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/qst/ - Quests

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Welcome back one and all into a new part of our adventure, our important day in Zipangu is coming to a close soon, our guest will arrive... For now, let's continue to enjoy ourselves. You've earned it.

Previous Threads

Twitter for schedule updates

Perks and spells for our main character

Characters met by Arawn.

People from Muribel.

Bath smut
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The sword attached to Klesiah hips suddenly kindled your inspiration. Why you were looking there in the first place isn't important.

''I got an idea.''

''You do?'' Klesiah blinked and, seeing your smile whilst sensing your intention, pouted. ''You do. I thought men couldn't resist a lady invitation...''

''I'd rather stay proper when were expecting to speak with the very goddess of this church, milady.''

She rolls her eyes and scoots closer to rest her head on your shoulder. Goodness, she would never have gotten the guts to do this in Throne Town. This blueberry might be particularly sensitive to your strong emotions. ''So what is it?''

''A little indulgence.''


A dueling ground was surprisingly close: the eastern side of the church was a fairly open picnic spot. Pushing all the benches and tables around made for a suitable arena (roughly 7 meters of space) with the added benefit of creating a makeshift gallery. With the unfortunate guards being relayed as couriers to fetch all kinds of wooden weapons and shields, a joyous buzz of activity animated the small heroic crowd of the church.

Hao was saddened by being unable to participate. She didn't let it show of course but there was no hiding her feelings and even if she was surrounded by good company (the Demon Lord had taken quite a shine to her, probably because her proximity made the tengu woman behave) you felt like doing something for her.

''Shields, swords and wooden naginatas, pretty good haul for a ten-minute run.'' Twenty practice weapons had been gathered during the making of the arena, Kyorn had inspected all of them. ''Want in?''

''Ah...'' Not even reinforcement was enough to compensate with the exertion of their efforts, both Mamonos had no breath to spare. ''...we'd rather not.''

''Missing out.'' You commented.

You and Kyorn had tried to come up with some kind of selection process but ultimately couldn't settle on anything concrete because Elina, Klesiah, Hadraniel, and Zhu all wanted to fight you.

The entire roster beside him.

Thankfully he opted to fight his fellow hero to spare you some humiliation.

''Heh.'' The tall winged elf ruffles the hair of the girl nearest to him who stayed very, very still under the touch. ''Nobody wondered why you fetched our reserves... wait? Athena? Ooh?'' His wings completely deployed as he gazed behind the guard's shoulders. ''Nieces are here too?''

Coming from the singular thin paved road was a trio of colorful Mamonos. Agathe and Kin needed no description, they must have snuck out by using the cemetery. Behind them was a monstrous lady of a race wholly uncommon for this part of Zipangu.
Coming from the singular thin paved road was a trio of colorful Mamonos. Agathe and Kin needed no description, they must have snuck out by using the cemetery. Behind them was a monstrous lady of a race wholly uncommon for this part of Zipangu.

Green scales fused with her skin instead of sticking out in odd patches like those of your gentle knight, resulting in a natural hardened looking sheen to her skin that stopped after covering half of her jaw. The sharp angle of her face combined with the long brown ponytail cascading down her back and the piercing, near glowing yellow reptile eyes gave this woman a very striking atmosphere. The thick green tail behind her was full of ridges making for another eye-catcher, her left hand however is what truly caught your attention because it kept glistening like polished steel... it was a silver magitek prosthesis. A simple piece without decoration, the way she was able to hold her wooden sword meant it was linked to her body without interference.

''Hey!'' She waved the plain shield strapped on her metal arm. ''Kids heard all about what's happening here, getting antsy huh?''

''Where have you all been?'' Kyorn suddenly lunged forward, arms spread... only for his wings to tackle the pair of guards that have been so dutifully helping you both organize everything. ''Oh...'' The man stopped as you tried very hard not to laugh. The Mamonos -both being foxes- looked particularly angry but had enough discipline to keep their tongues. ''...Sorry.''

''We'll... take our leave, mysir.'' There was a second of tense disapproval... and the girls left, one of them trying her best to avoid nursing a bruised knee.

The kids, rather one of them, was trying very hard not to laugh. Agathe was awkwardly standing behind her mother, giving the crowd displeased glances.

''You've been a good girl right?'' Kyorn said as he petted one of Kin fluffy ears. ''You could have come in the church when I did ya know!''

''Mom and dad didn't want to, we weren't in the church cause of that.'' The little aquatic lizard awkwardly trotted toward the tall winged man, shooting you her version of an intimidating glare.

Right, not a word.
''You must be Arawn.'' The lizardwoman walked in front of you. ''I'm Athena, marshall of central Zipangu, though honestly the title doesn't mean much. Word is, you're pretty good with the shield?''

''Pleased to meet you.'' You bowed. ''I like to believe I've grown some skills in that area.'' Coming into Zipangu with a broken shield strapped to your arm must have sent the rumor mill spinning.

''Will be nice to prove ourselves, reinforcement is such a central attribute to any fighters that sometimes, one forgets how many time they swung a sword as a kid.'' She shifted her sword onto her silvery shield-bearing one and extended her hand to you. ''I probably won't be good enough to follow you all tomorrow, I'm pretty eager to show off now.''

''I'll admit, I feel the need to impress.'' You commented while shaking her hand. Hers was a firm, warm grip.

''My addition won't cause a problem? You've got even numbers?''

''We'll just do a loser bracket or something.'' Kyorn commented as he patted the heads of the two girls, Agathe kept running her long bony fingers on one of his dark wings. ''No headache, I reckon small bruises and sweat is one way to honor Mother Earth.''

Audible clacks and bonks began to erupt in the arena as the girls tested the various weapons against one another, the people of the church (minus Ama, Deruella, Sieglinde, and Shereen) sat on the tables, a silent declaration for beginning the bouts. Daiyu holding onto Kyorn baby daughter was a mesmerizing sight, she was handling the kid with so much care that nothing else in the world existed around her.

''She'll make one of the best grandma in the world.''

''Pfuh!'' Kyorn comment made you choke.

''Heh.'' He gently tapped your back. ''Anyhow, we can draw some sticks. Ladies-a-waiting.''

>Be the opening round.
Either choose to fight one of your friends (Elina, Klesiah or Zhu) or roll 1d3.
>Let the two heroes duke it out first.
No real consequences for any choices here, no pressure.
>Be the opening round.
Fight Zhu first since she has the best chance of noticing if something happens to the arm.
Giving this vote 15 more minutes before I start writing.
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''Now you're making me wanna do wholesome things tonight.''

''Bashing each other with sticks is plenty wholesome.''

Zhu snickered and gently tapped your shoulder. She was trying to measure her reactions but there was no hiding the big happy grin on her face.

''Gonna need to get in the right mindset, no reinforcement, no golden sword... it's been a while.'' She turned to wave at the crowd, earning several casual cheers in return.

Elina and Klesiah had, of course, been a little despondent with your choice but the sheer curiosity of seeing you both in actions dispelled any lingering negativity.

Zhu had prepared the arena in the same way as her duel with Ensan herald, all the wooden swords littering the arena was rising no end of curiosity and you had to join that sentiment. How could so many discarded weapons be useful without reinforcement?

''Alright, ready?'' Zhu bent to pick up a random sword and swing it casually.

''Yup, best of three, one solid blow or a dominating position makes a win.''

Exchanging several bruises was fine for this fight but the moment someone reeled back would be what constituted a win. The angels will make any potentially cracked bones a short reality.

Zhu let out a long exhaled and took a high guard position, inching herself forward and stopping at around... two meters of distance.

She remained there completely motionless, her singular eye wide open, focused on you with such intensity cold sweat crawled up your spine.

This is... unusual. You've seen Zhu fight plenty of time. She keeps moving, swaying around like a spider, making it impossible to predict the direction she'd go next. This calm, motionless, sharpened point of intent made you keenly understand that your companion, even bereft of her reinforcement, was no slouch when it comes to being mundane.

Or she was just trying to get into your head. The fight had already begun, no doubt about that.

>Stand your ground and defend.
>Anticipate her movement and intercept her.
a) She will go right!
b) Left!
>Charge forward, start this duel on your term, you've gotta grab the momentum!
This will be a simple duel. One choice can give you strong modifiers, another will do the opposite and there's a neutral choice sneaked in here.
We're fighting Zhu right off the bat? Damn, guess someone wanted to start off with a boss fight.

I think our mindset matters so we should stand our ground imagining ourselves protecting the people we love and care for. I could even come up with a fictional scenario where we would be fighting Zhu but not wanting to kill or maim her.
>I could even come up with a fictional scenario where we would be fighting Zhu but not wanting to kill or maim her.
Do tell!
I'll ask for rolls in 15 minutes if no other votes are in.
It's pretty obvious and basic. Something either mind controlled Zhu or took over her body and is trying to kill our friends with her. Our friends think they have a way to save her but, obviously, they can't do that if they're dead. We gotta protect them from her until they can implement the solution.

We ought not lose ourselves in imagination though. Daydreaming during a fight is a bad idea.
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Interesting take.
Alright, let's get this bashing going.
Standing your ground doesn't provide anything special so I'll need 1d20+1 from you guys.
Taking only one roll!
Success or failure is for the round itself, I don't want this duel to bog us down.
Rolled 14 + 1 (1d20 + 1)

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Maaaaan. That +1 is unfair
A 15 is pretty good...
Rolled 6 + 1 (1d20 + 1)

It could still be better.
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I wish I could take that roll
So... the DC was 15 to beat Zhu I take it?
You'll see.
>No real consequences for any choices here, no pressure.
Something may just happened that wasn't supposed to just "yet".
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Soon, the only noises you hear come from the wind and echoes of activity floating out of the faraway mustering ground. All the observers are feeling the intensity, even the baby in the Demon Lord arms has quieted down...

''I'll always be happy to run after you.'' Zhu grinned and swung-no

She threw her sword and broke into a run, her bent body easily letting her grab a pair of swords on the ground! The sword flies with deadly intent, spinning right at you but your timing is good, you deflect it with a swipe of your shield instead of holding and feeling the impact. Zhu is already within reach, she was damnably quickly but not enough to leave your peripheral vision!

Two resounding clacks echoed when wood met wood. Your sword intercepted her left one coming for an upward slice into your ribs and your shield was high enough to stop a painful strike at your shoulder.

When you felt the lack of pressure on the swords, you understood Zhu intention. She had been diligently training her hands to hands skills... so you let go of your weapon, stepping even closer. You briefly held onto the inner part of her elbow to stop a punch whilst your shield arm made it far too awkward for her to use her second arm. Soon you enveloped her into a hug and tried to lift her... but she resisted while trying to do the same to you, resulting in awkward struggling with far too many grunts.

There are kids in the audience!

''Man, I wanna fuck so bad.'' Zhu whispered amidst breathless grunts and before you could retort, she yelled. ''Alright, he wins! He's too damn fat to move!''

''Fat!?'' Now you did not want to let go but the claps from the audience forced you to. ''I've got healthy muscles! You're too lanky to out muscle me so don't go getting jealous!''

''Ooooh yes, milord Arawn please discipline me.'' Secondhand embarrassment was making Klesiah hide her face in her hands. ''I'll slap you first though. No more fanciness, okay?''

''Break yourself against my wall.'' You replied, matching her crooked grin. Blood and adrenaline were getting into your heart, this kind of competition felt good.

Best of three... if you can best her now...
Zhu bent to grab another sword off the ground and began what, at first looked like a dance. A sashay of her hips changed into sideway steps which in turn carried her body in a momentum similar to the slithering of a snake that slowly transformed into the momentum of a tide. One second Zhu pent her hips, racking her single sword on the ground, another she stood on tiptoes, swiping the air with her weapon to make quick, sharp noises. Ever moving, always unpredictable, purely her style.

You've seen firsthand how deadly she is. Even without reinforcement... She looked like flowing water.

If she gets close, she'll fight with punches and kicks. If she maintains the exact distance of her sword, she'll likely try to outmaneuver you... You have a sword and shield, that's a significant advantage nonetheless.

''Tumtumtumtum tum tumtumtum tuuum...'' Zhu began to whisper an odd tune with her movements.

>Defense worked out nicely for you last time. Stand your ground, let her come to you.
>Bring the fight to her, interrupt her momentum. She might not expect that.
>Go for feints, be technical. Zhu graceful movements are hypnotics, she's trying to establish some sort of cadence... Stop her!
Two choices will cause you to roll at a disadvantage(worst of two), only one will be neutral.
So the choices are remain defensive, all out attack, or balanced offense? Any free option will likely boil down to one of those right?
Yeah, I'm always allowing free options but in this duel, it might be hard to find something creative.
>Go for feints, be technical. Zhu graceful movements are hypnotics, she's trying to establish some sort of cadence... Stop her!

I have a feeling she will "see" through anything we try, since she knows us far too well.
Alright, I'm not seeing any other votes so I'll call it here.
Roll 1d20 Once. No disadvantage here.
Rolled 13 (1d20)

Hm, not bad. We'll see how that goes.
Gonna be a close shave...

Was gonna vote for that option as I thought it was the last thing Zhu would see us doing. Looks like that was the good choice.
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Zhu doesn't deliver overwhelming offense nor is her defense impregnable in battle, what she does best is to pull people into her pace. When she slaughtered those goons in Marleon, she was dancing in a rain of blood, when she fought the magical herald it was a dance of breaking steel until her sword activated, and while you didn't see how she fought that Jabberwock, she must have pulled it into her pace.

Can't have that now! Without reinforcement, you've got a fair shot at breaking her momentum!

If Zhu was surprised at your sudden charge she didn't show it. Her expression remained composed while she reacted, slinking out of reach, completely disregarding your faint. She stepped into your left side, swinging in an obvious way that still demanded a block.

Clack The curated wood resounded.

You chanced a quick jab, Zhu had already moved on your left, pressing her sword against your shield.

''Fuh!'' One exhale, you pushed forward with your shield, attempting to knock her down.

Zhu was already stepping back, easily dispelling your invasive momentum, she still went to your left, forcing you to spin to keep your shield arm angled with her sword.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

Three strikes. Three blocks. Three spins.

All of her hits were obvious but they still demanded your shield. You could scarcely breathe, Zhu hair was flailing wildly, sweat drenched your body despite Zipangu freshness, spinning around was making you dizzy yet Zhu kept out of reach of your sword, chancing a strike was too dangerous you have to-

''Nope!'' You screamed
Clack The wooden swords rammed against one another.

Zhu had taken two backward steps and tried to bruise one of your ribs but you managed to intercept her weapon with yours and brought your shield to bear.

"Ah!'' She exhaled, nearly laughing when you connected with her braced shoulder. ''Claim me ya beast!'' She smiled through her ragged breathing.

Your duel was locked in this contest of strength now. Her two-handed grip made it impossible to trample through her defense and pushing with your shield wasn't enough to break her balance, yet. Maybe a quick strike or your knee-!?

Zhu suddenly angled her sword down, forcing yours to slide and she moved further down reaching with one hand-


She grabbed your leg and yanked it upward.

''Fuuu!'' Was the only scream you could muster. The sheer awkwardness of your struggle combined with the lingering dizzyness from the spins made it impossible to keep your balance. Maybe you struck her during the fall but that didn't matter.

The sensation of Zhu knee on your throat made it clear who won that bout. She was also clutching your sword wrist.

The applause from the audience sounded far away, blackspot in your vision made you realize just how badly you needed a breath. Zhu wasn't putting any serious weight on her leg, you weren't in any danger.
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''...pretty good.'' You said when you could finally speak.
''You've improved.'' She said amidst ragged breathing, her wonderful colorful eye looking down at you. ''I've gotten too used to reinforcement, those moves are taking a toll.''

''Maybe you can step off so...''
Zhu knelt to your level and kissed you. No, it wasn't a kiss, it was hungry, needy devouring of your mouth. Her tongue was an invader, her taste and smell became your world. Her heat, her beating heart, her desperate breathing, her sweat... You and her felt so goddamned alive!

''Guys, guys!'' A gust of wind and a flutter of wings revealed the Embodiment presence floating above the two of you. ''This last bout isn't supposed to bring the stork!''

''Maybe it'll visit sooner than ya'd think.'' Zhu helped you on your feet while patting her stomach.

Damn it, don't get horny now Arawn. Klesiah was hiding her face again and the two kids seemed quite interested by your effort. At least you're not making an ass out of yourself.

''You guys okay? No healing?'' Hadraniel flew off after you and Zhu delivered thumbs-ups.

''I don't really care about being the finalist or whatever.'' Zhu commented while picking up two swords. ''I just really wanna beat ya.''

''I've got plenty of people to impress.'' A bubble of excitement popped inside your chest, spreading a strange feeling of sadistic enjoyment. You've never felt something like that before. Fighting Zhu was fun, probably because without reinforcement, you did have a fair shot against her.

''Not going magical is surprisingly hard.'' Zhu clapped her sword together, making for another resounding noise. ''I wanted to beat up some hero but I think I'll give ya everything I've got instead my dude.''

Letting out one long ''phoooo'' Zhu entered her sword dance again, this time with both swords. She clapped them together constantly whilst her singular, cyclopean rainbow eye looked at you without blinks. Only the occasional sunray catching its glistening surface made it shine.

Now... You know well that Zhu isn't a dual wielder. She -is- ambidextrous, however, so one of those swords will go flying... Or perhaps she'll go for something unexpected.

Everything she's got, huh?

>Return the sentiment. Don't mind your stamina or any other potential duelist. You're in this fight to WIN.
>Keep a cool head, remain careful. She beat you with agility and trickery, you've got to shut down those advantages.
I won't make the other duels as elaborate otherwise half of the thread will be about them! I'm giving Zhu the focus she deserves.
No rolls for this decision. Continuing tomorrow.
Damn, needed a 15 again I guess. Well she is a Khornate berserker with years of combat experience after all and we're essentially a support class. The odds aren't exactly in our favor.

What's the difference between the two choices? Will they affect us going forward? Doesn't holy heal fatigue somewhat?
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>What's the difference between the two choices? Will they affect us going forward?
Mostly the feeling Arawn put into the duel and his desire to win. Zhu is taking it seriously, what about you?
>Doesn't holy heal fatigue somewhat?
Not effectively without reinforcement.
>Return the sentiment. Don't mind your stamina or any other potential duelist. You're in this fight to WIN.
She wants a fight, right?
I remember watching an anime where a dude fought a girl in an exhibition match. Turned out the girl was super strong and beat him in the first round. He felt bad about holding back because she was a girl and thus assumed her to be weaker than him. Thus he decided to rectify that and go all out.

I forgot how round 2 went but the lesson is there. Go all out, don't hold back. It's what she'd want I think. Though can't we still use our head like we always do?
>Go all out, don't hold back. It's what she'd want I think. Though can't we still use our head like we always do?
Yes, but the choice is about... say, the intensity of Arawn feelings. Sorta being pulled into her pace a bit. Bonding.
My choice is to essentially return her sentiment, but not get lost in our emotions or lusts. Y'know, still do what we've always done in a fight up until now.
Then you'd vote for the second option. First one is to get ''lost'' in the fight but it doesn't mean you'll automatically lose or be put at a disadvantage.
I basically just want to do what Zhu wants right now but I don't wanna break character. If Zhu really wants us to fight like she does... I suppose we can do that.

Just... nothing lewd in front of the children. If we spoil their innocence Old Siggy will run an ice spike through our guts!
Of course. Arawn can be pulled into Zhu general vibe because there's nobody to protect right now. They both have enough good senses to stay proper! Our guy does at least.

You'd vote for option 1 then.
Yep, which makes 2 votes for that one.
Oh, also, just thought of this, but this whole episode is essentially a small Fighting Game tournament. Hell, you even mentioned a "losers bracket" and it's best of 3 for each round to boot!

For those who don't know about that. If you "lose" a match in those you aren't technically doomed to be a loser. All the losers fight in their own separate tournament. The ultimate "winner" of this secondary/shadow tournament gets to fight the "champion" of the winner's bracket. The "best loser" can still win the whole damn tournament, but he has to first beat the winner's champion in a set to "reset the bracket" (i.e. make the champ a loser and thus now in the "loser" tournament), and then beat em' again to win the whole friggin' contest themselves.

Basically, I'm saying we need some fighting game music up in here. Given how Zhu fights and all I'm leaning towards something from Daisuke Ishiwatari's library of compositions. Among other things she's pretty fuckin' metal.
It's some casual duels more than anything, don't go thinking this a truly elaborate tournament. This one with Zhu will have more focus because we know how she is. If/when we get to fight again with Arawn, we'll see if you guys want another duel of similar intensity
''Alright...'' You trace circles with your sword, move your wrist to make sure nothing hurt. Your hand is still throbbing from all those painful contacts but it wasn't disagreeable, rather the pain somehow felt good.

You're not fighting to protect someone. You aren't fighting to get better, you aren't fighting to learn something. You're fighting, nay competing with Zhu for the simple joy of it on grounds as equal as both of you could make.

When you could stand on your own two feet in Throne Town, the tragedy happened. When you awoke in Muribel, you honed the talents you built in Throne Town, and now, after so many fights, dodging countless tragedies by a hair... Something deep and primal inside you was jubilant at unleashing your honed violence.

''Nice color.''
Clack Her sword knocked together violently.

''Let's see how good you are without that reinforcement crutch!'' You pointed at her with your sword and brought your shield to bear. ''Cmon Zhu, try and break me. You gotta collect your interest on my promise right? How many years now?'' The audience, your links, tomorrow's worries were all meaningless. All that mattered was now.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

The arena resounded with the noise of clashing wood. Zhu had covered her advance by throwing one of her swords to force you on an immediate defensive but didn't try her previous trick, she moved to your exposed side. Your and her sword met three different times, three deflections. Then for an agonizingly long time, you were locked in a struggling dance where wooden weapons sang their song of strife.

One breath.
You stepped sideways to dodge a lunge and brought your shield forward to smash her face.

Second breath
Zhu countered with the very same movement, smashing her sword against your shield and promptly slide along the left edge, dropping to one knee.

Third breath
You hadn't realized you were fighting near one of the many swords littering the ground. Zhu had grabbed one to block your overhead attack so you followed her momentum, keeping your shield arm on her second sword to keep any sneak attack, from this position you'll have enough strength to overcome-

Fourth breath
''Fuh!?'' You grunted in pain when Zhu head smacked against your face, your body naturally reeled from the impact and you stepped back.

Fifth breath.
You caught a blur of light brown, her sword slapped against your side painfully.
''Ow!?'' Zhu yelled in unexpected distress when your lunging sword smashed against her shoulder.

Both of you separated for a few feet, the only noises being ragged breathing. Each movement of your chest caused a dull throbbing to spread around the damaged area of your body. It was painful, immensely distracting but not crippling, your bones were still okay.

Probably. It didn't matter anyway. From the gallery, clapping noises reach you like the whispers of another world.
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''Pretty good princeling.'' Zhu let out one long exhale, rolling her wounded shoulder. ''Good grip. You're right, ya know? I've been relying on this reinforcement a little too much.'' Her singular eye was shining, it was faint due to the clear sky and strong sun but the magical light was happening, all of her movements left the tiniest of after images. ''It's part of me right down to the marrow of my bones, so I'll end this fun dance soon.''

