You are Mouse, the Ogre. Driven by both your human upbringing and monstrous nature you embarked on a quest to purge the Taint corrupting the world you inhabit. This is your story.You are not alone on your journey. Several companions, all of them unique in their own ways, were with you from the start:-Phineous, the orcish duelist and appreciator of aesthetics-Smutkin, the human bard who forsook depravity for resolve-Sparky, the imp who found affinity with the force of light-Tithe, the diminutive gargoyle, originally fashioned as a jokeOver course of your adventure you were joined by new friends:-Diana and Minerva, guardian golems made as playthings of the old faith, finding new purpose in their convictions at your behest-Chloe, the shadow of the Queen and her most devout retainer-Elle, the royal courier you saved from rogue humans-Harriet and Janet, scouts you rescued from clutches of the Black Dog mercenaries.Having reached the cathedral fortress with friendship and endorsement of three of the princess knights you have been thrust into circumstances of stark contrast between peaceful and lively environ of the human regional capital and the dire threat of treacherous mercenary army looming overhead.It is now your second day in the city. So far you have discussed matters with princesses Alicia, Prim and Claudia and her husband, had a bath and a massage, refused to participate in a false flag attack that may have been a trap and attended an audience where you met lady Celestine for the first time. The elf, said to be reincarnation of the goddess, viewed you through her power of clairvoyance and her vision left her shaken - she invited you to discuss it further once she recovered.As for now, you find yourself discussing your quest with princess Kaguya, hoping her foreign point of view offers new insights you could work with.Having heard your story, after listening carefully to your recount with only a few interruptions and requests for clarification, the priestess nodded silently and spent maybe half a minute looking through the swirl of steam rising from her cup of tea her knightly guard has just replaced. "The divine light truly pierces the darkness in most unexpected places." Kaguya says. For a moment you take it as expression of her surprise at the course the events were running.
"Hey, that's what the hero Naomi says when she learns the demon knight had spared her brother!" Phineous blurts out, prompting both you and the princess to look at him wide eyed. You, because you were not aware such a tale even existed, Kaguya with a small smile."I-I-I'm sorry, miss, boss." The orc stuttered under the unexpected attention."You're familiar with that story? It was one of my favourites." Kaguya ignores his embarrassment."Um. Yes, uh, it's something I've read after... erm..." He trails off, as discomfort on idea of sharing circumstances in which he was growing his library."Out kind scavenges and plunders a lot. Phineous is one of the rare individuals with appreciation for literature." You speak, tearing the band aid off."I see." Kaguya nods, her smile subdued by the mental image. "I understand." Then it returns, at least partially. "Even so, considering your tale, it speaks to your credit that this would be a tale that you recognize, mr. Phineous.""T-thank you, my lady." The orc makes a small bow which seems to amuse Kaguya further, but then she turns her attention back at you. "I'm terribly sorry. You did not request to see me to discuss fables and stories." Her gaze gained a firm, steely quality as she fixed you with it. "The task you have taken upon yourself is immense, mr. Mouse. Many words come to mind when considering it - ambition, arrogance, hubris..." She pauses briefly "and yet you bring it forward with such naive sincerity. No, perhaps naive is too harsh. You seem aware at least to some extent to extent of what you've resolved to pursue."She's clearly not finished so you watch as the exotic princess sips tea before resuming."You mentioned you had chosen to approach me because of the differences in tenets of our faith from those who worship the goddess as a person, currently reborn in form of Lady Celestine. That is correct, our concept of the divine is not so personified. The divinity we worship is all encompassing light of order and goodness, the fundamental source of all that is locked in struggle with the forces of darkness, decay, chaos and destruction.We revere lady Celestine as well, because her attunement to the divine is undeniable. Thus we are in alignment against the forces of the darkness which we see manifested in the monstrous horde led by the dark queen. In this context the Taint you bring forward, referenced by heretical texts, could well be related to the antagonist force of darkness that our faith recognizes.Now, considering the above, I'm led to believe it is my duty to help and support you as you declared your opposition to this force of evil."You exhale in relief as Kaguya essentially commits herself to your cause but the woman raises her hand in a gesture only slightly more swift and firm than you'd expect from someone of her gentle disposition.
"However, you need to realize that even to my faith, the assumptions you offer are blasphemous in giving the 'taint', as you call it, primacy or dominion over the forces of good. The notion is likely no less offensive to my people than those following lady Celestine. As such I'd suggest that you're careful where you speak of it." Kaguya sighs and looks downcast for a moment. "I wish I could be as resolute in condemning the notion, but between your and lady Levantine's testimonies, I'm now given new light to examine a recent diplomatic falling out we've had with the Dwarven realm.""You had a conflict with Dwarves?" You ask with a concerned frown."Strongly worded exchange is the term I would use." Kaguya says. "Our friends from the mountains and undermountain have published a finding to which some of my colleagues reacted with great outrage and the matter developed into an exchange of thinly veiled insults. If we were not in the middle of a war I dread to think how far this difference would have escalated." Another sigh. "As it is, the issue remains largely forgotten. Even so, you may wish to look into it.""Why? Is it related to the taint somehow?""It could be. The disputation arose around dwarven attempts to quantify and measure evil."That did sound like something that might discover more about Taint - and provoke backlash from the faithful of either rite for bringing up uncomfortable facts. Didn't Phineous come across something like that during his studies in Levantine library? Perhaps it was also a lead worth pursuing."I see." You say aloud. "I'll see what I can learn.""Very well. In the meantime -""Mistress, the ritual..." Hayato speaks up with a bow, apologetic at interrupting."Thank you, Hayato, I haven't forgotten." Kaguya says and turns back to you. "It's time for me to meditate and for the rite of cleansing. I am sorry but I'm afraid I'll have to cut our meeting short. However, I believe even had we talked longer I can't offer much more at this time than this commitment of mine: I'll look into the rituals and rites and scrolls in search of ways to support you in your struggle, mr. Mouse. Wherever it came from, your cause is just and I will help you in pursuing it.""Thank you, lady Kaguya. I am grateful." You rise and bow in imitation of gesture the bodyguard and Phineous seem to have known. The effort did seem to conjure an amused smile on the priestess at least. You were about to leave when Phineous spoke."Uh, lady, boss, could I stay? I read about the rites like this and I'd die to see one performed."Hayato's frown deepened to the point you were worried his head may split in half whereas Kaguya's suprise at orc's request quickly turned to further amusement."I don't see why not, as long as you maintain your peace.""Mistress..." The warrior protests."I'm certain these people mean us no harm, Hayato. But regardless, I trust in your vigilance. Can I?""Of, of course, mistress."
Well if the princess-priestess is fine with Phineous watching you see no reason to deny him. You're confident in him enough to not worry about his behaviour and in fact given the mercenary threat, his presence might actually improve her security.With that resolved, the next question was what you would now do with your lonesome(?)>Head back into the heart of the cathedral and seek out lady Celestine. She wished to see you after she had time to regain her composure, it was rather early but probably enough time had passed.>Maybe you could try your luck back at the lobby of the guest wing and ask if there is dwarven or halfling delegation in attendance. However, this time you had nobody to introduce you...>Perhaps you could ask for direction to a barracks and see if someone wants to challenge an ogre? (optional - head to the barracks Alicia mentioned they'd be headed for?)>Maybe you could head out to town in search of something or someone specific (who or what?)>Safest bet would probably be going back to your suites. Maybe one of your men returned from their task and had brought something actionable back?>other idea
>>5522228>optional - head to the barracks Alicia mentioned they'd be headed for?
>>5522228>optional - head to the barracks Alicia mentioned they'd be headed for
>>5522228>Safest bet would probably be going back to your suites. Maybe one of your men returned from their task and had brought something actionable back?
>>5522228>head to the barracks Alicia mentioned they'd be headed forWelcome back Usurper
Well, the safest choice right now would probably be returning to your suites to see if one of your other companions has turned up with something of interest. However, another idea formed in your mind - you could seek out the alliance military for some impromptu training session while also getting a feel of where they stand in their loyalty between lady Celestine and the mercenaries that were apparently brought in for much of the actual fighting.Perhaps you could even catch up with Alicia and Prim? Alicia mentioned training as well and idea of testing yourself against a princess knight was not an entirely unappealing one.After some thinking you head to your suites that are nearby - after all, you're still in the guest wing - and before long you stand in front of the door guarded by the twin golems."Diana, Minerva. Has there been anything of interest?"Golems exchanged glances, as if to confirm something, then Diana started:"Elle has stopped by, and informed us that she'd be around in the evening. She said she found out something worrisome.""She also informed us that Harriet and Janet have opted to stay with their relatives living in the city, but are ready to be summoned at moment's notice.""Smutkin sent word that his investigation continues."So it seemed the scouts have taken chance of the outing to reconnect. Briefly you considered whether you should have Tithe recall them to ensure they're genuinely available if you need to make some sort of move, but you couldn't bring yourself to begrudge them at this point, especially since as far as they knew the city was as safe as it could be. You put that thought aside for now and instead addressed the golems:"Thank you for the report. Now though, I'm going to need you to come with me.""Of course, leader." The golems responded simultaneously. You decided to take them with you out of considerations for the appearance of a lone ogre walking through the streets might cause some trouble as it was. The pristine church golems escorting you should give you enough legitimacy to avoid most or all of it.With that (after stopping by Sparky to let the imp know where you're going) you headed out to the lobby to ask for exact directions to the barracks Alicia had mentioned.
