Snowbound Blood Transcript: Volume 4

Volume 4 - Of Stagecraft and Survival

No time to think. No time to breathe.

Your name is SECILY IOPARA, and you are BUSY.

ENDARI VERNIR

You are done with operating solely on assumptions after your last dead end. Still, you know the importance of digging into any lead you can get. Especially now.

Said lead may stem from a moronic claim, given to you by a less-moronic-than-you-had-hoped individual, but you have a feeling that ENDARI VERNIR may be able to provide you with useful information.

From the metaphorical waste basin of former dead ends — your very own boulevard of broken leads — you feel a promising case start to emerge. One potential connection in particular lingers in the back of your mind.

As much as you initially thought it unlikely, you’re beginning to realize that the subject of cultist activity has been too conveniently linked to your search path thus far.

Your mysterious correspondent certainly seemed to have a lot to say about it.

The relevance of their confounding cogitations are questionable at best — it all sounds like nothing more than the same vacuous nonsense that usually comes with your correspondence tango.

Still... surely, the stage that’s being set for your song and dance must have some relevance of its own? As much as you can justify from your close encounters of the corn cult kind, at any rate.

Oh, that was pretty good. You’re getting better at this monologuing thing, you think. Too bad there's not some sort of unseen audience that's privy to your innermost thoughts.

Back to the matter at hand. It’s still a hunch, but it’s one with far more backing than your last. And, at this point, not an idea you can really afford to disregard.

You make up your mind. It’s high time you found some new avenues of possibility.

It doesn’t take you long to pinpoint your next mark’s location. The invasive advertising littering the streets provides you with the information you need, before you can even wonder where to come across it.

Looks like you are just in time to make it to the end of an ongoing show at Stronghold 21’s largest theatre. And it’s not all that far, either.

The building itself is an architectural stand-out, considering it’s one of the older structures in this part of the Stronghold.

Its distinctive aesthetic makes the theatre entrance an effortless find. Which, really, you’re thankful for. You’ve been through enough toilsome rat mazes in recent memory.

Of course, you’re also without any sort of invitation or purchased tickets to this event. Not that such a dilemma has ever stopped you before — it certainly isn’t going to start now.

It’s all in the way you carry yourself. A simple display of persuasion here, a little flash of authority there at the entrance, and you’re all set. Easy.

You waste no time in moving swiftly across the theatre’s lobby, straight toward the padded doors at the opposite end of the room.  The questioning glances you receive along the way are dutifully ignored.

From this side, you can hear the thrum of the speakers projecting a single voice on stage. Occasional hoots, haws, and sounds of endearment emanate from what you estimate is a rather large audience.

Sounds like a busy show. Not the kind you’re very partial to, but you never intended on sticking around to watch, anyway.

You crack the door open.

It’s a dark, massive room. The only sources of illumination are the various flashing effects and lights coming off the side of the stage.

A few observers seated at the back cast an annoyed glance in your direction, as the stage lights are momentarily dulled by your intrusive presence in the lit doorway.

You have more important things to concern yourself with than the fleeting emotions of complete strangers. They’ll live, you think, before slipping inside and letting the door shut behind you.

You take a moment to map out the room, charting the open spaces for the best path through. Then you direct your gaze toward what’s holding everyone’s attention.

Your target is on the stage up ahead, beaming with exuberant energy as he flits about the beautifully decorated scene in a series of graceful steps.

His movements are fluid, smooth — a skillful dance to accompany his act, in a grandiose display of charisma.

The audience is growing progressively more anxious, it seems. There’s a sense of anticipation in the air, as what you can only assume to be some sort of grand finale is built up.

You really did arrive with perfect timing. You may even be able to get through this investigation in a timely fashion, if you manage to catch him fast enough.

>Recall: ENDARI VERNIR.

Even before you got your referral from Bytcon, you could have easily called his face to mind, what with it being plastered on all manner of public advertisements and news feeds.

Being quite the acclaimed illusionary performer and well-known celebrity across The Mass, Endari Vernir’s rising star makes for no small target.

He first started to pop up on the public radar as a small street performer, doing little magic tricks and celestial readings for anyone that came by.

Eventually, he gained enough recognition that some big leading hot-shot saw fit to give him an opportunity on the stage — which turned out to be a huge success and further skyrocketed his popularity.

Now, he spends a majority of his time putting on large-scale shows for massive audiences, traveling all around the continent and accruing even more attention from the masses.

What’s more noteworthy to you, though, are the hushed whispers of what came before his rise to fame.

There’s a quiet but pervasive rumor that surfaces from time to time, detailing a past supposedly rife with cultist activity, which he has consistently avoided addressing when mentioned.

Perhaps he has something worth hiding.

If there’s any validity to this gossip in the slightest, you’d like to see what exactly lies behind it for yourself.

>Get in position.

You move away from the door, still keeping close to the back wall and slipping into the shadows.

It’s best not to draw more attention to yourself than necessary — which means you are not going to make a single sound while Endari is still up on the stage.

You have plenty of talents to offer the world, but this is not your preferred method of display.

The logical course of action would be to sneak into the backstage area and catch him there. Preferably without an audience’s observance.

At this point, the music in the auditorium has reached a vibrant crescendo, and Endari is poised to unveil one final trick. With an intricate motion of his hand, the show’s climax is revealed.

A swarm of rats rushes the stage, seeming to appear from thin air. The hoard of rodent bodies pulses and jitters across the floor in a shockingly coordinated visual display.

A final triumphant bray from the orchestra, resembling a "ta-da," follows the stupefying act. The audience is transfixed with silence before erupting into a hollering frenzy.

The sound is abhorrent to your easily agitated auricular canals — a none-too-gentle reminder that you would really like to get away from it as quickly as possible.

And now just happens to be the perfect opportunity you were waiting for.

You use the uproar to slip through unnoticed, making your way past the crowd by sticking close to the walls. You dive through a set of doors near the stage.

The backstage hall appears to be vacant. Your guess is that any personnel who would normally be back here is busy helping with either the stage production or the audience.

It’s definitely not empty, though. Along the length of the hallway, there’s an assortment of stage props, costumes and other typical theatrical junk haphazardly arranged against the walls.

Everything is conveniently labeled, including the door you just went through.

It only takes you a second to spot the one labelled with a "Stage" sign, where you can expect your target to be coming through anytime now.

Excellent. Although you’d be considerably more thrilled about this newfound strategic position if you weren’t still dealing with all of that awful noise.

You assumed it would be at least somewhat quieter back here. Unfortunately enough for you, it appears there’s a few built-in speakers lining the ceiling.

They must be tapped directly into the stage’s microphones. You can hear the vocalizations of the show just as clearly as if you were back in the auditorium.

Probably for the benefit of any stagehands and performers waiting back here that need to respond to cues.

At least this auditory monitoring system will tell you exactly when the door is about to open. You’ll just try to focus on that for now.

You don’t even have time to finish a new thought before the door swings open with no warning. Someone nearly runs into you in their haste.

ENDARI: )-| Oh! |-(

Endari jumps back, startled. You can't really blame him for not expecting anyone to have been at the bottom of the stairs when he came through.

ENDARI: )-| Pardon me, dear, I... |-(
ENDARI: )-| You’re not usually back here. I don’t believe I’ve seen you before? |-(

His disposition is sweet — almost sickeningly so. It gives you an unsettling inkling that you’re in for another tedious interaction. Still, there’s no need to be too harsh, too soon.

SECILY: 1.e4 I can't say I'm a frequent attendee, no. ...e6
SECILY: 2.d4 I’m chief regulator Secily Iopara. I have a few questions for you regarding an ongoing case. ...d5
SECILY: 3.e5 I’d also like to make this as quick as possible. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of other things to be doing, as do I. ...c5

Endari’s eyes seem to light up at the prospect, completely dissolving any prior hint of wariness in his expression.

ENDARI: )-| Right! Yes, yes! I thought you might be coming by sometime soon! |-(
ENDARI: )-| It's an honor to meet you indeed! I’d be happy to provide any assistance that I'm capable of |-(
ENDARI: )-| I’m sure you're already aware, but for the sake of returned formalities, my name is Endari Vernir |-(
ENDARI: )-| What would you like to know, Regulator? |-(

You might as well get the most pressing matter out of the way, even if you’re not looking forward to talking about it again in any sort of detail whatsoever.

Judging by Endari's attitude so far and who he’s acquainted with, you’re likely going to get more nonsense than you’d strictly prefer.

SECILY: 4.Bb5+ First off, I would like to follow up on an alibi provided by Bytcon Krypto. He claimed that the two of you were close. ...Nc6
SECILY: 5.Ne2 The only semblance of an explanation for his lack of involvement in the crime was that the two of you and a few others were eating together at the time of the incident. ...cxd4
SECILY: 6.Bxc6+ As it stands, I’m not very inclined to believe such a flimsy excuse. ...bxc6

ENDARI: )-| Mmmhmmm~ |-(
ENDARI: )-| Did he relay a ludicrous account of our outing to you as well? |-(
ENDARI: )-| It is absolutely not how he described it, I assure you. The ridiculous parts at least, I mean |-(
ENDARI: )-| Really, it’s quite adorable to see him much more speechless than usual in certain situations |-(
ENDARI: )-| But yes, he was with me for sure, as well as our other two companions. We are all rather tight knit. A very solid group if I do say so myself~ |-(
ENDARI: )-| Believe me, his attention was stolen and the man himself was wholly occupied through the entire night |-(
ENDARI: )-| And I know for a fact that if anything abnormal was indeed occurring, he would have been a bit more... distracted |-(
ENDARI: )-| He wasn’t involved in this ordeal |-(
ENDARI: )-| As troubling as he can be at times, I promise Byt is a genuine sweetheart where it counts |-(

You have a really difficult time imagining that in any possible way.

ENDARI: )-| From what I understand of the situation... I don’t believe it’s actually something he would mess with |-(
ENDARI: )-| You’re welcome to ask the others too if you’d like, of course |-(
ENDARI: )-| However, unless you happen to find yourself already speaking to them for a different reason, I wouldn’t see it being a very effective use of your time |-(

You won’t argue with that claim. Most likely, he’s right. You’d only be presented with the same unavailing cover story about how much of a good group of friends they are over anything valuable.

