No.757843[Last 50 Posts]
At last, the final sight of the Tartarian Descent Team is engulfed by the interminable darkness.
The Great Seal rends the earth with a deafening quake, as it slides nearly shut, open only by a hairsbreadth. The Loyal Kerberos, ten thousand Umbral Hounds strong, holds one end of Shei's Black Thread in one of his mouths. He leers at it contemptuously, but holds it nonetheless as agreed.
Most of the others accompanying Sir Pryce cannot look anymore at the Great Seal, ready to direct their thoughts to anything other than the fates of their friends… and foes. Sir Estuary is the only one who seems composed. He looks to Pryce, and with a slight bow of his head, says, "Perhaps we should make for the surface, milord. We have no further business here."
Pryce is still, staring at the seal for long after it nearly closes back up. He makes no movement or sound, almost stuck in a trance, until Sir Estuary speaks to him, and even then it takes a moment for him to respond.
"…Right. We should," He says, voice sounding empty, though not moving from his spot.
It seems you are not alone. Renee, River, Zjetya, and the children also remain more or less where they stood when they said their final farewells, either trying to busy themselves with the pets or the hellhounds, or simply staring off into space altogether.
The silence is at last broken by Spark, who has begun to cry audibly for Shorthorned, despite the brave face he put on for her at the very end. Vortigern, ever the caring mother, scoops little Spark off of Lockjaw's back. Lockjaw grunts with frustration, and Vortigern relents, carrying Spark at a low enough height that Lockjaw can sniff and grunt at the tiny baby drake to assuage his cries.
Estuary elbows you and nods his head toward the exit.
KP looks up at everypony, concerned, though also feeling the mood himself.
Pryce's head turns as Spark cries out, feeling the sting of the audible remorse of being left behind. Estuary's elbow is enough to get Pryce to move after that, getting him to re-realize the world and the others around him.
"… Come on everypony, we got our share to do still."
Pryce speaks aloud to the group, turning to follow towards the exit with lingering heaviness in his steps.
Gravity bends your stomachs and senses as you leave the chamber of Kerberos, the hounds silent at your departure, out of respect.
Upon leaving the darkened chamber, the Dragon of Mercury is found waiting, floating nearby. Eight spiraling stairways connect to the stone chamber, but after a moment, with a shuddering quake, the stairways start to combine, one step at a time.
"In a moment," the Dragon of Mercury begins, "A path straight back to your World shall be complete. You will understand that we must reset the randomization of God's Entombed following your departure. It is part of the protocols left behind by the ancient ones."
As you wait for the stairway to align, Renee's mouth opens and shuts in frustration many times. She looks like she's having trouble formulating her thoughts.
Pryce looks up the staircase as it is slowly formed together, a little shocked that leaving will be a simple task.
"Oh… thank you."
KP looks up to Renee as she looks to be troubled.>"Is everything alright?"
He asks her.
"You all…" Renee begins. "What do you intend with Ecclesia? Will you join them, work alongside them, or disregard them altogether?"
"Well," Zjetya says. "I will remind you I'm at the rank of Evangelist among the Laity. Even if I'm not assigned to the front lines of the coming war, I don't think I'm going to be able to avoid involvement with it for much longer."
"We don't have many allies on the surface. Any disagreements are minor outside of the bigger threat coming," Pryce comments, turning back to face the group.
"Rooster recommended joining the Vermillion Corps. It does sound like our best option all things considered, we're allied but not beholden. And at the very least, we can use it to fill in their interest with Ornifex instead of their other troops."
"I was actually… thinking of joining Eccleisa, myself," Renee says.
"It is not a decision I come to lightly, one I toiled over many nights with Flow. I learned from Sir Freischutz that some of my friends, who I believed dead, have come to involve themselves with Ecclesia, and now must be standing at the ready against the Treibheanna."
"You… sure you want to do that?" Zjetya asks. "No guarantee you'd be able to see us again. As a healer, they'd want you close to the action, probably at some kind of forward camp…"
"I've considered well the risks. After all, have I not seen what atrocities demons and angels alike can engineer in our travels?"
At last, the grand staircase forms, and the others, one by one, gradually set hoof upon it.
"I can't say whether you should join them or not, only that if you do so, that you stay safe. But, I would like us to stay as grouped together as possible," Pryce says. He looks forward to the staircase as it finally forms, stepping up to return back to the surface, with KP following behind.
"I know you can handle yourself, my concern would be over if they let you leave after all this."
"I understand…" Renee says. "But with Flow gone, I fear the anticipation may drive me mad if I do not have a sufficient undertaking before me to occupy me body and mind… besides, I would be remiss if the world were not a peaceful place where a warrior like him could come back, rest his head and get some peaceful dreams."
"Well hey," Zjetya says. "We're gonna have to deal with the Eccleisan bureaucracy to get my assignment with you all extended and information on the Vermillion Corps. You could inquire about it there."
After what feels like an interminable climb back up, the stairway through that liminal dungeon at last deposits you in a hallway, a hallway you perceive upon a 2-D plane as if you were characters in a storybook. As you open a door at the end of the hall, your vision reverts to normal, and you are in the grand hall of Fantasia Palace once more, just as you were so many months ago when storming it alongside Blessings and River against the tyrant demon Orcus.
"We have plenty to do to prepare for the Treibheanna, it's not like we'll be resting much while the others are—" Pryce stops, not finishing that line of thought, continuing on and brushing past it. "We're all working to make the world safe. But like Zjetya says, we have a lot to work with first today to plan what we do next."
Once they return back to the surface, Pryce feels a small bit of relief that they're back in a familiar and safe environment.>"Feels like we were down there forever! Do you think we'll have to go through the puzzles again next time?"
KP chimes up once they enter the grand hall.
"We should have told them our secret knock so they'd know it's us next time," Spitshine says.
"We have a secret knock?" Sugar asks.
Spitshine remains aloof and nods silently to KP as a silly girl tries to steal away their esoteric knowledge. Sugar just puffs out her cheeks at this idiocy.
As you step back outside, the glare of the late afternoon sunlight momentarily blinds you. Though it is nearly sunset, it brings with it no comfort or beauty, instead casting an ominous bloody shade over the fortress-city and the landscape beyond.
"Most of the other Choristers have advanced to the front far south of here," Zjetya says. "We should speak with Einmal ist Keinmal tomorrow, he should still be in Lilane overseeing support operations."
KP snickers at Sugar's annoyed reaction, and runs a hoof over his muzzle to show his lips are sealed on the subject.
"Tomorrow? There's still time today we could stop by and talk," Pryce comments, looking out towards the setting sun, hooves already moving forward to return to the airship.
"We could try," Zjetya says. "But I hear it's pretty difficult to catch Sir Einmal at this time of day, apparently he's something of a workaholic."
"I can't guarantee I won't fall asleep before we arrive," River says. Judging by the others' weary expressions, the trials of God's Entombed and the stress of saying what may have been your final farewells to everyone seem to have exhausted everyone.
"I'll be the copilot," Vortigern says. "Earl Volkama left me the user manual for the airship. And, with him and Wireframe gone into Tartarus, we're down to only Pryce knowing how to fly it. We should get everyone trained posthaste."
Spitshine yawns. "Wonder how Regina's taking Box leaving…"
"I'm sure he can make time, we can just explain the situation," Pryce starts, then notices how worn the others are by their expression and comments. He stops, taking a breath to collect himself at realizing the rush he was pushing through.
"Or… let's just wait until the morning."
>"Yea, they only just met… We should check in on her before we fly off to wherever."
Before you can head back to the airship, River reminds you that the others took the majority of your food and drink supplies into Tartarus with them. Dividing up some funds, your group splits up to go into town and purchase some supplies. Spitshine and Sugar stick with KP, River and Zjetya pair up, and Vortigern decides to take Spark and Volkama's trio of mage mice back to the airship – they in particular are truly despondent.
Renee goes back with Vortigern.
KP goes off with Spitshine and Sugar, debating both the balance of smart decisions and snacks.
"…How are you feeling about all this?"
Pryce asks Sir Estuary as they're left in their own group alone, not wanting to shop in silence and also seeing this is the first calm moment he's been in around the knight.
As they look around, Pryce still feels despondent over the whole ordeal and the atmosphere over the group. Then, an idea surfaces at the back of his mind. His mood looks to lift a slight bit, and he turns, with a new focus to find classic camp food.
"I have little feeling on the matter," Estuary says. "I hardly knew any of them, save for what I gathered while hunting you down. The only exception was Sir Flow, who gained much power from my medallion, and to whom I entrusted one of my swords. For him, I am simply confident in his success."
As you try to purchase camping food, you find that options in general are quite limited, and prices high, with the current ration restrictions. In your discussion with the shopkeepers, you find that things have been fluctuating following Easy's agreement to a joint city governance treaty with the Ecclesians. Things are better than they were before, but belts are still tighter than people would like.
In the end, you manage to get whatever simple amenities you were after, and a few luxury sweets as well, but at the cost of all but a few coins of the airship's collective food budget.
"…What about us up here?" Pryce follows up.
The limited supply and high prices wear on Pryce, but right now he is feeling that they need a moral boost. Getting some hay dogs, burgers, and the making for smores, he heads back to the airship.
"I heard bits and pieces of rumors about the Treibheanna's gathering of allies, especially while in Vitral," Estuary says. "If what even half of what I heard was true… I doubt we're in for an easier time than those who went into Tartarus."
Estuary glances over the food that you've chosen. "If there is anything that seldom changes in any era, it's food. Nearly a millennium since the fall of Vadahara, and a continent away, and ponies are still putting hay and sauce upon bread."
As you get back to the airship, you find that the others are gathered as well, working together to put away all the gathered foodstuffs in the cabinets and barrels of the airship's larder.
"Hmm…" Pryce hums in thought, seeing that either way things went, it'd be tough times ahead.
"It's good food, right? Don't need to change something working just fine." Pryce thinks a moment. "Have you really been around for a millennium?"
Pryce steps back onto the airship, seeing everypony put away the food they all shopped out for. KP as well doing his part.
"After we're done, I was thinking we could camp out tonight…" Pryce says to the group, putting his supplies out to add to his suggestion.
"You lose count somewhere around the 700 range," Estuary jokes, deadpan as ever.
As you suggest a camping night, some of the others' exhaustion recedes, and the mood rises. "Now that's a throwback," River says. "Lucky that you managed to find marshmallows, too."
"Is that real chocolate!?" Sugar exclaims, nearly leaping.
"Get in line, young lady," Vortigern says. "That's got my name written all over it." She and Sugar stare each other down. How serious they are is unknown.
"We should establish a rationing policy of our own before a fight breaks out," Renee says.
Pryce smiles as he can feel the mood lift in the ship.
"It took a bit of hunting and haggling, but it's all good quality," Pryce says as the girls jump at the sweets. "But first, we need to get a nice spot outside set up, and get a campfire going."
He says, putting the snacks back into the bag before anypony sneaks some off.
"Hmm, we'll need some tents too. I could conjure some up I think."
With that newfound energy, the others go to retrieve bedrolls and pillows and blankets for the evening. Estuary, apparently something of a stranger to this, starts to slither outside. "I shall keep watch while you are out. Do not forget that demonkind are more active at night. The moon may be waning, but come moonrise, you and Vortigern need to join my efforts in watchkeeping."
>>757868>"This is gonna be great! I can't remember the last time I went camping!"
KP says with excitement, going to get some pillows, as well as Lockjaw's bed to bring outside.
"I haven't forgotten, but there aren't many places we can do this nowadays. Need to take the opportunity when we have it, right?"
He answers Estuary.
As the others get their base supplies, Pryce steps outside, pulling off his bracelet and attempts to conjure some tents for the group.>Hat Magic [Tents] [1d10]Roll #1 9 = 9
You procure some simple small tents for your group, and wrap up just as the others gather outside with their bedrolls and such. The pets seem a little energized now as join everyone walking some distance to the treeline southwest of where the airship is parked. The ladies split up to look for a suitable camping spot, and Vortigern, flying overhead, soon announces her discovery, of a cleared area devoid of grass and given some natural fortifications of rock.
You make your way over there with the others, and while they start to set up their tents, Zjetya and River gather some sticks and rocks to make a firepit.
"Hope there's enough here…" Pryce mutters as he gathers the tents in his telekinesis, carrying them over to the spot Vortigern pointed out. He sets the tents out for everypony to take their own at set up. KP helps gather some sticks as well, while Pryce fetches a pan from the ship for the burgers, as well as gathering some more sturdy branches to skewer the dogs and marshmallows with.
"Looks pretty nice out tonight. Perfect for this."
Indeed, the midyear is pleasantly warm, and the skies clear despite the ominous portents of earlier. Zjetya gets a small fire going, and the others, having completed their tents, sit around the firepit, not-so-patiently watching you to see when you'll get that grill going. Estuary is notably absent, assumedly having taken a position nearby to watch for demons.
Pryce sets the pan over the fire, letting it heat it up as he gets the food out.
"Alright, who wants a burger and who wants a dog?" He asks the group, putting burgers down in the pan and skewering some dogs and propping them up over the fire.
"Sir Estuary! Which do you prefer?" Pryce calls out to the knight, knowing he can't be too far, and not wanting to leave him out of the meal.
Vortigern, Spitshine, Sugar and Renee all raise their hooves when you say burger. River and Zjetya raise their hooves for a hot dog.
Lockjaw and the other carnivorous pets sniff the pan with disappointment as they realize you're cooking hay, not meat.
Estuary offers no response. You may have to surprise him.
Pryce throws down six burgers, the four as requested, one for KP, and one for Estuary, figuring he'd like the classic grill food. Pryce skewers up three dogs, two for River and Zjetya and one for himself. He let's them cook, letting the smell fill the air, flipping and rotating after a few minutes. Then once they're reached that perfect sear he pulls them off, plating them up on buns and serving to each, leaving the condiments and toppings to each personal chef to attend to. KP covers his in ketchup and relish. And after those, Pryce takes some of the pet meat snacks and throws them into the pan to give them a little sear for Lockjaw and the other pets so they can partake in the campfire grilling too.
The others offer you a great amount of gratitude, and get to dressing their meals with no small amount of condiments and sides. You see that Sugar and Spitshine bought diced onions, potato salad, and many kinds of sauces and greens, to the delight of the party.
Lockjaw, Spark and Pucchini nearly lose their minds as they see the meat getting grilled, running about and jumping on and off everything in sight with anticipation. Zjetya offers to watch the meat as you finish putting toppings on Estuary's burger, allowing you to go take it to the samurai yourself.
Pryce chuckles as the pets get overexcited as they see their own treats getting grilled. He leaves the pan, and his hay dog, under Zjetya's watch as he dresses up a burger with all the fixings, reminiscent of a what a local town diner would serve, as he takes it over to Estuary.
"Can't keep watch on an empty stomach," He says as he comes up by the samurai, holding out the plate for him.
Estuary is facing away from you as you approach, and all you see of him is his robe and conical hat. As you hold the plate close enough for him to take… the hat slides off of the sticks that it had been crudely propped upon.
You don't even hear him drop down from the treeline; you barely manage to sense his presence rush up from above and behind. A sword-blade peeks out from the corner of your eye, in a position where it would be effortless to cut you down. As you are held up, a gooey hoof takes the plate from you. Estuary, clothed in a light robe, sheathes the sword and inspects the burger. "Pickles…"
He pauses for quite a while, then takes a bite, chewing it thoughtfully.
Pryce tenses up a bit as the sword comes up into his view, the campfire vibe leaving him off-guard and forgetting how ruthless Sir Estuary is and can be.
"Glad you enjoy," Pryce says wit ha nervous chuckle as the samurai enjoys the burger. "You know, you can relax by the fire for a little bit. We'll be having smores soon."
"Your training shall begin tomorrow, following the conclusion of all business with this Sir Einmal," Estuary says as if you had not invited him to the campfire. "Inform the others that they should be ready."
He leaps back into the trees, burger in tow. "Bring me one once you are ready to take over the watch for the night."
"I'll be ready, and I'll let the others know as well," Pryce says to the statement, seeing that he's not going to budge from keeping watch.
"You got it, see you then." Pryce says as he hops back up into the trees, turning to head back to the camp and his dinner.
When you get back, most of the others are still taking their time with their main courses. Your dog sits near the fire to keep it warm, covered with ketchup, mustard, relish, grilled onion, even jalapeno and cilantro.
Unsurprisingly, Vortigern and Sugar have already finished their burgers and dogs, and have moved onto making s'mores. Vortigern, holding her share of chocolate, quietly directs Spitshine to distract Sugar. He does, and Vortigern gives Sugar's s'more a decent portion of her chocolate. Sugar notices this, and splits the shared chocolate in two, and puts it back on Vortigern's s'more. Vortigern, eyes narrowing, splits that already-split chocolate in two, and puts it back onto Sugar's. Sugar does the same once s'more. The two stare each other down.
"Hey, what's the big idea?" Vortigern growls with mock offense. "Trying to out-generous me?"
"I just didn't want to hear you whine all night about not getting enough chocolate," Sugar retorts.
The two get to play-bickering. Spitshine, greatly intimidated, backs away.
"Wow, really loaded it up, eh?" Pryce comments, seeing the dog Zjetya prepared for him. He sits dog, picking up his dog and taking a bite, enjoying the savory taste of a grilled treat.
>"We're gonna have to really stock up next time we pick up sweets."
KP comments to Spitshine, sitting by him and seeing his intimidation.
"If you keep splitting up the chocolate you won't have enough for seconds," Pryce jests at the competing generosity. He looks around the campfire as they're all in good moods, sitting back and enjoying the good vibes they have. Out of curisoity, while munching on his hay dog, Pryce takes a marshmallow from the bag and holds it in his fire hoof, wondering if it could roast from it.
"Zjetya and I couldn't decide what you'd like best," River says. "So we threw a bit of everything on there."
"Oh, that's what we forgot!" Zjetya exclaims. She grabs the bowl of potato salad. "Want some?"
The marshmallow doesn't cook merely from you holding it, not until you consciously will the flames of your arm to cook it. A useful in-built safety measure, it seems.
While Sugar and Vortigern bicker, Renee sneaks away the chocolate and marshmallows, splitting them up among the others. She takes the plates and starts to clean them with a bit of water.
"Good choice, though I'd enjoy anything you two would pick out," Pryce says in thanks. As Zjetya offers potato salad, he nods. "Sure, gotta have the full course." He says, sliding his plate over.
KP takes his marshmallow, piercing it with a stick and holding it over the campfire giddily, getting that perfect golden brown exterior.
As Pryce figures out the fine tuning of the flames for his foreleg, he smiles, not needing to worry about burning things, and then starts to ponder what utilities he could use this for. However, being lost in thought he forgets he is actually holding it, leading the marshmallow to start to burn and become a sticky mess over his hoof.
Lockjaw comes over and, heedless of the fire, munches the burned marshmallow right off your hoof. Zjetya laughs as she serves you the potato salad. "Lockjaw had the right idea there. No such thing as an overcooked marshmallow."
As the others get their s'mores going, the elated mood from earlier calms, but doesn't sink down into the depression it was in before. Though the others are undoubtedly wondering what will become of your allies, for now at least, they are at ease, simply enjoying the company and atmosphere of a simple night under the stars.
Vortigern eventually stands, carrying a s'more. "I'm off to switch with Sir Estuary. Pryce, you'll be after me, alright?"
"I'll take the last watch," Renee offers.
Pryce gives Lockjaw a pat as he snatches away the crispy marshmallow. "Guess so, good cleanup too."
Pryce finishes off his hay dog, and his serving of potato salad. Nice comfort food to finish off the night with. He takes another marshmallow, and focuses this time to get a nice golden crisp, getting just the little bit of extra char on the edges before dropping it on the chocolate and smushing it between the crackers, giving it a taste to see how a self-cooking works.
He nods towards Vortigern as she announces the watch shift.
Absolutely delicious. The others, having cleaned up by now, lay upon their bedrolls near their tents. River, near the center, is teaching the others some basic astronomy, pointing out constellations and their lore.
Sir Estuary slithers back, silently eating his s'more.
The new leg is proving to be plenty useful Pryce notes after finishing off his classic snack. As Estuary slithers back, Pryce looks over to him.
"I've not thought to have one of these in some hundreds of years," Estuary notes. "A rare treat. I suspect in the near future it will be even rarer. Ecclesia may have improved the lot of the people here, but if their forces in the south are pushed back north, times will get worse than the people believe possible."
The others grimace, but pretend not to hear Estuary, instead wanting to focus, if only for a while, on the stargazing.
Pryce starts wit ha smile as Sir Estuary sounds to be enjoying the treat, though it falls as he continues and the mood drops a bit.
"Well, I'm sure that won't come to pass," Pryce says, keeping up hope. With the focus on the stars, Pryce looks to Estuary again.
"How'd the sky look back in your day? Must have some old stories from then, right?"
"Same as it ever was," Estuary says. "But the people then called the constellations by other names. I did not have much of an eye for seeing shapes in the stars."
He listens awhile from afar as River names constellations. "… Sounds like some of the Vadaharan and Jibayini constellations seem to have survived under new names… other old ones have been revised in new shapes, or must share their space in the sky with new neighbors. Hmm. That was always the interest of the King."
"Good that some things stick around," Pryce comments. "It was? As a King, I imagine he must've gotten a name or story up in the stars to."
"He would have," Estuary says. "The Vadaharan kings were believed to be immortalized as a constellation, in a ceremony after their death. Because of his and the Queen's transformations into demons by Buiwong and his lackeys, such a ceremony never occurred."
Pryce is silent a moment at the news.
"…We could still do that, couldn't we?"
"Not the way it was intended, but… yes."
"Better late than never, right? Once things are more settled around here, we can do that ceremony first thing," Pryce offers.
"…Very well. I will need time to adapt the ceremony to our current circumstances, anyway."
The fire has dimmed, and the others seem to have gone to sleep already. Estuary rises and puts out the last of the fire, taking care to stir and extinguish the last few coals with a trowel and dirt. When it is done, he nods to you, and heads for his tent.
"If you need any help, I am glad to do anything. I owe the King that."
Pryce nods back as Estuary extinguishes the fire and heads off the bed as the night comes to a close. In the moment of solitude, Pryce thinks back on this situation. How many nights of this would they have left, and the mood was down just from friends leaving. He shakes his head, pulling his mind from falling back into despairing thoughts, standing up and going to relieve Vortigern to take watch.
When you approach Vortigern, sitting perched in a high tree overlooking the area, you see she is clutching a peculiar doll, soft and resembling some form of strange bear. She quickly tucks it away as you approach, and wordlessly heads off to bed. Some hours later, Renee approaches, and slithers up the tree like a snail to take your place as the watch.
The morning rays warm and illuminate your tent, waking you. Like yesterday, you wake up with your flame-arm gone, leaving only the stump at the shoulder. With simple force of will, your flame-arm sparks to life. Handy to know you won't burn down anything or give yourself carbon monoxide poisoning while asleep.
"Night," Pryce says as Vortigern heads off to bed. As he keeps watch, he finds himself needing to constantly refocus on the task and not how the others are fairing. He keeps his Memory Pluck at his side, ready in case needed. Time seems to go forever until Renee comes up to take his place.
"Good night," He says to her, heading back to camp and his tent.
Pryce wakes in the morning, startled a moment at seeing only the stump remaining, before remembering and re-igniting it. Something that he'll need to get used to. He thinks a moment, and tries to will it back out, wondering if it is like a lighter, or only extinguishes when unconscious.
After his test, he stretches, and steps outside to take the tent down.
The flame-arm vanishes, just as you wish it. This however greatly displeases Zjetya, who you nearly run into as you exit your tent. She looks disapprovingly at your stump, taking some flint from her belt. "Nope. Turn that back on or I'm igniting your coat."
You can see that the others have already broken down most of camp. Renee and River busy themselves with making a light breakfast on a small campfire.
"Hey, hey, just testing how it works. It's a new limb afterall," Pryce says, flicking her flame leg back on as Zjetya threatens to make a replacement fire. "Good aspect to have to keep it from being a distraction."
Pryce takes down his tent, bundling it up nice and neatly, before joining the others by the fire for breakfast.
Zjetya gives the flame-arm a tight hug, then leans back and squeezes the bicep. "Hey, the King captured your muscles pretty well there… not sure how, but he did."
River jealously squeezes your other arm, giving Zjetya a look. Zjetya blows her a kiss.
"We called ahead," Renee says, obviously disappointed she can't mess with Flow in a comparable fashion now. "We will be able to meet Sir Einmal early in the afternoon, so we should leave soon. The others are already getting the airship ready for departure."
Pryce chuckles as Zjetya gives the flame leg a tight hug as it reappears. "I did leave a good imprint on the ember. He probably had a decent blueprint to work with," Pryce comments as both mares claim a limb each. He returns the hugs, spreading a wing over each for a good morning.
"Alright," He answers to Renee as she informs him. "This'll be good to teach some of flight controls as well, since it's a safe enough route there."
"Yes, the skies should be clear enough with the morning sun," River says. "Observer and Volkama did leave notes on how the turrets work, just in case. Sir Estuary seemed most interested in those."
"Oh yeah, we had to promise him he'd get to shoot targets at Lilane to get him to wait," Zjetya says. "We wanted to let you sleep in a bit. A gunfire wake-up call didn't seem too appealing after you took a late-night watch."
After breakfast, you make for the airship, where you find the others inside. The kids sit at the couch, giving the pets their morning grooming, while Vortigern and Estuary study the operator's manual at the control-sphere.
"Suppose he would be the best to run those," Pryce muses. "And thank you," He adds to them for sparing a canon alarm.
Pryce heads up to the airship with the others, setting the tent and camping supplies in one of the storage spaces. KP gives Lockjaw a nice brushing after cleaning the water in Hopper's tank.
"Alright, let's get a head on to Lilane. I'll fly us over, anypony who wants to learn can watch. Should be easy enough to show what it takes before doing any training flights."
Lockjaw drops off some old scales with his brushing, as usual. Spitshine ponders them for a moment. "Say… what have you been doing with his old scales?"
Lockjaw rolls over, and Hopper, who was sitting nearby, shrieks and jumps away before he can be flattened. Lockjaw is heedless of the destruction he almost caused.
Estuary and Vortigern, carrying Spark on her shoulder, join you as you set the airship to take off. They watch in relative silence, only interrupting to ask brief questions on this or that step. Estuary makes notes on the levers and switches and the orders in which they must be adjusted.
>>757909>"I've just been tossing them. Why?"
KP questions as he scoops up the discarded scales. When Lockjaw nearly flattens Hopper, KP gives the deviljho a light bop on the nose.>"Lockjaw, look before you roll! We don't crush family."
Pryce goes through the take off steps slowly, ensuring they can be followed with ease. Starting up the ship, taking into the air, control and stability, all the usual. He flies over to Lilane, starting to wonder what the process for joining the Vermillion Corps will entail.
He glances up to Vortigern, seeing Spark on her shoulder.
"How's he holding up?"
Lockjaw flails about, slapping KP with his tail hard enough to sting. It was playful, but a deviljho's idea of play is far different than most other creatures'. Hopper squirts him with the water staff. Perhaps it may pay to invest in training for Lockjaw… and maybe even make him KP's familar.
"I was thinking," Spitshine continues. "If Lockjaw's a shrunken version of a gigantic powerful monster, his scales should be worth something. Hey, maybe we could even make something out of 'em. Monster hides of all kinds are sought after for making into armor. His scales should have some utility. Either way, keep a stash of 'em."
Vortigern rubs the dragon's head. "Not all that well. He hardly ate last night or this morning. I must smell quite like Shorthorned after that hug, because he won't play with any of the pets or children, he just stays with me. I hope to get him in better spirits soon."
KP sharply inhales as the tail slaps him, rubbing the sore spot as he huffs at the lizard.>"The witches did seem to quick to get him small again when the magic was undid in Threecoin… Alright, I'll start keeping them."
He says, keeping the collected pile this time on hoof and notesto find a place to store them.>"But he's not getting any more brushing until he learns to respect his surroundings!"
He says sternly, looking and directing it to Lockjaw to get his point to the deviljho.
"I hope so too. Don't think there'd be any dragon trainers around or easily accessible, and I know Flaming wouldn't like it if he was sad the whole time away."
Lockjaw looks confused and sad as he is scolded, clearly not understanding the charge or the punishment.
"Oh, I can train him," Vortigern says. "Him and Lockjaw. I just don't want either of them to become more attached to me than their true masters."
Some hours pass in transit, until you hear a far-off chime signaling the coming of the first hour. Lilane, nestled in hills as it is, still retains some of the morning fog that was burned off elsewhere. You park in the usual place, on an open plateau, as the gatekeepers make ready to let you all in.
KP hides the brush away to amplify his threat.
"Won't have any worries on that with Lockjaw, but I can see the concern with Spark. We should have gotten a photo, that could've helped maybe."
Pryce goes through the landing procedures as he did with take off, going slow and making sure it's easy to pick up, since it is one of the more important parts. Once the ship is landed and secure, Pryce makes ready to head into the camp to meet with Sir Einmal.
"Everypony stick together now. Don't want to get caught up in anything else they have going on, or disrupt any training or preparations they're going through."
Lockjaw flops over, playing dead. He remains dead even as the others make ready to disembark back into the familiar town-turned-fortress.
As you exit the airship, you see that Lilane's fortifications continue to grow by the day. Laity laborers work at the fortress town's walls, protected by armed guards, both looking weary from the constant vigilance against demonic attack. Scouts monitor the skies from atop their watchtowers.