The clerk has helpfully listed off three largest military compounds in the city he was aware of, along with his opinion that the one you were asking for was the nearest one, compound sometimes dubbed as knights' citadel as it housed mostly the knights and noble house guards contributed to the alliance army, as opposed to the infantry barracks located further out, adjacent to the commoners' ward, or the deceptively called 'small keep', a military structure surrounded by training fields and camps for units that did not have long term station in the city. Incidentally, most of (known) mercenary presence was billeted at this last facility.With this knowledge you set out and made your way towards the knights' citadel. As expected, as soon as you set foot outside, you started to attract attention and glares backed with fear, anger, malice and confusion. Most of them disappeared hurriedly when your own gaze passed over such watchers; luckily, nobody thought to step out and confront you, and going by conversations you sometimes catch as you pass by clusters of citizens, you have your stone companions to thank for that at least to some extent."Do you think he's being taken somewhere?""Are golems supposed to carry out such a task unsupervised?""Maybe it's some foreign, non-evil ogre?""Don't be absurd."After hearing a few variations of these you tuned the conversations out, focusing on following the correct route instead. It wouldn't help you much were you to get lost in the city now, although given how major a landmark the central cathedral compound was, at least you could rule out being unable to find your way back to your suites at least.It's not like you had to go far. Soon enough you notice a solid structure emerging among the homes, robust walls adorned with turrets and banners. Before you reach it, though, you come across another oddity."Mr. Ogre?" A young man addresses you. He is clad in simple clothes and is carrying, with some effort, a large basket covered by cloth. The man approaches you and you're able to make out sweet fragrance you can't quite place but is undeniably pleasant. In the meantime, though, your attention is focused on the man apparently addressing you. "Could you be mr. Mouse the Ogre?""That's right. Were you looking for me?""In a manner of speaking, yes. I was told to deliver this for you. I'm from Leckerberg Sweets, and this was purchased for you by dames Alicia Arcturus and Prim Fiorire."The man braces his cargo against himself as he quickly reaches into the cloth cover to produce a piece of paper he offers to you.someone once told me a good cookie is like a smile you can share further than you can see! These are for you and your friends. -PP.S. this was Alicia's idea.
"Uh, sir, will you take it here? Or... should I take it to your accomodations as, um, originally instructed.""If you'd be so kind, please do." You confirmed the destination. Although you got impression the lad would rather be rid of his task here, as much as you appreciated the sweet gesture it would only be getting in the way as it was.The deliveryman suppressed a sigh."Very well, sir. Please enjoy our products and consider us in the future."And he was off. And so, for that matter, were you, resuming your trip.It was in fact only maybe two minutes later that you emerged from a side street into a small square that was dominated by the citadel wall, its most prominent feature an open porticullis. As you approached, two soldiers emerged from the gatehouse to challenge you. It was probably just a procedure as they seemed familiar with your name and allowed you through wihtout further complications, directing you towards a particular training area where several knights were currently in the middle of some sparring.One of the fighters was trivial to identify owing to her brilliant pink hair, and with that hint you quickly recognized her opponent. Prim was apparently sparring with one of Alicia's bodyguards, Charlotte you think she was called."Mouse!" Princess notices your approach with a cheerful wave and is promptly punished for it by a jab from Charlotte's practice weapon. "Ouch! Hey, cut it out!""I'm sorry, your highness, but you can't allow yourself to be distracted so easily." The knightess says."Alright alright, fine, you win this one." Prim concedes, then turns to you. "Hello mr. Mouse. Um... Diana? Minerva?""Correct." The golems each acknowledge the greeting with a courteous bow."Alicia is up in the office with the knight marshal and his second. And also Claudia and Klaus. They arrived in a hurry just a while ago." Right, and you may have an idea as for what they're talking about. "Do you want to go there? I'm sure they'll be happy to let you in.">Agree to join Alicia, Claudia and Klaus in their meeting. Although, this 'knight marshal' may not be too pleased...>It's fine, you thought you could train a bit yourself; you'll look for someone who'd like to try to take on an ogre.>Actually, you'd rather talk with Prim for a bit. (optional: topic)>other plan
>>5526464>>It's fine, you thought you could train a bit yourself; you'll look for someone who'd like to try to take on an ogre.
>>5526464>>It's fine, you thought you could train a bit yourself; you'll look for someone who'd like to try to take on an ogre.>Actually, you'd rather talk with Prim for a bit. (optional: topic)Tell her we received the cookies and thank her. We will share with the rest soon.I'm sure the troop are going to love it. Specially Sparky.
>>5526464>It's fine, you thought you could train a bit yourself; you'll look for someone who'd like to try to take on an ogre.
"It's fine. Actually, I was hoping to get some training in, myself." You tell the princess. "By the way, thank you for the sweets you and lady Alicia have sent us.""Ooh, they already delivered it?" Prim asks, blushing slightly."Well, I met the delivery man. I haven't had chance to sample yet, but I'm grateful for the gesture and I'm sure so will my men.""Oh, think nothing of it." Prim beamed. "I just hope the ones we had sent to the library won't get lost since those two ended up coming here in the end. But anyway, you said you wanted to spar?""I'm sorry, princess, but I can't permit this. You're not yet ready to handle opponent of this size, the match would do nothing but dishearten you." Charlotte interjects."Bummer." Prim pouted. "Well, why don't you introduce yourself to the knights? I'm sure some would be happy to help."You turn your attention to rest of the yard. There were a few knights gawking at your interaction with the princess, but most have resumed their own spars and exercises when it became apparent you're apparently meant to be here and her highness treats you with some familiarity.Well, if you were to find a partner, you might as well do as Prim suggested and ask. You take few steps into the open and speak:"Greetings. I'm Mouse, and I've come as a guest. Is there anyone among you that would like to test themsevles against me?"Silence descends as the ongoing matches are paused and the knights look at you, and each other. Silence then gives way to hushed murmurs, some you can make out."Are ogres supposed to be this articulate?""Rumour has it he sparred with old Levantine and beat him.""Well duh, it's a bloody ogre.""Isn't old Levantine said to have been killing ogres by himself?""So about your bluster from yesterday...""Just no. There's bluster and there's common sense.""Are you thinking what I'm thinking?""Sir Joseph."One of the knights, a tall, slender woman with rust coloured hair, stepped forward. "Sir Mouse, I'm not confident to challenge you, but a fellow of mine had recently expressed interest in a challenge worthy of his skill and stature. Would you mind if we summoned him?"You give the woman a quizzical look which she interprets as quiet assent and she turns to another knight, a shorter, more robust woman, that she was just chatting with previously. "Let's fetch him quickly."And then they were gone.Nobody else seemed willing to make another move, although you weren't sure how to interpret the looks they were now trading with each other."Ooh, I think they want you to fight some sort of champion." Prim comments."I'm not sure if that's what's happening..." Charlotte said with uncertain voice.
You end up having to wait, though luckily not for long. Before you decide to give up and leave, or take your frustrations out on a training dummy, the two knights return, with another in tow."Ladies, please, there's no need for such a hurry, I'm not going anywhere." The man they are dragging along says and it becomes apparent that if this is some sort of champion, he's excessively good at deceiving with his looks. He sports a fine, matching, well maintained suit of armour but his features don't match those of most male knights and mercenaries you've previously seen (or fought) in their tenderness and his movements don't show much of practiced dynamics of an experienced warrior either.Then your gazes meet and you can see blood drain from his face."U-u-uhh." He stammers."Here it is, sir Joseph. The challenger worthy of your mastery of the blade." His taller companion says."Will you show us the sublime art of combat?" The other adds."Yes, we were so hoping for a demonstration!""I, ah, but...""You're not getting cold feet at the opportunity, are you?""Yeah, there's no way you'd be afraid of a simple spar?"The man was looking around like a cornered animal. With the two knights egging him on, most others were looking on in silence with emotions you couldn't reliably decipher. Was there sympathy? Expectation? Judgment?"Are they mocking that poor man?" Prim whispered to Charlotte."It appears so, highness. But he is a knight, his concern is owed to his liege and his own conscience, not heckling of others." The knightess responded.Whether it was Prim's sympathy or Charlotte's indirect rebuke, or some other factor entirely, sir Joseph steadied himself and his expression and his gaze took a firmer quality as he regarded you."My good ogre, am I to understand you are proposing a challenge?""In a manner of speaking. I'm looking for some practice.""Then..." He hesitates only briefly. "...I accept and challenge you!"You give the man a respectful nod and when the man heads to a rack with practice weapons, you decide to follow suit and pick up something lighter than your mace. With that the two of you face off each other in one of the sections of the yard. The other knights in attendance are once again quiet, watching the imminent performance with varying tones of interest.You wait. By this moment it's abundantly clear this match will not be a test of your abilities, but as your father said, when life gives you lemons...After few moments of eyeing each other cautiously, the knight comes running at you, weapon raised. His technique is sloppy, movements awkward and unpracticed, but you can't deny there's resolve behind it.
