driven away the curse. And it must have done so earlier - you were too far gone then as well, too deeply infected. You cannot help but smile widely, pain the last thing on your thoughts as you realize you will remain yourself for a moment longer! You wrap the beast in a tight hug - it is far too long to pull more than its neck and torso to you, but those are small enough for such a thing. It is not so tall really, just very long and wide if you take its finned tail and winged front legs into account.

In the distance, you hear the thrumming roar of a skimmer approaching fast. It is an unmistakable noise.

>”Help me, bug.” Beseech the beast’s aid again. It is very young but quite cruel and predatory looking, perhaps it can ward away these foreign slavers in a fight. A skimmer’s supplies would preserve your life a day longer and provide many options, but these slavers are well armed.
>”Hide!” Try to get the beast to bury the both of you in the sand, it seems to have power over the dunes as well as the sky, small though they may be. Hiding is the way of your people in such situations - they are not cowards, it is simply prudent. You will try to find other survivors later, though that will be a desperate search - you have no supplies.
>Write-in.
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>>5969953
>”Help me, bug.” Beseech the beast’s aid again. It is very young but quite cruel and predatory looking, perhaps it can ward away these foreign slavers in a fight. A skimmer’s supplies would preserve your life a day longer and provide many options, but these slavers are well armed.
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>>5969953

>”Hide!” Try to get the beast to bury the both of you in the sand, it seems to have power over the dunes as well as the sky, small though they may be. Hiding is the way of your people in such situations - they are not cowards, it is simply prudent. You will try to find other survivors later, though that will be a desperate search - you have no supplies.

We seem pretty small, hopefully we can stay out of sight.
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>>5969953
>”Hide!” Try to get the beast to bury the both of you in the sand, it seems to have power over the dunes as well as the sky, small though they may be. Hiding is the way of your people in such situations - they are not cowards, it is simply prudent. You will try to find other survivors later, though that will be a desperate search - you have no supplies.
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>>5969953
>”Hide!”
Maybe start singing again? That seemed to help.
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Voting will remain open for one more hour. I'd like to get another update out tonight if possible.
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>>5970024
Hiding and singing simultaneously seems like a bad plan to be frank. One negates the other.
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>>5969981
>>5969993
>>5970024
Writing.
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>>5969981
>>5969993
>>5970024

“Hide!” You call out to the beast at once, panic filling your voice - that skimmer must belong to the slavers, your people traveled mostly by slug. Soon they will be upon you, blade and firespitter in hand, and then all will be lost, “Hide! With haste, bug! Hide!”

The beast looks to you in confusion, and then toward the sound, and begins to flex its wings out to take flight on its own - you nearly tackle its plated chest and neck, pressing painfully into the sharp edges as you struggle to keep it on the ground, your broken arm searing with agony. A rumbling growl sounds from the beast, and its jaws snap sharply in the air, once, twice, and thrice, sounding like the jaws of a steel trap springing shut each time - you catch your mask with a shaking hand as it falls free of its mouth, tucking it away quickly in your robe’s deep inner pouches as the beast rages on. Finally you managed to coax the beast into compliance, crying out to it a few more times to hide - words seem to have more effect than your weak arms, especially with one so painfully broken. An alien vibration passes through the beast’s chest and across your hands, up your arms, and into the core of your being - sand parts, and you fall.

Blinking, you find yourself buried nearly head deep in the slope of the dune you were resting upon. Turning your head, you meet the beast’s four eyes once again, pink slits staring back at you from within its cruel and spiked head. It is buried up to its head in the sand, just as you are, but can move freely, like a man submerged in water - you can feel shifting and vibrating currents of sand beneath your legs, but they do not suck you down further. The beast’s central three sided horn grows, metal scraping on metal as it elongates - what a terrific lance that would be if the beast were to charge - and then thrums with a voice.

The voice of a child far younger than yourself repeats your warning from a moment ago, though the beast's mouth remains fully shut, “Hide?”

“Hide.” You confirm with a nod, tucking down a little lower in the sand. Your hair, white as it is, blends in well with the sun bleached dunes, as does the beast’s armored white head. Only very sharp eyes could see you.
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>>5970107

The thrumming of the skimmer grows closer, and soon the blue craft flies into sight, skipping and jumping over the dunes at tremendous speed, far faster than the bipedal walkers the slavers operate as well. The body of the craft is bent concave relative to the ground, a great intake on the front sucking in air which it then expels across its body to create lift and skim - huge fans at the rear push it along to ever greater speeds. A pair of men peer out from the glass of its small pilot house, you can faintly see that they wear the helmets and red feathers of the slavers. Feathers. You had never heard of such a thing until today, but before the slavers struck there was some limited talk, an attempt at a parley with the caravan chief - you overhead a little, standing close to the brief joke of a negotiation before the fighting began, because…

Vote One:
>...You were trying to shoo your younger brother - unrelated by blood - away from the tense talks, sensing something was deeply wrong about the foreigners speaking with the caravan chief. You became separated while fleeing, to your eternal shame, and in all likelihood your brother was captured.
>...You are a servant of your people’s prince. Sharing his albinic coloration and a curiosity for the very ancient, you have always been favored despite being an orphan - he was captured by the slavers of this foreign Empire. Often you are treated more as a younger sibling than a servant, but only when others are not watching.

After a few minutes patrolling aimlessly, crisscrossing the dunes and kicking up great clouds of sand, the skimmer thrums off and away across the desert, back in the direction of your smoking caravan. Another pair of skimmers soon follow, a little more distant from your hiding spot as they pass by, and then a pair of stomping jar-like walkers. The beast’s horn hums strangely as it watches the walkers trundle past, but it takes no action, content to watch from your buried hiding place. When even the walkers are gone you emerge from the sand, sweating terribly - the sand is hot, far too hot to be hiding like that for long, and you still have no water.

Vote Two:
>Head back toward the smoking caravan and try to hold out until the slavers leave. Other survivors might meet back there, and there may be supplies… and you owe the dead their funerary rites, as poorly as you might perform them. This will keep you closer to the slaver’s trail.
>Head back toward the metal mountain - there were mushrooms growing in there, and pools of water in places. That is enough to sustain you for now. Other survivors may have succeeded in hiding. You will likely lose the slaver’s trail, but you will be safe.
>Write-in.

VOTE IN BOTH VOTES.
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>>5970111
>...You are a servant of your people’s prince. Sharing his albinic coloration and a curiosity for the very ancient, you have always been favored despite being an orphan - he was captured by the slavers of this foreign Empire. Often you are treated more as a younger sibling than a servant, but only when others are not watching.
>Head back toward the smoking caravan and try to hold out until the slavers leave. Other survivors might meet back there, and there may be supplies… and you owe the dead their funerary rites, as poorly as you might perform them. This will keep you closer to the slaver’s trail.
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>>5970111
>>...You are a servant of your people’s prince. Sharing his albinic coloration and a curiosity for the very ancient, you have always been favored despite being an orphan - he was captured by the slavers of this foreign Empire. Often you are treated more as a younger sibling than a servant, but only when others are not watching.
>Head back toward the smoking caravan and try to hold out until the slavers leave. Other survivors might meet back there, and there may be supplies… and you owe the dead their funerary rites, as poorly as you might perform them. This will keep you closer to the slaver’s trail.
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>>5970111
>...You are a servant of your people’s prince. Sharing his albinic coloration and a curiosity for the very ancient, you have always been favored despite being an orphan - he was captured by the slavers of this foreign Empire. Often you are treated more as a younger sibling than a servant, but only when others are not watching.
>Head back toward the smoking caravan and try to hold out until the slavers leave. Other survivors might meet back there, and there may be supplies… and you owe the dead their funerary rites, as poorly as you might perform them. This will keep you closer to the slaver’s trail.
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>>5970111
>>...You were trying to shoo your younger brother - unrelated by blood - away from the tense talks, sensing something was deeply wrong about the foreigners speaking with the caravan chief. You became separated while fleeing, to your eternal shame, and in all likelihood your brother was captured.

>Head back toward the smoking caravan and try to hold out until the slavers leave. Other survivors might meet back there, and there may be supplies… and you owe the dead their funerary rites, as poorly as you might perform them. This will keep you closer to the slaver’s trail.
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>>5970111

>...You were trying to shoo your younger brother - unrelated by blood - away from the tense talks, sensing something was deeply wrong about the foreigners speaking with the caravan chief. You became separated while fleeing, to your eternal shame, and in all likelihood your brother was captured.

>Head back toward the smoking caravan and try to hold out until the slavers leave. Other survivors might meet back there, and there may be supplies… and you owe the dead their funerary rites, as poorly as you might perform them. This will keep you closer to the slaver’s trail.

Let’s go pick up the pieces
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One more hour for voting.
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>>5970151
>>5970164
>>5970174
>>5970177
>>5970243
Servant and back to the caravan, writing.
>>
“Follow.” You speak firmly to the beast as soon as it has emerged from the sand, your thoughts already turning from the fading roar of skimmer engines to the fate of your people - of your prince. Manners, however, come even before that - you owe your life to the strange albinic beast, “...Thou hast my thanks, bug.”

“...Bug?” The beast questions, its young voice emitted from the horn jutting from its forehead, an odd vibration filling the air with every word. Its head cocks to the side, and then it follows your gaze to the distant smoke plumes, black and rising high in the direction of the sun, “...Follow!”

“Yes, follow.” You nod, pulling your hood back up and then resealing your mask - it closes about your face with a hiss. The air here does not carry such a heavy curse upon it as the mountain’s depths, but the ceramic mask still serves to protect your face from the harsh sun, even shading your eyes slightly to help stave off sand blindness - though you remember nearly nothing of her but her song, mother’s other gift to you is a precious thing indeed.

The march back across the dunes is long and hard, taking over twice the time as it did to run fleeing from the slavers earlier - they struck so quickly after the talks fell apart, and such a terrible a fear gripped you at the sight of their walkers and weapons that you could not help but run with the greatest haste for the metal mountain. Others fled as well, all of you ordered by the prince to preserve your own lives. The prince… your prince. Your brother, you feel in your heart. He will need to be rescued.

Toward the end of the exhausting trek you collapse, unable to bear the heat even with the protection of your robe and mask - your feet are scorched and burnt, your sandals never found after the crash, and every muscle aches. Without asking, the beast slithers back under the sand, and then emerges below you. You are carried the rest of the way upon its back, your good arm wrapped tightly about its neck to stay atop it as the vibrating liquified sand parts quickly. The effort seems to strain it, but the beast manages the rest of the journey.
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>>5970340

When you reach the caravan, only desolation greets you. Stretched out in a line in the valley between two great dunes, fires rise from mushroom sleds and the burning corpses of the mighty slugs which towed them. The small skimmers of your people, both of them, are cratered ruins, their tan metal plating blasted to shards of metal by the cannons of those jar-like walking machines the slavers brought with them. The twin skimmers would not have been a match for the skimmers of the slavers regardless, far too small, they were personal mounts for the prince and caravan chief. You clutch at your mouth, struck breathless by the horror of the scene - there are bodies among the wreckage, not only of the kind and gentle slugs but of your people as well. Dozens of them. Bile rises again in your throat, and you barely fight it off, nausea and disgust washing over you. This is such barbaric cruelty - these foreigners are demons in human skin, this is unforgivable! Red pulses at the edge of your mind, and then recedes. Looking down from atop the dune, you see pools and rivers of dark dried blood, now nearly black - more must have been blown away, stained sand carried off by the desert winds. All of this will be buried in a few days, swallowed forever by the dunes.

Grabbing hold of the beast once more, you point toward the caravan - it understands, and soon you are sliding down the dune atop its back, sand parting easily. You reach the perimeter of the devastation in a matter of seconds. Dismounting unsteadily, still terribly pained and parched, you begin the very slow, very long walk through the caravan which has been your home for many months now. It was not large, meant only to traverse the vast sand sea from one settlement to another, allowing the prince to visit his distant peoples. Now… Now it is nothing.

As you approach the first body, burnt and blacked by a firespitter, you find its black charred skin and shattered bone half collapsed inward. Doubling over under a sudden wave of nausea and despair, you retch and vomit on the sand. When at last the hacking coughs and spitting stop, you are left feeling empty and dead, so dehydrated as to barely be able to cry - but you do. That corpse was Roland, the engineer who worked on the skimmers. Beside him is half of his wife Cereza, her other half a few body lengths away and crushed strangely… stepped on. You retch again, but there is nothing to lose now. The beast takes a few steps toward the bodies, its jaws parted and sharp fangs showing.

“No!” You scream, stumbling to the beast’s side and striking at it with your good arm - you could not hope to harm it barehanded, as even though it stands at only half your height it is armored and more massive overall; if it were to fully rear up upon its hind legs its head would be well above yours. “No! They are people! Stop!”
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>>5970341

The beast stops, its mouth slowly shutting, and it looks to you with sadness in its eyes - does it understand? A rumble passes through it and out its shut mouth, muffled but unmistakable that of an empty stomach.

“...I understand, but thou must not sate thyself so. It is accursed to do so.” You bow your head. The beast is a newborn, and it has been very active - a mother should have fed it by now, you suppose, but instead it has been flying and crawling and swimming, “We must find supplies… food and drink.”
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>>5970342

“Food!” The beast responds at once to the word, it learns quickly, “Food! Mother, food!”

“I… I am not thy mother, bug.” You say as you begin to walk toward the burnt remains of one of the supply sleds, a few tarps and a bundle of tent poles unburnt near it - there may be food as well, “...Perhaps I must name thee properly, there are no others to do so.”

What to call such a strange beast though?

VOTE ONE: BEAST'S NAME
>Marzanna.
>Casimir.
>Write-in.

Hours later you have gathered up a small measure of supplies, a shedskin pack now sitting beside you and filled halfway with bundles of salted ant meat and beetle gourds, as well as some shells of repair paste and other useful things - medicines, a length of steel cable, a flare pistol, a working knife, and finally a narrow bladed sword which you know to be a spare owned by your prince. He is a fine swordsman, even at his age, but you are not trained in the ways of war - you know only the roughest basics taught in a few private and mostly playful sparring matches. The prince grows bored at times, it was never more than entertainment, but you cherish the memories. You have no true family, even your adoptive father passed some years ago.

Using the blade, you have chopped up one of the smallest tent poles and fashioned a crude splint for your arm, securing it tightly, and then applied a dollop of repair paste - it is intended for mending metal and ceramics, not flesh, but with a word of command and the right tones you coaxed it to sooth your broken bone anyway. Knowledge of the ancestors’ ways, of their magic - if not their cruelty and curses - has great utility in times like this.

Sitting around a small flameless heater, eating beside the crouched beast - which has eagerly gulped down nearly two thirds of the supplies of food you have discovered - you tell stories to it, taking care to teach the meaning of every word. It learns quickly, now beginning to speak more as a person. This of course means it has learned your name.

VOTE TWO: YOUR NAME (This is not a disguised vote for MC sex, just pick one.)
>Aeron.
>Morrigan.
>Write-in.

VOTE THREE:
As you sit and eat and talk, slowly recovering your strength, a single survivor arrives at the caravan wreckage, greeting you with a shout.
>It is Pandora, a fellow curious spirit - she was the one who first showed you the metal mountain a few years ago. She is a crafty sort, devious even, always getting into trouble and then slinking out of it. Of course she survived, you saw her bolt even before the shooting began!
>It is Ahriman, the young commander of the prince’s guard, also of noble blood - he is wounded… He should be dead, last you saw he was fighting the slavers. That coward swore his life to defend the prince, he should not be standing after this catastrophe! …Still, he is a trained warrior. Perhaps he was merely knocked on the head and left for dead.

VOTE IN ALL THREE VOTES.
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>>5970344
>Casimir.
>Aeron.

>>5970344
>>It is Ahriman, the young commander of the prince’s guard, also of noble blood - he is wounded… He should be dead, last you saw he was fighting the slavers. That coward swore his life to defend the prince, he should not be standing after this catastrophe! …Still, he is a trained warrior. Perhaps he was merely knocked on the head and left for dead.
Both of these names are pretty ominous, but there's not much reason for a traitor soldier to come back like this.

We're gonna have to fight to commandeer a skiff, we can't all ride on the dragon.
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>>5970344

>Casimir.

“Caz” is cool.

>Morrigan.

Seems quite clear that we are female, though?

>It is Ahriman, the young commander of the prince’s guard, also of noble blood - he is wounded… He should be dead, last you saw he was fighting the slavers. That coward swore his life to defend the prince, he should not be standing after this catastrophe! …Still, he is a trained warrior. Perhaps he was merely knocked on the head and left for dead.

I’m honestly picking this one for the narrative drama
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>>5970344
>>5970344
>Darner
After a sort of dragonfly
>Morrigan
>It is Ahriman, the young commander of the prince’s guard, also of noble blood - he is wounded… He should be dead, last you saw he was fighting the slavers. That coward swore his life to defend the prince, he should not be standing after this catastrophe! …Still, he is a trained warrior. Perhaps he was merely knocked on the head and left for dead.
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>>5970344
>Marzanna
>Morrigan
>It is Ahriman, the young commander of the prince’s guard, also of noble blood - he is wounded… He should be dead, last you saw he was fighting the slavers. That coward swore his life to defend the prince, he should not be standing after this catastrophe! …Still, he is a trained warrior. Perhaps he was merely knocked on the head and left for dead.
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>>5970344
Vote 1
>Casimir.
Vote 2
>Aeron.
Vote 3
>It is Pandora, a fellow curious spirit - she was the one who first showed you the metal mountain a few years ago. She is a crafty sort, devious even, always getting into trouble and then slinking out of it. Of course she survived, you saw her bolt even before the shooting began!
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>>5970344
>Casimir
>Morrigan
>It is Ahriman, the young commander of the prince’s guard, also of noble blood - he is wounded… He should be dead, last you saw he was fighting the slavers. That coward swore his life to defend the prince, he should not be standing after this catastrophe! …Still, he is a trained warrior. Perhaps he was merely knocked on the head and left for dead.
>>
One more hour for votes.
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>>5970351
>>5970351
>>5970355
>>5970365
>>5970367
>>5970368
>>5970371
Casimir, Morrigan, Ahriman. Writing.

>>5970355
>Caz
Agreed. You feel it too, don't you?
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Night has begun to fall upon the desert, and you struggle to identify the approaching figure - a survivor, surely, but the shadows of the great dunes are cast deep here by the lowering sun.

“...Morrigan, is that you there?” Ahriman’s familiar voice calls out, a hint of pain and confusion coloring the young man’s words as he approaches slowly, clutching at his side, “I feared there were no others left! They slew my men, I was left for dead in the sands.”

“Hail, Captain! Thine eyes see true,” You answer back with a wave of your good arm, squinting to make out details of the man - hair darker than night and pale skinned, he wears a tighter fitting robe than your own, and rounded organic armor made from the chitinous plates of bull beetles. Two carbon pockmarks have scored deep into his ridged breastplate, a few nicks adorn other plates, and his left hand clutches at a bloody side, “What news of the princes thee swore life to?”

There is a long pause before he speaks, and you cannot make out his features well in the deepening dark, “He fell. We were separated, their skimmers cast so much sand I could scarcely see, but I saw a blade pierce his breast.”

“...Fallen?” You ask quietly, unable to muster the strength to shout the word. That cannot be so! The prince was surely the slaver’s most valuable target, their leader even asked to speak with him during the brief parley with the caravan chief. No, this must be a coward’s lie, you won’t believe it. “Thou would swear it, Ahriman? Upon the ancestor’s wrath?”
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>>5970453

“On the honor of my house!” He continues to approach slowly, a long knife held in his good hand. He raises it to his chest and pounds the fist that wields it against his battered breastplate, “I could not have been mistaken. I know you cared for him dearly, it… We must bring news to his father.”

“On the ancestor’s wrath!” You insist, placing little value in Ahriman’s family name - he has always upset you, a chider and goader, incorrigible in his womanizing, too casual in his speech with all but the prince. Every time the caravan stopped he put the women of the latest village at risk of dishonor. And he gives you looks, more in the last year, none of them chaste.

“I won’t swear such a foul thing.” He refuses, now growing close enough that you can make out his long narrow nose and high cheekbones, all the details of his lying face - his green eyes watch you carefully, “It is forbidden.”

Forbidden? And fleeing battle is not? Thy oath was spoken readily once, coward, but I see now it was wind!” You cannot help yourself, red crawling into your mind, eyes in the dark encouraging your wrath - Ahriman is larger, stronger, and though wounded you are as well. Angering him is foolish.

Ahriman stalks forward in the dark with quick steps, sheathing his knife and raising a gauntleted hand to slap across your face - He freezes in place as a terrible thrumming growl fills the air. Casimir stirs from the sands where he had curled up beside you, eagerly listening to stories between bites of roast slug and ant meat - With a flapping thump he stands to his full height, reared up on his larger hind legs, wings spread out and casting a further darkness over you but not Ahriman.

“Don’t.” Casimir’s young voice sounds from his horn, raspier now and filled with fury, jaw snapping once for emphasis. His horn extends once more, the sharp point aimed squarely at Ahriman.

“Witch!” Ahriman spits and steps back a pair of paces in fear, his face nearly turning as white as yours, “Ancestor’s wrath, what kind of insect is that thing you have?”

“I am Casimir.” The beast speaks for itself, wrapping its wings about you closer as you sit, “Sit.”

“I would do as he commands, Ahriman.” You note grimly, “Thy first guess mayhap held the right of it - Perhaps Casimir is the ancestor’s wrath. An easy utterance in fear for thou, but such is only fitting.”

Ahriman has his hand back on his knife, though it’s unlikely it would do him any good - you haven’t seen Casimir fight, but you can only imagine it would be a vicious thing to behold. Atop sand as you are, it likely would not be a fight against a wounded man, Ahriman would sink into the desert and then be torn to pieces, snapping bite by bite, never seeing his own end.
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>>5970454

Slowly the wounded captain draws his hand away from the sheathed blade, and he looks to the opposite side of the flameless stove you have been cooking upon, “...I will sit then. Keep that thing away from me, witch.”

“Coward.” Casimir taunts, lowers back to stand on all fours, and then down to the ground beside you, bright slitted eyes still watching Ahriman.

“Don’t throw around words you don’t understand, insect.” Ahriman sits opposite of you nervously, still speaking as obnoxiously casually as he always does, “I will ask again, where did you find that? ...Summon it from hell with your magic?”

He lets out an unsteady laugh, and you realize that he is being serious. You do know some magic, especially that of the ancestors, and he fears that, but nothing to summon beasts, if such a thing is even possible. Hmm. Witch. Better than a servant under these circumstances, not that there is any dishonor in such work - you are proud of serving your prince, but a witch has power… Even if it is an illusion.

“He found me within the mountain,” You explain in brief, wasting no great tales on the man, “We escaped together.”

“Mother.” Casimir coos quietly beside you, calming.

“In the Mountain?... The fortress? That ruin to the east?” Ahriman’s face wrinkles up, brow furrowing deep, “Impossible.”

“She sang me awake.” Casimir replies before snapping up a piece of slug meat you hold out to him, a cut taken from one of the dead and scorched beasts of burden earlier - they’re fit for nothing but food now, and poor food at that. Casimir doesn't mind, though you wish you'd realized that sooner before he ate so much ant flesh.

Did you sing him away? Perhaps that was the cause, your song - you know it holds some connection to Casimir, but you have not had the spirit to sing again, not in such dark circumstances. Too many of the dead still lay unburied, waiting for you to finish your meal and regain enough strength to honor them properly.
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>>5970455

“That mountain is cursed,” Ahriman says with wide eyes, “How were you not claimed?”

