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A twilit orb, sometimes considered the sun, sat affixed to the eastern skies. Its lukewarm gaze cascaded over the open plains that stretched ahead, tapering off into a sickly glow the farther westward it reached. From a vantage, one could hear the faint grumbling of a spreading maleficence to the west. The Vice, and its myriad of terrible, corrupt beasts, fallowed the pristine earth and any unfortunate enough to lag behind in the never ending chase towards a tapering hope of benediction.

Dim Palmfast pondered his place in this struggle atop a solitary bluff. His fate was, at the same time, enviable and pitiable. He stared at his right palm, a sifting vortex of rotted flesh and potent magics. In a moment of absentmindedness, he let a paltry sum of Vice slip from this prison, tainting the ground nearby with a muted mauve discolouring. It seemed, to Dim’s wary mind, a harmless mistake. He studied its probing nature; how it bled across the still earth slowly, rotting everything it touched.

Like a viper’s shadow, it lunged across the ground towards Dim’s still feet. No doubt it sensed a larger reliquary of life to infest. In a practiced motion, Dim jabbed his right hand downwards, turning the Vice’s ravenous nature against it. In one painful moment, the discoloured shadow on the land blackened, and the Vice was imprisoned once more.

The sharp pain was familiar, and so elicited little response from the veteran. Still, it shook him from his reverie, and turned his focus towards a gathering of people in the distance. A gathering of wayward souls, looking for a shepherd to lead them. Luckily, Dim was not only capable, but obliged to serve them.

>Wander the woods below for a little bit, the caravan can wait.
>Report to the caravan post-haste. Better to move out before the Vice advances.
>Spend some time meditating in order to gauge the strength and nature of the Vice maelstrom.
>Report to the caravan post-haste. Better to move out before the Vice advances.
Parsing a path back to the caravan is no problem for Dim, whose natural talents include a fine sense of direction. Or maybe it’s one of the ‘blessings’ he’d received before this madness begun. The farther he travelled, the harder it was for him to separate the man from the shepherd.

The group gathered in the clearing, as agreed before the jump. A passing count showed that about three quarters of the ‘van made it. Not bad compared to the last couple times Dim ‘hopped’ the ‘van away from the maelstrom. Still, there were bound to be a few wails and sobs in the coming nights. Dim always kept his distance from the ‘van, emotionally. He was just the hopper and guide, not the councilor.

It didn’t take long for a familiar face to show up. Luckily it was Lars Lurenson, the man responsible for the tallying and sums needed for a group this large. It was one of the most important jobs in the ‘van, Dim had learned over the years, so he always kept a bookish type close.

“Sir Palmfast! Good to see you so soon. I was worried I might have to send some men off to find you. There’s not much time, so I’ll get right to business.” Lurenson was never one to dawdle, to Dim’s delight. “As usual, all the mages made it thorough, so Lillian would like to speak. Chern Du is fussing over all the ‘folk, so some words would help her out. Turl and Vonus are both… debating over the proper allocation of battle-ready men. And, uh, Eidus—the queen of the Moski bug-people needs some convincing to stay with the pack. We’re only so far ahead of the Vice, so you’ll only be able to speak to a couple of them.”

>Lillian won’t stand to wait, I’ll see her first.
>Chern Du looks after the most people, I should check on her.
>Turl and Vonus? Fighting? Not surprised, but I’ll see to it.
>The moski queen is odd, but a follower all the same. I’ll assuage her concerns.
>you’ll only be able to speak to a couple of them.
Mind if I pick two right off the bat? First gets priority in case the vote is limited to only one.

>>Lillian won’t stand to wait, I’ll see her first.
>>The moski queen is odd, but a follower all the same. I’ll assuage her concerns.
>>The moski queen is odd, but a follower all the same. I’ll assuage her concerns.
>>Chern Du looks after the most people, I should check on her.
I understand somewhat the contributions that Turl and Vonus can bring to the caravan, but is there anything particular that the mages and the Moskis bring to the table?

I mean for the mages, I'm assuming magic for either protection of the caravan, navigation or something related to this 'jump' being referred to, or keeping tabs on the Vice.
The mages are as rare as they are indispensible to the ‘van. Each one has unlocked the myriad arts of the arcane, including conjuration of food, augurs to shield from unpredictable catastrophes, and pure destructive force needed if and when enviced creatures attack. In this foreign and disjointed land, created from the loose fabrics of the shattered world, magicians are more important than ever.