Zjetya leads the way to the longhouse, buttoning up her armored jacket as she goes. You see a very tall and stately unicorn stallion guarding the longhouse doors. His mane, tail and beard are all a gray and black tangle, yet underneath his apparent raggedness is the serenity of a saintly ikon. He wears a robe that is marked with symbols of the old Union religion, yet it is of the same make and material as the modern Ecclesian armoed jacket.
KP ignores the dead play, following the others up to the door of the airship. But, then he stops after Lockjaw commits hard to the bit, turning back to nudge the deviljho back over.>"Come on, we don't leave anyjho behind.">>757960
Seeing the massive bulwark of Lilane has a somewhat comforting feeling, seeing that some places will be safe from the demon threat to come.
Pryce follows Zjetya's lead as they go to the guardhouse. He looks to the ragged guard in front of the doors as they arrive.
"Hello, we're here to meet with Sir Einmal."
Lockjaw gets back up, a bit reluctantly, his head low as he reflects on his wrongdoing (or so it might appear, beasts being mute).
The guard looks down at you all with an appraising gaze, his eyes bright gold and speckled with a bloody amber. As his eyes slide over, judging each member of your party in turn, the pets get very nervous; all except for Lockjaw slink away to hide in clothing, and Lockjaw lowers his head – not in submission, but as a beast confronted by a predator.
Just as the others, getting nervous themselves, get ready to say something to the silent guard, he steps aside, and gestures to the end of the hall.
Wordlessly, they leave the guard behind, and you eventually reach the end, where you see a somewhat corpulent pegasus with a rigid haircut standing over a desk, inspecting a wide variety of papyrus slips. The whole room is a mess of papyruswork.
"Guten morgen, everyone," the pegasus greets. "You must be Sir Pryce zhe Just, ja?"
Pryce expected security to be high with the current situation, though even he feels the judging stare a bit, less nervous and more concerned if there's a lack of trust in Ecclesia. When they're finally let past, Pryce nods and enters.
"I am," He greets in return. "And you must be Sir Einmal. It's a pleasure to meet you, with how busy I've heard you been."
Zjetya stands at attention and gives Sir Einmal the Ecclesian salute, but he merely smiles in response. "At ease, Evangelist," he says, almost before the salute is done. Zjetya looks a bit disarmed by his quick dismissal, but already Einmal is offering everyone hoofshakes, which the others accept. His grip is strong yet not overbearing.
"Ja, zo many zhings to take care of zhese days, und vith everyone else having all zhe fun on zhe front lines, zhey've gone und left zhe burden of zhe paperwork to me," Einmal says. "I hope zhat Crocodile did not give you too hard a time at zhe door."
"No more than a worthy guard should," Sir Estuary says.
"Gut, gut," Einmal continues. "You vill have to excuse him for not offering you any tea. He has taken a vow of silence until he has at last finished praying for the souls of all zhe deceased since zhe Rapture… und at zhe current state of affairs, I am afraid he may be silent forevermore."
Einmal sighs and clicks some of the papers together, stress plain upon his brow. "…Tea, anyone?"
"Not much more than I expected," Pryce answers on Crocodile's greeting. "If we do our best, hopefully that won't be too much longer then."
At the offer of tea, Pryce nods to be polite.
"If you're offering."
Einmal briefly steps from the room, flags down a nearby scribe and passes them a key. "Bitte, prepare some tea from mein personal reserve, und make some for yourself if you vish."
The scribe agrees and goes to another room to prepare the tea.
"Sir, while we wait," Zjetya says. "We had some things to ask you."
"Ach, zhe extension of your assignment?" Einmal asks. Zjetya nods. "Ja, Rooster left me a note. I've gotten a head start on zhe paperwork, I'll just need you to complete zhe rest."
He hands Zjetya a few sheets. Zjetya glances briefly at you and Renee, then makes her mark on the papyrus where indicated.
Pryce has visible relief as Einmal already has the paperwork for Zjetya's extension prepared.
"I'd also like to talk about the Vermilion Corps. Rooster recommended it as a good way to work together."
"Ach! I confess I'd hoped to hear zhat from you," Einmal says. He takes a seat, and gestures for the others to do the same. Sugar and Spitshine fetch some more seats from other nearby rooms.
"You may have heard already," Einmal says. "But I vill cover zhe basics just to ensure ve are on zhe same page. Zhe Vermillion Corps is a new branch of zhe Ecclesian mission to take back zhe Vorld for mortalkind. Created as a compromise for demon hunters who, for one reason or another, could not cooperate vith Ecclesian authority, yet also possessed skills und knowledge vhich ve did not vant to do vithout."
You find that your interactions with Freischutz are proving to be very helpful for deciphering Einmal's accent.
"As a member of zhe Vermillion Corps, you vill not take direct orders from Ecclesian personnel, but rather be issued missions vhich you can take or deny at your discretion. But, once you have taken a mission, you vill be expected to fulfill zhe mission's goals vithin reason, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding. Ve have come to accept zhat missions seldom go according to expectations or plan.
"You vill have a measure of support from Ecclesian resources und personnel, but Ecclesian soldiers vill have a higher priority zhan you for support requests, in exchange to zheir loyalty to our banner, you understand. A consistent record of excellence in zhe field may improve zhe support you can receive.
"Finally, if you vanted to do any travel, in zhis new vorld, zhe Vermillion Corps has you covered!" he chuckles. "Your missions may take you far beyond vhere our troops have moved, owing to your status as a mercenary."
He pauses to think. "I zhink zhat covers all but zhe finer details. Have you questions?"
Pryce takes a seat, the enthusiasm sounding like they'll be there for a bit. The run down of the Vermillion Corps benefits almost sound like he's going through recruitment again, bringing up those fond memories of the past.
"Sounds all as expected from what Rooster mentioned," Pryce comments, thinking of what questions he'd have and should ask. "I should ask how support will be handled, as I imagine that'd be difficult with the lengths of travel you mention. And, a little more important matter, I heard there is work going on with Ornifex. I'll take that mission."
The servant comes back with the requested tea, which Einmal thanks them for.
"Ja, zhere are small teams dedicated solely to getting requested support out to zhe Corps, vherever zhey may be. I should emphasize zhat you can request materials, but not reinforcements. Only your brothers-in-arms of zhe Corps can come to your aid, und only if zhey are villing. Evangelist Zjetya need not worry about zhat restriction owing to her assignment."
As you request to take on work in Ornifex, Einmal nods and begins to fish around in a folder for the relevant papers.
"If I may interject on that note?" Renee asks.
"Yes, Sister?" Einmal asks.
Renee gulps, and steadies herself with a breath. "What are the odds that I can make a request of my own deployment – if I join Ecclesia to take to the front lines as a war medic?"
"Anywhere? Seems like a lot to ask for a delivery, even for support," Pryce comments, feeling that travel must be harder for others than them with their airship. "Is there a list of who is in the Corps? It would be helpful to know who we can call on if we ever need the help."
As Einmal mentions Zjetya's assignment again, Pryce looks to her.
"What is your assignment, if I may ask?" He asks out of curiosity.
When Renee speaks up for her own service, sits patiently, knowing a potential medic would be a much higher priority, and seeing how nervous she is about the matter.
"Vell if ve are going to ask you to go somevhere und get something done, it vould not exactly do to leave you stranded und vithout any
form of aid!" Einmal says. "Ve are vorking on getting formalized rank information, but it is not yet available. Besides, such information would become very quickly outdated. I vill not lie to you – many die, und many are recruited. As vith all Ecclesian branches, zhis is dangerous vork."
Zjetya pauses, fishing for a way to answer… "…I'll explain it once we're done here."
Einmal raises arches his eyebrow, but seems to respect Zjetya's reticence, and turns now to Renee. "I cannot promise zhat you vill be able to pick und choose your deployment, especially as a var medic," he begins. "But vith your history as a Unionist nun, und your direct experience at zhe very epicenter of zhe Rapture… vell, I doubt any of zhe leadership vould be strictly opposed to zhe possibility of some exceptions. If I may be so presumptuous – are zhere old friends you vish to meet again?"
"Yes," Renee answers. "I take it I am not the first to ask on these grounds."
"Ja, it is not an uncommon occurrence," Einmal says. "Just as many have joined to avenge zhe fallen, many others join to reunite with zhose who still live. But var is var, und a conflict as far-reaching as ours has many areas vhich are understaffed und overwhelmed. I can try, but I cannot promise. Is zhis acceptable to you?"
Renee grimaces. "…If I may have a moment to decide?"
"Right, should expect mercenary work especially to not be the safest of jobs to have. I'll just have to keep attention then," Pryce comments.
As Zjetya seems reluctant to answer, Pryce also is a little more intrigued, though he doesn't push further, assuming it to be of being around higher ranks of Ecclesia.
When Renee speaks of joining to reunite with old friends, Pryce thinks back to the days before the rapture, and all the others they travelled with that they never met again. Leather and Glass survived it all, so naturally others would have too. If there was a reason to join, this certainly is one that can't be faulted.
"I take it mein sales pitch has vorked, zhen?" Einmal asks.
"Ja, I mean yes," Spitshine says. "Where do I sign?"
Einmal frowns. "I vill allow a colt to join und get himself killed."
"If you knew my experience–" Spitshine begins.
"Nein, I vill not accept your supposed resume," Einmal says.
"The colt can
fight," Onion says. "But I'm just as against it as you, Sir Einmal. Spitshine, you ain't signin' up for nothin'. Not like you much like takin' and followin' orders, anyway."
"Onion, now you choose to speak–" Spitshine grumbles.
"But, I didn't hear nothin' about no upper age limits, did I?" Onion continues. "Einmal, how about it? Can a senior join?"
"Yes," Estuary says. "If there are upper age limits I am afraid that one such as I am excluded as well."
"Ach! One at a time!" Einmal protests. "Look, vhy don't you all take a moment und vork out among yourselves who vishes to join the Corps?"
"I was already decided before coming here. With what's coming we can't afford to not work together," Pryce answers.
"I don't think that's the greatest idea," Pryce comments as Spitshine speaks up on joining. When the others start to question their own eligability, Pryce is taken aback.
"Is there a point to more of us signing up? We'll all be together anyways," He says in minor protest, concerned of more of their group tying up in Ecclesia.
Estuary hits you with a stern glare. "Having multiple enlisted among us will ensure that, if one of the enlisted were to perish, the others would still be assured of the benefits and support the Vermillion Corps enjoys from Ecclesia proper."
As silence falls over your group at the grim thought, the scribe comes back and sets the tea down upon the desk. Einmal thanks them and begins to pour you all a cup.
"Vell, anyvay, mein answer has not changed, Spitshine," Einmal says. "I vill not permit anyone not of age to enlist in anything besides zhe Laity, per Ecclesian law. Zhose of you still interested in joining the Corps shall take these."
He hands out a sheaf of papyrus sheets. Estuary, Onion and River each take one, leaving Spitshine and Sugar to sit back, neither one having an interest in Laity work.
"Und for you," Einmal says to Renee, handing her a different papyrus. "For if you decide to join Ecclesia. Und if not, simply give it back to one of zhe scribes here unfiled. I understand you endured much at zhe time of zhe Rapture, so I shall not attempt to persuade you one way or zhe other."
Renee nods, looking over the papyrus.
Pryce meets back Estuary's glare, knowing the point he made is for the safety of the group, but he refuses to accept it as a possibility.
"That won't be happening."
As Einmal hands out the sheets, Pryce takes one and starts to fill it out, not pushing the matter more as everypony else takes one as well.
>"You really wanted to sign up for this?"
KP asks Spitshine as the kids sit back and wait.
Estuary's expression is hard and unreadable. "I said the same thing, once. And you disproved it."
He looks away, only to make his mark on the papyrus. Onion and River finish theirs as well… Eventually, after much deliberation, Renee turns in her papyrus as well, all filled out.
"Very gut, danke," Einmal says, apparently wishing to keep things short with the tension in the air. He begins to fill in his portion of the paperwork. "I must request you step outside for a time vhile I verify zhe mission data. Feel free to take zhe cups vith you, you have mein trust vith zhe porcelain."
Spitshine nods to KP as he and the others stand up. "I can fight just as good as any of you, and I'm not going to just let everyone else pull my weight, even if I'm young. Dad had me fighting for as long as I can remember."
Pryce dwells on Estuary's response, but shakes it from his mind. A part says he needs to be realistic about the odds, but his conviction cannot accept that. He stayed on the surface to protect his new family, and to keep the demons from swarming the Seal to reach the others. He can't second guess or doubt himself now regardless.
After Einmal collects the papers, Pryce nods, taking his tea cup to finish it as he was too focused with the papers and thought to drink it. He holds it in his fire hoof to help warm it back a little.
>"Things will get tough, but I don't think they're denying your capability. This kinda stuff is a big commitment, and it's not like knighthood where you're trained for most things."
KP says, trying to support Spitshine's ability.>"…Really?"
He asks as he brings up fighting for so long.
You step out from Einmal's office, but he points you in the direction of a side-room that has been turned into a makeshift lounge so that you don't need to wither under Crocodile's appraising stare.
"I believe this will be my goodbye, then," Renee says, bluntly getting to it.
"It seems that we all have our own paths from here," Vortigern says. "I did not know you for long, but I was glad for your company."
"You as well," Renee says. She looks over to you, for out of the current group she has known you the longest.>>758062
Spitshine grumbles a bit about the first part, but seems to take pride in the second, even as his slavedriver father takes focus in the conversation. "Yeah. I was quick and on the small side. So, he taught me to maximize that in my fighting, make what some people'd think of as a weakness into my strength."
Pryce looks to Renee as she jumps immediately to the goodbyes, feeling torn over another friend leaving.
"It's not goodbye, we'll see each other again when this is over, and when the others come back," Pryce says, looking on a brighter side.
>"Oh yea, you did ambush us or something when we met first met you, right?"
KP mentions from Pryce's memories of that event.>"Sneaking around is pretty good too, we'll probably need a lot of that if we find anymore places like Mariposa or that Birdcage."
"Right…" Renee says, stirring her tea. Her head slumps lightly. "I am sorry, it must seem I am trying to run out the door now that Flow is gone…"
River shakes her head. "He is not gone, nor do we think of you as abandoning us."
"Yeah," Zjetya says. "It's like you said, friends of yours are on the front lines. We're going to Ornifex on a similar note."
She nods to Vortigern, who bows her head in both acknowledgment and gratitude.
"So do what you gotta do," Zjetya says. "But don't get yourself killed, or else you're really gonna be in deep shit with us."
"I'll miss that crass tone," Renee says.
"Oh don't worry," Onion laughs. "Joining a military, you'll hear plenty worse than what we say."
"Are you so sure? You're all hard to top in that regard," Renee says.
Vortigern snorts so hard she nearly spews tea all across the room.>>758064
"Yep," Spitshine says. "Seems so long ago now, huh? That was before your time too… technically."
Pryce chuckles at Renee's comment, and Vortigern's reaction.
"We are a colorful bunch, just means we're hard to forget. And hey, after we finish in Ornifex we might see each other again when we check back in with Ecclesia.">>758065>"Yea, alright feels a little weird when I think back to those times, just makes them feel even more like ages ago."
KP comments.>"You know, you could ask to join in with Sir Estuary's training, since I heard he was gonna give the big guy lessons. Could show off what you got"
"I will be glad for a reunion," Renee says. "So you'd best stay alive, otherwise you'll be the ones in deep shit. Sir Gegenschein boasted of Ecclesia's power to resurrect the dead – I'll be sure to bring you back to give you a good beating!"
"Whoa, she's going even further than I am!" Zjetya laughs.
"We won't disappoint you," River says.
Renee nods to her. "We may have met as foes, but I was glad to see any of my countryponies survive the Rapture, regardless of their old lives. River, you are as fine a doctor as I have ever met. I have faith the others' health will be in good hooves."
River casts her eyes downward, blushing at the high praise. "Thank you… all who share a battlefield with you will be in good hooves, too."
A light knock comes at the doorway, and a scribe informs you that Einmal is ready to see you again.>>758066
"Say, there's an idea," Spitshine says.
"I was going to suggest we attend even if we didn't have an interest in fighting," Sugar says. "I think your other self and the samurai are going to butt heads sooner or later. Someone should stand by just in case it turns into a second duel."
"We'll have a grand party for it." Pryce says for the reunion. He smiles as the others give their partings, and Renee's compliment to River.
When they hear the knock, Pryce nods, tea finished.
"Let's finish these sign-ups then,"
He says, heading back to EInmal's office.>>758067>"I don't think they'd go that far… Well, maybe not as drastic as that one went."
As Estuary rises, Renee taps his arm.
"Sir Estuary," she begins. "I knew you not for long, but I witnessed some of your duels – with both Pryce, and Flow. You are a powerful and caring soul… and to be direct, I think your grimly realistic outlook is not unwarranted."
Estuary lightly snorts with petty satisfaction.
"All I ask," Renee continues. "Is that you allow Sir Pryce's optimism – however naive it may seem to you – to inure your spirit against darkness. There is enough of it in the world without us brewing more in our hearts."
Estuary's smile fades, but he nods. "I will judge fairly."
"Thank you," Renee says. "I look forward to the day Flow and I may participate in your training ourselves."
Back at Einmal's office, a new array of papers is spread upon his desk. "I appreciate zhe patience. Let's get to zhe details.
"Zhe people of Ornifex are in zhe midst of a civil var. In short, an uprising of zhe tribes und poorest of zheir flying city-states against zhose of zheir vealthy aristocracy, und zhe priesthood of zhe dragons. It seems, based on latest reports, zhat zhey are at a stalemate.
"Zhe mission, in short, is to ascertain vhich of zhe two sides is more of an asset to Ecclesian aims – vhich is to say, peace und prosperity in zhis region – and tip ze scales against the other. A prolonged civil var hast no use for us. Strike decisively, und be sure zhey know who to zhank for the aid."
"They're rising up against the priesthood?" Pryce questions. For a moment, the situation reminds him of the attack on Heartholme on the night of the Rapture.
He listens to the goal of the mission, thinking it over. He opens his mouth to speak, then shuts it, thinking again.
"So you want it ended, then. …How long has it been going on?" He asks Einmal, though also glances to Zjetya and Vortigern, since that it was their home as well.
"Vhy don't I let zhe locals answer some of those questions," Einmal says.
Vortigern nods. "Some might say that it has been going on for nearly five years, although the dragon priesthood only officially declared it war two years ago. My own war began long before that."
"Your efforts earned you many titles," Einmal says. "Terrorist, serial killer, assassin, blasphemer… quite an impressive list."
"Thank you," Vortigern responds, somewhat flatly. "For awhile, the dragon priesthood blamed me as the start of all the evil, and soon I found myself credited for many crimes, battles and other lash-outs against the priesthood that I did not do. The insurrectionists played into it just as much as the priesthood, and I became an unwitting hero to them."
"Absolutely," Zjetya adds. "I can't tell you how many times I got a request to sing one of your epics, even if they didn't all agree as to what exactly you did."
"That sounds horrible," Pryce comments as Vortigern explains her start in it, remembering the memories he saw before when Vortigern tested him. "They just used you as a scapegoat."
Pryce looks back to Einmal.
"Five years this has been going… This won't be something that can be easily or quickly resolved."
"I had no qualms about using this false infamy to my own advantage," Vortigern dismisses. "Like Ecclesia, I am nothing if not practical."
Einmal chuckles. "Ach. Ja, I hope you shall understand, Ecclesia has heretofore been a neutral party, uninvolved in zhe conflict of Ornifex. Provoking zhe ire of zhe insurrectionists or zhe dragonic priesthood vithout sufficient reason to believe ve vould benefit vas not acceptable."
"No, I understand," Vortigern says. "You had your own people to think about, just as I did."
Zjetya remains quiet apart from a thoughtful grumble.
"So it goes," Einmal says. "A final detail, however. Ve have many conflicting reports about the role of demonkind in zhis conflict. It sounds like zhe insurrectionists have either recruited demon tamers into zheir ranks, or have zheir own home-grown methods of demon taming. Ve ask zhat you investigate zhese reports und, if possible, stamp out zhe practice among them."
"Still, though. To push false blame onto you… That's not right."
When Zjetya grumbles, Pryce looks to her.
"Is something the matter?"
He turns back to Einmal as he adds the last detail of demon tamers. Pryce frowns, remembering the last encounter he had with one.
"I'd deal with that either way. Don't worry on that front," He assures. He then thinks a moment. "…One last question. Has anypony else taken or attempted to help this mission before? Or will we be the first of Ecclesia to aid?"
"Such concerns are best forgotten in war," Vortigern grunts. Zjetya remains silent, shaking her head.
"You shall be zhe first," Einmal says. "Ecclesia ist spread thin as it is, und besides: I vanted to save zhis mission for groups who vere experienced, und I believe you shall agree zhat your group has seen its share of var und even diplomacy vith demonkind. I may send other members of zhe Corps your vay if you or I deem it necessary."
"Alright. I think we should see the situation first before looking for reinforcements. A smaller group would make a better first impression I feel," Pryce comments. "That's all for now then, until we see Ornifex ourselves."
"Very gut, I shall record you in zhe mission log," Einmal says, offering everyone another round of hoof-shakes. "You have our zhanks, und I hope to hear soon of your success."
He looks to Renee. "Sister, I appear to have made an error on your papyrus. It seems you vill not be an official member of Ecclesia until tomorrow at first light. Until zhen, ve have no authority to issue you orders or demand your attendance anyvere. Oh vell, I see no reason to vaste good papyrus redoing it."
Renee lightly snorts. "I see… well, none of us are immune to making such errors. Rest assured I shall report at first light as expected."
"Danke. Now zhen, you may leave your teacups on zhe tray zhere, everypony."
Pryce shakes Einmal's hoof as they are finalized with the details.
"And thank you, for the opportunity."
Pryce sets his cup on the tray, standing as their business is over.
"Suppose we should start preparing and checking our supplies for the task ahead then."
"There'll be time for that," Zjetya says, lowering her voice. "I promised I'd talk earlier. Let's head for the airship."
With that, she leads the way out, and towards the airship.
Pryce nods, and follows Zjetya as she leads the group back to the airship.
Once they're past the Ecclesian gates, Pryce speaks up.
"Are you not happy with how they're handling this?"
Zjetya does not respond until you are all securely within the airship, and gathered in its living room.
"It doesn't have anything to do with that," Zjetya says. "I might have mixed feelings about going home, but… well, earlier you asked about my assignment, and to be honest, I still kind of hoped that nobody would ask about that. But after everything that happened between you me and River from the leadup to Threecoins and afterward, it'd be pretty fucked of me to still keep secrets from everyone."
"What's this about an assignment?" River asks. "I thought that was just a part of record keeping about where Ecclesian soldiers come and go."
"In a sense," Zjetya says. "But let's back up. When you first left Lilane, nobody questioned why Rus Tea and I joined up with you. I'm glad it worked out that way, meant I didn't have to weigh whether to tell you the truth…"
The others tense slightly at the thought of being lied to.
"It was, well…" Zjetya says, pausing. "It was to keep an eye on you all, and report your behavior and activities."
"Secrets? It's just an assignment, isn't it?" Pryce questions, wondering the implications here, or if there is more beyond it.
When she mentions nopony questioned why her and Rus joined the group, he thinks back, realizing they did join up pretty quickly, though the trouble Shei and him caused, and other feelings, did lend to him not thinking to deeply on it.
When Zjetya reveals she was tasked to keep watch and report on them, Pryce doesn't respond right away. His expression is a bit flat, contemplative.
"…Is that it?"
He asks in a casual way, not seeing it as a big deal.
Zjetya seems taken aback by the general lack of reaction.
"You were assigned to spy on us, then," River says. "Or at least, that's what you feared you were confessing to."
"Right," Zjetya says. "You're all… taking this rather well."
Renee nods. "Had we not been on the cordial terms that we were with Ecclesia, it would have been more of a problem. As it stands, I confess I am disappointed we did not learn this sooner, but before we get to that, why don't you explain your side of things more?"
"Well… alright," Zjetya says. "As part of its aggressive recruitment policy, Ecclesia keeps tabs on all groups of demon hunters that it has failed to enlist in Ecclesia or the Vermillion Corps. It does this by enlisting more sociable members – like me and Rus – and ingratiating them among those independent hunters to make sure they don't actively work against Ecclesian aims."
River starts to frown. "And… what would you have done if we did?"
"Depends what you did and why," Zjetya says. "If I deemed it appropriate… I had standing permission to open fire. But that would have only been if you, like… started sacrificing civilians to demons, or something. Real ugly shit that even a friendly bunch like you all would kill people over."
"I'm not surprised Ecclesia would do something like that," Pryce responds as Zjetya is shocked at them taking it well. "And, well… that is kinda what I heard changelings do, right?"
As she explains further what the details were and what could have happened, Pryce frowns at the thought of the her and Rus turning on the party, even though it wouldn't have happened.
"Yea, there's no worries there."
Then, he pauses.
"Wait… If your assignment was to keep watch when we weren't allied… How long did it get extended now that we're part of the Vermillion Corps?"
He asks with concern.
"Way to stereotype," Zjetya deadpans, bopping you on the snoot.
"Starved for love, were we?" River continues. Zjetya nudges Lockjaw and orders her to sic River. Lockjaw snorts and bumps his chin against her leg, but nothing more beyond that.
As you ask the obvious follow-up, Zjetya sits back, folding her arms. "Well, that's part of my bigger point. See, technically Rus and I shouldn't have been given that assignment in the first place. Amy and Shorthorned should have, because they're technically Ecclesians themselves. However, I heard they got recruited by Ichimonji, who's notorious for hating and half-assing paperwork. And with how hectic the aftermath of the night in Circadia was, Ichimonji pushed off all that paperwork longer than she usually does.
"The result is that as far as anyone else in Ecclesia knew, Amy and Shorthorned weren't enlisted, and so your group had nobody to monitor and report on you. It was Sir Einmal who chose me and Rus to be your keepers. Now that most of you are in the VC, I'm technically out of a job – members of the VC can take on monitoring assignments. But, because Sir Einmal is one of the few Choristers who actually takes the time to do all that damn paperwork, and because he's the only Chorister who doesn't have his hooves full with war, he just rubber-stamped the paperwork, even though I should be on higher priority tasks. Come to think of it, Rooster or Sir Holy Hours probably saw this discrepancy when they got my exemption from the Tartarus Expedition. But they either didn't want to deal with Sir Einmal getting annoyed or wanted to respect our wishes."
"I'd wager the latter," River says. "The other Choristers seemed supportive of our abstinence."
Vortigern suppresses a laugh.
"But it sounds like Ecclesia's a labyrinth of bureaucracy," she continues. "And so soon after its very inception. I suppose old habits survive even the end of the world."
"One that worked out well," Pryce chuckles as Zjetya boops him, returning the gesture.
As she goes on the explain the full situation and the lucky mishandling of paperwork that allowed their group to form as it has, Pryce feels some relief that the renewed extension would likely stick for quite some time.
"Rooster himself seemed supportive when I made the request, and they did honor my service to the Church the other day," Pryce says, commenting on the ceremony before they left for Threecoin. "We'll just have to do a good job with the Corp to add onto that respect so you won't have to go anywhere."
Pryce says to Zjetya with conviction.
"It'll have to do unless there's a way to get your out of the order."
"That aside, I'm sorry I never told you all," Zjetya says. "Won't be any more secrets from here on out."
Renee tilts her head. "I had a feeling that Sir Einmal knew more than he should have, for one who never met any of us. It seems a recurring theme that our benefactors and malefactors are always a bit too well informed about our dealings."
"When dealing with gods, assassins and politicians, it comes with the territory," Estuary says. "Nonetheless, if that was all the confessing you had to do, it's time to begin training."
"Oh, and Pryce," Vortigern says. "Travel to Ornifex by airship should take us about a week. Our supplies should last us."
"Like I said, I'm not surprised they went that route. At least we can trust our friends to be open," Pryce says on the matter as they all agree on how the other factions operate.
"Good, that's one less thing to worry about then," He responds to the update from Vortigern.
Then he turns to Estuary as he states training can start.
"We might need more distance from Lilane. They aren't too fond of fighting in their territory."
"Right," River says. "Between your fight with Shei and Flow's magatsuhi overload, a third episode might get us all permanently exiled from this settlement."
"We'd have to find another place to crash," Zjetya says. "It's this and Fantasia that have been our little safe havens to hole up."
"There's Threecoins now," Vortigern suggests. "Especially now that the Witches are likely taking spouses from among the Ecclesians…" Suddenly, she gasps. "Oh dear… I believe a stop there may be warranted anyway. I do wonder how Regina is taking Box's absence."
Estuary folds his arms with a frown. "Romantic woes are secondary to our safety and health. I was told that this place would permit target practice."
"Pouting is unbecoming," Renee lightly scolds the samurai. "This is a Laity stronghold, a haven for non-combatant Ecclesians and their guards. Gunfire so close to their walls would only provoke alarm. Even the Spooks and Choristers practiced their fighting in the wilderness nearby. We should go get someone's permission before we begin the volleys."
"Very well," Estuary concedes. "But I was not 'pouting.'"
"You're doing it right now…" Renee counters.
"Threecoins does sound like a better place. There's plenty of open territory to not worry about getting in anypony's way, or Regina could use that illusion magic of hers to make us an arena," Pryce suggests. When Vortigern brings up Regina's and Box's quick separation, he also feels for how she must be dealing. "Stopping by either way would be good."
He thinks a moment.