>”The curse indeed placed a claim upon me, Ahriman, I have been touched. Thou would do well to heed my commands - we move to rescue the prince once the dead have been seen to. Reclaim your honor, or I shall see you claimed by the fire as well.” A witch? So be it, a cursed witch then, one with a cruel beast. Scare the coward into doing his duty. …You will need to treat his wound first, but you can make that rather painful. He deserves worse.
>”My mother’s mask, and Casimir. I know not how, but I am free of the curse. Thou should be thankful, for I am thy only hope of healing.” …You do need to take a look at that wound he has, coward or not. He is still a noble, and one of your people. You are no demon, nothing like the slavers. At least Ahriman fought before fleeing, his armor is a testament to that. You will not mention the curse lingering on.
>”Silence. Cease thy prattle. Seek thy own supplies, tend thy own wounds, and march from here. Never return, Ahriman. …I shall tell others you fell. Such is more than thou deserve.” You have no use for such a coward. Exile is nearly too good for him.
>Write-in.
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>>5970355
>Seems quite clear that we are female, though?
>>5970453 in particular could easily be a Miyazaki pretty-boy, though >>5970454 implies we're female, I think. Or Ahriman is into teenage bishies, kek

>>5970456
>”My mother’s mask, and Casimir. I know not how, but I am free of the curse. Thou should be thankful, for I am thy only hope of healing.” …You do need to take a look at that wound he has, coward or not. He is still a noble, and one of your people. You are no demon, nothing like the slavers. At least Ahriman fought before fleeing, his armor is a testament to that. You will not mention the curse lingering on.
>>
>>5970456
>”My mother’s mask, and Casimir. I know not how, but I am free of the curse. Thou should be thankful, for I am thy only hope of healing.” …You do need to take a look at that wound he has, coward or not. He is still a noble, and one of your people. You are no demon, nothing like the slavers. At least Ahriman fought before fleeing, his armor is a testament to that. You will not mention the curse lingering on.
>>
>>5970458
>Miyazaki pretty-boy
Or Griffith, if you're feeling a lack of causality in your life these days. It isn't settled, but being called 'witch' and Casimir referring to Morrigan as 'she' are just circumstantial. The dragon doesn't know better, if it is wrong at all. It isn't really important yet, Ahriman comes off as kind of skeevy either way.

>>5970455
sing him awake*
Gah, the curse has claimed my fucking proof reading.
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>>5970462
Don't invoke the curse so early! You'll jinx yourself!
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>>5970456
>>”The curse indeed placed a claim upon me, Ahriman, I have been touched. Thou would do well to heed my commands - we move to rescue the prince once the dead have been seen to. Reclaim your honor, or I shall see you claimed by the fire as well.” A witch? So be it, a cursed witch then, one with a cruel beast. Scare the coward into doing his duty. …You will need to treat his wound first, but you can make that rather painful. He deserves worse.

>>5970462
Why is MC sex top secret
>>
>>5970456
>”My mother’s mask, and Casimir. I know not how, but I am free of the curse. Thou should be thankful, for I am thy only hope of healing.” …You do need to take a look at that wound he has, coward or not. He is still a noble, and one of your people. You are no demon, nothing like the slavers. At least Ahriman fought before fleeing, his armor is a testament to that. You will not mention the curse lingering on.
>>
Two more hours for voting.

>>5970489
>why top secret
It's a narrative device to get players to question basic assumptions about the character. There's nothing especially weird about the answer, whichever of the two it is. There's more stuff like that going on if you look around closely, but I can't spell it out without spoiling the fun.
>>
>>5970458
>>5970461
>>5970522
Writing.
>>
“My mother’s mask,” You tap at the mask with your foot, having set it beside you earlier before beginning to cook, “And Casimir. I know not how, but I am free of the curse. Thou should be thankful, for I am thy only hope of healing.”

Ahriman frowns and nods, wincing as he pulls his hand from his side for a moment. His hand is darkened and slick with half dried blood, the bleed never having fully stopped. If he has been like this for hours, then he must be weaker than he appears.

“I won’t press,” He allows the topic of the curse to slip away, his face darkening as he clutches his side in pain, “And truly I don’t care - Just see to my damned wound. You’ll heal it?”

“...Verily.” You nod, and after finishing the last of your ant meat you rise and prepare to work - this will take some time, a few minutes at least.

There is nothing special about the wound, but the sight of blood and pierced flesh still sits uneasily with you, especially with so much death surrounding you. It was barely more than a flesh wound, and with needle and thread, and the correct powder, you soon have the messy business finished - you wash the blood from your hands with water from a beetle gourd, finishing off the last of that one.

“Ancestor’s balls, could you have used something to numb it?” Ahriman curses, but he’s no longer bleeding and now has food in hand - the complaint is short lived, as he is soon gorging himself on ant flesh. Another dent in the supplies, and gone to a coward as well. You wrinkle your mouth in disgust at the crude language - it is unbefitting a warrior, but he has lost the right to be thought of as one, whatever skill at arms he might have. To run and hide is your people’s way, but not for those who swear to lay down their lives.

“Eat well, Ahriman, you must recover thy strength,” You implore him, putting aside your feelings of ill will, “For we have a fell business ahead of us.”

“You speak too much like an elder, you precocious brat.” The dark haired captain shakes his head, but eases back on the insults as Casimir’s head stirs from its rest again, four pink eyes glaring daggers, “...Just sound like you have a stickbug up your ass, that’s all I meant. So what’s your plan then? To chase the slavers down with a broken arm and a strange beast you found?”

“...Nay.” You shake your head while beginning to put the little flameless stove away in its metal box. High overhead the shattered moon is beginning to show clearer in the darkening sky, a thousand thousand blasted chunks of regolith floating aimlessly in the heavens, reflecting light like spilled diamonds, “Thou shalt accompany me, captain.”
>>
>>5970645

“That’s a slugshit of a plan, they’ll throw you to the dunes.” Ahriman speaks more quietly now, wary of Casimir - as he should be, the beast does not seem over fond of him, “The prince fell, I saw it - there is nothing to pursue even if we could. I’m not a coward.”

“Thou doubt that.” You swallow saliva hard, uncomfortable with his insistence in the prince’s death - what if it is true? “Thine eyes deceived thee.”

“My eyes bloody well saw the prince get gutted, witch. They dragged his body off, sure, but they were looking for your kind - albinics.”

“Maybe we can convince them to let this ‘prince’ go?” Casimir suggests innocently, not understanding the situation, “They want pink eyes? I have four.”

“Is it stupid?” Ahriman questions, causing you to wonder the same of him. Casimir growls once more but remains in place, curled up beside you in a great armored spiral.

“Hold thy tongue. Casimir is younger than I. Cas, they would honor no bargain, talks were used as pretense before their attack today.” You feel a need to protect the beast, even just its feelings - the prince did the same for you at times, in his own way. It is the right thing to do.

"...Oh." Casimir sounds saddened, a low vibration sounding from his body, almost a sniffle.

“At least he talks like he's young, ancestors below… We have supplies, you should head back to Cavedew, they have a stock of dragonflies there. A message must reach the king, we are ill prepared for these slavers - more will come.” For a moment you almost believe the coward’s intentions, some glimmer of loyalty to your people flickering in his green eyes. A trick of the moonlight, most likely, or your weak heart - he is not trustworthy.

>”The message which reaches the king shall be delivered by his son’s hand, after thou aidest me in his rescue - Thou cannot believe he fell so… trivially. We shall set out at first light, lest the trail grow cold… I require thy skills at tracking.” As a warrior, Ahriman will know the signs of desert passage even better than you, and perhaps he will try to regain his honor.
>”Return to our king if thou darest. Bear thy message, see what good will he holds for a failed captain. …Take provisions and be gone.” You will track the prince with Casimir - he has control of sand and sky, with him you may be able to steal the prince away in the night… if the prince lives.
>”...Bring me to the sight at which our prince fell. I would see it. …Perhaps the kind should be warned.” What if Ahriman is correct? Your prince would wish to see his people preserved, not his corpse chased.
>Write-in.

The dead will be tended to after this regardless of choice. Write-ins will be combined in with other choices if they fit well enough.
>>
>perhaps the KING should be warned*
Typo in the third option.
>>
>>5970649

>”...Bring me to the sight at which our prince fell. I would see it. …Perhaps the kind should be warned.” What if Ahriman is correct? Your prince would wish to see his people preserved, not his corpse chased.

I need proof, you lil b
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>>5970649
>”...Bring me to the sight at which our prince fell. I would see it. …Perhaps the kind should be warned.” What if Ahriman is correct? Your prince would wish to see his people preserved, not his corpse chased.
>>
>>5970649
>”The message which reaches the king shall be delivered by his son’s hand, after thou aidest me in his rescue - Thou cannot believe he fell so… trivially. We shall set out at first light, lest the trail grow cold… I require thy skills at tracking.” As a warrior, Ahriman will know the signs of desert passage even better than you, and perhaps he will try to regain his honor.
>>
>>5970649
>>”The message which reaches the king shall be delivered by his son’s hand, after thou aidest me in his rescue - Thou cannot believe he fell so… trivially. We shall set out at first light, lest the trail grow cold… I require thy skills at tracking.” As a warrior, Ahriman will know the signs of desert passage even better than you, and perhaps he will try to regain his honor.
>>5970650
site, rather than sight, as well
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>>5970717
Ah, fair catch anon.

Have a garbage paint sketch of older Caz to make up for it. I'm working on a less shit version but I'm slow.
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>>5970744
One day he'll take back the shading he's lost.
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>>5970747
It's like it's all still there! You see it too, don't you? He's going to make them give back his shading.
>>
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>>5970748
>>
>>5970649
>”...Bring me to the site at which our prince fell. I would see it. …Perhaps the kind should be warned.” What if Ahriman is correct? Your prince would wish to see his people preserved, not his corpse chased.
>>
>>5970649
>>”...Bring me to the sight at which our prince fell. I would see it. …Perhaps the kind should be warned.” What if Ahriman is correct? Your prince would wish to see his people preserved, not his corpse chased.
I don't see a counter-raid making much sense unless we pull out warcrimes and sow chaos with the curse.

On the other hand, we could be a distraction for Cas to find the prince and fly out. Visual identification shouldn't be a problem, but maybe smell will help.
>>
One more hour for votes.

At any point if you have questions about the setting/situation, I am willing to write up short answers based on Morrigan's personal knowledge. Might help spur some write-ins later down the line.
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>>5970744
Pretty badass!

>>5970953
Aside from humans and MAYBE dragons, are there any other known vertebrate species still alive?
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>>5970958
"...Vertebrates? A peculiar question. Never hath I beheld such a creature. Mayhap the cavebat should satisfy thee, be it not foreign legend. Some bugs walketh uprightly and speak as men and bear men's names. They comport themselves well, though rarely have I had opportunity to make their acquaintance or learn their secrets, much less their spines should they possess them. Machines live on as well, some very ancient indeed - many are fell things, cursed as wraiths; I have never known one myself. Perhaps they possess a backbone, carrying on for so many years beyond the ancestor's end."
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>>5970958
"...Also, what is a dragon?"
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>>5970884
>>5970839
>>5970668
>>5970657
Writing.
>>
Silence falls for a time; there is nothing to say to Ahriman, he is a coward seeking a way further from the duty he has failed. Leaving him to his munching and complaining, you retreat within your own thoughts. You have always been able to do so, but it comes easier now - perhaps it is Casimir’s presence. Within the sanctity of your own mind’s great blankness, only dimly aware of Ahriman’s continued talking, you consider the present situation and try to ignore the red gnawing at the edges of your soul.

The coward claims your prince was slain, but you know Ahriman to be a liar and the prince to be an adept warrior and a hardy sort, and well armored. Though you are no expert in combat, it seems unlikely a single blade could bring him low, not unless it pierced his heart… One of the mechanical walkers the slavers piloted could have done so, but not a warrior on foot. Still, it is worth learning more, the risks of not doing so are too great.

“...Bring me to the site at which our prince fell. I would see it.” You say at last, returning to the present moment, “...And perhaps the king should be warned, if thee speak truth.”

“Finally.” Ahriman says with a mouthful of ant flesh, gulping the big chunk of meat down after a moment more and discarding the stick it was pierced with, “Come, follow me, it was close by.”

You rise from the sand and follow the dark haired captain through the wreckage of the caravan - the fires burnt out some time ago, though embers still glow orange here and there in the ash. The sand will soon snuff those as well. Casimir walks close beside you, neither stomping nor slithering across the sand - he moves silently, having found a way to part the sand gently with every down step and solidify it with every push forward of his four limbs. Perhaps that tires him less?

“Here,” Ahriman says at last, lighting up an electric cattail drawn from a shedskin pouch tied to his belt, “The stains remain, there and there, and Karol there, poor bastard.”
>>
>>5971019

You look on in the dim electric light, but there is little to see except dark splotches cast upon the sand - now mostly worn away by the wind - and the dead body of another of the royal guards. Karol, a large and kind man, one you would have far preferred to survive over Ahriman, lies dead in a heap beside his large straight blade. He acquitted himself well before his end, his blade is soaked in dried blood, chitin armor pockmarked in a dozen places with firespitter blasts. The spear-length bolt protruding from his chest did him in, and a cut metal line hangs from its far end. It is a harpoon launched by one of the walkers, likely intended for subduing the great bugs out on the dunes rather than a single man - he stood no chance against it. Looking closer, far closer, you get down on your knees and sift through the sand, looking for any other clues which may now be hidden. As you search blindly, Casimir’s head dips into the sand like water and emerges with a small silver brooch held tightly between his teeth.

“I saw this. Is this what you want, mother?” Casimir questions from his horn, dropping the brooch in your waiting hand. A silver mushroom, stylized and unmistakably your prince’s - he used it often to pin his cloak. It has been hacked apart, a third of it simply missing.

“...It is.” Your heart sinks as you answer Caz’s question, eyes fixed on the cut metal in your hand, “I thank thee.”

A happy thrumming fills the air, but soon fades - Casimir brushes the side of his plated head against your arm, pressing the distressing brooch away from your sight. You lower your arms, appreciating the beast’s concern - though cruel looking, he has a sense of your heart.

“Satisfied?” Ahriman asks - he has taken up Karol’s heavy sword, resting the blade on his shoulder as he speaks, “It is as I said.”

“And that single wound to thy side, ‘twas enough they left thee for dead?” You snap at the now armed captain, red filling your thoughts, and with an angry throw you hurl the ruined brooch off into the sands, “Thou fled, whatever the truth of this may be.”

“And what if I did, witch?” Ahriman replies angrily, cut by what must be the truth of your words, “I slew four of the foreigners myself, why should I die after fighting so and seeing the prince fall? You have a child’s idea of duty.”

“Thou hast a coward’s.” You spit at his feet, and fury fills his green eyes - seeing the large sword now in his hands, you manage to restrain your own anger, barely, “...But there is sad work ahead of us, the dead must needs be buried. Let us not quarrel further.”

Ahriman deflates a little, looking to his dead comrade, and then nods - the fury fades from his eyes slowly though, “...Let us be silent, witch. I’ll find a spade, unless you intend to dig by hand.”
>>
>>5971022

Without your prince or the caravan chief, there is no one to say the proper words for cremation, and so the dead receive a desert burial. It is a sorry thing to have to do, but they should still find some rest. Casimir, once he understands you are burying the bodies deep, begins to sink them with his strange control of the sand - things go much faster after that, bodies of the slain sinking into the sand like rocks in a pool of water. At the end, Casimir is left exhausted - there is a limit to his ability to swim through the sands - and you feel utterly drained. There is no feeling of closure, all the people of your caravan are simply… gone. Roland, Cereza, Karol… Everyone is gone. Red tinges your thoughts for a time, lingering on even with Casimir near. Red eyes mock you from the dark, but soon your beast has banished them again.

“Find your way back.” You kneel and whisper the prayer quietly in the clearing where the bodies were sunk - buried is perhaps the wrong word - and then rise again to your feet. They are gone, but you live - even cursed, you somehow live. It is wrong. The prayer doesn’t bring any comfort.

“See you around, friends.” Ahriman says, finding a degree of decency now at least, and placing Karol’s shattered helmet beside a few of the others from the guard. Some are missing - captured or fallen too far out from the caravan to find.

Having thought for a time about the evidence of the prince's death, you are not convinced. Bloodstains near a slain guard and a destroyed brooch worn outside his armor are hardly firm evidence, but other than a body or severed limb what could be? Why would they take a corpse though?...

Sleep that night is fitful. You rest poorly, never dreaming. There was no discussion after the makeshift funeral, though planning would perhaps have been better - you simply did not have it in you. Casimir awakens you before first light, and rubbing at your eyes you see him looking toward Ahriman. The young captain has gathered up most of your supplies and slung a pack over his shoulder - he is leaving.

>”An early start to our pursuit, Ahriman? I misjudged thee.” You didn’t, he’s sneaking off, but maybe you can shame him into pursuing the prince. Even an unreliable warrior would be a great aid, and an early start would be to your advantage - even now the trail will be growing colder.
>”A coward and a thief! Not another step, Ahriman!” He’s taking your supplies, that traitorous bastard! Without those the desert will be far harsher. It is not known for its forgiveness of the ill prepared.
>”...Halt! What be thy plan, Ahriman? Do not scurry off like a roach at sunrise - Is the king at the end of thy path?” …Perhaps he may have a point about your rescue plan, and about warning the king of these foreigners.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5971024
>”An early start to our pursuit, Ahriman? I misjudged thee.” You didn’t, he’s sneaking off, but maybe you can shame him into pursuing the prince. Even an unreliable warrior would be a great aid, and an early start would be to your advantage - even now the trail will be growing colder.
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>>5971024
>"Before you leave, I'll have payment for the healing and supplies." He can at least get you a weapon you won't kill yourself lugging around, let alone swinging. And some good shoes.
>You're still going for the slavers, may as well let this coward draw away their attention.
>>
>>5971024
>>”An early start to our pursuit, Ahriman? I misjudged thee.” You didn’t, he’s sneaking off, but maybe you can shame him into pursuing the prince. Even an unreliable warrior would be a great aid, and an early start would be to your advantage - even now the trail will be growing colder.
>>
>>5971024

>”An early start to our pursuit, Ahriman? I misjudged thee.” You didn’t, he’s sneaking off, but maybe you can shame him into pursuing the prince. Even an unreliable warrior would be a great aid, and an early start would be to your advantage - even now the trail will be growing colder.
>>
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One more hour for votes.
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>>5971052
I need to ask you whether you draw these yourself.
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>>5971044
>>5971040
>>5971035
Writing.

>>5971109
I do not. There's some editing that goes on here and there to fix up the most AI melted portions, and occasionally I might redo an entire hand or something, but it doesn't go further than that. I might make the attempt at some point, but I don't have a working tablet anymore.
>>
>>5971112
The consistency on the pictures is remarkable
>>
Rising to your feet as quietly as you can, a white ghost upon the sands, you keep low and hurry closer to where Ahriman is sneaking away. Casimir remains close, his perfect silence making you feel clumsy and loud, though barely a whisper tells of your pursuit of the captain. The wind covers what noise you do make, carrying it far away from Ahriman’s ears.

“An early start to our pursuit, Ahriman?” You ask once you are closer, catching the long faced man off guard - he startles, pointing the tip of Karol’s heavy sword toward you. You take another step forward, Casimir acting as your shadow - if he were black instead of white it would have been a fitting name. “I misjudged thee, captain. We must follow their trail before the desert claims it all, our prince waits in chains.”

“...Slugnuts.” Ahriman curses under he breath and rests the heavy blade back on his shoulder, “Leave me be, Morrigan, I tried to make this easier on you - your quest is suicide. Give it up before it claims you, you’re too young for this. …Did your beast see me leaving?”

“I heard your heart.” Casimir answers, his young but raspy voice cutting through the wind as if it were not even there - it isn’t loud, it simply defies it entirely, like the song you heard hiding within the roar of his… lungs? Turbines? Whatever resides in the beast’s chest.

“Heard my heart?...” Ahriman’s green eyes widen in fear, uncertainty taking him, “...You should not want a coward to accompany you, and I have no wish to die on the dunes.”

“Not a coward, but I would have a warrior! Thou art a noble still, Ahriman, where is thy pride?” You try to press shame and pride together into one blade, slicing deep, “”Honor waits to be reclaimed, none yet know your shame but I.”

“Then when you get yourself killed my story will be the truth.” He grits his teeth, eyes more on Casimir than you, though the heavy blade remains resting against his carapace pauldron, “Why chase death so eagerly?”

“There are worse things than death, Ahriman,” Red fills the periphery of your mind as you speak the words, almost as if it was invited in, “And what threat is emptiness to me? Without the prince, this is an empty world.”
>>
>>5971193

“...You love him.” Ahriman’s words sound nearly to be an accusation.

“He is my brother.” Your head sinks. Perhaps this is foolishness, but there is no other path you can bear to contemplate - There is no other family to you in this world, the king is distant and very old, short tempered in his final years unlike his youngest and only living son, and your adoptive father passed years ago.

“That is treason to even claim! You speak too familiarly of him, Morrigan.” Ahriman hisses out the warning, anger coming easily now to the young noble, and for once you know his words to be true. Even speaking figuratively, such a bare claim to royal blood would damn most to the executioner’s sword, especially considering your albinic complexion. The king is not a forgiving sort.

You ball your fists, hating things for what they are - the prince is your brother in spirit, “Then we are both damned, a coward who defended his prince and a traitor who would rather die than leave him to chains - Come with me, Ahriman, it is not too late for either of us.”

“...He would forgive you, he always does.” Ahriman looks down and begins to calm, the reflexive accusation of treason bred into him by a lifetime as a noble - they are touchy about bloodline claims, terribly touchy. Long dark hair hides much of his expression, but you see a thin smile begin to form, “Fine then. So be it! The king would not believe me either way, at best I’d have a girl and then lose my head a day later… You’re an angry little mantis, Morrigan.”

Ahriman cackles and throws back his head - an entirely different aspect takes him now in the dark of the early morning. The dune valley still lays in shadow, but the first rays of sunlight are beginning to cast the sky aglow, washing out the view of the shattered moon’s belt.

“Thou shall accompany me?” You ask, uncertain if the man has found bravery or a marauder’s madness - his laugh unsettles you.

“I will, it’s a better death than a senile king’s beetle pit,” Ahriman answers at last, giving you a small and more self-assured nod even as he profanes the very royal line he swore to defend, “And with your beast perhaps we have a chance, the way it buried Karol and all the others… It would be difficult to fight against. Terrifying.”
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>>5971194

“We will… fight?” Casimir asks uncertainly, turning his long neck to meet your gaze, four innocent pink eyes staring back through his cruel looking white plates.

“Not unless we must.” You look down at your splinted arm, now barely hurting at all - the repair paste took well, but you do not dare remove the split yet, “I am no fighter… We hath other ways. First we must needs track them. Canst thou fly?”

“Flying would help, they didn’t attack with gliders or dragonflies.” Ahriman adds in, moving closer now, the confrontation entirely over. He is with you.

Casimir shakes his head, a very deliberate imitation of your own mannerisms - it isn’t a graceful movement for him, but something about the awkward attempt strikes you as charming, “I’m sorry, but I’m still weak… the food didn’t help much.”

“Thou didst not recover thy strength?” You question worriedly, crouching down and placing a hand on the beast’s cold armored neck, “What ails thee?”

“I can barely hear it.” Casimir’s voice whispers raspily from his horn, “The song.”

“Then I shall sing it again.” You sit down cross legged beside Casimir and look back at Ahriman for a moment, “Captain, see to the provisions, Casimir has need of me.”

“Need of a singer?” Ahriman asks, chuckling again as he walks past, following your command - which feels odd, his station is far above your own, “Ancestors, that makes two of us! Haven’t been with a singer since Cavedew… Oh, Hanna, where are you out there, your voice and those great tit-”
>>
>>5971195

You suppress a snickering laugh at Ahriman’s awful crudeness, and then ignore the rest of his words - your focus is upon Casimir, and the song he has asked for. The song he needs, if you understand him. Taking a deep breath, you begin.

“Ooooaahhhooowahhh hooo, oohaa ooha ooh, owa…”

Casimir’s horn and plates and very being thrum with the song, joining in to make something far greater - far stranger.

White lights flicker in the air about the both of you, appearing from nothing, and Casimir draws closer to you, pressing tight and wrapping you with one wing. As the motes grow to an unsteady nimbus, and then refine and organize themselves into a circle, you find yourself ringed in by the glow. Fine hairs stand on the back of your neck at the sight. You have never used magic for this before - and it surely is a kind of magic, responding to your tones.