''Come and break me.'' You clapped your sword against your shield. Your hands, hell your arms, were hurting from all blocked strikes. The throbbing pain was just another addition.

''Oooh yeah, doing it nice and square.'' Zhu began rolling her hip, her chromatic eye was leaving behind faint colorful powder, creating hypnotic afterimages. ''My mind, my struggle, fuck off cunts.'' She grunted, then grinned.

This next exchange will decide the winner.

>Your stamina is good. Zhu is looking winded, more than you. Keep yourself on the defensive, outlast her, wear her down and win by finding opportune times for well-aimed strikes.

>By using your shield and defensive style you might be able to dictate the pace of the fight. If you can move Zhu toward one of the walls, you should be able to negate her greatest advantage...

>Meet your dear comrade in an open fight again in the middle of the arena. Reckless? Sure but it'll be fun and there's no better way to show how much you've improved.

No roll again. The choice will dictate the winner. I don't want to rely on rolls for this.
Can we just fuse the top two options? I mean, without reinforcement it seems we have a good strength advantage. We should be able to "bully" her into a corner.
That works, yeah. It's a slightly different strategy.
Yeah, we do that then. Hope we beat her.
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She's the one rushing forward. Her magical eye leaves behind eerie colorful traces with her movements but there are no signs of reinforcement, her speed isn't enough to surprise you. A short jab toward your face force you to block, your retaliation is stopped by a two-handed stubborn defection that radiates painfully into your arm. Zhu rushes even closer with her sword, resting it on the outer edge of your round shield and slice upward while traveling its outer edge.

One breath too slow and your face, maybe your nose, would have been hit...!

Zhu brace against your retaliation, enduring the shield slamming against her with a grunt and when she rushes closer still you reel back, expecting another headbutt. Your sword swings down!

She stops it by grabbing your wrist, her second hand is holding your shield to get better leverage against your pushing. Damn it! Of course, she'd discard her swords!

''Hrrrm!'' You grunt, putting all of your weight and strength into your limbs.
''Aaahaha!'' Zhu laughs, out of breath and struggle. She's a bit shorter than you and doesn't have your muscles, you'll win this shoving match but that doesn't mean it'll be easy.

You inch forwards and she steps backs, she keeps a firm grip on your sword arm while resisting your attempt to trample her with your shield. It's a long, agonizing tug-of-war...

''Agh!?'' A sharp pain near your groin break your concentration.
''Fuck!?'' Zhu yells when your shield manages to slam into her painfully. She tried to grab your arm and throw you over her shoulder!

Thankfully this mutual exchange forced some distance, by now the fight was inching ever closer toward the western end of the arena. It was a simple pair of picnic tables pushed in the path leading into the back cemetery. Still, it was a wall nonetheless.

''Sneaky.'' You grunted, trying your best to keep your legs straight. At least she hadn't struck where it'd hurt but man...

''Haaa... Pfeh.'' Zhu straightened her stance, grabbing the only sword that remained in this area. She wouldn't be able to pull her switcheroo if you can keep her here. ''I won't mind if you pin me nice and hard.''

Thankfully the observing crowd was too far to hear anything. You chance a strike instead of responding and she easily deflects you, prompting the new phase of this duel.

Your world becomes a blur, your sword and shield endure endless strikes, the noise of the curated wood becomes almost hypnotic, a song that melded with the faraway echoes of mustering Mamonos.

Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack.

Zhu tries to move past you, you don't let her. Slashes are deflected, feints resisted, your swords meet in endless deflections and dangerous slides, your shield slowly but surely start to corner her where you want but it hasn't been flawless.
Zhu is understanding the length of your sword, getting used to the strength of your shield and sword arm, her tricks are getting harder to handle. She managed to slap her sword against the side of your head once by sliding her weapon against the length of your shield whilst dancing against your retaliatory attack. Another successful strike had been when she jumped and put her entire weight behind a sword lunge on your shield, only to drop on her knee when touching the ground (enduring a shallow purchase of your weapon) and slap that wooden sword against your leg.

Slowly but surely she was becoming the wild animal you remembered. dodging by a hair length, moving unpredictably, instinctively understanding the angles of your shield. Her eye was tracing countless lines in the world... You might have more stamina but dragging this out wasn't going to give you the advantage you thought.

Your successes were numerous but much less intense. Your shield bruised her countlessly, never finding a solid impact but the constant tackles were taking a toll and you successfully managed to keep her where you wanted despite her endless struggle. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes of hard sweaty work, countless strikes, countless sidesteps, pushing... your sword was wearing out, or maybe it was your arm.


Such a pause in the fight wouldn't have occurred with reinforcement. Sweat covered your face, your and Zhu stances were wobbly, your arms somehow felt cold and hot, keeping a firm grip on your weapon would have you grit your teeth in pain if you didn't need to breathe so much.

''Human limits huh?'' Zhu spat, barely able to form words. Exhausted, sweaty yet happy, the urge to tend to her briefly confused you. ''Fuck that. Cmon big guy, dominate me.''

Zhu took a sideway upper guard, sword aimed at your right, your sword arm. A simple stance but with the exhaustion... you've no idea what she'S going to try but she has nowhere to run. The tables are behind her, the limit of the arena.

One step forward, she steps back.

Bringing your shield to bear, she doesn't react.

One feint, she doesn't move. Her singular eye is looking at you, peering into your soul with so much intensity, her breathing itself sounds hypnotic.

When you lunge forward to smash her with your shield, Zhu jumps on the table and angles her sword downward, blocking your weapon.

The noise doesn't finish resonating when she pours all of her strength into moving her sword a crescent shape, you barely manage to avoid getting disarmed by bringing your sword back.

''Seeeiyaaaaaah!'' Zhu only scream follows another loud strike. she puts her entire weight and strength into this simple attack on your shield. It is pure distilled, sharpened violence into a fine point, a sword strike that numbs your arm with pain, dents your shield, and breaks her sword. You hear it snap.
You feel her tackle you. Your big shield briefly obscured her when you're brought it for defense...

You're a big man, tall and naturally wide but even you can't handle the entire weight of Zhu crashing on you at an odd angle without mentioning your fatigue. You fall, nay crash on the ground, and this time, can't stop your head from smashing against the stony ground.


You didn't have time to feel pain. The blow had robbed you of all your senses but the familiar sensation of Holy magic -sweet, gentle freshness that enters your body, wrapping you in fluttery comfort- brings you back into Mother Earth reality without aching bones or muscles.

A shame. That pain felt like a trophy.

''You bloody morons! Is this what you call a casual fight!?'' When you managed to move off the ground, Elina nearly pushed you back.

''Now now, they're fine.'' Hadraniel was taking care of Zhu who sat on the ground looking downright miserable. ''Warriors do get carried away, though it was a bit excessive I'll admit.''

''But a bloody good show!'' Kyorn interjected spiritedly bringing his fist forward. ''You two fought for thirty minutes, if this is what you call a casual fight I'm seriously afraid how your marriage spats are gonna go, dude. Still, I'm pumped up now, you two set one hell of a high bar.''

Despite her anger, Elina helped you on your feet. Rather she insisted on pulling you up. ''So who won?'' Asked the angel. ''Going on the table is technically off-limit right?''

''Doesn't matter, I can't participate again.'' Zhu huffed and puffed while speaking, Klesiah arrival had shaken off whatever torpor she's been stuck into. ''Eye here is a bit messed up, can't keep myself natural in a fight for as long as I'd like. Hell, I think this was my first serious fight without reinforcement since I was a wee lass.''

''All good, you guys put one hell of a show. Got my blood pumping.'' Kyorn slammed a fist in his hand. ''Bumps and bruises are no worry with the best healers around.''

''I know, I know I overreacted, sorry.''

''You just wanted Arawn to win.''

''Shut up! I'm always impartial!'' Elina snapped at her sister. ''Kids back in the gallery had fun, that's what matters most anyhow.''

''Got another fight in you, Arawn?'' Klesiah asked as she walked to you with a firm grip on Zhu arm. For some reason, she forced you and the one-eyed swordswoman to hold hands.

Zhu was warm, sweaty yet also a bit soft. Her chromatic eye kept glowing ominously as she stood motionless, slowly but surely recovering her stamina.

''That was nice, huh?'' She says to you awkwardly
>Zhu is the only one you wanted to fight, this tournament can keep going without you as well. You want to see how Elina and Klesiah will fare...

>Of course you want more, there are many strong fighters here, you might have lost this bout but... no matter!


The other fights won't be as elaborate, a few paragraphs at best I'd say. Zhu is the one I really wanted to focus on. Everything else will be resolved with dices proper. Refusing to fight and having a discussion with members of the gallery is a perfectly adequate distraction, too.

Usual hour to stop for today.
>Of course you want more, there are many strong fighters here, you might have lost this bout but... no matter!

We still need to give the others a chance to lose horribly.
We lost? Damn, what was the right answer that would have made it a win? So Zhu's eye has a limit of around 30 minutes unless she's feeding it with soul reinforcement or are things such that she's not sure if she can actively prevent herself from using reinforcement anymore?

I say we please the Chaos Lords, Khorne, and whatever other deities of war, honor, struggle, etc. that exist with continued violence. Y'know, see how far we get. Even if we only get to continue because of a technicality. Damnit, I really wanted to beat Zhu in a fight just once without a fusion activation or magitek BS...
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>Damn, what was the right answer that would have made it a win?
Hmm... Arawn was ultimately outclassed in raw skill unfortunately, I can't really imagine a way for you to win which is why I refused to roll. It was close though, to a surprising point.
Had to keep a cool head
Losing is better than winning sometimes though, Zhu had fun!
>So Zhu's eye has a limit of around 30 minutes unless she's feeding it with soul reinforcement or are things such that she's not sure if she can actively prevent herself from using reinforcement anymore?
Second one. Zhu's reinforcement is almost subconsciously activated, she has to keep it down constantly, it's a reverse from the usual method. Fights and sex tend to override this.
She can't fight anymore cause it'll be unfair.
I see. Well, at least we made a good showing at least. I think we did keep a cool head though.

Also, in case it wasn't obvious I agree with the other anon. More fighting! We must employ more brutal kunnin'!
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I honestly wasn't expecting Zhu to be the first fight. Let alone having her against Arawn!
>I think we did keep a cool head though.
Arawn let his instincts took over in the fight much, much more than usual which ultimately led to Zhu victory because she has more experience and raw, natural skills.
This choice here >>4874171 is what dictated your victory and loss more than anything else.
Sorry if that feels unfair. Zhu has been so consistently cursed by dices that I refuse to roll for her more than I need to.
Oh well, we made her happy, happier than if we had actually won I think. This was the kind of fight she wanted and we gave it to her. She probably would have felt a bit cheated if we just kept to our usual behaviors.

I remember she keeps rolling a 1 at critical moments and thus nearly died on us twice. Or was it thrice? I just remember she keeps getting 1s at the worst possible times.
Little heads up, I'll probably only be able to update once today because I'll only be able to start writing around 4 pm.
Hm, I'm much more tired than I thought. I'll resume our session tomorrow. Little irl business interrupted me, apologies.
''Guess I'm in the loser bracket or whatever.'' Talking was still difficult because you were out of breath, you extended your hand toward Zhu. ''We'll have more occasions, thirty minutes is more than enough time for me to beat you.''

''Heh.'' Zhu didn't grab your hand, she gave it a friendly clap instead. ''I got cocky. I forgot how hard it is to fight without reinforcement, it won't happen again.''

''Seriously, that felt like a wake-up call to me too.'' Kyorn commented. ''Gonna bruise me a cute angel now!''

''Pfft.'' Hadraniel gently tapped the ground with her wooden polearm. Here they called it a ''naginata'' but it was a plain glaive to you, Klesiah held another one. ''Don't start getting overconfident, I still remember how you started fighting, all those years ago. Walls were your best friend.''

''Who is it that got stuck in a spider web when we planned a three-pronged assault?'' Kyorn scoffed, wings flapping, and pointed his sword at her.

You and your girls left as the two heroes continued their playful bickering. Their duel wasn't going to start right away: fighting without magic and reinforcement was fairly difficult for winged folks, they had to get into the right mindset and make sure sudden pain doesn't cause reactions in their wings, which are physical extensions of souls. Meaning their wooden weapons had to phase right through them, so Kyorn and Hadraniel began bonking one another playfully, weapons swinging through their beautiful appendages.

''Cool!'' Hao nearly lept off the table to wrap your and Zhu necks in an awkward embrace. ''Hao can't fight naturally! That was cool!''

''W-whoa hey, I mean... It wasn't anything special.''

''We'll need to remedy that.'' You ignored Zhu discomfort and patted the lizardgirl back. ''A warrior needs strong foundations.''

Hao reluctantly let go and decided to grab Zhu second hand, insisting on pulling her (and thus Klesiah) toward a corner of the gallery asking how Zhu learned her swordsmanship, inevitably pulling your knight in the conversation. Zhu could barely find the time to say anything between her need for air and Hao infectious energy.

''...Things are gonna work out.'' Elina murmured, her feeling radiated a sense of uncommon satisfaction as she watched the trio.

''What do you mean?'
''Huh...?'' Realizing your presence the angel felt a suspicious tingle of embarrassment. ''Nothing, let's go watch.''

The gallery (consisting of three picnic tables) had enough space for the two of you. Athena and Daiyu were sided by sides with Agathe sitting on the Demon Lord legs, both lizards looked fond of the green-haired succubus. Athena and Daiyu talked with the leisure of long-time friends. Kyorn Alraune's wife and Tomiko were occupying the far side, the crow lady was the one holding the infant girl.

Here in Zipangu, Daiyu has the friends she doesn't have in Throne Town.
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Understanding your silent intention, Elina sat beside Kin (whose tail began wagging) to put as much distance between yourself and Agathe, you're not going to start taking chances now.

''I'd like to have you fight one of my summons.'' Kin commented when you could finally rest your legs. You've been ignoring it as best you can but damn... your entire body was throbbing. The dose of Holy had helped but it wasn't enough for your stamina to recuperate, you'll need time for that.

''You can do that?'' The youngest summoners allowed to bring their creations in mock battles back in Throne Town were at least fifteen years old, Kin still needed a few years.

''Almost. I have a hard time handling spirits...'' The little fox frowned when her mom scaly hand went on top of her hand. ''Now I'm wondering why shields aren't standard equipment for Mamonos armies the world over.''

''It would be the case if reinforcement wasn't a requirement to be a soldier.'' Athena answered. ''Unfortunately, you need a -very- good shield in battle, and even then, it'll break against a strong opponent. Best option is for something magical... You remember your classes about the crusade right? Onis completely broke through the human shield line despite them bracing for the charge.''

The intact shield you looted in Myrtidal hadn't lasted your fight against those paladins, the lizardwoman speak truths. It's why you've lugged around the piece given to you by Shereen, a shield from Muribel royal armory... That thing endured crossbow bolts, charges, spears, halberds, swords.

''Think you can beat him mom?'' Agathe bluntly asked.

''Don't mince word do you?'' The frill on her neck flapped briefly as her animal eyes looked over you with a dangerous glint. ''I think if we fight, it'll be down to pure stamina more than skill. We'll have a good old shoving match and probably aim for each other's legs. Toss a coin Agathe and that'll be your answer.''

The smirk on the little lizard face was ominous but that was probably due to her naturally sinister appearance, still, her eyes did shine with unusual bloodlust.

''Ready buddy?'' Kyorn voice rose from the arena.

''Anytime, big guy!'' Hadraniel swung an X-shaped combination in the space between them.

The excited conversation between the three girls (rather, Klesiah and Hao kept pressuring Zhu.) that weren't in the gallery came to a standstill.

This should be interesting.

>Wrap an arm around Elina shoulders and watch. Her reaction will be fun.
>Remain a good boy, don't tease the angel.
Been wracking my brain to make interesting interactions but, since you'll be watching a duel, I couldn't think of anything impactful.
In around 10-15 minutes I'll decide the duel between the heroes with a 6d20 I'll announce the modifiers in the roll itself.
Rolled 9, 18, 4, 2, 9, 20 = 62 (6d20)

The first three rolls are Hadraniel and she adds +2 to every single one.
Kyorn adds +3 to his second one and +5 to his last one.
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>Last second crit
As expected of the warhound of the Heroes. This is a practice duel though, so he lost.
Hm, I don't think I need to force interactions where it's not needed. I'll concentrate on writing up the duel and see where we go from there. See you guys soon.
Be good boy, but project how we dearly wish to enjoy the touch of her wings.
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''What are you...'' Elina wings had this adorable half-flap of embarrassment when you spread your arm around her shoulders.

''Come here.'' You didn't need to elaborate. The intensity of her halo diminished, a faint blush and a blossoming warmth of happy embarrassment flowed out of her when she rested her head on your shoulder.

''Think your sister will win?''

''I don't want to be biased...'' Elina didn't seem to be paying much attention to what was happening in the arena.

A duel between two of the best combatants in the world -without reinforcement- resulted in a fascinating, raw fight.

Hadraniel with her polearm and Kyorn with two swords resulted in a fast-moving, fascinating battle. The angel instinctively knew the length of her weapon and its weakness: the naginata had a well-defined blade, grabbing the shaft was a crippling possibility. Kyorn had agility and countless experience: Hadraniel wide, dangerous swings kept him at bay but only by a hair length, locking them into a dangerous draw.

Like your own fight against Zhu, the noise of slapping woods entranced all the onlookers into watching a rare display of skills.

You couldn't tell how long the duel remained deadlocked. Ten, twenty minutes? Both combatants tried and failed countless time to strike their foe, Kyorn sword constantly deflected Hadraniel polearm yet each time he closed distance she'd step back or dance sideways, landing cheeky bonks with her staff toward his exposed side, slowly but surely creating an advantage... yet Kyorn fortune could change at any moment.

Techniques like sliding one of his swords to slice Hadraniel hands would have worked on accomplished warriors since he only tried doing it during feints or after she deflected his attacks yet his angelic foe knew how to counter that and would always overpower his attempts or destabilize him by letting go and quickly grabbing her polearm again to whack him with the staff and that's how the duel went.

Despite Kyorn incredibly tight footwork and ironclad deflection, that angel always managed to sneak in various bashes with her staff when he kept her a deadlock or got a little too close, Hadraniel abandoned all idea of abusing her range, her glaive swung in sharp, calculated movements and she opted for more thrusts than actual slashes to destabilize her opponent, creating a beautiful dance punctuated by the sharp noise of slapping woods.

Yet the two of them never paused to breathe, despite enduring countless hits, Kyorn offensive wasn't wearing down. His footwork got sharper despite diminishing stamina, his deflection would throw Hadraniel off-balance, forcing her to make more movements and keep longer distance... unlike Zhu, she was excellent at slipping away from any corners.

Slowly but surely, as the warriors grew exhausted and their endless strikes resounded throughout the church courtyard, the sun continued its slow journey.
The climax happened suddenly. Kyorn threw one of his weapons at Hadraniel, catching her by complete surprise. The angel deflected it with a precise shove of her staff.

''Haaaaaah!'' Kyorn put his entire weight and strength into a follow-up. He, too, was a big man, well-trained and used to all kind of rigors.

The sharp snap of his breaking sword produced another echo yet he didn't stop. Kyorn grabbed Hadraniel polearm and shoved his broken sword into her guts yet instead of screaming in pain, Hadraniel retaliated with a headbutt.

It was impossible to tell if the impact stunned them, both were now locked in a shoving contest with their entire body. You began to notice an oddity. The combatant's wings had this wavery, almost smoky consistency throughout their bouts, it changed into their usual sharp, soft looks as they kept trying to overpower the other.

''Okay, okay enough! This fight has gone on long enough!'' Daiyu suddenly jumped into the arena. ''Another full thirty minutes!''

Her voice and presence made them separate. Hair wet from sweat clung into their faces, their clothing wasn't any better, they were far too exhausted to do anything but listen to Daiyu.

''Hadraniel landed more hits throughout the battle but that finale right there... you always pull it off at the end huh, Kyorn? I can't decide a winner so...'' The succubus pulled out a gold coin. ''This oughta be a good way to settle it.''

''Nah.'' Kyorn interrupted, putting his hand on Daiyu's. ''Haddy won, she landed more hits and didn't crumble when I did manage somethin'. Purely human, yeah?''

A round of applause followed. This has been one hell of a show.

''I'll go help out my sister bruises.'' Elina reluctantly detached herself from your embrace. Hadraniel kept waving in her direction, saying stuff like ''dedicating this win to my sis!''

''Who are you gonna fight?'' Elina answered your question by pointing her chin at Klesiah.

Sometime during the duel, Sieglinde and Shereen had arrived and had been keeping the trio company. A deep sense of satisfaction was radiating out of the demonic redhead... Hm, how peculiar.

''These fights are taking longer than I thought.'' Athena commented. ''After this next one, I suspect we'll only have time for one last bout.''

''Probably yeah.'' Kyorn puffed, patting the head of his flowery wife. ''How about making phase 2 after tomorrow? Oughta make for a fine celebration! Either way, I insist on seeing you fight Athena, you're way better than you think.''

''We'll see...''

Your battle with Zhu thoroughly ignited everyone's competitive spirit.

>Will you fight Athena, the lizard woman shieldbearer, in the last bout of this friendly tournament?

I will proceed to write Elina and Klesiah duel tonight and post things tomorrow. Choosing to fight yourself will have things develop similarly to our fight against Zhu

Alternatively, we can skip things toward late afternoon, which is when the fights will end.
Rolled 5, 7, 19, 19, 5, 18 = 73 (6d20)

First three rolls are Elina, last are Klesiah. They are both incredibly tightly matched... the only modifier is Klesiah last dice getting a +2
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Interesting result, blueberry will be taking this one by the skin of her teeth.
A hero of the Great Crusade requests that we duke it out with Athena? Who are we to refuse such a request? Besides, we might learn a thing or two about or fighting style as it's basically a mirror match. Might level up a bit.

Also, deep sense of satisfaction out of Sieg and Elina not freaking out when we hugged her (and felt her wings I presume)? The disease is spreading, our own unique sickness that can only be treated (yet never cured) by the indulging in monstergirl exotic bits! Sieg touched fluffy tail, scritched fluffy ears, and held fluffy paw pads. Deep satisfaction is the only logical result. She need feel no shame, just the further need to let us thoroughly investigate the lethal leathery appendage sprouting from her sumptuous rear!
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You've got the soul of a poet.
>Elina not freaking out when we hugged her?
Hoho, I didn't realize you caught that. Wings feeling, unfortunately, didn't happen.
>Didn't touch fluffy wings
How? If we hugged her we at least brushed against them or got enveloped/hugged by them when she put her head on our shoulder right?
Of course but it wasn't to, say, your usual intensity. Arawn know how fidgety Elina tends to be and the fight was mighty good viewing too
Just so long as we got a little taste of their divine fluffiness. We don't need to do a deep dive all the time to get satisfaction.