Nothing said here really proves anything one way or another, but... whatever. It’s still a dead-end, unless you can come up with more solid evidence in the future.

Also, you just do not want to talk about that guy ever again, unless absolutely necessary. So you won’t as long as you can help it.

You sigh.

SECILY: 7.Qxd4 Sure... I suppose that’s enough about him for now. ...Qb6
ENDARI: )-| Is that all you came here to inquire about, Ms. Iopara? |-(
SECILY: 8.O-O Not exactly, no. ...bc5
SECILY: 9.Qg4 I also received what appears to be an old flyer for some of your horoscope-reading services. ...g6
SECILY: 10.c3 I was under the impression that you had mostly stopped doing those, but your history with them leads me to believe you may have some valuable insight on certain occult practices regardless. ...a5

Endari falls silent for a short moment, freezing in place with a hint of unease — almost as if you had just insulted him in some way.

It doesn’t last, though, as he quickly recollects himself and doubles back on his former disposition.

Odd.

ENDARI: )-| Mmm, a flyer? What flyer do you mean? |-(

You pull the slip of paper out of your coat pocket, handing it over to him. He’s relatively collected, but still seems rather eager to take it from you.

ENDARI: )-| Oh, I completely forgot I had even passed this particular one on! |-(
ENDARI: )-| You are correct, though. Unfortunately, I do not get to do these much anymore. The flyer is absolutely outdated and not very relevant |-(
ENDARI: )-| I’ve only passed a few of these off in the past, to specific individuals I trust. The public gets a bit... hectic over the idea, considering my position now |-(
ENDARI: )-| Most use it more as a means of getting close to me, rather than actually holding any interest in the service itself |-(
ENDARI: )-| But I also simply prefer to focus on my performance work instead |-(

SECILY: 11.Nd4 Well, even if you’ve stopped entirely at this point, it’s not been that long since you were at least somewhat involved. ...Kf7
SECILY: 12.b3 These sorts of practices are usually found in niche worship traditions, primarily important to devout individuals. ...Bd7
SECILY: 13.Na3 Certainly that implies you have at least some sort of familiarity with the idea, doesn’t it? ...h5

ENDARI: )-| ... |-(

A few other trolls have started to come into the hallway by now. Once again, his presentation shifts slightly, showing a faint glimmer of discomfort. His eyes dart briefly to each of his sides in turn.

ENDARI: )-| Does it? I don’t believe interest in the subject at large and the associated ideals themselves have to come hand in hand, strictly speaking |-(
ENDARI: )-| Space and the scope of the stars can hold an array of meanings and importance to different individuals for different reasons! |-(

SECILY: 14.Qd1 That’s not what I asked. ...Ne7
ENDARI: )-| Mmm... |-(

He’s dodging the question.

You expected this, at least partially. But the more you see from him, the more you wonder why he’s acting so secretive and avoidant of the subject.

Being overly suspicious is still not something you’d like to get into a habit of, but sometimes a little concern can prove to be useful in the end.

ENDARI: )-| Perhaps... we should move somewhere else if we are to continue this conversation, yes? I’d hate for us to be in everyone’s way |-(
ENDARI: )-| Or potentially release sensitive information to any prying ears, intentional or otherwise~ |-(

SECILY: 15.Nac2 That’s fine, I suppose. So long as we hurry it up. I’m not here to bounce locations a dozen times for a single conversation. ...Nf5

Please, not again.

ENDARI: )-| My dressing room is likely to be the most suitable space that also guarantees privacy for the rest of our chat. If that’s alright with you? It’s right over there, so not far at all |-(

He points to the door right across from the stage entrance. You noticed it when you came in, considering it features his own name plastered on a large star-shaped sign. Not too hard to find.

SECILY: 16.Nxf5 Sure. ...gxf5
ENDARI: )-| Excellent! |-(

You watch idly as he moves around you, toward the door. He procures a key from his pocket and turns the lock — only for the door handle to remain firmly in place when he pushes down on it.

The stage performer frowns, letting out a small huff. He fiddles with the key, making slight changes in the way he’s moving the handle each time he tries again.

It doesn’t budge.

ENDARI: )-| Oh dear... |-(
ENDARI: )-| My apologies, this has been giving me some trouble as of late. And I had so hoped it wouldn’t act up now, of all times... |-(

He gives it a few more tries before pulling back, a discontent frown now evident on his face.

Great, just what you needed — more inane complications and delays to eat up your time. He better not be stalling on purpose.

Pulling the wool over your eyes is an extremely regrettable choice for anyone to make.

SECILY: 17.Be3 Take it to another room, then. I’m sure there’s somewhere else that would work just fine. ...bxe3
ENDARI: )-| Well, I do have another solution! A little trick up my sleeve, you could say~
ENDARI: )-| Sit tight for just a moment! |-(

He then scurries off into another room down the hall. At first you consider going after him — he could be making some sort of escape, for all you know.

There is only a brief moment of hesitation before you start to hear a repetitive clattering sound up above, gradually moving closer to where you’re standing.

...

Is he...?

He is absolutely crawling through the ventilation system.

This is so absurd you even feel partially inclined to give a shit, but — honestly? As long as it works, you could care less what he’s doing.

You follow the sounds of his movement. It all comes to a catastrophic conclusion in the form of a loud crash and a yelp coming from inside the room in front of you.

That’s one way to do it, you suppose.

A moment later and he’s opened the sparkling door, grinning wide and spreading his arms out in a bit of dramatic flare.

ENDARI: )-| Ta-da! All sorted! |-(
ENDARI: )-| Please, come in~ |-(

Endari then steps aside, giving you an opening to come into the room. Once you’re through, the performer gently shuts the door behind you.

ENDARI: )-| Sorry about the mess! Things are usually at least a smidge tidier around here |-(

The room is a little cluttered, covered in haphazardly strung about articles of clothing and boxes filled with props, along with some miscellaneous personal belongings.

It would seem that he spends quite a bit of time in here, outside of just preparing himself for shows. Nothing too unusual for the most part, really.

Except for a particular decorative piece that catches your eye...

In the far corner of the room, hanging just above a chaise lounge, is a large dual-pronged resonator. The kind that you’re certain only belongs to a very specific and supposedly disbanded cult.

Uh. If he’s so keen on hiding any sort of personal cult related history, why in the world does he have this on display?

ENDARI: )-| You’re more than welcome to take a seat somewhere, if you’d like |-(
SECILY: 18.fxe3 I’m fine as I am. I’ll keep standing. ...Raf8
ENDARI: )-| Very well, not a problem! |-(
SECILY: 19.Nd4 Now, I would appreciate it if you gave my question a proper answer. A simple yes or no would have been an acceptable start. ...c5
SECILY: 20.Nxf5 Your reluctance to provide even that much does not do you any favors, as far as convincing me of your own innocence in this case goes. ...exf5

ENDARI: )-| Well, I... yes, I can see that |-(
ENDARI: )-| I do wish to apologise for seeming rather uncooperative a moment prior. That was not the impression I wished to relay, by any means |-(
ENDARI: )-| I don’t normally talk about these sorts of things with strangers, but I do understand the gravity of the situation, and I would hate to withhold anything that could be useful to you |-(
ENDARI: )-| Now that we are out of snooping range, allow me to be more sincere |-(

SECILY: 21.Qxd5+ I’m listening. ...Be6

He straightens himself, taking in a steadying breath before continuing.

ENDARI: )-| Let me get this out of the way: yes, I do have prior history with some organized fanatic groups. Perhaps more so than you may initially guess |-(
ENDARI: )-| However, I have left all of those practices and beliefs behind. My avoidance of the subject is due to both personal disdain, as well as precaution towards my own safety |-(

The discomfort he displayed earlier now bears a new context. His last words possess a scintilla of genuine fear.

You’ll have to tread carefully. He seems willing enough to discuss this, but it’s clearly a sensitive topic. Too much prying into his past could be unwise if the interview is to remain cordial.

ENDARI: )-| But I do not wish to burden you with excessive personal history on the subject |-(
SECILY: 22.Rxf5 Provide as much detail as you see fit. ...Ke7
ENDARI: )-| Of course. Most of my information is rather dated, but I do know a great deal of things concerning some specific groups and their operations in the recent past |-(
ENDARI: )-| So... I’ll share what I can |-(

Well, that’s a clearer answer than you were expecting. Almost a bit disappointing, if he really is being truthful right now. You can’t help but hope for something a bit more challenging to dig into sometimes.

Though there is still at least one more piece of evidence that needs an explanation.

SECILY: 23.Qd6+ There’s a few questions that I have left for you. ...Qxd6

Either way, perhaps you can still get something out of this.

You decide to get him talking about...

>Horoscope relevance.

What you’d really like is some information on the religious groups that do the sort of thing he’s done before. Gauge how plausible it may actually be that some cult could be behind this.

You’ve seen quite an array of different sects and doctrines focused either on Kheparia, Gaiaeon, or both. Far more minuscule in scope are any practices related to The Vivifier.

It's not easy to find any information on those, past vague whispers and rumors. The subject of your murglary, however, is relevant to the belief in her existence — at least to an extent.

There’s no doubt that something like the philter would be tremendously valuable to those who have faith in its properties. That’s not a new conclusion.

But, as you said, these sorts tend to be a bit difficult to trace. You don’t know much about their values or capabilities —  they cover their tracks well. You need a better profile.

A good enough place to start, you suppose, would be to better understand something you’ve already been talking about.

SECILY: 24.exd6+ Celestial reading is something that was supposedly practiced by The Vivifier, isn’t it? ...Kxd6
SECILY: 25.Rd1+ I’m aware not many people follow that line of faith anymore, but what about your specific beliefs? Was that a part of it? ...Kc6

ENDARI: )-| Oh, absolutely |-(

You may be inching closer to being more personal than you’d normally like for a case, but it’s not like you have a lot of options here.

You’ll just have to hope you can keep it as short as possible.

SECILY: 26.Re5 Then what can you tell me about your former group’s functioning, as far as that tradition goes? ...Re8

His eyes wander down towards the floor, contemplative and unsure, filling the silent gap in conversation with a feeling you can’t place. It’s still lingering there when he glances back at you.