"There is also the payment of that armor order you two made," Pryce comments to River and Zjetya.
"I don't think they were expecting cannon target practice anyways," Pryce interjects on Sir Estuary's pouting.
Estuary's grunts turn to grumbles. "Then if Sister Renee is to stay behind and enlist in the Ecclesian military at first light tomorrow, that would mean we should stay here and idle time away until we can depart for Threecoins."
"Is that such a bad thing?" Vortigern asks.
"Clan-Mother Vortigern," Estuary says. "I would think that you would have a similar view to mine on the training and discipline of this group."
"They may not have had as formal training as you and me," Vortigern says, "But their experience has made them warriors capable of overcoming great odds."
"Not against what I have heard tell that the Treibheanna can now boast," Estuary says. "There is no time to be dawdling or worrying over romance with all the maturity of colts and fillies. We have taken enough time away from training as it is."
Vortigern frowns, mulling over the truth of Estuary's words against her desire for you all to have a chance at relaxation…
"We could always do lighter, non-cannon based training," Pryce suggests, seeing the back and forth. "Getting a read on where we're at would be a better start rather than jumping direct into training too, no?" He offers as a compromise.
"Very well, but this day is young and I shall not see it wasted," Estuary says. "Have everyone meet me one mile north of Lilane in an hour."
With that, he slithers out, taking with him some papyrus and a quill pen.
Zjetya snorts. "We should find him a girlfriend."
"He is not wrong in his concerns," Vortigern says. "Only in his presentation do I think as old-fashioned a one such as him errs."
"Sure, but he needs to chill out too," Zjetya says. "We're not gonna get very many chances to do that from here on out…"
"See you then," Pryce says as Estuary slithers out to prepare.
"He seemed to unwind a tad when we were camping last night. After our duel and seeing King Neo Advent again, he's probably still needing some time to move on," Pryce muses.
Pryce nods in agreement.
"Mmm, we'll just need to make the most of the time we can then."
With an hour before Estuary's training, Pryce fetches the book Fairy Castle gave him after the Unweaving session to read through.
"Good time as any to catch up on some other training."
Much of the afternoon is spent, in some form or another, with training. You study Fairy Castle's grimoire, learning some of the theory behind the school of Spellweaving, but as with all things, the only true teacher is practice.
Renee secures permission for you all to take the airship to a makeshift training yard some distance north of Lilane, where Sir Estuary is both teacher and student. He teaches everyone many exercises for improving endurance and strength, but surprisingly makes little mention of combat. He keeps quiet as you teach him and the others in the operation of the airship, even when you run them through the operation of the ship's forward, starboard and port gatling guns.
You find that Volkama left behind detailed instructions on the manufacture of more bullets for the gatling guns. Although you have a modest supply as it is, your group quickly agrees not to use the ammo for target practice given the long journey beginning tomorrow.
Furthermore, you spend some time showing Spitshine how to conjure weapons. As he has no experience in conjuration, he isn't able to reproduce your methods, but he listens to the theory nonetheless. Sugar doesn't have natural ability for magic, and it seems she's more interested in the martial techniques Estuary shares.
Vortigern and KP are in charge of training the pets, and she leaves Hopper and Lockjaw to KP's instruction as she has her hooves full with the others. Lockjaw seems a little down still, and is more obedient to KP's orders, much to Hopper's satisfaction.
Pryce takes in the teachings of Spellweaving, feeling like he has a better grasp on the topic. After the labyrinth before the Great Seal, it's a technique that'll be highly valuable.
The training focusing more on exercises rather than combat was a surprise, though a welcome one. Having a day without battle is good to let him body relax, and there's hasn't been much time either for general exercise as well.
He goes deep into detail when teaching the operation of the airship, both for extra caution as it's their home and to be extra sure of his own ability as well in flying it.
When the moment comes, Pryce follows on his offer to teach Spitshine conjuration, starting with the basic fundamentals and theory. He loans Spitshine his bracelet for the lesson to help him practice, having been a conduit of his own for so long it's more receptive to that style of magic. Most of his teachings here focus on memorizing the form of weapons, being able to produce the image in your mind to near perfect detail.
KP meanwhile focuses on the pets, reading through his grimoire on Beast-Mastery and practicing the bubble spell he learned. He's still a bit upset with Lockjaw, but the deviljho being more tame this time helps ease that off. He also spends a little time planning out tricks for shows as well with the three of them.
[During the Savior's time camping at the unrealm city at the mouth of Tartarus Shei continues his work in the dead of everyone's sleep.]
Shei and Amy lay on a bed together, within the small realm of his cape. The furniture made up of the same velvety matter that makes up the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the material as the cape itself. She mimes sleeping, as he lays patiently beside Amy's resting body. Waiting for her to snore before gently leaving the bed.
Shei slips out from under her and carefully he saunders silently through the room before reaching his reach. Retrieving a chilled bottle of wine from its content Shei is now prepared to visit the Bodhidharma. His body still one with his spirit at the time phases into a spiritual essence and moves into his lantern.
[1d10] Entering Bodhidharma's abode inside the lanternRoll #1 10 = 10
The Bodhidharma's temple has been fortified since the last you entered. Spiritual guardians, wrought in the shapes of ogres and lean, needly rakshasa stand at eternal attention around its high walls, their flesh and armor of red standing out against the ethereal blue of the space. These newer guardians seem not to recognize you, or seem to not care, for they glare at you hungrily as you approach. The guardians of a higher stock, those resembling lions and oni, intervene with gestures and words of an ancient language, then direct you to the temple's inner grounds.
Outside, in the inner grounds' grassy patio, the Bodhidharma lounges, balanced as he often is, on a spear. "…I wouldn't count on it. You will get yourself destroyed all the faster relying on a backup plan."
Shei is more curious than threatened by the Rakshasa, though the thought of immediately regretting a lack of care does go through his mind. He offers his thanks to the higher guardians that direct him to the temple.
Just as Shei-Sher arrives with a bottle of wine in his arms it seems Bodhidharma already has an answer prepared for him.
"But we haven't even talked about it" Shei complains "And here-" He offers the wine "I brought you a chilled bottle. I made it myself. The least you could do is humor me until you've had your fill of drink."
"Oh, I don't even know what you were planning," the Bodhidharma laughs. "But knowing you, I decided to take a shot in the dark. I doubt I was off by much. Why have you come here?"
The bottle floats up, and he flicks away the cork, having a sip. "Hmm… mortals do love their poisons, don't they?"
>>758276>"mortals do love their poisons, don't they?"
"It is a habit -yes" Shei sits crossed on the grassy lawn of the patio "I have to give credit, when credit is due. You hit close enough to the mark- I like to make plans from A to Z but that doesn't strike me as such a bad thing. Could very well be the makings of a wise man! Some would say." Shei playfully boasts
"However this isn't so much a plan, as much as me asking you for training."
"Out with it, then. I can train you in what I know – so what do you seek to obtain?"
He passes the bottle back to you to share.
The training takes up the majority of the day, with breaks for meals and the like, but the focus for the group is in learning, and the meals are not much longer than they need be, that they can all get back to their exercises.
Come nightfall, the group is beat, and they eat and bathe to rest for the morrow. The mood is somewhat somber at Renee's future departure, but since they have said their goodbyes already, they are prepared for it.
You spend the evening chastely running more W&W for Zjetya, River and Lockjaw. Through the night you discover that Zjetya has been furtively making drawings of the setting in her spare time. Entrana looks like a nice place.
Come morning, you wake up in your quarters, finding that Lockjaw has not joined you in bed this time. Rather, he is curled up at the foot of KP's bed, still humbled by the earlier scolding yet still in a cuddly mood.
You smell breakfast… burned
breakfast, and hear some light bickering.
Shei takes the bottle and has a gulp of it before passing it back to Bodhidharma "Keh- you aren't much for the art of conversation are you- Alright then. Recall how you sent back the corruption set on you by that demon who possessed your core. I want you to train me in the same art, so I might be able to fight back Tartarus's corruption when it gains a foothold on my corpse- should I die prematurely. And not only me, I want you to train my band as well in the same art. I have been trained in the basics of working Qi, and I am possessor of Dhyana, you should be able to train me like any other angel if you'll have me as your student."
"It was I who brought to the People the secrets of writing, not of speechcraft. You will have to seek elsewhere for a conversationalist."
He listens to your request, then has another sip. "Indeed, I was not far off. I fought off Demonic corruption, not that of Tartarus. If you perish and attempt to use my teachings for protection, you may fancy yourself wearing mighty armor, when in reality, you will only be clothed in corpse-wrappings. I will not teach you if it merely emboldens you to get yourself killed. I may teach you if you think Demonic possession and infection are more likely outcomes."
The day's training reminds Pryce of his time back in the Church during his Knight training. While it is tiring, the old memories invigorate his spirit as he adjusts back to the habits.
A second night of goodbye's isn't the best of moods, but the forewarning of this one and the small distance helps soothe it, being more of a 'see you later' given how the looming Treibheanna threat will put them all back together possibly.
Unwinding with W&W helps relax after it all, some classic fun and a workout for the mind too. As he spots Zjetya making drawings for the game, Pryce keeps silent, deciding to comment the next night when he's not as exhausted.>>758279
Pryce opens his eyes, first looking down at his shoulder assuming his leg burnt the bed. Remembering that it snuffs itself when he sleeps, he exhales in relief. Awake, he picks it up as the classic smell of burnt food, and the bickering gives a sour note to the start of the day. He climbs out of bed, re-igniting his leg as he heads towards the kitchen to see what's going on. For now, he lets KP sleep in a little bit, no need to wake him and Lockjaw with breakfast being delayed.
As you enter the kitchen, you see the hapless Sir Estuary standing at the oven, a burnt meal before him. He and Vortigern are lightly bickering, but it does not seem to be so severe a conflict. Off to the side, Onion is busy salvaging what he can of the food and preparing more.
"Pryce," Estuary says in greeting.
"Oh, good morning," Vortigern says.
Sugar and Spitshine can be seen through the windows, giving their pets their morning walk.
It appears Renee, River and Zjetya are still asleep.
"Morning," Pryce greets, seeing that Sir Estuary has taken the role of chef today. He looks between him and Vortigern. "Was there a mishap?"
He also notes the lack of River and Zjetya, odd since they're usually at the table before he gets there. W&W must've tired them out.
Vortigern arches her brow at Estuary, and the samurai, though his stoic expression will not betray it, is obviously flustered.
"It appears," Estuary begins. "That one who sups only on water has little talent of the culinary arts."
"And?" Vortigern prods.
"That the crew's limited rations are not to be trifled with," Estuary continues.
"But, we appreciate the gesture," Onion says, giving Vortigern a look for being hard on the old samurai. "Now go wake up yer harem, boy, we got a long journey ahead."
"Demonic Possessions and infections may very well be things we encounter in Tartarus. But that wasn't my intent. Although, there is another reason for me asking. You see- I have something of a mental impairment. Since my kindling I am being constantly wracked with the sounds of static, although it is far more than that. This static is like a fissure that roots into my very soul, making me non-singular in my mind and spirit. It is.. extremely bewildering -irritating to say the least, but most of all it is distracting to an agonizing degree. I presumed your methods were rooted in restraint and that might help me to control myself.
Pryce smirks, finding it hard to not chuckle at Sir Estuary being unable to cook.
"We can return the favor for all the teaching you're giving us then," He says to lighten the mood.
"It's not a harem, we're a triad," Pryce corrects, a little flustered himself as Onion points him to wake the mares. He turns and goes to find the two of them.
KP now wakes up, a burnt smell can only go ignored for so long, even for a fire mage. He stretches and yawns, seeing Lockjaw curled up at the foot of his bed. He gives the little deviljho a nudge.>"Must not be anything serious if you aren't up… Let's go see what it is."
He hops out of bed, scoops Hopper out of his aquarium gently, and heads on to find the smell.
"I can proffer my aid in that matter, yes," the Bodhidharma says. "But know this: If you take heed of my methods, and against my warning, use them to foolhardy ends, others may throw away their lives trying to save you. If that should happen, and one I can still save would sacrifice themselves attempting to thwart your suicidal foolishness… I will save the one I still can. I agreed to the Pact of service and protection, but so did you – if you would not protect your own life as well, others should not die needlessly protecting yours."
He pauses, glaring at you sternly. "Am I clear?">>758287
KP enters the kitchen to see Onion serving some slightly-but-not-irredeemably burnt hayggs and haycon, and some rationed pieces of fruit and cups of cider. Estuary's embarrassed expression explains much despite his silence. Lockjaw and Hopper don't seem to mind much; Lockjaw will eat anything and Hopper always has a personal reserve of dried flies… morbidly prepared by Busta.
After knocking on River's door and waiting for a time, she exits… as does Zjetya. River hops lightly in surprise as she sees you.
"Ah… good morning!" River says.
"Don't worry," Zjetya says. "We were just, uh… writing."
Zjetya is illiterate in Equish.
>>758288>"Heheh, guess you went to ofar in the other direction, huh?"
KP says in light jest as he reads the room, hopping up in his seat as Onion serves out the food.>"Thank you!"
He also doesn't mind too much, he appreciates the effort.
Pryce is is slightly taken aback as River is surprised to see him.
"Good morning River, good morning Zjetya," Pryce greets, looking between the two at theirs. "Oh, River was giving you some lessons?"
Shei-Sher holds his head to maintain eye contact with the Bodhidharma as he sits on the grassy lawn. Understanding that his friend is already proctoring him in the wisdom of his faults. And at Bodhidharma's statement, Shei feels shame.
"I understand. I have become a wild creature, and although I place such little value on my own life. I could never forgive myself for endangering my family. I'm sorry Bodhidharma, I will protect my life just as I should protect my comrades." Shei bows his head recognizing Bodhidharma as his teacher "Then- will you instruct the Malakhim as well?"
"It appears I have much to learn," Estuary says, having recovered a bit from earlier. Your gratitude helps. "A warrior must never forget such truths.">>758289
"She was givin' me somethin' alri–"
"That's enough out of you," River says. "Now come on–"
"If you insist!"
"Aaaaagh! Pryce, breakfast! Now!"
River practically runs out of the room to the table. Zjetya smirks. "Really though… I had a bad dream. Felt a bit… safer sleeping in River's room… after I woke up, I saw she was up reading, so I asked if I could spend the night. Didn't want to wake you.">>758290
"Yes, but only if they will accept my instruction in the akashic arts of music. Youngsters today… hardly do they know what they do when they flail about on their newfangled magitech lutes and skin drums. Call them in here and I shall give them a real instruction in the arts."
>>758291>"Always good to prepare a little bit in everything. No show can run with a one trick pony afterall."
KP responds with his own sagely sounding advice from his family, taking a bit bite of hayggs.
Pryce blinks from the exchange, lost as River sprints out to get breakfast. He turns to Zjetya as she explains.
"I'm glad she was there for you. Though, I wouldn't have minded, I'm always open for either of you if you need me," He says assuredly. "What was it, if I may ask?
Shei picks himself up from his seat on the grass, with some more pluck in his attitude he says "Cripes- We're open to suggestions but not a new sound. Dare suppose we could take you on for a few lessons. I'll gather the boys."
And with that Shei takes his leave of the lantern later convening with his Malakhim to update them on his request to be trained by the Bodhidharma and reconvening at the Bodhidharma's abode that night to begin their first lesson.
[mini session end]
The Bodhidharma subjects you and the Malakhim to grueling and old-fashioned training in the ancient ways of music and mediation, whose secrets sustained him against the treachery of the false angel Miracle.
"Us… getting taken out by the ancient dragons before we can even get close to Ornifex," Zjetya says. "Every place that has withstood collapse in the wake of the demonic invasion did so for a reason. And if the insurrectionists are using demons like Sir Einmal said… I wonder if there will be much of them left by the time we get there."
Renee calls in Sugar and Spitshine, and everyone sits down for breakfast. After it's finished, Renee attempts to get started on the dishes, but Vortigern stops her.
"Relax, Sister," Vortigern says. "I heard you up all night packing and making ready for your departure. Be at ease, we'll take care of this."
"…Thanks," Renee says. You see her small collection of worldly possessions are bound up by the door in a saddlebag.
Pryce puts a wings around Zjetya.
"Nothings going to take us out like that. We're going to help, not to conquer or attack like demons," He says confidently. "If needed, we can walk to avoid any unneeded attention if they do have dragons guarding."
Pryce walks with her to the breakfast table, taking a seat between Zjetya and River.
"Good luck, Renee," Pryce says to follow the call on her to relax. "Whoever ends up being by your side on the field will be lucky to have your skills."
Zjetya does not reply, but leans into your hug.
Renee nods at your praise. "You as well," she says. "I shall call when I can, so keep your conches handy.">>758296https://youtu.be/Qr7tfAuaGfs
The others clean up while Renee reluctantly obeys their wishes for her to take it easy before her departure. Once at last the meal is done and the airship tidy, the sun is risen, and Renee is due for her departure. She meets you all out on the grass, and the final goodbyes are brief, though she does not leave without issuing everyone – even the pets – a hug farewell. When at last she turns to leave, Lockjaw innocently tries to follow her, and only after a bit of commanding from KP does he seem to understand that Renee is leaving by herself. The deviljho's head hangs, and his mood drops.
Vortigern gestures for you all to step back onto the airship before you can dwell overmuch on this latest separation from your party. "Let's be off, then. It's three days to Threecoins, then four more to Ornifex. Let's go while we have enough sunlight to travel in safety."
Pryce and KP do their share of helping with cleanup, KP doing a little extra to help make sure Renee's last bits with them that morning are calm.
The goodbyes have a better tone with the rising sun, having a more hopeful atmosphere to it.
Pryce turns as Vortigern makes the call to depart.
"We have a lot of flying ahead of us. Anypony want to try taking the wheel this time?"
He offers, using the suggestion to put the practice to the test to keep spirits up.
Roll #1 77, 22, 54 = 153
"Dibs," Spitshine says.
Sugar snorts. "Can your hooves even reach the pedals?"
"This thing's got auto-fly, I'll be fine."
The others hop aboard, and the airship takes off – with Vortigern getting the first flight.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59aiUbCT7LY
Your travel to Threecoins is generally safe, though not without incident. From time and again, you come across old wreckages, caravans, mostly. Some are months old, others weeks old, though none are overly recent. Though some seem to have been the victims of demonic attack, others show signs of having been hit by mortal weaponry… arrows and explosives, not the gunpowder or magitech employed by Ecclesia.
You note that there are rather few demons in sight on your travels, even fewer than what you saw on your first travel there. Only twice are you assailed by demons, and both times, gunfire bursts from the gatling guns are enough to chase them off before a true aerial battle can take place. Perhaps the Treibheanna have taken all worth taking in this region…
At last, on the dawn of the third day, you see the high walls of Threecoins looming on the horizon.
"We can adjust the seat as needed," Pryce chuckles as the kids jump to dibs.
As they fly towards Threecoin, Pryce notes the sights, abandoned wreckage showing nothing in the long stretch between fortifications. At least it appears no greater force aside the Treibheanna would be doing it. The few skirmishes help keep him alert, and thankful they were only skirmishes.
In the lulls he reads the book on Unweaving, figuring it'd be best to grasp the concept before they reach Threecoins to be safe, as well as doing a little planning to W&W.
KP practices his beast taming, and trying out his bubble spell on all kinds of substances to get the most use out of it.
When the walls finally come into view, Pryce looks out towards the city on the horizon.
"Threecoins, straight ahead! Should be only a little bit more now," He announces. "Wonder how they're holding up."
Lockjaw remains in a funk through all of KP's attempted Beastmaster training. Though his kind is a nomadic species, it seems he was still fond of those he only knew a short while.
As the airship approaches the city, signals from the Witches below direct you to park at a more cleared out area in the northeastern quadrant of the city, far from the dilapidated western and southern quadrants on the other side of the great river. The space is near the southern end of the northeastern quadrant, amid spaces for caravans and boats making the river their port.
KP frowns as Lockjaw seems to not be into the training during the travel, and starts to feel a tad guilty over how he was acting the day before they took off.
As Threecoins comes into view, KP picks Lockjaw up to see out the window.>"Cheer up little guy, look! This is where we first met, remember?"
When they land, signaled down to a clear area, the entrance makes Pryce feel better off seeing they are handling things well still.
"Guess they're setting up for expectant travelers now. That's a good sign."
Lockjaw perks up a little at seeing the city of witches again, and makes his way outside with the others, a little energy returned to his steps.
As you exit the Silver Stream,
making your way to the main streets, you see that the population density seems to have dropped. However, contra to this, there seem to be quite a few Ecclesians about, mingling with the Witches. Morale is quite high among them.
"Regina's castle is to the northeast," Vortigern says. "Let's head there first, then come back here to see if we can't restock on supplies."
"Wonder if Ecclesia's gotten to them first…" River muses.
Pryce looks around the city, seeing the place not too crowded and spirits high. It's a good sign to see.
"We shouldn't have to worry about that, the witches were more keen on bartering than anything else. That might've slowed any Ecclesian trade," He comments as they make their way to Regina's.
River gets ready to conjure a Dark Corridor to the Library of the Sacrosanct, but Zjetya stops her.
"Regina's probably not in the best of moods at the moment," she says. "We'd better announce ourselves first."
"A fair point," River concedes.
"That Fairy Castle should know," Onion suggests. "Pryce, her abode was somewhere 'round these parts, wannit?"
"Also good to be polite too, checking in first before walking in."
Pryce nods to Onion. "Yea, her hut is down this way," He says, leading the way for the group down to Fairy Castle's.
You pass by the Public Gardens as you head northwest through the city streets, back into the business district. Along the way, you see more of Threecoins' sudden change in population – a plethora of male Ecclesians mingling with the Witches, or at least those who remain.
In time, you come to Fairy Castle's humble stone-and-thatch hut, at the end of the street, marked by her extensive gardens in the front yard. When you knock, she opens the door, and you can see Prickly Pear sitting near the back, her eyes shut in a meditative expression.
"Well well," Fairy Castle says, not bothering to lower her voice for Prickly Pear's meditations. Prickly grimaces, but keeps her eyes shut. "If it isn't the matchmakers. Come to work your magic again on my sisters?"
"I take it the negotiations with Ecclesia worked out just fine," Onion says.
"Swimmingly," Fairy says. "You know how long it's been since these Witches have met a stallion who wasn't trying to stake or burn them?"
"One might think a devout and militaristic nation would not be so quick to embrace literal Witches," River says.
Fairy Castle just laughs. "You've much to learn of religion and magic if that comes as a surprise. Come in, come in, sit anywhere."
"It's good to see things worked out well. Seeing ponies get along not because they're preparing for battle is a good sight nowadays," Pryce comments on the topic.
"On that, how is Regina doing? We wanted to check in since we're passing by," He says, getting a seat for RIver and Zjetya before taking one himself.
There aren't any seats in the spartan hut, just warm, hard-packed earth. The others all sit wherever there is open space. You see that Fairy Castle has not yet fully recovered from the Kindling, the old Shekinah leaning more on her staff with more stilted movements.
"Exhausted," Fairy says. "Only a few days ago you lot came in like a damn whirlwind and practically upended this Coven. Bringing the Queen-Mother back from the brink of despair… introducing her to a good and charming monsterpony… your resolve to stop the Witches of Gehenna… it's been almost too much for the girl. I had to comfort her the night that Box fellow went into Tartarus. And, when Ecclesians arrived with negotiations in mind, it was I who had to keep her focused through the talks."
Pryce frowns hearing how much Regina has gone through.
"Oh, guess we should come back later then to give her some space to recover from all that. …What did the negotiations cover, if I may ask?"
"It might do her some good to see you," Fairy says. "Then again… a reminder of Box may not be helpful. I'll leave it to your judgment."
Turning to the question of negotiations, she continues. "What you have no doubt seen on the city streets is the fruit of the negotiations. The Chorister Metalweave proposed an alliance between Ecclesia and the Coven, as an alternative to the Coven's earlier reliance on the White Dance, the Dove Incense and the strange gods they summoned.
"So far, it seems to be working well. Those Witches who desired companionship have found themselves good company. Those who desired a change of scenery as well have been able to move according to Ecclesian operations. Regina fully accepted the departure of those who wished to leave after hearing her confession of the Replica and Replicant plan.
"That Metalweave seemed a reasonable fellow, despite his leanings. Despite scouring his drafted proposals for many hours, Regina and I found little to haggle over, besides the theological concession. The gods summoned by the Dove Incense saved our lives time and again from the Treibheanna's demons, so they were hard to part with. Regina has a mind to propose their induction into the Ecclesian pantheon."
"But…" River says. "What if those gods are connected to the Treibheanna?"
"I find it unlikely, given they drove off Treibheannan demons," Fairy says. "But it is not impossible… they seemed old, near-forgotten gods… in a position where even mortals can bargain with them."
"Hmm, maybe familiar faces would help. We can at least tell her they got to the Great Seal ok," Pryce surmises.
"That's good, seems everypony is happy with the agreement. Inducting the gods sounds like a good avenue to take, I don't think Ecclesia would turn down something that has proven to work against demons."
Zjetya folds her arms, frowning as she tries to ponder over something.
"We shall see how well the treaty proceeds," Fairy says. "Ecclesia would do well to remember that Witches are not to be trifled with. If they should mistreat the sisters of our Coven…"
"I doubt that will be a concern," River says. "Even one such as I, an enemy of the old Church, can say that much. The Ecclesian leadership is composed of the most pragmatic of the survivors of the old order – assassins, schemers and warlords. Any misconduct on the part of its lower rank-and-file will doubtlessly be met by swift and brutal judgment, and, I imagine, recompense. They would not be so foolish as to endanger a treaty with powerful allies given the current conditions."
"For their sake, I hope you are right," Fairy says. "Or else Regina will have another annihilated civilization to her credit."
"Do you think we should wait?" Pryce asks Zjetya, seeing her ponder on something.
"I don't think there's anything to worry about with the lower ranks, it should be fine," He adds. "She's annihilated civilizations?" He questions after Fairy's warning.
"It's not that," Zjetya says. "I just wonder how Chorister Metalweave got here before us. It took us three days by airship, and Ecclesia doesn't exactly have a lot of those lying around."
"Yours is the only airship we have seen," Fairy adds. "And we did not observe how Metalweave came or went.">>758521
Fairy nods. "The Country of Red Thunder, or what remained of it. It was guilty of state-sanctioned sectarian persecution, then in its twilight years, the abominable practice of slavery. When the Witches of Gehenna betrayed Regina into slavery as their sacrifice, it was all perfectly legal, and Regina had none but her illusion magic to save her. When the demons invaded our world, and we fled northwest, Regina annihilated what remained of that corrupt and decadent country without hesitation. Given their previous attempts to do the same to us – not one of our Coven even thought of stopping her."
The others shiver, but seem like they're not about to critique her actions.
"They do have some ways of getting around, there's was the one who first took the dove incense. Figure they'd use their quickest method of travel to get to negotiations with the details they gave us for Orniflex's situation."
"…I can't really blame or say I'd do otherwise in a situation like that. But, I do know we can make sure that sort of stuff doesn't happen again."
Onion and Spitshine look particularly disquieted. Fairy's expression is grim, but she sighs, and nods. "Now then, that dreary history aside, why don't I get you some–"
"Pssst…" Prickly Pear hisses. Fairy Castle ignores her. "Psst… psst!"
"What!?" Fairy snaps at her apprentice.
"I wanna say hi to everybody!"
"Then do it, hembra," Fairy says. "Witches do not ask permission."
Prickly grumbles, but leaps out of her meditative posture. "Hey everyone! Did you all come here to train too?"
"Ah, yes," Fairy says. "I'd nearly forgotten in the onslaught of all the recent events. How have you fared with my teachings?"
"Hi Prickly," Pryce says, waving as she finishes her meditation.
"I've been reading through the book you gave me, and with practice I think I've gotten a good handle on Unweaving."
>"I've gotten pretty good with my new staff too!"
KP chimes in.
Lockjaw runs up and gives Prickly a friendly headbutt. She returns the gesture, easily bowling over the friendly deviljho, then produces some meat snacks for him, which he gratefully enjoys.
"Good," Fairy says. "If you are not in a rush, perhaps we can while away the day with further instruction. There is more to metamagic than simply Unweaving."
"We're not in too big of a rush, we did stop by to resupply after all, in addition to checking on Regina," Pryce answers. "There is? What else is there?" He asks, curiosity piqued.
"Weaving, of course," Prickly Pear says. "Now that you know how to take apart a spell, you must know also how to repair it. And not just in the way it was when you Unwove it, but in any shape you desire, even bound up with another spell. It will take a day of instruction to impart this to you."
Onion scratches his head. "This is all a bit over my head, Pryce. I can take the others who won't be attending the lesson around town if you want to stay here and learn."
"Undoing a spell and remaking it to use myself? That… sounds amazing!"
His growing excitement is halting a moment as Onion speaks up to take leave.
"Oh, yea, sure. You guys can get the supplies. I'll catch back up after the lessons."
You remain with Fairy Castle, while the others decide to handle resupply operations. A long day follows of instruction, study and practice, and occasionally enduring Fairy's very discriminatory gender norms.
Come evening, Fairy Castle, already still recovering from her work as the Shekinah of Wacachan, yawns, cutting off the words of wisdom she had been imparting. She squints through one of the hut's windows at the setting sunlight, and grunts. "Mmmph. I will take that as a sign that 'tis time to end the lesson. Well then, colt, have you any confidence you took any knowledge from what I shared?"
