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File: 1618452033498.jpg (599.23 KB, 1920x1997, 1547170014862.jpg)

 No.755391[Last 50 Posts]

>[ENTRY REDACTED]

Last time, in the Castle of Silence…

After whipping up a quick meal offering, the expedition team ventured out from the warehouse to approach the Necromancer, who floated languidly through the northern streets. Upon confronting him, they found him willing to engage in dialogue, whereupon he divulged that he indeed had been to the Pillars… in fact, he entered Agatecastle through the Pillars, indicating the existence of a clandestine gateway between the Pillars and the Castle itself. It was as this came up that Lost Hope accidentally divulged the existence of the Ironcastle Expedition Team, a fact which the Necromancer found quite interesting. Huitlapan panicked and tried to walk back Lost's revelation, only to be frozen solid with a blast of winter air.

 No.755392

>Response to all from previous thread:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koZRzhY321A

A rush of winter winds washes over you, but you are unharmed, albeit quite cold. The Necromancer rode the winds around your side, so that he could float before Deadweight, as she tries to walk away with the frozen Huitlapan. The flowers the Necromancer wears are now pale white and blue, and covered with frost.

Then how about this, the Necromancer says, extending no fewer than five arms with open upturned palms. Why not an exchange of information, bit for bit? You have already offered me quite a lot, in fact, with each one of your words. Why not at least get what you paid for already?

 No.755393

>>755392
Deadweight looks at the necromancer with half-lidded eyes. "Sure, I'm all ears."

 No.755394

>>755392
I'll quietly attempt to connect to Huitlapan's mic and discern his condition.

 No.755395

>>755392
"What do you want to know? I can give you the recipes I used to make your food if you want."

 No.755396

>>755392
I'll stand ready to set things on fire.

 No.755397

>>755395
>>755392
"Oh… did you used to be normal? Not gonna lie I was hoping to meet a normal looking guy."

 No.755398

>>755392
>>755397
"Yeah, where'd you even come from?" Deadweight adds.

 No.755399

>>755394
The magitech in his helmet still appears to be functioning, as he, through his will, accepts your call request. Though ragged and panicked, he's still breathing. He says nothing more.

>>755393
>>755398
>>755394
>>755395
>>755396
As you have no doubt discerned already, the destruction of this shell was wrought, at least in part, by your own kind. Those things you call 'the Dreaded Ones' played a role, but they could not have gotten through without the work of one of your kind. From the tunnels in the Pillars, to that most ancient sigil, written using your precious Light…

Cautaa braces himself, and gathers his courage at this last revelation.

"S-so it was a spell made from the Light Undefiled…" Cautaa mutters. "Then, Agatecastle fell through the work of its own subjects? This was a traitorous suicide?"

I know not, the Necromancer says. I am not from these shells you call Castles.

"Th-then where?" Cautaa continues with morbid fascination.

From the Sky. I fell for quite some time. If I had to say where I was born, I would say there.

>>755397
I have been like this as long as you can remember. What form would be more pleasing to your eye? I know many, and I am sure I have enough limbs lying around for a costume change!

 No.755400

>>755399
"You're an alien?"

 No.755401

>>755399
Uh…uh… uh… hold on a sec I need to think of something…. Oh! Um… Some kind of saucy dancer Kirin?" she said throwing together something from random thoughts.

 No.755402

>>755399
"Huh," Deadweight says to herself upon hearing this.

 No.755403

>>755399
I'll use spellbreaker to unleash Huitlapan from this cold prison. [1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.755404

>>755400
Hrm? What is that? the Necromancer asks.

>>755402
>>755401
>>755400
>>755403
At Lost's request, the Necromancer's body – widens. Or at least, it looks like it, for the cloak covers almost all but the hands. But beneath the cloak, it looks as if the limbs were separating. Hand in hand, they join together, pulling one another apart at the joints, folding and folding again and again. The head, once seemingly a solid dome of either bone or metal, one cannot tell, is broken apart into segmented pieces, with a core of bright light remaining inside.

Cautaa watches in dark fascination as the Necromancer refashions himself into the shape of a kirin, and ties his cloak like a dancer's gown. Of course, even he has to obey the conservation of matter, and so he is quite a tall kirin, once reshaped.

As all this goes on, Firmgold thaws Huitlapan from his icy prison, and he collapses to the ground, panting and shuddering in the midst of the pool of melted ice.

Well, how's about this? the Necromancer asks Lost Hope. He sounds pretty genuine.

"T-ten out of ten!" Cautaa gasps, eager to appease.

That's all?

"Twelve out of ten!"

 No.755405

>>755404
"You know, a creature from the stars?"

 No.755406

>>755404
Lost promptly applauded him "That was so awesome!"

 No.755407

>>755404
I will use a medkit on Huitlapan if he's unable to heal himself.

 No.755408

>>755404
Deadweight blinks a few times after the Necromancer reforms himself into a kirin. "Neat."

When Huitlapan thaws, Deadweight says, "Oh hey, you're awake. You were out cold," chuckling at her own lame joke.

 No.755409

>>755407
Huitlapan shakes his head, holding out a hand. "…p-please, save it for yourself… I am still capable of mending this… you've my deepest thanks, Lady Firmgold… hhhrmph!"

Huddling close to Steadfast, Huitlapan warms himself with several cardio exercises before he moves onto his healing.

>>755408
Huitlapan stares at you with his big hamster eyes.

>>755408
>>755407
>>755406
>>755405
Ah, yes, you said a dancer, now, didn't you?

The Necromancer, with his half-dozen or so legs, begins to hop and dance in a light and merry jig, all while studying each of you.

Haha! If you had been looking for a distraction, you must have found it, for this is quite the fun pastime. Join me, will you?

"I-I am afraid my skill at dancing–" Cautaa begins, before beams of concentrated heat blast from the Necromancer's eyes at his feet. Cautaa leaps and starts to imitate the Necromancer's kirin-dance.

Where were we? Right! Our discussions. What an awful thing, to waste an opportunity at a good conversation. Why, you were just telling me about your fellows, cooped up… where was it you said your camp was again?

 No.755410

>>755409
>>755409
"A cave about 2 days travel away due south." she repeated before as she did her best to start dancing with him.

 No.755411

>>755409
Rolling to dance.
[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.755412

>>755409
As Huitlapan stares at her with those big hamster eyes, Deadweight says, "Have I ever told you just how adorable you are?" not at all trying to not sound demeaning.

Deadweight furrows her brows in perturbation when she sees the Necromancer forcing Cautaa to dance, but she herself doesn't indulge him.

>>755409
>>755410
After Lost tells him where they "live," she says, "Anyway, I was nice chatting with you. Glad you liked our food. We're gonna go explore the rest of this floor, now."

 No.755413

>>755410
[1d10] Deception plz

[1d10] to dance if need be

Roll #1 9 = 9 / Roll #2 9 = 9

 No.755414

>>755409
I'll nod and put the medkit back into my inventory, then turn to the Necromancer.
"Lord Necromancer, are you sure that you'll not allow us our lives for its own chance at dealing with the dreaded ones? If you are indeed from past our 'shells' as they're so called, and have reawakened the castle's kin, then haven't you given much of us a second chance?"

 No.755415

>>755412
"Perish," Huitlapan commands.

>>755410
>>755411
>>755413
You join the Necromancer's sprightly dance as he looks over to Deadweight, Lost and Firmgold.

>>755414
>>755412
Dance with us, the Necromancer commands. It seems you three (including Steadfast) are the only ones who aren't dancing. Technically, four – Huitlapan isn't dancing, but doing jumping-jacks to warm his recently frozen body. But, the Necromancer seems to be giving that a pass.

Yes… 'tis a fair argument, the Necromancer concedes to Firmgold. I shall journey to this camp, and two days' hence, see what they consider of my offer. If we have no other business, then, I must resume my search for that machine…

"If I may ask," Cautaa pants as he dances. "Which machine? This Floor holds many."

A certain rabbit-like member of your kind passed through here, and with him, he had a machine most peculiar, flying and zipping through the air at his command. I followed it by the trail of computers it left behind, stripped of their data and formatted to… what was that term? 'Factory default' settings?

Huitlapan looks up.

>"It sounds like Mogao… and I doubt he has a passion for cybersecurity. He's probably collecting data on Agatecastle, data he doesn't want others to have," he says in the Concord voice channel.

 No.755416

>>755415
"Aw, even when you're offended you're adorable," Deadweight says to Huitlapan with a chuckle.

When the Necromancer commands her to dance, she thinks for a moment, then finally sighs in annoyance and starts dancing herself.

In reply to what Huitlapan says in the voice channel, Deadweight says, also in the voice channel, "Damn, knew he was trouble."

 No.755417

>>755415
"Oh hey, we saw him hanging out with some bony boys. Then he left. The Bony boys were nice."

 No.755418

>>755415
>"We ought to beat him up and take his machine. Something always felt off about him."

 No.755419

>>755415
"I implore you, Lord Necromancer, to understand that our wish in clinging to life will far outpace your offer. That is not to say what you propose isn't beneficial, however, I do wish to keep my own portion of the light until fate-alone declares it extinguished."
I remain standing.
"That rabbit-like member sounds to be far more of a concern to your realm than our camp- occupied as it is by the presence of a greater dreaded one."

 No.755420

>>755419
WoP [1d10+2]

Roll #1 7 + 2 = 9

 No.755421

>>755418
>>755416
>>755417
>>755419
>>755420
The Necromancer considers this for quite some time, gradually slowing his dancing… then, for a moment, he comes to a halt – when his body flings open, each limb unfolding and stretching itself, until he crouches low to the ground, like a long and bony millipede with at least three layers to his modular kaleidoscope of a body.

Indeed… it seems that if I am to save souls, I must needs learn what happened to this place in full… I can hardly have that rabbit deleting information I shall need. Very well, I see it your way. If indeed, he has met with my subjects, he cannot be such an unfriendly face! Mayhap I shall find him, and question him anon… I must be off! If there are any last words you wish to impart to me, I shall hear them now.

>"I really don't like hearing him asking us for 'any last words,'" Huitlapan mutters.


>>755418
>"Agreed in full," Cautaa says.

 No.755422

>>755421
"People find normal looking people more approachable. So should probably try that."

 No.755423

>>755421
When the Necromancer starts to stop dancing, Deadweight does too, albeit not as gradually. "Uh, see you on the flip side," she says to him with a wave.

>>755418
>>755419
>>755421
>>755422
To the rest of the party, she says, "Alright, should we check out the VR training arenas or head back to command?"

 No.755424

>>755421
I give a deep nod.
"I have none, but Thank you."

 No.755425

>>755421
"It was nice meeting you."
I cease to dance.

 No.755426

>>755422
>>755424
>>755425
>>755423
Your input is deeply appreciated, the Necromancer says. Fare thee well.

With a stomach-turning scrabbling of bone upon cobblestone and concrete, the Necromancer, in the guise of some horrific triple-decker worm-millipede, skitters off. In his wake, the seasons gently follow. Around him, spring and summer radiate their warmth – and fall and winter leave their biting winds and silencing frosts in the wake.

Huitlapan shudders again, and Cautaa falls flat on his back with a groan of prolonged terror that has finally found relief.

 No.755427

>>755426
"Well I think that went as well as it could."

 No.755428

>>755426
I shudder a bit and shake the feeling off.
>>755423
"How long do we intend to be at the VR training area?"

 No.755429

>>755426
"Freaky," Deadweight comments as the Necromancer leaves. When Cautaa collapses, Deadweight can't help but chortle. "At least you got your cardio in for the day."

 No.755430

>>755426
"That wasn't at all what I was expecting."

 No.755431

>>755428
"Not too long. Just to check it out, see if there's anything interesting. Definitely don't need to, though. We've got some really good intel already."