ENDARI: )-| Hm, well... horoscope reading came from the idea that The Vivifier herself was a prophetic and divine individual |-(
ENDARI: )-| She possessed great insight into the future, in addition to all the other ostensibly wondrous things about her |-(
ENDARI: )-| It led many trolls to seek her guidance, and eventually try to imitate her in all sorts of ways |-(
ENDARI: )-| So they learned how to read the heavens in correlation to the things she taught |-(
ENDARI: )-| Oh! And! |-(

His somber mood suddenly brightens back up to a tremendous degree.

ENDARI: )-| That also altered perceptions of how the stars in the sky were viewed in general. It started a trend of properly categorizing constellations |-(
ENDARI: )-| "The Daughter," for example |-(
ENDARI: )-| It’s a constellation whose identity changed throughout the Renaissance |-(
ENDARI: )-| At first, it was believed to have been a prophecy of The Vivifier’s arrival, so trolls used it to honor her during her time of highest relevance |-(

He’s not really talking about the cult so much as he is just relaying asterism tales. This sort of history lesson isn’t exactly what you were looking for, but you’ll continue to humor him for the moment.

ENDARI: )-| Later, it was also interpreted as a symbol of hope — that either she or a descendant of hers would somehow return to us after she vanished |-(
ENDARI: )-| Of course, there are many other constellations and individual celestial bodies that have their own prescribed meanings |-(

Okay, now you’ve heard enough. He’s just going to keep blabbering about stars unless you intervene. Time to fix that.

SECILY: 27.c4 We’re getting pretty off track. ...Rh7
ENDARI: )-| Right, sorry! |-(
SECILY: 28.e4 You seem fairly enthusiastic about all of this for someone who claims to not follow the same principles anymore. ...Rd7
SECILY: 29. Rdd5 There’s clearly some connections still being harbored here. ...Rd6
SECILY: 30.Rxh5I was told you no longer do any readings yourself in the present. Have you been lying to me, Mr. Vernir? ...Bd7

ENDARI: )-| No, absolutely not! I don’t do them anymore at all. Not in the same context and definitely not as a "service" to anyone, at least |-(
ENDARI: )-| Any interest I now have in the subject comes entirely from a perspective of fascination for cultural history and analysis of its sociological relevance |-(
ENDARI: )-| That, and I simply adore studying the stars as they are |-(
ENDARI: )-| I don’t want to do any readings the way I did them before |-(
ENDARI: )-| It is a bit of a manipulative thing in and of itself, don’t you think? |-(
ENDARI: )-| Trying to tell someone what they’re predisposed to be, or how they should behave at any given time on the expectation of a sacred, predetermined outcome |-(
ENDARI: )-| The concept of fate in any form, does not exactly leave much room for freedom and personal growth, I’d say |-(
ENDARI: )-| Of course, I attempted to use it as means of positive encouragement to anyone who came to me... |-(
ENDARI: )-| But that still doesn’t change the fact that I was proclaiming undue authority and providing deceitful, unrealistic promises to complete strangers |-(
ENDARI: )-| I don’t want to do something like that to anyone ever again, even with good intentions in mind |-(

Well, there you have it. It’s one of the reasons you dislike those particular kinds of bogus ideas. Too many people willing to exploit others.

You can’t really bring yourself to disagree with that last sentiment entirely, though — despite any philosophical differences you might have with Endari.

SECILY: 31.Rxd6+ Was it intentional manipulation for the sake of authoritative gain, in the case of your sect? ...Kxd6
ENDARI: )-| Without a doubt |-(
ENDARI: )-| After I actually paid attention it was very obvious. They were using their own interpretations of certain texts to spread lies, and indoctrinated me to do the same |-(
ENDARI: )-| Anything in existence — especially something as mystical and awe-inspiring as the stars — can be given a meaning to perpetuate an agenda |-(
ENDARI: )-| Perhaps not all groups that follow those beliefs intend to use them for harm, but it certainly does happen |-(
ENDARI: )-| And it happened to me |-(

Well, that definitely marks quite a large number of boxes on your mental checklist for extremely shady cult behavior.

It doesn’t really tell you anything pertinent to the case, but weirder and smaller things have become important before.

>Decorative resonator.

The mounted item on the wall is not something you can ignore. It’s the one thing you have (limited) knowledge on, but it still concerns you.

What you DO know is that it is an incredibly rare object to see anywhere, especially under the ownership of someone who claims to lack any sort of religious practice.

The small cult that used this particular item in rituals was extremely focused on balance as a core principle. They vanished without a trace some time ago, though it’s anyone’s guess as to why.

Maybe they’re just hiding.

SECILY: 32.Rd5+ I noticed the resonator on display in the corner. I don’t claim to know everything about their use, but I do know where it comes from. What’s the purpose of keeping it there? ...Kc6

Endari momentarily turns his head away from you to look at the object in question, as if he was unaware of it being there in the first place.

ENDARI: )-| Oh, that? |-(
ENDARI: )-| I suppose I find it interesting to observe, for one. In the sense that... |-(
ENDARI: )-| I just think it’s neat |-(
ENDARI: )-| The actual use of it, however, is not something I — or anyone else, for that matter — really dabble in anymore. |-(

SECILY: 33.e5 What "use" would that have been, precisely? ...Bf5
ENDARI: )-| You’ll be delighted to know I have just the answer! |-(
ENDARI: )-| Mostly, they were used in a variety of prayer rituals |-(
ENDARI: )-| The main concept behind them being that the dual prongs represented balance between both the all-mother and the naught-father, and everything that they both embody |-(
ENDARI: )-| In a ritual, a member of the congregation would continually strike the resonator to generate a continuously emitted frequency |-(
ENDARI: )-| This frequency was believed to bridge the gap between our physical and ethereal dimensions, allowing direct contact with the divine |-(
ENDARI: )-| The sound itself is quite pleasant at first. It does get stale fairly quickly if you’re not into it, though |-(
ENDARI: )-| But most who were using it happened to be extremely invested in the whole thing, so... |-(

He shrugs delicately before continuing.

ENDARI: )-| The process could go on for many hours at a time |-(
ENDARI: )-| An enchanting concept in theory! |-(
ENDARI: )-| Yet also one that I personally find to be extremely terrifying in application |-(

You can understand how such a frequency would become very annoying, very quickly, but you’re not sure exactly what would lead him to call it terrifying.

Or... perhaps you can somewhat relate, if it produces an effect in any way similar to that one disquieting experience you’ve had recently.

You suppress a shudder. Something tells you this context is much more sinister than your lone incident in the fields.

SECILY: 34.h3 Elaborate. ...Bb1
ENDARI: )-| Mmmm... |-(

He pauses, frowning and crossing his arms in front of himself, as if to create a weak line of defense against the question.

ENDARI: )-| The rituals themselves were meditative. Everything surrounding it needed to be calm and quiet |-(
ENDARI: )-| That part was fine. What bothered me was when... things started actually happening |-(
ENDARI: )-| Amidst the ringing, you’re eventually able to hear what sounds like whispers |-(
ENDARI: )-| Usually unintelligible, but on occasion clearer things would come through — especially if there was any sort of speaker present |-(
ENDARI: )-| Of course, it didn’t all amount to just that |-(
ENDARI: )-| Odd sensations, changes in the feeling of the room... |-(
ENDARI: )-| Your body eventually goes numb and all you see is black, white and gray, dancing in your vision |-(
ENDARI: )-| And the noise keeps getting louder |-(
ENDARI: )-| It was paranormal activity, I’m sure of it, and it felt rather like some sort of possession |-(
ENDARI: )-| Which I am not a fan of in any way |-(
ENDARI: )-| It made me extremely uncomfortable and is a huge reason as to why I didn’t stick around in their midst for very long |-(
ENDARI: )-| Distortions of any kind are a curious topic in general, aren’t they? |-(
ENDARI: )-| I don’t want anything to do with that on a personal level, but I mean... they are rather interesting to think about, I suppose |-(
ENDARI: )-| The thought of an anomaly breaching our material reality and the subjectivity of how it may be perceived by different individuals provides a lot to talk about |-(
ENDARI: )-| For example... |-(

He’s going off on a tangent again. Talking about distortions and "glitches in the matrix" was not the point of this.

You’re starting to wish you would distort into some kind of two dimensional figure so you could slip away from this conversation.

SECILY: 35.Rd6+ Alright, that’s enough of that. ...Kc7
SECILY: 36.Ra6 If you dislike what the resonator does so much, then why do you still keep it? And not just around, but also hung up in full display like a prized possession, for that matter. ...Rxe5

ENDARI: )-| For the sake of reminding myself of why I left in the first place |-(
ENDARI: )-| Maybe I should get rid of it... it’s probably not the best thing to hold onto |-(
ENDARI: )-| But for now, it’s something I can look back on if I ever doubt my decisions at any point |-(
ENDARI: )-| It’s a connection. A personal reminder of where I came from and where I absolutely do not want to return to |-(
ENDARI: )-| I see it there sometimes, and it brings to mind how distressing and awful it all really was |-(

While those were interesting and engaging stories that obviously expanded on some important lore, you’re still not certain they’ll actually help you locate your thief.

The cult knowledge doesn’t give you anything too direct to look into now, being primarily about a group that supposedly disappeared sweeps ago.

You’ve done a lot of listening to random garbage and not enough sleuthing, much to your displeasure. Once again, you have to remind yourself that sometimes that’s just what this job requires.

But with that in mind, there is still one other thing you can ask...

>The cult now.

SECILY: 37.Rxa5 This particular religious sect I’m hearing about... You’ve been referring to the same group this entire time, haven’t you? ...Kb6
ENDARI: )-| That’s... uhm... |-(
ENDARI: )-| Yes, I have |-(

SECILY: 38.b4 And from what I understand, not only were they extremely reclusive, but also stopped being seen altogether about two sweeps ago. ...Re1+
SECILY: 39.Kf2 There was never a documented name, but anyone who heard anything about their activities had taken to calling them by a specific moniker. ...Rc1
SECILY: 40.Rb5+ You were a part of The Mora. ...Ka6

He nods silently.