When the circle is at last perfect, it rings like a chime and rushes outwards, casting light across the remains of the caravan as it passes, the then glowing band travels further and further. Ahriman shouts in surprise as the ring reaches him and slamming into his back, sending him sprawling into the sand, but the light fades soon after… And when the light has left, and your singing has ceased, the song remains. Your voice hangs hauntingly in the air, a whisper heard through any wind… Casimir’s horn thrums with power, and even you feel stronger.

“...What hath I wrought?” You ask, standing with Casimir’s aid, his neck serving as a place to brace yourself, “The song remains. How?”

“I can fly.” Casimir replies raspily, “But not with you, mother. Not starting here. It is too low.”

“And you can swim?” You ask, still in awe of the moment, your song filling the entire dune valley - it is coming from Casimir, but it is also simply there, everywhere. A great rumble passes through the earth then - tremors happen from time to time.

“Very well. I could take you with me.” Caz answers happily, “I feel strong!”

>”Search for the slavers by air, Ahriman and I shall track them across the ground.” You could see everything from the air yesterday, briefly, it is an enormous advantage.
>”Then I shall mount thee once more, Casimir - no broken bones this time, okay? I think I like it better when you swim.” He swims fast, but you can see nothing when he dives beneath the sand, trusting entirely in Cas’s senses. You feel comfortable enough to speak casually with Cas now, but not Ahriman.
>”...It is best if we stay close, Ahriman is on foot. He might lose his nerve again if I disappear, and I do not fancy staying beside him alone. Save your strength, Caz.”
>Write-in.
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>>5971197
>”Search for the slavers by air, Ahriman and I shall track them across the ground.” You could see everything from the air yesterday, briefly, it is an enormous advantage.
Ahriman may be a coward and a creep, but no way he rapes or murders us out here, knowing he'll be alone and at the mercy of a magical monster who calls us its mother.
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>>5971197

>”Search for the slavers by air, Ahriman and I shall track them across the ground.” You could see everything from the air yesterday, briefly, it is an enormous advantage.

Having an eye in the sky is probably our best use of resources
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>>5971197
>>”Search for the slavers by air, Ahriman and I shall track them across the ground.” You could see everything from the air yesterday, briefly, it is an enormous advantage
>>
One more hour for votes.
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>>5971197
>”Search for the slavers by air, Ahriman and I shall track them across the ground.” You could see everything from the air yesterday, briefly, it is an enormous advantage.
>>
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>>5971255
>>5971221
>>5971213
>>5971311
Writing.
>>
“Search for the slavers by air, Ahriman and I shall track them across the ground.” You place a hand on Casimir’s neck, your song thrumming strong, and finally feel enough at ease “Do you know what to look for, Caz?”

“Caz? I like that.” He slitted eyes widen and then flash entirely pink, filling their slanted armor housings entirely with the hue, “I should look for their… heat. They are warm, their metal is hot, hotter than sand.”

You blink, unsure of what Caz means by that, or what change his eyes have undergone, “Very good, go and find them however you may - skimmers and walkers, you remember what they looked like?”

“Yes.” He confirms, a low roar filling the air as the strange intakes on his chest widen once more and begin to suck in air, “I will find them, mother.”

With a gust of flapping wings and superheated air, Casimir takes flight. Orange flame shoots backward in burning cones from both of the beast’s sides, close to where you had rested your feet yesterday. Without an extra body weighing him down he flies gracefully and with ease, quickly ascending directly upward, wings locked and swept slightly back.

Your song grows louder in the air, and another chime rings out as a wide circle of light blasts from Caz’s horn. He overtakes it immediately, flying through it like a hoop, and the ring of light stretches out and wraps about him in an sphere - it flickers once, twice, and then only intermittently, barely perceptible, as he banks levels out, flying fast in the direction the slavers left the day before.

“Ancestor’s wrath!” Ahriman curses, running over to you across the sands, “What is that noise? Where is the beast? Something attacked me, it’s still here… I… Is that your voice?”

“Aye.” You smile and point up toward Casimir’s rapidly shrinking form, “‘Twas my beast’s doing. ‘Tis our song thou hearest.”

“The light and concussion was your beast? It hit me like a bullbeetle even through my armor! What kind of magic is this? Why didn’t you use it to ward off the slavers yesterday?”
>>
>>5971407

“I could not.” You sorely wish you could have, but your magic then was useful only to stir some few devices or make entertaining tricks with sand - no use in a fight, save perhaps to blind a man, “My greatest spell then was this.”

You motion for Ahriman to stand back, stretch forth one hand, and intone, “Rise!”

A column of sand as thick as a man’s torso erupts from the ground, exploding forth in a sudden cloud, ringing and thrumming with power - white motes of light are shot through it, all gathering together in a faint white circle before flashing out and dissipating. You feel drained slightly, as if part of your spirit has left you - slowly strength returns.

Ahriman curses again and gives you a foul look, “You could have done that?! That could knock a warrior flat!”

“I… it should not do that.” You are at a loss for words, staring at your own pale hand. Music carries on in the air, now a series of chimes interspersed throughout it, no longer vocals alone, “Something has changed. ‘Twas a children’s trick yesterday.”

Red pulses at the edges of your mind and you gasp, staggering and nearly doubling over - Ahriman is quick to catch you by your good arm, preventing a fall. When you look back to him, your vision is nearly crimson, the curse pulsing strong - and your thoughts turn at once to your prince’s condition. Locked away, wounded… dead even. Rage and fear flood every sense you possess.

“Release me!” You snap angrily at Ahriman, and he complies at once, green eyes wide in shock, “Never touch me, coward!”

“Your eyes…” Ahriman gulps nervously, his grip on his sword tightening, “They were red.”

“Lies.” You look away, fighting to keep focus, to push through the searing crimson flame within your mind - when you think of Casimir it fades somewhat, but it is nothing like his real presence. The curse will hang heavy when he is away, it seems. “...We must needs begin our hunt, captain.”

“...So we do.”

Together you set off after the nearly faded path of the walkers and skimmers, only the slightest indentations left upon the sands where they had passed the day before. A few hours more and they would have vanished entirely, as the deep gouges and craters they rent in the sand have shrunk to barely a handbreadth. Most of the prints from the walkers are simply gone, maybe one in every twenty barely clinging on in a haphazard pattern. Ahriman’s expertise is vital now, he has hunted far more subtle bugs upon the dunes in years past - though he is no great hunter, any warrior of your people could do so - and these rough marks left by machines may as well be glowing signs. When you left the dune valley earlier your song faded, living on only in your mind - but it still feels present, like it is hiding rather than gone. The curse too is in hiding, but poor at it; red eyes watch from the sands at times, sinister and mocking.
>>
“The prince is dead.” The eyes tell you in your own voice. You pull your hood tighter and stare up at the sky instead of answering, allowing Ahriman to take the lead entirely - you would begin screaming at the sands otherwise.

After an hour crossing the sands at a quick pace, Casimir returns - you see him first, eyes still cast skyward, a tiny white speck growing close at alarming speeds. He does not slow, and by the time Ahriman looks up to find the source of the roar filling the air the white beast has crashed down and shot into the sand. A plume shoots in the air, as if he dove into water, and then a dozen body lengths away Casimir erupts back to the surface, slowed but still flying. He banks and sweeps low, skimming the dune closest to you, and comes to a graceful stop so close as to be within arms reach.

“I have found them!” He reports, his young voice carrying your song with it, faint but unmistakable - the dying whir of his turbines, if that is what they are, also bears the song, “Half a day’s walk from here, they are within a moving ruin. Skimmers come and go from it.”

“A moving ruin?” You furrow your brow, perplexed by the news but glad to be able to think free of the curse again - Casimir does indeed ward it off, “A vehicle?”

“I have never heard of one the size of a ruin.” Ahriman seems as baffled and alarmed as you, perhaps moreso.

“It moves on rotating sheets of metal, huge ones!” Casimir tries to impart the details, but he’s excited and has little practice telling stories, “Big tubes, and a claw, little ruins on it! It is slower than you, men walked beside it. They were tiny! Skimmers came and left, I saw one with people chained in boxes.”

“Ancestors, it sounds gargantuan.” You curse, considering your options, “But that must be their lair.”

“We’ll need to see it ourselves.” Ahriman does not sound comfortable with the idea even as he suggests it.

>”Caz, take me there - I wish to see it.” Casimir could swim there with you atop his back, it would be far, far faster even with a return trip to Ahriman - he can keep walking in the meantime.
>”We shall stay as a group from here then, our target is now known.” Continue together on foot, stopping for a meal on the way you will arrive near this moving ruin just before nightfall.
>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5971413
>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.
>>
>>5971413

>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.

We have to use Caz to bait a skimmer, hijack the craft, and return wearing the gear of the slavers.

Presumably the prince is too valuable to kill and he was only hit with a drug-dart or something? Anyways, if we locate him, we can use Caz to throw sand into the moving ruin’s engine intakes (if there is such a thing)
>>
>>5971318
Wait, you didn't tell us Ahriman was HOT. This changes everything!
No, not really

>>5971413
>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.
>>
>>5971413
>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.
>>
>>5971413
>..Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.

Very nice quest, count me in from here on out. I really like your setting qm, and I'll just say I typically don't participate in quests with a female MC but you've won me over in this case.
>>
>>5971413
>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.
>>
One more hour for votes.

>>5971671
Thanks, anon, I really appreciate that. Tons of the setting is still unseen so far, if you like what's shown up already then I think you'll enjoy the rest even more. I tend to avoid female MC quests as well, for whatever that's worth.

>>5971541
>Hot
True, but I'm just glad it generated the bug-armor well, it's very close to what I wanted. The backpack too. Currently working on some of my own art for Morrigan, so we'll have some non-AI stuff besides the bad Casimir sketch.
>>
>>5971671
>>5971784
We still aren't confirmed female anyway, are we?
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>>5971796
I mean, even so it is quite evident.
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>>5971413
>"I must confess, Ahriman, that I am not entirely free of the curse. I advise you to keep your distance if it comes to it."
>”...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” He’s a cowardly warrior, but still a warrior - he would have a better sense of such a plan. Maybe you could sneak into the ruin under the guise of a returning craft.
being able to approach from 2 different directions would help a lot.
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>>5971814
I guess since OP's being cagey, we SHOULD keep in mind the possibility we're a femboy.
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>>5971821
Should that come to be that'd be pretty lame.
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>>5971421
>>5971457
>>5971541
>>5971563
>>5971671
>>5971690
Writing. Should have the next post out tomorrow morning but I'll work on it some now.

>>5971821
Morrigan is not a femboy, trap, or anything of the sort.
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>>5971821
>>5971832

My gut instinct is that this QM is too classy to include meme-material such as this, this appears to be an honest-to-god earnest original quest with pretty high "production values" which is great.
>>
>>5971849
Write in Check our own genitals to make sure nothing is missing
>>
“...Ahriman, dost thou believe the commandeering of a skimmer is feasible?” You direct your question earnestly to the young captain, unsure of such things yourself - Coward or not, he is still a warrior and must have a better sense of such things. High overhead the shattered moon belt is beginning to fade from sight, obscured in the blue and bright of the desert sky.

“As we are equipped?” His green eyes look down to the hilt of his heavy blade, early morning sun reflecting off the metal of its guard, “It’s possible. I have the advantage in armor, and skill if they fight as they did yesterday…”

You restrain yourself from commenting upon his claim to skill, thoughts of his failure tugging firmly at the red lurking past the edges of your thoughts. If Casimir were not beside you, then certainly you would snap at him.

“...But without jump boots or a linegun, getting aboard will be difficult. We’ll need to find high ground and lure the craft closer. Unless we stop the skimmer, the only option is to jump on it from above, and it will need to be moving slower or I’d splatter in this shell.” He thumps a balled fist against his scorched and nicked carapace breastplate.

“Thou requirest a… leap?” A sinister smile slowly spreads across your face, an idea hatching within your mind, “I shall command the sand beneath thee to rise.”

Ahriman pales at the suggestion, “You’re mad, it could shatter my ankles.”

“And thy idea was superior? To jump and chance being ‘splattered’?” You hold out both your hands beside your head, mocking the young captain, “‘Tis no different than a jumpboot.”

“Witch, it is entirely different. A jumpboot lifts both legs together, it doesn’t strike the bottom of your feet like a bomb.” Ahriman growls, pinching at the bridge of his long nose and turning away, thinking for a few moments. “Fine. Sink me first.”

“Sink you? With pleasure.” Casimir responds raspily to the request, taking a step across the sands toward Ahriman. The man raises his hand in a panic, holding it out firmly to command the white beast to stop. Casimir does, down on all fours and long neck angled up to meet Ahriman’s eyes “...Oh. Not here?”

“Not here. In a dune where we will set our trap, and angled like so.” Ahriman places his heavy sword in the sand with a firm stab, and then uses his hands and arms to show his growing plan, one forearm held angled like a dune and his opposite hand held to it diagonally, like a man buried sideways in the sloped sands, “The skimmer will need to move past, just alongside where I am buried and traveling away from the direction I will be thrown. I’ll be launched like a duneflea and land aboard the deck. With luck, I won’t fall off. It’s how jumpboots would be used, if I had them.”
>>
>>5971985

…That actually makes some measure of sense, and strikes you at once as brave, but you leave those words unspoken as well. Perhaps it is simple foolishness speaking, or some misguided bravado - you’ve heard how confidently he speaks to women at the villages. The thought of launching him pleased you earlier because the image within your mind of him flying through the air in a panic amused you in some dark way - even the red eyes found it a fitting joke. The captain’s new plan however could work, if the force lifted him evenly across his hardened armor it should be easily survivable with little more than a small bruise or two. Hopefully he won’t smash his unhelmeted head against the skimmer’s plating and be knocked out, what an embarrassing end that would be, even for a coward.

>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting.
>”...Could we not simply bait one to stop? Clambering aboard once it has stopped seems easier.” The slavers would be more prepared for resistance, and may try to skim away before you’ve gotten aboard - but it does seem a bit more conventional than launching a man with magic you barely understand.
>”Caz, could you sink the skimmer? Part ways only, enough to stall it.” A very difficult task for the beast at his small size, if it is even possible - especially against a skimmer. Still, there is a chance.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5971986
>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting.
The other option is to just fly and land on the craft, but Ahriman is probably heavier than MC.
>>
>>5971936
I can guarantee it's not some weird meme. Thank you for the praise anon, I appreciate it.

>>5971940
Everything appears to be the same as before.
>>
>>5971986
>>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting.
>>
>>5971986

>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting.

I’d prefer if Caz was airborne to help Ahriman during the skimmer fight, he’s not much use as bait.
>>
>>5972005
The skimmer needs to be lured into position and be moving in the correct direction (away from the launch angle), which requires bait that can lure it at medium to high speeds. Morrigan being bait alone would basically just be the 'get them to stop' plan. Caz could join in right after being bait, he's very fast in sand or air. Though I suppose Ahriman could still be launched from hiding nearby to land on a parked skimmer, which is still kind of badass if it works.
>>
>>5971986
>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting.
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5971986
>>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting
>>
>>5972013
>>5972005
>>5972004
>>5971989
>>5972065 (late but its unanimous so have a (You))
Writing.
>>
>>5971986

>”And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in? Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise.” You will prepare the ambush as planned, and bait a skimmer to where Ahriman is buried and waiting.
Knew we kept this guy around for a reason.
>>
“And I suppose Casimir and I shall play the role of a prize to lure the skimmer in?” You question, knowing full well it is what the man intends of you - the slavers are after albinics for some reason, so you should appear a choice prize, “Very well, duneflea, thou shalt rise. Let us find a dune to hide thee within.”

Ahriman wavers slightly at your enthusiasm for the plan, your agreeing too easily to be bait unsettling him, but he does not flinch away from his own idea, even if his own role is to be buried and launched, “Ugh, I shouldn’t have said anything. Come on, let’s find a place. Casi… Your beast can find a skimmer and begin the lure?”

“I can.” Casimir’s horn vibrates, the sand parting silently as he walks beside you and the tan carapaced captain, “Mother, may I?”

“You may.” You smile at the simple politeness of the question - the strange title of ‘mother’ is beginning to settle on you now, the confused young beast has such a charm about him. Fondness for a friend, at least, can grow upon sands, even if nothing else does.

A few hours pass as you march in the direction of the moving ruin, the red sun lifting higher and higher above the world. It is a sweltering trek, but you have endured worse - and thankfully you have sandals once more, seized from the wreckage of your people’s caravan. At last Ahriman spies his desired dune, a pair of long twin mounds spaced close together, their wedged tops slithering off into the distance.

“Bring them down through the dip between the dunes, all the way to where the leftmost ends.” Ahriman speaks to Casimir directly, crouching down beside the albinic beasts and pointing toward the dunes, “I will need to be buried there at the end, on the falling slope.”

“Just before the sands are flat?” Casimir questions raspily, tilting his head slightly, and a faint chime sounds from his three sided horn, “...Good sand there, no rocks within.”

“...You can see within the sand?” Ahriman questions.

A faint return chime sounds in the air before Casimir speaks, “And far beyond.”

For a split second your eyes see as his do - peering through sand as shaded glass, a murky white, flecks of black betraying the location of buried boulders or ancient metal scrap; even a few buried bugs. When you blink, the peculiar monochrome vision has vanished.
>>
>>5972146

Ahriman is soon buried in the location he desired, up to just below his arms and large sword. He grips the hilt of the heavy weapon and frowns unhappily, appearing to the whole world as a particularly well armed beetleroot, “...Do not say it.”

“A mighty captain indeed.” You suppress a snicker with your good hand - though in truth your splinted arm is now likely mended, the repair paste and tones doing their jobs well, and you simply have not checked firmly enough to know, “Casimir, let us find a skimmer for him!”

Ignoring Ahriman’s grumpy sand covered looks, you walk toward Casimir and swing a leg over his plated back, mounting far more easily. Having done it a few times now, you know where to position yourself, arms wrapping familiarly about his neck. It remains strange in many ways, but less so each time. Very soon you will not think of it at all.

“...Fair hunting, witch.” Ahriman grumbles, and with a final wave to him you are off.

Casimir’s neck dips and he slides beneath the sands at once, parting it as water and taking you along. The rushing sand does not abrade or scratch at you, you scarcely feel it at all, more like a wind than packed grains of earth, and vibrations thrumming with the power of your song fill the darkness. A chime sounds, and when it returns again you see, the hidden world beneath the sands laid bare. In tune with the music, the chiming grows faster, flickering images of the hidden world cast through your perception in black and white monochrome. As you fly through the revealed sands upon Casimir, you both see and hear that the same sphere of light which surrounded his earlier flight is all about you - a field of energy pulsing with your music.

The view is interrupted by a dip above the surface, and you inhale sharply before submerging again - you cannot breath sand, soft and windy or not.

In half an hour’s time the skimmer has been found; you perceive it as Casimir does, dark ripples rocketing across the far surface of the dunes, black parting violently through white. It is neither elegant or graceful, brute force and chaotic mechanical noise propelling it onward. Despite being a fine example of craftwork, superior in most ways to the ones the prince and chieftain possessed, it strikes you as primitive. Casimir’s grace shames it.

“Do you see them?” Casimir’s voice sounds from his entire body and all the sand about you, thrumming in and then out from the field sphere surrounding you both, “The skimmer!”
>>
>>5972147

You give a confirmatory tap of your sandals against the beast’s sides, unwilling to open your mouth below the sands - the sand in your nose is already bad enough. It would have been better to wear your mask for this, but it remains within your robe.

Breaching the sand once more you lift into the air for the briefest moment - just long enough for a thumping flap of Casimir’s wings - and sweep tauntingly past the skimmer’s view. Chimes ring with your song, and rushing back beneath the sands you see the skimmer’s rippling presence turn sharply. Another dip above sands brings the blue craft into full view once the erupting sandy spray has settled. You fully throw back the hood of your robe and wave to the men behind the glass of the skimmer’s pilot house, even pointing with a finger to your pink eyes. They may not have been able to make out the details, but as the skimmer’s engine roars you know the pursuit is on! So it goes for half a minute, dipping up and down, in and out of sight of the slaver skimmer, taunting and waving.

A hatch atop the skimmer opens, a man in blue coveralls looking out with a hand held over his eyes to shield from the sun. He then dips back beneath the metal hull, and a moment later a man in green carapace with a boxy silver firespitter emerges. Your eyes widen as he levels the weapon.

“Dive, Caz!” You shout, the tan dunes replaced by grainy monochrome again as the beast pulls you beneath. Small black ripples thump upon the surface behind you, the bolts from the weapon impacting where you were moments ago, discordant notes among your greater song.

“Don’t they want to capture you?” Casimir’s thrumming voice rasps in confusion. When you next surface, you hastily draw your mask up from within your robe and don it - another burning bolt of yellow-white energy blurs past, turning sand to glass where it impacts.

Diving again, you answer Casimir’s question from within your mask, “We may have overdone the taunting! I doubt they’ve ever seen anything like you before, Caz!”

The chase is long, dipping and diving and dipping and diving, bobbing here and there across the dune sea all the way back to Ahriman’s ambush spot. The shooting stopped after a few minutes, once the slavers realized it would do no good, but they are eager as ever in their roaring pursuit.
>>
>>5972149

The dark form of a half buried man appears far ahead of you, revealed by more chiming pulses from Casimir - you can see the captain even from afar through the sands, his rigid carapace armor stark and clearly defined, producing a terrific return with every chime. Casimir banks, making sure to send up a spray of sand continuously to keep the skimmer close upon his exact trail, and he takes the path Ahriman requested earlier - right between the two long dunes. You prepare yourself, stretching out a hand and readying to turn quickly and intone the command.

As you pass through the sands a few body lengths from Ahriman, you whip about - a heartbeat later and the skimmer is midway through passing by the buried captain.

”Rise!” You intone, and a pulse of black shoots through the subterranean monochrome - as a bomb would underwater. When the dark pressure of the thudding explosion fades, more chimes clearing your vision, Ahriman is no longer buried. You cannot see him at all, in the sands or upon them. He must have made it atop the skimmer!

>”Casimir, take us about! We shall board as well - can you manage it still?” The beast is tired, he will need food and song when this business is finished. You are no warrior, but Ahriman may need help.
>”Casimir, leave me - aid Ahriman!” Casimir must be able to fight, surely.
>”Keep up the chase, we must distract them!” Perhaps you’re more useful within the sands, Casimir is fearsome looking but actually rather innocent - he has never even killed a bug, only eaten flesh harvested by others.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5972151
>”Casimir, take us about! We shall board as well - can you manage it still?” The beast is tired, he will need food and song when this business is finished. You are no warrior, but Ahriman may need help.
maximum chaos
>>
>>5972151
>”Casimir, take us about! We shall board as well - can you manage it still?” The beast is tired, he will need food and song when this business is finished. You are no warrior, but Ahriman may need help.
>>
>>5972151
>”Keep up the chase, we must distract them!” Perhaps you’re more useful within the sands, Casimir is fearsome looking but actually rather innocent - he has never even killed a bug, only eaten flesh harvested by others.
>>
>>5972151
>Casimir, take us about! We shall board as well - can you manage it still?” The beast is tired, he will need food and song when this business is finished. You are no warrior, but Ahriman may need help.
>>
One more hour for votes.
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>>5972188
>>5972227
>>5972272
Writing.
>>
File: Singer and Sword.png (985 KB, 1022x1024)
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“Casimir!” You call out the beast’s name through your mask and the rushing sand, “Take us about! We shall board as well - can you manage it still?”

“I will do it, Mother!” Casimir’s voice shouts out through horn and sand, “Hold tight!”

You pull tighter against his armored plates, one cheek pressed to his neck as Casimir’s wings extend beneath the sands and together you bank sharply, A short arc brings you sailing below and behind the pursuing skimmer, and then another tight turn and you have its tail!