The moski’s contributions are less arcane, but still much appreciated. Each drone fights with the strength of two men, and they scavenge more quickly than most, while eating far less. Still, they wield little individual spirit, and so only fight and scavenge at their queen’s behest.

>3 for Eidus, 2 for Lillian, 1 for Chern Du

Scanning the crowds of the ‘van, Dim noted a distinct absence of the towering centipede-like moski. Concerned that their strength would be gone with their queen’s arbitrary wishes, Dim though it prudent to lend his ear to Eidus first.

“Lars, be sure to tie up Lillian for a bit. I’m heading to the queens den before she does anything rash. Wish me luck.” Dim catches a distraught look in Lurenson’s eye before walking off towards the queen. Lillian never likes to wait in line, but it would be interesting to see if timid Lars could keep up with her.

While passing through the camp, Dim threw some nods to the crowds of commoners. His mere presence would keep their hopes higher than any sort of promise or consolation he mustered. Still, with every passing, ragged face he felt his heart ache ever so slightly. Truly, he’d jumped hundreds of similar people throughout the last several years, but something curious seemed to awaken inside of him. Though he didn’t realize it yet, this next trek would prove far more difficult than most.

Soon, he came upon a gathering of a few dozen moski, gathered around their queen. Dim could swear they didn’t even notice him, if it weren’t for the fact that each nearby drone scuttled subtly to the side as he passed. They gave no other indication of acknowledgment, their many eyes glued towards the center of the crowd, towards their queen. As Dim approached, a tingling sensation of paranoia gripped at the back of his mind.

“Queen Eidus, I sense some form of insecurity?” Dim probed with a small smirk.

“You terrible man!” the queens manufactured voice echoed in Dim’s mind, pointed but reserved. “Are you here to bewitch me with your ape-magic again? Or perhaps that was just the lies you humans are so fond of?” The subtle sensation of paranoia shifts into a trickling fear as the drones surrounding Dim shuffle closer.

“I know you won’t sick them on me, Queen. I’m below you, remember?” Dim threw back, his words sweetly sarcastic. “We don’t have to play this game every time. We all grieve our losses, and there is no guarantee I can get your whole cadre hopped.” The queen bristled with an unseen aura of bitterness.


“Do we all grieve, hopper? I’ve lost innumerable children over the years, and you’ve lost men and women, but no tears. Why is that, Dim? Do you care for them? How can I expect you to look after mine if yours are less than drones?” Her sharp words are from an uncharacteristically morose place. And somehow, they get to Dim. In some ways, her brutal words hold a degree of truth. Typically, Dim would buckle down, ignore the pain, and sort out the Queen like anyone else: with a curt word and callous commands. But, perhaps, today would be different.

>Her words are born from a paltry grief, not suited for this caravan. Tell her to ship up or ship out.
>Praise her. Appeal to her regal nature, appeal to her ‘heartfelt sentimentality.’
>Make a deal. Guarantee her lead of the caravan for a short while, to give her an illusion of control.
>Give her tears. Tell her of your many losses, trials, and heartbreak.
>Threaten her with the horrid nature of the Vice, and the nature of the humans it chases.
>>Give her tears. Tell her of your many losses, trials, and heartbreak.
>>Write-in: But tell her of all the lives that were able to have a future as well. And only together can a future be assured for the caravan.
>You are correct. Perhaps I have been too soft on myself, by putting distance from the losses my fellows have endured. I will fix that.
>Is that all?
>>Threaten her with the horrid nature of the Vice, and the nature of the humans it chases.
((Attempting to meld the three responses, also phone posting until more stable internet...))

Dim bites his lower lip, turning a wave of thoughts in his head. The queen’s harsh words rung in his mind, molding his response. It had to be meaningful, tempered with care...

Instead of looking past the queen as a subordinate, Dim matched her gaze (as well as he could with so few eyes). “I’ve not been honest with you, nor myself. I’ve seen many people die, good and honorable men and women, only trying to save their kin from the miserable end awaiting all that fall into the maw of the Vice. I’ve lost many, yes, but far more would have been lost without my imbued abilities— and without the capable survivors who work every moment to keep this caravan ahead of oblivion.”