Deep satisfaction, however, does require that. Hence why I'm certain Sieg has contracted our disease/addiction/obsession and indulged with Shereen. That or has figured out a way to use her to restore Gardy's ego core, but I'm leaning towards the former and/or both.
Whatever happened between Shereen and Sieglinde is something you'll need to ask of them.
I'm sure we will. Later. After fighting Athena and meeting the Goddess. Hopefully after she purges the parasite or parasites in the worst case scenario and we get to ask her a question or two.

I am interested in how different she may be from Mina. Hopefully she doesn't hate Gardy (and thus puts in something that prevents us from restoring his ego) or permanently offed that last remnant of Devona.

I am curious as to how it was a hard choice between killing Armin permanently or acquiring Devona's remnant/soul. I mean, if you kill him the soul's still there waiting to be picked up. Unless there was a danger of it fully awakening, regaining its full power, then running off to hide and then plot the overthrow of ME and FS in the time it takes to make sure the Avatar of Old Narly goes down and stays down. Then I get it.
Completely forgot to at least place Deruella maidens in the gallery. They're here too!
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I still want that lamia hug. Can we get a lamia hug if we beat Athena? Can we get one no matter what as a show of gratitude for being that gosh darn entertaining? We deserve a lamia hug after all we've been through!

All our girls invited of course. It can be a big group hug that everyone gets to enjoy!
Elina slowly untangled herself and walked away from you, her red wings which had been cocooning you and Kin, phased right through your bodies. She and Klesiah exchanged a fist bump as they walked into the middle of the arena, holding onto their polearms of choice with Klesiah being the only one having a secondary blade. She somehow found a wooden sword that fitted into her scabbard. And, giving you a brief backward glance, Klesiah readjusted the golden headband on her head to remove all wild strays from her face.

''Mmh.'' Shereen suddenly plopped down next to you. ''I-ah!?'' Her high-pitched scream attracted a few eyes. Kin had suddenly lunged at her to grab her dark furry ears, her big bushy blond tail squashed against your little sun darker, lean one.

To run your hand in the middle of that bed of fluff...

''Kin, mind yourself. She is the princess of Muribel.'' Athena stern voice was ominously grave, comes with being the marshal.

''Oookaay. You're even softer than auntie Mebu yaknow?'' The little fox returned to her mother.

''I-I huh... You can, I mean it wasn't...Ahem.'' Poor Shereen, she has a hard time handling surprises. ''Eh?'' She squeaked when you grabbed her and plopped her down right infront of you, she had juuuust the right height for you to rest your chin on her head and feel those fluffy ears on your cheeks... it's best if you don't see her expression, else you might hug her like a plush. Handling a shortie like her can be irresistible.

Sieglinde, Hao and Zhu were sitting on a Holy shield made by Hadraniel. The other space of the gallery was occupied by Deruella maidens and, surprisingly, Kyorn Alraune wife. The slimegirl was the one holding the infant, her tiny green hands played with a brilliant tendril that Francine wagged playfully.


Your ladies duel suddenly began, their polearm crisscrossed, locked in a brief struggle.

If your first bout could be described as violent while Kyorn and Hadraniel was a pure raw competition, Elina and Klesiah fight quickly took on the impression of a dance.

Two accomplished warriors wielding the same long-reached weapon made for a mesmerizing spectacle despite the violence behind each swing. Sideway slices into short stab only to slide along the shaft and cut toward the shin, a backstep dodge than a wide diagonal slash to force her foe back, deflection with the staff then a flick toward her enemy foot, backstep for distance followed a deflection and a feint that was dodge leading into another quick jab that Klesiah ducked under...

It never ended, the ladies barely moved away from their initial position, locked in a beautifully futile back and forth. Speed, skill, instincts strength... every single aspect of a combattant was such a finely honed equality that only diminishing endurance would tip the balance. their dance extended for ten, fifteen, twenty... minutes upon minutes, seconds upon seconds where each moment could be the deciding factor.
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Many close calls happened. Klesiah went for an overhead swing and was deflected only to try and tackle her opponent but Elina shoulder checked her back. Elina nearly crippled Klesiah hand by sliding her blade along the shaft of her weapon, forcing your knight into a one-handed grip that couldn't hold against her foe strength but your blueberry managed to grab Elina weapon, prompting the angel to do the very same: both women locked themselves in a pulling struggle only to stop and let go together to resume their fighting. Another time the angel nearly smacked Klesiah leg but your knight jumped right over the swing and nearly stabbed Elina shoulder that she barely managed to dodge by stepping back wildly, almost breaking her balance...

Not a single solid blow had landed.

''They could be at this for hours...'' Shereen murmured. With reinforcement, this would indeed be a lengthy duel.

The first pause of the duel happened, both staying at a meter of distance to take in some much-needed breaths, punctuating an obvious difference: Klesiah was louder than Elina. Angels remained different than human, could that be the deciding factor...?

The next phase of the duel happened with surprising aplomb. Klesiah changed strategy, opting for wide movements and fiercer swings, something that seemed completely pointless if not downright self-destructive due to their difference in endurance. She ran countless circles around Elina, forcing the angel on the defensive and go into a counterclockwise rotation to counter. The naginatas smacked together with endless, beautiful ferocity. The distances and movement allowed them to pour serious strength in their blows, making for large moon-like crescent vertical swings, combinations of stabs, legs slices into upward slashes.

It was impossible to tell what Klesiah had in mind, she kept dancing, running circle, screaming, barely able to breathe as her polearm swung and swung...

Throughout all of it, the girls joys were infectious, nearly making you want to scream and cheer. An honest, pure competition of skill and might against such an equal was bringing them so much unexpected satisfaction that, more than once, both had let go of an advantage you didn't see to continue this bout.

Their duel suddenly ended, robbing every watcher of their breath.


The woods resonated from Klesiah hard crescent vertical swung that was barely blocked by the angel, the sheer force and ferocity of the blow lowered the angel arms and Klesiah suddenly let go of her weapon.

Elina barely had the time to grunt in realization when the blue-haired swordswoman stepping, then ran past her. Klesiah sword went to rest behind the angel neck, both combatants froze.


A sincere round of applause followed. Shereen even bounced away from you to clumsily clap her furred hands together. Paw pads...
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Elina suddenly grabbed onto Klesiah who nearly faceplanted. Your blueberry was beyond exhausted, her long hair clung to her body drenched in sweat, her arms kept trembling, she couldn't hold onto her sword so it clattered on the ground.

Your legs were moving before you realized it.

''Girls, that was breathtaking.'' You pulled them into a hug, ignoring the little pang of regret in your guts when your arm phased through Elina red wing.

They felt vulnerable in your arms. So soon after such a furious battle, their sweat, their body, their feelings tingled that protective side of yours.

''A loss is a loss.'' Elina commented between breaths.

''Ah... I wanna cuddle.'' Klesiah laughed. ''My win, gonna have fun soon.''

''Huh?'' You reluctantly let go, those few seconds of support had been enough to reenergize their legs. ''There was wager?''

''You'll see after tomorrow.'' Elina exchanged a knowing glance with your blue knight. ''You've got a fight now, yeah? Feeling good?''

''I've recovered.'' Holy magic being so readily available and one hour to breathe had been more than enough to peak your stamina.

Athena was already walking in the arena, holding your weapons in addition to hers. Near the entrance of the church, far enough to not disturb the gallery but still close enough to see the bouts were three very important faces.

Ame-no-Uzume, Siegfried and Waltier were here, watching. The sun was coming down the horizon, not enough to drench the world in orange or starting the Lullaby but... soon. Your expected guest will arrive.

Phew, talk about pressure.

''So, mysir Arawn Loukanos...''

You and Athena made one meter of distance, her thick green tail wagged briefly with emotion.

''...it's been a long time since I've found another competent shieldbearer. Do you want me hard, or a little merciful?''

''I get a choice?''

Athena grinned looked downright dangerous because of her naturally sharp, animalistic face. ''Don't want to break you too quickly.'' You knew that violent confidence.

''Win this one mommy!'' Kin screamed from the gallery, her voice prompted the neck frill on Athena neck to fully deploy, her yellow eye focused on you like a predator ready to pounce.

This is one scary lizard.

>''I'll be the wall you'll break yourself against.'' (Athena will not hold back... You'll likely be at a disadvantage for the battle.)

>''I've been looking for a teacher, show me how good a shieldbearer is supposed to be.'' (Athena will hold back, at least at the start, making the duel fairer.)


Also, I'm thinking doing the three rolls for Arawn and Athena would be the best way to keep this fight expedient.

Would you guys prefer a fight similar to Zhu instead?
>''I'll be the wall you'll break yourself against.'' (Athena will not hold back... You'll likely be at a disadvantage for the battle.)
Limits are probably best to be found now and noted before tomorrow when we may need to gauge these things.

Three rolls works if it helps simplify and speed the writing, we can always challenge her again afterwards Assuming we both come out tomorrow ok.
Noted. Gonna give your choice about 30 minutes before rolling, should be long enough to get more opinions.
Rolled 5, 11, 12, 11, 12, 16 = 67 (6d20)

Alright let's see how this mirror match will go.

First three rolls are Athena with +1 on everything. Last ones are Arawn with -1. Athena has much more experience with the sword and board, she's coming in strong.
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Huh, interesting result. Gonna take tonight to write it up and dump a big load of text tomorrow.
Crap, forgot about the thread. Would have made the same choice though so no matter. Judging from the results, we just barely beat her?

Also, Klesiah won a bet huh? Did it involve lewds? It involved lewds didn't it. As for that wall of text, is the big ME gonna show up after our fight? I'll be late tomorrow so...
>Judging from the results, we just barely beat her?
You'll see.
>As for that wall of text, is the big ME gonna show up after our fight?
I'll write up the fight, its outcome, and bits and piece about what happens afterward. Finding spots for meaningful interactions might be a bit difficult, I'll see what I can do.
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''Good. Let's see if that defense hold.''
Clack. Athena loudly smashed her sword against her shield and brought her protection to bear, obscuring two-third of her face, hiding her sword behind the heavy round shield, looking at you with those piercing yellow eyes...

One step.
Your heart quickens.
Second step.
Your shield arm tightens.

''Haaaah!'' When Athena charges you resist the temptation trying to faint sideway or step back because your instinct whisper that it is a bad idea.

The lizardwoman carries her momentum into a solid kick directly on your shield, her sword flies to deflect your attempt at slicing her leg and you barely catch a glimpse of her moving shield, she angled it in a line!

''Grrg!'' The impact travels into your entire arm and shakes your guts. Yet you grit your teeth and step forward, locking shield with the lizardwoman. Your sword flies at her shin, she steps back and you push but... she uses your strength to hop back.

You don't let her breathe. She knows how to break a shield guard...!

The noise of clashing wood is deafening. Your senses are numbed to the outside world, your and her sword clashed in endless parries, your shields bumps, strikes, and rams each other countlessly, yet both of you barely move from the center. Athena is just as much of a rock as you are.

Swords flies, swords slide against the edges of the big, heavy, round wooden shields. You need to stay extremely aware of your legs because not only does your opponent tries to slice at them, she goes for kicks at your shin and stomps of your toes!

''Haah!'' Your sword rings against hers, your wrist radiates in pain.
''Break!'' She screams back, performing backway footsies that nearly catch you off-guard, her shield come at another dangerous angle.

You're not going to break. You stand firm and fight.


Athena is a sledgehammer with the precision of a scalpel. The abuse she throws on your shield makes you wonder if you've cracked a bone. Minutes pass, your muscles scream in this familiar agony that comes with straining effort, the fight slowly becomes a little more mobile. Your blade finds a few openings that force the lizardwoman back... but it is no gain for she makes it impossible for you to even try a kick, her blade is constantly at her side, making quick invasive stabs and feints, flawlessly shifting between defense and offense.

All of her aggression was bait, she tried oh so very hard to force you into making a mistake but fortunately, you've got a cool head. Only Zhu can make you lose yourself.

''Heh... heh.'' Athena let out a laugh when you manage to throw her back by bashing your shield on her back, her balance was incredible. ''Good defense pal, better than mine.'' Her heavy breathing sounds almost melodious and unlike you, sweat wasn't pouring down her brow and imbibing her clothe.
Must be something about lizards.

''Defense is all I've got.'' You grunted your reply. You haven't managed to land a single counterattack and Athena is wearing you down, your shield might not look damaged but your arm has been brutalized. She's a little shorter and smaller than you but she's got more than enough muscles to rival you.

''We'll be at this for a while yet, sun's starting to come down.'' Daylight was just beginning to change its color, heralding the Lullaby beginning. ''How about you come at me now?''

Athena put her sword to rest behind her neck and opened her shield arm, angling it toward your weapon.

Normally you wouldn't answer such an obvious bait but this was a duel, a learning experience... and she's going to outlast you in endurance. Stretching things out is a oneway path toward defeat.

''Shouldn't make our guest wait huh?''

Athena didn't respond. Her bright yellow eyes focused on you, intent and instincts sharpened into a fine, dangerous point. Zhu had shown this expression too, this is the kind of face made by an accomplished warrior smelling blood in the water...

You won't lose to it twice!

Clack. Clack.
A chilling snap changed the cacophony of competition. Athena sword had ruptured but a firm kick in your guts forced you to step back!

How did you...? That last exchange was pure instincts. You baited her with a stab, denied your momentum by breaking your charge and lowered your knees... Her weapon had come at an angle as you struck upward with your shield.

''Well, fuck.'' Her sword clattered on the white stones then she balled her green hand into a fist and pushed it against her chin, cracking all of her fingers. ''Still got plenty of discarded weapons round here, now's the real fun part!''

''Unfortunately, I need to insist otherwise.''

A voice came from the sky.

Mina was floating in the afternoon sunlight, her mesmerizing multicolored hair shone with its usual inner brilliance, a rare mischievous smile graced her lips. ''Her Herald is coming, thank you for your patience.''

Everyone in the gallery had gotten up, Kyorn second wife had also arrived, exchanging place with the colorful alraune who decided to avoid the brouhaha for her baby's peace of mind.

''That... When did you...?'' You could barely fit words. Athena letting go of her shield truly brought this duel to an end.

Aah, damn it. You just clawed yourself into a hard-earned advantage...! The radiating pride coming out of your links was, at least, a way to salvage your mood.

''I've been watching for five minutes.'' The shard responded. ''You two would have taken much longer, it's rare to witness such equity of skills!

''Hey, Arawn.'' One of Athena thumbs curled up. She wasn't out of breath, unlike you. Amazing stamina. ''Damn fine work, I'm gonna loan a little something of mine once this meeting is over.''
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''Yep.'' She grinned, the frill behind her neck settled down. ''I've been wondering if I should be part of the first wave like everyone else but now I feel better with leading our reinforcement. You're good enough, you'll take good care of my shield.''

''I...''' For once being out of breath was a good excuse not to say anything.

''Just don't believe that stupid nonsense about coming back with your shield or on it, an artifact can always be retrieved.'' Athena gently tapped your shoulder. ''Good fight, Arawn. You're better than my husband.'' She threw a cheeky grin at her blond lover who was too far away to do anything else but stare in confusion.

>''In the future, if fates allow, could you teach me how to better wield the shield, Athena? I doubt I'd have done half as good if we were reinforced.'' A teacher in combat... Or perhaps you should focus your time in Magitek or magic?
>Don't make a promise for the future. The girls are happy for you, you've impressed them... now's the time to bask in this feeling before the grand meeting.
I'll post the artifact next and proceed with writing a holy arrival. How has Zipangu treated you, Arawn?
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[Major Magical artifact]
Heavy bronze shield belonging to Athena-no-Uzume of Zipangu, named after her departed best friend.
Sylphis is a shield without decoration made of bronze that one could easily underestimate. The item has been heavily modified by dwarven runesmiths (yes, several) and instilled with the lizardwoman blood and emotions to become her bulwark.
The shield is nigh indestructible, having easily endured every known strike from a widespread amount of Warrior and Supreme monsters. Its outer layer significantly reduces the potency of any magic that lands on it.
The inner layer doesn't have this property, a mage holding it won't be crippled.
>Don't make a promise for the future. The girls are happy for you, you've impressed them... now's the time to bask in this feeling before the grand meeting.

We still don't exactly know where we want to dedicate our downtime to improving, but I fell that Magitech or magic will be the way to go once we get some free time, since we're going to be busy with other promises/ follow ups for a while, assuming everyone makes it back safely that is.
The crowd in the church was enough for a proper service.
Deruella three maidens, your five links, your three close companions from Muribel, the entire task force sent to rescue you, Zipangu queen, Kreszenz prince marshall... The only ones missing were the evil mastermind and the slumbering queen mother, Tsukiyomi. Even the kids were here, at Kin insistence (Mina made it subtle but she also wanted Agathe in the church).

''There is nothing to be afraid of, friends.'' Mina extended her hands and stood in front of the main altar, facing the crowd. ''The Good Mother heard me and now she will come to listen for you.''

A familiar woman with long, gorgeous multicolored hair emerged out of the back rooms of the church.

''Excuse me, pardon me.'' Another woman with this exact disposition gently pushed herself through the crowd, coming from outside.

A sudden, small reverberation accompanied the arrival of another shard jumping from the window. Another came floating down from the roof, one came up from behind the altar itself, failing to stifle a yawn... More and more of these ladies revealed themselves, giving the briefest of greetings, and stood around the altar.

Twelve shards, with Mina, making the entire number of... twins into thirteen. Your companion was the only one away from her brethren, they were all extending a finger toward the humble symbol of the sun that represented Mother Earth. Colorful brilliant lines like pieces of yarns reached out of their limb to roll around the piece with slow, methodic movement.

Yellow, green, gold, rose, purple,... Every single color you could think of was represented because each lines were ever-changing like their host hairs. Even traces of blacks and whites happened, every single pigments of creations shone quietly.

''They... Are they using that icon as a core...?'' Sieglinde murmured. Her mother, who stood behind her, gently gripped her shoulders.

From the roof golden tendrils slowly snaked down toward the altar. An ominous sight at first, the way they suddenly stopped and... waved at the crowd elicited a few awkward laughs. Could it be? Could those simple tiny lines be the great goddess herself? No way!

''Arawn, I need to ask you something.'' Mina walked up to you and gently held your hand. She waited for you to collect your thoughts. ''The Good Mother isn't able to fully manifest without draining the Web throughout the entire Old World, however one of those slumbering pearls we found in that cursed village holds enough magic to grant her incarnation for a few days.''

''One of the Awakened Pearls? Seigfried has two regular ones, aren't they enough?''
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''No.'' She answered bluntly. ''If the Good Mother can incarnate, she'll be able to use the Web much more effectively and directly join the battle tomorrow. She will be able to act outside this church. It's your choice however, these pearls are also extremely potent magical ammunition.''

She didn't wait for an answer, the shard promptly walked toward Siegfried and Ame (with Athena and Mylen right beside him). Whatever she said changed their mood into one of visible horror... their gaze turned to Agathe standing next to Hadraniel.

''Francine?'' The lamia, Meruse, nearly yelled at her slime friend. The gentle, silent girl had... fled. There was no other way to describe it. With the surreal agility of her race, the slime girl easily traveled around and above anything impeding her way.

''Guess she wanna go see Deru.'' Sonja casually pointed out.


>Give one of your Awakened Pearls to Mother Earth. If the goddess can be granted temporary incarnation and walk outside the church... it's worth losing one of your two trump cards.
>Surely the goddess can grant vital help even if she cannot go outside the church... You should keep your pearls.
Gonna give this around 40 minutes, maybe even an hour of waiting. Your Awakened Pearls are your most important items, after all
Just to confirm these aren't the ones we've earmarked for Ama, right?
Nope. Remember, Leena parents turned into these pearls, essentially becoming semi-sentient sources of magic that can synchronize with magical nature and souls. You still got em.
Ok then , hopefully I'm not messing anyone's plans up becuse they wanted a spare or needed the both for something, there may have been a few plans somewhere.

>Give one of your Awakened Pearls to Mother Earth. If the goddess can be granted temporary incarnation and walk outside the church... it's worth losing one of your two trump cards.

having such a powerful source of magic might also be useful in the future if we manage to conserve the spare one.
Alright, I'll settle with this choice. I'll try to update tonight but no promise. Sorry for the slow pace, been having trouble sleeping for the past 4 days, I'm doing my best to make sure words don't blur together too much.
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What are big ME Incarnation's abilities? What happens to the soul within the pearl? Would having her incarnate make it easier for her to purge our infection (and the possible infection of any waifu we linked with directly to restore Mina)?

I'm not against using the pearl even though it likely means we probably can't safely deploy my absolutely evil backup plan (i.e. Mind Virus wipe mechanic) but having a literal god by our side should really tip the scales in our favor.

Errr, would big ME be in mortal peril if she does that? As if, if the incarnated body gets deep sixed would that mean the world is down one deity? Is it possible to become a literal godslayer?
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>What are big ME Incarnation's abilities?
Too many to count, what she can do is manipulate the Web, make use of it much more effectively. While incarnated... she can use the Web like Daiyu can use Corruption. And that's without mentioning the sheer strength that is Mother Earth herself.
>What happens to the soul within the pearl?
Once consumed, they'll be freed to go into the Great Unknown... if the holder allows it.
>Would having her incarnate make it easier for her to purge our infection (and the possible infection of any waifu we linked with directly to restore Mina)?
Not in this case, she'd be able to help without it.
>Errr, would big ME be in mortal peril if she does that? As if, if the incarnated body gets deep sixed would that mean the world is down one deity?
Mother Earth is no coward. This isn't true incarnation, her body with the pearl will only last around 3 days. ''Dying'' here simply mean breaking it, but hey, there can be so many complications... Not the entirety of her existence will be in it, but her entire consciousness at least, will.
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Yeah, I can get behind using the pearl then. Better a known capability/weapon in your hands than some mere theoretical prototype that may not even do what you want or presents a possible threat to your allies if you use it wrong (i.e. if we roll a 1).

There *is* a potential problem nagging me though. Marleon/Muribel has no web. Well, it does, but it belongs to Zerase and not the good Mother. Granted, maybe her incarnated body can hack into it and wrest the sysadmin privileges from Zerase and give them to herself, but I also fear Zerase thought this through enough to see it coming.

This is, after all, shaping up to be the absolute worst case scenario for her. A scenario she likely planned for...
Yes, without an active connection to her Web, Mother Earth can't use it anymore but it's possible to create one despite the distance... but that's for later strategizing.
Errr... one more concern. You said all her entire consciousness will be within the incarnation. Does that mean that she'll basically be unable to hear the prayers of her followers and lose whatever form of passive omniscience she has? What about the shards? Will they still function as normal?
> Does that mean that she'll basically be unable to hear the prayers of her followers
She doesn't ''hear'' them in the sense of the word but... yes she'll be temporarily cut off from her nest.
>What about the shards? Will they still function as normal?
Yes, shards are born from Mother Earth and she can reabsorb them and they only have a 2-3 years lifespan if they don't return to her to stop the degradation of their souls. They're still individuals and can function outside of her, the divine Web itself will remain safe and intact which is arguably even more important than Mother Earth
I see... clever girl put in a safeguard measure to make sure "rogue" shards never became a long term problem. Not that it'd normally come up but if an outsider managed to break/corrupt one that'd be a big problem if it remained a viable vessel for decades or centuries.