While the lesson for this day isn't as physical as Sir Estuary's training, it is almost as exhausting on the mental front as Pryce puts his all into the new school of magic, and a little more as well to challenge Fairy's gender norm comments.
Pryce sits down as Fairy Castle ends the lesson, taking a deep breath and exhaling in relief.
"I am more than confident, I know I will have this mastered by the next time we meet."
"Good, see to it that you do," Fairy says, lightly tapping the top of your horn with her staff. "I have not taught a male before, and I do so only because of what you have done for Regina and this Coven. I will not have any student of mine sully my name through a lack of skill and wit. Go forth and make this magic your own."
"What she's saying is that you don't gotta go home, but you can't stay here," Prickly Pear adds.
"Not unless you're going to help with chores," Fairy says.
Pryce winces as his horn is tapped, nodding after at her words.
"I'll make you proud."
He stands up, looking out the window to gauge the time by the sun.
"I can help some before I meet back with the others. It's the least I can do for teaching me all this."
Prickly enlists you for a time in the gardens out front, and after some weeding and harvesting of edible fruits, the others come back. Some signs of sweat and fatigue suggest that, following the resupply run, Estuary snuck in a training session.
"Lessons go well?" River asks.
"He's a quick learner," Prickly says with a nod, before heading inside. "Sit in the shade, I'll get you all some water."
Pryce looks up from the gardening as the others return, looking like they've been through a deal themselves.
"Great, can't wait to try it out more," He answers River. "Guessing you all did some training yourselves?"
"Yes, it's every day," Zjetya says.
"Were it not for the impending sundown, I would have you join as well," Estuary says. "Come on, we should be getting to the most defensible place in this city before dark."
"That will be the Library," Fairy says. She gestures to the streets, and you can see that many witches and their newfound companions are taking broomsticks to the northeast. "Regina has opened its many doors to all the city's remaining inhabitants for nighttime shelter, since we can no longer rely on the Dove Incense to summon the gods for protection. To their credit, the males of the Ecclesian Congregation are stalwart defenders, the few times we have been attacked."
Prickly Pear comes back with the waters, and the others make their rest quick at the thought of taking shelter in a safe place for the night.
"I know we've had our problems with angels," Zjetya says. "But, being away from their presence in Lilane's reminding me how dangerous most of the world is now."
"Can't imagine a safer place here, after our own run through it," Pryce comments as they're all given water. "Glad they're doing their part, sounds like things are going smoothly enough here."
"It is dangerous out here, but places like this show ponies are working together against it. We always have that hope," Pryce says in good spirits.
"If we're going to be sleeping over at Regina's anyway," River says. "I got to see enough of the Library on our first trip that I could take us somewhere respectably far enough from her castle. Let's retrieve whatever necessities are back aboard the Stream
and find a place there for the night."
"Maybe we can catch Regina on the way in," Onion says. "Gauge whether she's up for an impromptu visit."
"Looked like things all worked out then. I imagine she might be out and about while everypony is coming in anyways, be a good time to catch her," Pryce comments.
"Alright, let's grab what we need off the ship and head over to the Library," He says, up and ready. "Hmm, maybe I should ask her for some tips on W&W…" He thinks aloud.
Prickly and Fairy lock up their shop, preparing to depart for the Library by broomstick. Meanwhile, your group gathers a few necessities – bedding, pet food, some W&W supplies and snacks – and lines up to enter the Dark Corridor. River looks hesitant about conjuring it, given the episode she suffered at the edge of Tartarus… but she sticks out her hoof, and the Dark Corridor appears at her command. She and the others are quick to proceed through, all the same.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrTqz_-21Cg
The Corridor deposits everyone at the edge of the lake atop the Library of the Sacrosanct. From here you can see Regina's mushroom castle beyond the wisteria forest. Regina, in her usual gargantuan form, listlessly lies outside it, looking for all the world like a dejected cat, her tail swishing about in a lifeless stupor.
After they gather their supplies, Pryce stands beside River seeing her hesitance on conjuring a Corridor, ready to aid her after what happened in the labyrinth. Thankfully it goes fine.
He looks around as they step out beside the lake at the Library. Regina being easy to spot takes out the questions of if they'd be able to find her or not. Pryce leads on for the group to go greet her first before they find a spot to settle.
"Hello Regina," Pryce greets as they approach. "Is everything going alright?"
Regina frowns as she looks down at you, and bats you aside, though with little force or energy. "Curse you for introducing me to so great a gentlecolt and then letting him march off into the utter darkness… were I not a Queen-Mother, I would have followed him."
Pryce steps back as Regina bats him aside, frowning at how depressed she seems.
"He fared very well on the way to the Seal, better than most, if that helps any," Pryce says, trying to look at a brighter side and how well Box would fare.
"Yes, he demonstrated his many defensive and subversive skills for my amusement on our date," Regina says. "But until he is back, knowing he will be near Vizsla and Mudi… I don't even want to think about it."
Lockjaw boldly trots forward and throws himself onto Regina's plentiful fluff. Regina absently scratches him with a small claw.
Pryce thinks a bit, feeling that mentioning the expedition or Vizsla and Mudi more might only further sour her mood.
"…Would you like to join us for some W&W? We were going to play some before bed."
"I don't want to QM. There's only so much you can do that before you get burned out," Regina protests.
"Pryce is actually pretty good at it," Zjetya says. "We'll just make him do it."
Regina's ears twitch a little in interest. "Oh… okay."
"Yea, I've been doing a campaign where they're exploring a mysterious island. You can join in for that, or I can start a new one if you'd like," He offers, seeing Regina having some slight interest.
Regina's ears twitch even more at the thought of a mystery. "Okay… now you've talked me into it. Let's go inside, I have a special room just for these sorts of things."
"Lead the way," Pryce says, following after Regina.
"Wonder if we should set up a room for games on the ship," He comments to the others, the idea sounding like a good one.
For a few hours that night, you and your now much smaller group of friends and allies are not trapped in a dying world infested by insatiable demons, but on a small and sunny island. There, the worst that might happen to someone is a bad scrap with a monster, treated by a week or so of recovery relaxing near the sand and waves. Regina, having made a very small Breezie who favors the Dual Blades, gradually improves in mood by the end of the night. She permits you all to stay in her mushroom castle, for it has many rooms.
A relaxing game is the best end to the day, the party exploring the high peaks on the far side of the island. Seeing Regina's mood lighten up as well makes it all the better, Pryce mentally noting down to do this again when they next pass through Threecoin.
Once the night ticks by and it's time for bed, and they're granted a stay in the castle, Pryce thanks Regina for the hospitality, picking out a smaller room to be modest.
…a small pair of hands slapping your face– a spritz of water shocks you, thereafter. Your body is numb, and prickles stab every bit of skin, into the muscle, as you are jostled awake.
The room is pitch-dark, and only the light magical glow of Hopper's staff provides some tiny illumination. He squeaks, but softly, as he tries to rouse you to waking.
Pryce's eyes snap open from the tiny slaps and water spritz, mild panic setting in as his mind jumps back to the ordeals they first faced at the Library. When he sees it is only Hopper, he calms slightly, taking a breath as he wipes his face off.
"What is it Hopper? Is something wrong?" He asks, knowing Hopper would have some reason to be waking him.
Hopper's squeaking is fearful, and hushed, yet urgent. He makes no gestures, and in general seems tensed to flee in a hurry, in any direction.
Deep, starless midnight weighs upon the room.
Pryce scoops up Hopper if his good hoof, igniting his other foreleg as he gets out of bed and steps out into the hall to ease Hopper.
"It's okay little guy, nothing's going to happen."
Hopper backs up against your arm, holding his staff aloft for protection.
Guided by the light of your flame-arm, you walk towards the nearest wall, and follow it east toward the door to the hall… which… should be… somewhere around here…
Further and further you walk… yet you reach nothing.
Pryce pauses when he can't find the door, keeping a calm head and not giving into panic.
"Might just be a lingering illusion or something…"
His horn lights, focusing on the wall as he attempts to Unweave any magic that might be on it.>Unweave [Wall] [1d10]Roll #1 9 = 9
Nothing comes of your spell.
It is at this time that a peculiar vertigo makes itself known in your mind– and the feeling seems to stretch backward into your memories just as much as it does the present, as if you had been feeling this since waking, but only now sensed it. And the vertigo is like that you might drift away in any direction, without warning, heedless of any obstacle or gravity… and that, beyond the dark… there would be some titan of the shadows to greet y–
Hopper suddenly screeches, retreating up your arm in a panic so fierce that he drops his staff, and something floods upon you!
Pryce holds his hoof on the wall, trying to keep steady and grounded as this vertigo overwhelms his mind. Hopper's screech startles him, combined with the sudden impact his horn instinctively lights to grab whatever the thing is in his telekinesis to hold it at bay.>Telekinesis [Grab] [1d10]Roll #1 7 = 7
"…ce… Pr– Pryce, stop!"
With a shuddering gasp, one reality breaks into another.
You lay in the room you had picked last night. Your blankets and clothing are drenched with now-frigid sweat, though you yourself feel as though you were burned. You hold Estuary in your telekinetic grasp, and Zjetya and Vortigern stand behind him, frozen in shock. >>758623
In his own room, KP lays delirious and inert, barely managing to keep his eyes half-open through a bad fever, his nightmares bleeding into reality, and vice versa. River kneels at his side, providing treatment. Onion and the other kids hold the pets at bay outside the door.
Pryce holds still, body tense as his surroundings have changed again. He looks at the force that flooded him, seeing Estuary. Still, it takes him a moment for realization to set in, before releasing the goo pony.
"Wh… What's going on?" He asks through shaky breathes as the burning sensation starts to set in.>>758624
KP mumbles now and then as the nightmares and fever take their toll on him, lacking the strength to speak more through the treatment.
Vortigern pushes into the room, urging you to lay back down. "You and KP have come down with strange fevers. River is treating KP right now. I found him collapsed in the hall early this morning. You seem to be doing better than him, but River is still having a hard time with his ailment."
"We looked for Regina, but she's nowhere to be found," Zjetya says. "I'm gonna go deeper into the Library, and get more healers if I can't find her. I just had to see that you were okay."
Despite your fever, you notice Hopper sitting nearby. He looks as fearful as he was in the dream, shivering and disturbed.
"What?" Pryce mutters, at first wanting to go check on KP himself, but as Vortigern comes in to urge him to rest, Pryce sits back on the bed. Or, collapses back, feeling the fatigue of the panicked wake-up come over him, as well as his foreleg extinguishing.
"A fever… Are you sure? I woke up… and everything was dark, like a void," He explains, confused. "I'm fine… I'm fine," He says to Zjetya, though they're just words.
He looks to Hopper, seeing him as he was in the dream.
"Is Hopper alright? He's not sick too, is he?"
"I am not a veterinarian, but he seems fine, healthy anyway," Vortigern says. "I used some healing magic on him just to be sure. Something has him agitated– nobody can get near him."
"Go back to sleep, though it may be hard," Estuary commands. He takes the sweaty blanket off and replaces it with a fresh one. "But call us if you should have any need."
"He's just worried," Pryce responds to Hopper's diagnosis. "I'll be okay little guy," He says to Hopper.
He lays down, pulling up the fresh blanket.
"If I need… but I'll be fine after some rest," He says to Sir Estuary. "And, I'm sorry for grabbing you."
"Apologize only for your shoddy technique," Estuary says. "I could have easily escaped that grab."
Vortigern shoulders him aside and gives him a scolding glance for kicking you while you're down. Estuary rolls his eyes and departs, while Vortigern leaves you with a glass of water.
"We'll try it again when I'm better," Pryce responds with a tired chuckle.
"Thank you," He says to Vortigern for the water, taking a sip and laying back down to try and get some rest after that nightmare.>Good to Skip
Time and space melt by, as you drift in a humid stew of nightmares. Yet time and again, some current always draws you back, back to that darkness… where you recall, time and again, the presence of something awaiting, as it has been waiting… though for you or for another, never can you tell, for all it takes is the sweltering wetness of that something's hungering gaze, projected more from odorous tongue than eye, for your every sense to rebel and thrash, shaking you back into the blinding, ignorant light…
You open your eyes to sunlight, coming in through the window, along with a breeze, but despite the light you feel rather cold.>>758689
KP, in fact, is downright frigid. He wakes, at last freed from fever and ache, and sees River holding his ice staff. She uses it to puff out very measured gusts of cold air, apparently to counteract the heat of fever. Yet now that he is healthier, she might as well be freezing the poor colt.
Lockjaw, wrapped up tight in a blanket, is laying near KP, snoozing.
Pryce opens his eyes, feeling tired still as those nightmares hang over his head. Shivering, he pulls the blanket in tight around himself, the change from freezing from burning not much of a welcome one. From his cocoon, he looks around the room to check for Hopper to see how his watchful frog is fairing.>>758690
KP's teeth chatter, pulling in his blanket before he opens his eyes slowly as he feels the gusts of air.>"C-C-Can you turn up th-th-the heat?"
He mutters to River, seeing her by the bedside.
Hopper lays at your shoulder. Though he looks tired, he appears more calm now. Upon hearing your stirring, he faces you, squeaking inquisitively.>>758691
River nearly drops the staff with shock as KP speaks, then hurries to his side to examine him. "My word… a full recovery…? Regina was right! How do you feel? Can you move everything? Use magic?"
"Good to see you're doing well," Pryce says with a smile as Hopper looks better. "Think I still need more though, feel like I was stuck in a freezer.">>758692>"Wh-What happened?"
KP asks as River checks him over.>"I'm c-c-cold, and, uh… I th-th-think so…"
He lights his horn to try lifting up the staff to check his magic.
KP is able to lift the staff just fine, and River nods, performing a few more checks. As she does, Lockjaw wakes up, and upon seeing KP awake and well, nearly tackles the colt, his tail slapping the bed giddily. River nudges him back. "Zjetya! Bring that soup up!"
"Already!?" Zjetya shouts from afar. "Damnit, it's not ready– shit!"
You can hear some ingredients dropping to the floor, followed by Zjetya scooping them up and blowing them off.>>758693
Shortly after the commotion from Zjetya, Vortigern sticks her head in. "Well well, look who decided to wake up. You might have guessed, but KP is doing better, and so you are as a result. Looks like Regina's treatment worked."
KP laughs as Lockjaw tackles him over and they bounce on the bed.>"Soup? How late is it?"
He asks curiously.>>758694
"I'm feeling a bit better. What did Regina do?" Pryce asks.
"Morning, three days after our arrival in Threecoins," River says. "It is not the usual breakfast, but it will be good for you."
Zjetya comes in with a bowl of hearty-looking soup and a serving tray, then gives KP a good hug. River does as well, then steps out of the room. "I'm going to check on Pryce. Bring KP up to speed, alright?"
"Hey, I'm no academic, I don't really get it myself…" Zjetya complains, then turns to KP. "So, I guess what happened is…">>758695
"The night we arrived, demons infiltrated the lower levels of the Library," Vortigern says. "They were attempting to enact some kind of elaborate ritual, before they were caught by the Eccleisans. Two Ecclesians died, and many others were injured, but the demons were slain. Though the ritual was thwarted, all the Replica and Replicant witches suffered fevers and the flu, and I would guess that KP's origin as a magical construct caused him to succumb as well – infecting you through your sympathetic connection. Regina was the one who treated him, and indirectly, you, using the magical reagants she used to construct the Replicas and Replicants in the first place."
River enters, and smiles with relief to see you healthy. She comes in for a hug, which combined with the two KP just got, warms you back up to comfortable levels.
KP says with some concern. When Zjetya comes in with the soup, he calms down, not wanting to spill it. He returns both hugs heartily after hearing it's been three days.
>"I'm glad everypony is okay now,"
KP comments after the explaination.>"Where's Regina now?">>758696
Pryce first is concerned, then feels a mixture of guilt that he couldn't help fend off the demons.
"I'll have to thank her when I see her next. …A ritual to make all the witches sick, was that their intention or was it going to be far worse if not stopped?"
As River pops into the room and comes over for a hug, Pryce returns it, though with only the only hoof, still bundled up and the other not materialized.
"Asleep," Zjetya says. "She'll probably be cat-napping for a good while, she was up pretty late treating the afflicted.">>758697
Soon, Estuary comes in with another bowl of soup, and a shot glass of fly soup for Hopper. It seems Estuary is much more competent at making a liquid-based meal, for both soups look delicious. Hopper eagerly tucks in, his mood rapidly improving.
"They don't quite know the demons's ultimate aim; the sickness seemed to be a side-effect caused by the release of malignant aether from the ritual's disruption. My bet is that it would have been much, much worse. In any case, Regina and her assistants are exhausted."
>>758699>"Gotta do something nice for her after helping with this."
KP says, pondering.>"Wonder if there's any good giftshops in town."
He takes a spoon of the soup Zjetya brought, giving it a taste.>>758699
"Thank you," Pryce says in thanks as Estuary brings in soup for him and Hopper, taking a spoonful of it now that he's feeling warmer.
"Given it was demons, fevers seem the best outcome then. Though I would think they wouldn't try going for a ritual approach, and just attack when everypony was sleeping if they wanted to be stealthy," He muses, concerned in thinking over the demon's goal.
"We'll check in with her tonight, after she's had a chance to sleep," River says. "I have heard that Sir Einmal has lifted Metalweave's prohibition against the White Dance, and it will be performed nightly again."
"How can Ecclesia get anything done with such an organizational structure…?" Vortigern wonders. "Snap judgments, disunified leadership, and an insatiable appetite for control…"
"Zjetya was telling me about it back in Lilane," River says. "Seems nobody truly knows… hence Gegenschein's not-so-secret plans for a revived monarchy, taking a page from Mariposan Alicorn worship."
The soup is a great dish after such an illness, already helping KP feel better than before.>"This is great! What'd ya put in it Zjetya?">>758701
"I don't like that something like this had to happen to allow proven methods to be used, but at least Ecclesia seems to acknowledge mistakes," Pryce comments on the situation. He takes a few more spoonfuls.
"I know some of their order was from the old Church, but it seems like nopony among their ranks has experience running anything more than an order, or if any do they're getting undermined. …The former Emperor is part of their rank, though I guess they want to shed off most of the old ways."
"Vortigern will have to give you the recipe…" Zjetya admits. "She just kinda left me in charge of the stove after she got it all set up."
Onion enters, carrying a nice juicy cut of meat. Lockjaw nearly topples the bed as he leaps off to grab the cut. Onion quickly sets the plate down and zips back, checking his hand to ensure he still has all his fingers.
"Make sure that lizard a yours in't sick, now," Onion says. "Li'l fella spent all that time sleeping next to you, tryin' to cool you off with his cold hide. He was hard to console when you wouldn't wake up.">>758702
"That's hardly the half of it," River scoffs. "I do hope Renee won't find herself a victim of their mismanagement. Zjetya might very well have a promising future as a statesmare for all that she was explaining to me of their foolishness. Ruled by 12 members of equal political authority, chosen from three factions that historically manipulated and schemed against one another… how do they resolve stalemates in vote? Why is martial strength a prerequisite for political rule? If it weren't for Laciela and Yareakh being chosen as their first queens I would applaud their removal of the kritarchy in favor of monarchy."
Vortigern clears her throat. "That's enough of a crash course in theory," she says. "Pryce, eat and get some more sleep. I'll wake you when Regina is ready to receive visitors herself. If you are well enough for it, we should leave tomorrow."
>>758703>"Well you did a good job keeping watch on it. The temperature is perfect."
KP says with a smile. He then holds his soup steady as Lockjaw quickly scrambles for the meat and shakes the bed in the process. He looks down at the little deviljho as Onion informs what a stalwart guardian he was.>"He really did that?"
KP says, hearttouched.>"He doesn't look like he's sick, but I'll ask River to check on him.">>758703
"Renee has a good head on her shoulders, and being a medic she'll probably be able to speak against any poor management on her part and get through them."
Pryce nods to Vortigern.
"I'm fine, feeling better now. One night of sleep was enough, really," He says, not wanting to causing too much worry with everypony working on keeping him and KP well.
After a bit longer chit-chatting with you both, your guests depart, allowing Pryce and KP time to stretch and bathe after being incapacitated for so long. KP in particular feels rather energetic – perhaps a bonus of Regina's treatment.
After cleaning up and moving out of bed for the first time after three days, KP gives Lockjaw a big hug for watching over him.>"I'm sorry for how I acted the other day, I know you didn't mean to hit me with your tail You're a good deviljho. Now, let's go find some paper and crayons."
He says, apologizing and having a new goal.>>758705
Pryce after cleaning up finds it a little bit harder to adjust. Unaware it's been three days in bed and without a leg, he finds himself almost off balance when he reignites it. He takes a bit longer to do some stretches and some basic exercise to get back into a proper form.
KP and Pryce eventually meet up while KP is in the process of finding some art supplies in one of Regina's many rooms. Your allies, save for Hopper and Lockjaw, are nowhere to be seen in all this Castle.
Pryce comes across KP as he's shuffling through boxes to look for art supplies, smiling as he sees his younger self up and full of energy after the illness.
"Good to see you're doing alright."
KP hops up from the box, looking back.>"Yup! I feel great!"
"What are looking for?">"Stuff to make a thank you card for Regina! It's the least I can do for all her help."
"Yea, everypony really came through for us.">"Hmm, I should make everypony a card then. Three days of care is a lot."
"Th-Three days?!">"Yea, didn't they mention that?"
"That would explain the off feeling… Here, let me help you with those cards."
Together they finish the hunt for the art supplies, then they go look for the others.
After gathering your supplies, you head outside, where you can see, as visible as ever, Regina's giant form, lounging by the lakeside. A short jaunt later, you see that she lies half-asleep by the waters, smiling contentedly as all your allies, save for Vortigern, walk across her back and shoulders, evidently providing a keen massage. Zjetya looks up, then signals for the others to clear out. From the treeline, Vortigern suddenly dive-bombs down, and strikes Regina's back with a careful blow. The satisfying crrrrrikt! of popping vertebrae is the reward. The others climb back up to resume their work.
Pryce and KP head outside, pets in tow, when they can't find sign of the others in the Castle. Seeing Regina in the distance, KP takes lead first to go say thanks. But once they see the others, they pause at the sight of the party giving Regina a massage. Pryce winces as Vortigern dive bombs down, despite the effectiveness of it.>"Wow! That looks like fun!"
Regina opens one eye. "You two can be next, if you wish."
"Hey," Zjetya snaps admonishingly. "Not 'til we're done with you. You don't just spend that many days saving lives and not get rewarded."
"Pryce, your special somepony is holding me hostage," Regina complains with a yawn."
"Hardly sounds like a complaint," Pryce says with a chuckle. "But on that, thank you for all you did.">"Yea! Here, I made you this!"
KP says, pulling out the card he made.>"Thanks a bunch!"
Regina's eyes widen as she sees the tiny card, and she even tears up a little. She holds it gently in her paws, and a sealing spell comes over it to defend it from time and the elements.
"The gratitude is all mine," Regina says, then pats KP on the head.
KP smiles as he sees Regina likes it.>"I'm glad you were there, can't imagine what would've happened otherwise."
"Doubly so. Those fever dreams alone still leave me uneasy."
KP looks up at the others going about the massage.>"How long have you guys been going at that?"
"About half an hour," River says.
"And a bit longer would be nice," Regina says. "I did save the Pryces' lives."
Zjetya scoffs. "Now who's holding who hostage?"
After the jokes, Regina leans in toward Pryce. "Tell me… what did you see during those dreams?"
KP laughs at the turnaround of feeling.>"Can I help?"
"Not much, but they were always the same. Just a void of darkness, an overwhelming sense of vertigo, and a feeling that something was watching me, like it was expected something to be there."
River flies down, and picks up KP to have him join.
Regina nods to Pryce. "You wouldn't be the only one," she whispers. "The Replicas and Replicants who could remember their dreams all told me similar things. KP was easily the worst case I dealt with… I'd be surprised if he remembered anything, but if he did, it'd be that."
KP treads around on Regina's back as he's lifted up, seeing if it's as soft as it looked.
("Do you think it meant something? Maybe part of whatever ritual the demons were trying?") He whispers back.
He then looks up towards the others.
"Hey, KP, how did you feel during those days. Remember anything?"
KP pauses mid-hop, thinking a moment.>"Huh, I'm not sure…"
He ponders, trying to see if he can remember anything from the three days when he was sick.
KP could sink into the fluffier parts if he's not careful. Box would do well to come back alive. But as he thinks back to those dreadful days of fever, he can remember nothing, being absolutely floored by the sickness.
"We haven't yet decrypted the ritual mysteries," Regina says. "But I think those nightmares were a shadow of the real intent. No rite that elaborate would have been necessary for summoning. It looked more like an attempted resurrection. It could not have been, for only mortals are capable of that, but something similar, perhaps."
>>758794>"Nope! Can't remember a thing."
KP answers back, going back to moving through the sea of fluff, hopping through the higher parts.
"Not summoning or resurrection… Do you think they were trying to create something? Maybe some sort of advanced conjuration, or alchemy?" Pryce suggests. "It affected the Replicants and KP, so it could be something similar possibly."
Regina's eyes suddenly shoot open wider than you've ever seen them. "Pryce… what was
"A mage named Calque cast a spell on me back when we were in Mariposa, creating KP. I don't know the specifics of the spell, but there is a connection so anything that happens to him happens to me."
"But why that shape? Why younger, and not a direct clone?"
"He used the spell to attempt to use KP as a hostage. We found out later he used the spell on himself too, also making a child form of himself, so it might just be how the spell works. His clone was trying to go save and marry Sugar while the original Calque was old, so maybe it's to make a younger body of the target for whatever reason."
"He also shared all my memories up to when he was made, so maybe it's just based off the memories of the target."
"Born from a spell of memory– of course! Just as the Replicas and Replicants!" Regina exclaims. "Their ritual must have been trying to make its victims remember
something, false or no. A more permanent kind of mass hallucination. With its disruption came an assault on memory, bringing those born from memory to what may have been the brink of death, had they not been healed."
"But, what would be the point of making all of them remember something, real or not? And why target the witches for that too?" Pryce wonders.
"Those dreams, it did feel like whatever… thing, was there, it was waiting for something. Do you think they're trying to find somepony in specific? Making them remember whatever this was to go seek it out?"
"Belief affects reality," Regina says.
"And one is not dead until they are forgotten," Estuary adds. "Perhaps it was
a resurrection, of a sort."
"And that was why the Ecclesians didn't want us to perform the White Dance further," Regina says as the dots connect. "For even if we knew little of its origin, those forgotten gods invoked by it revived, all the same."
"Feels like it'd be easier to target normal villages or ponies than a city of witches," Pryce comments. "Either way, at least there was nothing too concrete in those dreams, so whatever they wanted back or wanted to make won't be coming around."
"There aren't exactly a lot of those just lying around anymore," Regina says. "They would be hard pressed to find mortals who have not yet fallen under the rule of demons, or demon hunters, or other powerful despots. And besides… if you're going to mind-harvest someone, you might as well mind-harvest someone with power."
With a yawn, she rolls to one side, and all those who were on her back hurriedly run over to the upright side.
"Give us a little warning before you do that," Vortigern says.
"Oh, my apologies," Regina says, batting at Vortigern with a paw. "But you must not have had many cats growing up – we are capricious after all."
"No, my pets were all bears," Vortigern admits. She starts to look forlorn at the thought. "If you find that all is well here tonight, then…"
"I understand," Regina says. "You've a mission to do. Please, do not let me keep you overlong. With the White Dance reinstated we will be well-defended come nightfall."
"I suppose that's true…" Pryce admits.
KP runs along to avoid being thrown off or rolled over, hopping up after Regina settles.>"Do it again! That was fun!"
"I am feeling well enough to travel, any further rest can be done on the ship," Pryce says on the front of their mission. "Contact us if anything else happens, or if anything else comes from that attempted ritual. We'll always be open to help if you need it."
Regina rolls again, this time to the opposite side. Everyone else leaps away, but KP, lacking wings and with legs too stubby to run, ends up squished beneath her fur. However, it is not painful, more like lying under a comfy plethora of blankets. The others peek over to make sure KP's alright, and seeing that he is, leave him there.
Regina nods and yawns, offering a claw to shake. "Then, if we do not see each other again before you depart, farewell, and do not be strangers. The doors of my castle will always open to friends."
KP pokes his head out from under the fur, laughing.>"Hah, it's like a giant pillow fort!"
Pryce shakes Regina's claw.
"We won't, still need to continue that W&W game sometime," Pryce says with a smile. "We'll see you again soon."
Regina stretches once more, and is asleep in record time.
>timeskip available but pausing once initiated
As Regina quickly goes into a at nap, Pryce looks to the others.
"How have things been the past few days while we were bedridden?" He asks to get a catch up before they start preparations to depart.
KP squeezes out from under Regina to not disturb her rest.>"I hope we didn't take up all your time."
"We used the time well," Estuary says. "While you were out, everyone save for the foals got a chance to fly the airship and practice the guns. We'll still have flight even if any of us are… incapacitated," he concludes, putting extra weight on that last word.
"In general, we've been training in all fields," Vortigern affirms. "So don't think that just because you've been out sick means you get a pass on the workouts."
"Still need to show me how to conjure weapons too," Spitshine says.
"Yeah, I wanna learn that too," Zjetya says. "Round out my options… I'm too dependent on what little magic I have right now."
"That's good, one less worry to have," Pryce comments on being told nearly everypony knows how to fly the ship now, ignoring the last implication.>"How was it? I know you've been looking forward to testing them."