The harsh air of grief turns, slowly, into a stolid aura more befitting the aloof matron. “I’ve rarely heard such resolution from you, hopper. Refreshing or worrying? I’m unsure. Curious, though...” She arches her towering form lower, to meet Dim’s gaze more closely. Her many beady eyes hide a subtle cunning, and her mandibles click with indecision. “I wonder, how do you intend to guarantee the continued safety of my drones?”

>Offer to move more drones to the front of the ‘van, farther from the Vice.
>Cut drone’s mandatory scouting [in half/by a quarter/completely].
>Earmark drones for rear guard, in the event of a large battle.
>Double the Moski’s allotted rations for a week.
>Give no guarantees, only assure her that Dim will take better care in future.
Is scavenging also within a drone's scouting assignment? It seems to be something they excel at, so I'm hesitant to cut that until a surplus for the caravan is available.

>>Earmark drones for rear guard, in the event of a large battle.
>>Offer to move more drones to the front of the ‘van, farther from the Vice.
Although this might mean rest of the Moskis will have to put in greater effort on whatever duties they have, so to speak. Maybe setup rotations to help with this?
>Offer to move more drones to the front of the ‘van, farther from the Vice.
They're the ones least bothered by travel, no problem with them bring point guard and a bit faster than everyone else.
Considering the fact that the moski workers turn up a good amount of loot every time they deign to scout, Dim considers other options.

“I can give them the greatest boon I can offer: distance from the Vice,” Dim starts. “They can lead the way, heading the caravan with me and my trusted guard.”

“Oh? So they can fall on the spears of the madmen stalking this patchwork stretch of forlorn memories of worlds past?” The queen starts, giving what Dim assumes is her species equivalent of a dramatic flourish. “The shredded fragments of the old world lie before us, hopper, their denizens driven to madness from the purgatory they inhabit. There is no guarantee that the unknown enemy is less vicious than the known.”

Dim chews on the queen’s dramatic prose, hiding his frustration with further diplomacy. “In the event that we find such a threat—“

When we certainly will…” the Queen interjects.

“… Yes, when there is a threat, I’ll put your drones farther in reserve, so long as victory is clear.”

“Is victory ever clear, hopper?” the queen muses, further agitating Dim.

“You have my guarantee, Eidus. I expect your drones to help where they can ahead of the pack, and in the less dangerous tasks.”

“You think Us idle? No, I assure you We will do our part for survival.” The queen seems to shift sharply, dismissing a number of still drones and worker. “We hope to see truth in your promises.” Dim feels the queen’s mental link sever, signaling a curt dismissal.

Dim, seeing no need to suffer the queen’s disrespect any longer, returns to the camp to meet with Lillian, the mage director.

Crossing the caravan’s body once more, Dim intuits a growing anxiety from the common people. He’d developed a sense for it over the years. The people, ever nervous, obeyed a collective paranoia. Their frayed instincts ebbed according to the Vice. Even if none could see it, a pervading force of malevolence preceded the Vice’s advance. Every moment spent stationary invited disaster. The ‘van would have to move soon.

Dim entered the den of mages. Lars, ever dutiful, stood defenseless against the insults of the agitated head mage. She turns her attention to Dim, who readies himself for a lecture.

“Palmfast! There’s much to sort and very little time, so let’s not mince words.” She releases Lars and marches over to Dim, her every footfall sharp and measured. “I have twenty-five magi in my retinue, and eight initiates. I have four overworked instructors, twelve conjurers, six researchers, and three diviners conducting farsight rituals. I need you to expend some of your cleansed energy for me, clear some vice from the researcher’s tools, realign the diviner’s insight for more accurate portents, and bring along a couple initiates for combat rounds. Please, sign here to appease Chern Du and her council.” Lillian thrusts a scroll towards Dim, her eyes already scanning the room for able magi to pass along orders.

Dim, accustomed to the mage’s impatience and stern requests, looks over the contract briefly. The allocation of magi, yet again, goes against previously agreed numbers. It would take some negotiation to right Lillian’s stubborn attitude regarding Vice research. And her demands ask a lot of Dim, in time and available power. Investing in all of her chores would leave other influential leaders with unanswered requests of their own, surely.