Sometimes potentially distasteful measures must be taken to ensure the safety of reality. I assume the divine web is why the eldritch horrors aren't a bigger problem than they are now? Like, it's a reinforcement of the veil between realspace and whatever dimension the Lovecraftian entities reside in or an alarm system that dispatches a shard the instant a breach is detected? Does Ama set the web off? That'd explain why she lost her body if it caused shards to dogpile her upon detection...
>I assume the divine web is why the eldritch horrors aren't a bigger problem than they are now?
If any Outsider (or a blood magic daemon) make a big splash anywhere that is covered by her web, it will immediately be assault by non-sentient entities called Golden Guardians which are meant to act more as a diversionary/containing force until shards get here to see what's happening and hopefully coordinate with whoever is there to kill the thing or save people until even bigger forces are mustered.

The good Mom had to come up with something that worked fast due to the Swamp.

Places outside Mommy web have their own defenses, if there's one truth every nation can agree on, it's that eldritch fuckery can't be allowed to upset the already precarious balance of power. Still, the sheer effectiveness of the Divine Web is a very alluring prospect for people living outside the Old World and the Allied Kingdoms

>Like, it's a reinforcement of the veil between realspace and whatever dimension the Lovecraftian entities reside in
Reality is in an eternal process of reinforcement, it's just malleable. Any eldritch entities that try to impose their will instead of adapting will eventually die... but it can take a while, unfortunately. Magic doesn't discriminate.
> Does Ama set the web off?
Hmmm... seems like ME worship has only upsides and no downsides. Provided you are of a Good/Neutral alignment and foreswear the use of blood magic/engaging in eldritch fuckery of course.

The existence of the shards is also a kind of check against a "corrupt" church. If the clergy start fucking over the faithful good and hard, well, a sudden apparition of the "deity" rebuking the corrupted hierarchy is not only not out of the question, but highly likely!

ME seems to be Neutral Good herself. Well, now at least. She could have been way different and less benevolent during the Pretender age.
>Hmmm... seems like ME worship has only upsides and no downsides.
Hohoho! But of course! Mother Earth and Father Sky are the bestest of Supremes... I mean the bestest of deities! Mommy is doing her best, why should there be downside?
Let's say Gardy knew another side of her.
NG is a good alignment for her. You've yet to really put your nose in the clergy so it's impossible how things are going but hey... you're in the middle of a country where Mother Earth solution is working.
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>That Spoiler
Ominous. Let's hope she's feeling regretful and desiring of penance in regards to her potential past sins over taking the opportunity to cover them up once and for all by ensuring the destruction/reformatting/editing/whatever other horrible evil bad thing she could do to Gardy's Ego Core now that she's got us, the last remnant of his existence and perhaps only chance of fully restoring him to what we once knew, right in front of her and perhaps foolishly willing to trust her.

You are really good at making me paranoid and worried when I probably shouldn't be y'know that?
I don't take joy in causing undue worry, not at all...
I'm surprised you guys haven't said anything about the artifact.
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You enjoy making me worry and we both know it. Oh well, such is your prerogative as the GM to enjoy the emotions you can elicit in players.

It guarantees we can block most any attack not backed up by pearl BS. That along with that rune belt we borrowed from magitek bro means we are now a pretty damned effective tank as well as a support unit. Given current potential party compositions this is a good thing as we lacked people who could be dedicated to that role without sacrificing a given party member's true effectiveness. (E.g. Daiyu could certainly do it, but she's better suited to wholesale slaughter of the enemy in melee over just protecting people).

Things might get interesting if we go for a full fusion activation due to that causing all magitek and magical artifacts to get absorbed and their capabilities and properties becoming part of our nature however.

The shield is anti-magic and nigh-indestructible. That might mean we'll have to pick between near total magical/physical immunity or being able to use elemental cannon ranged/AoE attacks and shield generation by ditching it before we assume a form most pleasing to the Omnissiah as "anti-magic" likely means we can't use the capabilities granted by the belt and our gauntlet in that form.

If we get to have our cake and eat it too, well, now that's just plain busted. I, naturally, hope that's the case here. This team we're assembling is already quite busted. The fact you're letting it happen means Zerase's is likewise just about as busted or otherwise has a counter that will fuck us hard if we don't neutralize it before it goes off. God I hope Deru and Ama cracked this ritual...
Oh, one more potential thing. ME Incarnation has authority over her web and I think that thing might be what causes us to get fucked if we do a full fusion in realspace as it recognizes Arawn as existing there, but not Gardy and thus seeks to scrub him from reality once he registers as being present over us.

If that existence could be recognized/authorized by ME it could mean we'd get to pull off the full fusion without the drawback. Might have other consequences but hey, potential trump card.
It's not anti-magic but magical dampener, there's a very important distinction to make because outright anti-magic hasn't been realized. You can bet dwarf tried their hardest in figuring out how to make it happen, but the best they managed to do was reducing the effectiveness of magic.

You are right, however, in saying that doing a combo of magical gauntlet while reducing enemy magic affecting you in a fusion won't be possible. The shield capabilities will easily override your magic.
>This team we're assembling is already quite busted.
Zipangu had to mobilize very fast, too. They don't even have the time to call on their human allies in Gwynedd... Daiyu coming out of nowhere was a bit of a shock too, but hey she heard about her little girl waking up (and her youngest had been missing for bloody months) and would have come crashing into Muribel if you guys hadn't decided to come back to Zipangu. (Siegfried communicated that to his wife who, in turn, told Daiyu.)
Whatever defense Zerase could have... well, Daiyu did describe her general demeanor in the last thread and she has a great many death pearls...
A good thought.
Also little heads up, I'll likely end up posting tomorrow. This next update might be a little long, I'll write it up and cut off the fluff if there's too much.
Ah crap, I got carried away playing some vidya, update tomorrow might come later than I want. Sorry
What game was so intriguing/good that ya lost track of time playing it?
Posting soon, this one needed to be long.
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''Thank you.'' She gently grabs one of the pearls. ''Who is it?''
''That's her dad.'' The pearls were identical but you knew instinctively who was who, an after effect from having them close to you for so long. These pearls still held life, however fleeting.

Grabbing it with both hands, Mina handled it with so much care it looked similar to reverence and walked toward the copies of herself, all twelve of them were busy... weaving this magical, brilliant tapestry of creation.

''Sisters, a soul dwell within this pearl. Our Mother shall purify its cursed countenance, be mindful not to peek, the man inside deserve an audience.'' Mina gently pushed the pearl against the vibrant sphere created by the shards. A small hole opening to swallow it like a living, breathing thing... The golden tendrils above reached down, two multicolored ropes reached upward and as they slowly inched forward to meet, Mina floated above Klesiah and wrapped her arms around her neck, pulling herself into an intimate hug against your knight.

When gold and rainbows interlocked the entire altar was wrapped into this beautiful brilliant cocoon of warmth.

''The Good Mother is giving an audience, please give him the time he need to purify the pearl.'' One of the shards spoke, turning to briefly bow at the crowd then resume helping her kin in weaving this magical tapestry.

Who would be brazen enough to walk up and tell Mother Earth ''no''?

Despite standing here doing nothing in reverent silences, minutes fly without your notice. Activity begins quietly, one by one, the shards pull themselves away from their collective spell after finishing their weaving. The result is a glowing cocoon of ever-changing colors overlapping the entire altar and, slowly, something from within moves or rather, appears. A womanly silhouette defined only by shapely contour... Multicolored magical yarns peel off slowly, one by one to tighten around it, giving it definition.

The ritual is complete it seems, could it truly be happening? Has Mother Earth truly incarnated so easily because of the Awakened Pearl?

You feel cold and hot, a tiny, almost unnoticeable vertigo begins annoying you, as if you've just spun on yourself. ''Don't be afraid.'' Mina says, she's looking at you despite embracing Klesiah.

''Why should I-''

A bloodcurdling scream resonated throughout the church. The small lizard in Hadraniel arms had embraced Focus, numerous ice protrusion erupted out of her body to pierce into Hadraniel yet the Embodiment held on against the struggling, wild child.
Your guts twisted, nausea invaded your mind, you barely had enough good sense to turn away from the girls around you and vomit on the floor. The sudden horrors, worry, and panic from your links were making this worse, your arm was throbbing uncomfortably, your head was pounding, someone was holding you up...
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''Be not afraid''

It wasn't a sentence. Manifested intention translated into words you could understand, something was holding your arm, a foreign sensation, warm and inviting, flowed into you. Trampling any thoughts of resistance.

You feel warm. Whoever is holding you is... something spread into you, why reject it? Why would you?

Aaah...There's no need to be afraid, Arawn.

A golden spark.
A blue spark.
A red spark.
A white spark. Something dark, foreign, gray was planted inside.
Your world ignited.

''By the Father what is THAT?''

Sieglinde and Klesiah had been holding you, preventing you from crumbling on the ground. A woman stood in front of you, more a shape or mirage than an actual person. A womanly silhouette of pale white and gold that left constant after images in the world was holding your infected arm, her second hand was pinching something.

A thick wriggling bulbous dark worm kept trying to wiggle out of her fingers.

Hao wasn't faring any better than you, Daiyu was the only reason she was still standing. Your second knight was as confused as you were.

In the hall a disgusting noise reached you. Something entirely inhuman screamed a mixture of horrified aquatic squeaks mingled with strugglings slaps. Another womanly entity stood in front of Agathe, pulling something out of her guts, something that did not want to get out... ''Arrauh!?'' The poor kid yelped a breathless sigh, sounding like a death gasp then went limp, all her tensed-up muscles relaxed and her spells thrown randomly stopped.

Athena was holding her fluffy daughter, forcing her face on her bosom whilst everyone else watched in heartbreaking powerlessness, Siegfried and Elina had been raising magical protection to counter the child spells.

''Agathe!? Agathe!''
Tsukiyomi had come rushing out of the backrooms and stumbled on the floor. Mother Earth... or perhaps her shade, finished pulling whatever was nesting inside the poor kid with a violent pull. All movements from this silhouette were nearly impossible to follow despite their simplicity: her very existence left six after images in the world, it was as if this silhouette was... on another frequency.
Where are the other shards?

''She is fine now!'' Mina yelled. With the entire crowd on the warpath, her voice needed to be strong. ''The Outsiders had no chances to bury themselves deeper inside their hosts!''

This second shape had extracted something living out of Agathe. A fist-sized gray blob with two extremely long tendrils... They were wrapped around the woman entire arm, struggling to get free, squeaking incessantly like a big rat.
Then it screamed in agony when golden fires erupted out of its eyes sockets, the worm imprisoned by the other entity let out an audible squelch when the very same phenomenon occurred throughout its body: golden luminesce burst from the inside out. Soon, their bodies were consumed, burnt to nothingness.

''Soul parasites...'' The fluffy queen of Zipangu growled. ''To pull them into our reality so effortlessly, those afterimages... I get it. You've used yourself as an anchor into reality and hunted inside every single alternate branch of the World Tree at once to prevent the creatures from burrowing deeper into their souls.''

Silhouettes stepped out of the womanly shades. One, two, three, four... six shards of Mother Earth stepped out, returning the numbers of shards to thirteen. The shade closest to you dissipated, the other one remained whole, regained colors and its facial features reappeared to reveal a wholly human and pretty woman.

Long brown hair combined with hazel eyes made her look almost disarming. ''Young mother'' was the perfect expression to describe this newcomer, there was a pretty, energetic aura surrounding her, it was a happiness that did not belong here, where a young girl had been plunged into a traumatic stupor and was now held by her nine-tailed mother.

''Tsu.'' The long-haired brunette lowered herself at Tsukiyomi level, completely disregarding the queen-mother murderous glare. ''Little Agathe will be fine, that creature hadn't matured yet... The Outsider planted the ugliest of seed. Breathe my dear, and I'm sorry for this secret. Divinity needed to be hidden until the hunt.''

''A-are you truly...?'' Sonja needed to ask the obvious. You could scarcely believe it either, this normal woman was a goddess?

''Actually saying it out loud feels pretentious.'' She responded with an awkward giggle. ''Let's say... The Mother Earth of the Web is a little different, she keeps a grander perspective. Me? Call me an avatar, someone who is a little more boring and human... not to say that she, or maybe I, aren't human but...'' She scratched her head, wincing. ''Just call me Mana, a little someone like me doesn't deserve prostration so keep those knees solid, yeah?''

''Kin. This is your grandmother.'' Siegfried's unprecedented statement caught some of the Zipangu natives unaware.

The little blond remained silent, uncertain.

''I don't deserve a hug. I hope we can still have a little family reunion. My grandkids don't deserve to be put through this mess...'' Naked underlying anger shook the woman, Mother Earth, no -Mana- fist.
''Things are good now right mom?'' One of the shards yawned loudly after speaking. ''Can I sleep?''

''Of course, sweet dreams Roberta. I'll see you tonight?''

''Mmhm.'' It was impossible to find any identifiable trait in this particular shard making her way for the church backrooms. She looked exactly like Mina.

''I-I'll be back later tonight as well.'' Another shard floating up toward a stained glass.

''Seeing your boyfriend, Cho?'

''He is NOT...Ugh! I told you so many times! Stop saying that!'' Off she went, phasing through the window.

''Right, right, I'll go find more of our gals. Need more of us for tomorrow right?'' Another shard turned into a beautiful golden butterfly.

''Thank you, Nova.'' Mana responded.

Half of the shards disappeared to handle personal business with Mana speaking their names every time.

Despite being clones, each of these girls do seems to have actual lives.

''She'll be awake by tomorrow. Unlike Arawn, that parasite burrowed deep inside her soul and was starting to affect her mind and body.'' One of the shards (Hopi) was speaking with Tsukiyomi, Kyorn was the one holding the kid. Everyone was gathered around the child close enough to make it stifling. ''This surprise exorcism was in poor taste I know, but it was important to keep the Good Mother arrival quiet, the parasite could read glimpses of her mind and would have likely sent a signal to the entity inside Arawn...''

''I understand, don't worry.'' Tsukiyomi grunted. ''My grudge is not directed at the Good Mother.''

Not only you but Agathe... Armin, what the hell did you try to do? The anger radiating out of the warriors was almost palpable. From the queen of Zipangu to the normally excentric tengu, everyone one of them were barely able to contain their rage when Hopi let Agathe rest on a makeshift bed made by Athena. The lizard girl had insisted her daughter remained in full view.

''Now, we do have something else to think about.'' Mina gently clapped her hands while walking toward your group. ''Dearest Hao Dasyu, the damage in your soul is wholly unnatural, caused by that disgusting worm. Your pure, gentle soul was vulnerable. Each time Arawn cast a spell, the more of your soul was peeled off.''

''Hao will still fight tomorrow.'' Having completely shaken off her previous malaise, the short lizardgirl looked at Mana with an expression that would accept no compromise.

''I understand. I can repair the damage... but it would take me around three days. Manipulating souls demand slow and very careful work. We can do a little something different, something that will likely be irreversible.'' Mana interlocked her fingers together. ''Tie your soul directly with your anchor, Arawn. or use a piece of all the souls Arawn is linked with to repair yours. Either way, you will lose your added strength.''

''What do these solutions imply?'' Sieglinde asked, her big hands held onto Hao shoulders.
''The first will tie her existence with Arawn much, much more intimately. Should she or her die, the other is certain to follow. The other one will grant her better independence, after the damage is repaired she might become similar to Arawn in being a second ''nest'' for your united souls. I don't know what kind of side effects could arise from this... but we'll worry about it later. They are you your only quick solutions.''

Each case with souls is unique. There's no telling what could happen because of your magical nature, Elina being an angel, Klesiah anchoring one of Mother Earth shards, and, of course, Sieglinde health...

''Hao doesn't want to be a burden, being a risk for family isn't...'' Her small hands tightened in fists.

''There's something I need to ask.'' Changing the topic here was needed, Hao mood needed to cool down. No perfect solutions... ''With the worm gone, is it safe for me to use my magic? Can I help Queen-Mother Tsukiyomi reenergize her soul, at least for tomorrow?''

''Of course.'' Mana swift answer extracting many relieved sighs. ''I cannot do it myself because the Divine Web is far, far too intense for something so delicate. You haven't used any magic at all today... so I dare say you do have more than enough to help her.''

Ultimately you'll have time to do both but what should come first?

>The Queen-Mother situation is more pressing, she could fall asleep at any moment.
>Do whatever you can to heal Hao.
a) Encourage her to ''tie herself'' to you. This should lessen the risk for everyone else...
b) If more souls attached themselves to her, won't she be strengthened as a result? Go for this second solution, the other choice is far, far too selfish.

Agathe parasite was to be a plot point for act 3, however you guys didn't embrace Focus nor went into the Red World after learning about the thing in your arm, so the creatures couldn't communicate. This gave Mother Earth -Mana- the opportunity to ambush them, ambush she did.
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Ok, let's see if I got this right. Every time we used magic the damned worms could communicate. Furthermore, every single time we cast a spell after meeting Armin it devoured a piece of Hao's soul causing an artificial "whitening" condition. Thus, if we didn't remove it she'd be guaranteed to die during the assault tomorrow as we'd definitely be casting a lot of spells.

In regards to Agathe it was already nested deep within her soul and was starting to "edit" shit like what that loathsome Ghoul did to Vilma with the liklihood of going full on Mind Flayer after it used her "body" to kill her parents. Likely leaving just enough of her "in existence" for her to watch it happen and let both it and Armin experience the moment her psyche irrevocably and completely shattered.

We'd have met the same fate, but our targets would have been Daiyu and whomever else Armin wants dead. Only right before we die completely and bring about the "birth" of a powerful outsider ally to Armin he tells us the truth about what happened to Hao if we didn't figure it out before then as he gloats at how intent to protect everyone ultimately doomed them all. It'd also probably consume Gardy's ego core upon our attempt to restore it and re-fuse with bestest buddy if it hasn't already eaten large chunks of it already.

If I'm even half right about all this I must applaud you for devising such a sick, twisted, diabolically sadistic and evil plan. Good thing you've trained us to be paranoid enough to do a certain Soviet dictator proud.

Since we'll have time to do both if we wanna I say we fix Tsu first. We could definitely use the summoning prowess of the "Golden Wolf" tomorrow and I think she needs to be awake for it to succeed. Let's not risk losing that absolutely massive force multiplier.

Also, I like how old Siggy just casually admitted he's a demigod in front of everyone. Sure that particular puzzle piece completes a lot of puzzles people were trying to figure out, ourselves perhaps included. Hell, I think he even met Ama in the last quest if memory serves.
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Siggy admission was just one more drop into the bucket of sheer unbelievability of this situation. He's not much of a demi-god since Mana was fully human at the time but that's an old story.

>Ok, let's see if I got this right. Every time we used magic the damned worms could communicate. Furthermore, every single time we cast a spell after meeting Armin it devoured a piece of Hao's soul causing an artificial "whitening" condition. Thus, if we didn't remove it she'd be guaranteed to die during the assault tomorrow as we'd definitely be casting a lot of spells.
Yup. They would have been able to communicate if you used some spells today... but the worse was the worm eating away at Hao soul.
>If I'm even half right about all this I must applaud you for devising such a sick, twisted, diabolically sadistic and evil plan.
To think you only managed to thwart it by mentioning Armin to Ama... When will you accept the witch is a good girl?
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I call her Bad Fluffy and Fluffy Satan for good reason and shall keep doing so. It was in her own interest to thwart Armin if only because she obviously doesn't like the bastard all that much. Thus his tears are her joy and his failures taste ever so sweet to her refined cannibalistic palette.

Plus he tried to break her "favorite toy" again. I don't like being that to her (and how/why she didn't fuck with us after that incident with Armin and Devona apparently given that confuses the hell out of me), but it does mean she'll *try* to keep us alive and relatively unharmed. After all, only she gets to break her toys. If anyone else does it without her consent they better watch the fuck out.

Also, I think this makes twice we've full on Old Man Henderson'd your attempts to make us suffer by pre-emptively eliminating a *major* bad thing before it had the chance to fully execute/manifest/fuck us over. The first one being the situation with Porky and Shereen which also ended up saving Banu's life and sparing Shereen truly soul crushing levels of suffering.
>Also, I think this makes twice we've full on Old Man Henderson'd your attempts to make us suffer by pre-emptively eliminating a *major* bad thing before it had the chance to fully execute/manifest/fuck us over.
I saw the writing on the walls with my parasite plot when you guys decided to mention the good elf in Ama presence. I was on the lookout for any potential use of magic to at least see if I could have my fun with Agathe in the future... alas.
The other big potential mistake was to attempt fixing Hao Whitening but you guys decided to wait instead. Not only wait, but also retreat to Zipangu!
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It would have swallowed her soul whole and then probably take over her body or burrow right into the core of our soul right? That's a big mistake alright. Good thing for us, like I said, you've trained us well and we are all remarkably and almost unhealthily paranoid.

Still, if you missed it I voted to fix Tsu first. Even if this fix is only temporary it'll give us a whole day with a max power summoner of at least the potency of a certain albino. Pic related.
Oh, just caught this, but Mana said she could "repair the damage" to Hao's soul. Does that mean restore her lost memories? Will she regain them if we go with one of her solutions? Could she instead bolster Hao's busted soul to minimize the risk of burnout and keep her at her currently busted strength and then actually fix it later? Could we do that then fix it at the cost of Hao's memories. That is, have her at this level of power at next to no risk tomorrow, but it'll cost her the memories already lost and maybe a few more?
>Does that mean restore her lost memories?
Unfortunately not. That's one aspect lost forever.
>Will she regain them if we go with one of her solutions?
>Could she instead bolster Hao's busted soul to minimize the risk of burnout and keep her at her currently busted strength and then actually fix it later?
Unfortunately not. The Divine Web doesn't work well with subtle work, your magical nature does. Think of it as her taking a survival knife to use in a surgery. Mana has the competence and know-how in manipulating souls but for this particular operation, her tool is too dangerous. She can't repair Hao soul quickly.
Damnit. I was afraid you'd say that. Poor girl can't even remember the faces of her parents anymore and all because for a support class we sure do love to use our magitek gauntlet/offensive options.

And Armin. For putting that accursed thing into our soul. He has almost managed to surpass Ama on my own personal shit list now. If you handed me a gun with one bullet and told me to pick I'd actually have a hard time choosing between the two.

Well, I actually wouldn't. Armin's a threat to random innocents while you usually have to seek out Ama somehow to get fucked with/over by her. The world is done a greater favor by eliminating the Avatar of Nyarlathotep over the Witch of Contracts. It hurts to say that.
Now now now, he only had a bit of harmless fun with a cute water lizard, if only Kin had been a good girl too...
He wanted to do that to the fluffy daughteru as well?! Ok, he's now officially at the top of the shit list. Hell, if Ama wants to help us kill him after this I'm game. Let's both be rid of that knife eared menace in our lives! If we can manage that with her help...I might finally be convinced to start liking Ama, consider her a good girl, and stop calling her names.