 No.755432

>>755431
"It would be prudent to alert command that we have made contact with the Necromancer. At the same time I do believe we can revisit this level again when we return."
I look towards where the Necromancer left to
"If what the Necromancer has said, there is no more useful data to glean off the networks on this level. We may have to report this as well."

 No.755433

>>755427
>>755428
>>755429
>>755430
Cautaa steps over to help warm Huitlapan while the latter gets his healing programs adjusted for settings appropriate for victims of freezing damage.
>"I shudder to think that may happen should the expedition team encounter either him, or Mogao," Cautaa says in the voice chat. "Between the Necromancer's capriciousness, and Mogao's unknown origins and objectives, I wonder which of them may be the one you wish to run into the least."
>"Indeed…" Huitlapan says. "In that vein, I wonder if that VR training might offer us any assistance. Anything we can take to gain power before we descend deeper, the better… especially if we end up on either of their bad sides."

>Pause, post replies

 No.755434

>>755433
"My stance is that we make haste for Command, but I will not jeopardize our group by splitting from you all."

 No.755435

>>755432
>>755433
"Damn, you may be right," Deadweight says to Firmgold, "Hopefully there'd still be something there." She thinks for a moment, then shrugs. "Since we're down here, might as well check it out," she says before walking towards the VR training arenas.

 No.755436

>>755435
I'll follow and start to put everything that we encountered with the Necromancer into a log.
[1d10] Short Term Memory

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.755437

>>755434
"Exploring a little more should be safe enough. Doesn't look like the Necromancer'll bother us anytime soon."

 No.755438

>>755437
"Should probably send a warning to the rest of the guys tho."

 No.755439

>>755438
"Mm," Deadweight hums, concurring.

 No.755440

>>755438
>>755439
"We'll be back at command in no time," she says, assuaging any doubts Lost might have.

 No.755441

>>755433
Off to VR land.

 No.755757

>[RENDERING COMPLETE]
>[DATA SAVED]
>[DATA SAVED]
>[DATA SAVED]
>[BACKUP STORED TO DISC]
>[BACKUP STORED TO DISC 2]
>[ENCRYPTION COMPLETE]
>[ENCRYPTION COMPLETE]
>[ENCRYPTION COMPLETE]

>[DATA SAVED]

https://youtu.be/7DTCMZkzmwY

>Mogao forces himself, with a sigh, to close his Magicomp. Otherwise, he'd be clicking at it all Cycle trying to make sure the data he'd collected thus far had been saved… just in case the last few saves didn't take, for whatever reason.

>Among what he'd downloaded, deleted, and stored into an archive, were clips of security camera footage. Uneventful clips, capturing only passerby and the routines of the guard bots.
>Then, bits of livestreams by Agatecastle's prospective intranet celebrities. Games, painting, rock collecting, feeding the ducks at a lakeside…
>Email exchanges at companies Mogao had never heard of. Clients inquiring after orders. Plans for employee motivational events, retirement parties, coworkers blowing off steam about ornery bosses…
>Advertising data. Search history. Tracking cookies. Keylogs.
>Every kind of digital echo.
>Glimpses of Agatecastle as it was, at the most ordinary, banal, everycycle fashion.
>Data of utterly minimal interest even back in its time.
>Now, with the Castle but a smoldering, lifeless heap, there was far more of concern.
>Even archiving this digital archaeology… was of no interest in comparison to learning how and why Agatecastle had fallen.
>This data he had collected was of no use to anyone, anymore.
>Right?
>Saved. Backed up. Encrypted.
>Saved. Backed up. Encrypted.
>Saved. Backed up. Encrypted.
>Even to multiple disks.
>That way.
>Even if his life should be forfeit, those two would find those disks to be a most useful present.

>See you next time

 No.757294

Last time, inside the Castle of Silence…

Conflagration and the Extinguishers (although they did not quite yet know themselves by this working title bestowed by forces unknown) survived a tense discussion with the Necromancer who haunted Layer Eight, AKA the Ramparts, of Agatecastle. During their conversation, the Necromancer revealed that he had entered Agatecastle from the Pillars. The Pillars, according to his description, were a vast mountainous country full of labyrinthine caves, which were full of peculiar computers, and innumerable corpses. The computers within allowed him to enter the Sixth Layer by way of a clandestine tunnel that connected to the Pillars for reasons unknown.

Perhaps the more disturbing information he divulged was that the sigil which they had found on Green's head – the one that played a role in the entrance of the Dreaded Ones into Agatecastle – was wrought from the Light Undefiled, the mysterious and holy energy which ordinarily sustained and protected the Castles. As the Dreaded Ones were unable to wield the Light Undefiled without themselves being destroyed, it meant that the attack on Agatecastle had to involve living souls… either a resident of Agatecastle, or else, a resident of another Castle. In either case, an act of sabotage and treachery against mortalkind itself.

Finally, the Necromancer revealed Mogao's doings on this Layer – namely, he was accessing every computer system he could, fleecing it of its data, and wiping the whole system afterward. His purpose was unknown.

After placating the easily distracted Necromancer, they told him that their camp, which Lost had mentioned earlier, was somewhere two days' travel south of their current location. Enticed by this lie, the Necromancer left to both find their "camp" and question Mogao.

Freed so from the Necromancer, C&E decided to go check out the VR training facility to see what it might still be able to offer them.

 No.757295

>Reminder that we are currently on Layer Eight, Floor 6

Recalling the directions that Mogao gave you, you navigate your way East, occasionally making slight detours to avoid the patrol routes of what few security bots still roam this Floor.

In time, you approach a rather large building. It looks like some kind of cross between a high-class gym, a video arcade, and a karaoke club. Inside, cleaner bots dutifully roam the halls on preprogrammed routines, hunting down dust. There is a large central lounge, and several halls branch off from that lounge. At the front of the lounge is a front desk, where there's a map. The facility has three floors, each of which hosts 20 medium sized VR chambers, and 10 large ones.

Cautaa looks over a guest guide at the front desk. "According to this, a group our size would want a large chamber. Oh dear, we need to call in advance to make a reservation. And a deposit… non-refundable!? Who has that kind of money?"

 No.757297

>>757295
"Are we here to have fun or box everything up and salvage it topside?"

 No.757298

>>757297
"It's quiet enough around here," Huitlapan says. "Now that the Necromancer's gone. I think if we can secure our chamber well enough, we should be safe to stop here for awhile, if everyone is amenable to the idea."

 No.757299

>>757295
I chime in with "Would someone have access to the reception terminal? Perhaps we could fast foward any reservation attempts and comp ourselves the cost of such a room."

 No.757300

>>757299
"I thought you'd never ask," Cautaa says, a tinge of pride in his voice. "Allow me."

He slides over to the receptionist's terminal, sending in his electrical sprites via a universal connector cable. After a while of tapping at his Comp, he nods with satisfaction. "I've gotten us room L-120… and made myself 100 Schillings richer. L-120 is down that hall to the east," he says, pointing down one of the hallways that splits from the central lounge.

 No.757302

>>757300
"Wonderful! I don't suppose there are any 'do not disturb settings for the cleaners on duty?"

 No.757303

>>757300
"What sort of things can we watch here?"

 No.757304

>>757295
Lost pushed on not entirely certain if she had blacked out for a few moments or a few months.

 No.757305

>>757303
"I like this question, perhaps we can download it!"

 No.757306

>>757300
"Nice," Deadweight says before walking down the hall.

 No.757309

>>757302
Cautaa types away at the terminal a bit. "…let's see… ah, I can do you one better. I've set two to stand astride the door and shut down the hallway between them, using spill containment protocols. If anything were to approach us while we are deep in VR, the bots would intercept them, and we would be notified in time to exit the program."

>>757303
>>757304
>>757306
>>757302
Cautaa disconnects, and leads the way to room L-120. "The primary purpose of this facility is for training, but it does seem like they have a catalogue of games and films for unwinding between sessions. Does anyone wish to lose at tennis this Cycle?"
"A lot of tough talk for someone about to hold an L," Huitlapan taunts.

The doors to room L-120 slide open, revealing behind them quite a large chamber. Along the sides are tables, chairs and couches for reclining, while the majority of the space is devoted to a cordoned-off section with nothing inside. A terminal awaits at the far end of the open space, displaying a catalogue of the programs available.

 No.757311

>>757309
"Combat training could be useful. I guess."
I browse the terminal.

 No.757312

>>757311
[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.757313

>>757309
Lost decides to also give a gander for something to help sharpen her combat skills.

[1d10] perception

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.757314

>>757309
"You're absolutely in your element, mr. Cautaa."
I will go and wait to scroll through the entertainment section

[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.757316

>>757309
>>757311
>>757313
"Always can brush up on combat," Deadweight comments, looking for some combat VR activities herself.

[1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.757319

>>757316
>>757313
>>757311
>>757312
Every now and then as you scroll down the terminal's catalogue, the page hangs and freezes, and there are other brief display glitches, but they are too short for you to get a good look at… but something about one of them almost makes you double-take. You weren't quite able to catch what it was, but… it was like some kind of weird icon.

For combat training options, you have a few options.

>Melee Combat Training Series

>Ranged Combat Training Series
>Magic Combat Training Series
>Stealth Combat Training Series

Each of them comes in three difficulties: Shrimpy, Brave and Cruel.

>>757314
Once the others let you have a look at the entertainment catalogues, you can see that there's no shortage of VR games, all multiplayer. There's Aurora, Warhoof IV, Mareio Party 45, Whinny Sports Resort… all names you recognize from Ironcastle's video game industry…

Additionally, there are many popular TV shows and films, adapted so that the audience can essentially sit in on scenes while the actors continue the plot unawares. There's a special staff pick section, showing the most popular releases… all of which you could have very well seen in Ironcastle, exactly one year ago…

>>757316
>>757314
There it is again! Another visual glitch, a blue square that disrupts the floral pattern of the webpage's background. Inside it, a flash of that peculiar icon – some kind of low-resolution profile. It's of a mare with a bulbous bouffant of a mane… but when your eyes lock with hers, she blinks, gasps as if embarrassed, and vanishes, along with the rest of the glitch.

 No.757320

>>757319
"What a weird icon. Let's do some magic training."

 No.757321

>>757319
Lost decided to try the Stealth on shrimpy

 No.757322

>>757319
"Curious, a mare's watching us. Oh I wish I brought my Warhoof profile, this would have been a wonderful diversion."
If I have enough time I'll ask Cautaa to take a snapshot of the terminal's listing for me.

 No.757323

>>757319
"What the—did anyone else see that?" Deadweight says, pointing at where the visual glitch was just a moment ago. "Looked like a mare was in the terminal."

>>757321
Deadweight sees Lost choosing Stealth Combat Training on Shrimpy, and she hits the back button to change it to Brave, and she makes it two player. "Should be fine," Deadweight assures Lost with a smirk.

 No.757324

>>757320
"You can do the magic training, I'm probably not gonna be the best at it," Deadweight says as she casually points to her forehead.

 No.757325

>>757323
Lost blanched a bit but smiled when she saw Dead hop in to join her.

 No.757326

>>757323
"Indeed about the mare, perhaps she's using an avatar while holed up in another room."

 No.757327

>>757322
>>757320
>>757323
>>757321
Cautaa and Huitlapan decide to queue up for their own thing, in Whinny Sports. Silently they glare daggers at one another.

As you make your selections, the terminal asks you to confirm your choices. Once they are confirmed, the terminal instructs you to stand still, and to not look up. A rapid whirl of electronic beeping follows, almost reminiscent of the sound of sudden rainfall, and beams of digital light shoot down from above, eclipsing all of you. A heady, thrilling rush, almost like getting a light shock all over your body, follows, and your vision is engulfed by a scene of falling down an azure tunnel into a deep vortex…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGP5NA_8AkQ

Something's certainly not quite right.