With a final burst of strength and song, you erupt from the sands behind the skimmer and take to the air - a bullbeetle kicks your chest, the jets on Casimir’s flanks roaring to a desperate full burn to just barely overtake the craft. Half crashing, the white beast scrapes and claws and spins across the rear of the skimmer, narrowly avoiding the huge ducted fans. You are thrown a short distance across the plated hull and roll once, but grab hold of a handle atop one of the rear compartment hatches.

Rising unsteadily to your feet, keeping in a low crouch as the skimmer continues to buck and jump across the dunes, you draw the blade you took back at the caravan - one of your prince’s spares - and bring its point forward in front of you. With your other hand you stow your mask, having greater need of your peripheral vision now. Sounds of fighting, steel ringing upon steel, sound from the front of the skimmer. Casimir is soon behind you, fully righted and scraping claws upon metal in an attempt to keep his balance. Peering up and over the pilot house a few body lengths from you, you see no one fighting on the front deck of the skimmer - the sound must be from below.

Close to you, a tiny hatch opens in the hull, and a very young man in dark green carapace emerges awkwardly, barely squeezing through - he has one chitin covered arm up and through the escape hatch when he sees you and Casimir, his brown eyes widening in terror.

“No! Noo!” It is a desperate cry, the cry of a man half-trapped, and he holds a green gloved hand out to shield his face. The mask of terror he wears is painfully familiar, you saw it upon your people yesterday, and for a time you wore it yourself as you fled these foreigners.

Splitting red shoots through your mind, searing furious heat, and your grip tightens upon the hilt of your slender blade. You have never killed, not even once. The young man, this foreign warrior, deserves…

>Death! The point of your blade is all this foreigner deserves!
>Mercy. “Surrender! Cease thy struggle, demon! Lay down thy arms!”
>>
>>5972430
>Death! The point of your blade is all this foreigner deserves!
>>
>>5972430
>"Choose. Either death above, or death below."
Don't try to duel this guy though, honorable combat is for people who actually know how to fight.
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>>5972430
>>Mercy. “Surrender! Cease thy struggle, demon! Lay down thy arms!”
>>
>>5972430
>>Mercy. “Surrender! Cease thy struggle, demon! Lay down thy arms!”

Prisoners mean information
>>
Two more hours to vote.
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>>5972430
>Mercy. “Surrender! Cease thy struggle, demon! Lay down thy arms!”
>>
>>5972430
>>Death! The point of your blade is all this foreigner deserves!
>>
>>5972450
>>5972452
>>5972512
"Mercy, mercy for a dying world! Let there be an end! We cannot return..."

Writing.
>>
The terrified young man deserves mercy; you stay your hand, forcing back the red from your mind and allowing the bloody moment to pass. Cursed though you may be, you are no wraith, and Casimir’s presence dampens the mind fire’s lingering power.

“Surrender! Cease thy struggle, demon!” You spit the curse angrily, raising your blade in a threatening arc, “Lay down any arms upon thee!”

“I am unarmed!” The foreign boy cries out, his dialect strange but comprehensible still - it is unpleasant to your ear. He is young, younger than you’d realize - no more than your own age, yet at arms and among slavers, “Please, mercy! Don’t let that thing eat me!”

Casimir growls and snaps his mouth loudly, his horn remaining leveled firmly at the green carapaced boy, “You do not command me!”

“Up! Up and out from there, and not a single trick from thee, slaver!” You prod at the scared boy’s exposed neck with the point of your sword, drawing a drop of blood. Elsewhere, the sound of steel on steel stops, an ear piercing shriek of pain echoing through the skimmer’s metal hull.

The craft lists suddenly, nearly throwing you off, sand spraying high and all about as it smashes nose first into the crest of a low dune. Stumbling about, you fall away from the hatch, and the boy frees his other arm and quickly pulls his armored legs through. That liar has a knife! A long one, straight and narrow, guarded like a sword but too small to be a true one.

Casimir’s hind claws gouge furrows in the metal hull as he lunges forward, snapping his jaws shut around the blade of the knife and wrenching it free of the boy’s gloved hand, retreating back as soon as he has it. Casimir could easily have slain the frightened boy soldier, but he settles for disarming him.

“I was disarming!” The boy holds his arms up defensively, preparing for a strike which never comes, from you or the white beast, “I meant to cast it away, not fight!”

“A likely tale.” You spit at the boy's feet, growing tired of liars - Ahriman is bad enough as it is, “What of the fight below? Speak!”
>>
>>5972681

“It is lost!” Tears and shame well up in his brown eyes and the skimmer comes grinding to a halt upon the sands, “The other one slew them. The man with the sword-”

“That I did!” Ahriman’s bloody head emerges from the hatch the boy just exited, a fresh but shallow cut along his cheek - the blood must not be his own. There is no home the far larger and more heavily armored man could ever fit through the hatch, but it is more than enough to taunt from now that the skimmer has stopped, “And what a poor fight it was, foreigner! Barely a stroke each and it was over, only one drew steel. Morrigan, the skimmer is ours. Why is this one alive?”

“Aaagh!” The boy screams and moves away from Ahriman, though he’s at no risk. You doubt the captain could get much more than an arm through, and even then he’d have little way to see what he was reaching for, “Velska, save me! Mother!”

“...And you called me a coward.” Ahriman remarks dryly to you, his long nose wrinkling up in annoyance, “Ancestor’s wrath, how young are you, boy? They send children to fight where you’re from?”

“I’m a squire!” The boy barely manages to speak, sobbing terribly into his hands and collapsing down on the blue hull of the stopped skimmer, utterly defeated, “You killed Florian!”

“Quit that!” You give him a backhanded slap across the face with your good hand, the smacking impact snapping his attention back to you, and you grip his chin with one hand and look him in the eye, “...I am scarcely older than thee, if at all, and thy people destroyed mine, and stole away my prince! Dost thou see tears on my cheek? Find courage… or weep more quietly.”

To his credit, the boy quiets down. Ahriman’s head vanishes from the small escape hatch, and soon he re-emerges from the largest one at the front of the craft. What a bloody business it must have been down there, your stomach turns at the sight of the drying red staining his tan carapace - that heavy sword should make for a brutal weapon even when held close by the blade in tight confines. What frightful tip it has, wedged just so for piercing carapace. Flesh is nothing to it.

“Has he talked any more?” The dark haired captain asks, wiping some of the blood from his armor with brushes of his gauntlet - it serves more to smear than clean, “It is good we got one alive, we should make him pay for what his people have done - and there are questions to be asked.”
>>
>>5972682

“Make him pay?” Casimir asks in confusion, “He is defeated. What does he owe?”

“Blood. But not like this - he is my prisoner. We are not demons like these foreigners, Ahriman.” You find yourself speaking in the boy's protection almost without realizing, a sense of pity finding purchase in your heart.

“You… aren’t going to kill me?” The boy asks, sniffling still but no longer sobbing - he is no warrior, not today, only a ‘squire’, whatever that foreign title means.

“No such promise was given.” You warn him, “I would have thy name first.”

“Birch.” He answers quietly.

“Birch?” You squint, the name sounds like utter nonsense, but you press no further and move to get introductions out of the way, “One dost not choose their name, I suppose. I am Morrigan, the beast is Casimir and the bloody one is Ahriman. Prithee speak every answer asked for - my prince awaits.”

“...You do not have people’s names. Barbarians.” Birch mutters to himself. You slap him again, harder, but he does not resist, simply staring at you with hate filled eyes - the crying has stopped entirely now.

“Does our prince live?” You question, keeping your hand raised and ready - Ahriman grabs you by the wrist and moves you aside, which you protest, but there’s no resisting his strength without making a true fight of it.

“I will handle the questions. Go below, clean the skimmer - you have a servant’s eye.” Ahriman orders you, “I know which questions to ask.”

“The prince? What prince?” Birch asks, but you ignore him for now, and…

>Insist upon asking the questions. You are no servant, not after Casimir awoke, none but the prince may command you. You are cursed, and command a mighty beast - terrify the boy into speaking.
>Go below as asked, the skimmer will need to be readied and disguises made - that is within your abilities. Ahriman will likely beat the boy severely, you know how this goes.
>Speak mercifully once more. ”...Casimir, do not let him escape. Ahriman, let us clear the skimmer together - and then I shall prepare a meal. We shall ask our questions over food.”
>Write-in.
>>
>>5972684
>Go below as asked, the skimmer will need to be readied and disguises made - that is within your abilities. Ahriman will likely beat the boy severely, you know how this goes.
Mercy has limits.
>>
>“...You do not have people’s names. Barbarians.” Birch mutters to himself.
And apparently he doesn't have any fucking brains. What a fool of a child.
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>>5972684
>Speak mercifully once more. ”...Casimir, do not let him escape. Ahriman, let us clear the skimmer together - and then I shall prepare a meal. We shall ask our questions over food.”
Ghibli mode
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>>5972684
>>Go below as asked, the skimmer will need to be readied and disguises made - that is within your abilities. Ahriman will likely beat the boy severely, you know how this goes.
-lied about the knife
-called us barbarians
He had his chance and blew it.
>>
>>5972684
>>Go below as asked, the skimmer will need to be readied and disguises made - that is within your abilities. Ahriman will likely beat the boy severely, you know how this goes.
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>>5972430
How do you make charactets holding weapons so well?[/spolier]
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>>5972684
>Go below as asked, the skimmer will need to be readied and disguises made - that is within your abilities. Ahriman will likely beat the boy severely, you know how this goes.
>"Take a rest, Casimir. Though I'd rather you not think that brutality is all there is for us, there will still be more of it to come."
>>
>>5972769
Usually I have to fix them myself.

One more hour for votes.
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>>5972809
>>5972740
>>5972736
>>5972690
Writing.
>>
With a sigh and unhappy look to Ahriman, you relent - the skimmer surely must be cleaned, if you are to sneak into this moving ruin, and disguises must be made as ready as they can be. Bodies must be thrown to the sands.

“...Do not be over harsh,” You tell the captain, turning your back to the scared boy soldier and then heading over to the large open hatch on the front deck of the skimmer, “Casimir, come and rest.”

“A song?” Casimir rasps wearily, his voice so young and yet so very rough, “I am weary.”

“Yes, Caz, a song - but first I must do-” You flinch slightly as the first slapping impact lands behind you, Ahriman setting about the brutal work of questioning the boy. A cry of pain sounds out, but you do not look back, “...Must do my work below. The world is not always so brutal, Caz, but there will be more to come.”

“...What is it supposed to be like?” The young beast questions, scraping along behind you and then down into the electric lit interior of the skimmer - with his wings folded in tight he fits easily.

“Not this.” You grimace, seeing Ahriman’s other handiwork now laid out before you within the skimmer’s interior. A dead man in blue coveralls lies slumped in the narrow passageway, and another in green carapace - just like Birch’s but larger - is face down, limbs twisted up strangely. Corpses do not lay as men do. “...Here, this compartment should be quiet.”

You press open one of the small metal doors in the passage - the skimmer’s gray interior is a tightly packed thing - and motion for Casimir to enter a room with a double bunk and metal lockers. Quarters of some kind, and very bare - there is room enough for Casimir to lay down though, and he soon settles in, coiling up on the bottom bunk, a length of his tail and part of one wing still sticking out and over the edge of the thin mattressed bed.

“This will take time.” You let him know, glancing back to the bodies in the metal passageway beyond the quarters, “Quite some time…”
>>
>>5972961

Setting to it, you work diligently for the next hour, barely managing to drag the heavy bodies up and out of the skimmer - and even then only after stripping them of clothes and armor. It is exhausting, nauseating work; until yesterday you had never seen so much blood, and until now you had never seen it so fresh. The dead men look as if they could awaken at any moment, pale but otherwise unchanged. Perhaps they will find their way back to whatever foreign land they hail from, or perhaps not - those may just be stories told by old widows to comfort children.

Pushing the last stripped body overboard - there were a third and fourth inside the pilot house - you try to ignore the shouted questions and crying coming from the front of the skimmer. Ahriman has removed the boy’s armor, finding it hard to beat a person hardened like a beetle. Could there really still be questions to ask after an hour though? You shake your head and go below - there is blood to be cleaned up inside, as best you can, and clothes to try to sort through. Ahriman will need armor which fits, and a foreign blade, and none of it can be stained. Likely you will wear Birch’s, he is close to your size…

Red burns to the forefront of your thoughts as you scrub up the dried blood, flaking it from metal bulkheads and the deck - crimson eyes watch and mock. They want more. More blood, and an end, an end to the boy outside. The beating is not enough, your people call out for revenge… You scrub harder, and harder, whimpering quietly at the pain of the curse, the pain of resisting its burning influence. There is a maddening strength in that fire, one you dare not touch.

If Casimir were not here, what would become of you?

When you have finished, you return to the top of the skimmer and dump the bloody rags over the side. Ahriman has completed his own work, and Birch is now more bruise than boy, laying flat upon the deck and groaning in pain. It looks as if his arm has been broken, bent oddly in a way that makes your skin crawl. Even if he was left here with supplies, he would surely perish in the sands - a cruel fate.

“...Thou hast finished?” You ask Ahriman quietly, staring at the beaten boy, bile rising in your throat - in some ways this is far worse than the corpses, suffering but with no end, “What of the prince?”

“He knew nothing of the prince. But I have learned their methods, and the codes they speak when returning and leaving. The names of leaders, the details of this moving ruin - everything. I know where these slugshits keep their prisoners chained. There are many more than our own people, they’ve struck others before us.”

“Then we shall rescue many more.” You know the words to be foolish even as you speak them, but a part of you cries out for it to be possible, “They are from other peoples?”
>>
>>5972964

The captain nods, a thin trickle of blood dried to the cheek where he was cut earlier, “Aye, many others, the boy doesn’t know the names of the tribes. Most of their captures do not share your eyes, but that is what they’re looking for. Albinics.”

“Why?” That word has burned in your mind for a time now, nearly as hot as the curse does - why would these foreigners come so far just for albinics? The king and prince share your complexion, but it grants no power or influence by itself, it is coincidence.

“Because their ‘Empress Velska’ demands it.” Ahriman answers mockingly, giving the groaning boy another harsh tap from his carapaced sabaton, “Stubborn little roachshit needed a broken arm to spit that out.”

“...Devotion to another is admirable.” You whisper, understanding the boy’s fear and love - though his seems likely to be a dim thing compared to your own, simple piety to his sovereign, “He called out her name before, and for his mother…”

>”...There’s a small galley below, and thy disguise awaits - change and heat a meal, I shall see to Bir… to the boy. I will not cast him out here. At a ruin perhaps, with supplies, but not here.” Enough death for today, the boy can at least be given a slim chance.
>”Let us keep him below, gagged. Tie him up, we may have need of further information.”
>”Let us end this for him.” Kill the boy, or have Ahriman do it, and then prepare for what is ahead.
>Write-in.

You will disguise yourself, eat and prepare, and sing to Casimir after this.
>>
>>5972965
>”Let us end this for him.” Kill the boy, or have Ahriman do it, and then prepare for what is ahead.
There is mercy in death
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>>5972965
>”Let us end this for him.” Kill the boy, or have Ahriman do it, and then prepare for what is ahead.
Sorry, this is no Miyazaki. And the boy seems like he supports their slaver activities
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>>5972965
>”Let us end this for him.” Kill the boy, or have Ahriman do it, and then prepare for what is ahead.
>>
>>5972965
>”Let us end this for him.” Kill the boy, or have Ahriman do it, and then prepare for what is ahead.
>>
One more hour for voting.
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>>5972965
>”Let us end this for him.” Kill the boy, or have Ahriman do it, and then prepare for what is ahead.
>>
>>5972981
>>5973027
>>5973086
>>5973102
>>5973115
Writing.
>>
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“Let us end this for him.” The finish grimly, narrowing your eyes at the beaten boy - this foreign demon. He has been reduced to something pitiful, too weak to survive without help. He will not have yours. There is a mercy in death though, a dignity to it when done cleanly. “I shall do it.”

Unsheathing your sword, you find it oddly difficult to take the next step forward, your leg remaining frozen. Ahriman steps aside, motioning to the boy with a hand. With a shaking hand and unsteady feet, you finally take a few steps toward the boy - Birch, a strange name but still a person’s - and kneel beside him, pressing the hair cuttingly sharp edge of your blade to the flesh of his throat. The weight of the blade alone draws a thin line of red, but you hesitate again.

“Not like that,” Ahriman corrects you, pointing with one finger to the side, “Off to the left a finger’s width, and higher. Cut as deep as you can or it won’t be clean.”

“...P-please, don’t,” The words whisper out desperately from Birch’s bloodied mouth, barely understandable through his heavy accent. It is not too late to spare him. “D-don’t, I don’t want to die, please, mother...”

Your hand stays a moment longer, heart beating faster, the shaking of your hand working the blade a hair’s width deeper, drawing more blood. What are you doing? He is far too weak to fight, one hand grasping against your leg but without enough strength to attempt a real struggle. Terrified eyes look up at you, one blackened and half closed from a strike by Ahriman’s gauntleted fist, but the other alive and bright with life - life that fears its end.

Fear.

”The prince is dead.” The red of the boy’s blood mocks you. The curse’s grip tightens.

You press down hard, pulling the length of steel through Birch’s throat.

Crimson blood sprays out across your face and arms and robes - there is warmth in it, quickly lost to the desert’s greater heat, and a taste of iron. Birch’s eyes widen in shock and pain, fully aware, his hand grasping and slapping against your leg, words gargling and drowning in his throat. Stumbling back, pulling away from the spraying wound in horror, you look on at what is not a quick end. Birch’s small hands find his throat, soaking red as he tries vainly to stem the flow, all the time gasping and drowning and shaking. You tighten your grip on the sword and hurry back, desperate to end this - it is too much! Crawling back on your knees, you bring the blade down - A stab to the boy’s chest, and another, and another, and another, but it does not end it, and the pain only grows.
>>
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>>5973219

Ahriman then steps forward and pushes you to the side with one hand, sending you sprawling away, and with a grunt of effort he brings his heavy sword down hard, ending the horror with a clang of metal on metal. As the boy’s head rolls from the deck, the captain turns toward you, mouth wrinkled in disgust, “...What a mess.”

He kicks hard and sends the rest of the corpse from the skimmer, sending it sliding out into the sand with the others. There is a dent in the skimmer’s plating where the sword struck so powerfully - you do not have the strength to kill so cleanly, or to wield such a weapon.

“Clean yourself, and change into his armor.” Ahriman commands you, but you cannot muster a response, staring at the blood on your sword, on your hands - everywhere. A heavy hand rests on your shoulder, “It is rarely clean. …The worst of it will pass.”

Still kneeling, eyes locked on the crimson stain that was a life, thinking of the boy’s cries for his mother - thinking of Casimir - time passes. How long, you could not rightly say. Eventually you find a shaking strength and rise to your feet, taking up the uniform and armor set aside from the boy. Heading below, you change from your blooded white robe and into clothes and armor which were someone else’s when the sun rose this morning. A different life carried them then, but no longer. Using the dead boy's knife - a bayonet - you cut your long hair; the locks drift off in the desert wind, lost.
>>
>>5973224

Casimir rouses from his slumber as you finish changing, cocking his head curiously at you from the bottom bunk inside the tiny compartment, “...Mother, your colors changed.”

“They’re not mine.” You can’t bear to look at him as you say the words, “It is a disguise, to fool the men on the moving ruin.”

“...I cannot change like that.” Casimir ponders aloud, curious enough to lean out from the bed and give the carapace of your seized armor a tap with the end of his horn. You turn to look back at him again, and his raspy young voice softens, “Why are you upset? You are shedding… water.”

“Tears.” You wipe the few falling down your cheeks away, too many emotions tearing at you, “...But I am better now, let us eat… and sing.”

Ahriman has prepared the meat and mushrooms in a simple stew, hearty and filling, but little appetite remains to you. The food is taken to the pilot’s house, the largest single room on the skimmer, and you sit in the operator’s chairs as you eat. You force yourself to do so, miserable but knowing you will need the strength. There is no solace in the meal, no comfort but Casimir’s presence. When at last you sing, it is a very sad thing - Ahriman cannot stand it, a dark look cast over her. You see him out on the front deck of the skimmer, looking at the piled bodies and then off toward the direction of your quarry. The prince awaits, and with him the captain’s chance to reclaim his honor. …Some honor that will be.

You sing on, bringing something new into existence, a new verse, a new power…
>It is a verse of friendship, a desire to shield those you love from the horrors of the word - a barrier like Casimir’s, fleeting and momentary but nearly unbreakable.
>It is a verse of strength, the strength to change the world by force - though slight of build, your physical power will grow. So long as you live, this strength will remain yours.
>It is a verse of life, rejoicing at what little good remains in this broken world - it cannot return the dead to life, but it can mend flesh and rouse the very old and the very tired. This will deepen your command of the tones of healing and influence over the ancestor’s works.

Ignoring his flight and sand swimming, Casimir has his own protective barrier and the ability to share his natural sand-sight, along with a bevy of other abilities that come from his strange nature. Together, you can emit concussive ring bursts, but they are slow and difficult to bring into existence currently - no use in the heat of battle unless another protects you. All of Morrigan's magic was strengthened from the moment Casimir awoke, as seen with the sand explosions.
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>>5973233
>A verse of longing, in search of hope and people you can call allies in this lost and barren world.
>>
>>5973274
+1 if permitted.

>>5973233
>It is a verse of friendship, a desire to shield those you love from the horrors of the word - a barrier like Casimir’s, fleeting and momentary but nearly unbreakable.
If not, then this.
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>>5973274
Very fitting, anon. I like it! I'll have to think on the effect if it wins, I'll consider suggestions for that as well though.
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>>5973287
Something for sending messages or divining direction, maybe?
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>>5973287
>Improved Sand Sight, seeing even through metal to detect life
>Projecting the song through sand, dramatically increasing range, permanence, or plain stealth
>Communication or divination
>Lifelink, sharing ones' strength to those in need of it.
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>>5973233

>It is a verse of life, rejoicing at what little good remains in this broken world - it cannot return the dead to life, but it can mend flesh and rouse the very old and the very tired. This will deepen your command of the tones of healing and influence over the ancestor’s works.

Doubling down on cleric powers seems wise, we're already partly-specced in this direction, it seems.
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>>5973274

I'd support this write-in over my own vote as well, should have refreshed before posting.

>>5973299
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>>5973293
>>5973295
I was considering a kind of communication or divination as well, something much more special than just what a 'mundane' radio could manage, not only in degree but in kind. Radio signals are quite unreliable due to immense interference. Most important messages are sent by courier, or by cable in places that have it.
>>
One more hour for votes.
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>>5973274
Support
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>>5973326
>>5973301
>>5973286
>>5973274
Writing.
>>
Sitting in the skimmer’s pilot house, Casimir’s armored head laying upon your lap, you stroke gently at the overlapping plates of his neck and sing a new verse. The horror of the last two days, the burn of the curse, the growing dread that your prince may truly be lost - it is too much for a person to bear. Rising from deep within you, a verse of longing leaves your lips, melancholy and ethereal. Ancient words beyond your understanding come to you from within, from deep within the sanctity of your mind you have so often retreated to. You enter that hidden space once more as you sing, closing your eyes - the interior of your mind is tranquil, a blank expanse of white…

And black symbols.

You do not know their meanings, but as you sing they shift and move about, forming words and patterns, all unfamiliar to you, some taking the form of sheets of text, others crude images that refine further and further…

”Tuuva ay, amonto cini…” The words mean nothing, and everything, resonating within your heart, within Casimir’s heart, and far out across the endless sands. Perhaps the words have no meaning but the emotion they carry - the desire for allies, a desperate need to find hope in this lost and barren world.

If the call is heard, you cannot say, but it brings comfort.

When you finish at last and leave that hidden place within yourself, the day’s events trouble you a little less. Curiosity and hope replaces dread, for a few moments at least, your thoughts stuck firmly upon those odd symbols and the patterns they formed. It was almost like a book, or the screen of a machine! How odd.

“That was beautiful, mother.” Casimir coos happily, a satisfied thrum emanating throughout his long body, from horn to tail spike, “We have called for… others?”