KP asks Estuary about the gun practice.
"Don't worry, I'm not taking any passes. I need to work extra to get back up to full strength anyways," Pryce assures Vortigern.
Pryce nods to Spitshine, then looks to Zjetya as she chimes in on wanting to learn conjuration too.
"I'm always glad to take on more students. River, are you interested any?" He asks, extending the offer.>"But your magic is super strong and cool! Is that a bad thing?"
KP asks Zjetya as she mentions being too dependent.
"Vortigern refuses to let me fire with ammo," Estuary says.
"We need to be sparing about that," Vortigern says. "Even if we can make more, we shouldn't waste resources."
"Though I complain, I did not think your decision unwise," Estuary says.
"I can already conjure and dismiss my spear," River says. "But I can learn your other tricks if you will teach me."
Zjetya smirks at KP. "As your older self has demonstrated, it's best to have more than one good thing."
KP chuckles at Estuary's further denial of the guns.>"Heh, well you got dibs whenever we do need to use them then."
"Of course, the more we share the better," Pryce says to River. He then looks up to check the time, unsure of what it is after being out of commission for three days. "Is there any preparation the needs to be done for the ship? We could do a little lesson before we take off. Or on the ship, if somepony else takes over flying."
KP nods.>"Oh definitely. Oh! Think about all the cool acts we could do with you all learning conjuration!"
KP exclaims excitedly.
It's early afternoon, by your judgment.
"She's ready to fly when you are," Vortigern says.
"Didn't you say you were raised by a traveling circus?" Spitshine asks. "At this rate, you're gonna be raising one too."
"Suppose we should start flying, still quite a ways to Orniflex isn't it? We can practice on the ship."
"Apple doesn't fall far from the tree it seems," He says with a laugh. "Maybe we'll run into them one of these days… Wonder what new things they came up with after all this time." He says fondly.
The others agree, and give their last farewells to Regina, before departing for the airship. It will be about three more days to Ornifex at this rate.
>Pick 1 spell and up to 2 students to teach it to
Pryce gathers his things and heads up to the airship, plotting along how best to teach his conjuring to others.
"Alright, I'll start with Spitshine since I promised you, and Zjetya, since you asked," Pryce decides once they're on the airship.
>Teaching Conjure Weapon to Spitshine and Zjetya.
Over the course of three-odd days, you train with both Zjetya and Spitshine in the arts of conjuration. The two have some difficulty with the theory, having lacked much robust education in this field of magic – but when it comes to the practical application, they seem to get it. By the end of the third day, the two are able to, at least temporarily, summon small objects no larger than pebbles. Sometimes, they're even warm to the touch, taking influence no doubt from you and your command of fire.
Then, shortly after the dawn of the fourth day –
You can hear it before you can see it. A paradoxical inversion – light travels farther than sound. And yet…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_EcbgvokOw
The far-off sound of slow and serene chimes heralds its appearance – a great mountain, where once the horizon seemed only to hold a distant mist. Its summit is hid behind layers of clouds that seem to go only higher and higher the higher you look, without end. Below the clouds is a thickly misted forest, covering most if not all of the rock.
Vortigern stands at the fore window, silently beholding her former home. One hoof rests, without life, upon the glass.
Pryce teaches with some new found enthusiasm as he goes through the basics and theory of conjuration, feeling a level of pride as Spitshine and Zjetya are able to start making things of their own, however small.
Pryce take the lead on flying the ship on the fourth day as they near Orniflex, feeling the need to be at the helm if anything does threaten the ship as some were worried of.
As the mist breaks and land comes to view with the chimes greeting them, Pryce looks ahead as their destination is finally before them. KP hops up to look out the window, looking in awe at the mountain that streaches on forever.>"Wooow! It doesn't stop at all!"
"…Where should I look to land?" Pryce asks after a moment of silence, seeing Vortigern taking a moment at seeing her home again.
"You need to get low as quick as you can," Vortigern says. "Disable the ship's cloud emitters and make sure they stay off. Head for the deepest forest you can find – I'll direct our route. You'll need to follow my instructions to the letter."
"To the letter, huh?" Zjetya laughs, her anxiety plain to see. She doesn't even want to look at the clouds. "Good thing I'm not steering today…"
Vortigern sighs, and the two share a look.
"Got it," Pryce says, follow Vortigern's instructions as he brings the ship down to the forests and turns off the cloud emitters.
>"Why do we need to keep the cloud emitters off?"
KP asks Vortigern.
"We'll be fine, don't worry," Pryce says to Zjetya, attempting to help ease the anxiety.
"They say mountain weather changes by the minute," Vortigern says. "But on that mountain, it never changes. Those clouds have been taken from all the surrounding skies, and fortified into permanent fixtures, just as a land-dweller would build a house from earth and lumber. If they see a cloud they fancy, they'll simply abduct it – so that includes our weather factory turned airship."
Vortigern stands by the captain's chair, giving constant instructions on the precise movements to take. At first it seems that you're simply flying along the contours of the mountains of the valley. But, as time goes on, as Vortigern's seemingly interminable instructions continue, you start to see faint glimmers of some spectral energy flashing around the ship, in a slow but accelerating rhythm.
"Now, look out, and tell me what you see," Vortigern says.
>>759366>"I know pegasi build their homes out of clouds, but this seems a little extreme. Why do they need so many clouds?"
Pryce follows each instruction to the word as Vortigern directs throughs the valley and trees. He glances over as the energy shines here and there, assuming this is what Vortigern is mentioning.
"Aside from those flashes?" Pryce asks as he looks out ahead.>Perception [1d10]Roll #1 8 = 8
Zjetya pats KP on the head. "Cause they want them. And when some… beings
want things, they get them. Even then, nothing is ever enough."
Vortigern nods. "You should be seeing it soon. Look, down there."
She points to the horizon below, to terraced hills of green and stone. But, with another flash around the ship, you see now something previously invisible – structures. Houses of earth, houses built into trees. Bridges connecting them. Communal fires. And pegasi, lots and lots of pegasi. The females are similar in height to Vortigern – quite large compared to eastern and southern mares, while the stallions are comparable in height to their eastern and southern counterparts.
The pegasi of the village turn, reaching for bows and other ranged weaponry. Quickly, Vortigern runs for the exit. "Hang back."
She hops out of the airship, and with her powerful wings, bolts for the village.
KP says, understanding the point Zjetya gets at.>"…Is it the dragons?"
"So the village is kept hidden until you get close?" Pryce asks with amazement as the earthy village comes into view. He brings the ship to a stop as Vortigern quickly bolts out, likely to tell the pegasi they're not a threat as they quickly run for weaponry.
>"This place is so cool! It's like everypony has a treehouse as their normal house!"
KP comments as they wait, looking out through the window.
The pegasi stop in amazement as they see Vortigern approach… but the weapons don't lower. It's almost like they'd be ready to fire at her instead of the ship now. The ship might as well not have even entered their airspace as far as they're concerned. It seems that there's not a friendly eye for Vortigern anywhere…
At least until a blur of a pony streaks across the air, tackling Vortigern. The two wheel about in the air, seemingly locked in brutal combat – until you can see the two of them laughing as they wrestle and hug. The blur turns out to have been a stallion, a few inches shorter than Pryce, but a pegasus as well. He looks to be about Vortigern's age, but the two are rubbing noses as if they were a young couple once more. The village folk look to the stallion with respect, but it's mixed with their animus for Vortigern.
Estuary steps away from the exit, his hoof leaving his swords.
Vortigern gestures to the airship, signaling for you to land in a cleared space to the west.
KP gasps as Vortigern is tackled out of the air, but as things look to be alright he sighs in relief.
Pryce brings the airship down in the cleared space Vortigern points out. Once landed, he makes ready to head out to see how the reception will be.
"Doesn't look like the most welcome reception out there, hope things will go easy here."
You step out, and see Vortigern and her special somepony land in the grass. The stallion disregards the angry onlookers, and Vortigern gestures to you. She remains silent. It takes the others a second, but they seem to get why."So, you're the pack of vagabonds and vagrants I've heard about,"
the stallion says, his accent hard to parse at first.. Up close, you can see his body is very muscled, covered with scars and other mementos of battles. He wears thick leather armor and a warm tunic. "Name's Grantz the Great. I see you followed her instructions well enough."
"Hello," Pryce greets as Vortigern and her special somepony approach. "I'm Sir Pryce Etac, and yes, followed them to the letter as instructed," Pryce responds, extending a hoof in greeting. "You've heard about us?" He asks, a little confused.
>"Whoa, so you're… Vortigern's special somepony?"
KP asks, seeing the battle-worn stallion.
Vortigern nearly spills the beans, but remains silent."Of course,"
Grantz says. "She writes me nearly daily."
The others introduce themselves to Grantz. Once they're done, shyly, like a young pony, Vortigern tugs on Grantz's sleeve, and gestures to the far end of the village."Right,"
Grantz says. "Ye'll be wantin' summat to snack on after that long flight. Come on to our home. I'm sure we've also got some fresh water for ye, sir samurai."
"I appreciate it," Estuary says with no irony.
"Oh, didn't think mail could travel that quick," Pryce comments. "So you must know the gist of why we're here then, I assume?"
KP chuckles seeing Vortigern tug on Grantz's sleeve, a big contrast to what they've seen of her.
"This is a nice village you have, everything looks so lively," Pryce comments as Grantz leads them through to their home, looking around as the place is a welcome change to the demon torn landscapes they flew over.
KP looks around in equal awe at all the homes, and the pegasi.>"Wow… they're all so big…"
He says in surprise at the height of the females.
>>759410"They're delivered by divine spiders,"
Grantz says. "I don't look gift spiders in the mandibles."
Grantz doesn't respond to your comment on the village, going quiet as he and Vortigern endure the stares of the other villagers. At last, you reach one of the larger and more fortified huts of the village, and Grantz lets you in. The interior is simple, yet still colorful. Woven rugs and tapestries decorate the floor and walls, and a low fire warms the inside. A large bear sleeps by the fire, with a few half-chewed dolls laying partly underneath it.
As Grantz goes to check on the cauldron over the fire, Vortigern checks to make sure the front door is locked. Then–"So how was your day, love?"
Vortigern asks in an accent as dense as Grantz's.
He nearly drops the spoon, his wings flared out as wide as they'll go, and he spins around in disbelief.
Vortigern is openly crying with a wide smile.
"Can't say I'd do otherwise in that spot," Pryce comments on the delivery system despite the spider's origin.
As they enter, Pryce looks around the cottage, not what he would've expected of Vortigern's home but also fitting at the same time. KP looks over at the bear, amazed that they have such a large animal as a pet he assumes.
When Vortigern makes her reveal, Pryce says nothing, not wanting to intrude on this happy moment.>"Daww."
KP however can't keep the sweet sentiment down at the heartfelt surprise.
"Watch o–!" River gasps. Estuary and Onion quickly usher everyone aside as Grantz tackles Vortigern again, for he would have bowled the whole party over had they not moved. This time, the two kiss, and Grantz, briefly, allows himself a tear.
The two pull away from one another, and Grantz is wide-eyed. "Ach… you've got some story to tell, don't you?""I do,"
Vortigern says. She clears her throat and looks to the rest of you. "First," she continues in the common southeastern dialect. "We'll show you to where you can stay for the time being.""Right,"
Grantz says. "We've plenty of empty rooms–""They'll have the guest houses,"
Vortigern quickly corrects him.
"Yeah…" Zjetya says. "We'll take the guest houses.""Uh-oh,"
"I think we can probably find them ourselves–" River says. Vortigern, agreeing, tosses her a handful of keys. River nods and bolts for the front door.
Pryce steps back as everypony quick moves aside, seeing that hearing Vortigern's voice again must be like a miracle to Grantz now.
>"Aww, we're leaving already? I wanna see the bear!"
KP says as the topic switches to them moving to the guest houses.
"We'll let them catch up, there's must be plenty to talk about it sounds like," Pryce says, leading KP along as he follows River.
Red-faced, River trots away from the house as if it were burning down – which it very well might be in a second. We get it, get on with it!
River heads to the northeast, where you see a trio of quite large treehouses, built securely into the branches of the giant leafy trees at the edge of the surrounding forest. The treehouses are connected by well-reinforced bridges, and are quite spacious. The others start climbing the ladders hanging from the branches, quickly sorting themselves. Estuary and Onion look like they'll take one house. Spitshine, KP, Sugar and the pets head for the second one, leaving River, Zjetya and you with the last treehouse.
"Are you feeling alright River?" Pryce asks with concern.
When they find the treehouses, KP quickly runs over to head up and check it out.>"Look how big they are! This village is awesome!"
"Been a while since we've stayed in anything resembling a proper house," Pryce muses, looking back at all the travelling they've been through thus far as the triad heads to their guest spot.
Zjetya smirks. "Nope, and only you hold the cure. Or, I guess I could try–"
River bonks Zjetya with her spear, and Zjetya, laughing, hip-checks her.>>759655
"Mmm," Estuary grumbles.
Onion is similarly perturbed. The children, however, are having quite a bit of fun poking around in the treehouses. https://youtu.be/KQMJE1YfyAE
When you open your treehouse, you can see that it is near-fantastical in design. High-up beds, plush blankets, old arts-and-crafts trinkets hanging up, depicting pegasi having fun in the clouds, fighting, chasing monsters, and in general, having quite a happy time. Toy spears and dragoon armor sit in a corner.
It all looks… quite, quite old.
"Oh? Here, let me remedy that then," Pryce says, horn glowing white as he casts some restorative magic on River.
"You don't need to cover these things up you know," He follows, assuming the back and forth being River trying to tough it out.
When they enter the treehouse, Pryce pauses as he glances over the art and toys set about.
"…These must've been the kids' rooms."
Nothing seems to change for her.
"I'm gonna have to prescribe something else," Zjetya says.
"Don't you even hint at it."
"I don't think he'd get it anyway. And you're not gonna get it either!"
The innuendo stops cold as the mares piece it together.
"Guest rooms…" Zjetya repeats. "You don't think…"
"…They might have given up," River states. "Well… perhaps it is my past experience talking, but that would make sense, considering this village."
"Perhaps it's best we found them ourselves then, let them have their reunion untarnished," Pryce comments, walking around the room, remembering the memories Vortigern showed him.
"What do you mean?" Pryce asks River.
"This entire village – it's plainly wrong," River says. "I mean, I know you were born a unicorn, but seriously, Pryce… have you ever heard of a monoethnic society of pegasi living upon the ground?
"That… is a good point," Pryce says, thinking on the revelation. "They were giving Vortigern pretty terrible looks, and we had to follow that strict path to just get here. Maybe they had to stay here from the things Vortigern did, the village getting punished for the individual maybe?"
Pryce looks to Zjetya.
"Do you know anything about this place?" He asks given this is her home turf more or less.
"Not this place specifically," Zjetya says. "I was always more wrapped up in the business of the Hanging Gardens. But, you're not far off. Vortigern wasn't the cause of this place being landlocked, but she definitely didn't help in that regard. The Divine Dragons have had a policy of controlling the clouds of Ornifex, gradually taking more and more from the pegasus tribes of the mountains. Vortigern's blasphemies against Yongning-si, and her killings of the Dragonic Avowed – they would have definitely brought more and more punishments upon the pegasus tribes."
"Can't say I know what it's like living in the sky, but being forced out of your home is terrible no matter the place or cause."
Pryce pauses. sitting on the bed and thinking things over.
"Zjetya, what are your opinions on the priesthood here?"
"I don't have a single good word to say," Zjetya says. "But my contempt of them isn't really the same as Vortigern's. The tribes that refused to surrender and assimilate to the Avowed's rule have been under some pretty ugly attrition… the lottery of valediction being some of the worst of it."
"The lottery… Vortigern showed me that," Pryce comments, remembering Vortigern showed him the result of the one that took her children. He then sighs. "I thought there'd be a way to settle both sides of this conflict to keep it as neutral as possible and not upend this region for Ecclesia, but it seems there's not many redeeming factors for the priesthood and the Avowed."
"You know there's no way Vortigern or the Dragon would accept a neutral outcome, right?" Zjetya asks, incredulous. "Even if they have no loyalty to Ecclesia, the two fought to destroy the Avowed and the dragons beyond Yongning-si, no matter how stacked the battle was against them."
She sighs. "Besides… if you wanted to keep things neutral… I might just have to oppose you too."
"I didn't mean entirely neutral," Pryce says, quickly correcting himself. "I meant more like, dealing with the corrupted parts of them. They can't all be bad, right?"
Pryce steps over to Zjetya as she sighs.
"I promised you I'd help with this civil war. If it means I have to take out all the dragons myself, I'll do it," He assures, not liking the idea of them being opposed. "I'm just wondering what the best thing to do is now that we're here."
"Pryce, this is war," River says. "Hoping for something as surgical, optimistic and idealistic as 'dealing with just the corrupted parts,' has no place here."
"Sounds like the insurrectionists have turned to demon power to stand against the overwhelming strength of the dragons," Zjetya says. "With those being the firepower of the sides, I'm not going to count on anything coming to a peaceable or nuanced outcome."
"I know, but I can't just toss aside the possibility, no matter how small. I know it's foolish to rely on them, so I don't plan to, but we've had near miracles before," He responds.
"It's not going to be easy any way it ends up going. The best outcome would be keeping the damage controlled." He pauses a moment. "…First thing we should do is see how they're using demon power. Unless their method prevents the corruptive effects, that's a disaster waiting to happen."
"Yeah," Zjetya says. "Tomorrow, let's go investigate with Vortigern's help. There's no way a bunch of outsiders like us are going to be welcome walking around, asking prying questions about their war efforts. For today, we'll have to make do."
"We'll plan what we can for tonight," Pryce nods in agreement. "Where would our first stop be? And what should we expect around here for the locals?"
"There's not too much I know about these folk," Zjetya says. "I doubt a lot of them speak Equish unless they're traders or move around a lot. Their native language and mine derived from the same source, so we should be able to communicate. I'll really have to disguise my accent, though, otherwise we could find ourselves in a fight pretty quick… The more I think about it, the more it sounds like Grantz or Vortigern will have to take the lead."
"Not like we'll have them until tomorrow…" River grumbles.
"I know a few ways we could kill time," Zjetya says.
"In here!?" River gawks.
"…I wasn't even using a saucy tone of voice that time," Zjetya says. "This is all in your head. And not in Pryce's."
River withers up.
"Really, I was thinking we'd go for a walk through the woods or something. Then come back and play W&W," Zjetya continues. "Unless there's anything better we can get done?"
"Disguising should be easy though, right?" Pryce comments. "But it would look better if we have either of them around, if the locals are that strongly against outsiders."
He tilts his head at the back nd forth, whatever it is flying over his head.
"A walk sounds nice, actually. Can't get much else done now anyways."
"Yeah, but even so, they saw me in my mothpony form," Zjetya says. "I probably should have thought about disguising before I stepped out, but I'm a bit too comfortable in this form now. Didn't have that old changeling knee-jerk reaction. In any case, mothponies aren't from around here. And, if I tried to disguise as a local, they'd probably suspect something was up. Seems small enough of a village where everyone recognizes everyone."
When you assent to the walk, Zjetya and River nod, going to get the others.
"That's a good point. Anypony walking through here would draw eyes if they don't live here already. We'll just wait for tomorrow then."
Pryce follows them out as they set to get the others for the walk. He looks out over the village, wondering how things will go tomorrow.
Zjetya and River go and spread the word to the others to gauge their reactions. Naturally, the lot of them are on board, taking a few provisions with them for the day hike.
As they climb down, however, Estuary frowns. "…I shall remain. The intel was that the insurrectionists have turned to demonic power. Though we haven't yet encountered any demons here, we should assign a guard to our airship – just in case."
Onion ruffles his mustache. "Think we can afford to relax 'round here, no? Grantz seemed pretty respected."
"While Vortigern was reviled," Estuary answers. "And we were seen first arriving with her. It's fair to assume our reputation will be as tarnished."
"I think we'd notice if they were using demonic power here when we arrived, but that is a good point either way. The airship is practically our home now, can't let anything happen to it," Pryce agrees with Estuary.
>"Too bad we can't make it guard itself."
KP comments as he comes down for the walk, carrying Hopper on his head.>"Then you could come with us instead of being stuck alone here."
Estuary nods, and departs for the airship, much to Onion's disappointment.
"Sumpin tells me he'd want to guard it solo even if it had some fancy automation like that," Onion says to KP. "Reckon it's going to be some time 'til he warms up to how friendly-like this group of ours gets."
>roll navigation when ready for the hike
>>759967>"He'll warm up eventually I bet. Travelling with friends is the best way to do that!"
"When things lighten up more, he'll come around I feel," Pryce adds.
With the rest of the group good, Pryce takes on the lead for the hike, curious to see what this area of the country looks like.>Navigation [1d10]Roll #1 6 = 6
Heading for the treeline, you soon find a worn dirt trail, marked with signage you can't read. Zjetya smirks proudly. "And Rus Tea called me illiterate… Equish just ain't my language. Alright, do we want a waterfall, or a flower field? River, sorry, but you'd better not eat them."
River grumbles. "Waterfall, then."
Onion strokes his mustache. "Flower field."
"Flower field," "Waterfall," Sugar and Spitshine say simultaneously, then scrunch their snouts at eachother.
"Guess you're the deciding vote," Zjetya says, turning to you.
Pryce chuckles a bit as Zjetya proudly counters the claims of illiteracy.
"Hmm… Don't see too many waterfalls around. Let's go there.">"Yea!"
KP adds with enthusiasm.
Together, you set off on the northeastern trail towards the hilly areas, leaving the north-northeastern trail for some other time. The earth is hard packed and well-worn, suggesting many years of use and care. Your pace is a bit slow to stay close to the children and pets, but it makes for a rather relaxing time. Though they would be loathe to admit it, not having Sir Estuary around seems to have put others at ease. Surely he would have found some way to make this into training, too…
After an hour or so of following the trail up the hills, you come to a rocky area overlooking a low valley, a pleasant-looking place for a break. River, who has already doffed her coat to stay cool in the summer light, makes an executive decision – and immediately throws herself to the ground, rolling around in the grass while snorting and making other distinctly horse sounds.
The slow walk is quite enjoyable. Not having many opportunities to take it easy or casual lately, its a welcome change of pace and a good way to unwind before beginning the deeper investigations of Ornifex.
"Great view, isn't it?" Pryce says as they come to the overlook, looking back as River throws herself down to roll around in the grass. He smiles, and lays back in the grass himself.
"Good time for break."
KP goes over to the edge of the rocky overlook, looking down at the valley.>"This would be great for sledding if it was winter!"
Sugar glances up at the clouds surrounding Ornifex. "I do wonder… maybe it's never winter around here. Or, it could be winter year around. They've got all the clouds up there, they probably keep control over the weather all the time, too."
Lockjaw, Katcher and Pucchini enjoy a bit of the limited sunlight and chase each other around, play-fighting with tiny roars of amusement.
>>760002>"Aww, that's lame. Everypony down here is missing out on so much!"
KP griefs, then gets an idea. Holding his Hearth's Chilling staff high, he gives it a twirl and then sends down a wave of ice along the valley to make a nice path of ice for sliding.
KP makes a nice ice slide down one of the gentler hill-slopes, and the pets stop their play to investigate it… before Katcher goes for it, sliding all the way down! Pucchini and Lockjaw soon follow. Even River stops horsing around to enjoy the amusing sight.
Zjetya pats your head. "Sorry champ, guess you won't be able to enjoy the ride."
Before Zjetya can complete the innuendo, River sends herself down the slide and does a corkscrew in the air as she reaches the jump at the bottom.
>>760007>"Whoa! That' so cool!"
KP says in amazement as River does a corkscrew finisher off the slide.>"River catch me!"
KP then shouts as he jumps down the slide himself to also get some big jumps.
"I could always turn my leg off to not make it a water slide," Pryce responds with a laugh. "Or just go down quick enough to avoid it."
River flies in parallel with KP, then as he reaches the end of the slide, she lets him fall for just a bit, before she catches him and brings him back up to the top.
Zjetya pauses after you speak, mouth screwed up to poorly conceal a laugh. "I'm irredeemable… I can't decide which part of that sentence I wanna make a dirty joke out of the most."
She shrugs, then hip-bumps you down the slide without warning!
>roll for a stunt, or wipe out on a failure
KP holds his forelegs out wide as he goes off the jump, feeling that brief moment of freefall before River catches him, cheering as they fly back to the top.>"That was great, let's go again!"
"Huh, what's dirty about i—!?"
Pryce questions before he's suddenly bumped down the slide. He turns over in place as he zips down, getting his bearings quick as he goes to recover into a loop de loop after the jump.>Stunt [1d10]Roll #1 9 = 9
You recover with grace, and the slide is so exhilarating on the way down that you decide to do two loops in the air as you hit the jump.
River holds KP tight for the second round, then lets the two of them fall for just another second longer this time, before flying back up to safety.
Pryce touches down with a pose, wings spread wide when sticking the landing with showponyship. He turns back to look up the hill.
"Okay! Your turn now Zjetya!"
>"We should get something like this for the ship! Almost makes me wish I had wings!"
KP says in excitement as River takes him for another trip through the air.
Zjetya smirks, then approaches the slide. She leaps, and touches down onto the ice, but rather than slide, she skates down, crouching with a smirk…! As she hits the jump, she cartwheels about for an alarming distance, and just when it seems she'll crash-land in the valley floor, she peels out, and arcs back up to the hilltop!
"Feeling showboaty, are we?" River scoffs. "You've got quite a bit of energy, it seems."
"This is news to you?" Zjetya laughs.
Sugar and Spitshine take their turn on the slide, clinging together for safety, and Onion follows after them, strumming his guitar all the while.
Pryce stomps his hooves in applause as Zjetya makes for a show of her slide.
"A singer and an acrobat, impressive." Pryce compliments as he flies back up to the hill top.>"We got all the bases covered for our own circus!"
Eventually everyone gathers on the hilltop after taking a few more rounds on the slide, stopping to drink some water after the fun.
"I'm sure they'll love that one someday," Onion says. "But for now, it's startin' to get mighty hot. Everyone ready to get moseyin' again?"
Pryce nods in agreement. "Let's get moving then. We can relax by the waterfall before it gets too hot."
After everypony's refreshed, Pryce leads on down the path to continue their hike.
You and your group continue along the path, sticking to the shade wherever it might be found. As the elevation of the trail increases along the hills, the trees become sparse, and the path exposed to sunlight. Mercifully, however, there is a light breeze in these hills, permitting you some reprieve from the sun's warming rays before you can cook.
Soon enough, as the path descends a little… a distant shhhh
of water shushes the breeze and the rustling of brush and branch. The others perk up as they hear it, and speed up, their pace revitalized.
As you near the sounds, you can see a bank of a wide river surrounded by willows and great mossy boulders. Further up north, great slabs of slickrock lean into one another, and a vast current of water sprays down them, forming a waterfall a few spans taller than the airship. Four great terraced layers comprise the waterfall, each with small pools in the distances between each layer, a result of the rocks that have fallen into the water long ago and been caught, making many swimming holes.
KP hurries along excitedly as they start to hear the waterfall approach in the distance.>"Whoa! Look at it!"
KP shouts in amazement when they get into view, seeing the massive waterfall and beautiful sight.
"It is breathtaking. Now be careful, don't want to get caught up in the water or slip on the rocks," He says, directed towards the kids.
Pretty much everyone disregards that advice, and scampers up to the waterfall to find a place to set their belongings and take a swim.
Pryce sighs with a laugh, realizing how futile it was to try and get everypony to take it slow. As they all set up their things, Pryce flies up to the top of the waterfall to take in the sights around from the high point.
KP meanwhile goes to find a nice stable pool for Hopper and the pets.
The waterfall is more imposing than the ice slide, so to start, the others have divided themselves up into little groups for dipping into the water, folding up their clothes off to the side. KP takes charge of the pets, while Spitshine and Sugar favor a spot of low intensity they can sit in without fear of getting blown away. Onion however, braves the stronger currents further below. Zjetya and River, then, also near the top, are a bit apprehensive about getting into the water, and take it slowly, crouching in and shaking their wings often to keep them dry, like a pair of birds.
Pryce looks overhead as everypony breaks themselves up into groups, looking that nopony is pushing their risks too far. Seeing River and Zjetya apprehensive with being in the higher parts of the fall, Pryce swims out deep.
"Come on, it's not that bad," He says for encouragement.
KP swings his staff around, using the spell he learned so far from his beast mastery to fill up his spot with bubbles for the pets to play with.
River and Zjetya glance at each other for a bit, then look back to you. "You really were a unicorn before this, huh, Pryce?" Zjetya asks.
"This is how us winged ponies tend to get into water," River says. "Hot springs are a rare exception, as a result of how relaxing the warm water is. But cold water like this, it's a cross-racial, cross-cultural phenomenon that we mimic birds when getting in. Even griffons do it."
Lockjaw splashes about giddily, as do Katcher and Pucchini, while Hopper, having set his hat and robe aside, goes for a somewhat longer swim. He makes sure to stay far from the edge of the fall, and within KP's sight.
"Huh… never really noticed that," Pryce comments as the duo explain proper water etiquette. "Isn't that a bit odd though for you Zjetya, since you're more of a moth?"
KP splashes around with the pets, getting into a ferocious splash war as he uses the bubbles to form little islands to hide behind.
"Us changelings know how to adapt to local culture," Zjetya explains. "C'mon try it, it's fun. Just pretend you're a duck or something."