You've all been deposited onto a stony pier beneath a gazebo. A light red-pink skybox hangs overhead, and white, not-fully-rendered clouds scroll across it, their animations losing frames whenever you're not looking directly at them. There's a pleasant sea ahead of you, the waves low-poly, and red-pink like the sky.

Behind you is a beach city environ, with polygonal people of many races strolling about. You too see that your bodies are like theirs, angular and blocky and low resolution, though whether out of respect for an aesthetic or technical limitations, is unclear.

"Th-this isn't right…" Cautaa murmurs.
"It might be Whinny Sports Resort," Huitlapan hypothesizes. "In any case, we are unharmed, are we not?"
Cautaa checks his comp. "Perhaps, but… we should be able to leave via our Magicomps… but I don't see an option in the menu to be able to quit the program."

 No.757328

>>757326
"Hmm, pretty odd, though…"

 No.757329

>>757327
"Say the word and I can start setting things on fire."

 No.757330

>>757327
"Perhaps we all shouldn't have gone in at the same time."

 No.757331

>>757327
I clack my hooves together
"How wonderful! We may have been called by that mysterious mare to absolve an issue plaguing her digital environ! Sure I would rather be placing micro-temples in a generated world against AI but this is just as engaging!"
I'll head off down the beach towards the city looking for ponies or others that are different from others by context.
[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.757332

>>757327
"Hmm," Deadweight hums with her brows furrowed in a look of both disturbance and annoyance.

>Perception


[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.757333

>>757331
Lost for her part decides to also take a look at the city for anything of note.

[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.757334

>>757331
>>757327
I follow along and look around.
[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.757335

>>757331
>>757332
>>757333
>>757334
Conflagration sets his digital mane on fire – as one does, even in a virtual world – but luckily, some of the passerby react, splashing him with whatever liquids happen to be nearby. Fortunately none are flammable.

"Even your curse managed to make it in here…!" Huitlapan exclaims.
"With magic training being an option, I am not terribly surprised other magic can be digitized," Cautaa adds.

With the passerby in range, Lost and Firmgold attempt to make conversation with them, but they are unable to answer any questions you might have. Those who talk to you at all manifest a dialogue box before them, displaying a text version of their comment, most of which is a mere simulacrum of small talk that one might give to a stranger. None of them have a voice.

Deadweight, however, sees something promising further up the street. You make your way downtown, walking fast, and see a courtyard of a very vast public park, which even has several quaint but quite large adobe buildings available. Each one's entrance is but a shadowy doorway – must be a loading zone. Signs outside indicate them as being the entryway to the training courses; indeed, you can see that the buildings connect to gated outdoor enclosures. The enclosures are full of trees, making it hard to see what might be inside. The entrance to all the training courses can be found in this park.

 No.757336

>>757335
"Crazy what they do with technology these days. Does anyone think that doing the training courses right now is a bad idea? I think the system might have a virus. Or a ghost. Or both."

 No.757337

>>757333
>>757335
>>757336
Seeing something up the street, Deadweight calls to the others to follow her. Finding the adobe buildings, she says, "I guess here're the 'training courses.'" She looks around and continues, "Still not sure how we're supposed to quit the game, though…"

>>757333
>>757336
She shrugs and says, "I mean, this is what we came here for, anyway." She starts to walk towards the stealth training building, and she looks back to make sure Lost is following her.

 No.757338

>>757335
>>757337
I follow Deadweight and then respond to her response.
"I believe it would behoove us to discover our exit before running to our proving grounds."

 No.757339

>>757338
Deadweight stops and ponders before saying, "Hm, I guess you're right." She looks around more for anything that says something along the lines of "quit game."

[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.757340

>>757335
>>757337
Lost trotted up and moved to stay close with her.

 No.757341

>>757336
>>757337
>>757338
>>757339
>>757340
"Ah, uh, wait!" a female voice cries as you vocalize your desire to quit out. You look to its source, some nearby bushes, but as you do, you hear a quick "Shit," followed by a chorus of digital chirping. You're just in time to see a digital blur as a character model, which was apparently hiding behind those bushes, despawns.

>"Our captor…?" Cautaa ponders, opening the Concord voice chat. "Be on your guard…"

>"What are we to do? I believe we are in her domain, who knows what she may be capable of," Huitlapan adds.

 No.757342

>>757341
>"She didn't seem to be hostile so… maybe she's nice?"

 No.757343

>>757341
"A ghost!"
I walk over to the bushes and investigate for traces of ectoplasm.
[1d10]

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.757344

>>757341
I look around oblivious to where she is.
>"I do hope the lady holding us captive will give some guidance as to how she may allow freedom?"
[1d10] social to the wind

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.757345

>>757341
Deadweight looks at the bushes quizzically. She then rolls her eyes with an irritated sigh. "She better not keep us here for too long."

>>757342
"She's probably, like, some lonely pony who wants friends or something."

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.757346

>>757345
>Kind of a specific guess.

[1d10] Snooping around.

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.757347

>>757346
>>757345
>>757344
>>757343
>>757342
"Okay, I was going to leave, but I really don't appreciate being called out like that!" the voice says. Which line(s) offended her is anyone's guess.

Conflagration finds no ectoplasm in the bushes, only some 2-D grass that nearly vanishes whenever he looks at it from certain angles.

Behind you, with another digital blur and instance of that earlier sound effect, appears a pony with so much hair she could very well be more mane than mare. She's the pony with voluminous hair that you saw earlier on the terminal screen. She's floating, despite being a crystal pony. Like yours, her model is much more detailed than those of the generic NPCs populating the town. In one saddlebag, she's carrying art supplies, and in the other, fresh groceries.

"It's not like it's false advertising. The stuff you signed up for is right over there, I had it all queued up and ready to go!"

Cautaa and Huitlapan cautiously remain silent.

 No.757348

>>757347
"Indeed and thank you, but our options to leave this lobby has been removed. May I ask as to why?"

 No.757349

>>757347
"Who are you, spirit?"

 No.757350

>>757347
"They're not gonna, like, threaten our lives, right? And can we leave anytime soon? We're on a very important mission; we didn't intend to spend too long playing games."

 No.757351

>>757347
"Wow. I let my mane get that long once. Then they made me cut it."

 No.757352

>>757351
"That's lame, you should have said no."

>>757350
>>757348
"Why do you want– look, why the– leaving–" Flustered, the mare shakes her head. "Going outside's overrated! Everything cool's online!"

>>757348
>>757349
>>757350
>>757351
She catches herself, and sighs. "Okay, let's back it up here. Names… my name's Ruby Round. And you?"

After a moment's hesitation… "I am Cautaa," Cautaa says.
"And my name is Huitlapan. Now answer, why have you trapped us here?"

"That's a… strong word," Ruby says. "It's– it's not like I meant to trap you, specifically."

"Someone else then?" Cautaa asks.

"That rabbit guy," Ruby continues. "When I wouldn't agree to work with him, he started to act kinda suspicious, tried to access the admin controls for the last place I was hiding out. So I thought I'd lure him here, trap him, then interrogate him."

 No.757353

>>757352
"So are you a real pony or just a computer pony? Because I got to chat with one on a chat server a long time ago and it guessed what I was thinking." she said going on for… some reason.

"Also I started to trip on it." she said in reference to her mane.

 No.757354

>>757352
Deadweight rolls her eyes again.

"My name's Deadweight." When Ruby explains herself, Deadweight says, "Probably Mogao. That's a good plan, actually. He's for sure up to no good. Since we're not him, though, are you gonna let us go?"

 No.757355

>>757352
"It's a pleasure to meet you miss Ruby Round and while it would have been preferable to have introductions under better terms, I am Firmgold."

 No.757356

>>757352
"He is a pretty spooky dude. Did you lock yourself in here before or after everyone got killed?"

 No.757357

>>757353
Ruby suddenly looks very contemptuous. "That's just some cheap algorithm anyone can make after a few tutorials. I am not the same as that."

>>757356
Ruby shudders. "…After."

>>757355
>>757354
>>757353
>>757356
"You want to leave? Really? For everything out there? It's safe in here," Ruby says. "I can arm the security systems, and even if we don't have it at this facility, biological sustainment equipment's available at other facilities. I could really throw together a sweet pad for you guys. And this? All of this is totally customizable. The low-poly look's just a pastiche, I could crank up the graphics, change the perspective, put in whatever your thing is."

"…What are you hiding from us?" Cautaa asks, his tone growing cold.

"A-ah…" Ruby stammers. "Wow, cutting right to the point. Okay, so… thing is… what's that expression? Locking someone up and throwing away the key?"

Huitlapan's face grows pale.

"Okay, okay, hold on," Ruby says. "That was the plan for rabbit guy. Mogao's his name, I guess? But it's not like I revoked my own permissions here, it's just… gonna be a bit difficult for me to undo what I did. It'll take me some time. I'm not super organized, I know. But… I'll…"

"Let us go," Cautaa insists.

Ruby clams up, her hair covering her eyes.

 No.757358

>>757357
"So we're stuck in here… maybe forever." she frowned.

"Could be worse. Least we can try to get out. And don't be too mad, she didn't mean to do it to us."

 No.757359

>>757357
Deadweight's brows lower in sorrow.

>>757357
Deadweight facehoofs when Ruby talking about throwing away the key. "We gotta complete our mission outside so that we can protect others from a fate like what happened to this Castle."

 No.757360

>>757357
I step forward
"Miss Ruby, there is no pressure here. I- we would like to leave as there are other objectives in this hive that must be accomplished. Understandably this may take some time because of prior encounters have led to the entrapment, however, this is not us against you. Please, we wish for your help."

 No.757361

>>757357
Wait… does that mean your own body is dead? You just said they didn't have the sustainment stuff."

 No.757362

>>757361
"Never had a body to begin with," Ruby says. "I'm a bona fide A.I.."

>>757361
>>757358
>>757359
>>757360
"It's… just…" Ruby stammers. Cautaa doesn't let up his stern glare, but Huitlapan, suddenly gasping, tugs him by the arm.

"You're the… first people I've met since everything was lost," Ruby sighs. "Well, not precisely the first, but definitely the first worthwhile people. I'm even signed up for that Necromancer's mailing list, not that I'd want to meet him… and now you want to go back out there and get killed. I– I know, I know you want to go out there… does it gotta be right away though?"

>Paused

 No.757363

>>757362
"I mean I have no idea how time passes here compared to the real world so… I dunno…" she paused "Wonder if I could fit you on my Magicomp…"

 No.757364

>>757362
"I'm sure we have some time to spend with you, here, but there must be some assurance that your permissions to let us out can be retrieved."

 No.757527

>>757362
>>757363
"Yeah, I mean, you don't seem that bad; you could tag along with us on one of our Magicomps."

 No.757528

>>757362
"You can come back to our camp."

 No.757529

>Last time, inside the Castle of Silence…

>>757364
"I mean…" Ruby hesitates, tilting her head back and forth. "I don't know how I'd prove it without showing you the code I'm compiling right now, but to be honest, and no offense, but I don't know if it's something you'd understand without a background in computing."

Huitlapan collapses to his knees like he'd just been punched in the gut.
"Rather dramatic aren't you?" Cautaa asks, then turns to you. "My experience with computing has always been more on the magical and occult side of the technology, but I am decently confident in my ability to verify that Miss Ruby is doing what she says she is."

>>757363
>>757364
>>757527
>>757528
"Go with you?" Ruby asks, aghast. "I… as much as I don't like being alone, we just met. Besides, my whole point is that you would much rather be in here than out there. Without consistent intranet access, I wouldn't be able to make backups of myself, nor would I be able to bail out if things took a bad turn. I've seen what those things can do… machinery or people, it's all the same to them."