Of course, in a combat situation, you need more than just that, moreso if your adversary is several times your mass. It doesn't take much from you to intercept and break his charge. You repulse it gently, sending him careening to the side instead of flying into the nearby wall. The knight is undeterred, however, and comes at you with series of strikes that show the man to have at least some measure of skill. Then again, nowhere near what could genuinely threaten you.You spend a few moments defending yourself from the onslaught but it quickly becomes apparent to both of you and the spectators that it's effortless on your part and you decide to move onto offensive.With several deliberate swings the knight's attack are stopped as he scrambles to parry and evade. His panicked defense drains him quickly and after your weapons meet a few more times he loses grip and his practice sword clatters to the ground."I yield." He says, stepping back with palms held out. "You have bested me, ogre.""Thank you for the fight." You tell him. "I appreciate the courage it took for you to challenge me."Sir Joseph blushed, you're not sure to what extent from exertion, embarrassment or pride. But a suppressed smile showed there was at least a bit of that last one. In either case, it didn't help you much if you wanted to get something useful out of this entire encounter. Then a thought occurred to you. "I'm sure you've noticed that my size and strength gives me a distinct advantage. Perhaps it would benefit all of us if you took a friend with you for another bout?" You look at the woman who brought him in. "Perhaps you'd like to support your friend?" She looked surprised and for a moment you were sure she'd refuse, but it seemed as you put her on the spot, her peers were peering at her judgmentally."Of course." She said eventually.She went to pick up a training weapon of her own and in a few moments you were facing off against two opponents.With introduction of additional opponent the match promised to be more interesting, and as they came at you you actually had to exert yourself a bit to keep up with the attacks, especially since the female knight looked to have been more proficient than her counterpart and consequently you ended up diverting more of your attention in defending from her.This spar took longer, and in the end proved passable workout for all of you; at some point you began to give the both of them some pointers, like you used to do when sparring in similar format with Phineous and Smutkin and the spar developed into a reasonably fruitful training session.
Eventually the two felt confident enough to attempt to strike at you simultaneously. However, their lack of coordination betrayed them for the last time as a lunge by one surprised and foiled attack of the other, causing them to swerve at last moment, lose balance and as you evade the collapsed attack so do the two knights stumble into each other and end up collapsing themselves into a pile on the ground."Ouch! Oof.""Ugh! Get off me!" "Mouse!"Looking up from the two knights as they disentangled themselves you are met with several familiar faces - Alicia, Claudia and Klaus have arrived, and with them a grizzled man clad in ornate uniform with a cuirass."Ah, so you must be the helpful ogre I hear so much about." He says, then he seems to notice your sparring partners. "Are you enjoying yourselves? Joseph? Scarlet?""S-sir!" The woman is first on her feet."Good that you are already here. I have an assignment for you. And seeing as you have been practicing teamwork, I think you'll do fine on it together." He turns to the princesses. "I suppose we're going to see each others as agreed. Thank you for... ah, Goddess, what a mess. Just take care of yourselves.""We will. And likewise, knight-marshal."With a nod, and then another in your direction, the grizzled man beckons your two opponents to follow and you are left alone with the nobles you've come to acknowledge as your friends."That was knight-marshal Bellu." Alicia explains. "We had a lot to discuss." Her expression sours. "I still can't believe...""Alicia." Claudia hisses softly, looking around at the knights who have either resumed their drills or were quietly gossiping in smaller groups."Right, of course." The blonde princess sighs. "We were talking things through. And we'll see each other at the banquet tomorrow. Once again, thanks for your help, Mouse.""Thank you for the sweets. I understand it was your idea.""A-ah, haha." Alicia blushes, and the crimson deepens under Claudia's raised eyebrows. "I just thought it would be rude not to remember you and your friends when we were picking the sweets for Claudia and Klaus. Did you like them?""In truth I haven't had chance to sample yet, but I appreciate the gesture and so will my men.""That's nice to hear. So, what brings you here, anyway? Did you speak with lady Celestine yet?""I had thought to find someone to spar. As you can tell, I've had some success. And no, not since morning. I have however spoken to lady Kaguya, it was I believe quite fruitful. Thank you for your introduction." You add towards Claudia."Don't mention it." Claudia smiles."Did you learn of some new clues worth pursuing?" Klaus inquires.
You briefly recount your meeting with the priestess to the other princesses, which they acknowledge and then ask if you've decided what to do next.>You intended to return to the cathedral now to see lady Celestine, as she requested. She should be ready to receive you now and it was not yet too late to make seeking her out awkward.>You would accompany Claudia and Klaus to the library, Klaus still wanted to get some research done by nightfall.>Alicia originally wanted to practice as well, right? Maybe you can spend some time sparring with the actual princess knight.>You would head back to your room and finally try out those cookies Alicia and Prim sent you. And incidentally speak with your men, too.>other plan
>>5530834>You intended to return to the cathedral now to see lady Celestine, as she requested. She should be ready to receive you now and it was not yet too late to make seeking her out awkward.
>>5530834>Alicia originally wanted to practice as well, right? Maybe you can spend some time sparring with the actual princess knight.
Although the exercise session left you a bit wanting for more, and the idea of challenging princess Alicia passed through your mind, you had to put it away for the time being. Lady Celestine gave you a rather heartfelt request earlier today, and by your estimation of how far the afternoon has gone, now would be a good time to fulfill it. You said as much to your noble friends, if you could call them that, and after a round of sympathetic and empathetic acknowledgment you departed and made your way back to the cathedral complex.This time you did not have an appointment for precise time and place and so you had to ask for directions. The clerk you've come across seemed reluctant, but whether it was due to having been made aware of your status as an expected guest, or perhaps persuaded by glares of your golem guardians, ultimately you're directed to a different location than the atrium you've previously visited. The path takes you slightly deeper into the complex, and higher in terms of elevation, up on a side terrace. There, having left the golems outside considering the private nature of Celestine's invitation, you find the elven holy woman leaning against the railing, staring towards the horizon.If your spatial sense serves you well, the direction she's looking towards might well be where the dark citadel rests, although it's impossible to see from this location - hills that separate this region from northern wastes may not be very tall, but they're enough to shelter the scenery from transition of lush plains and vibrant woodlands into barren, cracked ground ravaged by war and savage, tainted wildlife."Sir Mouse. Child of darkness..." Celestine speaks forlornly as you enter before you announce yourself. "That's the title I've used for you, unaware that the darkness shrouding you was of my making." She turns to regard you directly, her vibrant green eyes looking at you with kindness and serenity. "Thank you for coming, little light. And thank you for allowing me to see you the way you did, and are.""Lady Celestine..." You're unsure what to make of that. "You said you wished to discuss the vision.""I have, and I do." She nods, her divine serenity dropping under weight of concern and worry momentarily marring her visage. "I attempted to peer into your story with my power of clairvoyance... and I succeeded." She sighs, looking to the side. "I have seen how it started. How you came to be. I have seen the cruelty suffered by those who took you in, and the selflessness and love they gave to you and each other, until the very end."
So your assumption was correct, Celestine peered into your past and it left her devastated. The elven woman continues:"I have seen a precious miracle of love sprout in defiance and in the midst of shade and darkness, and I have seen fervor of those who in my name, or in the name of the progenitor, extinguished two fonts of such love. I have seen corruption of zeal attempt to smother the spark - and I've seen another onslaught of cruelty and violence actually preserve it." She looks at you. "Little light, I cannot even begin to presume asking for forgiveness. It would be selfish and insulting for me to attempt. All I can do is express my gratitude and admiration that you chose to preserve the gift your parents have bequeathed upon you.""How could I not?" You ask automatically. "I'm aware of what choices they made, and how they felt about them to the bitter end. If carrying their hope was their final wish, how could I do anything less?"Celestine smiles, but you can't miss hints of moisture in corners of her eyes."Did you see, something else?" You felt compelled to ask.Celestine's expression shifts into a more serious one, her touched smile into a thoughtful frown."Yes. I have seen you embark on your quest, and carry the legacy of your parents with care and dignity. I have seen you approach me with earnest hope, and..." She trails off and shakes her head. "Visions of future are... different, and uncertain. I cannot bring them forth on a whim, and when they do come, it can be daunting to glean from them how they came to be."She pauses and looks, perhaps a bit wistfully, towards distant horizon. "Before today, I used to have absolute faith in my visions, but now, now I'm not so sure." She says. "When peering into the future, I have to rely on intuition and the feeling of 'rightness' to determine the path towards the future. And..." She trails again, hesitantly. "...one such vision is how the alliance, and the current state of war, came to be." She looks at you mournfully. "And yet, no vision prepared me for meeting you, and no vision had showed me danger posed by the mercenaries, where looking back, simple common sense might have been sufficient."Her resolve strengthens and her gaze feels slightly more intense somehow as she gazes you in the eye."That's why now I'm asking you, Little light... If there's anything I can do to help you in your travel, please, tell me."
>You'd like to get your parents back.>Talk about the mercenary threat. You were discussing possibility of denouncing them to undermine their public support...>Talk about your quest and the Taint and see if Celestine has some ideas of what to do or how>Talk about "Atlassia". The location seemed important to the cult, perhaps Celestine knows something?>Ask about possibility to contact the dwarves, they may have a promising lead on their hands>Ask about Celestine's relationship to Olga. Is there one? Does it relate to the creation myth?>Ask Celestine to try and look into something specific>Talk about something else (what?)>Leave
>>5533892>Talk about your quest and the Taint and see if Celestine has some ideas of what to do or how>Talk about "Atlassia". The location seemed important to the cult, perhaps Celestine knows something?>Ask about Celestine's relationship to Olga. Is there one? Does it relate to the creation myth?