SECILY: 41.Rxc5 What happened to them? ...Rc2+
ENDARI: )-| I don’t know, truthfully |-(
ENDARI: )-| I was already out and very far away before they vanished. Granted, I was trying to keep my distance, but I still knew of some things that were going on |-(
ENDARI: )-| Until one day I just didn’t. And neither did anyone else, it seems |-(

Oh, that’s just fantastic. And here you were hoping you could at least get a clue as to where this bunch could be tucked away, if anywhere.

ENDARI: )-| I’ll admit that does worry me, too. My mind jumps to horrible scenarios, and I don’t like the idea that something bad could have happened to anyone, regardless of what I think of them |-(
SECILY: 42.Kg3 That’s a definite possibility, especially if they weren’t a particularly large congregation. ...Bxa2
SECILY: 43.Rc6+ Do you actually believe they are truly gone? ...Kb7

ENDARI: )-| No, I do not |-(
SECILY: 44.Rc5 Then here’s another question for you. ...Bxc4
SECILY: 45.h4 Whether it’s The Mora or any other kind of pious syndicate, how far do you think they would go to obtain an artifact substantial enough to claim the promise of eternal life? ...Rc3+

ENDARI: )-| I think if you said that to almost anyone, faithful or otherwise, they’d feel similarly |-(
ENDARI: )-| Indisputably... many would do just about anything to get their hands on it |-(
ENDARI: )-| That’s quite the colossal concept. Who wouldn’t at least be curious in some fashion? |-(
ENDARI: )-| Considering the state the world is in, whether eternal life would be a positive or a negative thing is an entirely different discussion, but... |-(
ENDARI: )-| Anything that gives hope of correcting the horrible problems this planet has — people are going to flock to it, even more so when faith in the divine comes into play |-(
ENDARI: )-| Like, you know, the planet’s suns are both dying at an incredibly rapid rate |-(

Here we go again.

SECILY: 46.Kf4 Yes, I understand the point you’re about to make, you do not need to finish it. ...Rc1

That earns you a look of embarrassment, with him bashfully putting a hand to his mouth as if to stop himself from speaking on it further.

SECILY: 47.g4 Are there any other groups you’d like to bring to light? I could use something potentially traceable, at the very least. ...Rf1+
ENDARI: )-| The Mirthamaniacs, which I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about, but I don’t think that’s a very useful thought |-(
ENDARI: )-| They’re not exactly the kind that seeks any form of life preservation |-(

Yeah, probably not. That’s a pretty deep, sizeable cliff to dive from.

ENDARI: )-| That’s where I started. Their grasps were even harder to shake off, for obvious reasons. Wouldn’t have been able to do it without a little help |-(
ENDARI: )-| I think her name started with a ‘T’? Our conversation was brief, but she looked just as trapped as I was |-(
ENDARI: )-| Honestly, I should have known better and stopped there |-(
ENDARI: )-| But I was still incredibly young and desperate to find a community for myself in something that still felt familiar |-(
ENDARI: )-| I thought turning from one faith to another with opposing ideas would be just what I needed, but I was wrong. As it turns out, most religious organizations are rather alike in the end |-(
ENDARI: )-| The trolls I’ve encountered that tend to rely too heavily on faith usually turn sour from it somehow |-(

SECILY: 48.Ke5 It would seem that way, yes. ...Be2

You are growing increasingly impatient with the extraneous musings coming from the talkative characters you seem to have a knack for attracting.

You wish you could sympathize more, but right now you have little time for the life stories, folktales, and other tangents that your suspect has regurgitated.

Your desire to entertain his personal ramblings is only as strong as the usefulness his information has to your case.

It seems the total amount of substance you expected from this conversation has reached its limit — and you have reached yours, as well.

SECILY: 49.g5 I think I’ve heard enough for the time being. ...Bh5
ENDARI: )-| Oh, you’re all done with me, then? I hope I didn’t derail you too terribly |-(
SECILY: 50.Kd6 I don’t believe I have anything else that would warrant further discussion. ...Rf4
SECILY: 51.b5 I can’t say for sure if it’s been the most productive chat, but it was... Amiable? ...Kb6
SECILY: 52.Ke5 So yes, I’m finished. Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out. ...Rb4
SECILY: 53.g6 Thank you for your time, Mr. Vernir. ...Bxg6 ½-½

ENDARI: )-| Of course! |-(
ENDARI: )-| I wish you only the best of luck in your case, Regulator. And obviously, if there is ever anything else I can do to help, I’m as open and present as the nighttime sky! |-(

Endari nods, but he looks just about ready to follow you out despite your previous statement.

You suppress a sigh, nodding with what you hope is a sense of finality. Then, you open the door without another word and step into the hallway.
The backstage has quieted down considerably by now. There’s only a couple trolls or so popping in and out of the other doors, as they move things around to finish their cleaning duties.

Endari comes to the doorway behind you. He’s either decided to actually send you off, or simply wishes to move on as well. Either way, you don’t need to stick around here any longer.

Just as you are about to go on your way, you catch something out of the corner of your eye — an individual at the end of the hall that strikes you as odd.

A troll, wearing a dress composed of patches of various colors, reminiscent of a panel of stained glass, is watching you.

She is completely still, peeking around the turn in the hall with razor sharp focus. The way she’s looking at you suggests much more than simple curiosity over your recent reemerging.

The moment she notices you’ve seen her, she immediately disappears back around the corner in a flash of color. Endari seems to have noticed this too, as a small gasp escapes him with the motion.

This time, you don’t suppress your instincts to pursue a mark. You swifty unsheathe Proserpina and bolt down the hall after her. You are not in the mood for playing around with sketchy shit like that.
You lost sight of her. Just as you make your way around the corner, you see the latch of the double doors ahead clicking back to a close.

It’s the obvious exit, leading outside of the theatre entirely. You rush forward, pushing through them and emerging back onto the streets of Stronghold 21.

Your eyes scan the area as you move, searching for that same flash of color to chase after, looking for where to turn next.

You find nothing, even as you explore the closest possible options for her to have escaped through.

The spying stranger is gone.

With a firm tsk of irritation, you return your blade to its proper resting place.

By now Endari has come out into the street as well, shocked and quite curious about the sequence of events. Perhaps he has enough reasons of his own to be concerned by it.

The frustration of yet another important lead slipping right through your fingers so suddenly is evident. You’re growing exceptionally tired of these moments leaving you falling short.

Though, while you may have missed the chance to interrogate a potential spy, you are now absolutely certain of one more thing.

You are being more closely and consistently monitored than you thought.

END

ORICKA ROURST

ORICKA ROURST is in danger.

That's the conclusion you came to, standing in a cornfield and staring her photograph in the blurry face. You didn't even think about it: the next moment you were on your bike and gunning it out of there.

The fact of her peril was so obvious that it'd be insulting if anyone paused long enough to explain it. Sometimes narrative introspection is just too big a strain on your schedule.

You threw all caution to the wind, racing at top speed to get here. But now, making your way down to the shoreline, you've had to ask the wind for your caution back. You'll need it, this close to the DEPTHS.

Nobody lives on the coast without good reason. Repiton's hostile terrain is still nothing compared to the ichorous, obsidian-tinted, eldritch-infested nightmare fuel that is its seascape.

The notion of a holiday doesn't really exist in your culture, and the notion of a beach holiday exists even less. The idea that anyone would ever come to such a place for relaxation is unfathomable.

Equally unfathomable are the Depths themselves, since nobody knows how deep they go. They might as well be bottomless.

The powerful smell, which got steadily stronger as you drove towards the coast, is now threatening to overwhelm you. Your acid tubes aren't so much heaving as they are writhing in agony.

It's basically the most disgusting thing you've ever smelled in your life. Think rotting flesh, and then dial that up to rotting everything. That's what your honk sniffer is dealing with right now.

It's like if someone directed an open sewer into a landfill site, which happened to be built next to a world-encompassing mass extinction zone. It's like that because that's literally what this place is.

You hate coming here. But you have no choice.

As you make your way through the trash dunes, piled high with junk and worthless garbage, you can't help but be reminded of something... or rather, someone.

Maybe it's the way your insides are currently suing for emotional damages, but something about wading through a literal shitshow of cultural detritus and filth brings her to mind.

What would she say if she could see you now? The very thought of her gloating over you for this malodorous misadventure makes you grind your crunch stumps in irritation.

It's not like SHE'S above any of this, though. Hell, she probably delivered some of this stuff personally! It's a pity she didn't throw herself on the pile for good measure.

You leave this train of thought hastily on top of the trash heap that inspired it. You've GOT to stop getting distracted. Didn't you mention? You're in kind of a hurry at the moment.

You're heading for a system of caves carved out of the promontory in the distance. That's where Oricka lives.

When she was first relocated here, she said that the bluff reminded her a lot of her deadly, departed lusus. You've never understood what the hell she was talking about. It's just a funny-looking rock to you.

Getting there is proving to be a bit of an ordeal.

You're having to weave to and fro through mounds of electrical junk, pre-renaissance rubbish and prematurely obsolescent modern gadgetry mixing together in one big incestuous technoslurry.

As you trek through it all, your ears aren't having as hard a time as your nose. Nothing much to hear except the lapping of waves on the shore. It's oddly soothing, if a little sinister.

But you're triumphantly cresting a mountain of Turnin Kaikai-branded interactive sing-along DVDs, far too big to walk around, when your sensitive ears perk up a little.

Somewhere in the distance, and only for a brief moment, you could have sworn you heard something else moving out there.

Whatever, it's nothing important. A squeakbeast nest buried underneath a mound of rubbish is the least of your concerns right now, and going by the noise it's definitely not big enough to be a person.

Nevertheless, you move a little bit more quietly as you finally approach the cape.

The rock here has been eroded away over millions of sweeps by hundreds of thousands of Repitonian sea storms. The icky black sand wends its way inside the cave system, passing under rows of jagged stalactites.

If it DID look like any kind of animal, which to be clear it absolutely does not, then you'd be making your way into its mouth. The mouth of the cave, you mean. You know what forget it.

You hurry inside.

The interior of the cave is damp, dark and unwelcoming. It's actually quite hard to see anything much in here, even so close to the exit. The jet-black Depths water doesn't reflect much light inside.

At least the smell is a bit more tolerable, though. We've walked our way back to "dead aquatic fauna" on your personal scale of olfactory displeasure.