"So," Huitlapan says, recovering from his earlier social wound. "If the intranet came back up, you would be willing to come along?"

"Uh… can I get some time to think about it?" Ruby asks. "Decrypting the exit programming is taking up a lot of my processing. Maybe you could go do that training you guys wanted for a bit? I'll have an answer for you by then."

 No.757530

>>757529
"Until those things get in here and your backups turn into evil copies of yourself, sure."

 No.757531

>>757529
"We don't need you to come with us; you just looked lonely." Deadweight says. When Ruby suggests they do the training courses, she says, "Eh, might as well," and walks over to the stealth training course.

 No.757532

>>757529
"If course miss Ruby. I am curious as to your earliest timeline since this the fall of this hive."

 No.757533

>>757529
"I mean if I could fit you on my magicomp we could have copies on all of ours and then bring them back to Ironcastle."

 No.757534

>>757530
Ruby's eyes widen as the horrible possibility dawns on her. "… alright, didn't think of that."

>>757533
"I don't like to keep more than one copy of myself around at a time," Ruby says.

>>757531
>>757530
>>757532
>>757533
"I keep everything but the most recent memories locked up in archive storage, to keep space free," Ruby says. "Anything older than three years, I archive, so I'd have to go digging through those to get to when the Castle was attacked."

Cautaa blinks in confusion, his pace gradually slowing. "Wha…?"

Heedless of this, Ruby floats along, and stops at one of the buildings. There's two lines, cordoned off like at an amusement park, that lead into the loading zone doorway, one for spectators and one for participants.

"Oh, and there's refreshments inside, too," Ruby says. "Just ignore any prices on the menus. You won't be charged for them. But if you get any refreshments, make sure you eat something out in the physical world too. If you eat too much in here, the simulation will trick your brain into thinking you ate out in the physical world. You don't want to get malnourished."

 No.757535

>>757534
"Point stands, we could if nothing else take you back to a castle where there are still people around and no monsters." she said with a small smile.

 No.757536

>>757534
"It'd be really useful to get more info about how the attack happened."

 No.757537

>>757534
Seeing the others still talking with Ruby, Deadweight turns back to rejoin them and waits for them to wrap things up.

 No.757540

>>757534
Give Ruby a smile
"I appreciate your cooperation, miss Ruby. I'm curious as to if your hive connected to others during this time?"

 No.757541

>>757540
"No," Ruby says. "Just like your Castle must have been, Agatecastle almost never got any visitors from another Castle. On top of being thousands of miles away from anything, the mountainous terrain around Agatecastle was especially inhospitable. Our Warriors hardly strayed beyond those ridgelines."

>>757535
"Okay, now that I can get behind… but you guys look pretty military. Am I gonna be expected to fight or anything like that?"

>>757540
>>757537
>>757536
>>757535
>"Or when it happened," Cautaa whispers in the Concord voice chat. "Did you hear her just now?"
>Huitlapan drops a shrugging emoji in the Concord chat.
>"She said her memory of the attack against Agatecastle was stored in her archives… and that she only archives memories older than three years. Contrary to this, Green said that the attack occurred just over one year ago, and had the footage to prove it."
>"Th-then is she lying…?" Huitlapan asks.

Ruby looks at Cautaa and Huitlapan and tilts her head that they're just sort of standing there outside the loading zone of the Stealth Training Course. "Uh, so, uh, whenever you wanna get started…" Ruby says, gesturing to the loading zone. "I did spend some time preparing this…"

"Yes…" Huitlapan says, holding his ground with suspicion. "Just preparing ourselves…"

 No.757542

>>757541
I send five shrug emojis over the Concord chat.
"Only if something goes wrong. What we've seen so far have been more or less pushovers and the skeletons are mostly all really nice. Except for those ooze skeletons. Those were bad."

 No.757543

>>757541
"I mean you could probably just bust out. Also we don't… have to tell them you exist. But it would be nice to have a companion on my computer when I get home."

>"Maybe he was just wrong? Didn't we hear this place fell years ago or something?"

 No.757544

>>757541
>>757542
"You'd just be sitting in a Magicomp anyway," Deadweight adds.

>>757541
>"Dates here might've gotten glitched up or something," Deadweight says in the Concord chat.

"So how long's the thing gonna take?" Deadweight asks as she turns to walk towards the stealth training course.

 No.757545

>>757544
"Oh, right."

 No.757546

>>757541
"Well now my own requests were pretty frivolous! I'm more curious as to your methodology in providing upkeep of these services! They look positively polished!"

 No.757547

>>757544
>>757543
"I-I'm more than just a desktop pet!" Ruby interjects.

"Actually, you might find much popularity if you went that route," Cautaa says, eager to keep her distracted from the training courses. "There was quite the popular outbreak of portable digital pets in Ironcastle…"

"Yeah, I know," Ruby says.

"You knew of Ironcastle's trends…?" Cautaa asks.

"No, but we had something pretty similar here in Agatecastle," Ruby says. "This was before my time, but about 20-odd years ago, they were all the rage with young souls."

>>757546
Ruby shrugs. "For most of this, I'm just borrowing the facility's processing power. I'm only so powerful as the hardware that hosts me at any given time, so when I manage to find my way into beefy enough systems, I like to splurge. Plus, it's not like there are many people around who would complain about me using up all the RAM right now…"

>>757542
"Oh yeah, a couple of them came by a few weeks ago… I just lured them toward the arcade cabinets with some pretty lights. They played for a bit then wandered off."

>>757544
>For Deadweight and for anyone else who crosses the loading zone into the Stealth Training Course

As you cross the boundary, you can see a tiny Ruby appear in the corner of your HUD, despite her earlier protestations about not being a desktop pet. "That's kinda up to you. All you have to do is get to the end of the course one way or the other. But I doubt you'll beat my time," she adds with pride.

On the other side of the boundary is a small area that resembles the entrance to a public garden. There is a gazebo and some benches and tables here. A river runs before it, and a bridge connects to the other side, and the river serves as the boundary into the training course proper. On the other side of the river there is a very dark forest; the skybox is full of PNG trees and clouds punctuated by occasional sunlight, and the actual polygonal tree models that constitute the forest are closely clumped together.

There are three paths from the bridge: One well-worn trail to the north, a blocked-off trail to the northeast, and an overgrown, disused trail, full of fallen trees, to the west.

 No.757548

>>757547
"Well, I'm going to try the magic course. See you."
Off I go to the magic course.

 No.757549

>>757547
"I was more just looking for a friend. The labs kinda lonely so it'd be nice to actually have a friendly face on the magicomp instead of just icons and avatars."

She began to make her way to the stealth training with Deadweight.

 No.757550

>>757547
"Truly fascinating. I'm sure that our hive's scientists would be extremely eager to view snapshots of what you're able to develop given the time that you've been archiving and processing without the intervention of souls."

 No.757551

>>757547
"You can stay here if you want," Deadweight says when Ruby protests about being a desktop pet.

When she enters the Stealth Training Course, Deadweight takes a look around. She sees that Lost followed her in, and she smirks. She nods to the bridge and crosses it. After crossing, she takes a second to decide which trail to take, then decides to go down the trail to the west.

 No.757552

>>757548
"Have fun!" Ruby says.

Cautaa accompanies you into the participant's line of the training course, as does Huitlapan.

As you cross the loading zone for the Magic Course, you get a little Ruby desktop pet in your visor's corner too. She makes sure to be translucent so as not to disrupt your FOV or other HUD elements.

After the Magic Course finishes loading, you find yourself entering what almost looks like a grand lecture hall in one of the Arcanum's many prestigious academies. Rows of students extend to your right and to your left. The lecturer, at the front of the class, is unmistakably Ruby's character model with a beard and wizard's robe and hat. The students are also variations on this theme, only they, probably to save on data, are 2-D sprites.

"Attention class," the head wizard-Ruby says in her best impression of an old scruffy male voice. "The faculty have informed me that if I get any more students vaporized I stand a chance at losing my tenure, so this Cycle, I have brought in some special guests to deal with the outbreak that occupies the Summoning department. If you three will please choose a door, you will find your way to the outbreak's source. Disable the portals to stop the outbreak."

There are three other doors to leave this lecture hall: Two on either side of the blackboard behind the head wizard, and one up some stairs behind him. The three doors are covered with magic seals; one green, one blue, one red.

>>757551
>>757549
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmq2rt5xqzM

Climbing over and under the downed trees and undergrowth, you find yourselves climbing a ridgeline, which is steep, and your elevation gain is rapid. Thankfully the simulation of the strain of hiking is not as exhausting as the real thing. You eventually round a switchback that takes you toward an outcropping of trees, where camouflage-armored guards – all of them, Ruby – have established an outpost, which they guard with lightrifles. They don't seem to notice you yet, for the brush here is tall and thick.

>>757550
"R-really?" Ruby asks, tapping her hooves together lightly. "I wasn't part of a particularly advanced AI production model, or anything… I'm just a quick machine learner, I guess… D-don't get their hopes up, I get performance anxiety. I… well, between you and me, I'm really on edge about these training courses. I hope your friends don't get bored in there. I might shorten the courses if they do."

 No.757553

>>757552
Deadweight lowers an eyebrow with a smirk when she sees the guard Rubys. She looks around for anything that could prove to be useful.

>Perception


[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.757554

>>757552
Green. My favorite color. Off I go.

 No.757555

>>757552
Lost moved to peek at the blocked path.

 No.757556

>>757552
"Miss Ruby look at what you've accomplished. You are a marvel of engineering to simply survive!"

 No.757557

>>757553
>>757555
There's a tree on the northern side, to your left, that looks like it was damaged at one point in a fire. If you could knock it over somehow without being detected, you could potentially scatter the guards and distract them for a time too.

>>757556
Ruby, somehow, manages to get even redder when she blushes at your compliment. Her blush is a 2-D particle effect. "Y-you don't mind if I clip you saying that, do you? It's been a while since I've gotten a compliment. Er… well, any kind of real interaction, for that matter."

She looks wistfully at the NPCs populating the town. "Even when I ran randomization algorithms using visitor data to make all of these characters, it's just not the same. I can never fool myself into thinking they're the same as a real person…"

>>757554
You push open the green door, while Cautaa and Huitlapan, apparently having not forgotten their earlier competitive outburst, each take their own door, each one pledging to the other that he'll surely complete his course faster, and with a higher score than the other.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbxR2ksY3Qc

The door opens to a hall, and immediately you can see the infestation that the head-wizard Ruby mentioned. From Dozens of green, pixelated, 2-D monsters fill the hall. They are quite green, and look like they're meant to be some sort of plant monster. They haven't taken notice of you just yet, they're just sort of vibing right now.

 No.757558

>>757557
Lost was quiet as she waited to see what would happen next.

 No.757559

>>757557
>>757558
Deadweight prods Lost, points at a fire damaged free, and motions with her foreleg it falling down, then she raises her shoulders at her, wordlessly asking what she thinks.

 No.757560

>>757559
>Kinda defeats the point of stealth. Unless you wanna be a distraction. I don't think you can hide like I can." she sent over the magicomp to stay quiet.

 No.757561

>>757557
Plants. Why green is my favorite color.
I conjure some burning homing magic.
[1d10]

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.757562

>>757557
"Of course I don't mind! You know moving to a more populated section of this hive may help alleviate your.. *ahem* loneliness, that it's called. In addition to a proper vetting to our local authorities."

 No.757563

>>757561
As you conjure three fire orbs, some of the plant monsters closest to you turn your way, and new animations, signaling their aggression, start to play. The plant monsters open their mouths, and yellowish sprites, perhaps representing some kind of spore attack, fly your way.

[3d10]

>>757562
"W-well…" Ruby says, grimacing at the thought of traveling beyond the safety of her virtual world. "O-okay. Can I have some time to zip up and encrypt everything I'll need to take with me? I'm almost done decrypting the exit program, so I can get on packing my bags, so to speak, as soon as I'm done there."