Just out of curiosity, what would they have done to the both of us had they been allowed to fully mature and how mature was the thing in Agathe?
>He wanted to do that to the fluffy daughteru as well?!
I don't quite remember where it was mentioned but after bringing his existence to light, one of Zipangu folks commented about Kin having an instinctive dislike for the poor man. She got very, very angry at him when he touched Agathe head. If he wanted to do good things to Kin, well honestly it's impossible to tell. It never happened! Still, he was a friendly elf who brought his expertise on souls when you lot were sleeping...
>Just out of curiosity, what would they have done to the both of us had they been allowed to fully mature
You would have had a chance to confront the thing after it did a terrible, crippling and deadly number on Hao. Gardy body bleed into Arawn soul, reinforcing it so the worm would have needed to brute force its way inside of you right and proper after getting a good meal.
Hao would have been... Well, actually that solution is still possible so I won't say yet. You haven't discovered it. She could have been kept alive if still had some of your tools.
>how mature was the thing in Agathe?
Fully mature. It was a different being than yours meant to alter Agathe personality and general demeanor subtly, it had been happening in a small way. Agathe was growing more and more choleric, her sleeping pattern changed from day to night, she tended to snap at her biological mother (Tsukiyomi still intimidate her far too much) and had started to kill small animals throughout the big inner gardens.

You haven't had a chance to spot anything weird with her today because of all the excitement. Army being mustered and literal war happening sorta override the squid influence so it kept itself nice and quiet until Agathe calmed down.
Wait, so Agathe used to be nocturnal? Interesting. I thought that certain mamono species would be but I suppose it could be a preference. People can be "night owls" after all and tons of folks work 3rd/graveyard shift and that basically means you're a "nocturnal" human. Did she eat what she killed? That'd be a major red flag and it would fit someone being slowly taken over by an outsider. Small animals today, cute puppies and kittens tomorrow, and people by month's end. Make her go full "Saya on Uta" if ya catch my drift.

So our worm was gorging itself on Hao and after a critical point it would finally nom on something truly precious causing her soul to start to "bleed out"/fade away entirely and giving it enough strength to for it to be confident in using brute force to burrow into our soul and do whatever it was that Armin wanted it to do.

I am curious about what our worm's ultimate purpose was but I am comfortable with never knowing. It would have been horrifically bad and we stopped it so now good things can happen. I am curious about the "still had some of your tools" bit though. You mean we had a spell in our currently lost former spell list that would have saved her?
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>You mean we had a spell in our currently lost former spell list that would have saved her?
Sorry, tiredness crept it. I meant HAVE. You still have a tool that could have kept her alive in that worst-case scenario. Crippled, barely able to really be called that but hey, alive. Little comfort, but it's something.
Gonna start writing Tsu option soonish so I can hopefully get it done quickly tomorrow for a proper session.
So we could have plugged the hole somehow but she'd be a vegetable or a quadriplegic. The latter option could be fixed via magitek by, say, creating an exoskeleton or turning her into a fantasy cyborg or something.

However, nothing would fix the fact that at that point she'd be a total amnesiac. Like, literally no memories at all. She'd be like a baby and we'd have to essentially "raise" her back to a fully functional adult. It'd be Hao's "replica" if ya catch that reference. Not really our Hao anymore...
Now, you have your knight hale and ready instead!
Indeed. I hate that she's lost most all her memories forever thanks to the knife eared eldritch horror, but at least enough remains for Hao to still be Hao.

In regards to what comes after using some soul duck tape on Tsu I'm for using the second option to fix Hao. We've haven't been in the business of making others utterly and completely reliant upon us and we shouldn't start now.

Further curiosity, do we still have that "bad idea" that the Tengu matriarch thought was cool? Y'know, minimize Hao's burnout chances by spreading the condition to us and the other girls? I don't want to do that but is it still an option and how would that affect our survival odds tomorrow?
>Y'know, minimize Hao's burnout chances by spreading the condition to us and the other girls? I don't want to do that but is it still an option and how would that affect our survival odds tomorrow?
Doing that carries the genuine risk of making that disease a collective ''condition'' for your entire party well after the battle tomorrow. It's a risky option because everyone carries a risk of burning themselves, the ''soul burning'' condition could happen if anyone in the links gets too emotional and that could carry into someone else, then someone else... It will make everyone stronger though, but honestly, Mana finds the idea so monumentally stupid that she'll physically prevent you from doing it so it's not really an option anymore.
Oh well, at least she cares. She'll be around for 3 days right? That's today, tomorrow, and if everything works out the day after that right?

If so than good. I think someone is about to help us restore Gardy's ego core very soon. I did suspect we may need literal divine intervention to do so and we got it right here and free for a whole day after tomorrow!

Provided everyone survives and unless Ama and Deru crack the nut that is that apotheosis ritual that ain't gonna be likely. Would Mana know anything they don't that'd help with that?
The time to figure out all the questions of Zerase rituals is long past, you need to trust the two evil masterminds.
I trust them to make an earnest effort especially since we fully settled all our debts with Bad Fluffy and Deru likely experiencing a cold sweat by being within the presence of from her perspective her no doubt angry mother. She may not know that she's here explicitly, but I bet she senses that she's either here or coming here and that a lack of effective results and the concomitant spike in casualties that'll cause will get her *quite* the literal and metaphorical spanking. As any good officer of the Imperium knows: "Victory needs no explanation; defeat allows none" and all that. If they're missing but one final piece to fit everything together I hope Mana has it. People and members of our party are gonna die in droves unless they roll 20's if that ritual isn't fully decoded and an effective plan to counter it fails to materialize.
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Oh, just thought of this. In regards to the fixing of Hao. You said Mana knows what to do but it'd take 3 days because she'd essentially be performing "surgery" with a survival knife over a scalpel.

Well, we have/are a scalpel. Could she enter Hao's soul world with us and walk us through the process of fixing her? No doubt Hao trusts us enough to grant us the sysadmin privileges we'd need over her soul to do it. How long would that take and how much juice would we need? We have Shereen, Klesiah, and Elina as mana batteries to use both to fix Tsu and Hao if need be after all. Possibly more, but unlinked mages take more time and effort for less effect.

One final fear though. If Hao trusts us that much and we go that route could Ama spread her infection to her nice and sneaky like? She might do that just to fuck with us some more because we took a "boring" option.
>Could she enter Hao's soul world with us and walk us through the process of fixing her?
Actually, yes.
>How long would that take and how much juice would we need?
Around half of your tank and you'd need around 12 hours at the very least. She will carefully instruct you on what to do and you'll apply your magic just as carefully. That option will forfeit your entire night and Arawn will likely end up tired tomorrow. It is possible to repair the damages that way.
>One final fear though. If Hao trusts us that much and we go that route could Ama spread her infection to her nice and sneaky like?
What, you mean we won't get any sleep if we do that? That actually might not be too bad of an option. Combat stims are a thing and being stimmed up to avoid sleep only starts to accrue significant side effects past 48 hours of it.

Anyone who went to college knows all about pulling those all-nighters for finals. So long as you slammed back enough caffeine you were pretty much fine. And that's just a "weak" stimulant (at least, in the doses you had access to in relation to espressos and energy drinks).

Though I think no sleep means we won't get to restore our mana and we kinda need a full tank for tomorrow. How long do we gotta sleep to fully restore it and when does the main assault commence? Also, would it be possible to just "turn over" control to her and have her use our gifts as if they were her own? Would that speed things up?
Oh, as Mana's a "mage" I assume could we just get topped off by her? It might be a "volatile" top off that might hurt a bit but we don't gotta kill people, just be a good wall and mana battery and/or pull off a medium to full fusion activation.
>Though I think no sleep means we won't get to restore our mana and we kinda need a full tank for tomorrow.
Indeed, need a full night of rest to organically refresh yourself. There are still things to decide on, mostly about the strategy, who will be relegated to doing what... And what kind of info Deru and Ama could bring. Still, for now it's Tsu time. Hao will be voted on later.
>How long do we gotta sleep to fully restore it and when does the main assault commence?
The time itself is estimated around midday
>Also, would it be possible to just "turn over" control to her and have her use our gifts as if they were her own?
No. You've been in Gardy body long enough now for your soul to gain a natural resistance against foreign manipulations.
Not... really. She might be incarnated, her body isn't human.
Hmmm...how about an artificial link? Like, could we "bestow" our gift onto her by using Shereen to establish/create a temporary soul link? She's not technically human so it may be possible. She'd still be "casting" from our reserves, possibly both ours and Shereen's, but we'd then be handing her our "scalpel" for her to use as she sees fit over allowing her to "assume direct control" (which you said is now pretty much impossible for *anyone* to do) and could thus do it all faster as she'd not have to instruct the "amateur" step by step. I'm sure our intents are close enough to trigger a resonance. We both dearly want to help Hao.
Unfortunately, Mana soul is of a higher magnitude than your own even with the diminishing that came with incarnation. The temporary soul link will break almost as soon as it's established, making the entire activity useless. You'd need the genuine thing.
I bet that wouldn't be a problem if we still had Gardy. Plus I bet linking with her will have big side effects and since it'll go away when she does that'll have big side effects as well. Then there's the issue of that possibly giving Ama a way to do something nasty and we can't risk that.

Would including Shereen's magic do anything to speed up the procedure with Hao? Is there any way to speed up that option at all or are we stuck with Mana's proposed solutions if we wanna be ready to partake in the assault at the start with a full mana tank?
>Would including Shereen's magic do anything to speed up the procedure with Hao?
A little brainstorming with Shereen for Hao will be considered a full choice.
Rejuvenating Tsukiyomi will need the establishment of a temporary soul link. Blood magic is showing its needs now, so close to the final preparations...
Along with Mana I'd assume as she's still going to have to walk us through it all. That'll probably be the option I go for when it comes up. I don't mind the "group mending" option if pressed for time but I do worry about those side effects one of them being that it'll make restoring Gardy harder or right out impossible somehow.
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Oh, I just realized this, but ME/Mana and the shards are all basically "forks" from her original consciousness.

That is, they all started as her clones in most every way that mattered... but that's just how they started. Different experiences, different circumstances and thus different decisions and reactions. It all accumulates over time. They may have literally been "her" at the time of their origin, but now they're all different people. *Very* different people in many cases. It's an interesting concept straight out of Sci-Fi.

I wonder... is the "shard" of Ama basically the same and is Ama "test-driving" this approach with Shereen acting as a way for her to keep her hand over a metaphorical "kill switch" if it goes full rogue and starts to oppose her? The kill switch being, unfortunately, Shereen herself. Shard/fork stops existing if she dies after all.
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Now that is a very interesting thought...
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Damnit, now you've got me thinking my worst case scenario after achieving a full on Golden/True ending here isn't actually bad at all.

That is, Ama's shard decides that she is altering the deal. Shereen is her anchor and she's going to stay and if'n we disagree with that arrangement she'll kill her dead before we can even attempt to remove her to spite us. She's here to stay and if we want Shereen to live we'll all just have to deal with that fact.

Only... that shard has now fully experienced the illogical side of compassion and trust. Despite our collective enmity towards "her", we "trusted" her and even felt for her when she was suffering after she saved Shereen. Perhaps we showed her, independently of her progenitor, her "original", what "kindness" was or something.

Then the "real" Ama sends out the termination order... only for "Ama-2"/her shard to say "Get fucked me because I like being good, kind and benevolent because it's way more interesting and fun!" Get the reference I made here and I'll be genuinely surprised in a good way.
Now wouldn't that make for an interesting twist!
Can't say that I do.
If you mean the references I can spell it out. That series made two big twists that I really dug. The one mentioned and the one I've mentioned before that I head cannon apply to Daiyu's ex-hubby/the father of Sieg and co. It takes some serious brass balls and a devotion to the "long term" that's frankly insane to do *that* and follow through lemme tell ya.
My brain is too full of words to accurately pinpoint anything. Sorry!
It's a bit...mainstream but also not I guess? It's all from a Sci-Fi FPS that I play infrequently but dig the lore because it's not half bad in regards to its genre and niche and fits here pretty damn well. "Clovis Bray" (Ama vs. Ama's shard shard if you know the potential implication as I peg her as a potential Ama-2) and "Dredgen Cull" (Daiyu's ex who died doing what he could to save/preserve/ensure Daiyu's dream could possibly come true yet knowing nobody other than perhaps ME and his other non-blood related associates would ever know the truth and remember him as anything but a most vile villain). Their lore is what I'm going off of.
I suppose you'll get to know soon enough, my dear player.
I briefly got into Destiny 2 but grew bored mighty quick. Too much tell, don't show.
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I actually liked that approach. Games these days, actual video games, put the "narrative" first and gameplay second all too often. Proper game design puts the narrative front and second. It's there, and if ya want you can do a deep dive and it can get very deep (like Destiny), but it ain't necessary to fully enjoy the game. You don't get forced to endure 3 hour long cutscenes or read a whole novel before you can get back into the action/actual gameplay or understand why you as the player are there shooting/talking/being stealthy/whatever. Player just needs an excuse to be there and doing something dramatic.

I've been a huge lore nerd here but you've been following a similar approach. The narrative is serving the purpose of forcing us to make choices and those choices are what *actually* matter. That and the whims of the dice gods. Fickle as they are. The close calls they've put us through were quite compelling. Shereen just barely surviving all instances of combat isn't a trend I wanted, but it has been compelling. Though I still hope for double crits when it really matters in regards to character survival. I don't wanna lose anyone, but if that danger wasn't there and real I wouldn't be nearly as invested.
Only one update today. Visited family, so I started late.
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''Your majesty, allow me to help now, before your condition flares again. I've heard about the alternative for tomorrow and-''

''Alternative? What alternative?'' Kin interrupted you, for a thirteen years old she was doing an admirable job staying composed.

''Alright.'' Tsukiyomi gently interject. ''Let's sit somewhere comfortable and Kin?'' The short, yet imposing queen-mother looks at her child. ''There's nothing to worry about anymore.''

The little blond expression made it obvious she wasn't believing her.

''Shereen?'' Tsukiyomi briefly turned her attention toward her, prompting your little sun to stiffen. She'd been standing next to Banu throughout Mother Earth arrival. ''We'll need your help.''

Apparently, this exercise wouldn't need Mother Earth expertise because Mana didn't linger, she went to join her son (is it possible? Siegfried is a demi-god!?) whilst the remaining shards started conversations with the assembled crowds.

''Siegfried told me you two have already figured out how to create artificial links?'' Tsukiyomi question forced you to keep your attention on her.

''Y-yes but is it okay? Doing blood magic in the presence of the goddess that reaaaally hates it?'' Shereen didn't need to tremble to look scared.

''I think practicing blood work in front of her is the safest thing to do.'' Tsukiyomi chuckled. ''Don't worry, something so harmless won't make her mad. I need you to construct a link with our blood so I can invite Arawn into my mindscape and from there, his magic will be able to synchronize with my soul... it'll be important that you don't get pulled however, having another consciousness will cause interference, it will muddle his magic and make it impossible to reach me.''

''Okay.'' Shereen nodded.

''Also, Arawn?'' Tsukiyomi was briefly interrupted when a shard delivered a knife made entirely out of glass, a weapon crafted out of Kyorn magic. ''You'll likely feel the presence of several consciousnesses within my body. My soul holds connections to several people... I an different way than my link with Siegfried. It is nowhere near on a similar level to the bond Klesiah share with her guardian but it is a similar situation. We won't be bothered or endangered, don't react strongly, alright?''

''Got it.''

Tsukiyomi gently prickled her finger with the weapon and you followed. Shereen extracted one fine bloody line out of both tiny wounds, your other hand was holding the Queen-Mother: the ninetailed fox grip was firm and strong despite her small hand.
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You've become familiar with the establishment of these artificial links and the joining of magical flow. Both participants needed active consent, the blood touched, mingled, and disappeared into an invisible bridge, slowly but surely your senses of the outside world diminished as if plunging your head underwater. All of it was familiar, it was good that Tsukiyomi warned you because you -did- feel the gentle ripples of foreign activity, observers to the intrusion that was your existence: the lake you were swimming inside held fishes instead of being empty and still.

There was no ill intent. Tsukiyomi mood felt strangely mischievous... and you caught glimpse of her fatigue.

You've yet to stay up for two or three days in a row but this... condition inside this venerable fox must be a similar experience. Her exhaustion was so intense it permeated everything: thoughts, movements, efforts, her existence itself. Every waking moment should be filled with yawns and groggy fights against falling asleep mid-conversation, tiredness that sleep couldn't fix, yet demanded you spent hours, days, recovering.

Had she been enduring this mounting fatigue for years?

Tsukiyomi's intent carried insistence. ''Follow me.'' Her mood said. You swallowed your sympathy, closed your eyes, and immersed yourself inside the inner worlds of souls, allowing the fox to pull you inside her very existence, the border between conscious and unconsciousness, what you've taken to call the mindscape.

At first, you felt the wind. A constant, insistent blowing warm enough to keep you very comfortable, the smell of a midday spring was comfortable but when you opened your eyes... you glimpsed into a dead landscape.

A field of ash dotted by small hills stretched into a lonely horizon with a sun barely strong enough to cast its rays through heavy gray clouds, one lonely ruined castle was the only sign of civilization. Near your feet was a campfire with smoldering fire barely able to keep going, the flash of reds and reds looked fierce in this dreary, dead landscape.

''Rather depressing, isn't it? I thought my daughters would at least have a presence here.'' Tsukiyomi appeared next to you. Her large blushy blonde tails were a stark contrast of vitality in this atmosphere.

''The wind is comfortable, so is the weather, we can talk without having a faceful of ash, your tails remain pretty too. I'll say things aren't as bad as they look.''

''Hm.'' Tsukiyomi chuckled. ''You're willing to comfort me despite my responsibility in your tragedy?'' She sensed your confusion and continued. ''I awoke briefly when you and Siegfried talked. Mother Earth allowed me to use her web which is how I found you.''

Ah, so everything started with her. Tsukiyomi found your location, from there a squad was formed, and then...
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''Siegfried tried to save me alongside Mamonos that were brought into the city to suffer the bonfires. He might have been too greedy that time... perhaps the person I was in the past wouldn't feel as I do now, but I don't begrudge him. I was too paranoid to trust in their attempts to befriend me, and my mood even made princess Celestyna suspicious.'' You shook your head. ''Can't say I'll ever be positive about it... but I'm making my peace. I'd rather do everything in my power to prevent further tragedies... and honestly, the idea that you wouldn't be able to see your children grow up is something too sad to ignore. I can help, I want to. That's that.''

A long silence followed one where the golden gaze of this mighty nine-tailed summoner bore into you with a sharpness that could be mistaken as fierceness but the gentleness of the atmosphere made you understand to not misunderstand her expression. ''You're a good man. I've gotten to know Elina and Sieglinde over the years... I think your little family has what it take to endure, if you need a little emotional help, I'd be more than willing to help.''

''Ha, that's huh... for later.'' Now's not the time to look bashful, Arawn! ''Shall we begin?''

''Indeed. We don't have time for anything elaborate and long-lasting but it'll be more than enough for tomorrow. I'll need you to simply reduce your magic into its simplest form and in turn, I'll absorb it. Think of this as... washing and disinfecting a wound, it's one step for healing but we still need to close the injury with sutures.''

''Leaving myself with around 5% of my energy should give you enough for tomorrow.''

''Five...?'' Tsukiyomi blinked in disbelief. ''That's far too much. You might need your magic to help Hao, I was thinking half of your reserve to be enough.''

You allowed yourself to feel a little smug. For once you can surprise a Supreme! ''Any mages can help me replenish my magic, we have more than enough people around us to make me generous.''

''Handy.'' She extended her hand. ''I'll trust your confidence... and thank you, Arawn. We've no idea what tomorrow will bring but I can at least avoid drugging myself.'' The campfire under her kindled with renewed energy, a tiny flame sprouted to life, and, for the briefest of moments... silhouettes appeared in the flames.

Tsukiyomi wasn't alone in her soul.

''Don't worry, they've always been a bit protective.''

The process of re-energizing Tsukiyomi's soul is so simple it barely worth mentioning. All you have to do is to become her battery: being inside her mindscape take care of the rest, the only notable difference is that you have actual authority over how much of your magic that filters into her.

It is slow, very careful work. One you are used to by now but you still need to work at a snail pace to make sure you break down your magic correctly. Each and every morsel leaving you need this operation, no such thing as transforming your entire flow.
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You give her everything you have, going one step away from Overcast. A bit reckless, sure, but you've gotten really good at measuring your flow.
When you exit the queen-mother mindscape, a few flowers had sprouted around the campfire of ash, crystalized blossoms of various colors.


You, Shereen, and Tsukiyomi were all huddled close on the couch when your senses returned. Enough time had passed for the atmosphere to veer into something relaxed: Agathe peaceful slumber (combined with the constant investigation of her soul by Mana, her shards, and Tomiko) managed to bring a little comfort to everyone worried about her.

Tsukiyomi didn't stir, she outright jumped on her feet and stretched, letting out an echoing ''Muuuh!'' while all of her big tails stretched out. The long, thick sleeve of her blue and white kimono feel all the way down her shoulder and, ignoring the collection of suitably confused stares, Tsukiyomi waited, breathing in and out...

''I don't feel any coming yawns.'' She commented, bringing her hands together in a clap. ''Thank you, Arawn. Thank you, Shereen.''

''Will you need more for tomorrow?'' Shades of reds snuck into the gray luminescence of your ignited magical nature, it was always worrisome to be riding that dangerous magical line... but you've done a good job avoiding Overcast. So far.

''No.'' Her thick vulpine ears straightened on top of her head. ''Running myself dry of magic will consume two-third of what you've given me. It's a temporary solution but it'll work for tomorrow.''

''I'll make sure your rejuvenation is long-lasting.''

People began to gather as you spoke with the queen-mother. Finding the light in the darkness of long, oppressive worries was lifting long-buried burdens.

''Mom...'' Kin approached Tsukiyomi, looking downcast and miserable. Such a positive little girl shouldn't keep those ears flattened. ''...I'm sorry that I-''

''Don't.'' Tsukiyomi squished her cheeks together. ''Don't ever apologize for something you can't do no matter how much you try, Kin. You've put the effort, you continue to.''

The Immortal Syndrome might be a natural progression of immortal life, finding a way to... cheat doesn't sound bad at all, especially if it allows a mother to be with her children. ''Natural progression'' is all too often a cruel reality.

Mother Earth seems a fan of progress.

Replenishing your magical reserves will be a non-issue with all the willing mages around.
''Thanks, little sun.'' Shereen tried not to smile when you patted her head but the grin that crept on her face prevented any attempts at remaining dignified.

''We'll take care of Hao now?'' Klesiah asked. The only person missing from your close friends were Mina and Zhu who were talking with Deruella maidens.

''Definitely. Still, we have time, do you think blood magic could help with her, Sieglinde?''

''I've been thinking about it all day.'' She responded, long-tail curling, showing the irritation silently radiating out of her. ''I'm not too sure, honestly. I've studied BLood Magic at length... but mostly in a way t counter it, to kill whatever is summoned, how to weaponize and neutralize it. Using it in helping the healing of Whitening is... outside my expertise.''