“I sang from my heart, Caz… it came to me from somewhere else.” You speak only truth to your winged companion, having little idea of what it is you’ve just done, “Did you see the symbols as well?”

“The ones inside? ...You did not before?” Casimir looks up, tilting his head so two eyes can see your face more clearly, “How do you… pick?”

“No. I’ve not seen them even once.” You bite at your lip, nervous and uncertain of this new change within you, “And what do you mean ‘pick’?”

“Pick what you… are? I do not know how to say it.” Casimir’s body hums with the new verse still, but he is just as confused as you - though in a very different way.
>>
>>5973418

Before your discussion gets much further, Ahriman stomps into the pilot house, green and foreign looking - he’s got one of their lensed helmets on, including the red ‘feathers’ they wear stuck in them. He holds his arms out, inviting comment.

“Green suits thee poorly, Ahriman.” You give him the truth, the foreign armor looks odd on him - you’ve grown used to the tan of your people’s shells, anything else is strange, “And thy helmet even less - A fine foreigner thou shall be.”

“They don’t have our people’s sense of good looks, no.” The captain agrees with a chuckle, taking the prime operator’s seat and flicking a few switches on the skimmer’s control dash. “Pull that lever there beside you, and press the second button just there.”

You do as instructed, trusting his experience with this style of craft - controls are often similar between them, apparently even on this foreign design, ancient in origin. A roar sounds from the skimmer’s great engine as it restarts and forcefully clears of sand, and soon the blue plated machine is skipping and skimming across the dunes again, quickly gaining speed.

“Adjust heading a half degree east, we are off course.” Casimir peers at the controls and curved readout screens on the dash with interest, watching the dials split-flap displays as they change.

“A beast for a co-pilot?” Ahriman laughs at Casimir’s suggestion, but makes the slight change, “You were right though! …Where did you learn to navigate?”

“I did not.” Casimir answers, laying his head back down upon your lap - it is a good fit there. Ahriman looks baffled by Caz’s words but just shakes his head and focused on operating the skimmer.

“We shall reach the moving ruin in half an hour,” You recall the time it took to lure the slavers to your trap, and shave off a few minutes to account for your straight path to their moving lair - it is a guess, but educated, “Thou art readied?”

“As I’ll ever be.” Ahriman says, keeping both hands firmly on the craft’s controls as the dunes rush by outside the pilot house’s glass.

“Good. Tell me everything thy gleaned from the boy…”
>>
>>5973421

It is a long talk.

These foreigners are ‘Sisyphytes’, merely one part of one tribe within a far greater nation united beneath their ‘beloved Empress Velska’. They have come to these lands in search of captures and with an eye for total conquest, but their chief goal now is acquiring albinics - Birch did not know why, only that there was a great reward for finding even one. The moving ruin is called a ‘Battery Carrier’, apparently some kind of enormous treaded weapon platform of unknown origin - perhaps even dating from the time of the ancestors. Its trio of mighty guns are locked skyward, unusable, to the consternation of the Sisyphytes. There are many hundreds of soldiers and other foreigners aboard the moving ruin, and nearly as many captured slaves - All are under the command of a ‘Knight-Colonel Basil’. You do not like the sound of any of it, all of the ways of their foreigners are strange and unsettling.

Many smaller details are shared as well, such as the basic codes and responses used by guards, all vital to not be discovered in your increasingly concerning infiltration. The basic layout of the ruin is also given… but truthfully it is difficult to remember. Your knowledge of the ancestor’s ways should prove useful in that regard, if this is truly of their making.

With most of the details handled, Ahriman brings up one final point, “...Morrigan, go and wipe that paint from your face, and find some goggles.”

“I cannot. It stains the skin,” You rub under one eye with your thumb, wiping a little of the pink pigment away but revealing only just how deep it has bled into your skin over many years - you have always applied it just so, “Goggles are a fine idea though.”

Looking around the pilot house, you spy a pair dangling from a hook and put them on, and then pull your green scarf up higher - a makeshift curse mask is what it will look like to observers, you have seen them among your own people many times. Hopefully the foreigners use them as well, the ones you have seen before had filters but none of the larger helmets fit you at all. Your white bangs conceal the circle upon your forehead, just between your eyes, but you will need to take care with it.

And now finally you come to a very hard choice - What is to be done with Casimir?
>He will take to the skies and await your exit, observing everything - if trouble overwhelms you, you might be able to rush to the top deck and escape upon him.
>He will hide within the skimmer, keeping as close as he can - perhaps he can even follow you through the ruin if you are very careful. There might be side passages, or air ducts.
>He will keep to the sands below the moving ruin, far from any eye or the reach of weapons. He will be safe there, completely so, but far away if a need for help arises.
>Write-in.
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>>5973424
>He will hide within the skimmer, keeping as close as he can - perhaps he can even follow you through the ruin if you are very careful. There might be side passages, or air ducts.
>>
>>5973424
>He will hide within the skimmer
>>
>>5973424
>>He will take to the skies and await your exit, observing everything - if trouble overwhelms you, you might be able to rush to the top deck and escape upon him.
>>
>>5973424
>>He will keep to the sands below the moving ruin, far from any eye or the reach of weapons. He will be safe there, completely so, but far away if a need for help arises.
>>
>>5973424
>He will hide within the skimmer, keeping as close as he can - perhaps he can even follow you through the ruin if you are very careful. There might be side passages, or air ducts.
If Morrigan could fight, I would opt to fly in separate from Ahriman, but with this setup it's better to control the ship against them and seal doors to carve a path in and out.
>>
>>5973424

>He will hide within the skimmer, keeping as close as he can - perhaps he can even follow you through the ruin if you are very careful. There might be side passages, or air ducts.

He seems surprisingly sneaky for a dragon/F-16 hybrid
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5973576
>>5973530
>>5973444
>>5973440
Writing.
>>
With your disguises fixed in place, your thoughts turn to what is to be done with Casimir. You can hardly paint the beast green and take him with you, and you worry terribly for him. This rescue will be perilous, delving into the unknown depths of this moving ruin filled with soldiers could easily end in disaster.

You make your choice known, speaking to the white armored beast softly, “...Casimir, when we arrive at the foreigner’s moving lair, stay hidden away within the skimmer - if there is a way for you to follow safely, I will come back and fetch you.”

“I understand, mother. I want to stay close.” Casimir presses against you fondly, his presence soothing your heart and worries.

“You’re bringing him inside? Ancestors, you’re a fool.” Ahriman curses, muffled in his helmet, “He’ll clank around on the metal, look at those claws.”

“I can be silent.” Casimir assures him raspily, pink eyes flashing bright for a moment, “I must be.”

“Quiet? In sand maybe, but on a plated deck?” Ahriman shakes his head, deeply displeased with the plan, but his gaze remain fixed on the dunes far ahead of the skimmer - he is a more dutiful pilot than a guard, it would seem, “I heard how you moved earlier, it sounded like someone was scraping shells in a kitchen!”

“I shall wrap his claws in cloth,” You say at once, desiring to keep close - the curse’s claim on you deepens when Casimir is far off, and he could defend you if it comes to that… and you would simply miss him, though you will not admit that to the captain, “Use your mind, Ahriman, there are possibilities with him alongside which we do not have otherwise. If it is of the ancestor’s make, there will be air ducts and side passages, I know their ways.”

“Too bold, witch, too bold…” Ahriman grumbles, considering the adjustments to the plan, “But you have spent more time delving into ruins than I have… I guess you would know. If you’re wrong, don’t expect a rescue. I can’t fight hundreds of men - I won’t.”

“...I would expect nothing else from you.” You cross your arms unhappily, anger rising in you at the captain’s return to cowardice; such a fight would surely mean death, but such was his oath to the prince. If he was another man you would not judge him so, the fear is understandable, but he is a noble and a captain. Such a shameful man.

You leave the pilot house in a huff and head back through the passageway to the small bunk room. Using spare clothes taken from a locker, you pad Casimir’s claws - he gives a few test steps on the metal deck of the skimmer, now far quieter. A very faint thrum fills the air, and he grows quieter still. Care will still have to be taken, it isn’t total silence, but he should be able to easily cut free of the cloth if it comes to a fight.
>>
>>5973684

The next few minutes pass by in silent tension, the skimmer’s engine rumbling away as you grow closer and closer to the moving ruin. When Ahriman calls you back to the pilot house, you can see the colossal metal bulk of the moving ruin - the ‘Battery Carrier’ - off along the horizon. A wide approach is taken, allowing you to get an excellent view of it.

The ‘Battery Carrier’ is a mountainous rusted metal construct, comprised of three distinct sections resting upon almost unimaginably large tracks. Each of the three sections is greater than the size of a small village, and their treads could easily crush any building you have ever seen. They push slowly through great dunes as if the sands did not even exist, flattening everything, leaving deep tracks and sending plumes of sand all about it which obscure the lowest portions of the colossal vehicle. It clears often enough that you can still make out details.

The foremost section is the boxiest, brutal and heavily armored in rusted plates thicker than the skimmer itself, and an enormous round red lens at its very front stares out across the dunes, glowing faintly. A pair of great tri-clawed appendages reach out from its sides, like grasping arms intent on rending metal - it is a strange look, but sends chills through you nonetheless. What could require such claws to fight? Another ruin?

The middle section is slightly shorter in its primary structure, but a gigantic three barreled turret at its top brings it to the greatest height overall - a trio of super heavy cannons are locked firmly skyward, unmoving. The final and trailing section is similar to the boxy first one, but covered nearly from top to bottom in metal shacks grafted to it, a fungus of living quarters and other buildings welded to the ancient war machine. All the sections are connected by thick linkages, several at each joint - there are many, many ways across from one to another.

Other skimmers come and go from the moving ruin, using a trio of open hangar bay at its rear. Ahriman flicks on the skimmer’s short range radio, and you hold your breath as he attempts to mimic the foreigner’s accent and exchange the correct codes.

“Battery Carrier, this is scarab seven.” Ahriman deepens his voice, and does a decent enough job at matching the odd foreign dialect, “Requesting clearance for docking in hangar three. No captures for processing, had a nasty encounter with a damned duneflea, we lost two of our men.”

”Transmit return code, Scarab seven.” A woman’s voice crackles back over the radio.

“Four… eight… Lily… two… Clover.” Ahriman replies carefully, working from memory.

”Clearance granted for docking in hangar three. Welcome home, Sparrow seven. …Shame about the men, too many today. I’ll send the message up the chain.”
>>
>>5973685

When the radio cuts off, you let out a sigh of relief - you will at least be able to enter their lair. The skimmer is brought around behind the slowly moving ruin, and Ahriman lines up an approach with the leftmost hangar bay. As you draw closer, you pass into the deep shadow of the battery carrier, so tall as to block out the sun for quite some distance, and then a few moments later you are scraping up the ramp and into a waiting berth of sand. The skimmer’s engine cuts, and it settles down in the pit-like skimmer berth, held securely in place by the sands. Short walls flank the berth on three sides, metal stairs leading up and out from them. Catwalks fill the spaces overhead, many blue uniformed technicians moving about the hangar, and you can hear heavy clanging machinery and the roar of other skimmer engines as they depart.

“Well, our luck has held this far,” Ahriman says quietly, turning his helmeted head toward you, “Maybe I should take you out for dice sometime, I thought they’d have us here.”

“We’re not through it yet,” You reply before giving a wave to one of the passing technicians through the pilot house’s plate glass windows - he waved first, so you assume it’s the correct thing to do, “Let us move swiftly.”

“Aye, forward.” Ahriman rises from his seat alongside you, you both check over your foreign blades one last time. You ensure your goggles and scarf are fixed tightly, put on a green cap, and then head up and out through the hatch.

Ahriman jumps down from the skimmer’s deck and into the sand of the berth before climbing up the metal stairs nearby. He meets with a man who must be the master of this hangar bay, and they talk for a time. You hold back, pretending to be busy with work on the skimmer’s hull, and pull the brim of your hat a little deeper - you almost forgot to wear a hat at all. Hopefully the white of your hair doesn’t give away your secret, between the hat, goggles, and scarf you are far more green than albinic, but it isn’t perfect.

“...Two men? Lost a whole skimmer earlier to a glider… Dammit.” The bearded hangar master’s shoulder slump, his deep voice carrying easily, “These dunes will take us all. Your skimmer is intact though? Think she’s meant to be in hangar one.”

“A few scrapes and dings, but she runs, the flea didn’t get inside.” Ahriman lies well, because of course he does, “My squire will have them buffed out soon.”

“Mm, very well. Welcome home, you’ve got reports to file, I’m sure… Two more men lost, blast it all…” The hangar master marches off, and the area clears of the blue uniformed technicians for a brief time.
>>
>>5973686

You hurry back inside the skimmer and call Casimir out. He rushes to the deck of the skimmer with startling speed, and then disappears into the sand of the berth. The very tip of his horn peaks out a moment later, his voice sounding quietly from it - no one could see him, hidden as he is.

“There are pipes for the sand, and… bugs.” Casimir whispers from his horn, “A lot of bugs.”

“Bugs?” You question quietly, dropping down to the sands and kneeling beside his horn, pretending to have dropped something.

“Little ones, they move in the pipes.” Casimir confirms, “I can fit through them too, they go up…. To air pipes. Big air pipes.”

“You’re sure?” A sense of nervousness takes hold of you, greater with each passing moment now that you are within the moving ruin, “Hold here a moment Caz, I must speak with Ahriman.”

“I will, mother. Be careful.” The horn vanishes silently under the sands, a faint vibration rippling past under your feet as the beast heads off on his own. You get up and head to Ahriman’s side, just by the staircase leading out of the sandy berth.

>”Ahriman, let us keep close together, thou art a better liar than I.” Allow the captain to lead the way, and begin the search for the prince. You’ll send Casimir up through the sand and air pipes, you can meet with him later - he’ll be able to find you from the pipes.

>”...We should split apart for now, a squire is something like a servant, and I know a servant’s ways - you know a warrior’s. Casimir shall relay messages between us, he will soon be in the vents.” Split up to cover more ground, far more - you must find where the prisoners are being held, and quickly. It is somewhere in the frontmost section of the ruin, you know that at least.

>”I bear good news, Ahriman - thou shalt stay with the skimmer. Casimir has found pipes running through this great machine, I shall ride him through them and find our prince. Await my return.” If Casimir can fit, you can probably squeeze through on his back as well. Ahriman will keep the skimmer secured - a blade, even skillfully wielded, will be of limited help with so many foreign soldiers about the place.

>Write-in

>>5973685
Should have been 'Scarab seven' throughout that whole conversation, oops.
>>
>>5973687
>”Ahriman, let us keep close together, thou art a better liar than I.” Allow the captain to lead the way, and begin the search for the prince. You’ll send Casimir up through the sand and air pipes, you can meet with him later - he’ll be able to find you from the pipes.
>>
>>5973687
>>>”Ahriman, let us keep close together, thou art a better liar than I.” Allow the captain to lead the way, and begin the search for the prince. You’ll send Casimir up through the sand and air pipes, you can meet with him later - he’ll be able to find you from the pipes.
Prisoners and their care would be servant's work, but albinic prisoners are apparently prestigious, so I imagine the higher-ups will want to gloat about their success
>>
>>5973687
>”Ahriman, let us keep close together, thou art a better liar than I.” Allow the captain to lead the way, and begin the search for the prince. You’ll send Casimir up through the sand and air pipes, you can meet with him later - he’ll be able to find you from the pipes.
>>
>>5973687
>”I bear good news, Ahriman - thou shalt stay with the skimmer. Casimir has found pipes running through this great machine, I shall ride him through them and find our prince. Await my return.” If Casimir can fit, you can probably squeeze through on his back as well. Ahriman will keep the skimmer secured - a blade, even skillfully wielded, will be of limited help with so many foreign soldiers about the place.
>>
>>5973687
>”Ahriman, let us keep close together, thou art a better liar than I.” Allow the captain to lead the way, and begin the search for the prince. You’ll send Casimir up through the sand and air pipes, you can meet with him later - he’ll be able to find you from the pipes.
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5973687
>”I bear good news, Ahriman - thou shalt stay with the skimmer. Casimir has found pipes running through this great machine, I shall ride him through them and find our prince. Await my return.” If Casimir can fit, you can probably squeeze through on his back as well. Ahriman will keep the skimmer secured - a blade, even skillfully wielded, will be of limited help with so many foreign soldiers about the place.
>>
>>5973859
>>5973828
>>5973819
>>5973707
Writing.
>>
“Ahriman, let us keep close together,” You say quietly to the tall man, keeping your voice low to avoid being overheard by the others within the hangar. Thankfully they are out of sight, and it is a very loud space. Machinery hums and thrums, and skimmers roar to and from berths with every tinny static filled announcement from loudspeakers mounted to the ceiling, “Thou art a better liar than I.”

That I can agree with,” Ahriman nods, “While we are here, you are ‘Birch’, and I am ‘Florian’ - let’s hope we don’t bump into any of their friends, I took us to this hangar to avoid them.”

You swallow hard, the screams and warm blood of the dying boy suddenly real to you once more, “...I will try to sound as he did.”

“No, it is better if you do not talk at all.” Ahriman shakes his head, “Go and tell your beast.”

You do so, returning quickly to the sands and relaying the plan to Casimir whom you summon with a stomping foot - with a another farewell he is off and into the unseen sand pipes. You suspect he will not always be close by, but if you can reach an entrance to the moving ruin’s duct system then you should be able to call out and summon him quickly. He will find his way from there, his ability to navigate within the metal mountain yesterday was uncanny, and this place has a similar quality to it, though far more weathered and lived in.

Moving back to Ahriman, you tail behind the green carapaced captain and leave the hangar together, passing by rumbling engines powering fuel pumps. Blue uniformed men run lines and cables back and forth to skimmers, and a dozen of the jar-like bipedal walkers are housed in scaffolding filling bays along the left of the hangar. They all stand upright, with cables hanging from them like webs - they are strange machines, clumsy looking but armed with bolt throwers and heavy firespitters, and some even have pipe-like arms ending in claws or holding squat blades. A few look less like jars and more like hunched men wearing carapaced plates, great humanoid machines made of sharp armored angles and thrusters… Those must be truly fearsome, whatever they are, and they look to have firespitters the size of pack slugs and blades that could fell stone towers. They are by far[//i] the largest vehicles within the hangar, and receive more attention from engineers than all the others combined.

Simply walking quickly and looking as if you have an urgent purpose - which you do - keeps questions from being asked, and soon you are beyond the hangar bay and its strange machines. The red-brown passage leading from it is lit by lights running along the corners, and immediately makes sense to you. It is coded with the colored stripes so common in the ancestor’s larger ruins, just like the ‘mountain’ yesterday. You stop Ahriman for a moment when there are no other soldiers within the tall ceilinged hall, and point to the lines on the wall.
>>
>>5973958

“This green one shall lead upward, it is less likely we shall be interrupted higher up.” You try to deepen your voice a hair, though Birch’s was not far from your own, he was too young for much difference to exist yet, “These are the markings of the ancestors, I know them well, Ahri… Florian.”

“Then I will trust you, Birch.” Ahriman nods, but after a moment then points to silver metal bolted to the bulkheads more recently, “...Though there are signs as well.”

“Oh.” You look at the signs, scanning over the odd foreign font - which includes a few letters you’ve never seen, and soon confirm that the green line will bring you higher, but also unexpectedly toward a ‘trader’s district’, “...They have merchants aboard?”

“There are many of their people here, not only soldiers - I didn’t ask much about that. We should not be bothered there,” Ahriman pats at a shedskin pouch on his hip, “...And I do have coin.”

“We are not stopping to spend coin.” You whisper angrily, but Ahriman is already marching off, following the green line and signs. You have no choice but to follow, separating here would turn the plan to chaos. Soon you are both several decks higher, taking old heavily reinforced stairwells to make the climb. The walls are scorched and gouged deep in places, telling of some ancient battle, but you can glean nothing more from the markings.

When you emerge at last, you behold a very long and very wide chamber of the battery carrier. A bazaar has been set up within what must have been a kind of glider hangar long, long ago. Shops and walkways are built all the way up to the deck above, and great elevators have been left permanently lowered to allow in sunlight and desert wind. Even the elevator platforms have been covered in buildings and colorful tarps, never intended to rise again to what must be a flight deck higher up. It feels as if you are at the merchant’s quarter of a cavetown, and a prosperous one at that.
>>
>>5973959

Passing through bustling and pressing crowds of brightly clothed foreigners, you make slow progress to the far end of the bazaar. There are small house bugs scurrying and clicking by, carrying messages and seeking their owners, and even a talking pack slug singing of women, of all things. As if a slug could know anything of them! …A moment later, just behind the slug, a pair of tanned and half dressed young women wander past, wearing little more than colored ribbons. One wags an elegant finger for Ahriman to follow, and blows the disguised captain a kiss, while the other tries to lure in merchants from the opposite side of the path. You almost have to drag the captain away, tugging at his arm to keep him moving past the slug and it’s trail of immodest foreign women.

“...Eyes forward.” You growl, “No time for distractions.”

“...The desert has left me parched,” Ahriman replies angrily, forcefully pulling his arm free from your gloved hand, “I’m getting a drink.”

“Thou shalt do no such thing!” You hiss, seeing that his gaze has been drawn to a drinking establishment of some kind - a winehouse, perhaps, quite a large one. Ahriman’s chief weakness is women, even more so than his cowardice, but drink is a close third.

“Quiet, squire - obey your knight!” He gives you a very light slap, more show than force - at least he has the sense to try not to disturb your disguise, even in an argument, “…It’s for bravery, I won’t be getting drunk. You have my word.”

His word! What a foul joke. Rubbing at your cheek, you answer…

>”Very well. I shall look around then, and thou shalt be finished upon my return or I shall have Casimir geld thee.” There are many strange peoples in this bazaar, perhaps
>”...For bravery? Fine. We shall be brief.” Maybe there’s some sense to it; you know he acts more boldly when drink has taken him - a drink or two may steel his nerves without slowing his blade arm or senses overmuch. You should keep close to ensure that’s all it is.
>”Then we part here, liar! Choke on thy wine.” Ancestor’s wrath, a coward and a drunk! He must plan to go chasing a foreign woman, and then abandon his armor and hide away among these strange people. He could escape his disgrace here, running from it forever…
>Write-in.
>>
>>5973961
>”...For bravery? Fine. We shall be brief.” Maybe there’s some sense to it; you know he acts more boldly when drink has taken him - a drink or two may steel his nerves without slowing his blade arm or senses overmuch. You should keep close to ensure that’s all it is.
>>
>>5973961
>>”...For bravery? Fine. We shall be brief.” Maybe there’s some sense to it; you know he acts more boldly when drink has taken him - a drink or two may steel his nerves without slowing his blade arm or senses overmuch. You should keep close to ensure that’s all it is.
>>
>>5973961
>...For bravery? Fine. We shall be brief.” Maybe there’s some sense to it; you know he acts more boldly when drink has taken him - a drink or two may steel his nerves without slowing his blade arm or senses overmuch. You should keep
>>
>>5973961
>”...For bravery? Fine. We shall be brief.” Maybe there’s some sense to it; you know he acts more boldly when drink has taken him - a drink or two may steel his nerves without slowing his blade arm or senses overmuch. You should keep close to ensure that’s all it is.
I admit it, Ahriman grows on me.

>>5973958
I kind of regret mercing Birch as brutally as we did, but also if we didn't, what the hell would we have done to prevent him raising the alarm at this stage? Nah, it needed to be done. RIP, kid.
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>>5973961

>”...For bravery? Fine. We shall be brief.” Maybe there’s some sense to it; you know he acts more boldly when drink has taken him - a drink or two may steel his nerves without slowing his blade arm or senses overmuch. You should keep close to ensure that’s all it is.