Roll #1 3, 7, 2 = 12

 No.757564

>>757557
>>757560
>"I'm thinking you could sneak over there, tip it over, and cause some chaos so we can sneak into the outpost."

 No.757565

>>757564
>Worth a shot

[1d10] Stealth

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.757566

I dodge and fire each of my shots at a different plant monster.
[1d10] dodge
[3d10] attack

Roll #1 5 = 5 / Roll #2 9, 8, 6 = 23

 No.757567

>>757563
"Of course miss Ruby! I wouldn't dream of rush you."
[1d10] don't/say it

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.757568

>>757563
>>757565
Deadweight widens her eyes and tries to think on her hooves.

>Activating Tactician

 No.757569

>>757563
>>757567
I look at everything around us.
"Truly marvelous, and I adore your attention to detail on the entertainment selection. It's almost up to date with the catalogue from our hive!"

 No.757570

>>757563
>>757565
Deadweight grabs a large but throwable rock and throws it opposite of where they are relative to the guards.

[1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.757571

>>757566
The spore attack erupts in a small explosion as it contacts you, but the damage is not too bad. You quickly smoke each of the plant monsters, and as they keel over in their death animations, fire particle effects start to spread from their corpses to those of other nearby plant monsters, killing off those who weren't aware of you just yet. Plant monsters start to scatter, leaving the way open to the next area.

>roll perception when you decide to move on


>>757565
>>757570
The guards look Lost's way as she, miscalculating a step, ends up stepping onto a branch object, which plays an alarmingly loud sound. But just before that happened, Deadweight, having gotten a bad premonition, hurls a rock to around the other side of the outpost. It cracks against the top of the burned tree, which shudders, then cracks and falls toward the outpost. The guards scatter, diving in random directions to avoid being crushed, having lost all interest in the sound Lost just made.

>>757569
"Yeah, if there's anything I'd hope I got right, it'd be that," Ruby says. "It's what my production model line was meant to do – spruce up any static entertainment experience with dynamic replayability and infinite customization. I was pretty much a blank slate until I was purchased, and I spent most of my early days machine learning what my assigned family enjoyed in their media. Movies, games, music, even their social media experience…"

She trails off wistfully.

 No.757572

>>757571
Lost groans at her stupidity and wishes she could shrink into herself as she tries to make herself look smaller.

 No.757573

>>757571
On I move.
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.757574

>>757571
"Oh my, I'm so sorry. Meeting you here, I had the audaciousness to believe you were part of this centre's system."

 No.757575

>>757571
>>757572
Deadweight catches up to Lost and points to the outpost, then she tries to get to it as stealthily as she can.

>Stealth

[1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.757576

>>757575
>>757571

Lost for her part tries to match her and not screw up again.

[1d10] Stealth

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.757577

>>757573
As you move to the next area (an outdoor courtyard serving as a central hub for the school) a sudden premonition of danger compels you to jolt forward. Looking back, you see your premonition was well-founded. A tall humanoid plant monster was waiting near the doorway, and you just barely dodged its swipe. The monster approaches, swinging at you with its long vine-arms and a very compressed roar sound effect.

[2d10+1]

>>757572
>>757575
Deadweight, channeling some true gamer senses, leads Lost not along the path, but rather around its southern edge, where you discover a trapdoor among the brush. You open it, and discover a tunnel leading northeast. It is lit by torches, but no guards patrol it, and you are able to head through the tunnel with no trouble… at its other end is another trapdoor.

Peeking out through this second trapdoor, you find the coast is clear, and so you exit. The trapdoor has deposited you atop a low hill overlooking a wide enclosure made by a tall spiked wooden fence; a vast camp, the headquarters of the guards. Two guard towers are posted near its edges, and the place is crawling with Ruby guards. At its center is an important-looking building that is quite easy to surmise as being your final goal.

>>757574
"N-no, I've pretty much just been wandering from hardware to hardware, whenever I can find a wired connection, or an intranet signal strong enough to transport me to another host. I'd hoped to find some friendly faces, so I've been pretty much all up and down this Layer, but I've been laying low after that Necromancer moved in…"

She pauses, then you receive a file sent from Ruby. It is a picture of a mare maybe only a year or two younger than you. She looks like she could be Ruby's younger sister, only she is of an amber color.

"Hey, have you seen anyone who looks like this?" Ruby asks, her voice devoid of hope.

Roll #1 6, 2 + 1 = 9

 No.757578

>>757577
"So maybe we just slink from shadow to shadow and then in?"

 No.757579

>>757577
>>757578
"I guess," Deadweight says in reply, "You lead the way; I trust you."

 No.757580

>>757577
I try to dodge then blast it with a two hit burning storm bolt.
[1d10] dodge
[1d10+1] storm bolt

Roll #1 2 = 2 / Roll #2 1 + 1 = 2

 No.757581

>>757577
I let out a quiet sigh and leave the picture up on my magicomp.
"I'm sorry miss Ruby but I haven't. If I may ask, what was her name?"

 No.757582

>>757578
>>757577
Lost ducked back for a moment and tried to slip into the shadows once more.

"If one of us can, rush for the building. It will save the other if they get caught… maybe."

 No.757583

[1d10] stealth

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.757584

>>757577
>>757582
Deadweight follows, biting her lips.

 No.757585

>>757577
>>757584
>Following
[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.757586

>>757581
Ruby frowns. "Her name is Amber Preserve," she says. "I… part of me wants to go look for her, to tell you the truth… how far down do you intend to go in Agatecastle?"

>>757583
>>757582
>>757579
You head for the eastern end of the wall, heading wide of the guard tower then clinging to the wall once you've circumvented his line of sight. You then slink in through a side-door, and dart to the shadow of a nearby building – only to stop dead in your tracks unexpectedly. You look down to see your model having collided with a sleeping guard; formerly sleeping, that is. The guard Ruby stands up, and alert music starts to play as she draws her club to bonk you both.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwVIVDJHPWo

[2d10+1]

>>757580
The plant monster slaps your storm bolt back to you, and you quickly turn into a one-pony barbecue.

>Conflagration 0/4


The vine monster makes to grab you with his vine whips!

[2d10+1]

Roll #1 9, 10 + 1 = 20 / Roll #2 8, 8 + 1 = 17

 No.757587

>Paused

 No.757588

>>757586
I try to put myself out while screaming.
[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.758377

>>757586
"Oh, of course. I do apologize miss Ruby. I- well my intent is to go lower into the hive, to the engines core if needs must. As for actually getting there, I cannot be certain."

 No.758378

>>757586
A bunch of little Greens fly around Deadweight's head as she goes cross-eyed. She shakes her head to rid herself of the avians and quickly looks for an easy escape.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.758379

>>757586
Lost did her best to try and dodge the bonkening.

[1d10] Dodge

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.758380

>>758379
>>758378
Both Deadweight and Lost get knocked to the ground by the Ruby Guard. Rather than shout out for assistance, however, the guard turns and starts running toward what looks to be some kind of radio tower – rather dated stealth game logic, but it leaves you a chance to turn this around.

>Deadweight and Lost both Helpless


>>757588
The towering monster snags you up into its whips, raising you to its mouth to have a cursory first bite. However, you've steadied yourself, ready to fight on once more!

>Conflagration recovered from Helplessness, but currently grabbed


>>758377
Ruby bites her lip, weighing the possibilities of accompanying you…

"…If she's out there, I want to find her," she says at last. "Let me see if I can't apply any of my entertainment programming into being a helpful ally. That is, if you'll have me."

 No.758381

>>758380
I try to get free.
[1d10]

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.758382

>>758380
Still dazed, Deadweight tries to come to her senses again. She's ready to give that guard a piece of her mind.

>Recover

>Basic attack, Lone Knight
[2d10]

Roll #1 10, 7 = 17

 No.758383

>>758380
Lost shuddered and did her best to stop being a lump on the ground.

 No.758384

>>758383
[1d10] This time with a roll

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.758385

>>758384
>>758382
>>758383
Deadweight bonks the Ruby guard in retribution, and she goes down with a stock "Pain" bark. From across the camp, two other guards turn during their patrol cycle, and look your way. Question marks appear above their heads, and they start to walk towards you. Though the campwide alert has not been activated, you're hardly home free. Your goal, the central building of the camp, still awaits…

>>758381
With a wave of flames, you singe the beast's tendrils, and it drops you with an annoyed snarl. It backs up, grabs a nearby trash can with one of its unburned vines, and hucks it toward you!

[1d10+2]

Roll #1 8 + 2 = 10

 No.758386

>>758380
"Of course miss Ruby! We wouldn't turn down your assistance at all. In fact finding anyone else within the hive isn't out of reach. We've found someone before!"

 No.758387

>>758385
I try to dodge and summon more homing magic.
[1d10] dodge
[1d10] homing magic, fire

Roll #1 1 = 1 / Roll #2 1 = 1

 No.758388

>>758385
Lost once more attempts to stop being a lump on the ground.

[1d10]

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.758389

>>758385
>>758388
Deadweight gives Lost a hoof then turns her attention to the guards. With her sword, she charges at them, not showing them any mercy.

>Cleave both guards, heavy, crit 9+, crit fail -2

[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.758390

>>758386
"Really!" Ruby gasps. "Well, who?"

She blinks, realizing she's just kind of been floating there with you. "Sorry, I haven't had to host anyone in a while. Do you want some tea or something? It's all simulated of course. But on the bright side, you won't have to worry about allergies or anything."

Ruby pauses, and the framerate of the simulation drops to single digits for a few seconds. After all goes back to normal, she blinks. "Wow… does that happen often to the fire mage guy?"

>>758387
It's hard to parse what happens next, because the framerate drops to a chug. But, the pain simulation is not tied to the framerate; the result is that you are left to cook for more than a few seconds on each instant of burning pain as you explode once more, the fire particle effects glitching out in a kaleidoscopic display…

When you at last come to, in a smoky haze, you at least see that the vine-beast is just as burnt as you are, laying inert upon the ground.

>Conflagration 0/2


>>758389
>>758388
The question marks turn to exclamation points as Deadweight charges the guards, and they deftly side-step her swing, retaliating with club strikes of their own!

[4d10+1]

Lost Hope pulls herself up before any more guards can come by, but Deadweight may have just made things worse…

Roll #1 8, 7, 9, 5 + 1 = 30

 No.758391

>>758390
Now that the fight's over I try to crawl my way out of the simulator and look for healing.

 No.758392

>>758390
Lost let out a roar and moved to rip one of the guards up to save Dead from the danger of the guard.

[1d10+2] Rupture

Roll #1 10 + 2 = 12

 No.758393

>>758390
"Damn it!" Deadweight spits. That didn't go as planned. Maybe if she tries again.

>Cleave three other guards, Heavy, Unbreakable, crit 9+, crit fail -3, crit fail only deals 4 hits instead of rendering her helpless

[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.758394

>>758391
>>758390
Scrap that, I'll use one of my medical kits then press on to the next room.

 No.758395

>>758392
>>758393
Deadweight gets bonked into the ground, going helpless again. Lost bonks one of the Guards in retaliation, and she ragdolls out with a pain bark. The second Guard, heedless of the apparent danger, turns her bonking to Lost.

[2d10+1]

>>758394
Patching up your digital injuries, you move across the courtyard to the next location of interest, appearing to be some manner of laboratory building. The building has three floors, and the halls are littered with various signs of past battles – a mixture of pools of frigid, slushy water, chopped and burned vines, and burn marks.

Down at the end of the hall, you see Cautaa and Huitlapan, both somewhat banged up themselves, taking a breather.

Roll #1 1, 1 + 1 = 3

 No.758396

>>758395
Lost wastes no time in trying to bonk that guard right back in the head.