Hopefully that means you can breathe a little easier for a while in here. But only literally, mind you! You've still got a former client to save.

You begin to move deeper into the cavern, towards where Oricka's hive should be. It really is very dark in here, though. You go to turn on your visor's torch setting, and...

And...

Okay, no torch then. Darn. This thing was working fine earlier, too.

Or... wait, no, that's not quite right. There was that weird glitch that happened in Husske's barn, wasn't there? At least, you think it was a glitch.

You take the visor off so you can give it a shake or something. Do these things still have data cartridges you can blow into? Ugh, it's impossible to see ANYTHING in here. Oh well, at least --

CLICK!

Lots of things start happening all at once.

The lights in the cavern come on out of nowhere, nearly blinding you. A low rumble starts up, and the floor of the cave begins vibrating.

Over the top of that low bass hum a klaxon shrieks and wails, so loud that your auricular sponge clots sear in pain. And behind THAT... you hear the telltale sound of weaponry being engaged.

Oh all-motherfucker.

You dive wildly for cover, heading for a large boulder you can barely see at the edge of your peripheral vision. You manage to duck just in time as a searing bolt of energy streaks through the air above you.

You knew it you knew it you KNEW it. They've come for her just like you suspected, and you still walked straight into the trap they left for you like an IDIOT.

You dodge two more laser beams in quick succession as you silently curse yourself over and over, running to the cave wall as fast as your legs will carry you.

The sudden movement throws you off balance though, and you desperately fumble for a few moments with the visor in your hands before losing your grip on it altogether.

SECILY: 1.e4 SHIT! ...c5

Your head whips around as you hurry on, and you barely manage to spot it as it tumbles through the air...

(Oh no.)

Then bounces down the cavern a short distance...

(Oh no no no.)

Before settling in a suspicious looking divot in the floor...

(...)

BOOM!!!!!!!!

A small fireball engulfs the middle of the cavern, narrowly missing you. The noise is deafening. The heat from the explosion flares angrily against your skin.

It's been many sweeps since you got rid of your sideburns, and if you still had them then they certainly wouldn't be there any more.

As the landmine went off, the explosion slammed you full-force into the boulder you'd been aiming for. Overcome with the noise and light and heat, your vision begins... to swim... a little...

...

And then everything is dark again. Great work Iopara, you've blacked out!

It occurs to you that... hm. Surely nothing should be occurring to you if you've been knocked out, right? Oh well, whatever.

Your mind, deep in the throes of whatever dubious state of consciousness this is, can't help but think of someone. Someone important. Someone you were trying to help.

... Who was it again?

>Recall: ......?

On any other day, this would be your go-to choice. But honestly, after what happened in the cornfields... you're kind of hesitant to try RECALLing anything for the time being.

That doesn't stop you from straight-up lowercase remembering stuff though, so you give that a try instead.

>Remember: ......?

Something was messing with your recal(l)ibration earlier. Remembering is likely the safest option. It's possible this distinction makes absolutely no sense, but you don't give a shit about that.

Now, who was it that you came to see?

O... Omi... Omicron? Hm. That can't be it. Oooooo...risa? No no no, that's not right. Come on, this is IMPORTANT! Your memory is supposed to be PERFECT, damn it!

Or... Orifice? Definitely not. This is a nightmare. You have to remember. You HAVE to. You can't forget ANYTHING, not now! You can feel it, right on the tip of your gustation frond!! O...ri...ck...

All at once the memory of Oricka leaps out of the blackness and smacks you around the face, hard. Ouch! You suppose that's what you get for letting her slip your mind though.

Oricka Rourst was one of the strangest assignments you ever had, before the one occupying you presently. Honestly it's a bit much to get into right now.

To cut a long story short, sweeps ago she ended up in big trouble, and you were asked to bail her out of it. But not the money kind of bail — more the chucking pails of water out of a sinking ship kind.

You know what, since neither legal systems nor boats are really things your culture does, it's really weird that "bailing someone out" is an expression in your language at all. Really makes you think.

Oh right, you were supposed to be thinking about Oricka. Ugh your head.

She's always been somewhat of a mechanical genius. But the problem with genius is that every so often it can make you do something very, VERY stupid.

Anyway, she was a highblood in peril and the mob wasn't interested in arguing with both you and your sword, so you got her off the hook eventually. But not without some... complications. Medical ones.

Once she'd recovered from the ordeal, Oricka built you an electronic visor as a thank-you for your assistance. The one that — no, you can't deal with that thought right now. It's too much.

She was rehoused to this cave in secret, far away from anyone that might try and hurt her again. That was the plan, anyway. The anonymous tip had you doubting everything.

You understood the danger the moment you saw the photo. Because if she's been found, then who knows what could happen. Who knows what IS happening to her, right now! You've got to help her NOW!

The memory of Oricka leans in and... smacks you around the face again?? Fucking OW!

But then you realize that this isn't a memory of Oricka you're seeing at all. It hits a little too hard for that.

You float back up into awareness slowly. Your vision returns first. Then the pain starts to blossom from your think pan. And then you begin to hear again.

ORICKA: s...
ORICKA: secily...? :flushed:

You're spread out on the floor of the cave, where you got knocked out. Oricka is standing over you, looking... well, you can't tell. You can't see her face through the screen in her helmet.

Instead, what you see is some peculiar looking pictogram. It means nothing to you. You blink up at Oricka in a daze.

SECILY: 2.Nf3 Oricka... ...d6
SECILY: 3.d4 What are you doing here? ...cxd4

ORICKA: hmmmmm :thinking:
ORICKA: at the MOMENT... :thinking: :thinking:
ORICKA: im puzzling out what YOURE doing spread eagle behind a boulder :glancenuggets:
ORICKA: ... :thinking:
ORICKA: OMG... :glancenuggets:
ORICKA: could it be that you... came to visit ME? :flushed:

SECILY: 4.Nxd4 I suppose you could say that. ...Nf6

Of course you were here to see her. You can't think of any other conceivable reason why anyone would be seen dead in this place. Hell, you very nearly WERE seen dead in this place.

Oricka doesn't seem to pick up on this point, because it was made silently and in your head, which incidentally hurts like a bitch.

Instead, she claps her hands together in apparent glee.

ORICKA: aaaaaa i knew it!!! :flushed:
ORICKA: its so good to see you secily!!!
ORICKA: or should i say... :thinking:
ORICKA: seSILLY LMAO :crylaughing:

SECILY: 5.Nc3 (That's... you just said my name the same way twice.) ...a6
ORICKA: what were you thinking walking in here without letting me know beforehand?? :coldsweat:
ORICKA: its lucky i was already on my way here to disarm my defense systems in the first place, otherwise they wouldve made a sizzling hot secily steak out of you IYKWIM :flushed:
ORICKA: but for real ses why didnt you tell me you were coming? its been so long since you last came to see me........... :pensive:

SECILY: 6.Bg5 I... ...e6
SECILY: 7.f4 Oricka, what is going on here?! ...h6
SECILY: 8.Bh4 I thought you were in danger! I was tipped off that someone had managed to find out where you lived and feared the worst. ...Be7
SECILY: 9.Qf3 I didn't really have time to bother with a courtesy call! ...Qc7
SECILY: 10.O-O-O Not that I could have called you in the first place! You don't have a voice connection here, and I don't know how to work that ridiculous website you insist on using for communication. ...Nbd7

You're having a hard time keeping Oricka in focus. Seems like your pan took one hell of a knock back there.

It doesn't help that she's got that bright screen in her helmet pointed right at you, flashing those weird esoteric symbols constantly as she talks.

ORICKA: ok well FIRST of all :steamed:
ORICKA: discorpse isnt a WEBSITE sestupid its a chat client!! the two are completely different things!!! :shoutpole:
ORICKA: and its not just any old chat client but the ORIGINAL non corporatized independent real time communication engine :steamed:
ORICKA: one that was cruelly deposed by big business interests in favor of that shitty branded thing they just rolled out :steamed:
ORICKA: i mean COME ON skorpe doesnt offer anything approaching the emote functionality discorpse has so you KNOW its basically worthless :eyeroll:
ORICKA: not to mention the security has loopholes out the ass which is a WHOLE other kettle of —

SECILY: 11.Bd3 Oricka. ...g5
ORICKA: ok yeah maybe im getting a little off track here :pensive:
ORICKA: sooooooooooo...
ORICKA: to what do i owe the pleasure of finding you all akimbo on my cave floor? :surprisenoodle:

SECILY: 12.fxg5 Like I said before, I was-- ...Ne5
ORICKA: OH RIGHT no i remember you got some shady tip that i was in danger or something and raced all the way here to see if i was okay :shoutpole:
ORICKA: and honestly thats really touching and i appreciate you coming secily no matter what the reason :flushed:
ORICKA: but... :thinking:
ORICKA: WELL not to burst your bubble or anything iopoppet but does it really look like im in much danger of getting snuck up on? :flushed:

She waves a hand vaguely about, gesturing to the scorch marks on the floor, the banks of laser cannons embedded in the walls...

You have to admit that it's a pretty impressive uh, "defense system" she's got going on here. Certainly a hell of a lot more comprehensive than Husske and their friends had in the cornfields.

SECILY: 13.Qe2 I have to admit that it's a pretty impressive uh, "defense system" you've got going on here. ...Nfg4
SECILY: 14.Nf3 Did you install all of this yourself? ...Nxf3

ORICKA: OH well you know, lots of time all on my lonesome equals lots of time for these little passion projects :flex:
ORICKA: especially if its a passion fuelled by my desire to not get mauled by people with an axe to grind :steamed:
ORICKA: chumps just do NOT know how to behave themselves :eyeroll:
ORICKA: but if they wanna take it up with me and my laser turrets then thats a them problem LMAO :clap:

You... guess she has a point? Maybe? You've always found it a little hard to follow along with what Oricka says, on account of all the occult slang and acronyms she throws around.

ORICKA: or i suppose i should say it WAS a them problem :pensive:
ORICKA: like i said i was actually on my way here to turn the system off :innocent:

She offers precious little explanation, but you're not really bothered about that. The fact that this system existed in the first place is a bigger concern of yours right now.