"Alright, sure," Pryce says, swimming back to the shore. This time he goes in more slowly, copying the more steady entry, dipping into the water for only a moment and shaking his wings.
"Hmm, I kinda get it, but I'd rather just dive in," He comments after a bit of it.
"You're no fun," River admonishes, shaking her head.
"Quack, quack," Zjetya says, swimming upstream. River follows her, quacking as well.
"Just feels like ducks should be saved for the bathtub," Pryce retorts to their comments of him not being fun as they swim off.
After they've swum off a bit, Pryce dives underwater to catch up underneath, intent to spring up to surprise with a little splashing for traditional water fun.>Surprise [1d10]Roll #1 4 = 4
You suddenly re-emerge from below the surface of the water, intent on spooking the two ducks!
But, it's just Lockjaw there. Zjetya and River are currently further upstream.
Lockjaw appears to be having a bit of trouble, and he's splashing about with an uncomfortable grimace and grunts.
Pryce looks around, wondering if he overshot it. Seeing Lockjaw having trouble, Pryce swims over and puts a hoof around the little deviljho.
"Having trouble Lockjaw?" He asks with concern. His horn glows, reaching into the water to pull out a little floaty ring for the deviljho to help him out.>Hat Magic [1d10]Roll #1 3 = 3
Lockjaw disrupts your spell by clambering onto your back, preferring you as his floaty instead.
"Heh, alright. Hold on tight, we got some catching up to do," Pryce says, taking Lockjaw on board as he swims upstream to catch up the River and Zjetya.
Lockjaw grunts happily, splashing his hind legs as you ferry him across the way. You catch up to your two special someponies, finding them lazily floating in the shallows, enjoying the mingling of cool water with the warm sunlight.
With Lockjaw secure, Pryce swims up to catch up with Zjetya and River.
"Had to play ferry. Hope I didn't keep you waiting too long," He greets once he rejoins.
Zjetya and River stifle yawns, splashing you half-heartedly with their wings. That might be the extent of the answer you're getting.
"Come on, the walk wasn't that exhausting now," Pryce splashes back, with a little laugh at their responses.
"Perchance not, but the sunlight certainly is," River says.
"This is definitely naptime weather," Zjetya agrees. "It's rare enough that the landlocked areas are permitted sunlight, so let's take advantage of it."
"They don't allow areas to get sunlight here?" Pryce questions. "Seems like that'd be difficult if they horde the clouds up high."
Pryce does think over the idea. He tries again to conjure a floaty for Lockjaw, a little raft this time for him to pilot, so he can be self-sufficient on the river.>Hat magic [Inflatable Raft] [1d10]Roll #1 9 = 9
Zjetya nods, even as she floats in the water. The result is that she gets water on her face, a fact much to her chagrin. She continues as she wipes off her face. "It might sound silly, but limiting sunlight exposure for the lands below helps to keep them in line. You ever feel bummed out during the winter? It's hard to keep up a revolution when morale's down, so they limit how much sunlight everyone gets. Not to mention the affect on crops and such."
Lockjaw hops into the raft, sticking his legs through holes in the bottom which permit him to paddle. Eagerly he takes off, and immediately rams into River Spring. Bemused, she pushes him around with one hoof, much to his delight.
Pryce chuckles as Lockjaw plays around in his raft.
"Affecting the crops would definitely keep them in line… Seems like they're doing all but outright imprisonment with all the restrictions the more of them I hear," He comments.
"Oh, don't worry, they're doing plenty of that too, last time I was there. Fighting against dragons who claim godhood isn't looked kindly upon anywhere in a draconic theocracy."
"Seems a civil war was going to happen no matter what here," He mutters in thought. He looks up to the sky, with the supposed rare sunlight.
"Maybe we should take advantage of this while we can."
Apparently, the others agree. Having gone back to shore, River and Lockjaw are curled up asleep together. When you look over to ask Zjetya her input, you find her asleep on your shoulder.
Pryce smiles, seeing the others way ahead of him. He swims back to shore gently to not wake Zjetya, and setting her besides River while taking a spot with a respectable distance himself. He dozes off to sleep, with fleeting thoughts on setting to make this a common occurrence for this area again when they're done.
Sleep comes easy, and is wondrously restful, between the aid of the afternoon sun, the exhaustion of the walk and swim, and the ambience of wind and grass and water, their natural music more calming than any mortalmade song.
>>760393>>760394>Some time later…
You feel Lockjaw's large lower jaw bumping against your snout, mixed with the hot breath of his nostrils as he snorts and sniffs you.
Pryce stirs a bit, raising a hoof to boop his deviljho alarm.
"Hmm? What is it Lockjaw?" He asks, drowsy and half asleep.
It's a bit later into the afternoon, as you can see. Spitshine sits watch, as the others snooze. Sugar, Onion and KP lay nearby, having gotten their own chances to nap. Presumably, Spitshine got the last watch.
Lockjaw continues to sniff at you, drooling a little. It takes no adept beast tamer to realize he's hungry.
As you shake off your sleep, you realize that all are present, except for Hopper. KP would know that Hopper was there when he laid down for his own nap, but that the frog was acting a little off towards the end…
Pryce sits up, stretching after the nap, seeing everypony else followed suit.
"Ah, hungry? Hmm, let's get you something better than those little meat snacks," He says after a moment of thought with the opportunity at hoof.
He conjures up a simple fishing rod, walking to the river side to try and catch lunch for the apex predator.
He looks around, then looks to Spitshine.
"Have you seen Hopper around?"
Lockjaw sits by your side, patiently watching you for the delivery of food.
>roll for fishing
Spitshine shakes his head. "I don't know where he's off to. He was gone when Onion woke me up for watch duty. I doubt he's gone far. This is his kinda turf, isn't it?"
Pryce flicks out the lure, and waits.> <>< [1d10]
"It is, but we are in foreign territory. Got to be cautious."Roll #1 7 = 7
Lockjaw hops up and down as you hook a mid-sized trout. He'd probably eat it as it is, but you could always try to raise your cooking skill too…
"True… since you're awake, you wanna go look for him while I keep watch over the others?" Spitshine offers.
Pryce reels in the trout, unhooking it and holding it out for Lockjaw to snap up.
"Yea. He's a hardy frog, but I don't want to risk anyone getting lost out here."
Pryce stands ups, and offers the fishing pole over to Spitshine if he wants.
"I'll be back as quick as I can," He says, turning off to look for the missing frog.>Search [1d10]Roll #1 8 = 8
Spitshine nods, taking your place on the bank while Lockjaw makes short, messy work of the first course.
After scanning the topmost stretch of river and finding nothing, you retrace the others' steps, and head down to the pools below, searching among the rocks and crannies that might offer a frog shelter…
Somewhere in the reeds, you hear soft ribbiting.
Pryce searches around, making sure to check every spot a frog could fit in. As he heads down and hears ribbits, he approaches carefully, not wanting to spook Hopper in case he's napping.
Small bubbles containing leaves, sticks and such float out of the reeds before you. peering through from a distance, you see Hopper, back in his full wizard outfit… and another frog is nearby. This second frog watches as Hopper performs small cantrips with his staff of water, the two occasionally ribbiting when a trick goes off successfully.
Even without an amulet of frogspeak, something's obviously going on here…
Pryce smiles, seeing Hopper get into the full showmanship of magic. He keeps his distance, watching to see how the show goes further.
However, it really doesn't. The other frog ribbits and examines Hopper, while Hopper holds his staff close and looks askance… almost bashfully.
looks off to the side*
When the other frog gets closer to Hopper, Pryce is able to pick up from his reaction that he was playing up a show to impress her.
He quickly backs up, giving them their privacy and not wanting to get in the way.
You leave the frogs to their froggy business, slipping away unnoticed.
Pryce heads back to the where the others are, relieved to know Hopper isn't too far off.
Back at the main camp, you see that Spitshine and Onion are fishing together now, while Lockjaw runs little laps of excitement behind them. Probably not great for attracting fish…
Meanwhile, River, Zjetya and Sugar are sleepily stretching, trying to wake up after the last of their nap (and not to fall into another one).
"Come on Lockjaw, gotta be patient if you want more fish," He says, ushering the deviljho over.
"Everypony rest well?" He asks over the the trio shaking off the last bits of nap.
Lockjaw runs over and crashes against your leg in his excitement. He doesn't seem to mind, turning his fall into a dust bath.
The three nod, then survey the area.
"Hopper still swimming around?" Sugar asks, ushering Pucchini and Katcher to her side.
Pryce chuckles at Lockjaw's enthusiasm, giving him a belly rub.
"Oh, uh, yea. He's off doing his own thing," Pryce answers, stumbling a little over his words.
Sugar nods, then goes over to sit with Spitshine and Onion as the two fish.
Some time later…
As you sit on the bank, watching Lockjaw make short work of his third fish, at last his appetite satiated, you hear some hopping coming from behind you. You look over, and see that Hopper is coming back to the group. However, his gaze is downcast, and his pace is lifeless.
Pryce looks between Lockjaw finishing his meal and watching the river flow on by. When he starts to hear hopping off in the distance, he turns and looks, however when he sees Hopper look down, Pryce grows concerned.
He gets up, walking over to his little buddy.
"…Did something happen Hopper?" He asks with concern.
Hopper sighs. You didn't know frogs were capable of that… he's completely deflated.
Perhaps – heartbreak has struck.
Pryce reaches down to pick up Hopper, feeling he needs one.
"Oh… did things not go well?" He asks. "I looked around for you earlier and saw you doing a little show. You were doing great, so I figured you'd be fine."
"Anything I can do to help out?"
Hopper doesn't react to your offer, just laying there as you pick him up. With a melancholic personality like his, he'll probably need some time to process it all before recovery can begin.
"It's okay, I'll be there for you through this."
Pryce brings Hopper over to the riverside, sitting down with him to let them have a moment in silence as the others pass the time.
Hopper weakly squeaks, idly carving shapes in the sand beside you. Despite his reticence and depression, you can sense he is grateful for your company.
Pryce spreads a wing in support, putting only the tips of feathers around Hopper to not engulf him completely.
The group spends another hour or so at the watering-hole, having gotten all the swimming, fishing, napping and music playing they'd wanted all done. When the sun's light starts to adopt a shade of sleepy orange, Onion strums a loud chord to get everyone's attention.
"Reckon it's best we head on out, folks," he announces with just a twinge of regret. "They might have demon tamers among their number, but this still ain't no land to be caught out after dark. Got all your gear all packed?"
"Shouldn't leave Sir Estuary alone all day either," He adds, packing up his things. "Best while there's still light out too, some places look even better with the evening light."
So begins the hike back to the village, mercifully much easier now that it's mostly downhill. As sunset nears, your party often finds themselves treated to glimpses of a fiery distant sky, illumined by a brilliant gold diamond between the branches of the high forest. They say nothing when watching this, for a kind of inspired awe. The skies above you are still cloudy, held there under the oppressive influence of Ornifex's draconic rulers, but for once, they beget a beautiful vista, for the clouds are stained so many shades of orange and red by this approaching sunset.
Pryce smiles as they're greeted with such a breathtaking view on the way back, making him remember the travels he had back with his family caravan. He keeps silent, taking in the moment while they're able to, enjoying the calm walk back to the village.
Soon enough, the treehouses come within sight, and Vortigern's great house beyond it. No lights are on within, and only a few lit lanterns are visible in their village, mostly belonging to the great many pegasi who float about on the first hour of the night watch.
Despite their earlier naps, your allies look like they're quite ready for some more sleep, and so they split up and make for their designated treehouses. Spending so many days in an airship has a way of draining its riders.
As they reach the village, Pryce does think of going to check on Sir Estuary, but with the night stretching on and the walk having its toll, he figures the old knight is fine.
He heads to his designated treehouse with River and Zjetya.
"Quite a day, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Zjetya says. "Wasn't thrilled knowing we'd meet the villagers, but that Grantz guy really saved the day with how quick he showed up."
River sighs. "They make the most adorable couple."
"And we make the most adorable triad," Zjetya says, flicking moth-dust at River, to her annoyance and amusement.
"That was good timing on his part. Hope tomorrow will go smoothly," Pryce comments.
He chuckles at Zjetya's retort to River.
"That's an easy claim when you make your own glitter."
"Well, speaking of couples," River says. "Now that we're not flying anymore, let's get Spitshine and Sugar over for some W&W."
"Oh yeah!" Zjetya says. "She's into weapons, she'd be a big fan of all that stuff you wrote up, Pryce."
"There's an idea, bet they'd love to play," Pryce comments. "Should set up a game for the whole group one of these days." He says, rolling with the idea.
"Hmm, wonder if Catcher and Pucchini would play like Lockjaw did."
River nods and flies over to the other treehouse, then comes back shortly. Sugar and Spitshine climb up into your treehouse with their pets coming with them.
"We invited Onion too, but he said he was gonna hang out with Sir Estuary," Spitshine says. "So, what's all this about? River was gushing about some kind of game."
"I wasn't gushing!" River protests.
"Yeah, was surging," Sugar corrects. "It was a swelling tide of good words."
"Since when are you so literary!?" River snaps.
"It's nice to hear I've done such a good job," Pryce jokes as the kids egg River on.
"It's a game we borrow from Regina, Witches & Wargs. It's sort of a collaborative story mixed with an adventure game. We've been using this setting I've made, if you're interested," He starts, then going on to give them a summary of Monster Island.
"An Island, huh…" Spitshine says. "Never seen one of those before. Let's give it a shot, then."
"Is there going to be a lot of math?" Sugar asks.
"Yup," Zjetya asks. Spitshine looks disappointed, and Sugar intrigued.
"It's fairly Simple," River consoles. "You only need a 10-sided die and a few scraps of papyrus. Even Lockjaw managed to play."
"You don't even notice it once the game is going," Pryce adds seeing Spitshine's disappointment. "Let's start with your characters. What do you want to play as?"
"Jeez, askin' the big questions right out of the gate," Spitshine says. "Let's back up a bit, what's something I can ease into?"
"Upgrade system!?" Sugar gasps when you finally get to that part in your explanation. "And wait, back up, what was that about carving?"
Lockjaw approaches the table, something screeching and wriggling in his mouth. He nearly unhinges his jaw, and deposits a very annoyed Hopper onto the table. Lockjaw goes to get water to wash out the mucus… but his intent is unmistakable – getting Hopper out of his funk.
"Knight is a pretty standard class to start with, Tracker is fairly straightforward too," Pryce suggests to Spitshine.
Pryce chuckles as Sugar starts to get into the extra mechanics of the ruleset.
"So to you get most of your weapons and armor you need to defeat monsters for their parts…" Pryce goes on to start explaining, until Lockjaw comes in and drops off Hopper. Pryce gives Hopper a little pet to help him forget his forcible escort.
"Wanna join in?"
"If you use a Tracker, you'd be set to go with the bowgun," Sugar says. "In fact, with blah blah blah blah…"
Sugar starts to overwhelm Spitshine with optimization strategies, math, and material names. He shakes like a leaf in a storm, eyes turning to spirals at the information overload.
Hopper grumbles a little, leering at Lockjaw, but brings his focus back to you, and gives a noncommittal grunt. Perhaps some of those magic rules would perk up his spirit…
"Alright, let's not get too ahead of ourselves here. This is only the first session afterall," Pryce says to help stem the flow of rules to Spitshine.
"What would you like to play as Hopper? There's some fun magic classes to pick from, for shooting spells, summoning creatures, or playing with illusions," He lists to entice the frog in.
Hopper taps his staff three times. Perhaps that means – the third option?
"Alright, how about the Illusionist? You can practically change how the world is viewed, and you get to pick from Mage spells and Bard tricks too," Pryce suggests, showing Hopper the classes.
Hopper squeaks softly as he looks over the page. He still strikes you as rather… moody… but it's a slight improvement.
"Like it, eh?" Pryce asks as encouragement as he sees Hopper showing some interest. With him on board Pryce helps him, Spitshine, and Sugar all work out their character sheets.
By the end of it all, they've all got their characters. Spitshine still looks uncertain about all this 'mathematics' business, Hopper is still in a funk, Sugar is quite excited, Lockjaw has at last returned with fresh breath, and River and Zjetya are naturally eager to get back to the nightly games of Covenkeeper
and your custom module.
Pryce looks around as everypony is gathered and eager to play. With sheets and paper set up, Pryce plays up the narrator voice to set the scene as he speaks to Spitshine, Sugar, and Hopper.
"After many days at sea, your destination finally comes into sight. Entrana Island, a new territory fresh with opportunities and experiences. You've set out to take these bounties for yourselves, and from the sound of it, you won't need to wait long. You already hear from the other passengers about rumors of giant beasts and other creatures that supposedly roam this so called paradise. Talk bustles up as the docks come in view, the hype already started to give some second thoughts of this trip."
Pryce then looks to River, Zjetya, and Lockjaw.
"In the distance you see another boat coming to the island, a mix of tourists, would-be hunters, and all other kinds. With all the help you've provided the small island settlement, you've picked up acting as the welcoming committee to introduce newcomers to what they can expect here. But, you also have a second motive. A monster has been nabbing away at the town's food supply, and you've been too short staffed to corner it down, always eluding you into the night. Maybe some ponies here can help, if they can handle it."
"I'll wave them down as they approach," River says.
"I'll be brooding in the island cafeteria like always," Zjetya says.
Lockjaw seems to be playing around in the sand, judging by how he nudges the figurines.
"Wha…" Spitshine says.
"Just narrate what your guy is doing," Sugar instructs.
"Uh… skip me," Spitshine says, getting a bit of stage fright.
Sugar rolls her eyes. "I'll step off the boat and wave hello as we see everyone," Sugar says.
Hopper looks like he'll follow suit, but quietly.
"it's alright, step in when you're ready," Pryce says with a smile as Spitshine gets nervous. He then puts the narrator voice back on.
"Seems only the three of you stop by to the local, "Pryce says, gesturing to River, "The other passengers seem to be more interested in the sights and unpacking, with a few on the boat looking to be rethinking their choice."
"You sit in dark corner of the cafeteria, your claimed territory. They're serving sloppy hayburgers today," He says to Zjetya.
"As you play around in the sand, a small octopus made of water swims up to the shore, a curious look in it's eye as it watches ypu," He says to Lockjaw.
"You three look like you're made of sterner stuff than the tourists," River says. "You must be here to help us fight."
"That's correct, but they didn't let us bring weapons," Sugar says. "It'll be a bit hard without those."
"You'll find that having to start from scratch will be to your advantage," River says then turns to you. "Okay, I'll show the new guys where they can get weapons."
"I'll eat my burger until I notice the others passing by."
"Can I hang out with the guy and the octopus?" Spitshine asks.
Lockjaw grunts affirmatively.
Hopper moves his piece towards the cafeteria.
Pryce nods to Spitshine.
"As you play around in the sand, the octopus starts to mimic your motions, playing around in the sand as well. Seems it's never been this close to land before and is fascinated by the sight," Pryce says to Lockjaw. "You also head over, being quite a first sight to see on the island. The octopus takes notice as well, and has shifted its focus over to you," He says to Spitshine.
"You lead on over to the guardhouse, opening the door and showing off the arsenal they have in stock. There's a clean stock of weapons prepped for new recruits or backup replacements, whichever would apply at the time," He says to River and Sugar.
"You head on over to the cafeteria, the fresh smell of the day's special filling the air. There's a few others already grabbing a bite to eat, though in the corner you see a rather imposing mare," He says to Hopper.
"As you enjoy your burger, you see a new face entering the cafeteria. A goo pony, looking to be more than just a passing tourist," He says to Zjetya.
Lockjaw and Spitshine hang out with the octopus for a little while, then Spitshine moves their pieces over to the cafeteria. He frowns like he's having trouble thinking of things to say.
Sensing his difficulty, Zjetya taps her piece. "I'll order a round of water for all the new guys, then give them the run-down on the situation with the monster."
"You have to *act it out," River prods. "Get into the acting spirit."
Spitshine scrunches his snout, but Zjetya steps in again. "I'm still warming up. We'll get into the dramaturgy later."
"What a 10-Bit word…" River says.
"Yeah, all of Rus's favorite books had 'em," Zjetya says.
"No need to rush. Everypony gets into the game at their own speed," Pryce adds as he notes Zjetya helping Spitshine ease up to the concept of roleplaying.
"A round of water of brought over to your table, and you fill in the newcomers on the situation, seeing if they'd like to help. Every evening a beast finds its way to the village's food supplies, and no matter the methods used to deter or capture it it always finds a away out. It doesn't help it seems to walk on walls and ceilings with ease either. It all comes down to simple horsepower, overwhelming it to tire it out is the best way to stop it now."
Everyone at the table glares at you for the awful pun… but then confusion falls over their faces. That's not a pun, that's not even wordplay, that's just a regular term… they all look at one another several times, then silently agree to leave this disturbance in consensual reality behind them.
"Yeah, I'll agree to help," Spitshine says.
Hopper squeaks affirmatively.
Lockjaw is currently sipping from his water bowl, truly in-character.
"So in that case, I'll bring them over to join everyone else," Zjetya adds.
"Oh jeez…" Spitshine mutters. "That's where the weapons are, yeah?"
"Yeah, you'll get to pick one," Zjetya explains.
"Pryce… gimme some help here," Spitshine says.
Pryce moves the pieces over to the Armory, setting them with River and Sugar's.
"You all head to the Armory to gear up and prepare, alright to find others ahead of you. More the merrier, as they say," He narrates.
"Alright, the Dual Blades are a good easy pick to start with. You get to roll more dice, and if you ever get a ten you roll an extra one," Pryce suggests to Spitshine for simplicity.
Soon their weapons are picked, Dual Blades for Spitshine, Gunlance for Sugar, Hammer for Hopper, Lance for Lockjaw, Bowgun for River, and Zjetya's custom cello-scythe Hunting Horn.
"You all pick out your weapons and practice a bit to get a feel for the new ones. Soon enough, you notice the sun starting to descend on the horizon. From your past experiences…" He says to Zjetya and River. "You surmise the beast will make its move soon. Now would be a good time to work out your approach, or plan on how to stop it from escaping."
"Oh!" Sugar gasps. "Oh, oh, oh!" She looks around as if unsure if she can just jump in out of order.
"You don't gotta wait to be called on," Zjetya says. "Go for it."
"Let's set up a trap where it usually shows up!" Sugar says.
"A good idea to be sure," River says. "What trap did you have in mind?"
"Uhh… I dunno!" Sugar says. "I didn't think that far ahead."
River chuckles. "Well, any other ideas?"
Spitshine clicks his tongue. "Uh, depending how big it is, we could drop something big on it. Did it leave anything broken behind? Like a broken shed or maybe a crate?"
"There's enough assorted supplies across the town to build most kind of traps with ease," Pryce answers to Sugar's suggestion.
"One of the guard posts was taken out a few days prior when it was escaping. It hasn't been repaired yet, so there's some large stone chunks there that could be used," He says to Spitshine.
"Do we have enough time to set it up though?" Sugar suddenly considers.
"It's up in the air, so you'd better roll," Zjetya suggests.
"Yeah!" Sugar says. "Spitshine, you good with this?"
"I… y-yeah, let's do it!" Spitshine says, getting a little energy now that he's engaged.
The two roll to set up a trap in time for the monster's appearance.
"We'll keep an eye on the most recent trails the monster made as it came into camp," River says.
[2d10] She and Zjetya roll perception
Hopper moves his and Lockjaw's pieces to Zjetya and River's positions for additional support. Lockjaw doesn't intervene, silently glad for Hopper's rising mood.Roll #1 7, 2 = 9
/ Roll #2 4, 9 = 13
Pryce looks over the dice as they're thrown down.
"Alright, while the rest go to keep watch for the beast, you two go about the town gathering supplies. Near the food storage, you set up a simple cage trap, propped up with a pole. After placing some food inside for bait, you have a solid trap to either hopefully lure or chase it into," Pryce narrates to Spitshine and Sugar.
"The rest of you move out to watch over the town border and check the more used paths of escape, which isn't too hard to see given the claw marks in the dist. Dusk starts to set in, but with the four of you you manage to spot it early this time. Low to the ground, a long, leathery invader skulks through the hills. It moves with purpose, having learned plenty of the layout over these past few nights. It's still off a ways, unaware of the numbers waiting for it," He trails off, leaving it open for the party to decide what to do next.
Zjetya and River both look to the young ones and pets for leadership, and the pets, to the young ones. Sugar and Spitshine look to one another, expecting the other to come up with the grand plan.
"Wait, I just thought of something," Sugar says. "What if it's too big for the trap?"
"Uh… err…" Spitshine fumbles, before a certain focus comes to his eyes. "Don't worry about that. Even an insufficient trap can prove better than you expect it to. Let's hang back and quietly observe from a distance until it springs it."
Hopper and Lockjaw nod.
Pryce smiles as Spitshine starts to get into a groove.
"You all sit back and wait, watching as the creature comes in close. As it enters the soft light of the village outskirts, the newcomers see something unlike they've seen before. A horrid leech like beast, moving about with wide spread limbs. If it wasn't for it's movement, it would be hard to tell which way it was even facing, no discernable face to be see, the only notes being a maw of razor fangs as it's head lifts up to sniff the air, turning to face towards the trap. It approaches the free food, the bait proving to be quite effective as it nears the box. It slithers around the pole, almost getting a free meal from you all. Luckily, it's size plays against it as it cannot help but take out the pole as it gorges on its meal, the cage coming down onto it. A haunting roar fills the village as it trashes against its prison. It's held for now, but it might not be long…"
"Attack?" River asks.
"Attack," Zjetya agrees.
"Attack…" Spitshine murmurs, desperately running calculations in his mind.
"Attack!" Sugar declares.
If Lockjaw and Hopper had punctuation to spare, they'd probably say the same.
River uses Repeating Fire! (Bowgun)
Zjetya uses Enfeeble! (Hunting Horn)
Spitshine uses Special Ammo: Poison! (Bowgun)
Sugar uses Sharpen! (Switch-Axe)
Hopper uses Inspire! (Hunting Horn)
Lockjaw uses Earthen Strike! (Unarmed)
[1d10+2]Roll #1 7 + 1 = 8
/ Roll #2 5 + 1 = 6
/ Roll #3 3 + 1 = 4
/ Roll #4 7 + 1 = 8
/ Roll #5 9 + 1 = 10
/ Roll #6 1 + 2 = 3
"Taking advantage of the beast's confusion, you all draw your weapons to attack!"
Pryce looks over the dice thrown, jotting a few things down.
"Hopper starts with a mighty war cry with his horn, inspiring you all as you rush in. Sugar quickly sharpens up her axe, ensuring it'll break through any monster's hide. River fires a narrow, striking the beast in it's side as it roars in pain. But as Lockjaw rushes in to strike, it bursts free from it's cage with great force, knocking him to the ground. A shower of splinters fly everywhere, unfortunately hitting Spitshine and throwing his aim off, his arrow flying off to the side as he's scratched up. Zjetya plays out a haunting tune on her guitar, the beast swaying a bit as it's affected by the eerie music. Lockjaw is helpless, and Spitshine takes 2 hits of damage."
"The creatures roars in its freedom, eyeing your group, looking as if it's to run away again. However, it eyes the helpless dragon on the ground before it. You can swear it smiles, as if taunting, as it pounces forward for what it sees as a quick free meal!">Gigginox Pounce [1d10]Roll #1 4 = 4
River uses Repeating Fire again!
Zjetya uses a basic attack!
Spitshine uses Marksman Shot!
Sugar uses Great Strike!
Hopper uses Inspire again!
Lockjaw tries to get up!
[1d10+2]Roll #1 1 + 3 = 4
/ Roll #2 6 + 2 = 8
/ Roll #3 7 + 2 = 9
/ Roll #4 9 + 3 = 12
/ Roll #5 1 + 1 = 2
/ Roll #6 10 + 2 = 12
River and Hopper shriek in harmony at their dice results, much to Sugar and Zjetya's amusement. Lockjaw, meanwhile, goes absolutely nuts, thrashing about on the floor for no apparent reason, other than having fun.
Pryce can't help but chuckle a little at the harmonious shrieks of River and Hopper.
"The beast descends upon Lockjaw, but before it can land, Spitshine and Sugar move in tandem, her axe striking the creatures chest putting a halt to it's descend for the arrow to strike true, flinging the monster backwards and tumbling across the dirt! Lockjaw rolls up to his feet with ease, ready to go, while Zjetya follows up on the creature's folly with a strike on its back. Meanwhile, Hopper hits a sour note on his horn, playing an ear-piercing shriek. This hits River especially hard, her focuses breaking as the string of her bowgun snaps back, causing her to drop her gun as she stumbles back from the string. River is helpless. Everypony gets a -1 penalty next turn."
"The monster shakes off the dust as it rights itself, looking panicked and ready to flee. In desperation, it looks to Sugar, a rise of static in the air can be felt as a ball of lightning shoots out from it's mouth, aiming to take out the closest threat to buy itself some time!">Gigginox Lightning Shock [1d10]Roll #1 4 = 4
River tries to recover.
Zjetya uses another basic attack!
Spitshine uses a basic attack!
Hopper attempts Melody: Revitalize on River!
Lockjaw attempts a basic attack!
[1d10+1]Roll #1 2 = 2
/ Roll #2 10 = 10
/ Roll #3 8 = 8
/ Roll #4 7 + 1 = 8
/ Roll #5 10 = 10
/ Roll #6 4 + 1 = 5
"Sugar deftly avoids the lightning, striking the beast with a counter across the face. It roars, reeling back as an arrow from spitshine embeds into it's shoulder. Finding itself heavily outnumbered, it turns, attempting to flee to fight another day. Before it can take it's first step however, Zjetya comes down from above. Like a reaper in action, and one deadly swing of her cello-scythe, the monster finally meets its end."