 No.758397

>>758395
I walk over to them.
"I think this simulation's RNG is busted. How're you two doing?"

 No.758398

>>758396
[1d10] God help me I keep forgetting to roll tonight

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.758399

Deadweight groans in frustration and tries to get herself back up.

>Recover

[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.758400

>>758399
>>758398
Lost bonks the other Guard with so much force that the physics bug out and the Guard is launched into the skybox. As you watch this, you can hear the first Guard – the one that Deadweight knocked out earlier – getting back up. However, in accordance with Ruby's rather dated and undynamic gameplay, this first Guard does not react to her recent plight, instead going back to her hammock.

>>758397
"Hardly any better," Cautaa says. "Separating at the start may have been the intended choice, but our paths were packed with enemies."

"When we found that our paths converged, we scouted a bit ahead then came back to catch our breath," Huitlapan says. "It looks like the different elemental enemies have some friendly fire programming, but only if the enemies can be exploited to hit one another. It's how we cleared out some of the tougher rooms."

Huitlapan takes the lull in action to heal you up slightly, restoring another Wound to you.

 No.758401

>>758400
Lost now takes the time to help up Deadweight.

[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.758402

>>758400
As she's trying to get up, Deadweight sees the guard get launched into the skybox and sputters in laughter.

>Recover

[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.758403

>>758401
"Think that's a home run," Deadweight quips.

 No.758404

>>758400
"I nearly killed myself fighting a plant elemental, but I guess I'm ready to press on if the three of you are."

 No.758405

>>758402
>>758401
Deadweight just gets up already. Your destination awaits…

 No.758406

Lost nodded to her friend and moved towards their target location as quickly as she could.

 No.758407

>>758405
Deadweight gets back up, pats herself down, and says, "Alright, now let's see what the big deal is," and walks towards the central building of the camp.

 No.758408

>>758404
Huitlapan and Cautaa nod, getting up to press onward. They take the stairs upward, and you see that the halls of the second and third floors are just as battle-scarred as the first floor. The third floor's hall leads to a broad set of double-doors.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVagm39bnTQ

Peeking just slightly inside, you can see that three great beasts have taken up residence inside the room: A large and hideous plant resembling a very large green mouth protruding from a bulb, a floating stingray, and a deeply orange, two-headed dog.

The room is easily the largest of the rooms you have thus far seen, dominated primarily by a vast open space in the center, where magical squares are drawn out in chalk, obviously for some summoning rite. The rest of the room is absolutely packed with magical implements and tools of some sort or another. The three beasts occupy themselves with looking through the implements to some end, suggesting some degree of intelligence.

>>758407
>>758406
The central building is a rather swanky island vacation home, lushly furnished. You exercise caution as you enter, yet no Guards seem to be roaming the halls. You follow the sounds of an electronic hum to guide you further in, and this leads you to your destination: A large living room with a holographic television nearly the size of the very wall at one end. Advanced technology at either side of the hologram suggests it is the teleporter you seek.

In front of the TV, closer than is advisable for viewing, in fact, a rather large Guard, the largest you have seen so far, lies asleep. She has a rather big gun laying across her lap, ready for action.

 No.758409

>>758408
Deadweight keeps her stealth, looking around for a way to neutralize the threat easily.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.758410

>>758408
Lost for her part tries to slip into the shadows to approach quietly.

[1d10] Stealth

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.758411

>>758390
>>758408
"A Mister Green, however his chronomarkers have reported different times in regards to ours.. Yes, Mister Conflagration has had mishaps with his magic."

 No.758412

>>758409
There's not much room to maneuver here: You'd have to get around the big Guard Ruby without waking her.

>>758410
>>758409
The Big Guard Ruby stirs slightly as Lost steps into the room, but does not wake… for now.

 No.758413

I keep my voice low.
"Any ideas how we can get them to attack each other? I don't like my odds against two of those three."
Let's try to summon up more burning homing magic.
[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.758414

>>758412
"Think we should just rush her and try to win or stay sneaky?"

 No.758415

>>758412
Deadweight starts to make her way around the big guard as stealthily as she can.

>Stealth

[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.758416

>>758414
"It's supposed to be stealth training, might as well finish it that way."

 No.758417

>>758416
>>758412
Lost nodded and also tried stealth once more

[1d10] Stealth

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.758418

>>758413
For the third time in recent history, you explode, lightly singing your two companions. But perhaps more alarming, the three elemental beasts have heard the sound, for they charge and slam into the double doors. However, the doors seem to have been magically reinforced by the Summoning department, for they hold fast, affording Cautaa and Huitlapan an opportunity to drag your barbecued self away. Huitlapan quickly treats your injuries.

>Conflagration went to 0/3 then back to 6/4


On the other side of the magical door, you hear sounds of the three monsters growling and snarling, but seemingly at one another. However, since none of their attacks made contact with one another, they do not turn on each other – for now. After a time, they go back into their previous searching rhythm.

"They seem to act in predictable ways," Cautaa says. "Perhaps all it may take is some clever maneuvering, such as if we all get between them in a triangular formation, baiting them into attacking each other rather than us."

"It sounds reasonable," Huitlapan says. "I wager that we may also be able to find some banishing item inside there. It is a summoner's lab after all – and usually in games, overly daunting boss fights have some alternative means of solving them available."

>>758417
>>758415
Suddenly, the Guard Ruby jolts awake, going for her gun, which at this point you can see is just attached to her model. She points it at the door, but by the time she does, you have already retreated. From your side of the door, you can hear her eventually go back to her sleeping animation.

 No.758419

>>758417
>>758418
Once it sounds like the guard's asleep again, Deadweight says, "I guess we'll try that again."

>Stealth

[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.758420

>>758418
"Alrighty gonna try this one more time, then I'm bonking her."

[1d10] Stealth plz

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.758421

>>758420
Deadweight snorts and says, "Sounds like a plan."

 No.758422

>>758418
"Thanks."
I shake myself off.
"Maybe I can throw something at one telekenetically so that it thinks another monster hit it? I don't play games very much."

 No.758423

>>758411
"Different… times?" Ruby asks. "I don't understand… how do you mean?"

 No.758424

>>758420
>>758419
You only get a few steps in before the Big Guard Ruby startles awake again, but you're in too deep this time to avoid her sight. An exclamation point signals the start of her boss fight!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t0eroVJYM0

[3d10+1]

Big Guard Ruby cackles as she opens fire at the both of you!

>>758422
"That should work as well," Cautaa says. "But let's be ready to make a break for it should this not pan out."

Roll #1 4, 2, 8 + 1 = 15

 No.758425

>>758424
Lost cursed but went in to try and take her down as fast as she could.

[1d10+2] Rupture

Roll #1 10 + 2 = 12

 No.758426

>>758424
"Got it."
I peak around the corner and try to spot a good object to throw with my telekenesis, and a good target for starting a fight between these three monsters.
[1d10] spot

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.758427

>>758424
Deadweight sighs and says, "Alright, I guess we're doing it this way," before charging into the BGR.

>Slam, Trained Talent, +2 bonus

[1d10+2]

Roll #1 1 + 2 = 3

 No.758428

>>758423
>>758424
"What he knows and what he remembers are events from a vastly different timeframe than us. It's.. complicated to put succinctly. Suffice enough to say for you and myself, magic was involved but he is from this hive that much is for sure."

 No.758429

>>758427
>>758425
You both get sprayed by the gunfire, but your armorsuits take the brunt of the damage. However, the more concerning property is the fact that the gunfire shoves you both back against the room's far wall, away from the teleporter-TV.

>Deadweight loses 8 Hits, Lost loses 4.


But while Deadweight simply slams against the wall, Lost braces for impact and bounces off the wall, launching into the Big Guard Ruby. Her model flashes for a few seconds as she suffers stun from the impact, unable to shoot you again in such quick succession.

>>758426
The flying stingray passes over a steaming bulb-shaped vial, simmering over a bunsen burner… whatever it is, it's got your name all over it.

>>758428
"I'll have to interrogate him for everything he knows!" Ruby gasps, heedless of how devilish that sounded. "I wonder what kind of media he likes. Anyway, what can I get you to drink? I can even make snack cakes. I've been working on that one for a while."

 No.758430

>>758429
Lost didn't relent as she just kept pushing forward intent to try and end this with her claws as her companion made them appear.

>Symbiosis Evolved: Create Dual Claws


[2d10] Dual Attack claws

Roll #1 6, 3 = 9

 No.758431

>>758429
"Oh, I would love whatever you bring Miss Ruby."

 No.758432

>>758429
When it passes over I try to use my magic to fling the vial up at the stingray while still only peaking around the corner.
[1d10]

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.758433

>>758429
Deadweight groans, "Damn it," after she's slammed against the wall, but she lights up when she sees Lost doing a number on the guard. "Ay, good job!" She throws herself back into it, her sword leading the way.

>Basic attack, Heavy, crit +9, crit fail -2

[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.758434

>>758433
>>758430
You press on the assault, but Big Guard Ruby shrugs off the brief bout of being bonked! She grabs Deadweight from mid-air, tossing her into Lost Hope! The both of you collide in mid-air and collapse to the ground in a heap.

>Lost and Deadweight both helpless and down a Wound


Big Guard Ruby cackles and lets loose another volley!

[3d10+1]

>>758432
The vial bounces off the Stingray's head, and it spins about in mid-air, growling as it tries to discern the source of the damage. Eventually it turns to the plant, snarling at it in some kind of monster-language. The plant snarls back, and the two are quickly embroiled in some kind of argument, distracted from the door, but not quite fighting yet.

Cautaa and Huitlapan wait at the sides of the door, carefully awaiting your signal as to what to do.

>>758431
A picnic table manifests nearby, as well as a tea set. Ruby pours you both a cup of a strong, but not overwhelming green tea. In contrast to the refined treat, some rather cheap and almost assuredly entirely artificial snack cakes, complete with plastic wrapping, appear on the porcelain dishes. She really is a gamer.

You hear a "Ding" sound like that of a microwave, and Ruby's ears perk up. "Well, the key decryption is done. You're pretty much free to go when you want… but those guys are still at their training. Should be near the end, though."

Roll #1 1, 8, 9 + 1 = 19

 No.758435

>>758434
"Thank you Miss Ruby. I'll wait for them to finish with their training."
I take a sip of the tea and then unwrap the snack cakes and set them on a dish before eating.

 No.758436

>>758434
"Erk—" Deadweight squeaks when she's caught mid-air. When she's in a heap with Lost, she says, "Well this isn't really going as planned…" She tries to get herself back up.

>Recovery

>Basic attack, Lone Knight
[2d10]

Roll #1 5, 4 = 9

 No.758437

>>758434
Lost grunted and did her best to stand back up.

[1d10] Stand

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.758438

>>758434
I shrug then gesture toward the summoning area in the middle with the chalk. Can I see anything that looks banish-y?
[1d10] spot

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.758439

>>758436
>>758437
You're both pelted with gunfire, but Lost manages to get up and drag Deadweight behind a nearby chair.

>Lost and Deadweight both lose 2 wounds but no longer Helpless


However, a loud clang signals the end of the volley, and the Big Guard Ruby grunts as she sees that a bullet has stovepiped in her gun. She takes the turn to clear the jam.

>>758438
It seems there is a book near the back of the room that is very clearly an interactable object, judging by its differing quality of textures from the room's designated backgrounds and non-interactable objects. If you had to bet, you'd put money on that being the one.

>>758435
Ruby taps her hooves on the table as she waits. For a social AI, she seems awkward. "…You online much? Any blogs, portfolios, maybe?"

 No.758440

>>758439
Lost groaned "Wanna just rush for the exit? Don't think we can win this one legit."