SECILY: 15.Qxf3 You know... if you've been having a lot of difficulty with unwanted attention then this is the kind of thing you should bring up with the Corporation. ...hxg5
SECILY: 16.Bg3 I know you don't like to talk about it, but you are a member of an officially endangered hemotype and that entitles you to certain protections. ...Ne5
SECILY: 17.Qe3 If you took the time to install a voice connection here then... well, the Heir has a line specifically for you to make him aware of problems like these. ...Bd7
SECILY: 18.Be2 It would surely be a less taxing use of your skills than building a makeshift fortress out of domestic waste. b5

ORICKA: HMMMMmmmm :thinking:
ORICKA: so what youre saying is :thinking: :thinking:
ORICKA: i should just dial up the corporate COPS :thinking: :thinking: :thinking:
ORICKA: well sorry but im just not that kind of person! :yikes:
ORICKA: why would i let some goons from the corporation have all the fun whaling on those nooksuckers? :surprisenoodle:
ORICKA: i mean come ON :steamed:
ORICKA: thats such a blatant expropriation of my suffering :eyeroll:

Well okay, nobody would be "whaling" on anyone else, and you have no idea what a "cop" is supposed to be, but whatever.

ORICKA: and why would i want to talk to stupid little sestro anyway i mean LBR the guys a TOTAL weenie :eyeroll:
ORICKA: you think id ask that dimpled dweeb for a favor just to make him look good :yikes:
ORICKA: hed spend the whole time prattling on about social responsibility and how hes gonna fix everything by recycling gaper paper or whatever :steamed:
ORICKA: droning oooonnnn and oooonnnn while looking mournfully out of his window all forlorn and shit like its singles day at the aquarium :pensive_shrimp:

SECILY: 19.a3 (Pensive... what?) ...Rb8
ORICKA: i just couldnt talk to someone knowing that amount of self pitying was going on down the other end seriously :crylaugh:

Ouch.

ORICKA: although having said that :thinking:
ORICKA: itd be another thing entirely if i could get a few choice words in with that nasty side piece hes got going on there :glancenuggets:

SECILY: 20.Rhf1 You... ...Rh7
SECILY: 21.Qf2 You're not talking about HAMIFI, are you? ...Kf8

ORICKA: YESSSS thats the one :nice: :nice :nice:
ORICKA: nobody in my servers knows who or what she even does but the running theory is pretty much everything LOL :thinking:
ORICKA: and besides the shady business she always seems to be involved with...
ORICKA: anyone whos scowl is unanimously voted most blood-curdling in the auxiliachicks webzine three sweeps running has gotta be one MEAN piece of work :flushed:
ORICKA: not to mention theres this rumor going around that starting up that shitty new chat client was all HER idea :steamed:
ORICKA: the girls diabolical but also diabolically easy on the glance nuggets IYKWIM :wink_lick:

Ugh, god. This is genuinely kind of awful. Not only is Hamifi a bit young for Oricka, but you basically raised her and her betrothed yourself. Listening to this is making you feel a bit weird.

And besides, isn't Oricka seeing someone already? You remember hearing something about that a long time ago.

Then again you might be getting your quadrants mixed up. At this point, you're having a hard time remembering what all of them are even called.

ORICKA: oh no no youre right im still going steady with ron dont worry about that :flushed:
ORICKA: but weve been pretty firmly in the red for a good while and sometimes a girls just gotta loathe, yknow :pensive:

You suppose you can understand THAT at least. Boy do you love a good loathing.

The topic of romance isn't one you like getting into, though, and especially not with someone quite so... well, so Oricka.

Your gaze wanders a bit, trying to avoid looking at her helmet screen for too long. You settle on a smouldering crater a short distance away, where your electronic visor met its untimely end.

All at once, the reality of the situation hits you. That visor was your trusty partner for sweeps. The only piece of tech you actually knew how to use.

You haven't simply lost a handy tool. That headscreen was more to you than just an accessory. It was... no, you can't say it.

And now it's gone forever, tragically exploded. You're having a hard time even understanding its absence. You're definitely in the denial stage right now. The pain is too much to bear.

Speaking of pain, your think pan still hurts like crazy from when you slammed into that rock a while back. You put a hand to your temple and wince. Seeing this, Oricka looks a bit concerned.

ORICKA: everything alright there ses? :surprisenoodle:
ORICKA: did something happen to you? :coldsweat:

SECILY: 22.Bxe5 ... ...dxe5
ORICKA: oh right yeah i guess i did just unleash a barrage of laser artillery at you LMAO :yikes:
ORICKA: WELL thats all ichor under the bridge i suppose and absolutely not worth dwelling on for any length of time :innocent:
ORICKA: and speaking of not dwelling, we should head back to my hive! its not really safe all the way out here :pensive:

The splitting pain makes it kind of hard to talk, so you're absently nodding along with a lot of what Oricka says. Only figuratively, mind you: actually nodding would likely be just as painful.

Oricka begins to head deeper into the cave, indicating that you should come along with her.

>Follow her inside.

The two of you begin to trudge your way through the cavern, in the direction of Oricka's hive.

The cave system inside this cliff essentially consists of one long winding tunnel, with several smaller tributaries branching off either side. It's pretty easy to navigate even without Oricka's help.

You try to keep chatter to a minimum on account of your injuries, but something catches your eye after a few moments of walking that you can't help but remark on.

SECILY: 23.Rd3 Oricka? ...Be8
SECILY: 24.Bg4 What is that thing over there? ...Kg8

You point towards a little alcove tucked into one of the walls of the cave. It's not the alcove itself you're interested in, but rather what's inside it.

It looks... vaguely mechanical?

Oricka looks to where you're pointing, looking a bit startled. You think she does, at any rate. It's hard to tell what she's thinking with this screen in the way of her face.

ORICKA: oh that little thing? :surprisenoodle:
ORICKA: its nothing important :innocent:

That little thing is, for convenient reference, about eight feet tall.

Whatever it is, it's constructed out of a whole lot of scrap, assorted bits of junk and who knows what else. It's a little bit freakish to look at, and yet somehow it seems familiar...

Oh no. Oh *HELL* no.

SECILY: 25.Ne2 Wait a moment Oricka. ...b4
SECILY: 26.axb4 You don't seriously mean to tell me that you've been building more of your "little machines" again, do you? ...Rxb4

ORICKA: :coldsweat:
ORICKA: i uh

You can't see Oricka's face, but you get the sneaking suspicion she's avoiding your gaze behind that screen.

ORICKA: can we like
ORICKA: NOT talk about this maybe?
ORICKA: i signed an NDA remember and besides
ORICKA: the topic is kinda... yknow... :yikes:

SECILY: 27.Ng3 Oh my god Oricka. What in the all-mother's name does the Non-Destruction Agreement have to do with it? ...Ra4
SECILY: 28.b3 Other than the fact that it's the reason why you absolutely, positively can not be building another one of these contraptions? ...Ra2
SECILY: 29.Qd2 Why do you think they made you sign that document in the first place? Because it'd look nice mounted in a gilt frame on your wall?? ...Bb5

ORICKA: i mean that WAS a very nice frame it got put in :glancenuggets:
ORICKA: thanks for that BTW :kiss:

SECILY: 30.Rc3 You're so very welcome. ...Qb8
SECILY: 31.Kb1 ANYWAY, ...Ra3
SECILY: 32.Rd1 That agreement was drafted because it was the only way to get everyone to keep quiet about the catastrophe that happened the last time you built one of these... these... ...a5

ORICKA: mechs? :surprisenoodle:
SECILY: 33.Qc1 Mechanized body augmentation suits, is what I meant to say. Your pithy highblood slang is ridiculous and feels awful coming out of my shout cave. ...a4
ORICKA: ok whatever the names not important
ORICKA: secily
ORICKA: my darling :pray:
ORICKA: my angel :innocent:
ORICKA: my FAVORITE criminal damages lawyer
ORICKA: everyone else says catastrophe
ORICKA: i say spontaneous infrastructural rearrangement
ORICKA: so really who even knows what happened at the end of the night :thinking:

SECILY: 34.h3 ... ...axb3
SECILY: 35.Rxb3 You're impossible. ...Rxb3+

Oricka doesn't respond to that, other than to flash you another strange symbol through her helmet screen.

She skips on ahead of you a little ways as the two of you round another bend in the long passageway. You're a decent way inside this cliff by now.

Suddenly, the cave opens up into a wide, high-walled cavern, so large that it's hard to make out the ceiling in the dim light.

By far the most notable thing about this cave, though, is the three storey all-motherfucking MANSION that's sitting right in the middle of it.

Members of the endangered castes have more ready access to Corporate welfare than most.

Whereas, say, a burgundy would be expected to take care of themself past the age of 6 sweeps or so, Oricka and trolls of her hemotype usually get looked after well into adulthood.

Ostensibly it's all about preserving the rarer troll subspecies, but most people see it as a sycophantic hand-out to an historically powerful group who have since fallen from grace.

You don't suppose you can really blame them, either.

Oricka may talk about not being really all that different from anyone else, but there's only so many small palaces you can be built in secret caves before that starts to ring a little hollow.

You follow Oricka up the front steps, through the main entrance, and into her primary living quarters.

The hive has changed a lot since the last time you were here, back when it had just been built. Well, that's not quite true. The hive itself isn't all that different. The mess is, though.

It's nothing compared to the landfill outside the cave, but you can hardly step anywhere in here for fear of treading on something. Or worse, *in* something. That's an important, if yucky distinction.

SECILY: 36.cxb3 Oricka, I apologize if this comes across as somewhat of a criticism. But, ...Kg7
SECILY: 37.Qc3 What is this plethora of putrid-smelling garbage doing in your leisurecube?! ...Rh8
SECILY: 38.Rc1 I knew you used this stuff for your various engineering projects, but this is beyond absurd. I have exceptionally good vision and even I'm having trouble seeing the floor. ...Rd8

That's an exaggeration, which is unlike you. Her room isn't that bad. Maybe it's the blood in your eyes that's talking. Seeing at all is pretty hard right now. Oricka doesn't seem fazed by your fussing though.

ORICKA: LMAO sessy sweetheart if you think THIS is bad then you should see some of the other blocks in this place :eyeroll:

You get the feeling that you most certainly should NOT see any of the other blocks in this hive. If nothing else, you'd be committing some poor background artist to days of extra work.