"Lockjaw pounces on the fallen foe, making sure it truly is down for the count, while Hopper plays a melody to help relieve the pain on River as she gets back up. The creature is finally defeated, and the town's food supply is now safe again."
The party cheers, and go in for their carves.
In order: River, Zjetya, Spitshine, Sugar, Hopper, Lockjaw.
[6d10]Roll #1 5, 9, 6, 2, 7, 9 = 38
"The veterans explain to the newcomers the island's custom to use as much of the monsters as they can, both for how they're mostly reliant purely on what the island provides, and how these creatures provide very sturdy materials. With careful knifework, you all manage to get a good Pelt and a Charge Hide from the Gigginox, except for Sugar, who only manages to get a simple pelt alone."
"The moon is starting to rise up in the sky, the first night for the newcomers has fallen on the island."
"Okay, how do you guys wanna spend the night?" Zjetya asks.
Sugar looks to Spitshine, obviously keen on him keeping up with being into the game.
"Well…" he fumbles, until an idea clicks. "Obviously we gotta get cleaned up and then hit the night life. Find out where everyone kicks back after a hunt!"
"A good plan," River says. "We can wrap up the session with that, then?"
Zjetya nods, and Hopper and Lockjaw grunt in affirmation.
Pryce nods as they decide their next step.
"You all head back to the guard hut, where you can clean up yourselves and your gear, and store your loot if you want to leave it there. After that, you head to the tavern, the main hangout spot to relax after a hunt or just a long day, with food, drink, and some games. As you all enter, those inside look to you with baited breath."
"Those shrieks… did it come back again?"
"Did it get our food?"
"Did you stop it?"
"Seems they all are full of questions, not surprising with the volume of the fight."
"We'll recount the battle to the gathered townsfolk," Spitshine says.
"And make us sound cool with dramatic music," Zjetya says. "We've got two hunting horn users right here!"
"You regale the townsfolk with your plans, setup, and triumphant battle with the beast, while Zjetya and Hopper add in fitting dramatic and bombastic music. They hang onto your every word, and when news that it was defeated and the food saved, they cheer for their heroes!"
"They did it!"
"Our food is saved!"
"Three cheers for our heroes!"
"First round for them is on me!"
"And all such more. This night looks like it'll be the best welcoming party you've seen."
"We won, then?" Spitshine asks.
"The point of the game is not truly to 'win,'" River elucidates. "We win simply by gathering together as friends to tell a story as a team and have fun, aided by a bit of random chance."
"Hell yeah we won!" Zjetya says. She bowls over Spitshine's figurine with a well-tossed die. Spitshine snorts and retaliates in kind. Sugar laughs, and the pets look equally amused. River shrugs, okay with coexisting with their notion of fun as well.
Pryce chuckles at the celebration over winning.
""Sounds like a good spot to wrap up for the night. So, what did you think?"
He asks Sugar and Spitshine, seeing if they're hooked for more games.
"That was really fun," Spitshine says. "The maths weren't as hard as I thought they'd be."
"You're telling me," Zjetya says. "I can't even read this stuff and I can still play."
"We still need to get on that, lest Rust Tea have license to castigate you for fewer books read after she comes back from Tartarus," River says.
"You and Pryce will be my readers," Zjetya says. "Books are best enjoyed with friends, like music. I think there's something there – Ecclesia invented audio-recording magitech after all. Maybe they could be called, like… audio-books… or something."
Sugar looks at the camera.
"Listening to a recording of a book? Hm, could be something good there," Pryce muses over the idea.
He looks out the window, seeing the time after their campaign.
"We probably should be getting to bed soon, no telling what tomorrow will bring…"
The kids yawn and collect their figurines and sheets, departing for their own treehouses with KP and their pets. You, Hopper and Zjetya and River are left in your own treehouse. Your marefriends put away the books, and look, with a little sadness, at the beds provided them. There are three beds here, each too small for you to take.
Pryce looks at the beds, feeling it wouldn't be right to use them even if they were of proper size.
He takes off his bracelet, focusing intently as he tries to conjure up some makeshift mattresses, or at least one, for them to use.>Hat Magic [Beds] [1d10]Roll #1 10 = 10
You conjure three cots, one for each of you. River and Zjetya take and spread theirs out on the treehouse floors,
Pryce spreads his out in the middle of the treehouse, all prepped and set.
"Night River, Night Zjetya," He says as they all settle in.
"Night," the two say, near enough to touch wings but with enough respectful distance that even a strict marm at the knight's seminary could not find fault at your conduct.
Hopper settles into his aquarium, while across the way, Lockjaw shoves his way under KP's arm, resting his bulk atop KP. It's a bit of a heavy and scaly blanket, but a very protective one.
Pryce pulls over his blanket after the wing taps, shutting his eyes and drifting to sleep while thinking over the trials that lie ahead for them in this land.
KP holds Lockjaw in close instinctively in his sleep, as if Lockjaw was a big stuffed animal.
Warm rays and shuffling cloth awake you. Pryce awakens to River and Zjetya folding up their cots nice and compact to be put back into your bracelet-dimension, while KP awakens to Sugar and Spitshine dividing up breakfast for their pets.
Pryce wakes up, igniting his leg as he steps out of his cot to help them pack.
"Mornin'," he greets with a stretch.
KP hops out of bed, getting some breakfast for Lockjaw and Hopper as he wakes his pets to get them ready for the day.
Lockjaw does a big stretch in the sun, and Hopper does a smaller, subtler stretch in his tank, joining KP for breakfast.
Zjetya and River sleepily grunt their greetings, and once they are all ready, they step outside. It is sunrise, and the northern air is chilly, not yet warmed even by the summer sun.
KP sets up some meat snacks for Lockjaw, and some grubs for Hopper.>"Think we'll be going up that mountain today?"
KP asks Spitshine and Sugar as they all take care of their pets.
Pryce steps outside, a slight shiver running through him with the morning chill.
"Wonder how early things around here start moving…" He thinks aloud, of the village and region in general. He goes to check in on the others, and on Vortigern and Grantz since they'll be their guides through this land.
The village is one of early risers, as you can see. Most pegasi are already up to their morning chores, lighting fires, taking down clean laundry, and so on. Vortigern is out near the base of her house, chopping wood. Grantz flies toward the trail you took yesterday, fishing nets slung over his shoulder.>>761787
"Hard to say," Spitshine says. "We don't know yet what the war's been like for this village. They seemed pretty tense when we got here yesterday, though."
"With Vortigern here, I wonder if they'll be more confident to fight," Sugar says.
Pryce approaches Vortigern, waving in greeting as he sees most of the villagers about in chore work.
"Morning Vortigern," He greets. "Things look to get busy quick here," He follows, commenting on the early risers.
>"Yea, they didn't seem to like outsiders too much."
KP comments on their welcoming.>"I wonder if we'll get to see any of those dragons here."
Vortigern nods. She sets down her splitting maul since you all are nearby, and gestures to a nearby kettle. You can smell coffee inside. My people, industrious,
As the others gather together, you see that Onion and Estuary aren't here yet. They must still be aboard the airship.
"Dragons wouldn't be a welcome sight around here," Zjetya says. "Nor would drakes. They might look sideways at Spark, or Lockjaw for that matter."
"Eek!" River gasps, as she looks about the village. She's staring at a number of nearby bears which walk alongside certain tough-looking villagers. Despite how huge the bears are, they appear quite docile.
"Hmm… Do you think if we offered to help with some things, it'd help with our investigations any?"
>"Really? He doesn't even have wings though."
KP says, looking at Lockjaw with a little concern that he might not be liked here.
>"Whoa! Lok at all of them!"
KP exclaims with awe at the sight of bears being a seemingly common pet of the populace.
"Is this normal for your people too?" Pryce asks Vortigern.
Vortigern nods. Respect hard work.
"Why aren't you talking?" Zjetya asks.
"…Oh," Vortigern says. "I forgot I could do that."
"How?" Zjetya asks.
"It's been a while since I was able to, force of habit," Vortigern explains. "Besides, I'm still waking up from last night."
Zjetya restrains herself.
"Sleeping in my own bed next to my husband and our pet again…" Vortigern sighs. "…It's the first time in the last six months I got a good night's sleep."
"I'm glad you were able to get that," River says. "But, that's really your pet?"
"Yes, and we aren't unique in that regard," Vortigern says. "Lots of ponies here keep bears. They're the last word in personal defense around this neck of the woods."
"Tough crowd," Spitshine says. "We'll have to carry more than our share of weight to look good to people who can tame bears."
"That's a fact," Vortigern agrees. "Go get Onion and Estuary. The villagers will want to see our whole group contributing before they'll welcome us."
"With bears for protection, I can't imagine what's out in these woods then," Pryce comments.
He nods to Vortigern, and heads off to the ship to fetch Onion and Estuary.
>"Can they do any tricks?"
KP asks Vortigern, still fascinated by the bear pets.
"Sure," Vortigern says. "Vidanya, come here."
Her pet bear approaches.
"Sit, Vidanya," Vortigern orders. The bear does, and Vortigern looks back to you.
"I think he said 'tricks,' as in plural," Zjetya prompts.
Vortigern looks back to the bear, who has laid down to snooze. "Vidanya, sit."
The bear sits up. Vortigern looks back to you.>>761882
When you get back to the airship with River, you see that Onion and Estuary are stuck in an arm-wrestling match. Both of them have their other forearms behind the table, as they grimace and strain, evenly matched.
KP stomps his hooves in applause at the well trained bear.>"Wow! How long did it take to teach that?"
Pryce sees the arm-wrestling match, approaching the table in silence to not distract the two. However, as it goes with neither budging, it seems they could use a shift.
"Morning Estuary, Morning Onion. We're all gathering at Vortigern's. …How long has this been going?"
"Only a few months," Vortigern says. She flops onto Vidanya as a pillow, and Vidanya lays back down to snooze. Lockjaw curls up with them. Spark, who had been huddled next to the kettle for warmth, joins them.
"Hmm…" River says. "Now would be a good time to start working, I suppose. They're looking rather content there."
"N-no," Vortigern yawns. "I'll be up in… a few… snzzzzzzzzzz…">>761890
"Best of seven now," Onion says.
"Winner gets to make breakfast," Estuary says.
>>761892>"Should we finish up her chores?"
KP asks as Vortigern dozes off on her bear bed.
"I won't distract then, but to inform we're thinking in helping out with anything the villagers here might need, to help get on their welcoming side more."
Zjetya nods, and starts to delegate the chores between you, herself, Spitshine and Sugar. She takes most of the heavy lifting, and leaves the lighter stuff to you and the other young'uns.>>761897
Onion and Estuary nod, and relent from their arm-wrestle. Onion flips a coin, Estuary calls heads, and Onion surreptitiously palms it to heads. Estuary doesn't acknowledge the trick if he even saw it, but goes off to get breakfast ready.
Onion then heads out with you and River to assist with the village chores.
KP sets to the chores diligently, making sure to help enough so that Vortigern can spend her first day back home without needing to be bogged down. He also tries to get Lockjaw to help out too to look better for the village after hearing he might get odd looks for being close to dragon in appearance.
Pryce leads to the village as they head back to work on helping out.
"Wonder where we should start…" He mutters, not wanting to overstep bounds. He looks to see where he can help with his magic, figuring that might be of good aid with the village being all pegasi.
There's not much Lockjaw can do considering his stubby arms, but with some teaching, you learn him to stack firewood after Zjetya chops it. Suspicious glares land on you, but seeing Lockjaw working for the good of the village deters the villagers from doing or saying anything untoward.
After Estuary makes you some breakfast (soup, as per his specialty), you look around the village to see where you can help. Language barriers present a considerable obstacle; most here don't speak Equish, and don't care to interpret for an outsider through visual communications.
After some futile trying, you see Grantz come back, accompanied by two other villagers. Each of them carries fish in one of the nets that Grantz brought – they must have gone up early to the waterfall ahead of them. After hearing your intent, Grantz has you help prepare some fish, for the trained bears. Afterward, you help distribute the fish to the "berserkers" – the warriors of the village who fight alongside their bears.
Later, with the sun burning through the last of the morning's mist, you all are gathered near Vortigern's house, having completed the morning chores. Grantz exits the house through a side door, carrying a tray with ceramic mugs of water on his back. Vortigern stands to help serve, but Zjetya, on Grantz's orders, hip-checks her into sitting back down. Vortigern had been trying to help for quite some time now, but Grantz wouldn't permit his wife to do anything more than recline on Vidanya and relax.
The trouble of the language barrier lapsed Pryce's mind, this proving to be more of a hassle than he assumed. Luckily when Grantz returns it turns around smoothly, glad to help out with preparation and distribution of food, something sure to get on good sides quick.
>"Wow, you guys sure do a lot of stuff early."
KP comments as they're gathered back at Vortigern's house to rest a moment after chores.>"Reminds me of how we'd forage when travelling around way back."
Pryce chuckles a little as Zjetya helps step in to make sure Vortigern keeps in a relaxed state.
"If anypony deserves some rest it'd be you Vortigern. We can handle things today."
"Here I thought ours was a matriarchal society," Vortigern says. All the pets, minus Hopper, are curled up with her."It is,"
Grantz says. "So, the Clan-Mother should get to kick back while we get to work."
She leers at his cheeky logic, but smiles when he comes in for a nose bump.
"I like this system of government," Zjetya says. "When are we gonna adopt it, Pryce?"
"After more pressing existential threats are extinguished," Estuary says. "Grantz, Vortigern. In addition to Vortigern's reasons for returning to Ornifex, we are here as emissaries of the Ecclesian Vermillion Corps. We've questions we wish to ask regarding the uprising.""Ah, yes, Vortigern mentioned such things,"
Grantz says. "I appreciate how quick you are to get to business. But before your questions, I've some of my own. First of all, what has Ecclesia to do with this conflict when it has its hooves so full to the south?"
"We can worry about that once we settle down," Pryce answers Zjetya.
"We were tasking to help end the civil war, with hopes that it might give a good incentive to ally with Ecclesia," Pryce explains to Gantz. "And also to examine rumors of demon taming in this area."
"That a proposal?" Zjetya jokes.
Ignoring the side-banter, Grantz sits in the grass, his posture high and bold despite his seated position. You can sense that this is a minor ritual of political matters for this region. Perhaps it may be best to imitate him.
He scratches his chin as he listens to your explanation. "Ah, end the civil war and investigate demonic activity. A nice little weekend to-do list! Hmph. At least Ecclesia has sent delegates ahead of its planned conquest this time."
Zjetya, sobering up, sits beside you in Grantz's pose. "I take it you've heard of Ecclesia's other recent political maneuvers.""Of course,"
Grantz answers. "The other nations of the northwest have surrendered quite quickly to this growing empire. You will find we are not so easily governable as they. We are even giving dragons a run for their money! I am afraid the draconic stereotypes about us 'hillbillies' have some truth."
River and Estuary sit at your other side, while the others start to back up to give room to this sparking debate.
"No, er, not for now, I mean…" Pryce stammers a bit, the concept of proposal throwing him off.
As Grantz shifts posture to talk deeply on the matter, Pryce turns his focus to this matter, holding his own posture high in reflection of him.
"They didn't tell us of any plans for conquest, though, I can't say what further plans they could have, if any. They don't care which side wins, just that it ends with the peace being a favor done by Ecclesia," Pryce adds, then listening as Grantz and Zjetya speak of Ecclesia other involvement in the region.
"I don't plan on helping Ecclesia replace the dragons, so there's no worries from our group there," He adds.
>>762118"The proper and civilized dragons look disparagingly upon the squalor and depravity of we 'hillfolk',"
Grantz says. "Every one of us, moonshiners and bearkin, illiterate and unwashed. So they say. I must wonder how such hillfolk have eluded the dragons' rule for so long, then."
He listens as you spell out Ecclesia's current neutrality. "You talk of Ecclesia not holding a preference on the victor, yet here you are, speaking with the leadership of the rebellion… say, then, whether the dragons are also currently hosting dignitaries from Ecclesia?"
Zjetya gulps, and doesn't answer. Her expression suggests she doesn't know whether the Choir would consider such an approach.
Pryce takes a moment to think on the possibility. The thought never occurred that there could be Ecclesians working with the dragons already.
"We are only acting in their mercenary division, more or less. There very well could be others speaking with them already," He comments. "But, my stance is against the dragons, regardless of how Ecclesia falls on the topic."
>>762212"Do the rest of you feel akin?"
Grantz asks, looking over your companions. Each of them nods in turn."Even you, Ecclesian?"
he asks, looking directly at Zjetya.
Zjetya has a small start, and looks aside. "Pfft," she scoffs after a moment. "I wouldn't have joined them in the first place if I thought they'd side with those shitheads up there.""Confident words,"
Grantz notes. "But talk is easy. What would Ecclesia say, were it ever – hypothetically – discovered… that demonic power bolstered our ranks?"
"Ecclesia… the orders were to stomp it out. Ecclesia could take out everypony involved, maybe just imprisoning if it wasn't too extreme of a use," Pryce answers.
"For our job here, I would just put a stop to it. Things have gotten complicated all over, and from what I've heard so far of the Dragons, I couldn't blame this hypothetical resort, but I couldn't let it continue afterwards when the problem is fixed either."
>>762220"Their law shall find no enforcer nor officiator here,"
Grantz answers simply. "If they could find any evidence to begin with, that is. Superstitious hillfolk such as us, allowing a demon to sully the work of our liberation? Preposterous."In any case… as I said, talk is easy. If all Ecclesia intended for you to do was talk, I've had my fill of it. But if they intend to offer aid, I may extend my ear a bit further to hear the terms – but not much further. We keep ourselves busy up here, and time is a precious commodity."
Pryce says nothing further on the the demon talk, knowing it'll be something to deal with later.
"For what Ecclesia intends for aid, is already here," Pryce answers simply. "We can call for more assistance, but that's on the stipulation of anypony else being free to come. I am intent on helping and stopping this war, so any information about the dragons, who's in charge, or where we can go for more will help."
Grantz says. He pauses, falling silent for a time. He gives a glance to Vortigern, and she, a light nod in return."I will take this matter to my council, and you will have your answer anon,"
Grantz says. "Make yourselves at home during your wait. But by now, you will have seen that we are a busy people, even when at home.
"Understood," Onion says.
Grantz rises, as does Vortigern, much to the disappointment of the pets curled up with her. The two walk off, heads kept close together as they make for a larger cabin across the village.
After Grantz and Vortigern leave, Pryce looks to Zjetya.
"What are the chances that Ecclesia would have send multiple groups?" He asks, though the question is open for the group to weigh in on. "Do you think we might end up fighting other mercenaries sent to help the dragons?"
Zjetya shakes her head. "No clue… I didn't consider it. Never worked for Einmal before, but from what I heard, it'd be his style to cover all his bases. I'd assume he's sent a diplomatic gesture to the Dragons, at the very least."
"You used to work mostly under Sir Ichimonji's command, correct?" River asks.
Zjetya nods. "On paper, all the Choir can command all the Laity and Congregation. But in practice, every Chorister had their preferred groups of soldiers they each called on the most. They say Einmal had the smallest number of usuals, but he knew how to get shit done despite that. He never left any stone unturned or button undone, as the gossip goes. I bet it's probably the same with the Vermillion Corps as with the full soldiery."
"We should get a conch call out," Onion says. "See if we can't get some confirmation on that."
"Indeed," Estuary agrees.
"Covering all his bases, I would hope that's for stopping the war to help and not just to be done with it to pull in recruits after," Pryce comments as he gets a conch out to call Sir Einmal.
"…Do you think there's any reason he wouldn't tell us, if there were others here?"
Nobody picks up… the current might be busy, or perhaps Einmal likes to sleep in.
"Probably the latter," Zjetya observes (of the narration, not your words).
She shakes her head to your question. "I dunno… those I know who worked with him always said they could never quite get a read on him. Sometimes he was open about his plans, other times secretive. A lot of the times, it seemed like he was scheming against his own interests, only for his plans to pan out better than anyone expected, even when working with fewer resources and personnel."
"Something of a genius, then…" Estuary observes. His tone is strategic, not complimentary – as if he were sizing up a foe.
"So there's no real way of knowing then…" Pryce mutters, setting down the conch when there's no answer. "The war will end no matter what, that much is certain. We'll just have to make sure there's as little damage as possible if he is fueling both sides to escalate it for that goal."
Pryce nods in agreement with Estuary.
"Let's hope that he wouldn't throw away good soldiers against each other if they are tight on forces. Until then, we should keep busy until Vortigern and Gantz get back…"
"What say you to my going alone to the country of the dragons, milord?" Estuary whispers, even out of earshot of the others. "I would spy out the workings of other Vermillion Corps agents, or else, the state of the war from the side of the dragons."
The others, seeing Estuary get that look in his eye, figure you're having a private conversation, and split off again to see where their help can be offered, and, even, accepted.
("Extra knowledge will be great to have…") Pryce thinks a moment. ("I'd rather not split up the group, but if I had to trust anypony doing a solo task, it'd be you. Make it quick though, we don't know how fast things may move around here.")
("And you can just call me Pryce. Milord doesn't sound right.") He adds after.
("Be forewarned that Ornifex is a vast land,") Estuary says. ("Days, or weeks may pass, afore I return. Do not contact me by conch; I will contact you, and coordinate our future rendezvous… milord.")
Ignoring your last order, he turns and makes for the airship.
Spitshine, frowning, turns to you. "What was that about?"
("Alright. Stay safe, Sir Estuary,") Pryce says as the knight heads off for the ship, a little annoyed at the continued title.
Pryce looks down to Spitshine as he asks what is up.
"Sir Estuary is going to see if there are any other Ecclesians or Vermillion Corps agents working here, or what else there is," He explains.
"Tch…" Spitshine frowns. "I guess it's a smart move… but I wanted to train with that guy again. Would it kill him to chill now and then?"
"Possibly," River says, performing her best (good-natured) impression of Renee. "Goo Ponies are susceptible to the cold, after all."
"He's already 'icy' in that sense…" Spitshine bemoans.
"Hey! Lazy-bones!" Sugar calls to Spitshine. "I found some chores for you!"
Spitshine shrugs and follows after her.
"At least she's starting to warm up some," River adds.
"I could always help you train," Pryce offers. "We could work some more on conjuring."
Pryce chuckles at Zjetya's impression.
"He's an old knight, it'll take him some time," He says in agreement with River.
As the kids get to chores, Pryce also helps out where he can too, not to leave too much work for anypony.
By now, the villagers have recognized you're there to work. Whether for genuine good will or simply to earn their good graces, they seem not to care, by this point. You've still yet to earn their trust, but a little work goes a long way for folk such as these.
Noon approaches, though by then, even the more assiduous of the villagers has retired from the work, seeking shade to hide from the summer's brutal heat. Many snack on chips and spicy vegetable dip. For your work, you are rewarded with bowls of your own.
As you approach the end of your snacks, sitting in the shade of the other side of Vortigern's house, Vortigern and Grantz approach you. They sit in the formal posture adopted earlier. Once your group has assumed the same, they begin."We, the council of the myriad rebel villages, accept Ecclesia's offer of aid, limited though it may be in this trying time,"
Grantz announces. "We look forward to a cordial relationship – and an honest and reciprocal one, at that."
The work takes its toll, but it helps to keep active and connect with the villagers. The spicy dip is a nice treat, a welcome snack despite the heat.
As they meet with Grantz and Vortigern again, Pryce sits in the formal pose. As Grantz announces they'll accept their aid, Pryce nods in a formal acceptance.
"I'm glad we can work together for this," He says with relief that they've been welcomed officially. "If I may ask, how many other villages are there?"
>>762423"Thirty villages and hamlets in total,"
Grantz says. "At least, those with enough spine to rebel. They are scattered across this range. The others, further up the mountain, remain the 'willing' thralls of the Dragons."
"Thirty… Where would you recommend we start with this situation?"
>>762425"Our current aim has been cutting off the tributary system, by which the Dragons keep our people starved. The Dracoknights have choked out inter-village trade, and exact tribute from all the villages still loyal to Yongning-si.
"This is done under pretense of protection from banditry, wildlife attacks, and welfare in the event of natural disaster or poor harvest times. In practice, they keep the people just prosperous enough to afford the tribute, and a little comfort, but not enough to build meaningful wealth, by which they can be independent of the welfare. If ever things get too good for villages, an increase in 'bandit attacks' and 'unfortunate accidents' sets things right.
"The Dracoknights are careful to maintain plausible deniability in all their exacting of the tributes. Outwardly, they keep to law and order, and smear our rebellion daily as the very bandits the subjugated villagers fear. It doesn't help that Ornifex is a land firmly steeped in the belief of karma. From Vortigern's correspondence, I gather similar concepts exist in your southeastern religion, too. Anyway, the hard times of this year are blamed squarely upon our rebellion, and the concept of karma is useful for 'proving' it."
"That's terrible," Pryce says, hearing the abuse of the tributary system.
"…When is the next tribute? We could follow the Dracoknights after that, or if they have any specific targets when posing as bandits, we can catch them and show the other villages what they're doing."
Grantz says. "I hope I didn't put you under any false pretenses when accepting your offer of aid. Grateful though the council is for *material* aid, we are not accepting suggestions of strategies or tactics. We are going to ride out in advance of the next tribute at the end of this month and kill every Dracoknight we find."
A chill passes through River and Zjetya, though Spitshine and Onion appear unfazed. Sugar is blank-faced, but a little uncertainty remains in her eyes. Vortigern says nothing, and her grimace is resolute and stoic… but she avoids your eye contact.
Pryce is silent at the statement. He can't be surprised that they'd go to such measure with all he's heard and what's been done, but such a flat explanation of it still catches one offguard.
"…I see," Is all he says at first, pausing for another moment. "What else do the Dracoknights do, aside form collect tributes?"
"So, will you be wanting our help in dealing with them, or did you have something else in mind?" He asks, seeing that the villages already have their own plans in motion.
"It is an essence, yes. So we'll be helping to make it look like the traders did it, but wouldn't that just make them descend on all the villages, possibly even worse than they've already done?"
Grantz nods. "At least, that's what we want the loyalists to fear."
"To spur them to join your cause then…" Pryce thinks a moment. "How are you planning your assault on the Dracoknights? If you take all of them out or intercept them, it would be far more difficult to plant the idea that traders did it."
As you continue your questions, he waves you down. "What is the purpose of wings?"
"To fly?" Pryce answers, unsure where the question is going.
>>762443"To fly above that which is below you, and beyond that which is above you,"
Grantz says. "Those who choose to cower upon the ground… those who dare not look up at the sky to see where they may go… bring shame upon that glorious gift. It is true that the Dracoknights rarely employ violence – but not to keep the loyalists in line. Only to simulate a little economic hardship. To provide an excuse, a scapegoat, for those few loyalists who dream of flight, to blame their failures upon. For most… if the Dracoknights stopped exacting tribute… if they stopped showing up altogether… they would continue leaving out the tribute. Continue sending forth their sons and daughters for conscription. That is what Draconic rule has done to their wings. Pinned them down so tightly that, even if the bonds were removed, they would never dare to fly again."We *cannot* spur our own people, our very kinsfolk, to join the rebel cause,"
Grantz says. "So long as even the slightest notion of peace and order remains open to them, they would defect back to the rulers who have done nothing but take from them. But– what we can do is send them hurtling over the cliff's edge. Burn the bridges they stand upon. If they would cling to the ground, we will send them hurtling toward the ground until they learn to fly again."
He looks at your wings. "Surely you will understand."
Pryce looks back at his wings, thinking back to when he got them.
"I haven't had these for long, but, I do understand where you're coming from. My family, when I was young, we travelled around to entertain. We spread hope and good times to help lift others up, and I became a knight to go beyond and push that further."
Pryce pauses a moment.
"Do you have to cull the Dracoknights and wait for retribution to come in hopes of pushing the loyalists?" Pryce asks. "Showing them the defeated knights can give the same effect, but allow time for them to join, and an opportunity to see that they can fly above their oppressors."
Grantz… chuckles. He shakes his head as if talking to a clever child, and not to an accomplished warrior. "Vortigern mentioned this would be a point of contention. But, this is the reality: Our forces are too outnumbered and undersupplied to risk the effort of capturing Dracoknights,"
Grantz counters. "The resources necessary to care for hostages is just too great of a burden for our side. Besides – they're granted power from dragons. These aren't just garden-variety soldiers. If they get their strength back in captivity, they won't remain captive for long. I don't intend to torture Dracoknights just to keep them weak enough to remain restrained. I'm no demon."
Pryce feels a little insulted from the tone, and the jump of assumption to torture to enable captivity, but he doesn't jump on it to not break the alliance being built.
"If they've been granted power, then surely it can be taken away. If that can be done, then their deaths can be spared and it can show these villages the knights can be overcome."
"We've dealt with power thieves before," River says. "It's a more common ability than one might think."
"Do any of you possess that power?" Grantz asks.
None in your group respond.
"Then it's a moot point," Grantz says. "The council has already given its approval to our plan of attack. Make yourselves ready to ride out in four days."
Protest is plain in the eyes of your allies, but they restrain themselves from speaking.
"What power do the dragons give them? I may be able to do something, depending on what exactly it is," Pryce asks, not giving up on finding a better way to deal with the knights.