''Doesn't mean we shouldn't at least think about it. Mother... Mana outlined two solutions, but perhaps there's something we've overlooked? Or maybe we can find out...?''

You did have some time. Food will be delivered in the church, a military strategy meeting will begin now that Mana is here in the flesh.

''What do you think Hao?'' Klesiah asked.

''Having everyone souls helping me sound nice... romantic, yes? Arawn is so worried, Hao can't do anything at all...'' Frustration and sadness quietly escaped her. Aaah man. You really want to hug her now... but doing that will have you get carried away by your feelings.

>Employ one of Mana solutions (outlined here >>4887018)
>Take one hour for some brainstorming. You've got expert in souls, many people experienced in blood magic, your and Shereen magical natures, Mana knowledge, even some death pearls... Maybe there won't be a perfect solution but you can at least explore more options.
>>Take one hour for some brainstorming. You've got expert in souls, many people experienced in blood magic, your and Shereen magical natures, Mana knowledge, even some death pearls... Maybe there won't be a perfect solution but you can at least explore more options.
I think focusing on the soul aspect and trying to get a better understanding of what we would need to do, especially for the longer form of healing would be useful.

Also keeping Kin around for the explanation / crash course is probably a good idea so we both benefit to some degree.
>Take one hour for some brainstorming. You've got expert in souls, many people experienced in blood magic, your and Shereen magical natures, Mana knowledge, even some death pearls... Maybe there won't be a perfect solution but you can at least explore more options.

Why can't we give Hao a hug? It's ok to give people hugs when they need them!

Anyway, we have Mana, Tsu, and several other experts in regards to souls. Plus there's Sieg and the evil masterminds in regards to blood magic experts. Should be able to figure something out that won't take all damned night and leave us without a full tank of mana to kick ass with.

Speaking of Deru and Fluffy Satan, have they cracked that damned ritual yet? We might need them in a minute.
Oh, I also agree with keeping Kin around. She's a soul mage too so this would all be pertinent information for her. A "free lesson" in her magic if you will.
>Speaking of Deru and Fluffy Satan, have they cracked that damned ritual yet? We might need them in a minute.
They haven't made any dynamic entry yet.
>Oh, I also agree with keeping Kin around.
Cute! Maybe Arawn could become a mentor if he's still alive!
Provided those two crack that ritual I actually like our survival odds now that we've got Glorious Golden Fluffy Summoner of the Eastern Isles on our side who is able to go full tilt and not go comatose right afterwards tomorrow. Hell, she'll probably give us one of her best summons as a minion/bodyguard to make sure we don't die. After all, if we go down, her hopes of seeing her children grow up go down with us.

Her now at full power for the assault makes our attacking force even more busted than it already was. Hopefully the only reason they haven't come out to say anything yet is ego related. Ama always wants to make a scene and be dramatic. Deru will want to try and make it look/sound like she did most of the heavy lifting intellectually and "composing a speech" isn't a thing most people can just do on the spot. Takes some time. Maybe not much as I think Deru is quite charismatic and is convincing enough to sell sand in a desert but still some time.

Still, they *are* our true experts on blood magic and all its myriad uses. Our odds of finding a quick and efficient solution for Hao will involve them being present for this brainstorming session. Unless Mana's knowledge of blood magic rivals theirs. Y'know, "Know your enemy" and all that.
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I suppose waiting for them to put their input on Hao is possible. The worm is dead, the degeneration of her soul hasn't quite stopped but the worst is definitely over. Still, phase 1 of brainstorm will happen.
Hopefully all of this will help Shereen not feel useless anymore. If she can help fix Hao as well as Tsu we should be well on our way to curing her inferiority complex. Confident egotistical (in a good way) Shereen is better than mopey sad emo Shereen.
You're smart enough to understand how profound the feeling of inferiority Shereen got. Saying otherwise just backfires, only actions truly matter here.
Now she had better be making good use of "Ama-2" and probably indirectly informing her that we could really use a total master of blood magic's intricacies right now. Sieg poured everything into the "combat" arcana of it without it seems being an actual user at any time. Thus she can't really help us all that much.

Deru and Ama are both users, but the nature of the arcana changed and they are masters of their respective forms. Ama is a master of the ancient ways, and Deru the modern. Make Ama-2 drop the pretenses and get in here and help us damnit! I'm actually sure this Ama has grown to give a shit about her and would likely want her to be rid of that inferiority complex as it kind of hurts her a bit. Help us help her fix Hao and in so doing fix her biggest and most glaring psychological issue!
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So Ama IS waifu...
Ama-2/her shard *might* be. Original Ama is and always will be Fluffy Satan unless the shard somehow convinces her progenitor that being a "good" person is ever so much more fun and entertaining.

Hell, she'd have her own experience to use as a convincing argument. Favorite toy hates you down to the marrow of their bones? If only you'd had been "nice" to him he may have enjoyed your games over experiencing hatred towards you because of them.

Ame hates you? Well, if you'd have been kind and gentile instead of a demon who just found a way to manufacture a new toy to play with maybe you'd have an actual relationship with her that didn't involve a desire on her end to kill you the instant she gets the chance!

I could go on and on but I fear my hopes for her are largely just that. Ama-2 isn't an independent fork but rather a mere extension of her will that she hopes we'll consider a fork and thus actually trust it and by extension her. THAT mistake will fuck us over rather hard.
Little heads up, I probably won't be able to answer today. IRL business imposing itself some more, weekends really aren't my friends.
Thread will resume tomorrow, sorry about that impromptu pause. On the other hand, I'm pretty happy about our progress, we'll see where things take us Sunday.
Might not be able to post today, I keep losing internet. I'll do what I can to at least produce one post.
Yeah I'll update tomorrow. Today was pretty rough on my health too, writing was slow. Trying to make weekends a priority for questing ain't working out, see you guys soon!
''I feel like it might be hasty to be making a decision so soon. That worm is finally gone but the damage is still there, the Whitening is a fire consuming your soul from within...'' You gazed at Hao who couldn't return your stare. She felt ashamed of her condition but there was also a wave of tiny underlying anger you couldn't place, an incessant, almost gentle smoldering.

''Arawn...This strength might be scary but strength isn't bad, Hao isn't scared. Everyone can help me, yes?'' She reached for the closest hand, which happened to be Shereen.

''Of course. Whatever we do, we can't return your soul to its healthy state quickly enough to let you fight with us tomorrow safely. I have no intention of making you completely dependent on my existence so our only reasonable option is Mana second solution which consists of peeling layers of our souls to reinforce yours and heal the damage...''

''Hm, it's true we can't predict any long-term effect right now.'' Tsukiyomi had been listening to your rambling and walked back toward your group. Her small daughter trailed behind her timidly. ''However, there's nobody else who could manipulate all of your souls without interference. Something doesn't satisfy you?''

''I wouldn't say that, no, rather I'm wondering if there's another way... My magic helped you.'' You look at the nine-tailed fox woman, having to constantly resist the urge to cover your mouth with your hand. Bad habit, that. ''Shereen magical nature combine so perfectly with mine we don't need any efforts to join flows... with that intruder gone I keep wondering if, maybe, there's a solution we're overlooking.''

''Blood magic is always a dangerous thing... that is if it is manipulated in the ways I know, I've never met a natural user.'' She nods to Shereen. ''It is a physical type of magic whereas yours is spiritual, both equally hard to define but I suspect their opposing existence is what makes it so easy to unite. I'm not sure if there's a solution to healing the Whitening in there.'' Tsukiyomi clears her throat. ''The best way for healing the soul is by natural, long-term means, someone like Mana can do a little cheating but it is still slow work. She will need to constantly reduce Hao's natural intensity and work to plug the holes in a way comparable to knitting. A protective scarf will be created around her, the holes will be covered and slowly regrown all at once.''

''Saying it like that... People often attribute Blood Magic as the body while souls are consciousness, if Arawn and Shereen combine their magic and then apply a logic similar to his fueling spell...''

''It could work.'' Tsukiyomi nods at Sieglinde. ''That's the problem. ''Could.'' I've never tried anything similar because ritualized Blood Magic is nowhere near as controllable compared to what Shereen has shown us. If Hao was human perhaps it would be a genuinely good thing... Her corruption could interfere with this healing process.''
Sieglinde winced. ''Right.''

Humans are beings of bodies and souls, Mamonos also add a third concept: Corruption. It is the lubricant, the dampener of reality that keeps their unusual body from crumbling to the harsh rules of existence.

''Perhaps lessening its intensity would allow this healing process.'' Daiyu inserted herself into the conversation. ''To keep with your allusion, one cannot knit in the middle of a storm, but if you go inside your house...''

''I-I'm not sure if I can do what you do, Arawn.'' Shereen squeaked. Holding hands with Hao had given her a little courage. ''Breaking down your magic like that, in a way that can help people... I have no idea if it can be done. Or how to start.''

''Hm... Perhaps you'll get an idea if we were to establish a link and you come into my mindscape?'' Do you have the time to spare with exploring this option? Can Blood Magic even be ''reduced'' in such a way? If you waste time, the one who'll pay for it is Hao...

''Goodness goodness, that's quite the crowd, is this the new college of souls?'' Tomiko was never far from Deruella.

''We're still missing a pair of white heads, the military can wait.'' Mana had also come, your little conversation with Tsukiyomi was already growing exponentially: discussing souls might just be Zipangu national pastime.

The discussion promptly moved away from your area of expertise. Without Deruella, Sieglinde was the authority on Blood Magic and nobody could rival Daiyu knowledge in Corruption, Mana brought another piece of importance: experience about pearls. The discussion would often move somewhere dangerous...

''Had the worse happened, I believe you'd have been able to preserve Hao life.'' Mana held your remaining Awakened Pearl, gazing into it ''Are you familiar with revenants?'' The silence that welcomed her from you and Shereen was her answer. ''They are undead in the closest sense of the word, unlike regular Mamonos they are made, not born. By adding the nature of death and using the pathway of your united souls, I believe you'd have been able to pour that very concept into Hao soul, transforming it into a being similar to angels, with a Whitening of lesser intensity burning her soul for as long as you live.''

''You mean she'd constantly lose her memories?'' Kin asked.

''Indeed, she would perhaps only be able to remember a year of her life at most but she'd be alive... and frighteningly powerful, who knows how her Corruption would change to accommodate her maimed soul? Thankfully, this wasn't her fate.'' Mana proceeded to walk up to Hao to rub her head, giving your pearl back. ''Your friends really care.''

''Friends...'' Hao leaned closer, finding comfort and quite a bit of nostalgia in the incarnated goddess's hand. ''...family.''
For the better part of an hour, the subject of souls, blood magic, Whitening and links occupied most of everyone's thoughts. You and Shereen showed the odd natural magical synchrony between Soul and Blood natures plenty of time by building spiritual bridges with anyone curious enough to try (though actual delve into mindscape wasn't going to happen because even a casual one needed at least thirty minutes of shared meditation).

Several important conclusions resulted from this brainstorming.

The uncertainty of a natural Blood Mage: Sieglinde knowledge of Blood Magic was about countering its modern form, resulting in an encyclopedic repertoire of curses, ritual summoning, and -above all- ingredients.

Mana brought the added benefit of mixing pearls with this modern evolution of Blood Magic that she summarized this way: ''I won't curse anyone else with this knowledge.'' Unfortunately, none of them had practiced the cursed craft, the intricacies of subtle rituals escaped them and, above all, Shereen nature isn't something that should exist. Yet your little sun is a mage like anyone born with the gift. They had nothing concrete to work with, not without studying her magic in depth.

Time. Healing souls take time.
Even in the best-case scenario, where you and Shereen could create a ''Primordial Energy'' (it's how the eggheads named the hypothetical result of your shared magic) you'd need time to heal Hao's soul. You aren't practiced in this craft, how long would it take you? Six hours at best, leaving a very tight schedule with tomorrow... but what if you need more? What if you need twelve hours? Eighteen? Zipangu is mustering troops and preparing their mages for a ritual tomorrow at noon and they won't wait for you.

Having someone skilled in spiritual surgery like Tomiko become the authority of your ''healing'' magic would still need plenty of preparation: days of gentle manipulation to ensure synchrony between her, Hao, yourself, and all of your links souls. The only one who can circumvent this problem is Mana... Even then, she'd need at least two hours to operate. During that time, either you or all of your links will be indisposed... alongside Daiyu. The goddess needed the Demon Lord assistance to ensure a speedy recovery for Hao. And of course Shereen would need to also help her.

A soul body.
It is widely understood that souls possess a shell, a protective outer layer against the numerous forces wanting to feed on the energy within. Blood Magic is physical: curses to alter the body, weaponization of blood in countless ways, tearing open the veil of reality to let in some ungodly demon... Even if tempered by your nature, how would this straightforward magic interact with a wounded soul?
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The worm infesting you would have fed on Hao soul, resulting in her inner corruption pouring into it. Corruption is a weird force for it is both spiritual and physical: Shereen weakened soul will eventually be desynchronized with her body due to tiny flakes of spiritual Corruption making their ways inside. How would Blood Magic interact with that? The only example the girls had weren't positives.

There is also Ama... She has some authority on your soul. Could she try to sneak some tiny, invisible infection into anyone you operate on?

Result? In theory, joining your magic with Shereen and breaking it down into a ''Primordial Energy'' should be possible and you could proceed with healing from there... but the difficulty is immense due to time constraints. Mana options would inevitably tie Hao existence to everyone else or yourself much more intimately and might cause side effects in the long term... All of this, of course, can be avoided if Hao doesn't come to fight tomorrow. Without the worm, her disease is at least under control.

''We'll need to change priority soon.'' Waltier was the one to break the scholarly bubble. ''The magical ritual that would bring us in Muribel could... use changes, I'm hoping you can help with that, Mana.''

''Yes, yes of course.'' Mana had been pampering Kin for a while, the adorable bundle of fluff had been sitting on her grandma's knees for a while, doing her best to understand the discussion. ''That's a bridge to cross.''

Indeed, Hao situation was an important topic but there were still bigger concerns, everyone here spared an hour to discuss her situation.

''I think Mana gave us our best options given our time constraint.'' Elina voiced her opinion, one silently agreed by Klesiah and Sieglinde.

Damnable time.

''Aaahahaha! Triumph! Give me a triumph!''

An unusual yell resonated into your side of the church. Deruella had stormed out of the backroom to stand before the crowd, arms stretched out toward heaven, white wings sprouting out of her wings fully outstretched. ''Some old granny snake won't be outsmarting me!''

''Gaaark!?'' You've never heard a deer being gutted alive before but Ama scream must be a close imitation.
''Yii!?'' Shereen yelped in obvious fright.
The moment the evil witch came out looking smug and satisfied, one of Mana shards sucker-punched her in the guts and another grabbed her throat.

''Bitches! Stop this right now!'' Deruella grabbed onto the multicolored hair of a shard and yanked the girl head back with obvious reinforcement, nearly snapping the shard's neck. ''This is the time for me to indulge in intellectual triumph and I will not have my moment ruined by some petty grudge dating from way before I was born! Let the fox go or I'll make you!'' Her angry scream resonated throughout the church. ''Also, which one of you scared my darling Francine? Get the fuck out of my face, I've got pleeeeeenty of excitement to take out now!''
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Deruella wide smirk and open, tenebrous gaze looked manic, nearly out of control, the shards wisely took the option to retreat. You could barely make out the luminous form of Francine peeking out of the doorway.

''Nice... nice seeing you too, mommy.'' Ama massaged her throat, tails, and ears drooping. ''Not the first time, remember?''

Mana spared a single glance at the fox, then wrapped her arms around Kin and lowered her face to give the little blond neck plenty of kisses. ''This, Kin, is an incompetent ninetailed fox. Don't become like her.''


''Hi mom!'' The tenebrous demoness instantly replied, giving angered Demon Lord a thumb up. ''I love receiving a good spanking but you'll have to wait, this crowd needs to hear some very important things.''

A deep guttural growl was Daiyu only response.

''Oh gods, Father preserve us...'' Sieglinde hide her face with her hands, her long, thick, deadly tail wrapped around one of your legs.

''Hehehe.'' Hao giglged. ''Deru is fun.''

You've stalled as long as you could with Hao situation.

>One of the options outline by Mana is your best bet. Safe, Hao will be able to fight tomorrow... There might be unforeseen side effects but ultimately, can you worry about it now? (>>4889154)
>Doing something wholly experimental with Shereen magic is better. You can't have Hao life be dependent on you or anyone else...
>Hao is too wounded to participate tomorrow. She'll need to remain here, willingly or not.
>Leave the decision to Hao. This is her soul, her health... She should decide for herself.
Before you ask, asking Ama and Deru about a solution won't give you any other options. You don't have the time for anything else.
The next update is gonna be another chunker, not sure if I'll have enough time to pump it out tomorrow. I'll leave votes open until tomorrow afternoon regardless.
>Leave the decision to Hao. This is her soul, her health... She should decide for herself.
We'll do as she wishes, and do our best to accommodate her choice.
I'll go along with what Hao wants, but not the option that ties our lives together. That option means that if one of us goes down, the other goes down with em'. So if some bastard gets lucky and headshots one of us our party loses *two* people instead of one. Not acceptable. Too risky given what's about to go down.

Also, it seems like Deru cracked the ritual over Ama. I'm sure she helped out a lot, but she figured out the last piece first. Yeah, she's happy about this. So am I if I'm right. We needed that ritual cracked.
>I'll go along with what Hao wants, but not the option that ties our lives together.
Meaning the first one. The second option isn't as intense since it'll spread to everyone.
>So am I if I'm right. We needed that ritual cracked.
You'll be seeing quite soon.
Oh, would Mana be able to help with the Shereen option? That'd probably make it faster.
She'll help out however she can. Shereen option though, is pretty risky since it's unknown territory
Risky how? Like, might do nothing or might kill her? Would dice get involved?
It's unknown territory. Shereen doesn't know how to manipulate her magic in a way similar to Arawn, though it -should- be possible.
Everything is a big if.
Dices will get involved, yes.
>Shereen option involves the dice gods
I don't like that, but if that's what Hao wants to go for we'll go for it. Again though, no binding her existence to ours.

She's kinda dumb, but she has common sense. Surely she knows how foolishly risky it is to have our lives linked in this coming battle.
Hao is a romantic!
However, if you leave it up to her, she'll opt for the collective option since that's what families do. She originally wanted the first one. She doesn't think experimenting is a good idea because Shereen would take failure extremely hard.
If that's what she wants then that's what she wants. It is her decision and everyone is more than willing to give up a shard of their soul to mend hers.

I just hope this doesn't negatively impact our chances of restoring Gardy. Metal bro's been through some serious shit. He deserved a chance to be happy. He's earned that at least.
He'd put Hao health above his own
Yeah, because he's like that. I just hope he wouldn't needlessly sacrifice himself. He had to know how much we cared about him and how sad we'd be if he fully died on us.

You really like making me worry about bestest buddy don't you?
You haven't asked about him now that you're in Zipangu. Sieglinde knows something at least...
And she fears that if she spills the beans she'll somehow doom Gardy to eternal limbo or something. Perhaps we can ask Mana about it after we fix Hao. I always thought that fixing Gardy might need literal divine intervention. We could also have Sieg discuss it with her. She's likely the key to fully restoring his ego core in any reasonable time frame. He's probably got auto-repair protocols working, but he got really fucked up along with us and the girls. Likely it'd take anywhere from another decade to a century or two for him to restore himself unaided.
Talking with ama about Gardy could be an interesting choice... when you have time. For now, everyone will be busy, there's a ritual to explain, a soul to heal, and then a military strategy meeting... Gardy sure would be useful.
Mana, I meant Mana. So many people to keep track of!
Ama? Oh hell nah, she wants him to be gone and stay gone. Mana is who we'd wanna talk to. Sieg too, if Mana thinks Sieg's info would be pertinent.

Not sure how good Gardy would be in planning assaults. A defense in depth? None better. An assault however... Though he would know a hell of a lot about pearl magic and rituals like we're trying to stop given that was just "magic" in his time.
>Though he would know a hell of a lot about pearl magic and rituals like we're trying to stop given that was just "magic" in his time
Indeed, indeed. Ama was born in the waning of the Pretenders and still managed to learn quite a bit, Gardy was an active participant.
Hmmm... we still get access to his memory banks if we do a "light" fusion right? We might want to do that during the planning. We got mages and thus magic to spare on a "frivolous" fusion and that knowledge would be *very* useful.

Y'know. Tell everyone what's the worst that could happen. What to expect if you see someone whip out a purple pearl in combat, potential countermeasures, all that good stuff.
>Hmmm... we still get access to his memory banks
Yeah but it's pretty hard to make sense of and it's all instinctive since the fusion is about battle experience. Arawn couldn't really explain how a pearl ritual in detail, but he'd be able to identify potential spells thrown around by pearl users, alongside knowledge about spells in general etc. You wouldn't retain anything after going out of Fusion of course. You wouldn't be able to know how those pearl spells work precisely, only what they do.
What about medium? Would that give us an active "search database" function? We don't have to remember what we said, only other people do. They can tell us what we told them after we've said our peace. Teamwork makes the dream work!
>What about medium? Would that give us an active "search database" function?
Not without Gardy soul, unfortunately.
So we need to restore Gardy to get full access to his memory banks? Welp, there's a damn good reason to restore him then.

Yeah, definitely talking to Mana about him after we heal Hao. Can we ask her if healing Hao with the group option might harm Gardy? She knows about our situation doesn't she?
> Can we ask her if healing Hao with the group option might harm Gardy? She knows about our situation doesn't she?
Yeah, Klesiah spoke to Mina and that relayed into Mana.
And to answer your question now (since the healing will take a while) she thinks Gardy will be fine. The collective healing will have everyone but Arawn help out because you're the anchor, you can't afford to ''peel'' off pieces of your soul
She probably knows about how we now lack Gardy's ego core then. She didn't say anything but Klesiah isn't stupid. If she didn't feel his presence despite being linked to us it means he ain't there. Doesn't know how or why or how we survived that, but that's the obvious conclusion.

God I miss bestest buddy. He had the best banter.
Oh, are all the mages here gonna be participating in the battle tomorrow? If an option to restore Gardy comes up that also dooms us to a sleepless night if implemented, well, I think a low ranking mage or two would understand having to sit this one out if it means fielding another Embodiment level entity. To field Gardy of all things? Yeah, they'd get it.

We suck em' dry and get full mana without sleeping. Like I said above, a few stims can easily erase the downsides of a single sleepless night if mana regeneration isn't a concern. Boy are we gonna sleep like the dead after it's all over if it all works out like that though. Our vice is Sloth and man alive is it gonna show after this is over.
Oh, well, if we can suck em' dry in an hour or two it won't matter as *they* will still get a full night's sleep and thus regen all their mana.

