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784915 No. 784915 ID: b02108

Previously, Before the Storm
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/227246.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/262261.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/281675.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/296192.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/308967.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/347642.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/381984.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/464906.html
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questarch/res/527511.html
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No. 784916 ID: b02108
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784916

Glimpses of activity: of fire, fur and, thunder. Rylora said I protested her attempts to stop the kobolds from salvaging whatever they could pry out of the airship, yet I cannot clearly remember the evening we passed in the freebold mashes.

The tribal kobolds ran ambushes and lit false fires to misguide the punitive Norskulten search forays and artillery, but I only recall illness and shaking amidst the reeds, with only liquid black eyes staring down into me to anchor their faces formed of grey fog. It was deep into the night before a search party of our men found their way to us under the guidance of Nenentor’s sheriff.
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No. 784917 ID: b02108
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784917

The ‘Brine Battle of Nenentor’ would not be truly resolved for the remainder of the week; between the Norskulten’s surprise bombardments and their probing raids tangling with Sealucid aerial patrols and the N-Coast Mercantile Marines it’s estimated that both sides racked up a combined six hundred casualties over the course of the next 4 days. However, it was the total loss of their assault submarine and all associated attack craft that likely dealt the most lasting injury to their fleet and tipped subsequent negotiations firmly in our favor.
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No. 784920 ID: b02108
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784920

The ‘prize’ they fought so fiercely to claim was indeed one of their own merchant vessels and packed in amongst a half load of waterlogged shipping crates, wreckage and slimy seawater were some 68 ‘survivors’, the remnants of a larger living cargo of escapee thralls, dissidents, and defectors. Though many of their number were injured or could speak no more than a smattering of Lingua, my forces found them cooperative enough in our efforts to evacuate and corral them away from the beach.
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No. 784921 ID: b02108
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784921

This huddled, desperate mass were only the first guests the cove would receive that month. Ill-fortuned prisoners and wounded were taken and held in empty barns and fallow fields. Scores of commandos and smallcraft from responding kingdoms made anchor by the shore, their crews disembarking for respite, refueling and recuperation in the conflict. Mercenaries and freelance bravados also arrived from further inland, seeking a share of the glory or spoils, and camp followers appeared to fill their needs. Tent villages sprouted up and reclaimed the old city’s ruins between rows of fresh artillery trenches and half-repaired cellars.

Even the fortress Dwellers of ‘Diamond upon the Peak’ mustered a survey corps of mechanized knights and spotters to form a hardened line behind the softer warcamps, while droning helecal craft flitted about overhead to root out and quash any hope of prolonged attack without serious cost.

Seeing little option except further losses and a battle spiraling into greater conflict, the Norskult sent dignitaries to bargain for peace and prisoners. It was thought best that I not make an appearance to avoid provocation. I was thankful for this, as the strains of the previous weeks left me confined to a hospital bed for much of this period.
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No. 784922 ID: b02108
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784922

However, my health was not so crippling as to grant me total immunity from responsibility. The press would have their pictures and interviews, senior officers from at least five separate hierarchies demanded reports and accountings, my own family wanted a private debriefing and sent my brother Farvel to ensure we wrested as much advantage from the situation as we were able.

Even my frail old Grandfather Sealucid made a personal appearance to dole out some medals and shake hands with anyone putting the irons to his favorite foes. To avoid any more of the limelight, and to try to make some level of recompense for ordering her vessel into destruction, I recommend the honors he intended for me be awarded instead to Captain Ryllora. And so she received the The Star Wheel of Pelagic Valor.
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No. 784923 ID: b02108
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784923

Elders and generals aside, it was probably ‘the women’ who demanded the most of my attention while recuperating. I’m not sure the news was even out in papers before Lucidia was calling down into Nenentor’s phonelines, pleading to know where I was, if we were safe, how my health was progressing, what her family could do for us, and it wasn’t long after the news was out that we received letters to the same measure from Jolienne.