 No.758441

>>758439
I try and float it over to me while the monsters are distracted.
[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.758442

>>758439
>>758440
"Yeah, let's go," Deadweight says before making a break for the teleporter-TV.

 No.758443

>>758442
>>758439
Lost similarly bolted for the escape.

 No.758444

>>758443
[1d10] I'm gonna die.

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.758445

>Run

[1d10]

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.758446

>>758439
I'm interrupted sipping my tea.
"Well of course, Miss Ruby! There's only so much a free merchant can achieve irl."
I bring up access to my magicomp.
"I have several portfolios for curios, but I haven't used Slider since coming here."

 No.758447

>>758441
You float over the fancy grimoire, and as you open it, you see that Ruby may have hoof-waved this part, just a little – she seems to not be knowledgeable of magic. The grimoire grants you a spell to banish a summoned target. You'd still have to hit the target with that spell, so it's not so guaranteed a win.

"This should turn the tides," Cautaa says. "Shall we press on the assault?"

>>758446
"Ooh! Can I see?" Ruby asks.

>>758445
>>758444
As you dash for the exit, Big Guard Ruby tries to bonk you both with her jammed gun!

[2d10+1]

Roll #1 10, 8 + 1 = 19

 No.758448

>>758447
Lost just keeps making her run for the Escape

[1d10] Please let me go.

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.758449

>>758447
"Yikes!"

>Dodge

[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.758450

>>758447
"Of course! I'm.. Hm, I'm less intuitive on this side of my magicomp. I believe I allowed access so you can bring them up if you wish."

 No.758451

>>758449
>>758448
Like hitting a couple of golf balls, Big Guard Ruby launches the both of you through the TV Teleporter, launching you both out onto the grassy park outside the training course. Nearby, you see Ruby and Firmgold having tea and convenience store snack cakes.

 No.758452

>>758447
I nod my head and hand the book over to Cautaa.
"You know more about this than I do. Go for it. Let's take out that fire cerberus if we've only got one banish."
I try, yet again, to summon fire homing magic after the book is out of burning range.
[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.758453

>>758451
Lost groaned "Pretty sure my ribs are in pieces right now."

 No.758454

>>758451
>>758453
Lying on the grass, Deadweight groans. When she finally gets up, she says, "Same," as she tries stretching the bruises out. She sees Ruby and figures they might as well join them.

 No.758455

>>758450
>>758453
>>758454
Ruby starts to look at Firmgold's portfolio, before blinking with shock. "…Wow. I think I should make something for Mr. Conflagration. He seems to be… exploding. Once is bad enough but this is an alarming amount of times."

>>758452
>Conflagration 0/3

Cautaa and Huitlapan gasp and ragdoll as your latest explosion sends them flying through the double-doors into the midst of the summoning room. The three elemental beasts turn with a start, but they start to charge up their magic, frustrated with such a disturbance!

[1d10+1] Water vs Conflagration
[1d10+1] Fire vs Cautaa
[1d10+1] Grass vs Huitlapan

Huitlapan and Cautaa scramble, trying to dodge the attacks.

[2d10+1] Dodgin'

Roll #1 7 + 1 = 8 / Roll #2 5 + 1 = 6 / Roll #3 9 + 1 = 10 / Roll #4 5, 2 + 1 = 8

 No.758456

>>758455
I try get get up from helplessness.
[1d10]
And dodge if I can.
[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9 / Roll #2 4 = 4

 No.758457

>>758455
"That's just Conflagration," Deadweight says, joining the conversation.

 No.758458

>>758455
"That is concerning. Perhaps it would help to relieve the training difficulty?"

 No.758459

>>758455
Lost groaned again "DO you have anything to fix wounds?" She said slowly standing up.

 No.758460

>>758455
>>758459
"Oh yeah, that stealth training was brutal," Deadweight adds, rolling her shoulder.

 No.758461

>>758456
You get back up and behind cover as the Water Elemental blasts you with a torrent of scalding water, worsening the sting on your fresh burns. Cautaa and Huitlapan endure their hits, and try to fling whatever objects they can at the beasts!

>Conflagration 5/3


[2d10+1]

For now, the monsters lose their focus on you, instead opting to flush out your comrades!

[3d10+1]

>>758457
>>758458
>>758459
"I dunno, this is always the part I get self-conscious about," Ruby says to Firmgold's suggestion. "Do you think he'd want that?"

When Lost asks for assistance, Ruby conjures more digital tea. "Here, help yourself. How did you like the training?"

Roll #1 9, 3 + 1 = 13 / Roll #2 6, 6, 7 + 1 = 20

 No.758462

>>758461
"The boss is a bit overpowered."
she said taking a seat and having a drink.

 No.758463

>>758461
>>758462
Deadweight takes the tea and sips it. "Yeah, but we did, uh, just try to brute force it when we couldn't sneak around it. The rest of it was fine, though."

 No.758464

>>758461
"Well, unless the training was requested to be.. brutal, some alleviation wouldn't hurt. It is training after all."

 No.758465

My fire's not working right in this simulation. With my primary weapon gone, all that's left to do is to try and trip up any enemies with my telekinesis so the monsters hit each other instead of my companions.
[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.758466

>>758463
"Also it was super glitchy at points."

 No.758467

>>758466
"The glitches I remember were hilarious, though," Deadweight says, smirking.

 No.758468

>>758464
>>758463
>>758462
"Oh… hrmm…" Ruby groans, obviously unhappy with her work. "Well, hopefully you still gained something from the experience…"

>Indeed you have! Lost and Deadweight both gain +1 to Stealth attempts permanently


"As for Mr. Conflagration, lemme just…"

>>758465
The Elemental Beasts seem to not take notice of you, but one of the thrown objects bounces off the Fire Elemental and onto the Water one! The Elementals turn, snarling at one another, and turn their ire towards each other instead of you!

"Alright, let's be done with this," Cautaa grumbles. "The banishment, while they're distracted!"

>Paused

 No.758555

>>758468
Lost reveled at the sensation of feeling much sneakier.

 No.758556

>>758468
"Nah yeah, it was definitely good training," Deadweight says to Ruby.

 No.758557

>>758468
I am here and watch our surroundings with interest.

 No.758558

>>758555
>>758556
>>758557
"Hmm…" Ruby ponders. She produces a notepad and proceeds to scribble in it. The actual writing texture is a string of lorem ipsum. "I'll take notes for the next testing runthrough! Hah. Just kidding. I mean, unless you want– ah, never mind. Deadweight, Lost, you weren't here earlier when I announced it, but I've gotten the exit all decrypted and my belongings zipped and rar-in' to go. I'll be accompanying you all for a bit… at least, until I find Amber Preserve."

 No.758559

>>758558
I follow Ruby up with.
"Ah, yes. Miss Ruby is searching for someone named Amber Preserve and has asked, to which I believe we would all be in agreement with, in accompanying us."

 No.758560

>>758558
"Nice! Alright then."

 No.758561

>>758558
Lost nodded as she took another sip of the tea "Who's Amber?"

 No.758562

>>758468
I take the book back from Cautaa and flip it open.
"Okay, banishing. Banishing, where's…here we go. Uhhh…mega banish blast?"
I wave the book at the monsters.

 No.758563

>>758559
>>758560
>>758561
"My friend," Ruby says, sharing with Lost a picture of a mare who could easily pass as Ruby's younger sister. "I was purchased by her family as a socialization AI to aid with Amber's… trouble making friends."

Ruby starts to look somber at the thought of it. "I had hoped you would have run into her by now. She lived on this Layer."

 No.758564

>>758562
What follows is the most jarring letterboxed FMV you have ever experienced. Ruby clearly saved most of the budget for this scene. An orb of non-aspected magical energy rises from the book, launches into the air, then dives back down in a spiral pattern, whereupon it breaks upon the ground and explodes. The three monsters are turned into mush, then into dust in striking, low-poly detail. Cautaa and Huitlapan, their character models glitching out against the prerendered cutscene, dive behind a desk to avoid the destruction.

When the monsters are truly dead and gone, the FMV ends, and a portal opens at the far end of the room. Cautaa and Huitlapan emerge from behind the desk, unscathed.

"Ah… um, well done!" Cautaa says.
"I never knew graphics cards were capable of such feats of artistry," Huitlapan says.

 No.758565

>>758563
"I mean everything is in ruins so it's a bit hard to traverse reliably."

 No.758566

>>758564
"I only want to go somewhere I don't explode as often."
I hustle through the door.

 No.758567

>>758563
Deadweight lowers her brows seeing the picture. "I'm sorry. We can definitely try to find her, though. Who knows, she might be hiding and surviving like Green was."

 No.758568

>>758563
"Miss Ruby I must admit this is a vast layer. There are resources and stockpiles that have gone untouched- undiscovered of use by anyone."

 No.758569

>>758565
>>758567
>>758568
"Granted, but…" Ruby begins, but sighs and puts the thought aside. "No. You're right. She's a smart mare… who knows what's out there? I'm going to put my faith in her survival."

>>758566
The others nod in solidarity.
The portal deposits you outside the fenced park serving as the training grounds. You see the others sitting at a bench nearby. Ruby perks up as she sees you.
"Well, you're in luck, because I've been putting my machine learning to good use!"

A Ruby desktop buddy appears in your HUD.

"I'll be accompanying you specifically as we go," Ruby continues. Another desktop buddy appears – perhaps resulting from an overlooked bug in the spawn code – imitating the first one's startup and greeting animation cycles. Another spawns shortly thereafter. "I analyzed the training program user data, focusing on the patterns in your aetheric signatures preceding one of your explosions."

More and more Ruby desktop buddies start to flood your field of vision.

"And the next time it happens, there is a better-than-half chance I might be able to mitigate it!"

The Ruby desktop buddies have swarmed all that you can see. All has become the Ruby desktop buddy.

 No.758571

>>758569
My eyes slowly cross while I try and focus on each of the new desktop buddies.
"Really? That sounds great, but, um-"
I wave a hoof in front of my face.
"Is there supposed to be so many of you? I can't see anything anymore."

 No.758572

>>758569
>>758571
"Hey, Hothead, long time no see! Well, let's get a move on, yeah?"

 No.758573

>>758569
"Indeed miss Ruby."
>>758571
"It's wonderful to have you back from training mister Conflagration!"

 No.758574

>>758572
"Yeah, let's. Are we going back to the real world soon? Is Ruby coming too or is she staying here?"

>>758573
"And it's wonderful to be back."

 No.758575

>>758569
"I will have the same faith you do Ruby."

>>758574
Did you explode again? You smell singed."

 No.758576

>>758570
>>758571
>>758572
>>758573
>>758575
"Oh, whoops!" Ruby says. Conflagration sees a cursor highlight all the Rubies, and grab all but one. The Rubies screech in terror as they are dropped into a recycling bin which is promptly emptied.

The lone survivor, heedless of the destruction, continues her earlier charming animation cycles.

"You could make quite a bit of shillings making those available for paid download," Cautaa notes.
"And do what with all that money?" Ruby asks.
"Ah…" Cautaa says, his argument destroyed by a fatal flaw.

As you talk, a bus pulls up nearby. It is driven by a Ruby and some of the seats are filled with Rubies. "There's our ride back to reality!" Ruby says.

 No.758577

Deadweight gets in the bus and sits next to one of the Rubies. She waves hi with a smirk when she sits down.

 No.758578

>>758575
"A few times."

>>758576
I hurry onboard and sit by the emergency exit.

 No.758579

[1d6] don't/say it

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.758580

>>758576
In response to the money question
"Obviously with a sizeable donation you could find yourself and miss Preserve a boat to a secure hive. Then perhaps design a slightly larger storage chip for more ruby designs to sell."

 No.758581

I will also get into the bus and sit closest to the door.