I'm getting too tired. Gotta sleep.
>Oh, are all the mages here gonna be participating in the battle tomorrow?
>I think a low ranking mage or two would understand having to sit this one out if it means fielding another Embodiment level entity.
The lowest-ranked mage here is a tossup between Kin and Shereen. Everyone else might not have your pure raw magical talent but they're making up for that in plenty of areas. Some of the unnamed recruits in the mustering ground could maybe serve as battery for you but that would mean fetching em.
In that case, you could honestly drain from all the gathered shards, Klesiah, Elina, Hadraniel, Kyorn, Siegfried, the fluffy queens... list is too long. That's a bridge to cross if we get to it.
In terms of skill or actual reserves? Shereen's and Kin's ought to convert at a 1:1 ratio at worst given their closeness to our own despite not being linked to us.

If you're talking "Restoring Gardy safely yet brute force style requires 800% of your mana capacity" than we kinda have that given how many shards and willing mages are present and in an area where the web is about as strong as it can get (i.e. they regen their mana at the max rate). Then the only question is if big ME actually wants Gardy to be fully restored or not. Plus if Old Siggy still has the "Soul/Memory sacrifice" skill he may be able to fuel us up with a big memory or two if Mana assures him that doing so *will* restore Gardy and that will, in our eyes, settle any and all debts he owes us both known and imagined.

I'd think yes, but that's a big side story going all the way back to the age of the pretenders. He probably fucked her over many a time and she did so in return. Have those wounds healed? In seeing what he did for us did she see something she didn't expect and that touch her in a deep way? I really gotta sleep now. Wagie Cagie and all that. See ya tomorrow.
>In terms of skill or actual reserves?
Reserves are even harder to define, Siegfried, Ame, and Tsu are the only ones with similar amounts to yours.
>Restoring Gardy
Impossible to happen without his soul my friend.
>but that's a big side story going all the way back to the age of the pretenders
Not really. Mother Earth didn't really do much during the Age of Pretenders... Rather, she woke up and began killing all the Pretenders that remained.
So... His soul got shorn off from ours somehow and isn't anywhere near here? I thought that meant we'd die too given how we underwent a full fusion.

I guess that means it really is still in Throne Town's red world awaiting us to go and retrieve it (assuming someone or something hasn't done so already). Eh, Mana's here for 3 days. We'll have one more day after tomorrow to secure her help in making us whole once more.

ME's story with the pretenders would be interesting. Don't know why she'd go after Devona. She doesn't sound like a tyrant or a dark god. Gardy wouldn't have fought to the last for her if she was. She sounded mostly harmless. Why would ME seek to waste her?
>Why would ME seek to waste her?
Awakened ME did not have the wisdom current ME has. Gods, alas, far too often make other people pay for their mistakes and fast conclusions...
Update is likely to come tomorrow, if not the day after that. Deruella is going to outline some very important things so I gotta make sure I give the right info...
Ah, so she and Bad Fluffy did crack the ritual. Excellent news. Now we can form a plan and thus spare many from needless deaths. Ourselves and our waifus most definitely included of course.

Still, if she's wiser now she may have spared Devona and may be in possession of Gardy's Ego Core/Soul. I just hope she didn't do some "editing" if ya catch my drift.
Last two days were pretty hard on my health, I can only start working now. Sorry about that delay folks
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Sorry for all that delay, I've had a major case of brain fog that I finally shook off today. Update coming tomorrow, I promise.
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''Gather round good people, gather round!''

''Teach!'' As Deruella kept indulging her single-minded glory, one of the very few individuals truly happy to see her ran forward. ''You worked out the magic number? Also, something happened to my sister, what were you doing!?'' With hands on her hips and her single busy tails swaying around, Kin tried her best to impose her little presence.

''Oh yes, it's still one thousand.'' Deruella walked back to grab Ama and somewhat gently push the vixen onto a random chair. ''Your sister was in good hands, that scream did rattle my heart, believe me. Lit a little fire in there.'' She gently tapped her chest.

The crowd of Zipangu was faring... well. You honestly suspected that Mana would attempt violence in front of everyone so the fact magic wasn't being thrown around meant things were as good as you could hope. Having the two most hated women of their entire country standing here was taking a toll on the queen. Siegfried was hugging her from behind, the tall, dark-haired vixen kept her eyes closed, little blue fireflies danced around her, helping to keep herself peaceful... Ama wasn't acknowledging her daughter, no better signs than a quiet witch to understand how thin the line between tolerance and homicide was.

It was one hell of an understatement to say these two had a history.

''Now, my dears is the time to gather close. I've no intention to keep on screaming!'' Deruella continued. ''There's quite a bit to go over.''

Deruella wings fully deployed as she held up one finger.

''The ritual of Apotheosis is simple. By killing a frightening amount of people and trapping their souls within a great magical web, Zerase can force them all into a nexus -her blood pyramid- and start breaking down all these unfortunate people into raw magical energy.'' Deruella balled her hands into fists rubbed them together for emphasis. ''With a hundred pearls, she'd have the energy to give this power an identity and weaken our malleable reality to make her newfound situation ''stick'' and thus, repeat the phenomenon of antiquity with the added benefit of avoiding the need of worshippers to remain alive.''

''Now why would she need Anais for that?'' Deruella continued after a little silence. ''The good princess blood can bait the Red World entities into her pyramid, thereby giving her a leg into that alternate reality and become... similar to one of the princes I'd say. A Pretender God with a leg of influence in the Red World, isn't that a frightening thought? There's also the fact her blood will help immensely in smoothening the transition from simple mortal into something a little bigger and, as Mana here showed, one can be a god without losing that important facet called ''humanity''. Doing so would break our reality too quickly and likely result in a second Cursed Swamp. Or Zerase entire personality will get diluted into something else.''
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''Wouldn't she also need Shereen nature to help her ritual?'' Tsukiyomi asked before you could.

''Yes and no. Our darling fluffy princess magical gift is to create security, make sure the ritual work. You see, Zerase is a careful woman. Very, very careful woman. She layered her ritual with many fallbacks and, those are the things we'll need to break tomorrow... I'll speak about our darling soon enough.'' Deruella cleared her throat and looked at Kin. ''Little love, could you bring me some water?''

Eager to make herself useful, Kin went to fetch a waterskin. Deruella indulged by giving her apprentice a little head pat before continuing.

''So, the ritual is simple. Mimic Mother Earth web, spread it throughout the country, collect as many death pearls as you can, activate the concept of ''death'' attached to everyone in your big area of influence and then absorb everything into a nice pile of primordial magic glue broken down by the Blood Pyramid and eat up a fat pig called Horkus while you're at it to handle the complication of the Red World. That was the plot, which has been derailed fairly early on.''

''Wait, why didn't she do anything after the pig got roasted? We were pretty much at her mercy in Marleon before we had to leave.''

''Don't interrupt.'' Deruella wagged a finger at Zhu. ''That is a good question however, the only answer I can give you is a hypothesis: she knew her daughter was compromised and laid low to make the witch stop being an unknown factor.''

''Didn't help.'' The pale vixen scoffed. ''She didn't expect I'd teach one of my followers how to manipulate pearls. Still, she was frighteningly powerful inside that eery village...''

''Let's peel off Zerase layers of security one by one.'' Deruella didn't wait for the witch to continue musing.

''Shereen is a natural blood mage, an extreme rarity yes... and if the Blood Pyramid were to be somehow broken, you could help Zerase accomplish her goal without it. One fallback option.'' Taking a piece of paper out of her pocket, Deruella laid out the sentence

Shereen = Potential Blood Pyramid on the altar.

''The matter of Horkus was another layer of security. Out of all the Red Prince, that pig was the one with enough sentience to make deals with mortals. At some times during your life, she tied your soul to his and your very rare nature was enough to make it patient, by taking over your body and emprisoning your soul, he'd be able to make use of your magic.'' Shereen closed her eyes, managing to avoid looking emotional. Perhaps it was because of Banu holding her hand and your arms going around her shoulders. ''Not that it matters since Zerase intended to betray and consume him, using her nice stockpile of pearls to help her achieve this. Horkus was also a potential replacement for some of the victims needed to reach Apotheosis.''

Taking out another piece of paper, Deruella made sure everyone saw the written sentence.
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Red Princes = souls

She also took out another.

Anais blood = attract the Red Princes

''Now, we have to stop counting our blessings.'' She took a moment to observe the crowd. ''Zerase expedited her ritual after her fight against Ama, something she had been fully prepared to do. The fog is a product of hers, something layered with death pearls made to interact with her web... at her command, it'll kill anyone connected to her magical tapestry.''

Your small voyage to find Leena had borne this unexpected truth, you and the girls have witnessed firsthand how strange vines seemed to stab directly into people souls... A phenomenon also reported by the small group that ventured into the Red World yesterday.

''Wait... that means people in the capital are doomed?'' Shereen spoke the lingering thought in everyone's minds.

''Yes.'' Deruella answer was direct and dry. ''I'd say only a goddess could do something here, we'd need to directly strike at Zerase web and, unfortunately, I've no idea how to accomplish that.'' More than a few eyes drifted toward Ama and Mana, both remained silent. ''So I've decided they aren't worth the headache.''

''What!? Worth the headache!?'' Kin yelled in disbelief, glaring at her teacher. ''Teach you... you're condemning how many people now?''

''Zerase proclaimed a week of festivities before we left, I'd wager there is a million souls in Marleon vicinity by now.'' The white demoness casually answered, causing a grim mood to settle in the listening crowd of veteran warriors. ''When we strike, she'll react and consume them... That added strength will allow her to safely dispel Anais protective petrification, we'll need to be quick and merciless, little love. Granted, she'll need to be mindful of the timing because she also needs to handle the Red Princes.''

One million death... just like that? A number? All condemned? Your time in Muribel made you grow distasteful of its lethargic, apathetic people but that is not a fate they deserve. You felt your little sun tensed body, you hugged her close.

Her mother was an unforgivable woman, yet Shereen couldn't help but love her despite it all. And that was something that visibly frustrated her, despite all the logic that should steer her feelings somewhere else... Her claw gently dug into your skin.

''We can only think of preventing it as a luxury.'' Deruella continued after the long silence. ''Here's the other likely step our big snake will slither into.'' She took out another paper.

Consuming the Red Princes.

''Horkus remain combined with the little blood she extracted from Anais already attracted the mountainous dimwitted Prince, she's probably trying to force the second one out of hiding as we talk whilst finding the whereabout of the Pygmy... They are to replace the wide population she intended to sacrifice.''

''Those creatures won't bow to her will.'' Ama commented.
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''Zerase is a careful planner but my dear mother did point out that she's willing to gamble if faced with failure. Also, she's not going to find the Pygmy anywhere, so at the very least we have that little bit of time.'' Deruella responded, grinning smugly at the fox. ''Which bring out another important point of her ritual.'' She took out another piece of paper.

One thousand magical pearls of ammunition. Security insurance

''The country of Muribel was founded roughly 60 years after my mother ascension, from there we could assume it took Zerase, say, 5 years to create her conspiracy of cultivation, then if, say, it took one entire month to create one death pearl... Well, let's not bother with the math, she has more than enough and that's taking into account any potential uses throughout the years. One thousand death pearls are enough to take down the princes, especially if they fight and weaken each other and it is a dangerous stockpile to use against us, it is Zerase biggest security layer, one we can't do anything about.''

''I'll go into more details about her potential spells later.'' Ama said while leaning back, letting one long flow of pink smoke out of her mouth.

''To summarize.'' Deruella wings flapped excitedly.
''Zerase likeliest course of action will be to fight and consume the Red Princes tomorrow by using her stockpiled magical ammunition and she will activate her web to consume her unlucky followers to grant her even more power... Once that is done, she'll be able to safely dispel Anais protective petrification and sacrifice the good princess on her pyramid to ''bind'' her existence in the world, failing to do so would likely result in another Cursed Swamp.''

''That's... a whole lot to take in.'' Elina commented. ''That means we'll have three objectives? Three fronts?''

''Four.'' Deruella held up that many fingers. ''The bulk of our force will need to defend our means of entry for reinforcement and create an area of magical ''safety'' against Zerase weaponized web and, of course, her soon-to-be undead soldiers. Otherwise she might very well reinforce a pocket of deadly reality for all living beings in the entire palace ground.''

''We'll need to send a strong squad in the Red World to kill off the Princes or, at least, make them flee to deny Zerase the souls she needs.''

''A big squad will need to make a breakthrough into the palace inner sanctum to break the Pyramid of Blood.''

''This same squad will need to find Anais, dispel the enchantment of stone, and keep her out of Zerase reach.''

Each one was a tall order. Combined? How the hell can something like this be accomplished?

''Now's the time for questions!''
>''Why are you so certain about the Pygmy whereabouts?''
>''Can anything be done about her Web?''
Stuff like Zipangu military capabilities is background info, no need to ask about it.
>''Can anything be done about her Web?''
I have a feeling that when things start happening they're going to go down hill very, very rapidly.
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Damn, I was right, we actually *need* this busted ass party to even have a shadow of a ghost of a chance to come out of this one intact! Zerase has everyone right fucked now doesn't she?

How much time do we have for questions? How about that web, any way to knock it out? I dare say that the "faith" of most people isn't all that fervent. I'm sure the zeal of the average Zerasite is outdone by most followers of ME or regional deities like Graz. Of course, if merely having any kind of faith matters that's a moot point.

I think Ama told us about the pygmy as well. What's he do again?
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>How much time do we have for questions?
Time isn't much of a concern for now.
>I think Ama told us about the pygmy as well. What's he do again?
She hasn't told much because it's the one Prince she hasn't been able to find. Deru seems confident about it, for some reason.
Ok, the pygmy comes later. That web is our biggest problem. Ask about it. How it forms, what its capabilities are and what it enables Zerase to do besides kill her faithful and go full Blazblue on them. Especially focus on ways to weaken or destroy sections of it if that's possible.

It goes without saying that if there's a way to nuke the web that becomes an objective. With it gone a lot of potential headaches go away with it.
''The Web and the pearls are the biggest dangers. We can't do anything about her stockpile, can we do anything about the former?'' Your question bring many eyes toward the only possible authority on the subject.

Mana looks awkward against all this collective attention. She runs one hand through the long multicolored hair of a shard standing dutifully in front of her.

''Yes, I believe so. However, that would bring an even bigger problem.'' Stepping away from her... child? Clone? Ama interlocked her fingers in prayers, running her gaze over the crowd. ''I would need to use my own Web to counteract hers... but that would make it impossible for me to use it for our entry strategy.''

''Zipangu means of invasion is to send a strong squad through a portal in Kreszenz.'' Waltier speaks solemnly. ''From there they will enter the Red World and rush into Muribel. Distance doesn't translate as it does here, in our World Tree. Once they reach their destination, the queen herself will enchant a portal with her soul and we'll open a dozen more at once in the mustering ground to let our first wave through.''

The queen herself would...!?

''The palace grounds are protected by a wall so I'll to emerge outside. We've got enough magic to bust through, Kyorn will be with me for the entire thing too, so I'll be safe.'' Ame spoke casually, the magical phenomenon that was happening around was gone. ''Bit reckless I'll admit, but it'll work. The people we've selected to accompany me have all been trained in handling and moving through that hellscape.''

''My dear queen, that is far too stupid for me to allow.'' Mana direct answer made the vixen frown. ''What I intended to do was to make full use of my web here to transport two hundred warriors and crash directly into the palace grounds. Unfortunately, that would make it impossible to use it in countering Zerase web... There is an alternative.''

Mana looked at you.

''By using your last remaining Awakened Pearl, not only could I add fifty more warriors to our initial entry, I would be able to summon most of my shards from the Allied Kingdoms to join us. but that, unfortunately, means removing your trump card.''

''Wouldn't our last regular pearls allow you to do that?'' Siegfried question was met by an unfortunate shake of her head.

''Two death pearls can make an astral, two astral can make a pearl of air. Unfortunately, you have only two pearls... and the Awakened one will also allow me to fully synchronize with my Web.''

Leading to her rallying of shards.
The initial strategy was to send a strong squad in the Red World and open a portal outside the palace of Muribel. This will inevitably lead to a battle in the wide-open arid plains outside the palace, the rescue squad will have to directly break into the protected grounds. You will be able to conserve your pearl and Mana can carry her Web to possibly counteract Zerase. However, the disadvantage is obvious: Queen Ame-no-Uzume, Kyorn, and everyone they bring will be far too drained to do anything but defend the portal. Who know what kind of complication they'll face, too? Two Red Princes are in Muribel.

By draining her web in Zipangu, Mana can launch 200 warriors directly into the palace grounds... She will not be able to effectively counter Zerase by doing so, but everyone gathered here will remain in perfect health and stamina before the assault. You will be able to keep your pearl

Then, if you give Mana your last Awakened Pearl.
You will crash directly into the palace grounds with 250 warriors and an unknown addition of Mother Earth shards and, more importantly, Mana can carry a piece of her web into battle and might even be able to synchronize with the Allied Kingdoms, too...

The first option is reckless and will put a squad of strong Red World explorers into great dangers, you will be able to conserve your two biggest tactical options to hopefully quickly swing the unfavorable beginning in your favor.

The second option is a good compromise. Crash directly into the middle of Zerase palace, bypass the walls, open the portal into Zipangu for reinforcement, keep your pearl. Zerase web remains a dangerous complication.

Having Mana consume your last magical artifact... Will give your faction a very strong opening on the battlefield. Would carrying that momentum forward be enough for victory...?

''U-um, Mana?'' In the tense silence, Shereen shaky voice caught everyone's attention and your little sun retreated into your arms. ''Your divine web is like... a communicator, right?''
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''It works damnably slowly, but yes. Carrying and relaying information is what it does best.''

''Okay so, say, if Arawn give you his pearl and if some people in Kreszenz were warned, wouldn't it be possible to bring reinforcement from over there? Use your web without consuming it to, say, open a portal here?''

''...'' Mana stared at the ground, working out the details in her mind.

''...Yes. It could work. I could send a pair of my girls now and they'll emerge in Kreszenz by midnight.''

''I've left Belphegor in charge of the Swamp back there.'' All four of Daiyu wings flap excitedly. ''General Zazawu and his red guards have been training with the Rangers extensively to understand and navigate the swamp. If we could have him with us, he'd be worth two Heroes by himself.''

You have no trouble remembering that guy. Zazawu, one of the few living relics monsters, a close to three-meters tall four-armed animal man-monster...He certainly cast a very strong impression.

Regardless, that would still consume one of your pearls.

Should you give your last Awakened Pearl to Mana?

You have some time to think about it, at least.
>Ask about the Pygmy.
>Proceed with repairing Hao soul. You have enough information.
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Ok, so the options are:

1.Keep Pearl and Web. Most of our best fighters will be stuck defending the portal making things hard on the rescue team but Mana might be able to synchronize with and disrupt Zerase's web and we might be able to easily cheese Zerase. Potential for a big reversal but we'll start out in a bad situation.

2.Sacrifice web. Keep pearl. Arrive with a big force right off the bat that should overwhelm Zerase's defenders making it easier on the Rescue team. No synchronization though so Zerase's web will irrevocably remain up and at full power thus whatever it does will go off with no chance for disruption. Bit of a gamble on how bad/nasty the web is. Could still use pearl on Zerase to cheese kill her ass or something.

3.Sacrifice pearl. Keep web. Like above, only web disruption chance is exchanged for the quick cheese kill chance. This will also bring in Zazawu, Red guard units, and Kreszenz Ranger units as well as various Zipangu units during the reinforcement phase of the battle.

We don't have to decide on what to do with the pearl right now do we? What exactly happens when Mana uses one? I'm kind of leaning towards letting her have it as, again, the pearl is an experimental weapon whereas Mana's option is a tried and true conventional one, but I might wanna sleep on this one.

Also, would the first option still allow what I said about 3 to happen? Y'know, extra units and unit types to come in during the reinforcement?

Finally, since we have time, the pygmy. What of it? What *is* it and why is Deru certain it ain't near this shitshow?
>We don't have to decide on what to do with the pearl right now do we?
No, but it ought to be before committing to healing Hao since Mana will be busy with her and the messenger shards will need to travel her Web.
>What exactly happens when Mana uses one?
It produces a tremendous amount of energy that she needs to use right now and weakens reality enough to make her will temporarily absolute. Her incarnation right now is sorta a walking anomaly
>Also, would the first option still allow what I said about 3 to happen? Y'know, extra units and unit types to come in during the reinforcement?
Nobody from Kreszenz will be able to come, only Zipangu reinforcement.
I'll update tomorrow with that option.
Oh, also, we do *technically* have 4 death pearls... but we gave two of em' to Ama. Could we find out how willing she is to part with em'? This would open up a 4th option:

4.Use *all* normal death pearls, keep web, keep pearl. Like option 3 but we also get to keep the awakened pearl with all that entails. Though it means that if Zerase wants to screw over Shereen she can and we won't be able to stop it.

Another thing to consider. Mana has access to both a blood and soul mage here. Could us linking with her or a shard of hers enable her to do anything interesting?
>Could we find out how willing she is to part with em'?
100% unwilling, she already changed them into an astral pearl.
>Mana has access to both a blood and soul mage here. Could us linking with her or a shard of hers enable her to do anything interesting?
Potentially, yes. She isn't too sure about it herself, something like that would need experimenting.
Didn't Mana say she needed two astral pearls to make an air pearl? Air is used for teleportation I assume so technically Ama hasn't locked the option out (though her steadfast refusal still does). I mean, we could backstab her and spill and everyone would force her to give it up but that'd majorly damage party cohesion, Zipangu faction people's trust in us, and "Ama will remember that" as it were and fuck us over as payback in the future so it ain't really a good option. Could Zerase have awakened pearls? That'd definitely be a worst case and we'll likely need our own to counter it.

If we go with giving up our other pearl would we be able to go whole hog speed demon with our fastest party members with a medium fusion? Who are the fastest people and could they carry or have their backs ridden by slower members? A cohesive formation is only as fast as its slowest member after all. How close to the palace would we be? How fast can Zerase activate the death ritual and how long will it be before she goes full Nagash and raises everyone she just killed as undead? Will they all be bound to her will or feral? Could ME delay or stop any of that? Any mass anti-undead weapons, artifacts, or spells anyone can throw out? How many teams are we going to have to form to get everything done?
>Didn't Mana say she needed two astral pearls to make an air pearl?
Yup. Astral are a sort of ''blank'' pearls that can be transformed into other elements. Two of the same elements = 1 astral and 2 astral = 1 element.
> Could Zerase have awakened pearls? That'd definitely be a worst case and we'll likely need our own to counter it.
Maybe. Having the consent of the awakened soul dwelling inside really change things tremendously with the way magic work in this era, those things are much, much bigger deals now than in the past.
>If we go with giving up our other pearl would we be able to go whole hog speed demon with our fastest party members with a medium fusion?
I don't see why not. Medium Fusion change Arawn body on the inside, so your physical capabilities will be greatly enhanced.
>Who are the fastest people and could they carry or have their backs ridden by slower members?
All the fliers are speedsters and they could reliably carry someone. After that in terms of raw speed... Probably Sieglinde, Hildegarde and Waltier. They're speed is a notch above everyone else. The shards are pretty damn fast, too. Tsu can also summon an entity that can run fast as hell.
>How close to the palace would we be?
Depend entirely on the option chosen and there's no certainty. The first option will be outside the walls, the other two will have you crash near or maybe through the palace roof itself if you get lucky.
>How fast can Zerase activate the death ritual and how long will it be before she goes full Nagash and raises everyone she just killed as undead?
Should take her ten minutes, depending on her web.
>Will they all be bound to her will or feral?
Feral with a few bounds to her will. Also, depending on how much Red World fuckery is going on, it's likely there's going to be a horde of ethereal ghosts coming out. Remember the shades? Those are likely to become a problem.
>Could ME delay or stop any of that?
Depend on the strategy, her presence alone will be extremely harmful to undeads. The ritual could be broken with her own web and/or by using up the energy dwelling inside her body now. Timing is going to be pretty important here.
>Any mass anti-undead weapons, artifacts, or spells anyone can throw out?
Holy magic is your best friend. Corruption is a very close second. Zipangu will break out the artifact vault, too but they don't have anything super effective against them. Still, they learned a good deal about undeads when cleansing that forest last year.
>How many teams are we going to have to form to get everything done?
One Red World extermination team
One defense team (most of the soldiers will be keeping the portal to Zipangu safe). This is where the biggest fight will happen, of course.
One forward team that will need to split between breaking the Blood Pyramid and saving Anais (and Mimiru)
Alright. We won't need to vote on any of this until after we hear about the pygmy so I will sleep on it. I do suppose that before we form those teams we'll get a rundown of what's available and what our "hero" units can do right? Success will greatly depend on assigning those to where their talents and skills will make the greatest difference.