Her offer comes as a reassurance, as her help was the main reason for you to come all the way out here in the first place. There was so much you'd like to ask her you were unsure where to start. But in these circumstances, the surest answer would probably be to go straight for the heart of the matter."Thank you, lady Celestine. In that case I'd like to learn more about the nature of the Taint, and possible means of purging it."If you were worried your words would disquiet the elven idol then you were relieved to see her only nod. It appeared that the time she took to collect her resolve was well spent."Yes, the Taint." She acknowledges your prompt and looks pensive for a moment. "I have been thinking on the subject since you raised it, and how it fits with the lore and nature as I'm aware of it. Unfortunately, you will probably be disappointed to learn that even though the soul of the goddess dwells in my body, I am not partial to progenitor's memories and full extent of divine knowledge."And just like that, Celestine puts a hamper on your hopes. You had hoped for quite significant revelation from the one who was said to be reincarnation of the goddess that could be expected to know the taint most intimately. Some of that letdown must have shown on your face as you could see Celestine's own smile falter in response. But quickly she musters herself to continue."However, that doesn't mean I can't be helpful to your noble quest in that respect. I take my service to my faithful very seriously, so please, bear with me.The tale of progenitor goddess being ravaged by the Enemy is as you know part of suppressed apocrypha that only most senior and disciplined of my clergy are allowed to study. Even myself have not been made aware of them in course of my upbringing and have only come across them..." You can make out faint blush in the receding evening's light. "...clandestinely, exploring my guardian's study.""Your guardian?" You asked."Yes, the elderly monk that watched over me during my childhood." Celestine inclined her head, smiling fondly at the memory. "It was a kind, wise man. Veteran of the great war. I cried a lot when he passed away." The elf was saddened for a moment by the recollection, but quickly recouped. "But that's not important right now. We were talking about the Taint. In the faith of the Goddess - in my faith - the existence of evil is recognized, but its manifestation is the race of monsters and demonkind, with the dark queen as inheritor of the darkness at its core. That is how we -" She hesitates and looks away before continuing. "- how I have justified the pronouncement of holy campaign against the forces of darkness. That is my responsibility for the war. In my vision, this course of action seemed just and righteous, to protect my faithful, my children, my subjects from the torment monsters are known to inflict."
You kept your silence, waiting for Celestine to continue. You were not going to argue against monsters being monsters, even though it was clear that was not the whole picture.Celestine meanwhile shakes her head gently. "Let me return to the matter at hand before descending too far into regret and self-pity. Revelation that you have brought, sir Mouse, has opened my eyes to another possibility, as unpleasant as it is to admit. I've already said I'm beginning to doubt my visions somewhat. That's because I suspect they too are coloured by the Taint you seek to combat. After all, following them has put the city in danger Alicia, Claudia and Klaus have been speaking of, and did nothing to help me prevent any of it." Celestine locks gazes with you again. "I have already previously found it difficult at times to reconcile what wickedness I'm seeing among my followers with the idea that we stand for the light, while the monsters do for darkness. It is altogether easy to pour all one's evil into another - but doing so makes us vulnerable to the enemy we carry within us at all times.""Do you believe the Taint can control us?" You ask, as the question of where the exogenous malicious force begins and one's own choice ends once again surfaces in your mind."I am certain that it can not." Celestine says resolutely. "I need look no further than at the person right in front of me. I can't imagine better evidence of how corruption can be rejected than yourself, little light." You find yourself thankful for the receding light of the evening, perhaps it along with your thick skin will obscure your blush. "Oh, I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, sir Mouse, but it's the truth. You had plenty of opportunities to embrace the taint, and what a terrifying force you would be if you had. And in your example, and that of your parents, I also believe you have already uncovered the means how taint can be defeated.""I have?" You ask, not hiding doubt from your voice. You allowed your heart, your memories and the sense of love, gratitude and duty to keep you from even considering offers the Beast was occasionally floating, but at the same time you knew the presence was still there, in the back of your mind, or hiding within the relic you safeguarded. How would you wield any of these concepts against it?"Indeed. Although at this time I'm afraid I don't have any esoteric knowledge, my heart - not my vision - tells me that the means to fulfill your mission is something that already rests in your soul.""Thank you, lady Celestine." You can't help but appreciate the reassurance, even though it does currently very little to actually help you. Then, you frown. "But if Taint can be rejected... why do its effects seem so widespread?"
Celestine's expression falls into a mournful, resigned smile. "That is a question I fear to ask even myself. Is choosing to take and hurt truly so much more appealing than to give and comfort? It may be the reason for that is simply because we as people are choosing evil over good, dark before light and self-gratification over love." She trails off and looks away, on the sky. Although the city below is illuminated by street lamps and windows, the stars are beginning to show. For a few moments you simply stay there, gazing into the tranquil void. "That's not all there is to it, though." Celestine picks up. "The conscious choice is what decides our path, but the forbidden lore describes the rot as having hold in the fabric of the reality itself. Many theologians interpret such ideas as lessons urging us to not place too much stock in the tangible over ideals. But there are other interpretations. Recently, there was a controversy between a dwarven academician and Kaguya's colleagues. It was swiftly subdued into polite disagreement due to the war, but if the dwarf's point held merit..." The elven lady looked at you. "I'll arrange a debate. Theologians, philosophers, sages and mages. But that may take a while. Perhaps you would benefit from meeting the dwarves.""I believe lady Kaguya mentioned that issue to me.""You spoke with her? That's very good to hear. I'm sure she'll be of great help. In the meantime, I'll see if I can reach out to that dwarf for you." She pauses for a moment. "Perhaps we should keep our minds open. I wish I could speak with more authority, especially considering my relation to the progenitor herself..." Celestine sighs. "Oh ancient one, what has really befallen you... and why?"The elf goes on to quietly gaze at the stars from then on. You consider leaving her to her thoughts at that time and almost begin to withdraw, but as if sensing your intentions she stops you."Wait. Don't go." She turns to face you. "There's something else you wished to know, is there not?""Well, yes." You say, recalling some more concrete matters that seemed relevant to your quest. "Does name of the place 'Atlassia' mean anything to you?""Atlassia?" Celestine inclines her head, brow furrowed. "I think I heart the name in the past, though not in any serious context. It was probably in some casual conversation, perhaps as a land from a storybook.""I see." You suppressed the disappointment."But wait. You have reasons to consider it important?""I do, our research indicates it may be a place of some importance for the cult of the Nameless that remains relevant to this day, even if it's taken guise of a storybook name.""So you believe it to be a real place? If it is, I should be able to catch at least a glimpse if I attempt to direct my Sight..."
"Didn't you say that your visions can mislead?" You ask doubtfully. The matter was important enough that you didn't let courtesies keep you silent."Their intention, yes. But they can still offer clues and glimpses that could be useful. For instance, I don't think I'd be able to notice your companion without it." Celestine nonchalantly indicates somewhere behind you. You automatically follow the gesture and are met with a surprised half elf."...!" Says Chloe"I'm sorry for putting you on the spot like so, little shadow. I'm glad sir Mouse, and the Dark Queen, has such a dependable companion.""...I didn't ask." The dark elf growls indignantly and melts back into the shadow, away from your sight. You can practically feel her pout.Celestine's expression saddens for a moment and you begin to wonder if she'll try to talk to the half elf, but whatever her reasoning, she opts not to at this time. Instead she sighs and looks back at you."Please, give me a moment. It's the least I can do to give this a try."Without waiting on further input, Celestine turns to face the open skies, straightens her posture and joins her hands in some ritual pose, perhaps that of a prayer. She bows her head and you are left looking expectantly at the entranced elven goddess.Perhaps it's just your imagination, but as your gaze lingers on her form, calm yet tense in her focus, you think you can almost feel something in the air, like shift of air without wind. Or perhaps was it sort of tingle, or vibration, somewhere just out of grasp where you could describe it.And then she was falling.You move out of reflex, just as previously, catching her. But this time, things are different. Her expression, for one, showed a different mix of emotions you could not quite place. To your relief, though, she was also quickly regaining her faculties."I'm... unh..." She spoke with a shaking voice. "I'll be fine." She steadies herself in your arms and you can feel her legs supporting her weight again so you slowly let her go.You decide to give her time rather than prod her and wait patiently as Celestine makes a few controlled breaths as she continues to regain her calm. Eventually, she speaks."That was..." She shakes her head. "I saw the place. It is definitely a real location. Ruins, perhaps." She gives you a serious look. "It was a harrowing vision, even if it was brief, it will haunt me. The suffering, and humiliation..." She looks away. "Sorry. You would probably appreciate different information more. I know it's not much, but I recognized two symbols. One, you're already familiar with - the mark of the black dog. There were mercenaries."Celestine shifts her weight and grimaces. "It's a brand of my shame for my part in allowing their lust for battle - and otherwise - to be encouraged so... but still not as much as that of the other banner I recognized." She exhales, looking downcast. "The slavers' guild."