More importantly, I don’t trust him and if we keep pissing him off, he might dump us and this whole mission
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>>5973961
>”Very well. I shall look around then, and thou shalt be finished upon my return or I shall have Casimir geld thee.” There are many strange peoples in this bazaar, perhaps
>>
>>5973961
I'm a bit late, but
>"Then we part here. I will join with Cassimir and search the air ducts myself. If an alert is sounded, you can play the soldier too drunk to follow orders. Whether you run or stay is up to you."
>>
One more hour for votes.
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>>5973972
>>5973976
>>5974029
>>5974032
>>5974040
Writing.
>>
“...For bravery?” You relent at the captain’s words, seeing enough reason behind them - drink might make him less a coward, and bravery will indeed be needed ahead, “Fine. We shall be brief.”

“Finally speaking some sense, a glass or three and we’ll be gone.” Ahriman removes his beetle-like helmet, tucking it under one arm and flashing a smile at a passing woman - he’s handsome in a very sly way, even you see that, and the fresh cut on his cheek gives him even more of a roguish look. She blushes but carries on, and that seems to please the young captain greatly.

“You said two drinks at most!” You protest, nearly pulling down your scarf before thinking better of it.

“Four, and no more.” Ahriman laughs, heading up to the door of the winehouse and pulling it open, gesturing for you to enter first, “Squires first.”

“You… Thou jest at a time such as this?” You can’t believe this man, he is too much. Another patron enters while the door is held open, sneaking past the two of you as you bicker.

“Five, little mantis.” His grin grows wider, obviously pleased with your roused anger. He’s doing this all on purpose!

“Ahr- Florian!” You despise how easily he has rustled your scarabs, it’s upsetting to be played with so at a time like this, “Thou art a scoundrel.”

“A cowardly scoundrel, my loyal squire, don’t forget my whole list of noble titles - you’ve reminded me of them so often. Come on, inside with you.” He presses you into the establishment with a firm shove of one hand, sending you stumbling inside before coming in arms raised high in greeting to the barkeep, “Can a soldier get a drink here?”

“Aye!” A chubby robed serving woman answers at once before even the barkeep does, “Take any seat, soldiers are always welcome…”

You ignore the rest of the prattle between Ahriman and the serving woman, or anyone else for that matter, taking in the details of the winehouse. It’s a simple affair, a large sitting area of many round tables made from mushroom caps, a long bar carved from a solid mushroom trunk and many metal shelves of drinks behind it, and then finally a large performing stage made of piled up armor plates take from elsewhere in the battery carrier - two women sit upon chairs atop the stage, one singing and playing a stringed instrument you do not recognize, and the other a small drum of some sort. Slender swords rest sheathed beside their chairs.
>>
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>>5974128

They’re strikingly beautiful, and complected strangely but not albinic - their skin is as pale as could be, but their long lustrous hair is a hue of pink instead of white, and their eyes are a blue clearer than the morning sky. Twins, they are, or close enough to it, and dressed in matching teal robes with yellow hoods of a fine but simple make. Slight and pretty, you find yourself a bit jealous of them, or perhaps it is simple admiration for the fair pair. Your contemplation is ended as a chill runs through you - you recognize their song. It is a haunting and ethereal thing, soothing the souls of the winehouse’s patrons, but you know it to be your verse, sung just earlier to Casimir.

Those two are no common singers, and the tones of their familiar song carry power, the same power as the one you share with Casimir.

>Avoid the gaze of the twin singers, try to keep close to Ahriman. Have a drink as well, just one - at your weight any more would be unwise, but you could use the calm. With Casimir somewhat distant, you feel the curse more keenly - drink might help.
>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.
>Sing! Sing with these women, you feel a kindred spirit of some kind with them. Keep your disguise on, which may look somewhat odd, but you know you can join in and do so well.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5974140
>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.
Could be they're captive music-slaves.
>>
>>5974140
>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.
>Make a show of drinking, but only actually drink half the cup before stumbling towards the music-slaves
>>
>>5974140
>Sing! Sing with these women, you feel a kindred spirit of some kind with them. Keep your disguise on, which may look somewhat odd, but you know you can join in and do so well.
>>
>>5974140
>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.
>>
>>5974140
>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.
>picrelated
Of course, who else would sing a song of the ancients.
>>
>>5974140

>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.

They know something and we're too curious to let it lie
>>
>>5974140
>>...You must meet these singers, they seem foreign even to these foreigners - If they know a song that came to you earlier, they must know something of you, or Casimir, or another beast of his kind. Something, surely. Wait until their song finishes and speak to them in private.
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
Captivated by the twins’ song, you ignore Ahriman as he goes off and finds a spot at the bar - you find a wall to lean against instead, crossing your arms as you listen to the performance. Hearing the familiar song from two voices at once, sweet and clear and filled with the passion of ages of experience, you soon find yourself tearing up. The ethereal melody reminds you of Casimir, and of your beloved prince, and even your long dead adoptive father - how many true companions have you had in this world? Few, precious few. These singers must understand that desire far deeper than most, the hope to find something - someone - worth valuing in this world.

…You feel within your heart that you must speak to them.

As the song slowly comes to its conclusion, one of the twins leans to her sister and whispers something in her ear, cupping her hand to even conceal her lips. The second sister’s blue eyes settle upon you briefly, and then move on toward Ahriman’s direction by the bar, and she nods. They then stand, bow, pick up their instruments and sheathed blades, and head off from the stage of stacked metal. The one with the stringed instrument leads, and they head off into one of the winehouse’s side rooms. You follow at once, passing Ahriman’s position at the bar - he isn’t pounding down shells of liquor, so you assume it’s safe to leave him to his own devices for a time.

Reaching the rusted metal door of the side room, you give it a few light taps with one hand. You hear a faint chime and it slides open, a heavy cloud of incense and perfume rolling out from within - scents you’ve never experienced before, full and… fruity? Sweet, at least. You don’t have the proper words for them. The twins are sitting beside one another, one cross legged on the ground and the other on the bed beside her - they’re both tending to their instruments, and sticks of incense burn in holders nearby. Their swords are set aside, propped against the wall nearest them.
>>
>>5974395

“Hail, singers. I may enter?” You ask, though the door has already opened wide.

“Yes, of course.” The one upon the bed laughs kindly before raising a hand toward you, palm first. A very faint chime sounds, and the door slides firmly shut, “You’re among friends here. I am called Ishtar.”

“And I am called Inanna.” The one upon the floor says while tuning the strings of her strange instrument, grinning slyly as she speaks, “You’ll find we’re kindred spirits. Come and sit with us. You knew our song?”

“...I would not call it yours, but ye sang it well.” You find yourself believing Inanna’s words despite that sly grin, and when you sit it is without fear - but you refrain from giving your name in return.

“Then you know more than a squire should.” Ishtar lifts a hand to her face, and mimes lowering a cloth which is not there - she wants you to remove your scarf, “...And the goggles as well, help me win an old bet.”

“Don’t worry, it’s just a game between us - it’s been a very long time since she’s won.” Inanna assures you kindly, plucking at a string of her instrument once and then nodding, satisfied with its sound, before moving onto another. “No harm will come to you here.”

“And how about harm elsewhere? You keep your disguise up, the initial feeling of safety dissipating somewhat despite the twins’ assurances - they clearly know you’re not a ‘Sisyphyte‘, but there are many things you could be and of those only albinics are being hunted down by the small army within this moving ruin.

“Wary.” Ishtar frowns, setting aside her drum on the bed.

“Keen.” Inanna smiles, so similar to her sister and yet different just so. The same mouth, but with a different curve - you’ll never again mistake them for one another, “You will be safe here, and elsewhere - remove that guise, rider, and we’ll have your name as well.”

>”I am called Morrigan.” They have given their word - you sense that one speaks for both in this. Remove some of your disguise.
>”I am called Birch.” Keep up your disguise, this feeling of trust may be a trick of some kind.
>”Rider? How do you know these things?” You’re more interested in what they know than this old bet between them.
>Write-in.

No tallying post this time, we'll be back to that next time though. Got writing early since it seemed unlikely more votes would change the outcome after so many were in already.
>>
>>5974396
>”I am called Morrigan.” They have given their word - you sense that one speaks for both in this. Remove some of your disguise.
>>
>>5974396
>"Tell me a way to the air ducts, first." We need a place to escape anyway
>”I am called Morrigan.” They have given their word - you sense that one speaks for both in this. Remove some of your disguise.
>>
>>5974396
>>”I am called Morrigan.” They have given their word - you sense that one speaks for both in this. Remove some of your disguise
>>
>>5974396
>”Rider? How do you know these things?” You’re more interested in what they know than this old bet between them.
>>
>>5974396
>”Rider? How do you know these things?” You’re more interested in what they know than this old bet between them.
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
me
>>
>>5974406
>>5974460
>>5974527
Writing.

>>5974577
?
>>
>>5974396
>”Rider? How do you know these things?” You’re more interested in what they know than this old bet between them.
>>
“I am called Morrigan.” You lift your goggles and rest them upon your green cap, allowing you to see Ishtar and Inanna more clearly now that the tinted glass is out of the way, and then you tug down your scarf slightly to show your face. Inanna laughs sweetly and claps her hands at the sight, then placing a hand on her sister’s leg and giving it a slight congratulatory shake.

“A win for you at last, Ishtar.” The happier twin says kindly, “And it is a bet I am overjoyed to lose - Morrigan, did anyone instruct you to make those pink marks upon your face?”

“No, never. Why?” You’ve been applying them for as long as you can remember, grinding up the pink and purples pigments from handfuls of cave flowers and then applying it to your cheeks and forehead.

Ishtar lets out a sigh of relief at your words and nods to her sister, smiling along with her though wearing it less easily, “The eyes and horn of a dragon, and worn by a young rider… That is a rare sight, and a rare bond. Where is he, Morrigan? What is his name?”

“Who’s name?” You suspect you know who they refer to, but you’ve never heard this ‘dragon’ word once before… or at least not that you remember, there is something oddly familiar about the word though. “What is a dragon?”

“The winged beast whom you hatched, the one which you have given song and a name.” Ishtar explains, choosing her words with great care as she looks deep into your eyes, “You have named him, haven’t you? Tell me of m… of him.”

“I chose Casimir as his name.” You reply in a whisper, almost entranced by the woman’s gaze - there is something almost inhuman about the intensity of her blue eyes, and yet soothingly familiar, “It seemed a fitting match.”

“Casimir….” Ishtar closes her eyes and leans back, laying down upon the bed with a long sigh, “Yes, that is a very fitting name.”

“Thank you, Morrigan. I’ve not seen my sister so happy for years now. Even song barely cheers her on most days.” Inanna reaches out and grasps one of your gloved hands in hers, her touch light and gentle - she gives your hand a small squeeze, “Now, what can we do for you, young rider? My sister heard the verse only an hour ago or so - You are in need of allies, are you not? You have come in disguise, so I believe you’re no friend of Velska’s subjects.”
>>
>>5974672

You nod, “My people were taken by these slavers. The green armored soldiers, the Sisyphytes, they were searching for-”

“For albinics.” The twins answer in unison, laughing for a moment at the synchronization before Inanna apologizes and carries on alone, “Sorry, it is no laughing matter, we just do not speak as one as often as we once did… Yes, we’ve heard of their search for albinics, though it is not why we are here.”

“It is a very tragic thing, all of this.” Ishtar lets out a far less happy sigh, frowning as she sits back up. A change slowly comes over her as she speaks, and for a moment you could swear you hear a song in the air about you. It is only a ghostly sensation, there and gone at once. “We do not interfere anymore… but Casimiar must be very young. He is… small still, isn’t he? Cute. About the height of a large dog when he’s on his forelegs.”

You have no idea what a ‘dog’ is, but Ishtar holds a hand out to show roughly the height she is speaking of - it is nearly dead on.

>”How do you know so much of these ‘dragons’? I had never heard the word before today.” Curiosity burns hotter than the curse, and you must know how these odd women know so many things. It may simply be that they are powerful sorceresses of some kind, but even that is fascinating.
>”He is indeed, though when he rears up his head reaches just over mine own height, and his horn higher still.” Ishtar seems very fond of dragons - Inanna too, though not quite to the same degree - speak more with the twins about Casimir.
>”...If ye offer assistance, I would gladly have it. My prince is somewhere aboard this carrier, I must free him and the rest of my people who were taken.” There is no time to waste on questions or chatter, as edifying as this might be the prince remains locked away - and Ahirman might be turning those third or fourth drinks into a reality.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5974673
>”He is indeed, though when he rears up his head reaches just over mine own height, and his horn higher still.” Ishtar seems very fond of dragons - Inanna too, though not quite to the same degree - speak more with the twins about Casimir.
Geek out about our dragon friend! Then...
”...If ye offer assistance, I would gladly have it. My prince is somewhere aboard this carrier, I must free him and the rest of my people who were taken.”
>>
>>5974673
>”How do you know so much of these ‘dragons’? I had never heard the word before today.” Curiosity burns hotter than the curse, and you must know how these odd women know so many things. It may simply be that they are powerful sorceresses of some kind, but even that is fascinating.
>>
>>5974673
>”...If ye offer assistance, I would gladly have it. My prince is somewhere aboard this carrier, I must free him and the rest of my people who were taken.” There is no time to waste on questions or chatter, as edifying as this might be the prince remains locked away - and Ahirman might be turning those third or fourth drinks into a reality.
>If you would hear more, you may join us, or just wait. Whether here or elsewhere, you'll hear the song on the wind.
>>
>>5974673

>”He is indeed, though when he rears up his head reaches just over mine own height, and his horn higher still.” Ishtar seems very fond of dragons - Inanna too, though not quite to the same degree - speak more with the twins about Casimir.

These singers are either immortal and playing a little joke, or they are literal goddesses from ancient Sumer. Ishtar and Inanna are both Sumerian deities. Combined with their knowledge of both dogs and dragons, I'd say that they must predate the cataclysm that turned the world into a busted-ass desert full of bugs and bug-eating people.
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5974688
>>5974822
>>5974802
Going to roll talking some about Caz and asking for help together to keep things moving along.

Writing.
>>
“He is indeed,” You find yourself speaking truly freely now, at ease with the twins in a way you have not been with anyone but Casimir for the last two days, and even then only when singing to him, “Though when he rears up his head reaches just over mine own height, and his horn higher still. He has already grown some, I saw his horn lengthen, and I believe his tail is longer than it was yesterday, though only just.”

“We… Well that does sound right,” Ishtar catches herself from saying something else, but as her frown recedes you find it difficult to worry about such things - she is very enthusiastic about dragons, “They grow very quickly in the first year, though it takes a decade to reach maturity. Oh, yes, your Casimir sounds like he is doing very well! - What are his colors?”

“As my own.” You motion to your eyes and hair with a gloved hand, “White carapace and pink eyes. It shifted from black and red shortly after he hatched.”

“Black and… red? Are you sure?” Inanna brow furrows deeper as you nod in confirmation, but she says nothing else on the matter of colors, “I would like to meet him, and I know my sister would love the chance.”

“One so young? I never thought I would ag… Would at all. See a young dragon. He is near, isn’t he?” Ishtar closes her eyes and vocalizes, her voice sounding clear and crisp and ringing with power - a chime ring, and then again a moment later. She shakes her head, disappointed, “...Too much metal, I’m not what I once was.”

“You’re all you need to be.” Inanna comforts her with a pat, before directing another question to you, “Casimir is within the carrier though, isn’t he? My sister has something of a natural intuition for these things.”

You begin to answer, excited to have found two great experts in the field of ‘dragons’, “He is within the air ducts, there was-”

“Ahh, sand in the skimmer berths! Of course.” Inanna finishes for you, sounding as if she is remembering rather than deducing it, ”Those were water pools for cooling Battlers once, but sand has a way of changing things. We had to park in the sidebays. …It should be a simple thing to call him to you if he is within the old systems, the pipes run all through the carrier - even to the prisoners.”
>>
>>5974937

“All the way to the prisoners?” You gasp at the information - that is precisely the kind of detail you needed to know! They run all the way back to the skimmer as well then, perfect for an escape. Perhaps this is not such an impossible mission, and perhaps you’ve found the allies you sang for earlier, “...If ye be willing to offer further assistance, I would gladly have it - My prince is somewhere aboard this carrier, I must free him and the rest of my people who were taken.”

“M… Sister, may we?” Ishtar asks excitedly, all her gloom gone and a fire lit in her spirit - you can hear music in the air, though very faintly, as if it were only a memory, or a long forgotten dream.

“You’re acting more like your old self again! I’ve missed this.” Inanna laughs happily, but there is something keeping her from agreeing, and you feel the flicker of burning heat within your mind, a shooting pang of fear and anger brought on by the curse. “...We would have to run again, Ishtar.”

“Then we will run!” Ishtar stands quickly and marches to the wall, snatching up both the sheathed swords resting there and throwing one of the matching blades to her sister. Inanna catches it easily, and then moves to a metal chest nearby and begins to quickly change into a different dress and cloak. She wears an strange skintight suit beneath her robe, not normal small clothes, and it preserves her modesty in the moment it takes to change. Finished with that, she clasps the sword's sheath to the belt of her new outfit, beside an odd looking metal covered book. Ishtar is preparing herself similarly.
>>
>>5974945

“Ye would be honored guests in our kingdom,” You rise, spurred by twins arming themselves so boldly, and adjust your disguise to hide your features once more, “These foreign soldiers could not reach ye within our deepest caves, the prince and king command many warriors. There will be war over the prince’s capture though, I am sure of it - it is too great an attack to be forgotten.”

Caves? Perhaps we shall go there. First though, I must see this white little hatchling!” Ishtar secures her sword, and taps at the brooch clasping her cloak. The light around her distorts slightly, and you recognize it as being similar to Casimir’s field. Inanna does the same with her brooch a moment later.

>”...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks. He will make comments, pray ignore them all. He’s a boor of a noble.” Grab Ahriman now, you have something of a rescue party forming now.
>”At once then! I have begun to miss him as well.” Leave the winehouse and make for a secluded vent to meet with Casimir - you can come back for Ahriman after, reinforcing Ishtar and Inanna’s desires to help seems wise before you throw a womanizing nobleman in their direction.
>”...Do ye happen to have another such brooch? I trust this foreign armor little.” It is unlikely they do, but perhaps they have something else to give? They are giving so much already though just by helping, it may be an overstep.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5974948
>”...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks. He will make comments, pray ignore them all. He’s a boor of a noble.” Grab Ahriman now, you have something of a rescue party forming now.
>>
>>5974822
I'm betting on ancient androids.
>>5974945
An android and a dragon then

>>5974948
>...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks. He will make comments, pray ignore them all. He’s a boor of a noble.” Grab Ahriman now, you have something of a rescue party forming now.
>>
>>5974948
>”...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks. He will make comments, pray ignore them all. He’s a boor of a noble.” Grab Ahriman now, you have something of a rescue party forming now.
The man will surely betray us if left alone too long, and should be easily wrangled with these two in tow.
>>
>>5974948
>”...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks. He will make comments, pray ignore them all. He’s a boor of a noble.” Grab Ahriman now, you have something of a rescue party forming now.
I think abandoning him would be really funny tho
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5974948
>”...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks. He will make comments, pray ignore them all. He’s a boor of a noble.” Grab Ahriman now, you have something of a rescue party forming now.
>>
>>5975170
>>5975091
>>5975074
>>5975001
>>5974953
Writing.
>>
“...Yes, but first I must drag my companion away from his drinks,” The excitement of finding new allies stirs hope in your heart, but the grim reality of your situation remains - you have a coward to wrangle like a disobedient housebug, “He will make comments, pray ignore them all, he’s a boor of a noble.”

“We’re traveling singers, Morrigan.” Inanna laughs, as if that statement alone should defuse all worry of impropriety on Ahriman’s part, “Don’t worry about such things, I will handle him. What are his names? Fake and real both, so there is no confusion.”

“Ahriman is his true name, but in disguise he is called Florian.” You answer quickly, the thought of your own false name and its grisly origin filling your mind with red for a moment; you stagger a little, taken off guard by the force of the curses, and shake your head, “And I… I am called Birch.”

“Are you alright, rider?” Ishtar stops and looks to you with concern, but accepts your nodding reply and carries on to the door. With another wave of her hand and a small chime, the old sliding door opens, and as a trio you leave the side room - instruments and many other goods are left behind, likely permanently, but the twins do not seem to be the kind to put much value in items. They did not even mention the loss.

Inanna leads the way, her sister close behind, and you at the tail - they stride confidently to the bar where the captain is drinking.

Inanna stops just beside Ahriman and wastes no time, poking a finger into his chest and speaking in a stern and commanding tone, almost like a mother scolding a disobedient child, “You’re coming with us, young man.”

Ahriman nearly chokes on his drink, the third from the looks of things, and gets up from the stool he was sitting at in a bit of a flustered mess, shocked into a kind of stupor by the beautiful singer’s command, “Y-yes, of course! Where to? …My squire spoke with you?”

“Yes, Florian, your squire did - now follow, there’s much to be done.” Inanna confirms, turning about and moving right toward the door.
>>
>>5975282

“...Who am I to say no?” Ahriman shrugs, grinning wide as he follows along behind the twins to the exit of the winehouse. Looking down to you, he gives you an approving nod and then speaks in a whisper, “How’d you get them to help?”

“I told only the truth.” You shrug, unsure of what else to say out here where you might be overhead - Ahriman will have to settle for that for now, but you doubt he’ll complain much while in their presence.

“Very, very good work, my young squire - you learn quickly.” Ahriman grins before putting his beetle-like helmet back on, “I was going to speak with them myself.”

“Call at them, more like.” You roll your eyes, “I know thy ways.”

“They’re fun ways, little mantis. Do you always have to be so stuffy?”

“Dost thou have to…”

The back and forth bickering goes on for a time as you leave the winehouse and travel through the crowds and many stands of the bazaar, eventually reaching the passageways at the very far side and leaving the exotic sights and sounds behind. Rusted passages replace colorful tarps and carpets, and there is not a soul in sight besides the four of you. A large vent access panel is soon found off of on an even less traveled side passage, and Ahriman keeps watch as you call into it quietly.

“Casimir… Casimir… Casimiiir…” You hear your voice echo down into the darkness of the vent network, reverberating and then fading away to nothing. For a minute you wait, hearing nothing, and then the vent begins to shake just so, a slight rattle of metal sounding, and then a little louder, and louder, until at last Casimir’s pink eyes stare out at you from the dark below. He’s had to scale up the vent vertically, approaching from the decks below, and has his legs stretched out and pressed against different walls of the vent, maintaining pressure so that he holds his position.

“Mother?” His voice sounds scratchily up through the vent. More clanging sounds from the vent as he clambers up the last length, though the padding on his claws stops much of it. Now he looks at you face to face, horn slipping out through the wide slats of the vent access panel. His pink eyes widen as he notices the twins. “...Who are they?”

“Ishtar and Inanna, they are allies - they heard our song earlier, when we were on the skimmer.” You remove your disguise for a moment, sensing Casimir’s discomfort with the scarf and goggles concealing you, “They wished to meet you.”
>>
>>5975283

Casimir’s head tilts as he looks between the twins, and then his eyes widen further and he chirps in excitement. Thrumming song fills the air all about you, “You, you are-!”

“...Yes, once.” Ishtar says quietly, wiping at her cheek with one hand as she steps closer. She reaches out through the slats and runs a hand across Casimir’s armored head, stroking gently, “Sister, come here. He is strong.”

Inanna joins her twin in fawning over Casimir, sending the young dragon cooing in delight at the attention, “Very strong… and handsome as well. Perhaps everything was not a failure then.”

“What?” Casimir asks, not understanding.

“Nothing to worry about, young one.” Ishtar assures him, resting her petting hand still for a moment as she looks down to the closed up intake gills on Casimir’s chest, “...You’ve flown already?”