>>[RESOURCE ALLOCATION][30e/5v|50max]
>>(Energy is purified Vice held in Dim’s palm-well. It takes time to convert V to E. The more V is in Dim’s system, the more pain and fatigue he’ll endure.)
>Reinforce magi allocation. Demand Lillian pause the research of magical methods and enviced material for another time.
>Expend energy from palm-well to bolster ALL magic endeavors. (-5 to 15e)
>Purify research tools. (+5v)
>Assist the diviners, who will attain a clearer idea of the surrounding area. (-5 to 10e)
>Take on two initiates for a time
>>Assist the diviners, who will attain a clearer idea of the surrounding area. (-5 to 10e)
Basically, better scrying? Seems really good. And it'd help the Moski scouts if there are dangerous areas needed to be avoided.

>>Purify research tools. (+5v)
Just don't like the idea of leaving Vice around. By any chance, are they able to gain any useful insight (for the caravan) from said research? Depending on the results, the magi allocation can be negotiated on.

Also taking a long time to wrap my head around the Vice and Energy mechanics, so I'm not able to put in a vote that optimizes it.
>>Purify research tools. (+5v)
>>Assist the diviners, who will attain a clearer idea of the surrounding area. (-5 to 10e)
If the Moski can quickly take down threats before the caravan even reaches them, it would help everyone's morale, even the moski.
((Think of the palm-well stuff in percentages. Assume E is effectively mana, and V, as a percent over total capacity, is like a percent debuff to personal combat/actions. The research is about 50% focused on Lillian’s own attempts to defeat the Vice with magic, which is mostly theoretical. The other half is dedicated to small buffs like more efficient magic use and better spells, which help the caravan as a whole. ))

As usual, Lillian’s litany of demands overreaches her authority. Not that that’s ever bothered her.

“Look, Newsaint, I can’t allot so much to your efforts, as appreciated as they are.”

“Expected. Do what you Palmfast, but I can only do so much with so little.” She has a knack for masking her true feelings, but Dim is sure his decisions will directly affect her and the other mage’s morale.

He scribbles in his alterations to the document, and gives his unique mark of approval: an inkling of burnt out Vice. “I need you to focus your efforts on the good of the caravan. I’ll lend some power to the magi siphoning portents.”

Lillian bristles ever so slightly. “Is that all, Palmfast?”

“Er… No, of course not. I’ll see to it that the Vice is lifted from your instruments. Can’t have it lying around, even if it’s encased. You never know.”

Lillian’s stature remains statuesque, but she always gives off an inflection that she’d rather be somewhere else, barking orders. “Yes, yes. Please get to it, the ‘folk are getting restless.”

Dim almost sets off, to follow their agreement, but an itching sensation in the back of his mind stops him. He turns to watch Lillian march away. Something piques his interest. “Hey, Newsaint.”

She turns, her keen eyes ever alert. “What is it?” Dim stops for a moment, recollecting all the times he’d seen her. She always seemed so distant; one of the myriad subordinates Dim interchanged in his mind. But today… she seemed like more.

The feeling didn’t seem like attraction, but a subtle platonic fascination. Her age showed clear in the sharp lines defining her face. Etched with years of stress and authority, she had a practiced stoicism that Dim respected. But, unlike him, her grey-blue eyes were alive with a scientific fascination unmatched by anyone else in the ‘van. Dim found his gaze flick downwards, to her marred hands. His enhanced perception spotted small tremors afflicting her fingers. Perhaps a product of age, stress, or magical energy? Dim didn’t know, but perhaps it was time to find out.

>Ask her to accompany you, citing a need for assistance with the research tools.
>Ask her to come along, admitting a curiosity about her life.
>Unmask your fascination, regardless of what she might think. Ask her to tag along.
>Demand her company, withholding your motives.
>Dismiss your call; proceed to clearing the Vice alone.
>>Ask her to accompany you, citing a need for assistance with the research tools.
Need to know which one's saturated with the most Vice, which one need a delicate touch, that kind of thing.

And it's a bit skeevy, but having her see firsthand what Dim goes through whenever he absorbs Vice would probably get her to ease back a little on the "do everything"
“Could you assist me in de-vicing the tools? I don’t want to damage any of them.”

She twists her lips in a furrowed fashion. “I suppose I can show you, for next time. Please, follow me.”

As the two travel across the mage’s section of the camp, Dim gleams a better understanding of their workload. There’re only so many mages, but they’re constantly fiddling with devices and casting conjurations. They may be the largest drain on supplies, but without them the caravan would be severely crippled. Initiates and masters alike strain their craft to pull raw materials out of thin air, or conjure otherworldly fruits and vegetables necessary to sustain the many commoners of the ‘van. Truly theirs is a heavy burden.