Silence that ensued was broken by neither you nor the elven idol."Looks like a promising clue." You could tell there was a lot of venom on a blade hidden behind those words."Indeed it is. I'll put the clerks to work. The guild may have influential supporters, but I won't let those stop me anymore.""I think I can make it much quicker if I ask the correct person.""I understand-""You understand nothing, pretentious cow!" Chloe snarls. "Nor do I expect or require you to. Being a plush, velvety cover for the cruelty of mankind is your role you were groomed for, after all.""I am sorry... Chloe." Celestine says softly. "You are right, and have every right to despise me. As with sir Mouse, it is not in my power to reverse wrongs that you have suffered. I can only offer my commitment to do what is in my power to prevent them to happening again."There was no response, and when you looked back towards where Chloe has been speaking from, you could see nothing. Although considering Chloe was likely with you all this time, you would be surprised if she abandoned you now. Nonetheless, you decided to break the uncomfortable silence with another question."Lady Celestine, you mentioned queen Olga before. What exactly is your relationship?""Relationship...?" The elf regards you with curious glance. "Oh. You must be referring to the elven twins." She nods. "The story is not about us, although I understand some make that assumption. A connection exists, but I'm not sure, if I can properly describe it. By blood, it may be possible we are distant relatives, but the connection is more pronounced on mystical level." Celestine turns around to face vaguely north. "When I focus, I think I can feel a presence that feels familiar, and yet not quite." She turns back to you. "I am not really certain if our ancestry could be tracked directly to first incarnation of the goddess, or if that is even an applicable term. But even so, I find the idea that she took you, and..." She trails off. "Even though she's supposed to be my antithesis, I can't help but feel some manner of kinship."You can actually hear a snort at that.Celestine, meanwhile, looks at you expectantly. Did you have something else you wished to discuss with her?
>talk more about the mercenary threat>talk about the vision of Atlassia>talk about slavers>talk about herself>talk about someone or something else>enough talk - rest can wait for tomorrow where the princesses will likely bring you for the next audience.Although Celestine said she had no intention to ask for your forgiveness regarding circumstances of your parents' death, you...>forgave her for being the name the pitchfork mob cried while condeming your family to death>could not forgive her for being the name in honour of which your family was killed >never held her responsible in the first place, there was nothing to forgive>other emotionThere was also the matter of Chloe's outburst. Although you had an idea what moved her to it, you would...>Scold her about it later, she already invited herself into the meeting, it was not her place to let herself go like that>Comfort her and reassure that she will be able to exact retribution on the slavers if or apparently when your paths would cross>Try to get her to reconcile with Celestine later >not mention it again>other resolution
>>5539530>talk more about the mercenary threat>talk about slavers>forgave her for being the name the pitchfork mob cried while condeming your family to death>Comfort her and reassure that she will be able to exact retribution on the slavers if or apparently when your paths would cross
>>5539530>talk about slaversConsidering what I vaguely know of their influence in the events of the Hentai timeline, I wanna more info on them.>never held her responsible in the first place, there was nothing to forgive>Comfort her and reassure that she will be able to exact retribution on the slavers if or apparently when your paths would cross
>>5539530>talk more about the mercenary threat>talk about slavers>never held her responsible in the first place, there was nothing to forgive>“People will find whatever excuse they can to indulge their darker desires. If it was not you, they would have found some other reason to call their hate noble.”>Comfort her and reassure that she will be able to exact retribution on the slavers if or apparently when your paths would cross>Try to get her to reconcile with Celestine later
>>5539530>talk about slavers>never held her responsible in the first place, there was nothing to forgive>Comfort her and reassure that she will be able to exact retribution on the slavers if or apparently when your paths would cross>Try to get her to reconcile with Celestine later
"I'd like to..." You hesitate only briefly, but decide to go on. Although it may not be a pleasant topic, you need to know more. "...know more about the slaver's guild."Celestine's expression sinks somewhat, but she doesn't let it keep her from answering."They are one of the wealthiest guilds that spans multiple kingdoms and domains. Although the law prohibits humans from being enslaved, I understand they derive considerable profit from labour of beastfolk and some captured monsters. Many other guilds rely on services they offer and workforce they provide. Their wealth and connections give them considerable influence.""How did it happen that the nation, or alliance, that prides itself in virtue, allows such practice?"The elven queen looks away and continues to speak. "The guild as organization predates the church in its current form. That is not a justification, I know. There was a movement to prohibit slavery, and it had sufficient support to make it into a proposal that has been considered by the council of lords, but in the end the pressure from wealthiest slavers and merchants relying on them resulted in compromise which took form of current state of regulation." Celestine pauses. "Ever since, any motion to tighten restrictions or ban the practice altogether has been quickly smothered by the slavers as well as those otherwise indifferent to the topic, unwilling to provoke conflict among merchants while the threat from the monsters was looming." The elf sighs. "And after I announced the campaign against the forces of darkness in the north, any movement against slavers is branded as treacherous infighting.""I take it the slavers are supportive of the war effort, then?" You ask."To a point. They claim to value the security and prosperity that fighting against the dark queen's forces is meant to bring, and along with other members of the chamber of commerce contribute substantially into war budget.""Do they have any presence in the region?" "I requested that they have no operations in the cathedral fortress, and they obliged without protest. Likewise the princess knights denied them access to their fortresses." Celestine turns to face you. "I asked for this for the sake of my selfish comfort. The bureaucracy and commanders supported the request however, for security reasons I believe."It would make sense - a contingent of slave labour could quickly turn into a hostile force in combat situation, you thought to yourself. In that case it was a shame the human leadership did not show similar prudence when employing mercenaries. And on that note...
"Lady Celestine, in your vision you saw both slavers and mercenaries. What connection between them is known?""As far as I'm aware, the connection would be indirect - between slavers' contribution to funding the war, and the mercenary army as the major... contractor is the appropriate term, yes?"It seems that if you had hoped Celestine would have more mundane insight into technical or strategic aspects of the war, you would have to be disappointed. Perhaps Chloe's words, as harsh as they were, had uncomfortable amount of truth to them."I have been negligent... too distant from the reality of my choice to follow my visions." Elven idol says - she must have caught onto your misgivings. "I may not be able to make up for it, but I will not let that stop me from doing what I can. Consider this a promise from me to you, little light - I will find out where that pit of depravity is... and I will see to it that the darkness is banished from it.""I appreciate the commitment, lady Celestine." You nod. Location of Atlassia will likely be important for your quest. But that was not the most pressing issue for which you had brought up the mercenary connection. "But before that, there's the more imminent threat of the mercenaries and their hostile actions against your alliance of princesses.""Yes, you spoke of that on the audience." Celestine nods. "It was not immediately apparent to me what I could do to help, but I've had an idea since. I'd like to discuss it with Claudia and others, but I was thinking of arranging a feast with a dedicated sermon for benefit of the mercenaries. Perhaps I could reach their hearts with my words."Chloe has been keeping quiet for a while but now you hear a muffled snort behind you. Celestine's ears twitch at the sound, but she doesn't speak up, instead choosing to look into your eyes with a hopeful expression.Words, seriously? Could it work? The elven goddess seemed earnest about her intention, to the point where you found yourself unwilling to shoot her idea down right away. Still, you had to say something."I was imagining rather something like condemnation of their violent actions, and cruelty they have already shown, to deprive them of public support." You admit."I see..." Celestine's gaze turns down. "I'll give it some thought. But I'm not very accustomed to pronouncements of condemnation, although in this case it seems warranted."
Perhaps it was not as much as you may have hoped for, it appeared this was as much as you were going to be able to get from this (mostly) private audience with lady Celestine - at least until you learned more of the current situation, and the elven goddess did more to process all that you've discussed.Besides, it was getting late. The darkness has already set, the dim light of lamps casting just enough light for its shadows to accentuate Celestine's silhouette, and plenty of room for Chloe to remain unseen. It was time to retire. Before you would, however, there was one thought that nagged at you as the elven idol was looking to the side, contemplating your exchange."Lady Celestine, about my parents..." You speak and she snaps around to meet your gaze. "...and your role in their death.""I-""There is nothing for me to forgive you for. Their end was not your fault, and I do not begrudge you for it. Even if some of the people responsible were chanting your name, it was for them only an excuse to let loose and indulge in their own darkness. If it wasn't you, they'd have found some other justification to cover their malice. I do not wish for you to burden yourself with this crime, and I'm sure my parents would not have wanted that either."Celestine looks at you with mouth open for a few moments, and then suddenly she's upon you, giving you barely enough time to notice sparks of starlight reflected in moisture off corners of her eyes as you're caught in a soft, warm embrace."M-Mouse..." She sobs.You let her, and you stand there for a few moments. It takes some effort and focus to keep your body from responding to the beautiful elf pressing herself against you, though not as much as you would have expected - she looks so vulnerable that you can't even begin to imagine her in any other context than one of comfort and reassurance.Eventually you judge it has been long enough and gently disentangle yourself. As you do, you see the golden haired elf has composed herself as well."Mouse, little light. I thank you for your kindness. And I thank those who nurtured it within you.""Good night, lady Celestine." You say simply, and bow in both goodbye and acknowledgment. It was really time to go.