>”He did, as soon as he saw the open sky. The view was terrific, the fall… not so much.” Your arm is healed, but the pain still lives on in your memory.
>”Are there many dragons where you come from, Ishtar? Thou know much.”
>Just let them speak, you’re not sure what Casimir sees in Ishtar but it is clearly something more than you do. Inanna seems content largely to listen as well.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5975284
>"He has grown, despite the troubles I have brought him mere minutes from birth. And I'd very much like to discuss this in more private locations with many more friends."
>>
>>5975287
+1

>>5975284
>>
>>5975284
>>Just let them speak, you’re not sure what Casimir sees in Ishtar but it is clearly something more than you do. Inanna seems content largely to listen as well.
>>
>>5975284
>Just let them speak, you’re not sure what Casimir sees in Ishtar but it is clearly something more than you do. Inanna seems content largely to listen as well.
>>
>>5975287
Supporting
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5975287
+1
>>
>>5975474
>>5975427
>>5975324
>>5975287
Writing.
>>
“He has grown, despite the trouble I have brought him mere minutes from birth.” You answer the question indirectly, speaking for your white armored companion. Elsewhere in the hall, steam hisses from an old pipe. “...And I’d very much like to discuss this in a more private location, and with many more friends.”

“The danger is not so great here.” Inanna assures you gently and with a deep confidence, “What do you mean that you brought him troubles?”

“When I hatched, mother was being chased by slavers.” Casimir speaks for you now, and very eager to relay the tale, “Together we crawled out through tunnels, and flew down to the sands.”

“Save your words for another time, Casimir. I will be happy to hear every detail, that is quite the adventure for one so young.” Ishtar retracts her hand from within the duct, pulling it back through the wide slats of the metal panel, “But more lies ahead, and you must know that these troubles will never fully cease.”

“These Sisyphytes are so persistent?” You ask, stepping forward to take the space Ishtar has left and giving Casimir a few more pats of your own. It is calming, a very simple comfort.

Ishtar’s words bring no such comfort, sending a chill through you, “Velska’s subjects will forever pursue you once she hears of a new rider, though I speak universally as well - everything in this life will be a struggle. It is important that both of you understand this while still young, or you will not bear the ages well. The world is cursed. We should not tarry here.”

“...She’s a pessimist, take that as a wish that you continue to be strong.” Inanna interprets her sister’s words immediately, supplying a far less ominous message as she ceases petting Casimir for a moment as well. “And I still think we are fine here for a moment. I thought your excitement would hold longer, sister.”

“With Casimir, my duty is reinstated - There will be time for sentiment later.” Ishtar replies to her sister flatly, but that little hint of a grin soon returns, “...I am very happy, sister. This is a blessed day.”

“Oh, the b word? From you?” Inanna teases her sister, but her attention is soon turned back to the young dragon as Casimir nuzzles her hand, silently demanding further petting, “My, my, Casimir you little charmer, I believe you have a true admirer.”
>>
>>5975582

“Strange women…” Ahriman mutters to himself, muffled and barely audible through his helmet, “Feels more like a petting day at the slug stable than a rescue mission…”

Lifting your disguising scarf back up, and lowering your goggles to tint the world once more, you find yourself agreeing with Ahriman’s complaints, at least on a very basic level, “...Ishtar, Inanna, we must set back about our mission.”

“Yes, we must.” Ishtar agrees with a nod, resting one hand on the hilt of her sheathed sword and looking every bit the determined hero, “Sister, come. Casimir, follow your rider through the ducts.”

“Yes, elder.” Casimir’s response confuses you somewhat, but it’s a matter for later - he crawls the rest of the way up through the vent, thumping and rattling away as he presses his limbs against the walls to clamber. Soon even his long tail vanishes from sight, the white spike at its tip the last thing you see of him. You double check that all of your equipment is fastened and stowed well, unsheathing a small length of your long bayonet before sliding it back fully within its sheath. It would be better to have the firespitter it is intended to be mated to, but the soldiers ran them out of charge entirely earlier.

>”The only path is forward, let us stay together until we reach the slave pens.” The twins seem a very capable pair, better to keep them close and move quickly as a group.
>”Ishtar, Inanna; we are disguised, but ye are not. A distraction may be a greater help than two blades… Ye spoke of something left below in the hangar, could it be of use?” They said something of ‘Battlers’, which sounds fearsome by name alone - you do not know what they are.
>”What is our plan, my companions?” Allow your elders to lead for a time.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5975585
>”What is our plan, my companions?” Allow your elders to lead for a time.
They seem to have a much better idea of what is going on than we or Ahriman, and they've been here longer and know the layout.
>>
>>5975585

>”What is our plan, my companions?” Allow your elders to lead for a time.

These ladies are obviously badasses and we should let them drive
>>
>>5975585
>What is our plan, my companions?” Allow your elders to lead for a time.
>>
>>5975585
>On the mountain, Cassimir had some control over the ruins. Would the same apply here? We could seal doors and it would take some time for them to sound the alarm.
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5975593
>>5975600
>>5975610
Writing.
>>
“What is our plan, my companions?” You direct the question more to the twins than Ahriman, feeling quite out of your depth now that you’ve gotten so far within the electric lit and rusted depths of the battery carrier, “I must admit I thought trouble would have struck before now.”

“I remember the ways less likely to be traveled, so long as the carrier has not been changed too greatly - we can go directly to the prisoners from here.” Inanna motions for you to follow, and then walks up alongside Ahriman and places a hand on his roughly carapaced pauldron, “If it comes to a fight, how many men are you good for, and how quicky?”

“With this blade? Two or three, more if they come one at a time,” Ahriman answers after considering the question for a moment, looking down at the foreign blade sheathed at his hip - It is a fair bit smaller than the heavy two-hander he was working with earlier, a touch swifter perhaps but lesser in reach and power, “It won’t be a long exchange, whichever way it goes, this armor is shoddy.”

“You’re fighting to reclaim your honor, surely you can do better than that?” You try to goad Ahriman a bit - rousing him to anger might not be the smartest plan, but you need passion for what is to come, not a coward.

“Fine, call it four then, mantis.” Ahriman shakes his head, his stolen helmet concealing much of his reaction, “Lead the way, I can see you’re fighters of some kind - Witches?”

“We’re singers, didn’t you hear earlier? Come, and keep close.” Inanna takes the lead once again, and as a group you begin the careful journey to the frontmost section of the battery carrier. It is not a long journey, Inanna’s memory proving reliable enough to see you through a number of side passages which she awakens with an outstretched hand and chiming notes that seem to originate from nowhere.
>>
>>5975824

“How doth thee command without tones?” You ask her as after yet another old door slides and squeals open, the rusted pathways and mechanism barely functioning after long years of neglect.

“It comes with experience. Here, there is another door just ahead.” Inanna points to the next sealed blast door along this dimly lit passage. This one is scorched deep in a number cratered impacts, ancient firespitter work that us clearly visible even under the failing lights of this section of the carrier. A loud metallic groan sounds through the entire moving ruin, and a deep rumble shakes up through the deck and your legs, rattling you to your core. “...The turret is moving, don’t concern yourself with it. Extend your hand as I just did, and think clearly on the tones you would use - and of Casimir.”

“Casimir isn’t here though,” You object for a moment, but that just gets you a light slap on the back and Inanna’s finger pointing at the blast door, “...Very well, I shall try.”

Holding out your palm, you think of the tone that would be needed to command the doors apart, and then visualize Casimir within your mind’s eye…

>You are successful! You will be able to use basic command tones without speaking.
>You are unsuccessful, instead projecting a blast of white light and noise leaves a ringing dent upon the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be a potent if somewhat unpredictable attack.
>Your thoughts drift from Casimir and to your prince’s plight, and the curse seizes upon its chance. A blast of red light and discordant chaos punches a hole the size of both your fists through the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be an utterly lethal attack. …But should you?
>>
>>5975827
>You are unsuccessful, instead projecting a blast of white light and noise leaves a ringing dent upon the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be a potent if somewhat unpredictable attack.
>>
>>5975827
>>You are successful! You will be able to use basic command tones without speaking.
>>
>>5975827
>>You are unsuccessful, instead projecting a blast of white light and noise leaves a ringing dent upon the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be a potent if somewhat unpredictable attack.
>>
>>5975827
>You are successful! You will be able to use basic command tones without speaking.
>>
>>5975827

>You are successful! You will be able to use basic command tones without speaking.

Utility is always better than combat applications, I would say
>>
>>5975827
>>You are successful! You will be able to use basic command tones without speaking.
>>
>>5975827
>Your thoughts drift from Casimir and to your prince’s plight, and the curse seizes upon its chance. A blast of red light and discordant chaos punches a hole the size of both your fists through the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be an utterly lethal attack. …But should you?
devil's advocate, but Cassimir should know of malice.
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5975827
>>Your thoughts drift from Casimir and to your prince’s plight, and the curse seizes upon its chance. A blast of red light and discordant chaos punches a hole the size of both your fists through the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be an utterly lethal attack. …But should you?
this seems like more narrative fun than simple success or failing successfully
>>You are unsuccessful, instead projecting a blast of white light and noise leaves a ringing dent upon the door. You will be able to repeat this, it seems to be a potent if somewhat unpredictable attack.
but if approval voting is allowed then I'd prefer unsuccess over raw success
>>
>>5976028
Ranking votes by preference is allowed.

>>5975858
>>5975880
>>5975956
>>5975961
Writing.
>>
An unseen chime rings clear and resonant in the air of the rusted passageway, and darkness retreats for an instant as a ring of glowing white light flashes into existence about your hand. Ancient machinery squeals and grinds to life as your command is both given and received, and soon the carbon scored blast door has retracted fully. Inanna claps her hands together happily, pleased with the display.

“A quick study, though it is a simple trick.” Inanna says from beside you, already pressing on down the passageway. The area beyond is even more dimly lit, several of the light strips long ago destroyed by whatever fighting happened here in ancient days. “When I learned to do it, it took a few more minutes - If you keep that pace up, you’ll make something of yourself Morrigan.”

“I recall it being several days.” Ishtar leans toward you and speaks in a whisper, “...She kept blasting holes into things.”

“Ah, time does funny things to memories, doesn’t it?” Inanna shrugs and laughs, overhearing the comment despite her sister’s efforts at subtlety. She casually opens the next blast door with another chime, “Perhaps you’re right.”

“...The fighting here must have been something,” Ahriman comments as you pass into yet darker sections of the battery carrier’s interior and across a shaking umbilical, more and more lights blasted away and the carbon scoring and gouges rent into the metal deepening, “Ancestor’s wrath, what could cut metal like that?”

“...You’ve answered the question for yourself.” Ishtar replies as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, perhaps thinking Ahriman a bit slow, “Focus on what lies ahead, it is only an old battlefield.”

Another deep rumble shakes the passageway, more intense now - is coming from all around you, some enormous mechanism turning slowly just out of sight, stressing the ancient and corroded metal. The turret is moving again, and you must now be under it. Soon enough and you are beyond it, following these sealed off side passages all the way through the middle section of the battery carrier, one chime and door at a time. When you at last reach the frontmost section, standing within one of the thick metal umbilical linkages to it, problems become immediately apparent.

The blast door ahead of you is clean, or at least as close to it as it could be after so many years, all but the smallest flecks of the rust removed and then metal even patched and buffed back to a smooth surface in many places. Yellow and black stripes have been painted on it around the edges, and stepping closer you can see that it has been welded shut.

“...Curses.” Inanna mutters, looking over the door in mild frustration, “I was hoping they’d been too lax to make changes like this. We’ll have to cut through, if this path is blocked then the others must be as well.”
>>
>>5976123

“More sorcery, or do you have a torch hidden in that dress somewhere?” Ahriman remarks, tapping at the weld line with the edge of his sword, “Couldn’t get through steel this thick even with a ram or a firespitter. …Are you singing?”

Inanna is, and her twin sister is retreating back down the umbilical passage a good long way, moving at a jog. It takes you a moment to deduce what they’re doing, but when you do your eyes widen to the size of beetle gourds.

“...Ahriman, to the wall!” You exchange a glance with Inanna as she whispers her song - not one familiar to you, but you know innately that it is a powerful verse, “The wall!”

“What? Oh - OH!” He slams himself back against the wall as pounding footsteps sound through the rear of the umbilical. Ishtar charges out from the dark and toward the welded blast door, a pounding blur of teal, yellow, and pink. Dents are left in the umbilical’s metal floor with every lightning fast footfall.

Hyah!” Ishtar cries out furiously, brilliant light filling the umbilical as she impacts the metal barrier and smashes through, skidding to a screeching stop on the far side, sword now in hand. Just behind her, along the remains of the blast door, two crossing lines of light in the shape of an ‘X’ burn into existence, and after holding there for a moment Inanna’s song grows louder - no longer sung by her, but filling the air itself - and the entire blast door is blown to pieces. Metal pings and clangs, making a terrific racket all around Ishtar, but none of it strikes her.

The large room beyond was occupied moments ago, a pair of green armored Sisyphytes must have been standing watch even at the welded entrance. Now they are little more than red smears, gore and shrapnel split viscera stretched out nauseatingly far across the chamber. It is a storage area of some kind, or once was, now empty save for a few metal crates and this fresh bloody carnage. Everything is cleaned of rust, renewed - in use.

Inanna steps through the smoking ruin of the door and waves you through, “Come quickly, the alar-”

Klaxons begin to sound and the lights of the storage room flash red; the very soul of the battery carrier seems to shake and shudder as the alert sounds, long dormant machinery rising to new life.

“...Alarm may sound.” Inanna finishes, drawing her own blade swiftly and joining beside Ishtar. Ahriman gives you a look, you think, though it’s hard to tell behind that foreign beetle helmet of his, and then draws his own blade. With shaking hands you draw your long bayonet as well, and try desperately not to look at the spreading blood in the storage area’s silvered steel floors. Eyes watch you from the remains which once were men, red and filled with rage - your mind burns, even as you look away.
>>
>>5976124

“Ancestors! If you can rend steel like that, I doubt these foreigners will stand a chance at all… Are you alright, Ishtar?” Ahriman’s praise dies as he notices Ishtar is nearly doubled over, breathing heavily and clearly winded by her charge, “...You won’t be able to repeat that, will you?”

“I will be fine. I can do it as many times as needed. This body, it…” Ishtar shakes her head and slowly stands back to her full height, giving her slender sword a quick flick through the air, “I will be fine.”

“Don’t overdo it, sister - It’s been a long time. Mistakes are bound to happen.” Inanna speaks quietly to her twin, the words nearly lost in the blaring and awful racket of the alarm klaxon, “We should send the Battlers out.”

Ishtar nods after a moment, and then they both touch the brooches clasping their cloaks - you don’t see or feel anything happen, but it surely must have as the twins are soon moving on again, now at a jogging pace as they head to the very large blast door at the exit of the storage area.

Just before reaching it, the large steel door hisses open quickly on its own, disappearing into the walls on either side and allowing bright light to pour in. The chamber beyond is enormous, like the converted hangar the bazaar rests in. A dozen green armored soldiers pile through, swiftly forming a line.

Some wield heavy curving blades of a strange make, other firespitters, and one is riding atop a black plate armored mantis the size of a packslug. The mantis’ blades have been replaced with whirring chainsaws, like the kind used to fell cave mushrooms but far more slender and elegant. All of them - even the ridden mantis - are equipped with jumpboots and heavier carapace than the soldiers you have seen thus far. Pairs of crimson feathers adorn every helmet, slanted in a ‘v’ shape.

“In Velska’s name, lay down your arms!” The one riding the mantis commands in a thunderingly loud voice, a metal speaker worn across the front of his chitinous cuirass amplifying his voice a dozen fold. “Who are you to intrude upon our holy mission?”

>...Let the mantis riding commander speak, perhaps Ahriman or the twins will lead on this.
>”We come for our prince, and we shall have him!” Tear off your disguise, these foreigners will know your face and allegiance! Shout loudly enough that even Casimir must hear, wherever he is winding his way through to follow you - hopefully the vents were not all welded shut too.
>Command the large steel doors shut with a chime, the armored mantis is halfway through it and just standing there. The curse is burning strong now, fear and Casimir’s temporary absence bringing it roaring back to tint your vision red.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5976126
>>Command the large steel doors
>Have them mostly closed, enough to trap or even kill the armored mantis, but open to pass through as a chokepoint.
>>
>>5976126

>Command the large steel doors shut with a chime, the armored mantis is halfway through it and just standing there. The curse is burning strong now, fear and Casimir’s temporary absence bringing it roaring back to tint your vision red.

I like our odds if we can trap or kill the mantis
>>
>>5976126
>Command the large steel doors shut with a chime, the armored mantis is halfway through it and just standing there. The curse is burning strong now, fear and Casimir’s temporary absence bringing it roaring back to tint your vision red.
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5976139
+1

>>5976126
>>
>>5976167
>>5976154
>>5976147
>>5976139
Writing.
>>
The commander atop the black armored mantis continues to speak, voice amplified and reverberating off the walls of the steel storage room, but you have tuned him out. Adrenaline and fear course through you as you survey the carapaced elites fanning out to form a line and block off your path forward - the path to your prince! With every pounding beat of your heart, the flames of the curse grow stronger, tightening their grip about your vision until all that you can see is crawling red and the dead face of the man you would call a brother - He is with them.

Overcome, you scream wordlessly, violently extending a hand toward the line of soldiers and the mantis behind them. The open steel blast doors flank the riding bug’s abdomen, crimson eyes rippling across the surface of the metal and begging to be released, to kill. Red light pulses from your hand in a flashing circle, screeching and discordant, and the phantom eyes are granted their wish.

All the light in the room cuts, and in that half heartbeat of darkness every soul within sees the eyes as you do - cries of panic sound from the soldiers, shocked gasps from the twins, curses from Ahriman, and dying screams] from the mantis as the steel doors snap shut tight like the jaws of a colossal beast. Steel pounds upon steel, and when the light returns to the room the front half of the mantis is flailing and screeching almost too high pitched to be heard - the whirring chainsaws which have replaced its arms flail about in its death throes, biting deep into one of the heavily armored Sisyphytes and dragging the screaming man down in a stream of spraying gore. The commander tumbles and falls from his dying mount, landing half-controlled in a stumbling crouch; he’s quick, a lesser warrior would’ve been trapped beneath the dying mantis. Behind him, the doors are slowly parting again, dented slighting at their edges and splattered in the dying mantis’ ichor.

“Wraith! Kill it!” The stumbling commander shouts, pointing a gauntleted hand directly at you - but his men with firespitters have already opened fire. Searing bolts of energy fly toward you, hissing through the air; Ahriman grabs you by the back of your breastplate and half hauls and half hurls you behind a nearby crate. Slamming against the metal of the box, the breath is knocked from you and you gasp for air, stunned. As quickly as it came upon you, the curse’s power has abandoned you, leaving only cold and desolation - the ashes of a dying fire.
>>
>>5976269

Steel rings against steel and song fills the chamber, firespitters let out cracking discharges, and men begin to die. Cries of fury and pain fill the air, chimes sound here and there moving fast, often followed by shouts and the thumps of heavy impacts or the roar of jump boots. You see none of it, exhausted…

…And in pain.

Blinking a few times, struggling to think, you pat at the side of your stolen breastplate. Wincing hard, you find the source of your growing agony with a few gloved finger tips, and then look down to better inspect what has wetted them. The green of your carapace there has been scorched black and crumbled away, its shining protective outer coat bubbled up like half boiled mushroom sap and the chitin beneath turned to carbon. Your flesh is seared deep, half cauterized and oozing with thick dark red. If you had not been wearing the captured breastplate, your organs may very well have been cooked all at once… Ahriman was right, shoddy foreign armor…

“Casimir,” You gasp out the name of your dragon as you press down against the ashen wound, whimpering in pain as you apply pressure to stop the deep bleed, “Casimir…”

>”...Mend.” Attempt to command your wound closed. It is beyond the healing arts to mend a wound so quickly, but slowing the bleeding to a trickle may be enough - you just need more time to work. [Morrigan]
>Try to force yourself back to your feet, you must help your allies! The door was only the start, you may be drained of the curse’s unnatural power but the tones are still yours to command. Try to send a soldier or two sprawling, perhaps you can command force even without sand? [Morrigan]
>[Switch to Control Casimir]. Morrigan will do what must be done to survive - You must reach her.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5976270
>[Switch to Control Casimir]. Morrigan will do what must be done to survive - You must reach her.
>>
>>5976270
>[Switch to Control Casimir]. Morrigan will do what must be done to survive - You must reach her.
>>
>>5976270
>>Try to force yourself back to your feet, you must help your allies! The door was only the start, you may be drained of the curse’s unnatural power but the tones are still yours to command. Try to send a soldier or two sprawling, perhaps you can command force even without sand? [Morrigan]
>>
>>5976270
>[Switch to Control Casimir]. Morrigan will do what must be done to survive - You must reach her.
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5976270
>[Switch to Control Casimir]. Morrigan will do what must be done to survive - You must reach her.
>>
>>5976270

>[Switch to Control Casimir]. Morrigan will do what must be done to survive - You must reach her.

Hopefully the twins know a way to deal with this curse business.
>>
>>5976270
>>Try to force yourself back to your feet, you must help your allies! The door was only the start, you may be drained of the curse’s unnatural power but the tones are still yours to command. Try to send a soldier or two sprawling, perhaps you can command force even without sand? [Morrigan]
>>
>>5976286
>>5976290
>>5976315
>>5976421
>>5976426
Writing.
>>
The world shakes in black and white, and you crawl within the veins of the half-dead. Clawed wings press forward, cloth wrapped talons scrape, a long tail pushes - your movement is rhythm made manifest, steady and assured, slithering and climbing and clambering through the bowels of the corroded carrier. This machine still lives, just as you live - its fusion core emits a steady pulse, a heartbeat sounding out in thumping white, and the dark rumbles of its great weapon speak deeply of wars long forgotten. The wars of the ancestor’s. The wars you were created for, so very long ago.

Scuttling things move ahead of you, around the next bend of the ducts. Lowering your neck and leveling horn, you take aim and draw upon the power of mother’s song. Power flows and thrums, your very being surging to a pinprick at the tip of your horn as you acquire a target lock. A parasonic chirp crashes through the world of black and white, echoing down the vent and around the bend; the little scuttlers flee, clicking in terror as they are struck by the overwhelming noise, and your press on. You do not mean these bugs harm, but you could surely destroy them all, hunt them to the very last - you know that in your core, a ringing truth felt in muscle and metal and song. You do not desire it though - they have their own lives, however small, and you are not hungry.

The world now sways, drifting from side to side. Song reaches out and returns, bringing with it a wash of detail in black and white. Though you can see within even the faintest light, you travel now by pararadar, imaging the world with mother’s song. It is the key to everything, warmth and love itself - you heard it from within your shell even before hatching, before looking into her eyes which are so very like your own. Four eyes were marked upon her, and a horn - A dragon of a rider. Could she have known how beautiful she would look? How much she would mean to you? That she would be the very anchor of your soul?

It does not matter if she knew, or if she knows; it is so.
>>
>>5976523

Many things simply are, and you know not why. The welded barricade ahead of you is one such thing - what is its purpose? The metal is not the same as the ultrahardened steel of the battery carrier, it is an addition after the fact as surely as these green armored soldiers infesting the carrier are. These ‘slavers’. Enemies of mother. You know nothing of the ‘prince’ they took from mother besides what you have heard in stories, but you know what must be done - he is precious to her, and you will recover him. This barrier will not stand before you. Focusing once more, you call upon the might of your song and prepare to charge. It is instinctive, a dragon knows what it can move and what it cannot - and this barrier will surely give way. Backing off a way, you flare your jets to life, feeling their power and heat flood the tight umbilical. Light fills the swaying tunnel, and you see yellow and black stripes upon the far barrier - caution measures, archaic signaling but still in use.

Pulling your wings tight, you rocket forward through the umbilical tunnel like a shell from a cannon. Steel shatters like glass before the light of your horn and barrier, and then you are beyond it. Elsewhere, another creature does the same. Another of your kind, though strange in body - the Elder. Ishtar. Though you cannot see through the metal of the carrier, you see the black wave of her impact ripple past, carrying the song of her strange twin and rider.

You crawl within another vent, a cleaner one, your song returning to you with details of smooth and uncorroded metal - repaired, replaced. The enemies of mother have been busy here, but their metal is weaker, you feel the flaws even where others could not see them. Alarms sound distantly throughout the carrier - something has upset the ancient machine, perhaps the damage you have caused to it.