ORICKA: as for how it got like this well honestly i have no idea
ORICKA: i mean one day you start doing a bit of tinkering with the available resources from a nearby waste disposal zone
ORICKA: and before you know it youre having to quarantine whole wings of your hive because of the smell :yikes:
ORICKA: you :clap: know :clap: how :clap: it :clap: is :clap:

You so utterly don't know how it is.

SECILY: 39.Be2 Oricka... ...Rd4
SECILY: 40.Bxb5 Look, I'll be honest. ...Qxb5
SECILY: 41.Kc2 My think pan is killing me, your hive is a total disaster, and I'm rapidly losing my grip on the very reason why I even came to see you in the first place. ...Bb4
SECILY: 42.Qf3 I thought you were in danger! I thought... ...Rd2+
SECILY: 43.Kb1 I'm not especially sure WHAT I was thinking, actually. I just knew that something was up. ...Qd3+
SECILY: 44.Qxd3 A lot is happening at the Corporation right now, and none of it good. ...Rxd3

You explain to Oricka about the whole Vivifier blood murglary situation, in lots of detail. So much so that it would be very boring if we all had to sit through it.

Oricka... also seems pretty uninterested in the whole story, actually. A bit distracted. Maybe living in a cave for so long has made her pretty detached from the world outside.

You wrap up your explanation, feeling a bit irritated.

ORICKA: ...
ORICKA: wig!
ORICKA: ok secily i know this is all very important to you but i think that MAYBE theres something else you should be worried about right now :pensive:

She gestures to your pan, which you're massaging furiously with both hands.

ORICKA: you look really hurt! and the visor i gave you is missing! :pensive:
ORICKA: you didnt... get rid of it, did you? :surprisenoodle:

SECILY: 45.Nf1 ... ...Rxb3+
SECILY: 46.Kc2 No Oricka, I didn't get rid of it. It was exploded in a fireball. ...Ra3

ORICKA: :shoutpole:
SECILY: 47.Rb1 Would you like to know WHY it was exploded in a fireball, Oricka?! I'm sure you would!! ...Bc5!
SECILY: 48.Rb3! It was because of one of your CRAZY MECHANICAL DEVICES!! ...Ra2+!!
SECILY: 49.Rb2!! THE SAME THINGS WHICH YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO NEVER BUILD AGAIN, FOR THE GOOD OF EVERYONE'S SAFETY! INCLUDING YOURS!!! ...Ra1!!!

You're... okay, you're shouting now. You hate how it feels, but love it at the same time. Your blood is boiling, and suddenly you're the most alive you've been all day. All wice. All sweep.

SECILY: 50.Rb1 I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND ANY OF IT, ORICKA! I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW YOU'RE JUST OKAY WITH THIS! ...Ra4!
SECILY: 51.Ng3! OKAY WITH THIS SITUATION, OKAY WITH WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, OKAY WITH WHAT YOU DID, OKAY WITH **ANYTHING**!! ...Kg6!!
SECILY: 52.Rb8! I COULD VERY WELL HAVE DIED, ORICKA, OR WHAT'S WORSE, BEEN INJURED PAST THE POINT OF MEDICAL AID! ...Bf2!
SECILY: 53.Rg8+!! I WAS BESIDE MYSELF WITH WORRY ABOUT YOU! I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN KILLED!! AND THEN IT ALL TURNED OUT TO BE A COMPLETE WASTE OF MY TIME!!! ...Kh6!!!
SECILY: 54.Nf1! IN FACT, IT TURNED OUT TO BE EVEN WORSE THAN THAT! MY TIME HAS NOT SO MUCH BEEN WASTED AS IT HAS BEEN FUCKED OVER COMPLETELY! ...Rxe4!
SECILY: 55.Nh2 BECAUSE HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO EVEN COMPLETE MY OBJECTIVE NOW THAT MY VISOR IS... ...f5
SECILY: 56.Nf3 THE VISOR IS... ...Be3

The next word sticks in your chute. An old wound flares in pain.

SECILY: 57.Re8 Gone. ...Bf4
SECILY: 58.Rxe6+ ... ...Kg7
SECILY: 59.g3 Oh all-mother of fuck. ...Bxg3

You topple haphazardly down into a chair, dizzy, deflated and nauseous. Your think pan feels like it's going to split in two. Oricka is looking at you in shock, her helmet screen blank and featureless.

Neither of you move for a while.

ORICKA: secily...

And then, very slowly, she brings her arms up...

And takes the helmet off.

ORICKA: im...
ORICKA: not ok with it
ORICKA: not with what i did, not with what happened to me, not with what happened to you
ORICKA: like obviously im not ok with any of those things
ORICKA: and on some level i know that no matter how hard i try im never GOING to be ok with it
ORICKA: but at the same time
ORICKA: i just kind of...
ORICKA: HAVE to be ok with it
ORICKA: if that makes sense
ORICKA: like on some level i just NEED to be ok with it no matter what i actually think
ORICKA: just so that i can be ok with myself
ORICKA: and keep on living

She sighs, long and deep.

ORICKA: some things cant be forgiven no matter how much you apologize
ORICKA: or no matter how much you want to forgive someone else, even though you know its the right thing to do
ORICKA: maybe its stupid to keep on hoping that i can build something that will make up for what happened
ORICKA: and even more dangerous than stupid i guess
ORICKA: but... ron and me, that's the kind of people we are i think
ORICKA: we cant stop trying because otherwise wed be being ok with it
ORICKA: but the wrong kind of ok
ORICKA: ...
ORICKA: im sorry secily
ORICKA: im sorry that you got tied up in it
ORICKA: all those sweeps ago, and right now
ORICKA: :pensive:

She lowers her eye to the floor, not meeting your gaze.

You feel terrible, and not just because you're very severely battered and bruised. For one thing, losing your temper like that was simply unacceptable. You're supposed to do better.

But worst of all is how Oricka is apologizing for something which, in the end, you're just as guilty of. Putting herself in harm's way in some desperate attempt at atonement... ugh. It's so familiar.

There's a point where what you've done to others and what they've done to you seems to congeal into one big meaty lump of anger and sadness. One that, try as you might, you'll never know what to do with.

So it just stays.

ORICKA: for a long time i just let this sort of fester
ORICKA: literally i mean
ORICKA: a lot of what youre looking at right now happened because i got hurt and just didnt care enough to tend to things until it was too late
ORICKA: but part of being ok with things is learning HOW to be ok i think
ORICKA: so...
ORICKA: thats what ive decided to do!

She nods to herself, perking up a little.

ORICKA: ive been teaching myself first aid! :flex:
ORICKA: its not much at the moment but hopefully one day ill be able to do something useful with it! :steamed:
ORICKA: and bodies arent REALLY all that much different from machines, so im basically halfway there already LOL :nice:
ORICKA: so heres an idea :glancenuggets:
ORICKA: how bout i go get my things and we can patch you up, AND ill see about replacing your visor while im at it :steamed:
ORICKA: that sound good ses? :surprisenoodle:

She doesn't say anything about trying to make it up to you, but you both know that's what she's doing. And similarly, when you incline your head in approval, it's a way of saying sorry for the outburst.

You make this strange little agreement of apology; a bargain of atonement struck between two unlikely friends. You... you think that's what you are. You're never really sure about these things.

Oricka flashes you a wink, and hurries off to get her things.

Once she's gone, you take a moment to try and collect your thoughts. You've got plenty of them, that's for sure.

You just sit and stew for a while, mulling everything over. But eventually, by force of habit, your investigative instincts start to get the better of you.

Something is up, and you don't know what it is. So you do what you always do when something is up: root around in a pile of trash until something presents itself.

You get up, slowly, and carefully begin poking around the room.

There's... okay, there's a LOT of stuff in here, so much that it all starts to blend together into one big mass of visual noise. But there are some things that stand out amongst it all.

Over on her desk you can see the remains of some old electronic devices that she probably gutted for parts in order to build one of her contraptions.

Next to that is Oricka's computer, which is still turned on. There's something about it which seems off, but you can't quite tell why.

It's not that there's anything wrong with the device itself, you don't think. It's more like the simple act of looking at it makes you feel a bit strange.

If you had to describe it, then you'd say that it reminds you of what it's like when you're about to gather an INSIGHT INCREMENT. Like you're looking at something investigatively IMPORTANT.

That's a pretty weird thought, you think to yourself. You mean, sure, it came in handy, but it's not like the INVESTIGATION PROGRESS METER ever really MEANT anything, right?

Even so, there's something about not being able to rely on it that makes you feel a bit sad. You might even say... depressed? That's one of the stages Mshiri told you about once, sweeps ago.

In any case, since you don't have your visor you'll just have to make do without the meter from now on. No point in dwelling on it. You probably feel weird and sad because you're concussed or something.

Ditto for this feeling about the computer. Probably all in your head. And yet the longer you're in the room with it, the more certain you are you have to look at it. The screen is calling to you...

Well, there IS an investigation going on. And you're the chief regulator. You're quite sure there's no significant ethical boundary being crossed here.

The idea that something could be impairing your judgement in this matter is absurd! Or... well maybe it's not absurd, but what the hell. You're going with the feeling.

>Get a closer look.

On the screen is a chat log of some kind. Looks like Oricka was talking to someone recently. You wonder who. The log begins about half a sweep ago, so you start reading from there.

-- obnoxiousAntidote [OA] began discoursing with aeneusAlloyed [AA] --

obnoxiousAntidote     Hello there.


aeneusAlloyed     oh um, hi! :purrbeast:


obnoxiousAntidote     How are you?


aeneusAlloyed     im... ok i guess! just working on a personal project at the moment :flex:


obnoxiousAntidote     I'm glad to hear it.
obnoxiousAntidote     Personal projects are wonderful, aren't they?
obnoxiousAntidote     There's nothing like dedicating your time to something you really believe in, and then seeing the effects of your handiwork.


aeneusAlloyed     haha yeah i suppose thats true... :thinking:
aeneusAlloyed     um... :thinking: :thinking:
aeneusAlloyed     not to be rude OA but do i know you from anywhere? :surprisenoodle:


obnoxiousAntidote     Ah, of course, you're right to be suspicious. I could be just about anyone sliding into your DMs, couldn't I!
obnoxiousAntidote     Let's just say I'm an admirer of yours. I recognized you in the Anti-Corporate Antiquarian Bloggers server.


aeneusAlloyed     ohhhhhh i love meeting new people from ACAB! hi there!! :shoutpole:
aeneusAlloyed     but... an admirer? :flushed:
aeneusAlloyed     i dont know what i could have done to deserve one of those :flushed: :flushed:


obnoxiousAntidote     Oh come now, that's putting yourself down terribly. You seem to be rather well-known in certain circles, AA.
obnoxiousAntidote     In fact, I'd go so far as to say,
obnoxiousAntidote     You should be famous.