Options 2 and 3 will involve a roll it seems and a good one means we crash right into the roof of the castle? I guess "defending the portal" then becomes "defending the LZ" but that'd be a *very* good thing as it'd mean a good chance of getting to Zerase before she can channel one of the biggest assholes in all of fantasy.

Thankfully, I doubt any awakened pearls she might have will "consent" to any of this. Again, Zerase lacks for people *that* fanatically devoted in their faith to her. Even Chaos Champions wouldn't go so far as to have that done to them for the sake of their deity. Not willingly anyway.

Gonna be late to tomorrow's thread again. Damned Wagie Cage...
Oh, I think I need to rephrase one question. How long to activate the spell that kills everyone and then how long after that will it be before they all get raised as undead after that?
>I do suppose that before we form those teams we'll get a rundown of what's available and what our "hero" units can do right?
Actual team forming will be taken care of when the thread ends, yeah. It's not a pressing matter, threads last a really long time on /qst/.
>Options 2 and 3 will involve a roll it seems and a good one means we crash right into the roof of the castle?
Ideally, yes. Depend if Zerase can mount a defense against that incoming deepstrike...
>How long to activate the spell that kills everyone and then how long after that will it be before they all get raised as undead after that?
Ten minutes is the window to activate a grand battlefield spell. At least, that's how it was in the old days. The spell is going to enchant Zerase troops, essentially making them undeads. Bodies will start to rise afterward. This spell won't kill your people even if a pocket of warrior is stranded outside Mother Earth protection since nobody will have a connection to Zerase web.

Oh yeah I forgot to mention.
Neither Ama nor Deru could guess what Armin is up to. He's a 100% total unknown.
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>That spoiler
Oh joy, he's probably right by Zerase's side then. Wonderful. The final boss fight is between Zerase, Ensan, and Armin with essentially unlimited death pearl ammo. Further, we know the knife eared fuck can spawn soul parasites and worms that bite mamonos and cause their corruption to turn them into ravening Chaos Spawn. Bring a sturdy umbrella with us and give one to every mamono commander and species that it would be particularly bad for that to happen to. I don't want to know what a Chaos Spawn Ushi-Oni can do.

Other than that his combat potential is unknown but just those two things are bad enough. From what we know he's at least a busted ass debuff support class. The worst case is he's a full on summoner class only he summons eldritch horrors from beyond the veil of reality instead just normal summons. Hopefully the shoggoths and the like are either exceptionally dumb or quite unruly and hard to boss around.

At the very least it seems he's starting to stick around in people's memories though. So I guess that's nice. Sharing is caring when it comes to deep psychological trauma!
Oh, just thought about this. In the options where the web is not sacrificed Mana is basically taking Zipangu's web with her right?

Errr... how fervent is the devotion of the people of Zipangu to her? Does this play a factor? Y'know, it ain't just belief that counts, but how intense it is. A single "true believer" is worth a thousand folks who just "go to church on Sunday because that's what ya do" kind of deal going on? Plus I presume that all troops are going to get briefed on what's going on and what's at stake.

That will get them to get way more fervent and fanatical no matter where they fall on the alignment spectrum (even Chaotic Evil types will want to stop her because nobody and I mean *nobody* tells them what to do). Much more than whatever Zerase could hope to cook up as truth is she's gonna kill em' all regardless of how much they revere her as a god or how loyal they are and it's hard to hide that. ME is a benevolent deity who loves just about everyone who isn't a filthy fucking blood mage or in league with entities from beyond the veil. Her scriptures are hard to warp into saying she isn't like that. Naveed and crew are safe right? He seemed like an actual believer but honored Shereen more than the rest of her family and his squadmates seemed to respect his piety.

Too bad we never really learned much about it. Could be a saving grace for Shereen though as you did just imply that she isn't directly linked to the web. Necessarily not so now that I think about it. Going full Nagash costing you your pretender era irreplaceable artifact substitute kinda defeats the purpose of having the option to go full Nagash. Bitch has backup plans for her backup plans.

I'm betting that Shereen was an extra buffer as well. She could likely boost the efficiency of the Blood Pyramid. Y'know, make those million souls spend like they were 3 million. Don't even need to kill and consume those princes if she's on board. Might need an actual 3 mil to get to the 9 mil required to hit stage 2 but Anais is auto stage 3 and once there it's easy to brute force stage 4, anchor the fact she's now a god onto this reality, kill ME, and then dominate all as the new God Emperor of... What's the name of this planet? What do people call this rock anyway?
>In the options where the web is not sacrificed Mana is basically taking Zipangu's web with her right?
She brings a connection to the web, not the entire thing. She might also be able to do similarly with the Allied Kingdoms.
>Errr... how fervent is the devotion of the people of Zipangu to her?
In Zipangu itself, Mother Earth is a secondary faith compared to ancestral worship. However, she is very strongly worshipped in the human realm of Gwynedd which is joined to Zipangu in a Commonwealth, through the years both country webs have been thoroughly intertwined.
>Does this play a factor?
Always does, especially when it comes to recharging it.
Naveed and his squad aren't strong enough to participate, you might be able to see him though since he's been hanging around the church here and there, wondering what the hell he oughta be doing now.
>What's the name of this planet? What do people call this rock anyway?
In general, people call it Star or World Tree. Mother Earth Reality is another popular saying in your neck of the wood.
Just so long as he and the others in his squad and their families don't die in the event Zerase gets that Nagash spell off it's all good. His people have more than done their part in helping us attain a golden ending.

They're like Apprentice Cleric and Rookie Warrior. May well become great heroes in time, but here and now they're side characters/cannon fodder. Side characters who play an important part and thus we kinda want them to live and potentially live up to their full potential.

Gonna say I'm starting to lean more towards giving Mana our last pearl. She said she could port in 50 extra warriors with option 3 over 2. Could we somehow shift that 50 extra warriors for a bonus on the location of the portal roll? I get the feeling it's gonna be a dice god duel on that one. Even a mere +10 for ME could be the difference between landing just inside the castle walls to landing right on top of the petrified forms of Anais and Mimiru.
>Could we somehow shift that 50 extra warriors for a bonus on the location of the portal roll?
Naveed and crew are safe if Mana botches the portal location roll right? Hey, we can still get that bonus I bet. Shereen was a real Hikikomori up in there and a big location we and her are linked to is that pyramid we wana crack up.

Blood, souls, location, significant event. We have all we potentially need to manufacture a literal Teleport Homing Beacon in the warp! If we want to experiment with ME this is the place to do it. She has our full consent. Can we make a portal homing beacon right over/within the pyramid of blood? If not, could that become the target location and the roll simply influence how far we are from that over the palace in general?
>Naveed and crew are safe if Mana botches the portal location roll right?
Of course, they aren't part of the assault at all.
>Shereen was a real Hikikomori up in there and a big location we and her are linked to is that pyramid we wana crack up.
She only knew her side of the palace, the number of times she was allowed anywhere near the Blood Pyramid counts on one hand.
>Can we make a portal homing beacon right over/within the pyramid of blood? If not, could that become the target location and the roll simply influence how far we are from that over the palace in general?
Mana and Shereen could try to form an artificial link so your little sun can give her memories of the palace to her. Perhaps Banu can also help, but that's something to come after Hao soul healing.
Oh, I just caught this, but option 3 also allows Mana to gate in a huge mass of shards on top of everything else right? Gotta work now, gonna be quite a bit before I can post again.
It will help her coordinate with the shards scattered throughout the Allied Kingdoms.
After the stash of pearls, the enemy web was her biggest advantage, one you could at least try to mitigate. People quickly weighed all the options and giving Mana your last pearl was starting to become popular but it wouldn't be difficult to convince people otherwise. Ame-no-Uzume was of the opinion of conserving it, rallying behind her authority should allow you to keep this precious stone.

There was something else nagging at you.

''Deruella, you know something about the Pigmy? You've been very confident when talking about him... or it.''

''Hm.'' She briefly observed the crowd after your words. ''But of course.'' She turned to grin at Ama. ''I know exactly where she is.'' Then she gestured toward the one individual who was still too intimidated to approach the crowd.

''Dearest Francine, come, come.'' She beckoned her companion, casting a cloud of confusion.

The slime was perhaps the oddest monster you've ever seen. Her natural yellow bioluminescence produced by the eyes constantly popping in and out of existence throughout her body firmly landed her in the ''uncanny valley'' zone, her big sun-like brilliant eyes only reinforce that impression but... the way she acted like a scared cat, and those few days you've spent in her quiet presence had been more than enough to thoroughly dispel this bad impression. Her looks were the only weird thing about her... and well, her combat capabilities too but that's not too important.

''...how?'' You had to ask. Your voice made the scared slime stop. ''I'm not mad at you Francine, not at all.''

''The Good Mother won't do anything to you.'' Deruella crooned gently. ''Come on dear, you'll feel much better without the burden of your secret.''

With a silent, unwilling understanding, Francine slithered close to her mistress. Her tensed body caused bubbles to erupt on the surface of her maid-like uniform or, skin, this only stopped once she got within Deruella reach who gently massaged the back of her neck.

''This gentle soul is the Red Pygmy.'' Deruella casually announced. The only persons that weren't surprised were Ama and the white demoness pair of maidens. ''As for how this happened, well, it's a long story, especially for our sleepers here that missed the grand ritual of stabilization last year.''

''Ah!'' Daiyu proclaimed. ''It was odd how you found a new companion so soon after that mess, how did you even deduce her identity?''

''Because she told me. A little blood ritual to make an artificial link allowed Francine to tell me everything she so desperately wanted to say.'' Mistress and slime exchanged an intimate look as the white demoness let go of her friend. ''I won't bother with the details of that ritual, the simple result is this: Francine hijacked its energy and made herself this body to live within Mother Earth realm.''
''Calling Horkus the most sentient of the Princes was a lie, I do apologize for that.'' She finished, crossing her arms, not looking guilty for a second.

''How did she even come to be?'' Mana spoke gently yet it only reinforced Francine dread. If you weren't hugging Shereen, you'd honestly step forward to offer your back to her. Poor slime was genuinely terrified each time she saw Mana human form, it was almost like standing witness to abuses!

''No clue, I've only got one hypothesis, and to keep on going would be going off-topic.'' Deruella answered. ''As you can see, Francine can't speak. She does understand our language but she cannot say words. She always, always wanted to live outside that red hellscape, and... while her coming to existence was clumsy as all hell, nobody died from her attempt so... here she is. Hi, princess!''

Deruella enthusiasm wasn't shared by anybody, not even her little apprentice. Though, Kin expression was one of total disbelief instead of negativity. Little fluff mind was thoroughly exploded.

Sieglinde, who was standing beside you, walked forward. Her long, deadly tail coiled behind her, she stopped to face the maid-slime and gently grabbed the girl grayish purple hands. Francine brilliant yellow eyes constantly fled the redhead piercing stare. ''Deru, this girl is one of your few important companions, isn't she?''

Deruella pale eyebrows shot up briefly and she actually looked away from her older sister. ''Goodness, you're putting it rather embarrassingly.'' She crossed her arms and huffed.

''Throne Town is a nice home.'' Sieglinde ignored her kin and carefully maneuvered one of her big hands to caress Francine cheek. ''You probably didn't have a chance to see for yourself.''

Ever so slightly, the nervous slime relaxed and leaned onto Sieglinde hand.

''Good Mother.'' Daiyu voice resonated strongly in the church. ''Francine could be... nay, she's plainly an Outsider. What's your verdict?''

An air of tension immediately followed. The implication here was obvious: Francine was part of Deruella family bubble, Sieglinde just acknowledged that, bringing the slime into the Demon Lord protection.

''Breathe, friends.'' Mana joined her hands together, speaking peacefully. ''A man of metal with a golden heart taught me a valuable lesson. Some rare few Outsiders only wish to live in this realm just like us, to use their unusual talents for goods or to simply live in peace: Francine is in good company, why should I deliver any judgment? Fighting with us tomorrow already show incredible resolve.''

''I told you things would go well.'' Meruse slithered close to the slime maid. ''Nothing like having the Good Mother permission to live, ai?'' Deruella second maiden, Sonja, watched satisfied from a distance.

Despite Ama presence, people were able to relax. The witch knowledge of pearls was something Zipangu folks needed so they swallowed their pride and listened to her briefing of Death pearls: Tsukiyomi and Siegfried were particularly ravenous for everything Ama knew.

The ritual to heal Hao began quietly. Mana needed all of your links and Shereen to construct what she called a ''blood cocoon'' that soon proved to be literal. All of your friends were swallowed in a big sphere of collective bloods, then all but two shards in the church joined together to weaved a tapestry of magic on its surface.

Inside, your girls were swiftly brought to unconsiousness. Delving inside a shared mindscape constructed by the goddess.

It was lonely to be missing that.

A man of metal with a golden heart taught me a valuable lesson. How are you doing, Buddy?

''Arawn.'' Ame stopped near you, all nine tails slithering around her. ''Have you come to a conclusion about the pearl? I believe it'd be better to hold onto it, having some kind of trump card to counter Zerase magic is a better use in my opinion... but I'll admit to feeling swayed with letting Mana consume it.''

''Honestly, bringing Zazawu with us is what I'd consider our way to ''counter'' Zerase, doubly so if we can bring some of the elite rangers who might be able to help.'' Daiyu invited herself in the conversation ''I know it's unwise to gamble on the momentum of our initial strike... but reinforcement is reinforcement. More Shards, my people can help and some elite warriors from the Allied Kingdoms are likely to come help, there's no higher cause and honor than fighting for the Good Mother.''

''It's amazing how human she is...'' Ame breathed softly. ''...Anyhow, the sooner we decide, the sooner... Mori?'' She pointed to a shard who nodded. ''And Numa?'' Another nod. ''Can go.''

The discussion was shifting for the military now. Athena was speaking numbers with Waltier and Tomiko and a few runners were bringing lists about more incoming troops. In a corner of the church, Banu and Hildegarde were playing chess while Zhu watched, bored.

Should you let Mana consume your second Awakened Peal?
This decision can wait until after Hao soul has been healed which will take two hours, giving you some well-learned free-time!

>Zhu mentioned wanting to speak with you this morning. This is a good occasion to start on that.
>Spend some time with Deruella posse. Francine is such an interesting girl, you'd like to know more about her.
>You haven't spoken to Hildegarde all day, hang out with her.
Probably only one answer tonight.
>Zhu mentioned wanting to speak with you this morning. This is a good occasion to start on that.
I wonder what it could possibly be about.
Did Zhu want to speak alone? If she didn't can we invite some other people?
She wanted to speak alone yah
Ok then, I can get behind talking with her. Tempted by the other options, especially Francine (can't believe we got a full on Red World Prince(ess) on our side), but I just gotta know what Zhu's gotta say.

Oh, errr, it ain't snu-snu is it? Snu-snu in or right next to a church is some serious bad luck. We really shouldn't bang here.
Snu snu is so tempting... Alas, Zhu is serious about this. I wonder what it could be!
Ok good. Talking with Zhu without snu-snu it is. Seriously, if you shag in or around a place of worship you deserve what that deity has in store for you. Do not profane holy ground!
Oh, also, new magitek goal once this is over. Typewriter. For many reasons but mainly Francine. If she can understand our language she can be taught our writing.

From there we work towards what amounts to a cell phone text function with a portable keyboard and screen. They she'd be like Celty. Not ideal, but able to communicate with everyone effectively so long as they're literate. Modern problems require modern solutions!
Pearl decision will default to waiting.
Any negative consequences to waiting? I wouldn't think so but are there? I mean, it ain't like we can give Mana the pearl now as she's currently preoccupied with fixing Hao but I would like to know.
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Nah. Was thinking of maybe putting some but it's okay.

Also, I'll be ending our thread here. My brain really needs to rest. I really wanted to start our next thread cleanly with the assault but that's okay, we'll take care of the last few things that have to happen in Zipangu and choosing which squad to go for and allocating people might be better done in the next thread since it'll feel fresher in everyone mind.

I'm giving myself a full week of rest and thinking of making the new thread around the 20th
It's cool. I was wondering what Zhu wanted to talk about though. Did it relate to our bestest buddy?
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Nah, it's... something important. You don't wanna miss it.
Feel free to ask anything. Were in the after-hours now.
Does she want to be soul linked to us as well? I get why she might but we need to find a way to determine our limit before side effects show up before we even think of adding more girls.

Each person has a limit and going beyond that causes their ego to weaken and for the others to bleed in I think you said. Like, we'd confuse a linked girl's memory for our own and other shit that is really bad. We don't want that.
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>Does she want to be soul linked to us as well?
Nah. You're at a safe limit of soul links, adding one more could be detrimental to your mental health. She's been hiding it but she's been feeling very morose all day. I wonder what's on her mind...
>Each person has a limit and going beyond that causes their ego to weaken and for the others to bleed in I think you said.
>That spoiler
How? Night before last she got what she wanted out of us since we met again and now there's gonna be another fucking huge battle 10 times bigger than what happened Myrtidal and she said that "satisfied" her bloodlust like nothing else had before.

You'd think our beautiful bouncy belligerent berserker would be overjoyed by this turn of events not down in the dumps. She feeling useless or something? Scared that we might die on her again? Did she take a fantasy pregnancy test and it come up positive? Didn't think those could tell that fast but hey magic.
>How? Night before last she got what she wanted out of us since we met again and now there's gonna be another fucking huge battle 10 times bigger than what happened Myrtidal and she said that "satisfied" her bloodlust like nothing else had before.
Oh yes, of course. There's been so much happy time for her that she's having a hard time believing it's possible... but you'll see soon. Does Arawn love her I wonder?
>Did she take a fantasy pregnancy test and it come up positive?
Ah! I wish! Wouldn't that be a nice turn? Arawn to become a daddy before the big assault!
Oh, so it's that question. She doesn't have a link and thus cannot feel our feelings.

We did find her shortly after waking up with Shereen and had a better starting position (i.e. she didn't enslave us and even offered to sneak us out). She could have come onto us a lot more gently than she did but it was obvious she cared about us in her own way outside of wanting to bang our brains out.

We do, probably, harbor romantic feelings for her. Again, no snu-snu on holy ground though. Might also disrupt the ritual to heal Hao. It's a thing that might make the souls twitch during a delicate surgery. Not good!

We technically ain't a daddy until that baby pops out. We will be the best dad ever. Especially if we can get best buddy to give us pointers.
>Oh, so it's that question.
If only... you'll see. Zhu had a secret for a long time! Her eye is an amazing thing, isn't it?
Now I kinda want a plot point about pregnancy during act 3! Oh well, that's not happening any time soon. I might have had a potential plot ruined in this thread but that little complication ain't something I'll invest on. For now.
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>that spoiler
Yeah, she got that eye against her will I thought. Some asshole gouged out her original eyes and shoved that gem into one of the empty sockets. At least, that was the story she gave us right? Is it inaccurate? Did she lie to us? Did Ama have anything to do with it? Is it eating her memories like the sword does every time she activates it?
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>Yeah, she got that eye against her will I thought. Some asshole gouged out her original eyes and shoved that gem into one of the empty sockets. At least, that was the story she gave us right?
Yeah, that's Zhu being Zhu of course. One doesn't just ''shove'' an artifact into an eye socket.
>Is it inaccurate?
No, she omitted a few details.
>Did she lie to us?
Well... I wouldn't say that.
>Did Ama have anything to do with it?
>Is it eating her memories like the sword does every time she activates it?
Oh no, you see this eye belonged to the emperor of Zen and unlike the sword, was actually something they created to be one of the emperor regalias. It's an artifact that interacts with (and can conserve) souls in order to reach immortality and wisdom, the two most important traits of a true God Emperor but, well... things happened. Zhu has been pushing one of her problems until now... Strength is going to be needed tomorrow.
What. It has a secondary function that will inflict whitening upon herself or significantly boost her combat potential but then short out and break leaving her permanently blind forever? Is there someone in there that's an even greater fighter than she is but then it's full Soul Nomad/Gig situation when you give in for power? Y'know, "fine fine I made a promise after all. Go ahead, knock yourself out kid. But once you're done.... hehe. Hehehehe. AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!"

Could we help her with her problem? Y'know, mitigate or eliminate the down side of whatever it is she's about to do? Does the eye hold a dear friend or relative that can be tapped like an awakened pearl meaning that she'll never see them again? Damn, now you've really got me intrigued here.
You guys never directly asked about the eye. Might have been impolite, but hey... The info I gave you now is common enough knowledge with all the scholars here. Did you truly think that eye's only function was to see people's colors? Now now.
>Could we help her with her problem?
You'll understand why she didn't want Klesiah to hear what she want to talk about, it's a good thing the blueberry is occupied, oh yes...
>Damn, now you've really got me intrigued here.
Eehehehe. Sorry. Maybe I'll write the conversation as a thread finale in the coming days. No promise, leaving a cliffhanger isn't nice I'll admit.
So Ama is somehow involved and whatever it is it is something that would damage or destroy Zhu's friendship with Klesiah and/or be bad news for her to learn about somehow. Like, make her immediately go on a vengeful crusade, call into question her faith, recontextualize something she thought was good into something horrific or something.

I can wait for quality and all but gosh darn it now I'm *really* intrigued. I want to see what you did here. You've really hyped this plot point up for me.
>So Ama is somehow involved and whatever it is it is something that would damage or destroy Zhu's friendship with Klesiah and/or be bad news for her to learn about somehow. Like, make her immediately go on a vengeful crusade, call into question her faith, recontextualize something she thought was good into something horrific or something.
Let my brain rest for tomorrow, I'll see what I can whip up in three or four days.
It's all cool man. We can wait for quality.

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