Carrying on, you try to intuit the path the Elder and her rider must be leading mother and the captain upon. Up! Prisoners would be kept on higher levels. These approximations of humans cannot fly without external machines, at best they leap - a high fall would break them, and so that is where prisoners should be kept. It is simple, logical, and you are sure of it. A faint signal is detected by your horn - two friendly entities are emitting powerful parasonic signals back in the direction of the skimmer bay; they are not intelligent as you are, very simple minds, and they are taking flight. Battlers, something within the core of your being identifies them, matching the word spoken earlier by the twins to the odd signals.
>>
>>5976524

Before you can consider new word association further, alarms blare within your mind and red eyes fly past within the dark. Alerts of a liminal attack flash across the interior of your thoughts, and your barrier of song hardens and rejects the unseen horrors. These are the specters which flock to mother’s afflicted blood and soul - you know them too well now, a burning crimson mark which has clung to her since the first moment’s of your life. She has just wielded them.

…But if anyone can do so, it is mother. She is strong, and must have good reason. Even still, you find yourself slowing, hesitating before ascending vertically up the next duct. Something must have happened for her to draw on such a source of power, even you know it to be a desperate measure.

”Casimir…” Mother’s voice sounds to you, a pained whisper carried unconsciously by her newest verse. A primitive beam weapon has struck her side, and she is gravely injured. The report fades along with her call to you, and…

>Rage fills you! You barrel forward though every barrier between you, crashing through the very deck itself to reach her - nothing will stop you. She needs you beside her! You should have been there to begin with. You will use your strength yourself.

>Pain fills you! You feel mother’s wound as you wound one upon your own body - She is a part of you, more than horn or tail or talon. You will lend her your strength, and struggle forward through the vent. You will reach her eventually, but you cannot rip through metal while you bolster her.

>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited.
>>
>>5976526
>Pain fills you! You feel mother’s wound as you wound one upon your own body - She is a part of you, more than horn or tail or talon. You will lend her your strength, and struggle forward through the vent. You will reach her eventually, but you cannot rip through metal while you bolster her.
If the alarm is in full tilt, may as well sing at full power
>>
>>5976526
>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited.
>>
>>5976526
>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited
>>
>>5976526
>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited.
>>
>>5976526
>>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited.
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5976526

>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited.

Doubling-down on the empath bond here
>>
>>5976526
>Love fills you! In the depths of a crisis, you are her first thought. Your bond deepens, and you make haste to her side. It will take time, and she will have to fend for herself briefly, but you will both be stronger once you are reunited.
Lovemaxxing.
Ishtar's a dragon? or another form of artificial being? Interesting...
>>
>>5976709
Morrigan seems to be a form of an artificial being too
>>
>>5976709
>>5976705
>>5976646
>>5976645
>>5976621
>>5976550
Do you remember love, anons? Writing.
>>
…Love fills you. Casimir and Morrigan will each progress in their abilities.

Even as mother’s call to you fades from your active systems, you clutch tightly at its memory and press onward, song guiding you to its source. If mother is injured then you must reach her! Claw before claw, you make all due haste, rattling and slithering your way through the duct system, belly pressed to patched steel. You reroute once and then twice as you reach more sealed barriers, these ones lowered by the alarm, not welded. At the third such blockage you let out an aggrieved chirp, commanding the doors apart - they open briefly and then snap shut, denied by the carrier itself. It has readied itself for battle. For a moment you consider forcing the blockage aside, barreling through, but you must save your strength to defend mother. You chirp and find another way, longer and circuitous, but soon you hear the sonorous music of the Elder and her rider growing louder, chimes and steel ringing.

Battle has been fully met. Targeting data flows to you, but it is of no use - you do not have the weapons to make use of the Elder’s guidance. Too small, too young, your have but claws and a small horn.

Your legs slow, uncertain. You have never been in a battle before, only near them - chases and snatching a blade from a boy are no true fight. Beam weapons crack and pulse, screams join the song briefly, and then again. Another chirping ping sent through the ducts reveals the winding paths ahead of you - there are more security barriers sealing the way, you will not be able to drop directly into the fight.

Scurrying to the closest access panel, you flex your claws and press hard against steel, slicing through the cloth which padded them. Tapping your horn to the metal, you feel all of its unseen weaknesses, cracks in its internal structure - a sharp pulse of song and the butting of your armor head sends the panel crashing to the floor far below, and you slip free and fall with it.
>>
>>5976927

Wings shoot out instinctively, slowing your fall into the former hangar, and you land in silence, long tail and neck swaying about and then lowering flat. Retreating into the shadows, even your white scales vanish from the view of weaker eyes - there are many crates and signs of reconstruction here, many places to hide and advance from. Green armored soldiers rush past in groups, three here, four there, a pair behind them. They wield blades and ‘firespitters’, as mother calls them, some have strange boots, others wear bulkier armor altogether and wield heavy axes. Large pack bugs, slugs and beetles mostly, watch as the soldiers storm past - they do not comprehend what is happening, but you sense their growing fear.

All of them run toward an open set of blast doors, out of sight visually but revealed by your other senses - a creature has been torn in half by the door mechanism, and beyond it you catch fleeting returns of moving figures, of the Elder and her rider Inanna, and even Ahriman. Song fills the carrier, louder and bolder with every passing second - familiar, but not mothers. She will sing again when you reach her.

You must reach her… but how to approach this battle?

>Advance boldly, you have saved your energy long enough - strike from behind and join your singer, more powerful than before! A path must be cut through these soldiers.
>Trust in the Elder’s protection. Find the door controls in this converted hangar and forcefully seal as many as you can, stem the flow of reinforcing soldiers.
>Frighten the construction bugs! Chirp and screech, flap your wings and command a stampede into existence! Sow chaos and confusion.
>Write-in.
>>
>>5976928
>Trust in the Elder’s protection. Find the door controls in this converted hangar and forcefully seal as many as you can, stem the flow of reinforcing soldiers.
>>
>>5976928
>Frighten the construction bugs! Chirp and screech, flap your wings and command a stampede into existence! Sow chaos and confusion.
>>
>>5976928
>Trust in the Elder’s protection. Find the door controls in this converted hangar and forcefully seal as many as you can, stem the flow of reinforcing soldiers.
now we're talking
>>
>>5976928
>>Trust in the Elder’s protection. Find the door controls in this converted hangar and forcefully seal as many as you can, stem the flow of reinforcing soldiers.
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5976928
>>Trust in the Elder’s protection. Find the door controls in this converted hangar and forcefully seal as many as you can, stem the flow of reinforcing soldiers.
>>
>>5976955
>>5977045
>>5977139
>>5977229
Writing.
>>
Though your heart cries out to reach mother’s side, your mind knows better - this tide of reinforcing soldiers must be stemmed, doors must be shut. When the next group rattles past in their heavy chitin armor, you dart from the shadows, claws clicking away across the metal deck. With song and the din of battle in the air, none think twice about more sounds of metal on metal, and you reach the first set of doors without issue. Focusing the power of mother’s song within your horn, you lunge forward and up, and pierce deep into the door’s control panel. Chaotic and uncontrolled parasonic energies echo and bounce within, fusing circuitry and putting a final end to the ancient device.

One down…

You leap behind a stack of crates nearby and clamber to its top, peering your head and neck around to survey the great half-converted hangar deck. They are making it into a… laboratory of some kind, but the machine is not set up yet. Three more doors remain, another group of soldiers entering from the one closest to you - it will have to wait. Climbing higher, leaping to nearby scaffolding, you sprint a short distance and then leap and take flight in near total silence. In the air, you lock your remaining target, triangles of light seen only by dragon and rider illuminating them within your mind. When you land, it is horn first, directly into the next panel. Another burst of song sends sparks flying and metal heating red, and the steel door clamp shut in the faces of several surprised soldiers. Pride courses through you; you are doing well, this maneuvering comes easy - the other slavers have not seen you.

Two down…

When you turn, you find a black horned beetle twice your size staring at you, stamping its feet upon the ground as it prepares to charge.

“Halt, beetle!” You hiss out a warning at it, but it is too late - the attentive beast of burden charging forward on scuttling legs, horned head lowered. Folding your wings close, you propel yourself to the side with a kick of your hind legs and a burst of jetfire. The black carapaced beetle charges past and slams into the closed steel door, denting it terribly. Dazed, the beetle takes a few moments to turn - but you are long gone by then. These slavers may be focused on the battle, but their beasts are protective of them and skittish. You take greater care moving past them now, slowing slightly as you maneuver through the construction zone.
>>
>>5977278

The next door goes without issue, another stab and it is sealed. Three down. The final door, the one you avoided earlier, still has soldiers moving through it. Four of them are not heading toward the fight though, firespitters held at a low ready as they fan out through the hangar, helmets turning here and there and eyes searching the depths of every shadow. Lights on their weapons click on, tight beams illuminating the dark places you would hide within. They know. The group which was cut off must have communicated to the others.

>Slink and slither to the last door, even equipped with their lights you have a great advantage of perception over these slaver soldiers. It will take more time, but there is little risk. The fighting continues, surely they can hold a little longer. [Minimal risk - Slowest]
>Make all haste for the door! Jet past the soldiers if you must and make sure it is sealed, and then flee to safety. They will likely get a few shots off, but your armor and the barrier of song may stop the searing beams. [Medium risk - Quick but not immediate help]
>Fight to the door! The danger will be at its greatest, but your were crafted war - a distraction will draw pressure from the Elder and mother immediately, and you may even still be able to seal the last door if all goes well. [High risk - Immediately helps]
>Write-in.
>>
>>5977279
>You've done enough, join up with the others. When they can only come in from one direction, it will be far easier to use other methods to deal with them.
>>
>>5977279
>Make all haste for the door! Jet past the soldiers if you must and make sure it is sealed, and then flee to safety. They will likely get a few shots off, but your armor and the barrier of song may stop the searing beams. [Medium risk - Quick but not immediate help]
>>
>>5977279
>Write-in.
Seek the blessings of Witch Queen Mazela, she can surely save you with her psychic powers
>>
>>5977279
>Make all haste for the door! Jet past the soldiers if you must and make sure it is sealed, and then flee to safety. They will likely get a few shots off, but your armor and the barrier of song may stop the searing beams. [Medium risk - Quick but not immediate help]
>>
>>5977279
>Make all haste for the door! Jet past the soldiers if you must and make sure it is sealed, and then flee to safety. They will likely get a few shots off, but your armor and the barrier of song may stop the searing beams. [Medium risk - Quick but not immediate help]
>>
>>5977279
>Fight to the door! The danger will be at its greatest, but your were crafted war - a distraction will draw pressure from the Elder and mother immediately, and you may even still be able to seal the last door if all goes well. [High risk - Immediately helps]
>>
One more hour for votes, apologies for the slight delay.
>>
>>5977279
>You've done enough, join up with the others. When they can only come in from one direction, it will be far easier to use other methods to deal with them.
>>
>>5977356
>>5977372
>>5977460
Writing.
>>
There is no more time to be wasted.

Leaping out from the shadows, you pull your wings in close and draw once more upon mother’s song, tuning jet and talon and tail to act as one. With a tremendous hissing rush of flame, you shoot across the steel deck, right past the legs of surprised soldiers who let out cries of shock and fire weapons off into the dark. Armored white plates screech across steel as you rocket onward like a sled, slight shifts of your tail and large rear talons working as a crude rudder to guide you. More soldiers turn to watch your advance, a few letting off shots with their firespitters; you tense, and your protective barrier flickers into existence for the split second needed to block the shots. Brilliant light fills the hangar, illuminating all the dark places among the crates and construction area.

Slamming horn first into the final door panel, you let out a shriek and fry it's circuits. The two halves of the steel portal lock together with tremendous force. Jets quiet, and you push your legs against the bulkhead in an attempt to free your stuck head, talons scratching furrows into the steel as you struggle. The shooting does not stop, nearby blasts crackling through the air and striking your barrier - with a sharp strained chime the barrier of light shatters just as you pull your horn free and fall backward. A blast strikes your wing, sending alerts and searing pain burning through your mind, and then another strikes the thick plates of your spine, blasting deep but not penetrating.

“Turn about, you roaches! Concentrate fire on the demon!” One of the soldiers shouts out the command, and illumination beams from at least half a dozen others turn to spotlight you before opening fire in a withering barrage of flashing heat.

Screeching, you barrel toward the cover of a nearby stack of steel plates, keeping flat and low but unable to avoid more hits upon your large wings even while keeping them folded close. Without your barrier, the firespitters have a devastating effect, punching holes as thick as mother’s thumb right through your wings and impacting the bulkheads beyond. This cover is not safe enough! More shots strike your plates, and then one catches near your eyes, overloading one temporarily and leaving a deep crack in your plates. Hissing in pain, you jet once more across the hangar…

>Directly to mother! You will be exposed to fire for longer, but you must join her now that the doors are sealed. She will renew the song within you. [Continue as Morrigan.]
>At the commander rallying these soldiers to fire upon you! Impale him, get in among their ranged weapons and show them the fury of a dragon! Fight until the others reach you. [Continue as Morrigan.]
>To better cover, real safety. These wounds are not grievous yet but may cripple you if the soldiers keep up their barrage - they’re accurate shooters, even when surprised, and you must deal with them with care. [Continue as Casimir.]
>Write-in.
>>
>>5977921
>Directly to mother! You will be exposed to fire for longer, but you must join her now that the doors are sealed. She will renew the song within you. [Continue as Morrigan.]
>>
>>5977921
>>To better cover, real safety. These wounds are not grievous yet but may cripple you if the soldiers keep up their barrage - they’re accurate shooters, even when surprised, and you must deal with them with care. [Continue as Casimir.]
>>
>>5977921
>Directly to mother! You will be exposed to fire for longer, but you must join her now that the doors are sealed. She will renew the song within you. [Continue as Morrigan.]
>>
>>5977921
>>Directly to mother! You will be exposed to fire for longer, but you must join her now that the doors are sealed. She will renew the song within you. [Continue as Morrigan.]
>>
>>5977921
>To better cover, real safety. These wounds are not grievous yet but may cripple you if the soldiers keep up their barrage - they’re accurate shooters, even when surprised, and you must deal with them with care. [Continue as Casimir.]
>>
>>5977921
>Directly to mother! You will be exposed to fire for longer, but you must join her now that the doors are sealed. She will renew the song within you. [Continue as Morrigan.]
>>
One more hour for votes.
>>
>>5977921
>To better cover, real safety. These wounds are not grievous yet but may cripple you if the soldiers keep up their barrage - they’re accurate shooters, even when surprised, and you must deal with them with care. [Continue as Casimir.]
>>
>>5978331
>>5978113
>>5978099
>>5977935
Writing. Apologies, got delayed for a bit.
>>
>>5978441
No worries QM. Thanks for the update! This is one of the faster-updating quests on the board, though, so your 'delay' is really no problem. Thank you for running such a steady quest.
>>
Almost done writing, just getting some proof reading done now.
>>
You are Morrigan.

“Casimir…” His name leaves you in a pained whisper, your fingers wet and warm with bubbling blood as you clutch at the half cauterized wound across your side. The world darkens, narrowing as your eyelids grow heavier, and heavier, every breath a greater effort than the last. Every inhalation burns, and the curse has returned to fill the void it left, but only to torment you - there is no strength in it, none that you dare to draw upon. How much worse would this be if you had done so purposefully earlier? You tried to command your wound shut moments ago, but could not manage the tones - the pain was too great, your voice cracked and failed.

The battle is still raging on, you hear it distantly, so very far away from your darkening world. Eyes of red flame watch in that terrible dark, festering and growing into a creeping and spreading crimson, an agonizing red which consumes more and more of your awareness with every ragged breath.

“Casimir…” You call out again, nearly too pained to speak.

“I am here, mother.” A young voice comforts you, “I heard you.”

“...Casimir?” You cannot see him. You cannot see anything, the dark is too deep, the red too searingly hot, “I… I think I am dying.”

When you speak the words, they ring out as truth - you are dying. Not quickly, the bleed is not so great, but with every pained breath the flames of the curse are fanned higher - it is consuming you. Something sharp presses against your forehead, a pinprick drawing a trickle of blood.

The curse flees, and your eyes open. You are not dying. Casimir’s horn is pressed point first to your forehead, three slitted pink eyes staring into your two. He is hurt, worse than you, one of his eyes nearly put out by a blast. You lift a hand to the side of his face and run your fingers across the white plates, smearing a small trail of red. The thrum of your song still fills him, but it has weakened.

“You’re hurt, Casimir.” You try to sit up further, but your dragon’s presence has banished only the curse, not the pain of the horrid burns along your side. A pathetic noise escapes you as you wince, “...Nn! …My side, I…”

“The Elder’s rider will heal you.” Casimir draws his horn back and stands upon his hind legs for a moment, his neck peering up and around the cover you were thrown behind earlier. You then catch a better look of his blasted and carbon scored plating. Black splotches and cracks mar his perfect white, holes in his wings leak a thick red, and one eye no longer glows; will he heal? You don’t know, and even as your own wound burns, Casimir’s worry you more terribly.
>>
>>5978567

The song filling the air, the song of the twins, grows bolder before reaching a crescendo, and a pulse of light splashes across the storage room in a wave, throwing bodies and crates through the air like tents caught in a sandstorm. You pull into a tight ball, and Casimir wraps his wings about you to shield from the blast. A crate strikes him, and he screeches in pain, but then the room begins to fall silent. The song is fading, retreating back to the unseen spaces where those energies reside.

“That’s the last of them!” Inanna shouts victoriously, “The hatchling sealed the doors, he thinks quickly for a day-old.”

“That he does… Sister, your hand!” Inanna cries out in shock. …What has happened?

Ishtar’s mad laugh shakes the room, seeming to your ears both louder than thunder and more terrible than the fiercest storm, not at all the laugh of a woman, “Three fingers suits me better, Sister!”

“Ancestor’s wrath, what do you mean her hand?!” Ahriman shouts out in a panic, his voice no longer muffled behind a helmet, “How are either of you alive, you have a sword in you! And your eye! …Aren’t you in pain? Morrigan, come, we need a healer!”

“Don’t make such a fuss, it’s just my… thigh!” Inanna grunts slightly in pain and you hear an awful wet sliding, followed by the clattering of steel on the metal deck plating. Her voice returns to normal at once, “See? Not my best performance, but it won’t be my last - nor my sister’s. …Where is Morrigan?”

“I threw her to safety… Oh, curses.” Ahriman steps into the edge of your field of view, green eyes staring down at you with something close to concern.

Casimir pulls back from you to allow the young captain to see you more clearly. Ahriman’s green armor is blasted and pockmarked, and seems to have held up better than your own. Shoddy or not, it was thicker and withstood the battle more readily, but you still see a number of places where it failed. He bears the pain better than yesterday, but his wounds cannot be as grievous as your own is - surely not. A great deal of blood covers his stolen suit of armor, thick splotches of red across the chitinous plates and dark soaked green cloth beneath, but much of it must not be his own.

“Curses? Indeed.” The twins say, stepping into view as well.
>>
>>5978568

Ishtar begins inspecting Casimir’s wounds at once, and you wheeze in shock as you see the woman’s awful condition. She is covered in blood, and much of it is hers. She’s been stabbed in at least three places, and one of her hands is missing its thumb and forefinger, sliced deep in such a way that they have been carved off entirely. That is the hand she chooses to stroke Casimir with, three fingered and bloody, leaving prints and trails across him as she kneels to look at the depth of his wounds. The young dragon coos in delight at the attention, like it were the most natural thing in the world. Inanna is in an even worse state, one of her eyes is a bloody mess, a deep gouge across the side of her face having put it out entirely, and she’s covered in deep cuts and stab wounds, the one upon her thigh hardly even the most noteworthy.

“Will mother survive?” Casimir asks Ishtar, worrying not for himself. The three-fingered woman gives no answer and instead looks to her twin expectantly. Inanna nods, crouching beside you and moving your hand from your side, replacing it with her own. Her other hand, slick with blood, holds your free one and squeezes it comfortingly.

“This will hurt, but it will soon end.” Inanna warns you gently, speaking far too calmly for a woman missing an eye. After taking in a deep breath, she whispers a few words of a verse you do not recognize, and the pain in your side flares into new and agonizing life. You scream and thrash, the woman’s hand is searingly hot, a heated iron against your flesh… And then the pain is gone. Tears flow from your eyes, but when Inanna pulls her hand away you spy that beneath the charred plate of your armor the flesh has been cleanly knitted back together.
>>
>>5978570

“And now we must move.” Inanna stands and whispers the healing verse once again, the painful song quietly filling the air around you, more felt than heard, and she doesn’t even flinch as her wounds knit and her cloven eye reforms, “Ishtar, Casimir will repair?”

“Superficial damage, his eyes may be dimmer for a time. A song may be needed.” Ishtar grunts slightly as her thumb and forefinger emerge from her flesh in a slowly spreading light, her other wounds vanishing as well. All the blood remains however, and both twins’ robes and cloaks are tattered and burnt, turned more into ragged ponchos worn over their strange bodysuits beneath. “...I fear we’ve grown weaker in our long wandering, Inanna.”

“Rust to be worked off. Morrigan, rise.” Inanna waves off her sister’s concerns and hauls you to your feet. You feel stronger now, something has changed - and in Casimir as well.

Your bond has deepened, and the path ahead is clear; you must find the prisoners and free your prince.

Vote one:
>You have learned to make sense of some of the symbols within your mind, as Casimir does. Their deeper meaning still eludes you.
>Your strength has grown closer to that of a dragon’s, your speed and the force of your blows enhanced with draconic grace. …A hatchling’s strength and grace, but it is still a boon.
>...You’re not sure what exactly has changed, but you find your mind strangely filled with thoughts of flowing sand. What could that mean?

Vote two:
>”The survivors shall know of this place’s secrets - where the slaves are kept, and more. We should question one while there is time.” Not much time, perhaps a minute or two at most.
>”Ishtar, Inanna - could we seize command of this vessel? Perhaps negotiation is not beyond these foreign demons if we capture their leader.” The twins are terrifying in a battle, and though Ahriman is still wounded he is no slouch - though you hate to admit that - perhaps such a bold plan could work?
>”...Up! Prisoners would be kept above, wouldn’t they? There can’t be many decks above the next chamber.” Pure intuition. You would ask the twins where to go, but it is clear the Sisyphytes have made many changes to this section of the carrier.
>Write-in.

Please vote for both votes.
>>
>>5978571
>You have learned to make sense of some of the symbols within your mind, as Casimir does. Their deeper meaning still eludes you.
>”The survivors shall know of this place’s secrets - where the slaves are kept, and more. We should question one while there is time.” Not much time, perhaps a minute or two at most.
>>
>>5978571
>>You have learned to make sense of some of the symbols within your mind, as Casimir does. Their deeper meaning still eludes you.

>>”The survivors shall know of this place’s secrets - where the slaves are kept, and more. We should question one while there is time.” Not much time, perhaps a minute or two at most.
>>
>>5978571
>You have learned to make sense of some of the symbols within your mind, as Casimir does. Their deeper meaning still eludes you.
>”The survivors shall know of this place’s secrets - where the slaves are kept, and more. We should question one while there is time.” Not much time, perhaps a minute or two at most.
>>
>>5978571
>You have learned to make sense of some of the symbols within your mind, as Casimir does. Their deeper meaning still eludes you.

>”Ishtar, Inanna - could we seize command of this vessel? Perhaps negotiation is not beyond these foreign demons if we capture their leader.” The twins are terrifying in a battle, and though Ahriman is still wounded he is no slouch - though you hate to admit that - perhaps such a bold plan could work?
>>
One more hour for voting.
>>
>>5978571
>Your strength has grown closer to that of a dragon’s, your speed and the force of your blows enhanced with draconic grace. …A hatchling’s strength and grace, but it is still a boon.
Before all else, one must survive.

>>5978571
>”...Up! Prisoners would be kept above, wouldn’t they? There can’t be many decks above the next chamber.” Pure intuition. You would ask the twins where to go, but it is clear the Sisyphytes have made many changes to this section of the carrier.
>We just need to keep sealing doors until we find the prisoners. We need to secure an escape path anyway, so going directly to them would be greater danger.



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