>>762582"Overall enhancement of strength, speed and magical ability,"
Grantz says. "But not a great enhancement of physical or magical defenses. This, we believe to be a check on any Dracoknights hatching any plans to rebel and take power for themselves. Point being, the only way to stop Dracoknights is to get the drop on them and overwhelm them before they can even look anyone's direction. It's guerilla warfare, or death."
"Then, we'd better take time to prepare ourselves," River says.
"Wh–" Zjetya says, turning to River with confusion.
"We've an ambush to plan, don't we? We'd better get on with it," River says."Right…"
Grantz says. He looks a little leery of her sudden turn, but doesn't press. "Make use of what you can in the village, provided you give my people fair compensation for anything you borrow. Now, as Chieftan, I have no shortage of my own preparations. Gentlecolts, fillies."
He rises to leave, as does Vortigern.
Pryce goes to speak further, but halts as River speaks up on preparations. He nods in agreement.
"We'll be sure to," He says to Grantz on compensation.
After he and Vortigern leave, Pryce looks to River.
"Get an idea?"
"It clicked for me when you brought up taking away power," River says. "Mudi possesses that power – as does Buiwong."
"He's a bit busy to come through for our aid, isn't he?" Zjetya asks. "Mocha too."
"True enough," River says. "But his daughter – Mocha's mother – is still in this world, as are the rest of that family."
Onion raises his eyebrows. "Mocha said Buiwong was powerful protective of all them – it was a struggle just to get him to accept Mocha being out and about."
"Then it's a good thing he's a bit busy," River says.
"Got a way to contact them?" Spitshine asks.
"Possibly," River says. "If what I've got back on the airship is what I think it is. Let's retrieve it."
>>762591>"Oh yea, I was talking with Mocha about them before we got into Tartarus! I bet they'd help out!"
KP says enthusiastically.
Pryce looks a bit off-put on the idea.
"Could we trust power deriving from him? If the dragons are just using magic I could Unweave it," He says, not fully on-board with going with a Buiwong resort.
"I believe this to be the genuine article," River says. "And should you ever be knocked out or separated from us, we will want a backup to counteract the power of the Dracoknights.
"Following your battle with Estuary, I heard the outcome of Vortigern's duel with Shorthorned… and the discussion with Buiwong that followed. That night, I felt myself compelled to speak with him about my own past allegiances…"
She trails off a little, her eyes hazy with distant memories. "…When we at last concluded our talks, he gave me something."
When you reach the airship, River heads to her room, sorts through her belongings, and retrieves a locked chest. From inside, she retrieves what at first appears to be a ball of yarn – made of spider's silk.
"A parting gift," River says. "If and when we need a place to hide. But I should warn you, it will not activate if any foes are in our vicinity. He made it clear how many restrictions he put on it, lest the wrong powers come across what this silk hides."
Pryce still feels torn on the idea, but he trusts River in that it should be fine.
"Alright, a backup would be helpful if
anything like that were to happen."
Pryce pauses in thoughtful concern when River mentions speaking on with Buiwong about the past allegiance, but doesn't push the subject.
Pryce looks down at the ball of silk.
"So this will be our means of contact?"
>"Do we follow it, or do we make a circle with it?"
KP asks curiously.
"From what he told me…" River begins, looking about the airship. She then winds back her foreleg and rolls the ball across the floor, but holds onto the loose string. The ball rolls and banks off an open doorway, losing some momentum…
…But as it looks as if it may roll to a halt, it starts to move again, of its own accord, and rolls off. With widened eyes, the others creep after it, following the string. The ball has rolled under the couch in the central room. Onion and Zjetya scoot it aside, and find a hole in the ground where there was none before. There is pitch darkness on the other side, and the spider-silk leads directly into it.
KP follows after the ball eagerly, while Pryce holds some caution as they trail after it. When the couch is moved to reveal a hole, both peer down into it.
"I'll check it first," Pryce says, lighting his horn as he steps into the hole, being the first to check in case anything nefarious is at play.
Your light does nothing to illuminate the darkness, until you're all the way through the portal. A brief disorientation follows – as the portal flings you towards a dark, star-studded sky, which is now below
you. A new gravity takes hold, and you manage to stick the landing onto high grasses, near the portal.
You're in the midst of a dark forest, with cramped, close-clumped trees stretching far higher into the sky than any of even the greatest trees of your world. The shadows are different here – things are either lit or they are totally dark, there is no gradient to speak of (cel-shading).
Pryce spreads his wings as he falls suddenly through the portal to help balance himself. After landing, he looks around the dark forest, the lighting putting him on edge with the total void that exists for some shadows.
"Hello? Is anypony there?" He calls out through the trees, wondering if this is the location they were supposed to go, or if there is further travel to be made.
You see no obvious path, and no voice greets you… but you can sense presences nearby. No telling how many; could be one, or a multitude… your spiritual senses feel dim, and foggy, by the power of this zone.
Pryce pauses in thought a moment, then heads towards the presences with caution. He hasn't seen the others follow him yet, they're likely still on the ship still, so it'll be safer to check now then to bring them along. He keeps on guard as his senses feel damped by this area, ready to react if this is indeed a trap.
A glint of starlight illuminates a blade of damp, jagged teeth. Far ahead of you lurks the mouth of a wolf. That, and a sliver of its face, is all you can see. Judging by the size of what little you can see, the wolf's height is on par with yours.
A low rumbling growl breaks the still air, and is echoed all about… this wolf is not alone.
Pryce holds his ground, turning or running would instigate a chase immediately. He keeps eye contact with the glint of teeth he can see, to not be caught off guard by this one, waiting if it means to attack or will pass.
A cold, damp touch electrifies your shoulder, as you feel another wolf, eluding your notice, approach from the side to smell you. Other shapes lurk just behind that wolf.
A few moments of inspection pass, and the wolf's haunches relax. Its ears lean back, but in a decidedly friendly way, not a hostile posture. The wolf steps fully out of the shadows, then stops, turning to look back at you.
Seems it wishes for you to follow.
Pryce nearly snaps to the side as he feels the touch, his training and nerves keeping him from doing. He watches as the wolf inspects him, not showing any hostility or threat.
When it relaxes it posture and continues on, then giving the feel to follow, Pryce cautiously follows behind.
Subtle waves in the shadows surrounding indicate that a small retinue of wolves has joined you, either guarding, shepherding, or judging you from the peripheries…
…and, after some time of walking, you see another source of light, this one coming from ahead, and not above. Candlelight through a glass window. Between the trunks and through the branches, you see a vast, three-storied cabin, guarded by a great stone wall and a moat, though the bridge is down. This small castle is the only such fixture of civilization you can see in the area.
Pryce walks with the pack as they traverse the forest, keeping on a light guard.
He peers ahead as light finally breaks through, showing the cabin, the first notable sight here. If this area is where Buiwong's family is settled, then this should be their home. Pryce steps forward towards the bridge.
As you approach the bridge, the lead wolf abruptly halts, forcing you to halt as well, lest you crash into it. The wolf gives a triplet bark –
–And a great lattice of twisting, chaotic energy rises up from the bridge and moat, all manners of colors and sounds reverberating from the energetic nets. A flashback follows, as you recall your first breach of one of Buiwong's lairs, so many months ago… one such lattice turned you into an Alicorn.
A few moments after the trap is disarmed, the door of the manor opens, and a silhouette pokes its head around the corner. The figure takes a second to assess the situation… then raises a hoof.
"Hiii!" the voice, female, greets. "It's safe to cross. Come on in!"
Pryce stops behind the wolf, wondering if he stepped out of line. He then looks up as the rainbow of energy flies up from the moat, starting to question if this is really the right place they were going.
"Uh, hello! I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Pryce calls out as the voice greets him, holding a moment before crossing the bridge.
"Well, we weren't expecting guests so soon after we heard," the voice says, holding open the door. Once you enter, and your eyes adjust to the light, you find yourself in a spacious foyer. To your right is an open dining room, and across from that, on the left, is a room dominated by a pool table. Other tables with other games are along the walls.
You see now your host: A light green earth pony drider, with black-and-white striped hair like Mocha. She wears a similar modest poncho. She seems to be a year or two younger than Mocha.
"Are you hurt at all?" the mare asks. "Thirsty? Starving? Cursed?"
"Some things came up. Well, more of questions," Pryce comments as he enters, looking around the surprisingly decorated foyer.
"No, no, I'm fine," He answers to the questions, surprised on the hospitality. "I'm guessing you're Mocha's sister?"
"I'm Mint Leaf," the mare says, with a nod. "I'm one of her sisters. Metis is somewhere around here. Our brothers are out with Pops. C'mon and have a seat."
While she heads to a cushion in the dining room (indeed, there are no chairs anywhere to see; less suitable for the drider physiology), you hear another set of legs walking about. From the doorway adjacent to the dining room comes another drider; this one, a zebra mare, also wearing a poncho.
"Ohh! Don't tell me…" the mare says, tapping her chin. "You're… uh… Heeeex… Errr… Pryce! Pryce, right?"
"Nice to meet you Mint," Pryce says, then follows her to the dining room. When another voice calls out, guessing his name, Pryce nods.
"That's right. And you must be… Mocha's mother?"
"That's right," the zebra drider says. "I'm Matryoshka. I've heard so much about you all from dad and Mocha! Oh, you stay right there, I'll put some tea on."
Matryoshka heads back to the other room, and you hear a fire lighting. "Hope you weren't planning on leaving in a hurry," Mint says. "Once it's tea time, guests are here to stay. So, what did you want to ask?"
"Oh, you don't need…" Pryce trails off, seeing that the tea won't stop no matter what's said.
"Not really, though the others probably are still waiting to see if it was safe to come in here," He comments. "Oh, right. Well, we have a situation, and River suggested asking one of you for help in taking away power."
"Help, huh…?" Mint asks. "…If it involves going outside, that's going to be a question for Mom and Pops. Mocha might have worn down them and Grandpa with her persistence, but Grandpa and Pops weren't the most thrilled about it. They used to kvetch about it all the time while Grandpa was still around."
"I guess that would depend on if any of you could help with this," Pryce answers. "We're dealing with dragon powered knights, and taking away that power is the only idea we have to avoid the whole group getting killed."
Pryce nods as Mint brings up the difficulty on leaving.
"Yea, Mocha mentioned something along those lines before. Would they be willing to talk on the matter if it comes to that?"
"You've made it to the house. That's proof enough you're worth talking to," Mint says. "Nobody gets to this point without the wolves' assessment. You might not have noticed, owing to the spiritual dampening on this little realm, but the wolves led you past countless hurdles and traps to get here – not just the stuff on the bridge and in the moat. So, I already know you're good people, and so will everyone else. Tell you what, why don't you check back in with your friends so they don't panic and send in a rescue party? I'll send word to Pops while you're out."
"I assumed they were pets of some kind, didn't expect they're be guardians as well."
As Mint says she'll give word while they wait, Pryce nods, standing to head out.
"Good idea. I'll be back soon," He says before making the way back to the ship.
"You're telling me you don't get the wordplay!?" Mint gasps, aghast. "Oh jeez, you'll have a hard time here…"
With that cryptic warning on your mind, you head back out, and a wolf retinue (though smaller this time) escorts you back the direction you came, until you step into the portal, and back out into the airship.
After getting your bearings in the familiar gravity of your own world, you see that the others are, contrary to Mint's prediction, not organizing a rescue party. You see them through the front windows of the airship, dozing off in the shade of a tree on the village outskirts. Most of the villagers are doing similarly, taking refuge from the summer sunlight in a wide-scale siesta. They sleep just as hard as they work, it seems.
As Pryce reenters the airship, he looks around wondering where the others are. When he finally spots them outside, he heads out, opting to nudge River awake first to inform her from the nap since it was her idea.
"Hmmph, hmm?" River stammers, peering out through narrowed eyes. "Awake. I'm awake…"
The others rise with similar reluctance, stretching and yawning.
"How was it?" Zjetya asks. "We thought about coming to get you, but decided you had it under control. Plus it's naptime."
"It went well, it was safe to enter, and I got in touch with them. I laid out the situation, and came back to check on you guys while we wait for their dad to get back to talk." Pryce says, keeping the names out to help keep to the secrecy given they're in a secure location.
Zjetya nods. "Let's not keep them waiting, then."
The others collect themselves and walk off their lingering drowsiness, making ready to accompany you to the secret castle.
Pryce leads the group over to the yarn portal to head into the secret dimension.
"Keep an eye out, we'll be getting a wolf escort. They're friendly though."
When you get back to the portal, the wolf retinue is already waiting for you. Seems they understood the brief nature of your absence, and put a guard on the portal to await you. The others are puzzled and hesitant at the sight of this escort, but when they see the lead wolf turn away and walk through the forest, they ease up somewhat.
"Its ok, they're leading us to the castle," Pryce says as he sees the others at unease at first. Once the lead wolf starts to walk ahead, Pryce gestures for the others to follow.
The others, still a bit unnerved by the situation and the uncanny light of the realm, proceed in silence. Only River seems to be a bit at ease; her time aiding Buiwong no doubt afforded her a certain familiarity with his dimensional decorations.
Soon enough you're back at the moat, and again the lead wolf barks thrice, lifting the final supernatural blockade. The others, astounded, watch the lattice lift into the air, until a familiar voice calls.
"Tea's all ready!" Mint Leaf says. "C'mon in!"
Pryce leads on, keeping the pace comfortable to help ease anypony against the eerie atmosphere they walk through.
"Sorry if we kept you waiting," Pryce calls back as they return to the bridge, leads the others across.
>"Wow, they sound friendly,"
KP comments, eager to see Mocha's family.
In the dining room, you see the full group of seven, sitting on a ring of cushions with a tea-table between them. Though some wolves are inside, sitting guard by the family, they leave an additional cushion open, presumably for Mocha.
Just as KP saw in the portraits, it's a family of Matryoshka and her earth pony husband, and five of their six earth drider children, though they're a few years older than they were in the portrait.
"Oh, wow!" Matryoshka says. "I heard you were a big group, but I lost track of who was going where. Mint, can you get more cushions?"
"Sure can," Mint says, getting up.
The others look about with amazement at the comfy manor.
>>762878>"Hello! It's great to finally meet all you!"
KP greets after they enter the dining room, looking with awe at the drider family.
"Hope its not too much of a hassle to have everypony here," Pryce comments as the matriarch requests more cushions.
"Don't even let that thought cross your mind," Matryoshka says. "We love guests, even if we rarely get them. I was so excited when Dad asked me if we'd be okay with the idea of this realm doubling as a shelter."
"Don't get a lot of people this way, do you?" Zjetya asks as Mint comes back with more cushions.
"No," Matryoshka says. "Though, I suppose it's a sign they don't need extra shelter… hopefully."
"It's… rather dangerous out there," River says.
The husband nods with a grave grimace. "Hence, the protections on the entrance… have a seat, everyone. We've heard a lot about you, but go ahead and introduce yourselves."
"Don't imagine you'd get any guests out here," Pryce comments with the remoteness and unique entryway.
Pryce nods as they're asked to introduce themselves.
"My name is Pryce," He greets, keeping it simple given the rough history with Buiwong.
>"I'm KP! Mocha told me a bit about you guys before we split up,"
KP chimes in after.
Your other allies give their names as well, keeping it light on the details.
"There's another guy with us," Zjetya says. "But he couldn't make it. Name's Estuary."
The family, in response, gives their introductions as well: Matryoshka, the mother. Mint Leaf, the middle sister, and Metis, the youngest sister. Then there's the father, Archer, his eldest son Alloy, the middle son Acacia, and the youngest son, Almond.
"And we've heard our share about your adventures, too," Archer says. "Darn near a few books' worth, at that."
Matryoshka brings out a tray of honey and jam biscuits, and Metis follows with the tea set. "Help yourselves, everyone," Matryoshka says.
"You've all been kept up on things then?" Pryce asks.
When snacks are brought out, KP takes a biscuit eagerly.>"Thanks!"
Pryce feels a little questioning, focusing more on the task at hoof to not appear rude.
"More or less," Archer says. He doesn't sound all too thrilled about that.
"Oh, that reminds me," Matryoshka says. "Mint mentioned you had some questions for us?
In the background, the five drider youths are busy chit-chatting with your allies. Though your allies are reticent at first, the driders seem not to mind, keeping up conversation in spite of it.
"We did, yes," Pryce says, looking back from the chitchat. "We were wondering if any of you could help us with removing powers."
"Removing power?" Archer repeats.
River nods. "Here's the situation that we're in…"
She lays out the basic details of the situation affecting Vortigern's people, and your desire to mitigate any unnecessary killing.
Matryoshka nods. "I see. Well, that ability does run in our blood, from Dad. We could
Mint Leaf and Alloy look to Archer with wide, "Didn't-I-tell-you-this-was-gonna-happen?" eyes.
Archer wears the frown of one very annoyed that they can see the logic in their opponent's argument. "I never should have listened to a word out of Mocha's mouth…"
"I know this is a bit much to ask given the situation, and I don't blame you if you refuse. But we don't have too much time and we don't have any other options really," Pryce follows after seeing the dislike Archer is having to this situation.
"I've already set a precedent," Archer says. "Letting Mocha sweet-talk me into letting her have an adventure. Now my daughter's somewhere in Tartarus."
"Kicking ass," Almond says.
"Language," Matryoshka says.
"Sorry," Almond chuckles.
"So, I don't have any grounds to deny the same right to the others," Archer continues.
A loud gasp of enthusiasm rises from the kids.
"If, and only if
–" Archer interjects. "They can pass my trial."
Pryce feels some guilt at having pushed the idea, despite the drider kids being excited for the idea.
"A trial?" Pryce repeats, curious to how this is unfolding.
"In order to leave on a prolonged adventure," Archer begins. "They must land eight consecutive strikes on me, before I can land three strikes on them, in a one-on-one duel."
"So far, only Mocha accomplished that," Metis says. "Even though we all tried."
"That's how you need to be able to fight demons," Archer says. "If you can't manage that on even a mortal, you won't have any chance out there."
"Ehhh," Almond says. "You got some of Ma's power, I wouldn't call you 'mortal' anymore."
"But even BEFORE I got that, I finished a much more grueling challenge, to which this trial doesn't even hold a candle," Archer says. "Against Buiwong… I landed eight hundred strikes."
"Teeeechnically he only had to land eighty consecutive strikes," Matryoshka says. "But between all his different attempts, he racked up about 814."
"I'm humble, so I round down," Archer says with a snort.
"…How close have any of you gotten?" Pryce asks the others with concern.
"You had to fight Buiwong?" Pryce asks after Archer says he had to do similar before.
"To take Matryoshka out on a date," Archer answers with a nod. "He was going to make me fight him again for each successive date but considering I got eight hundred just for the first one, we called it even."
"Most of that first date was me treating his injuries," Matryoshka shares with a laugh.
Alloy raises his hoof. "I'm the closest, with five. But, Pop, don't you think the current circumstances merit waiving the test?"
"You heard the recap," Archer says. "These Dracoknights sound like they're on-par with demon tamers. And since tamers rarely fight with just one demon, I'd consider a Dracoknight a stronger opponent. You're lucky I don't bump it up to sixteen strikes."
>>762942>"What was the most hits in a row you got against him?"
KP asks Archer.
"Can we help them?" Pryce questions. "We only have four days, and we all work as a team already. The chances of anypony being by themselves is slim to none."
"Well, eighty," Archer says to KP. "But counting unsuccessful attempts… seventy-nine. I had nightmares for a month about coming that close and then dropping the combo. It was downright embarrassing."
He shakes his head at you. "Not in the actual duel. Even if you have a team, you need to be able to hold your own in case the worst happens. But, you're welcome to train with them. Some new combat experience might be just what they need."
The drider kids discuss the prospect with excitement.
>>762945>"Oh wow, you must've fought him a lot then. How long did it take you to finally beat that challenge?"
"I wouldn't step the line on a family duel," Pryce assures. "But thank you for allowing us to help train."
Pryce then looks over to the kids as they are all excited over this new opening.
"Will all of you be trying?"
"I think it was… a little over a year, right?" Archer asks.
"Just about, yeah," Matryoshka says.>>762946
"How many of you can train us?" Mint Leaf asks.
"I'm open to helpin'," Onion says.
"As am I," River says. "As someone who once worked for Buiwong, I have lots of combat experience."
"This ain't really my forte," Zjetya says. "But if you need a cheerleader, call me."
Alloy nods. "So, three possible trainers. I believe those of us with the highest previous scores should take priority."
"Us three, then," Metis says, gesturing to Mint and Alloy.
"Tch," Acacia grumbles.
"Think of it as a chance to learn through study," Alloy says. "We're getting thrown right in to the gauntlet directly."
"He's got a point," Almond concedes.
>>762947>"A whole year? You must've been pretty determined."
KP says with awe.
"Is Estuary was here, he could train all you without issue," Pryce comments as they decide who will train. "Studying can still teach you a lot. But if we have extra time we can give you some focus too," Pryce offers to Acacia and Almond.
"So, when would you like to start?" He asks the rest.
"Sounds like you're on a tight deadline, so you can start now," Archer says.
The kids are about to cheer.
"After chores," Matryoshka corrects.
"Ah, right, after chores," Archer agrees.
The kids softly sigh.
>Training montage available whenever
"Well, we can help were we can to help things along," Pryce offers to help them through their chores to set on to the training quicker.
Your allies join in with polishing off the tea and the biscuits, after which the kids show you about the manor as you take care of the myriad chores. Even demi-demigods must keep a clean bathroom and a tidy bedroom, it seems.
KP has a myriad of questions as they go throughout the manor doing chores, mostly with every photo they see. Pryce helps out dutifully, still surprised at the contrast of the manor to what he knows of Buiwong.
Once chores are done and its ready for training to begin, Pryce leaves the area to do so up to the kids to decide.
"So, what are you trained in so far? Any specialties you've focused on?"
The drider siblings take turn answering KP's questions. Sounds like domestic life is peaceful here, if isolated. Every one of the siblings wants to see the outside world, but Archer has been steadfast on his policy, and though Matryoshka is more sympathetic, she agrees with Archer's rules.
KP also sees many images of an elder zebra mare among the family portraits, though she herself doesn't seem to be around the house.
In the training yard out back, the siblings all go over their powers, Attributes, as well as their best scores against Archer.
>Alloy: Dark Knight; Melee; 5 strikes>Mint Leaf: Toxicologist; Poison; 4 strikes>Metis: Deathmaster; Illusion 4 strikes>Acacia: Ninja; Smoke; 3 strikes>Almond: Charlatan; Light; 3 strikes
>Each of them are considered Minibosses per the expanded ruleset
>>762953>"Is that your grandma?"
KP asks after seeing the elder zebra mare in many of the photos.>"Is she out somewhere else?"
"Sounds like you're all pretty close in the challenge. All have a similar base of training too…" Pryce mulls over, looking to River and Onion. "What do you think, should we train them one on one, or train them as a class?"
"Last I heard, she was looking after what remains of Buiwong's cultus," Alloy explains. "Buiwong wanted her to remain where it's safe, but hiding from danger has never been her style.">>762973
"A classroom approach's the best," Onion says. "Direct experience is good and all, but observation's half the battle. All you siblings keep an eye on each other, you may be able to identify what's holdin' your siblings back."
River nods. "I agree."
The siblings nod, and their foreheads shift, producing several more sets of eyes for maximum observational studying.
>>762975>"Aw. Does she ever stop by? I'd be fun to meet the whole family."
"Sounds like a plan, get as much in as possible," Pryce agrees.
When the kids produce more spider eyes, Pryce is ever so slightly unnerved.
"Before we start, what is your father's fighting style?"
"He's kind of like a scorpion," Metis says. "You couldn't really see when he was sitting down earlier, but his long tail gives him good reach. He favors axes and clubs when he fights. And he's always just a bit faster than you expect. He likes to bluff with delayed movements, but don't count on being able to out-speed him."
"Long reach, heavy weapons, and pretty fast. He's pretty skilled then. Alright, we'll focus more on training up your skills and improving your combat prowess. You've fought him plenty enough that training to counter that style probably won't help much. A fresh, outside look might just be what gives the edge," Pryce details.
"Alright, since you have the most hits in Alloy, we'll start with you."
> Engage training montage
You train with the drider siblings over the next three days, each getting a turn to spar with you, Onion and River. Meanwhile, Matryoshka enlists Spitshine and Sugar to help take care of the chores in and around the house. Though the two are disappointed to miss out on watching the fights, they're more than eager to pay back Matryoshka's boundless kindness – which entails being treated to lunch and afternoon tea when you take respites from training.
In the evenings, you return to the airship to tend to your own domestic duties, and the nights are full of strategizing for future trainings.
The main obstacles to the driders is their impatience. This, as you learn, stems from their situation at home. In fact, this only recently became their home, near seven months ago. They used to live in the outside world, in the outskirts of Accorsia's former western colonies, since liberated by Buiwong's cultus. On the eve of what came to be known as the One Night War and the Rapture, Buiwong ushered his family into the shelter, if the worst should happen – and it did. They have been allowed outside only precious few times since then, scouting with Archer. The destitution of mortalkind, and the ravages of demonkind, have only affirmed Archer and Buiwong's policies of keeping the family hidden away in their shelter… much to the displeasure of the driders.
Pryce recalls on some of his knight training to pass to help bolster up the driders, along with some of the training Sir Estuary has put them through so far. As it comes across that they're a it impatient, Pryce then tries to showcase the effectiveness of waiting, using some techniques of stage magic and some of his own fighting styles to show that the payoff is worth the time.
After the third day, Pryce looks over the driders, thinking on their progress.
"…I think its time to challenge your father," He says to them after a moment of thought.
A nervous silence falls over the five, but after a beat, they nod. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD2xQ1uSm2k
Alloy approaches the back door, and knocks upon it. A few moments later, the door opens. At the threshold stands Archer, his armor and wooden training weapons already equipped.
Without a word, he leads them out to the training yard you've become so familiar with in the past three days. Matryoshka, Spitshine and Sugar follow as well, with the snacks for the audience.
Archer takes his place at one end of the training yard, and the driders face him from the other.
"You'll each get a shot at a duel," Archer says. "I'm already warmed up, so don't count on getting an advantage or disadvantage on that front. If more than one of you succeeds on landing eight consecutive hits… the winners will duel it out for the right to accompany these 'Saviors.'"
A stir flashes through the driders.
"Hey, we'll still have passed the trial," Metis says. "So, we should be free to return to the outside world. Wasn't that the deal Mocha made?"
"The difference is that she had a group to go with," Archer says. "A group led by none other than Buiwong himself. Like him, this group's going to be facing a force capable of holding their own against demons. So, only the best of you can join them."
The frustrations grow… but none raise an objection.
Pryce almost speaks up on the new restriction that only one of them can leave, even if multiple pass the trial, but he doesn't. While they need the help, and they've put in plenty of training, he can't step into family matters.
"Just remember, if you can beat it now, you can beat it again in the future," He says to add a brighter side of encouragement to the driders.
Five explosive bouts follow.
Neither side shows even a drop of mercy, pulling out every technique and trick they have up their ponchos. Magic, weapons and divine powers fly forth, and are answered with counters, parries and dodges.
Each concludes in less than thirty seconds.
After they do–
Alloy, Mint Leaf and Metis breathe sighs of relief and disbelief on the sidelines… while Acacia and Almond sit aside in disappointment. Alloy and his sisters all got eight strikes, while Acacia and Almond came just shy, with six each.
Archer sits with Matryoshka, wiping himself with a towel as he sips his tea.
KP stomps his hooves in applause after the fights.>"Whoa, that was intense!"
Pryce gives a more modest applause, knowing there's still more to go.
"Good job, all of you," He says, then looks to Acacia and Almond. "You doubled your last record after only three days of training. I'm sure you'll have it after a little more."
The three victors say nothing to you. Your allies look on with concern, but something in the eyes of the three urges them to remain silent.
Alloy, Metis and Mint Leaf take their positions in the training yard again.
"The first to win eight strikes on any opponent or combination of opponents takes it," Archer says.
He raises his hoof, the the three raise their weapons.
"Begin."https://youtu.be/9Zh9cAGo-zsThe six drider siblings had all been something of minor celebrities among Buiwong's cultus in its heydey, but they denied any worship proffered them, preferring instead to be treated as peers… friends, even.The death reports had come in soon after the Rapture's conclusion.As such.Every drider recognized dozens of names on the register.Mocha, the most of all.She was, for months, completely inconsolable."Friends?" I thought I was a "friend?"Friends help one another.But I just hid. It's what I was told to do– but I took that, glad for a convenient excuse. I was terrified of what would happen if I followed granddad.I failed my friends.Until, on the very first day of the fourth month, she launched an all-out campaign to pester her father. Challenging him, day and night, until he relented either by her victory in combat, or in sheer annoyance. Archer went to Buiwong– but he had no luck in deterring her either.Just as Archer pursued Buiwong until he landed eight hundred strikes.So too did Mocha pursue Archer until she landed eighty.And on the day of her departure, those siblings of hers gave chase to their father as well.A kind of revenge, perhaps, for being hid away from the horrors of the world. And, revenge against the horrors of the world that led to so many deaths.Mmm… no. Mocha's just not the vengeful type.So her friends in the cultus would say.She just really likes being out and about and having fun. Not much more to life, is there? In the end, that's what we're fighting for.
[Last 50 Posts]
It concludes in less than thirty seconds.
Alloy stands the victor. Metis and Mint Leaf have laid down their weapons in acknowledgement of his win… with downcast eyes.