The twin golems fall wordlessly into step behind you as you head back towards the guest wing and your suite. You meet a few servants and guards milling about, possibly also because of your presence, but soon leave them behind you and walk through deserted corridors."Chloe." You speak. "Could I have a few words with you?"After a few moments during which you begin to wonder if the elf decided that the golems are enough of an escort for you and moved on ahead you notice a slim figure walking alongside you."I'm sorry, Mouse. I let my temper get the best of me. It won't happen again." She said, her crimson eyes looking straight ahead. Well, maybe slightly downwards. Even so you could appreciate it took effort from her. Yet, you could also tell she was sincere. She would not bother feigning contrition."Chloe... thank you for your consideration, but I did not intend to scold you." She inclined her head and frowned slightly."I realize I'm not in much better position to understand your feelings on the matter than Celestine was-""That's not true!" Chloe shook her head. "I don't want to make a contest about who suffered more. But I can imagine what was taken from you." She pauses. "I think." She adds quickly."And I value that from you, Chloe. Thank you." You tell your elfin companion. You think she blushes a bit at that, although it's hard to tell with her skin colour. "But what I meant to tell you is that next time we come across the slavers, I'll be with you. All of us will. And we are going to ruin their day, together."And then something happened. Something that you were thankful for, because it was such a rare occurrence.Chloe smiled.More importantly, it was not a grin that would indicate she was imagining exact means by which she would deliver her wrath upon the slavers. It was a soft, warm thing that reached her eyes and for a moment you're sure even relaxed her gait - less movement of a stalking predator, more a stride of a companion enjoying sharing the road.The moment passed quickly. Too quickly, in any case. But traces of it remained even as her expression and movements got more controlled again and she nodded. "Thank you, Mouse. I'll hold you onto that."Briefly you consider asking her to try and find it in herself to reconcile with Celestine, who seemed genuinely agonized about Chloe's grievance - you could only speculate, how much she had seen or inferred of the half elf's suffering - but decide to leave that for later. The moment for it seems inopportune right now and besides you're almost at the suites.
Music welcomed you as you arrived to the guest wing. More precisely, a familiar tune you knew Smutkin had been practicing was flowing from the suite where the male component of your party was lodged. The melody was about to end and while you contemplated whether the bard is practicing for himself, or with audience, the answer presented itself to you in form of subdued applause when the song concluded, confirming your suspicion that there was at least one more person - probably Elle - in attendance. That in turn reminded you of something else.Opening the door to your suite revealed exactly what you expected to see - the large basket you've seen earlier today in hands of the delivery man. You pick it up and walk over to the other suite, only turning around when you noticed Diana and Minerva were resuming their stations. "Come as well." You tell them. "You too, Chloe." You add, hoping the half-elf is in hearing range and did not yet slink into wherever it is she chose to rest. She steps forward, confirming her presence, and so you're reassured to head over to the other suite. You knock to announce yourself and enter.You're met with image of your companions gathered in the common room of the suite - Smutkin standing near the fireplace, leafing through some booklet, flute in one hand, around him seated in chairs or sofas were Phineous, Sparky, Elle and both of the twins. Tithe was nowhere to be seen, though that didn't come as a surprise. For him, watching was both his duty and his way to relax. Although it on some level bothered you that he was not in this gathering, you were thankful to have his watchful gaze on the city under these circumstances."Hey Boss, you done with your rounds for today?" Phineous asks. "Miss Chloe. Diana, Minerva." He acknowledges your entourage.The twins and Elle stand up, Sparky waves and Smutkin momentarily puts the booklet away. The humans trade looks and eventually relax their posture when they see the casual atmosphere among your crew."Indeed I am, and I come bearing gifts." You set the basket down and pull the cloth off, revealing a pile of baked sweets of varied shapes, forms and icings."Hmm, that smells delicious... and looks, too!" Phineous."Those are some luxurious baked goods..." Elle comments, wide eyed. "Could it be... genuine Leckerberg?""Courtesy of princesses Alicia and Prim. Best to be shared with friends." You add. "Help yourselves."
And to dispel any hesitation, you grab one yourself before pushing the basket forward. Phineous first to follow, Elle and Chloe after him. Smutkin is only kept back by necessity of putting his instrument away. Although you don't really pay attention to any of that as your mind is overwhelmed by sensation of crispy crust, soft dough and juicy filling that momentarily block out all other concerns from your consciousness and threaten to complete your transcension from this mortal coil.At some moment you realize your hand is empty, yet traces of the sensation linger. You grab another sweet to keep it fresh.Part of you regrets not sampling these things back when you met the deliveryman for the first time when they may have been fresh from the oven. Although it's probably for the best. There may have been a risk that the goods would not have made it here to this point in sufficient numbers."Boss, I love you." Phineous says. "And Alicia and Prim.""That's 'their highnesses Alicia and Prim' for you, you oaf." Smutkin chides the orc, though his smile showed no malice behind it. "But ditto.""Oh Goddess... I never thought I'd get to experience these. One of them is worth like week's pay." Elle says.Sparky, Chloe and the twins don't say anything, but by their expression you can tell they are all enjoying the taste no less than you have."Alright, now, as much as I'm glad to have you all in one place, is there a special occasion?" You ask."Not exactly." Smutkin said. "We just spontaneously congregated, and at some point Elle had an idea to have me turn my practice session into a small concert." He looks around. "It turned out into quite a pleasant evening. But if you wish to get to business, I have a report to make regarding the investigation you sent me on, although it's not too urgent.""Um, leader, I also have some news. I was talking with fellow couriers regarding the mercs. It's not... ideal, but nothing immediate, as far as I can tell." Elle said."We have... um..." Harriet seems at loss for words."We were out of line not returning to report last night." Janet says a bit more resolutely."Auntie insisted, though. We're sorry. It won't happen again."Phineous for his part is absently looking over the sweets in the basket.What to do with the rest of the evening? You should probably not stay up for too long, considering the princesses were going to pick you up again for the audience in the morning...>Just sit back and relax with the team.>Talk to Smutkin about his investigation>Talk to Elle about what worried her>Ask Phineous about what happened after you left him with Kaguya>talk to someone about something else, specifically>let your team enjoy themselves and retire earlyalso>have the twins stay at the suites to ensure their availability, or have them go back to their aunt?
>>5545147>Talk to Smutkin about his investigation>Talk to Elle about what worried her>have the twins stay at the suites to ensure their availability>tell them about the plots we have discovered so far, and about Celestine sermon. There is a chance something might go wrong.
>>5545159But i'm also worried about Phineous.So much to do, so little time
>>5545147>Talk to Elle about what worried her>have the twins stay at the suites to ensure their availability
You look the twins over. On one hand, you can sympathise with their desire to stay with family. However, you were on an important mission in an environment that was deceptively dangerous. To say nothing of the implications for discipline and unit cohesion if everyone went around as they pleased."Alright, I understand your circumstances." You tell them. "But I, and the rest of the team, are counting on you to be available. So I appreciate and accept both your apology and commitment for the future. Am I sufficiently clear?""Yes, sir!" The two scouts reply together."Good. You can relax a bit, but be aware that with the mercenaries and cultists around, we need to maintain a degree of vigilance at all times. This applies to everyone." You look around and to your satisfaction your crew acknowledges your words with appropriate attention. "Speaking of which, I was talking with lady Celestine and she intends to hold some sort of address to the mercenaries. Content I suppose we'll discuss tomorrow with the princesses, but in any case it may be an event with large amount of people who effectively belong to hostile forces so we'll need to be ready for anything. Keep your eyes peeled when the time comes - more so than normally."There's a murmur of assent, atmosphere in the gathering now shifted wholly from that of a relaxed gathering towards a briefing of sorts. Good enough for you, as you move your attention to the bard. "Smutkin, let's hear what you found."Smutkin nods. "I was following the rumours in fleshmarket regarding the sudden increase in demand for women of elven blood." He reminds to the team, his gaze resting on Chloe. "It appears our mysterious client has cast his nets quite widely, as I've heard very similar story from several different entrepreneurs. So far, I've attempted to pinpoint the client from their descriptions, but it appears they are using multiple middlemen to make the requests on their behalf, making this approach less than promising.""Wait, couldn't that also mean there's simply several different people that all ask for elven features?" Elle asks.Smutkin shakes his head. "It could, but I don't think so. The requests align in too much detail for it to be a coincidence. And I think I have an idea of how many middlemen there are. If given time, I should be able to pinpoint and track at least one of them. However..." Smutkin looks at you. "I'm not sure how much time we do have.""I take it you have ideas how to accelerate the search." You nod and ask the bard."I do. One is requesting Tithe's help for the task. The downside is that this would tie him up from watching anything else.""I see. And we may need his vigilance elsewhere.""Alternatively..." Smutkin once again turns to Chloe."You want to use me as a bait, don't you, bard?" The half elf crosses her arms under her chest and glares at him back."It's a risky option, but the idea did occur to me, yes." Smutkin says.
"I'm capable of handling myself." Chloe said, indignant annoyance colouring her tone. "Reason why I'm not thrilled about this idea is because my task lies elsewhere and this hunt does not seem related to it. Even though idea of tracking down some degenerate is an appealing one.""Fair enough." Smutkin nods and turns back to you. "In any case, this concludes my report, for now.""I see. Thank you." You'd have to make a decision on this issue but first you would gather rest of the intelligence. "Elle, you also learned something?" You turn to the courier."Ah, yes." The knightess switched mental track from thinking on Smutkin's investigation to her own recollection. "I was talking to the other couriers. Word of what happened at Arcturus and Levantine domains has spread, and those who have friends in regular military are worried about mercenaries' reliability as allies. Officers try to suppress the rumours, though, and try to maintain discipline.""I noticed similar rumours among the common folk, although most are unwilling to believe them or consider them isolated cases of treachery." Smutkin says. "Mercenaries are known to be rough kind, but they were contracted by the church after all.""That's what I got from it as well. When I told them what happened, they didn't want to believe me. I think most did, though. Now they're just worried." Elle said. "Maybe I should have kept things to myself. But I couldn't bring myself not to warn them. We need to watch our backs. And, um..." she hesitates. "It's kind of personal so I may be biased, but I'm worried about a friend of mine.""What happened to them?" You ask."He's missing. I hoped I'd see him when we arrived, as he was bound to arrive with a guild caravan. And I learned that he did. But he was acting strangely, according to his other colleagues, and disappeared shortly before our arrival." Elle looked to the side. "Maybe it's nothing, and... actually, I have no reason to think it's relevant. I just... have a bad feeling about it. Forget about it, it's probably nothing."Looking her in the eye you could tell she was not going to run off on her own to look for her friend, but her concern seemed genuine and would probably eat away at her. Maybe you could see about looking into that matter as well."In either case, thank you for confiding in us." You told her. "Any information, any clue can prove valuable. Especially once we put them together. And on that note..."