Nothing much out of the ordinary here, you don't think. Although... hm. No, it's probably nothing. You skip ahead a few wices, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious.

-- obnoxiousAntidote [OA] began discoursing with aeneusAlloyed [AA] --

aeneusAlloyed     sooo... :thinking:
aeneusAlloyed     what you were talking about in the server earlier... :thinking:
aeneusAlloyed     that was pretty nuts LMAO :nuggets_wide:


obnoxiousAntidote     Do you really think so?
obnoxiousAntidote     I thought it was perfectly reasonable.


aeneusAlloyed     i mean sure we ALL agree that corporate is pretty bad news OA, but... :coldsweat:
aeneusAlloyed     thats some really serious stuff to just come out and say :coldsweat:
aeneusAlloyed     if anyone did that then lots of innocent people would get hurt! :gasp:


obnoxiousAntidote     And your point is...?
obnoxiousAntidote     I would have thought that you of all people would understand where I'm coming from, AA.


aeneusAlloyed     ...


obnoxiousAntidote     And besides, you agree with me, right? That there's something wrong with our world. Something festering underneath its surface.
obnoxiousAntidote     There's nothing wrong with wanting to cleanse what's been infected. Maybe you should try it sometime.

Wait, what?! This... this doesn't look harmless at ALL. You skip ahead some more, a horrible feeling settling into your acid tubes.

You reach a point where Oricka drops her quirk entirely. That DEFINITELY can't be good.

-- aeneusAlloyed [AA] began discoursing with obnoxiousAntidote [OA] --

aeneusAlloyed     we need to talk


obnoxiousAntidote     To what do I owe the pleasure?


aeneusAlloyed     oh QUIT it with the fake polite schtick OA, i know thats all a fat lie
aeneusAlloyed     just like your typing color, your quirk, and everything else about you
aeneusAlloyed     i should have realized who you were the moment i saw your handle


obnoxiousAntidote     I haven't the foggiest idea what you mean. Have I done something wrong? I think you know that I'm far from the only one of us who's made mistakes.


aeneusAlloyed     listen you bastard weve all done some crazy shit in the past but the stunt you just tried to pull with TR was so FUCKED UP!!!
aeneusAlloyed     not to mention CC and RC and GW...
aeneusAlloyed     and those are just the ones we KNOW about
aeneusAlloyed     you need to leave and never come near ANY of us ever again


obnoxiousAntidote     Haha, oh Oricka, this kind of behaviour is really unbecoming of someone from your caste.


aeneusAlloyed     ok how the FUCK do you know my name


obnoxiousAntidote     Oh I know lots of things about you Oricka. Like I said, you should be famous.
obnoxiousAntidote     And if I were you, I'd spend a lot less time looking out for people who are beneath you, and more time worrying about yourself.
obnoxiousAntidote     There are people who want to do very, very nasty things to you Oricka.
obnoxiousAntidote     Lowbloods who'd love to finish what they started.
obnoxiousAntidote     I know what you must think of them. I understand. They're disgusting, aren't they?


aeneusAlloyed     i dont... i...
aeneusAlloyed     im not ABOVE anyone!!
aeneusAlloyed     theyre NOT disgusting!!!
aeneusAlloyed     and STOP calling them lowbloods you KNOW this caste bullshit doesnt mean anything anymore!!!!!!!


obnoxiousAntidote     Doesn't it? I wonder if you believe that. I know they certainly don't.
obnoxiousAntidote     Oh well, it doesn't matter. Soon you'll be able to put that high and mighty attitude to the test.
obnoxiousAntidote     Maybe you'll feel a little differently when your visitor arrives.


aeneusAlloyed     my... visitor?
aeneusAlloyed     you sent someone HERE??


obnoxiousAntidote     I wouldn't call it that. I might have let slip that I knew where you were. And I know that they're very, very keen to come and see you.
obnoxiousAntidote     Any minute now, you should get a proximity alert from one of your drones.


aeneusAlloyed     fuck fuck fuck


obnoxiousAntidote     There we go.


aeneusAlloyed     OA what did you DO???


obnoxiousAntidote     It's alright, nothing to worry about. I'm sure your defense system is more than capable of handling them.
obnoxiousAntidote     You installed it after all, and very expertly too. What's the harm in letting it do its job? You won't have to worry about it when you're scraping their ashes off of the floor.


aeneusAlloyed     i...
aeneusAlloyed     i have to go
aeneusAlloyed     dont ever contact me again you monster

-- aeneusAlloyed [AA] has blocked obnoxiousAntidote [OA] --

The last message was sent within the last hour. This happened just before you arrived.

All at once, in the center of your very concussed think pan, several ideas all come together and lock into place.

You know this person. Or rather, you know their voice. And now, you know that they're more than just trying to mess with you. Someone out there wants you very dead, very badly.

There's nothing new about that, of course. People want you dead all the time, and you're always happy to disappoint them. But nobody's ever gone about it like this before. This is new.

Your internal monologue is interrupted by the sound of Oricka returning. You move swiftly away from the computer and sit back down in the chair. You'll have to ruminate more about this later.

ORICKA: OKAY so i have good news and better news :glancenuggets:
ORICKA: id ask which you wanna hear first but honestly the concussion is probably HELLA impairing your judgement RN...... :pensive: :fist:
ORICKA: the good news is that i found my medical supplies and doctor rourst is now IN the building :wink_lick:

She carries a small box over to where you are and opens it. You can't see what's inside, but she takes something out of the box and fiddles with it for a moment.

Then she reaches up to your think pan, carefully. Her tongue is stuck out, brow furrowed in concentration. You feel a faint bit of pressure, and then she pulls back to admire her handiwork.

SECILY: 60.Nxg5 Oricka... ...Rc4+
ORICKA: hm? :surprisenoodle:
SECILY: 61.Kd3 Is that... a band-aid you just put on me? ...Rd4+

She beams at you.

ORICKA: and i bet it feels MUCH better now, huh! :kiss:

You...

Ugh. You don't have the blood pusher to tell her. Not after everything else that's happened tonight.

SECILY: 62.Ke2 Thank you, Oricka. ...Bf4

You're going to need to see Mshiri and a stiff drink after this. Maybe both at once. Especially if this is any indication as to what the "better" news is going to be like.

You get the nasty feeling it's going to be something to do with Oricka's other, more mechanical area of expertise. Oh boy.

Oricka goes back to fetch something, and then returns with it cupped in both hands.

ORICKA: okay so for this one im gonna need your help :glancenuggets:

She holds her hands out towards you, and then shows you what she's carrying.

Cupped between her palms is... you're not sure what it is. At least, not at first. It's made of some pure white metal, and appears to have... legs?

You look at it hard for a moment, your brain slowly recognizing the shape more and more; the wings, the beak, the feathers that almost look like scales.

SECILY: 63.h4 It's... ...Rd2+
SECILY: 64.Kf1 A hummingbird moth? ...Ra2

ORICKA: thats the one! :nice:

You haven't seen one of these since your lusus died.

ORICKA: shes pretty cool, right? :steamed:
ORICKA: all i had to do was modify one of the drones i have roaming out in the trash dunes :flex:
ORICKA: they help me scout for parts out there so i dont have to spend so much time digging through mountains of useless garbage to find anything good :eyeroll:
ORICKA: and they also let me know if anyones nearby, just in case... well, you know :pensive:
ORICKA: ANYWAY, i just tinkered with this one a bit and now shes yours! :kiss:
ORICKA: ...
ORICKA: you ok secily? :coldsweat:

SECILY: 65.Nh3 Yes, I'm... sniff ...Bh2
SECILY: 66.h5 It's just the smell in here. It makes my glance nuggets perspire, is all. I'm fine. ...Ra1+
SECILY: 67.Kg2 She's... beautiful. ...Ra2+

ORICKA: I KNOW RIGHT :steamed: :steamed: :steamed:

She tips the hummingbird moth drone into your waiting hands, looking very pleased with herself. You stare down at it for a while in silence. Then she seems to remember something.

ORICKA: OH RIGHT i should probably tell you how to turn it on LMAO :yikes:
ORICKA: i know technology is something you have a BIT of a hard time with sessy so i made it real simple just for you :innocent:

SECILY: 68.Kf1 I appreciate it so very much. ...Ra1+
ORICKA: LMAO thats the scathing secily wit i know and love :wink_lick
ORICKA: my treatment is working already! :flex:
ORICKA: ok so to activate her all you gotta do is press this part here and say something :glancenuggets:
ORICKA: then shell imprint on your voice and thats all there is to it! :nice:

SECILY: 69.Kg2 I see... ...Ra2+

Hmm. That DOES sound very simple. But what to say?

You're Secily Iopara, and you don't say things without due consideration. Your every word is calculated, every utterance straight and to the point. Like your very straight, very pointy BLADE.

If you're going to activate this thing, it's going to have to be with something good.

You close your eyes, and cast your mind back over the events of the night. And then back, even further. Wices, blinks, sweeps... until a memory from a lifetime ago catches your attention.

You were sitting in a TEMP office, one of many you visited in those days. Some faceless person was trying to walk you through the pain with nothing but a handful of important words.

You choose one, like you're picking a card for a magic trick. And then you walk back through the long sweeps with it, feeling its weight grow with the time.

You know what to say. It's a word that you've never quite got the hang of. It's not in your nature, most likely. But it'll do for now.

SECILY: 70.Kf1 ... ...Ra1+
SECILY: 71.Kg2 Acceptance. ...½-½

END