In the end they each implored I visit with them in the coming summer months; Lucidia at the old family seat of which I have only vague childhood memories of visitating, and Jolienne at some archaic archeological dig in the country highlands. I could certainly use the time to recover, and at such thoughts I can feel from the orb ‘prickle’, more alert to my… social possibilities; the branching river of possible futures I suspect. It seems to stir with more intense interest at such times, a ‘response bias’ I’ll have to reflect on more as we make important connections.
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No. 784924 ID: b02108
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784924

Coy letters and gently murmured telephony were not the only communication I received though. When Farvel arrived his first accomplishment was to have my captive ‘Eschrie du Moulont’ finally shipped back to Merbouillant, but the second was to actually prioritize and deliver any mail directed to me. There were no shortage of complaints, demands, clarifications, and endless requests (as if I held some sort of actual ‘authority’ or proper judgment in my current state), but scattered amidst these were occasional letters of advice or comfort from friends and family. I even managed an unexpected opportunity for smug braggarty in informing Farvel that a bottle of expensive wine labeled ‘from Larcen de Scarlette’ was “almost certainly no joke.”

A more sobering delivery, though perhaps more useful, was likely delivered as some level of smug braggarty directed right back towards me. I received a package from that dragon from the peak, a charcoal black vest embroidered with scales of copper wire. It is light on the shoulders, and stronger than its velvet texture would belie. I consider that perhaps I have made some mistake in my trade with him, and then wash the thought clear with a pull of the bottle.
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No. 784928 ID: b02108
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784928

It is late one evening, after the local strategizing and planning has broken up into self-congratulation and the memory musings of old men, that I manage to finally slip away, alone in the foggy dark for a bit.
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No. 784931 ID: b02108
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784931

I say ‘alone’, but mean ‘as alone as we are permitted anymore.’ Sure, Baldrekgus’ faithful accompaniment can be hardly counted as bothersome or unusual. However, since the incident we’ve been assigned guardians of varying competence and tonight a pair of house guards courtesy of the Peroquette family have begun to lag a few paces behind.
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No. 784933 ID: b02108
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784933

The night air is awash in shadowy hues of violet and amber as we make our mist-muted way to the seaward edge of Nenentor. The varied groups now occupying the formerly ruined town have already begun to revitalize it in a haphazard way (the most apparent sign of this being the hum of generators and kilos of fresh powerlines illuminating our path).
One of the guards, either the bolder of the two or the more observant, clears his throat when he notices I am no longer headed towards any of the tunnels leading into the hospital.

“I know. We’re headed to the encampment first, where they’re holding our… guests. I want to see to the conditions there.”

Though, to be honest it isn’t so much the comfort of those castaways that concerns me, but of their connection to Sirius. I’d assumed he would make himself known by now, but outside of the rusting scrapheap being salvaged out in the bay, those refugees are all I have to go on.

“Actually sir, I think ‘he’ may want have a word first?”
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No. 784934 ID: b02108
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784934

”Who wa-… oh.”
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No. 784935 ID: b02108
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784935

”Catterbast.”
”August”
”Well… You’re looking… better dressed than our last meeting.”
”Ye’r getten a better look when ets not ova yor shoulder tucked tail fast downa hallway. But, ‘ere I ‘eard ye didn’ come out sew clean lately, mehbe yo’re needn’ som ‘elp findn’ yor bed?”
”Not-.

‘Not unless your sister is in it’ I want to finish. In this moment’s hesitation I notice the details; a neurotic level of polish to his armor, the whiskers twitching behind his cigarette, how his wrist twists just so with the spear, his left leg shifting back slightly. He’s wound tight, the next sentence could send me back to the hospital bed for a month.
”Not yet, but, we ‘could’ use your help. I am unfamiliar with the new guards they’ve posted about and with how they’ve overhauled these streets, but you, you can vouch for me, could show me into the quarantine camp.”
”Mehbe. What of it?”
”Please.”
Catterbast swallows, breathes and visibly relaxes, just a hair.
”Feh, fine, come on. Don’t be laggard about it an’ don’t wander. I’ll not be extracaten yor nose iffen yeh gets caught in someone else’s business. Yor maken a foul habit of it.”
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No. 784936 ID: b02108
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784936

Rain begins to filter down in pitter patter waves, Catterbast leads, the two Peroquette guards follow behind us. Little is said before we approach the low wall of sandbags and wire surrounding a tent complex.

As predicted, Catterbast’s presence does actually expedite passing through the gate, but while pressing us forward his gloved paw slides up my shoulder to grip at the scruff of our neck.

“Now ‘member here, whateva yew might think I owe yah, isn’t nothen.” He hisses.
”Actions have consequence Catterbast, we’ve no more years left for childsplay. Next time you steal something from me I might not feel so generous as to trade back for it.”
”Yew call it generous? Sneaken into mah home an meddlin with…“
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No. 784939 ID: b02108
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784939

”Listen! I don’t care for your games; I don’t care about your ‘secret’. But if you want to protect what you love you’ll need allies, you won’t make them running everyone off and spitting in the eye.”
“A’hm strong, an in the strength of mah family we are many.”