Dim and Lillian enter the tents of the researchers. The acrid scent of processed Vice fills the air, buffeting Dim’s senses. The rotten stench assaulted even Dim’s trained fortitude. The researchers, even with their magical aptitude, wear layers of protective and treated cloth. No doubt their sense of smell is far more sensitive to the corruption.

As Dim grew accustomed to the harsh environment, he spotted the many tainted tools need for the mage’s work. Strange and twisted devices lay scattered across tables hardly suited to house such evil. Lillian spots the concern in Dim’s eye, preempting his complaints by ordering nearby researchers to tidy the room. “It’s a messy business, understanding the Vice. Methods are crude, but we’re making strides, I assure you.” She dons protective gloves and collects the most warped of the tools.

>”Newsaint, this doesn’t seem safe at all. Are you absolutely certain no Vice will escape, especially to the conjured food?”
>Catch the attention of a researcher. “You there, what are you working on? Will it help the ‘van?”
>”We’ll have to cut this research down, Newsaint. There’re more important things to consider.”
>”What do you hope to accomplish from this, Lillian?”
>Very well, I trust you.
>Take care that you actually believe in your own words, and are not risking the caravan out of stubbornness.
>>”What do you hope to accomplish from this, Lillian?”
Also supporting this >>2078772

Though I believe it's more likely that her actions are centered towards not putting her fellow mages in undue risk as much as possible.
Dim holds an enviced tool in his hand. Its subtle energies keep the evil powers contained, for now. He plucks Vice from the tool with a practiced motion. “The Vice is a demon, Lillian. Your expertise is invaluable, but don’t grow complacent.” Dim continues churning through the tools, attracting the attention of curious researchers. “I trust you, but I was shaped by the gods to defeat this atrocity, not study it. What is your goal here?”

Lillian holds firm, as always, but her voice is tempered with a small degree of gentleness. “It’s a valid concern; one I’m well aware of. But every step brings us new methods to defeat this cataclysm. It’s under control.” Dim nods, but says nothing more. The whispering of fascinated magi, and the hum of Dim’s palm-well alone fill the tent, and so Lillian excuses herself. Her words tumble in Dims head; the words he recognized from long ago, when the priests hollowed him for his crucial mission.

‘It’s under control…’

Dim quietly siphons the rest of the Vice, loading his soul with parceled evil. A few painful hours lie ahead for the hopper. But it was a familiar and practiced pain. In small doses, it seemed to give him a degree of resolve, of renewed purpose. But it was still pain.

After he completes his first task, he visits the diviners. Theirs is a quiet, laborious art; one that took fine and subtle magical manipulation. Dim did not deign to interrupt their careful work. He simply expels a palpable mist of raw magical energy, refreshing the practitioners and sharpening their wit. With luck, the portents will be many and optimistic.

As Dim exits the mage’s camp, he’s greeted by a chorus of mobilization. The men and women of the caravan pack their animals, corral their families, and prepare their weapons. It’s a foreboding sight; every new land promised hidden evils beyond the Vice. Dim, as the eternal servant to the peoples of the broken world, readies himself for another expedition eastward.
Gonna call it here for the coming holiday. But hopefully I'll be able to pick up the pace when I return. I should be able to commit to more frequent posts later on, when I get into the swing of things.

Thank you for driving the story, guys.
Really appreciate something like this. Solid concept and world building with just enough info to drive towards an immediate character goal. Hoping it will expand further naturally as the story plods along.

If ever you're gonna resume either in this thread or a new one, don't hesitate to find the Quest Thread General on the catalog and plug away your quest with a link. A bit more visibility helps with player count and timely votes.

Kinda ashamed that I only catch the updates after it's been sitting for a couple of hours. In any case, good luck.
Thanks for the support! I tossed a link into /qsg/ early on, but I hope more will come with more threads. Here's a couple links I'm gonna start the next thread with:

Stats on the caravan: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vSsQx8o5BbEp-QkqqYQ_QeJGjGwdH4UIKc8ns3-ztyNu6tE6bue8kFzq6DNKzHEESuXCL8qNSDBGIiO/pubhtml?gid=963090306&single=true

My twitter: https://twitter.com/QMKippler

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