You spend some time bringing your team up to speed with what you learned during your interactions with the princesses. They listen attentively, occasionally nodding or otherwise indicating their acknowledgment.In the end you decide to let them - and yourself - have all this information settle overnight and decide more detailed plans in the morning. With that you bid them good night and are the first to depart as the gathering gradually disperses into the individual bedrooms, some slightly delayed by picking up last remnants of Alicia and Prim's sweet gift for you.When you finally return to your own suite, as you tend to your hygiene to the extent a bathroom that naturally doesn't have a tub in your size allows, you find a surprise waiting for you.Laid out in the bedroom you find an outfit that is obviously meant for you - modified with visible haste, but skill enough to make up for it. It was not clear on whose order it was delivered - there was no note - what was clear was that wearing it would be significant step towards being seen as a strange visitor rather than a runaway enemy monster. You felt confident you could go into town with it and attract if not less attention then at least less hostile responses. Which was good, as it opened up new possibilities you'd have to consider when planning your schedule for today.On that note, there were two events you were aware of:-Audience with lady Celestine in the morning, one where other princesses and probably Klaus would be in attendance, presumably to discuss the mercenary problem and Celestine's sermon on the subject.>skip or attend the audience-Banquet with the notables where the princesses intended to attend, in the evening.>skip or attend the banquetTechnically, you didn't have to attend the former, and attending the latter may have been inappropriate, though you have vague feeling that the new outfit has been delivered to you specifically for this purpose.Be that as it may, you now had some other threads you could pursue:>Go with Smutkin and try to help him catch the elf afficionado>Try to track down Elle's missing friend>Try to look up a dwarven representative>Head to the barracks and train, possibly also talk to the knights or soldiers>Head to the library and find something worth studying>Look up and spend time with someone specific>other ideaAlso, feel free to reassign your crew to particular tasks. Currently>Tithe: general overwatch>Chloe: shadow (may be unwilling to be reassigned)>Smutkin: investigationothers are on standby
>>5552396>attend the audience>attend the banquetThe later baquet might be a good way to get introduced to the dwarf princess>Try to track down Elle's missing friendI'll trust her insticts>Chloe: investigationElle and the scouts will have to act as out guards for now.Tell Chloe that she may be able to help people that were once in her situation.
>>5552396>attend the audience>attend the banquet>Try to track down Elle's missing friend
Plans and scenarios for tomorrow play out in your mind as you lay yourself down to rest. Some of the risks and considerations feel heavier than others but they are all eventually left behind as your consciousness fades from the waking world, and they material realm lets you slip into the land of dreams.It is a much less intimidating... place? state? ...to be than it used to, for you. You're not sure, when was the last time you had to endure the same nightmare that accompanied you since that day......you were in a familiar place. Yes, but also no. You recognize structures of the village, even though you never saw it in this context of a clear, bright summer day. Villagers, neighbors, going about their day. Children playing or running about. Scent of cooking from a nearby window. Woman's voice singing a tune.Your mother was singing when cooking, too. It was part of the recipe, even.This was a different voice and different song, but it all felt natural. Vague sense of urgency you could not pinpoint propelled you forward, down the street towards the village square. You felt light, and joined in singing despite not knowing the words. Or did you?Some of the people you met on your way were familiar, and the familiarity was reciprocated as you caught yourself exchanging friendly waves with them.The scene shifted as you were about to arrive to your destination, but not in a good way. There was a scream, or a howl, of a beast, and the idyllic day was split asunder like a curtain torn, revealing black abyss before you - and you found yourself falling......and another paradoxical sensation washed over you. The encroaching nightmare felt familiar - but at the same time, something felt wrong. Not in terms of bad, but rather different.You were not afraid as you fell, even though somehow you felt that you should be. That was when the wrongness caught you, and your descent stopped. There was a mixture of relief, confusion, resolve and gratitude, to name a few feelings manifesting around you as you looked at the hand that held yours. It was clearly a female hand, you followed it up..."Wake up."...but before the face came into view, blackness enveloped you once again and you realized your eyes are shut.
"Wake up!"There are worse sights to see first thing in the morning than Chloe's face, even in her default serious expresion."Good morning." You tell her."Good. Get up, the princesses came to pick you up again. You slept so soundly that Diana and Minerva were unsure whether to wake you up. You better hurry up if you want to go with them to that audience." You frowned at that, but did set yourself into motion. Did that dream take up so much of your night? Nonetheless, you felt well rested and refreshed."Thanks for waking me." You tell Chloe as you begin putting the new clothes on. She's already vanished from plain view but you hoped she's at least in earshot. "Chloe, I was thinking about it and I'd like you to join Smutkin and help him with his investigation.""So I'm to pose as an elven whore?""I don't want to ask you to take any risks, or put yourself into any situation where you'd be unable to defend yourself, but you could help him greatly to draw that mysterious client into open. And have Tithe watch over you.""I'm not worried for myself!"You suppress a sigh. "Just be careful. Myself, I will have Diana and Minerva, and later today I intend to take Elle and the Twins to look into the Elle's friend's case.""You think it could be important? Or just because you feel for her?" Chloe asked. You could not see her expression, but her tone did not seem derisive, rather one of genuine curiosity."A bit of both, I suppose." You admit. "I'm sympathetic for her friend going missing, but if it's over Guild related affair, it could hint at something truly sinister - and possibly related to our mission."You finish clothing yourself and look at the image you see in a mirror. The feeling of having cloth cover so much of your skin is simultaneously novel and familiar for you, bringing your back to reminiscing about your childhood and, strangely enough, the dream you just had. The fabric is fine and soft, the cut allows you to wear much of your armor over it, which of course you do even if it mars the impression somewhat."Chloe?" You ask, remembering she hasn't acknowledged your request properly."I... will do as you ask." The half-elf says from your side. "Just be careful, alright?""You and me both." You nod. "Let's go. We have much work ahead of us."
The corridor was rather crowded. Aside from golems there was Alicia, Prim, Claudia and Klaus."Good morning, Mouse!" Alicia is first to notice you as you emerge from the suite. "Miss... Chloe?" She adds when the elf steps out behind you. "Highness." your companion nods with all the deference she can spare for anyone else than queen Olga."Miss Chloe, are you going to see lady Celestine with us today?" Prim asks cheerfully."I'm afraid not. I have a different task for today." Chloe replied and turned to you. "I will relay your commands to the others.""Thank you, Chloe." You nod at her; she returned it and headed off without another word, leaving you to regard the human nobles. "Thank you again for the sweets, Alicia, Prim. They were delicious and everyone loved them." You tell the princesses."I'm glad to hear that." Alicia said with a subdued smile while Prim was positively beaming."Yeah, thanks again for those." Klaus said. "Even though Claudia ate most of the- oof." He begins with a grin that vanishes when his wife elbows him into stomach, blushing furiously."Really?" Prim asks with genuine sounding surprise that reverts quickly into smile. "I'm so glad we picked out the ones you liked! You always took just one of each so I wasn't sure.""Let's not keep lady Celestine waiting for us, please." Claudia asks, probably as eager to distract from the topic as she is to make it to the audience in good time. In either case her suggestion has merit and your group sets out.You make your way once again to the same atrium as yesterday, Klaus humouring his wife's unspoken request and instead talking about what he learned from his studies last night. There wasn't much aside from confirmation and some cross references of what you already knew, though in fairness he didn't have that much time yet to do more than skim surface of available texts.When you reach your destination the scene you enter is much the same as the day before, the elven goddess welcoming you with a smile. However, there was a shift you felt rather than saw, as if the smile this time included you not just as someone being vouched for but as something intended for you along with others."Friends! Thank you for coming. I was looking forward to you." The elven idol says. "Especially after how I ended up neglecting you yesterday. I'm ever so grateful for your support.""Think nothing of it, my lady." Claudia says with a bow."Your smile is worth it!" Prim says."Oh friends..." Celestine inclines her head. The moment of warmth passes quickly though as she shifts into a more serious expression next. "But forgive me. We do have actual matter of importance to discuss."