“Hoi Sauterelle, things alright over there?!”

”I have my clan also, and now… I have this place. YES, JUST HAVING A CHAT! ... Think about it Catterbast.”
He snorts dismissively and disengages. We’d considered raising the point that his defensiveness and what little I experience among the Sperenze don’t indicate his being part of ‘some happy unified whole’. However, I remain unsure just how to word that, and tis a risky thing to question a knight’s family honor.
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No. 784941 ID: b02108
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784941

Dry electric warmth holds reign within the tents and it is with little difficulty that I find him playing the juggler for a pack of children amidst the cots and crates. Flickering points of light dance across his fingers to join dim iridescent spheres and lines, Of course, this display is all just concealed flakes of mirror, colored film, and microlights; petty routines even I could prestidigitate with prep and practice. Yet, smooth movements and practiced hands lend an air of wonder to his performance. I watch for a moment, unwilling to break his spell.
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No. 784943 ID: b02108
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784943

I approach slowly so as not to surprise him, but he seems to take little notice. In fact, I’d assume he was ignoring me until I make a point to lock eyes. He gazes right through us. Nothing. His eyes betray no focus, no acknowledgement, not a hint of recognition, only the flat, vague regard of a complete stranger.

It this some ruse, some plot or test he did not warn us of? I step away in confusion, trying to calculate the meaning of it. At times he has suffered some delirium or confusion, the price of his enterprises in alcoholic escapism… but he’s never just… forgotten people.
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No. 784945 ID: b02108
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784945

I let my feet take me around the tent while I clear my head and consider the options. I shake hands with the wounded and gather the experiences of those willing or able to make dialogue. They tell of a dockside revolution, years of mistreatment and thralldom overturned for only the few glorious hours it took to seize and launch a few vessels for distant shores.

As to why only their crew has survived, even if much depleted, they seem reluctant to discuss, except to admit in passing that among them were those with means to turn aside or elude the more insidious technology and sorceries of the Norskulten pursuit. In turn they have questions for me; who are these ‘Sautrel’, how soon shall they be permitted to leave the camp, what is to be done with them? I have few answers for them. Currently there is some talk of dividing them up among the responsible parties and resettling them. However, it does not take the trained eye of a geno-archivist to spot a few telltale enlarged eyes and broadened mouths of ‘hybridization’ among their number. What is to be done with these ones I do not know.
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No. 784948 ID: b02108
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784948

As I make my rounds a thought slowly germinates in my mind, the seed of a obscured deception. I begin to seek out a target, a specific sort, and with some luck I identify a likely one.

He’s hunched, burly and bearded, avoiding the gaze of anyone passing by, concentration wholly set on forcing shaky hands to bring flame and pipe together. From my pockets I withdraw a certain coin, a thermodynamic artifact by which one may bring forth cold or heat from each face simultaneously with little magical effort.
“Here old man, let me help you.”
I glimpse suspicious eyes beneath the rim of his cap while he takes a draw on the pipe.
“Shouldn’t be showing off, don’t know who’s watching.”
”Mmmm. That so? Then who’s our friend over there, and about your current ‘mode de pecheur’ Ehh? Overalls don’t really suit you I think.”
”So, what was it?
”Your dupe lacks the tobacco stains on your fingers, stains from your habitual cigarettes instead of the pipe. Well, that and he isn’t fighting off a residual case of delirium tremens. He’s just too healthy.”
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No. 784953 ID: b02108
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784953

”We can fix that. Time… time cures all ills.”
“So why the act? Who even is… that?
”Insurance. When we fled into the marshes I was looking for one of the old Triune Gates. It still stood, wrapped in fog and ruin, but now its stones served foundation to an encampment of banditry. After a bit of… good-natured bloodletting, they tied us to one of the gate’s pillars while debating our eventual fate. Fools, unknowing this was all the opportunity we needed. I rent open the door between worlds and made our passing. As to the thieves? We shall not think so deeply on it.”
”I… see… where did the gate take you?”
”Drifted deep in that worldwell, floating between worlds for days. Truly I’d have liked to loose sails for a decade of quiet contemplation amidst the rust sands of a Martian monestary, or soaked our aching bones on the mossy shores of endless Venusian hotseas, yet duties demanded restraint.
We plunged downward, reaching into dreams and dreamers in search of an anchor, a kindred mind. Someone who drank deeply of pain and longed for escape; I found a lifetime of slavery, children torn away to become thralls and pleasure slaves, their grandchildren destined for worse. A broken soul willing to give themselves up, to erase their own name for the chance to change such futures, such a prayer I could answer.”

”A mingling of minds?”
”Nothing so arcane, this old man, let’s call him ‘grandpa,’ resembled us greatly already. In exchange for the freedom of his family he would serve me, learn from me, speak for me, act for me, and when needed, die for me.”
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No. 784954 ID: b02108
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784954

”You plotted all of this to hide from those fae?”
“Oh, those? Only Silver Thorns, mercenaries. No no, Once, I truly connected people, ran in some grand circles I did, used to be a real ‘mover’. Now… can’t so much as twitch lefthanded without some budget spooks sniffing around the backwater. Probably will be others, but our true foes don’t like to get their own hands filthy way out here.”
”Because of the this… orb? It’s a handy trinket, but; well it doesn’t seem to be worth ‘that’ much trouble. It can be useful, yet terribly distracting, even dangerously unreliable.”

"The Orb? There are hands who could put it to a more thorough use, but it is not meant to be your ‘mystic battery’, it is… a…a Provocation.” He says the word slowly, tasting each syllable before sipping at the pipe again.
”In its calling, I have provoked my enemy, they sense my signature, they fumble their hand in eagerness, and we glimpse the shape of their machinations. By its gift, I also provoke you, my student. Power should not be without burden and cost. Bear them or break, be stronger and nobler for the flaws of your stone.
They were the symbol of our goals and scholarship, before overconfidence unmade our supposed unity. The perfect circle, the eye into a hidden world, watchful and unblinking; we gathered the fragments as we were commanded, but perhaps the task was beyond us… or just beyond me. When we lost control of everything, gathered what I could and ran, slipping from court, to street, to tunnel and wasteland. We have become very practiced at becoming no-one.”

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No. 784955 ID: b02108
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784955

A hundred questions spring to mind; of elaborations, certain details, to pry into what I suspect are purposeful omissions. However, only the most immediately important finds voice. “Are you about to run again?”
”There are still matters to be arranged from Merbouillant. Besides, would be a shame if I left my last student so untempered against this treacherous world. No… we are not ready, and… I am exhausted.”
”If you preferred we could bring you back home more expediently, grease some wheels so you needn’t sit through the quarantine with this lot.”
”Won’t do, may compromise this illusion. Go, we’re weary, and have already spoken too long for coincidence.”
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No. 784957 ID: 8dc1cf
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784957

”Take care, I’ll be waiting.”

He grumbles good naturedly beneath his breath and adjusts himself while I make my exit, taking care to cover our meeting by chatting up a few of the other camp denizens on my way out.
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No. 784958 ID: 8dc1cf
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784958

The air outside is cool and breezy, a momentary break in the rain. The tension and humidity momentarily relieved by this most recent downpour; breath of the storm.
*siiiiiiigghh*
”This is going to be a joy to explain away isn’t it?”
“We go now Sir? Rains stoppen.”
”Yes Baldrekgus… let’s go… let’s go home.”
“Oh yes, I’d like that.”
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No. 784998 ID: 8dc1cf
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784998

“More probables catalogued: grid LK:93. Some good signals, fuel cell still above 40 and our silhouette pattern remains minimal, roll her back for another sweep?”
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No. 784999 ID: 8dc1cf
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784999

“No, we’ve spent enough time on that coast. Widen the net, redirect to Node 18 and cover their gaps. Send today’s positives down to the Auger for forecasting, I’ll have them corroborate findings with our local assets.”
“Yessir.”
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No. 785000 ID: 8dc1cf
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785000

“You’ve done good work today Ob4ck. I’ll be sure to mention your section’s performance in my weekly report for the Court. Carry on.”
“We aim to please sir, or at least within 200 meters thereabouts.”
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No. 785004 ID: 8dc1cf
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785004

“Hmhmmm~ Very good. Now if only someone on this level could brew a decent rooibos.”

“Ignore me, just stick to the plan. He’s out there, we find him… and we'll finally have all the pieces.”
>>
No. 785006 ID: 8dc1cf
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785006

Discussion Thread
http://tgchan.org/kusaba/questdis/res/35133.html

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