After a quick refresher on the scope and nature of the mercenary threat that is mainly presented by Claudia and Klaus Celestine brings up the idea she mentioned to you in the evening, to organize a feast and a sermon where she could address the mercenaries directly, or alternatively where she could condemn their deplorable actions in front of a receptive public."Do you really think you can get the mercenaries to be nice that way, lady Celestine?" Prim voices the concern nobody is comfortable raising."Prim..." Alicia says in soft admonishment but her heart isn't quite in it.Celestine, on her part, seems saddened by the doubts, which you suspect match well with questions she was likely asking herself."If anyone could make the villains repent by kind words alone, it's you." Claudia says as she no doubt arrives to similar conclusion as you have. "What I fear is that such an event would create an opportunity for them to make a move that could be difficult to interdict.""Another issue here is the effects of the Taint." Klaus speaks up. "To what extent would it interfere with effect of your sincere words, lady Celestine?" The lord looks at you. "As for the notion of public denouncement, I humoured the idea before, but the more I think on it, the more I'm worried that such an address would be so uncharacteristic of you, my lady, that it might even be counterproductive.""You mean it could make my faithful question themselves, their faith, and me." Celestine nods. "I have considered that possibility as well, although it's not the main reason why..." She sighs. "...to me, the idea of condemning someone is difficult. It's like I'm letting them down and abandoning them." She looks at you. "And now I've learned I was actually abandoning even more than that, unwittingly." She looks back at Klaus. "Don't misunderstand, I will do what it takes to set things right. I just intend to do most I can to avoid I'm not coupling one wrong with another.""I think I understand." Klaus nods. "I wouldn't dare to tell you how to convey your love and faith, lady Celestine.""No, I'm thankful for all your words and thoughts.""In that case, I was wondering..." Consciously or not, Klaus grasps Claudia's hand as he speaks. "...perhaps there is something even hardened mercenaries could relate to in the selfless love, be it between lovers, between parents and children, between siblings or friends?""I'm not sure how much experience with selfless love someone who joins an outfit like the Black Dog can have..." Claudia expresses doubts."But perhaps that's all the more reason why it could be appealing to some." Klaus says.>Support Celestine's original plan for trying to convince the mercenaries to mend their ways>Argue for a speech to condemn the mercenaries for their treachery to turn>Argue for a speech meant to condemn wickedness in general, perhaps inspiring introspection and repentance?>Support Klaus's idea, perhaps he's onto something after all>other idea
>>5558510>Argue for a speech meant to condemn wickedness in general, perhaps inspiring introspection and repentance?>Support Klaus's idea, perhaps he's onto something after allMix the two. Be better for those you care about.
>>5558510>Support Klaus's idea, perhaps he's onto something after all
>>5558510>Argue for a speech meant to condemn wickedness in general, perhaps inspiring introspection and repentance?
"If I may say something, there may be something of merit to Klaus's suggestion. Although my perspective on the matter may be skewed, I did find the notion of those I cared for as potent driving force. And going by my companions, I'd like to think I was able to get my intention across as well." You speak up, gathering an array of more or less curious glances. Although all of them were by this point to some extent aware of your background, and certainly didn't seem to question your intent or motivation, you were unsure what exactly they imagined.Except for Celestine, who likely had pretty good idea since she viewed you through prism of her power. The elven goddess was looking at you with a kind smile."That said," You continue. "If you are not comfortable with denouncing the mercenaries for their wickedness, why not condemn the wickedness itself? Especially if much if not all of it could be tied to the Taint which we fight. Perhaps... perhaps even point it out as the obstacle, as something that keeps them away from the kindness and care they could otherwise be sharing."You conclude into what has turned out to be a stunned silence. Although the princesses (and Klaus) expressed many times over their trust in you, it must have still seemed a bit strange to hear such talk from an ogre.None of that mattered right now though as you were focused on Celestine's conundrum. The elf looked to the side pensively before speaking."Thank you for your suggestion, Mouse. I think... yes, I think I have a general idea on how I to proceed." She looked across all of you. "I'll begin making preparations for the service at once. In the meantime, was there something else you wished to discuss?"The princesses and you trade glances, looking whether anyone is going to add something. Alicia was the one to speak."I'm going to be talking to knight-commander Stephanos tonight, at the banquet hosted by his brother lord Lucian, vice chair of the traders' guild. I hope to seek some assurances from him, and deliver some of our own."Claudia and Klaus nod along, this has been mentioned before."That sounds like a good idea. I wish you success, and you can relay my commitment of support as well.""Should I mention your plan to them, lady Celestine?" The blonde princess asks."There's no need, I'll make an announcement when the event is organized. And I'll need to meditate for a while to order my thoughts."A thought occurs to you. "Is there any chance someone from among the dwarves would be in attendance?" You ask.
"I don't think I heard any mentioned specifically, but it would make sense if they were. Dwarves are after all renowned for their industry and considerable volume of their trade goes through the guilds.""I believe I can help with that. I learned that princess Ruu had arrived with the dwarven delegation. I don't believe the banquet has been ever mentioned, but I'll have an invitation arranged for her or someone from her retinue." Celestine says."Thank you, lady Celestine."The elven idol smiles in delight at your gratitude; however, with that it seems the audience has come to a close and after a round of parting pleasantries your group files out of the atrium and splits apart to go after their own business - in fact, the princesses essentially headed off together as they were asked for additional testimonies regarding the incidents in their respective domains.You hoped Claudia's faith in her justice would not prove to be unfounded.Meanwhile, Elle, Harriet and Janet were waiting for you when you returned to the suites to pick them up."Sir, we're ready to go!" Elle said. "In fact, I have been rather anxious since lady Chloe told me you wished to help me in my search. I did not wish to distract you from the mission."All three humans were clad in civilian clothes, in Elle's case it was the same outfit as when he met her outside the Arcturus' fortress. Perhaps she didn't wish to be readily apparent as a royal courier? You hoped your presence would not be detrimental to her attempt at subterfuge if that was the case."Don't be absurd. I care for my mens' concerns, and yours may well be linked to the black dog operations and a valuable clue." You assure her. "Where's Phineous?" you ask, not having seen traces of the Orc since morning."When he learned there's no immediate task for him he said he'd go see the lady Kaguya. The priestess apparently left him with very good impression.""Did she now? Well, that's good to hear." You say, pleasantly surprised at Phineous's ability to make friends under given circumstances. "Sparky?"A little head poked out of the pillow fort. "Boss?" He asks. "I was-" *yawn* "- meditating!""Is that so? What insights did you uncover?" You tease the imp."Um, I'm not sure. I think I'll need to meditate a bit longer." Sparky says, prompting some chuckles from you and Elle and even the twins' lips form smiles. "But I think... yes, I think I can heal more people now than I did after the battle. But... I'd rather not have to.""Let's work together to ensure that you don't. Keep up the good work, little one. For now, though..." You hesitate for a moment, but eventually decide not to leave him by himself. "...get up, you're coming with us.""Of course, boss!" The imp darts out of his lair and descends on your shoulder."Shall we go, then? Do you have a plan?" You ask Elle."Not much, but I have an idea where to start looking..."
Your group heads out into the city following Elle's lead. It took a few more moments for you to set out - as you decided to bring Sparky and the golems, you had to fit Diana and Minerva with cloaks that would hide their nature at least to cursory glances, and a bag that would conceal Sparky without causing him too much discomfort.There was nothing to be done about your bulk, but with the outfit that you received covering your monstrous features you could conceivably pass for a large beastman.Even so, to be on the safe side, when you reached the warehouse district Elle guided you to, you would occasionally allow her to walk ahead so she could ask around without intimidating people by confronting them with your entire group.After maybe an hour of such strolling you convened in a shadowy dead end alley in between two less frequented warehouses, a circumstance that allowed you a measure of privacy."Did you pick up your trail, or found any clues so far?" You asked Elle."I'm afraid that I've found as much as I expected but that's not enough to provide a clear direction to follow." The courier sighed. "I have asked several people if they saw a courier around, with little success. The only exception was a vendor from a food stall that remembered a man with courier's cape who might have been my friend passing by.""I take it he didn't share with the vendor where he was going?""I'm afraid not. I mean, there was the general direction, but that's still quite a large area to search.""We can make it. Especially if we split into smaller groups." Janet said."We need to consider the danger. Miss Elle's friend was likely being careful but was presumably still overwhelmed." Diana points out."Maybe we can narrow the area somehow... figure out what your friend was after..." Harriet muses.>Proceed systematically, as a group, taking one warehouse at a time on the expected route. Although you're unlikely to miss anything on the way, you could easily find yourself searching in wrong direction.>Go in the indicated direction looking for warehouses with particular trait - abandoned looking? well secured? with high amount of traffic?>Perhaps there is more to be gleaned from the people here than just asking for the courier. Maybe someone has heard or knows about something strange he might have been after.>There was supposed to be a mercenary presence here, look for tenements or bunkhouses. Although if there is a link between the courier's disappearance and mercenaries, you don't know about it.>Better to think on this on full belly. Seek out a tavern or some mess hall nearby, perhaps you'd even be able to learn more there.>other planoptional:>split up? If yes, how?
>and so we have reached end of another thread... >Mouse and his companions will return. >In the meantime, you are welcome to update or refresh your preferences for the title of best girl
>>5564401>Perhaps there is more to be gleaned from the people here than just asking for the courier. Maybe someone has heard or knows about something strange he might have been after.
>>5564404Best girls, in order: Chloe, Alicia, Celestine, ElleFirst girl that we need to talk with more: OlgaBest daughterfu: PrimBest couple: Klaus and ClaudiaBest sonfu: SparkyHope Phineous has luck with his new waifu.
>>5564404I'm keeping the same options as last time. Perhaps making Celestine a potential candidate.
>>5564401>Perhaps there is more to be gleaned from the people here than just asking for the courier. Maybe someone has heard or knows about something strange he might have been after.>Do not split upWhen facing an unknown threat, do not divide your forces.
>>5564404Chloe and Celestine are going strong, Olga’s position hasn’t changed due to her not showing up, Alicia and Prim are showing solid gains, Elle while not in front maintains a completive position, and Klaus and Claudia receive an honorable mention for being a happy couple.