 No.758582

>>758578
"We need to get you a fire extinguisher." Lost mumbled following suit and climbing onto the buss and taking a seat in the back near the window.

 No.758583

>>758580
>>758578
>>758577
>>758582
"Oh yeah," Ruby says. "Amber needs money. She could get herself a lot of haymburgers with that kinda cash."

Ruby, hearing Firmgold's well-constructed argument, considers the possibilities of minting herself as an NFT. Meanwhile, the bus driver closes the doors, and drives away from the vaporwave beachside town, into the dwindling light.

A bright light washes over everything… and you find yourself sitting in the VR arena, just as you were when you entered the simulation. A wave of exhaustion engulfs you, having been abated and put off by the VR immersion. You feel it the worst in your eyes and forehead.

Huitlapan groans. "Just as I'd worried – that prolonged of exposure to EMF and blue light pollution is hitting me hard. I vote we make haste back to the FOB and report on what we've found."

>>758578
As you come to from the simulation, you see that a new spell-program has been added:

>Ruby Flare: Passive; If the User rolls a Critfail with a Spell, roll 1d3; 3 = Apply the Critfail effects to an enemy instead of the User; 2 = The Spell is Negated and applies no Effect; 3 = The Spell Critfails on the User as normal.


>You have also gained a +1 to all Spells

 No.758584

>>758583
>Assuming healed up

Lost groaned and relaxed as she looked at herself, seeing if she had aged or anything else in the indeterminate amount of time she had been under.

 No.758585

>>758583
"Ugh," Deadweight groans, feeling the effects of VR. "Sounds good," she says to Huitlapan as she pinches the bridge of her snout with her hoof and makes her way outside.

 No.758586

>>758583
I lean against something and rub my eyes with a hoof.
"Indeed we ought to, mister Huitlapan. However a foray into this level should be taken to ensure the survival of miss Amber Preserve. Like mister Green her survival back to the FOB is paramount."

 No.758587

>>758583
"Ooooohh, this looks good. Thanks a ton, Ruby! And, yeah, let's get back to the base."

 No.758588

>>758587
>"Yeah, I wasn't expecting to simulate that many explosions on your character model," Ruby says, having invited herself to the Concord voice chat. "So I figured, if I'm gonna have to make that many, why not put them to better use?"

>>758587
>>758586
>>758585
>>758584
"Yes, Miss Firmgold makes a fair point," Cautaa says. He checks the time; it is 2230. "Still, the hour grows late. Would you prefer to make camp here instead?"
>"I could engage the arcade's security systems again," Ruby suggests.
"Even if we stay here, we need to get a report to the FOB and see if there are any updates on the mission as a whole," Huitlapan argues.
"Perhaps we might consider a brief split," Cautaa suggests. "You and I can travel back to the FOB while the others press onward to search for Amber, or else find a place to rest."
"Is that acceptable to you all?" Huitlapan asks.

 No.758589

>>758588
>"Good point."

>>758588
"Is it safe to split up?"

 No.758590

>>758586
>>758588
"Sounds alright with me," Deadweight says.

 No.758591

>>758588
"I dislike the idea very much, as we've encountered enough near-death threats from one floor to the next. Splitting away for any reason weakens us and, I fear, would put the overall mission at risk… Miss Ruby."
I bring up my magicomp, hud, or however else to get Ruby's attention.
"Your existence is a great boon and indicative of yet another survivor. However, simply coming this far has been exhaustive to my compatriots, perhaps in a way that cannot be treated with a night's rest. I would ask of you, tentatively, that we return to our FOB before searching for Miss Amber Preserve."

 No.758592

>>758591
"I guess you have a point," Deadweight weighs in.

 No.758593

>>758588
Lost for her part slipped back into her usual quiet state as she slowly moved besides Deadweight.

 No.758594

>>758593
>>758592
>>758591
>>758590
>>758589
>Ruby is silent for a time… then sighs in acceptance. "Right… I said I'd believe in her, didn't I? Besides, I doubt we'd solve her disappearance so easily right off the bat."
"If it is a comfort to you," Cautaa says. "Most of the security bots on this Floor remain fully operational. This Floor seems to have endured little violence."

You begin to head for the elevator, near where you met the skeletal adventuring party. Huitlapan calls the elevator, and you wait for a while for it to arrive.

"Oh, right," Cautaa adds. "Ruby, I wish to see any material you yet retain covering the fall of Agatecastle, from your perspective. I understand it was archived?"

>"Yeah," Ruby says. "Let me get that decrypted."

 No.758595

>>758594
"This is gonna be good. Who wants to bet on another time anomaly?"

 No.758596

>>758588
>>758593
When Deadweight finds Lost beside her, she looks left and right, then she opens one of her wings to bring her closer and keep her warm. For purely practical survival-y reasons.

>>758594
Deadweight heads to the elevator.

 No.758597

>>758596
>>758594
Lost let out an eep and we very glad she had her helmet on right now. She just hoped her guest would stay quiet as she leaned into Dead a bit.

 No.758598

>>758595
I use speech-to-text and send it to Conflagration
"(Not now, mister Conflagration.)"
>>758594
I ask the adventuring party if they accept quests, considering they're still around and that what I offer is only what can be afforded.

 No.758599

>>758595
>>758596
>>758597
>>758598
As the elevator arrives, Firmgold notices the Knights of the Gravepyre back at their burning trash barrel once more. Seems camp wasn't broken, as they didn't fix it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DC9xez5pxU

As Firmgold offers to send them on a quest, Gaston raises a skeletal eyebrow. "What quest is this you offer us?"

Huitlapan awkwardly holds open the elevator door.

>"Who're these weirdos?" Ruby asks in the vc.

 No.758600

>>758599
I respond to Ruby
>"Adventurers, dear. They might be able to help us if you'll allow me to show them a picture."
Then I address Gaston
"It's a search quest, while we're away for a time on other urgent matters. One of our group is looking for someone rumored to be on this level, a Miss Amber Preserve. I'm afraid the name is all we can offer to this endeavor."

 No.758601

>>758599
"We're seeking the Sacred Chalice." she said recalling an old movie she had seen back at the lab.

 No.758602

>>758599
Deadweight lets Firmgold handle the recruiting.

 No.758603

>>758599
I hang out on the elevator and wait for Firmgold to finish.

 No.758604

>>758601
"I see," Gaston says. "Have you any leads to its possible location?"

>>758600
>>758602
>>758603
Ruby transmits the picture to the Knights. Varo chimes in. "Is she connected to the Sacred–"
"I believe she was just joking," Cautaa says.
The Knights deflate with disappointment. "So there's no Sacred Chalice?"
"Not to my knowledge," Cautaa says. "But Castles are large places, you may find–"
"A lost soul is more important than a magic cup," Gaston interrupts sternly. "We shall search for this mare and report whatever we find to you, whether it be good news or ill."
>"Thank you, sir knight," Ruby sighs, emotionally drained. "And you too, Firmgold."
She gives Lost a dirty look.

 No.758605

>>758604
Lost shrinks down with a wince. She supposed humor was something she should avoid as she did her best to hide behind Dead's wing.

 No.758606

>>758604
I give a deep bow to the group.
"Your assistance is the utmost, and I thank you all for your help in this matter."
I try to find out what they would like in return, but Cautaa is holding the door open so I bid the adventurers farewell and go into the elevator.

 No.758607

>>758604
>>758605
Deadweight stretches her wing out to more effectively cover Lost and holds her in her wing lightly but firmly. Morale is very important to a Warrior.

 No.758608

>>758604
"I hope they have more grilled veggies at the commissary."

 No.758609

>>758608
>>758607
>>758606
>>758605
After bidding farewell to the Knights, you step into the elevator, preparing for the long ascent. This elevator possesses benches, as many in Ironcastle do, allowing you a place to sit and nod off for a while.

After some hours of travel, the elevator doors open to the transfer point between Layers Eight and Nine, and you are able to catch another elevator up to the Observatory's FOB. After the usual decontamination check, you are given free rein of the FOB once more. There is little activity at this late hour, and almost everyone besides the night shift are asleep or still camped in the field.

With a yawn, Huitlapan sleepily motions in the directions of the barracks.

 No.758610

>>758609
Lost follows suit and moves to find a bunk she can collapse into and sleep this bit of negative emotion off.

 No.758611

>>758609
Off I go for a nap.

 No.758612

>>758609
>>758610
Deadweight finds herself sleeping next to Lost, her wing still around her, when the elevator doors open.

After the usual decontamination check. Deadweight stretches and says, "Well, I'm lookin' forward to sleeping on a bed," and heads to the barracks herself.

 No.758613

>>758612
"WOuld be better than the VR chair maybe."

 No.758614

>>758613
Deadweight chuckles and says, "That's for sure."

 No.758615

>>758612
>>758611
>>758610
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqqUgG2PUL4

You all get some well-deserved rest and recovery after a long Cycle of exploration.

 No.758843

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYoZgpAEkFs

You hear peaceful sounds. Birds call, and leafy branches, idly stirred by a languid breeze, whisper a soft response.

You are adrift in the calm of half-sleep, snug underneath your blankets, until some warmth and light from outside starts to gently pester you.

 No.758844

>>758843
I snuggle deeper under my blankets and enjoy the sounds of birds.

 No.758845

>>758843
I ignore it until they light doesn't go away. Then I open my eyes to look at who's bothering me.

 No.758846

>>758844
You can hear a mailbox open, and then shut outside, followed by the trotting of hooves on snow and earth.

>>758845
You awake. A plush bed is below you, and around you for that matter. A thick blanket covers you. The light and the sound come from outside, filtered by a clear window. Through it, you see grassy fields… what you might associate with the lush pastures of the Orchards, back in Ironcastle. Much of it is covered with snow, but it has nearly melted…

Under the inescapable light of some great… thing in the sky.

What… is that? You can't look directly at it without everything going white and painful. But as these questions arise, a sense of familiarity arises in kind, from the back of your mind… there's nothing strange about this nameless light-thing, whatever it is. It's… supposed to be there. It's… ordinary. You've seen it before… well, not directly, but you get the idea.

You look about – and see your bedroom, up on the second floor of your house, both of which you built yourself, upon moving into Ponyville. Describe it. What do you have in your bedroom?

 No.758847

>>758846
A mailbox? Hold on, no one sends me mail. I toss off the covers and take a look outside.

 No.758848

>>758846
Lost sluggishly looks around in her bed trying to find where she is now exactly. She was in a bit of a daze.

 No.758849

>>758847
You leave your bedroom, going downstairs through your living room. You too built your own house – some Sages from the Arcanum helped you to magically fireproof it without needing asbestos. Outside is your quaint yard, surrounded by a small picket fence. You pop open the mailbox just outside the fence. Junk, mostly. Some bills, a bank statement.

There is, most notably, a rolled-up sheaf of papyrus toward the back. It has a royal-looking wax seal upon it, depicting a pair of alicorn princesses in cameo.

>>758848
You too wake up in your own bedroom, the second floor of your own, self-built house. Through a nearby window, you see one of your neighbors, a mister… what was his name? You've only gotten it once or twice… ah, Conflagration, that was it. He's looking through his mail. Ponyville couriers come rather early, as you have learned.

 No.758850

>>758849
Lost was very confused. She wasn't a home owner… was she? She reached inside looking for an answer

Are you there Dhampir? Have I owned a house? Do I currently own a house?

 No.758851

>>758849
This is very strange. I take out all of the letters then try and get a better look at the giant thing burning in the sky before heading back inside.
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.758852

>>758850
What? Of course you are, don't be ridiculous. You pay your taxes on time and vote as well. You are a responsible Ponyville citizen.

As you think these absurd thoughts to yourself, you wander about the living room, and nearly trip over your roommate Dhampir's refuse. He's half asleep in his reclining chair… his gamer chair, for his battlestation. Another all-nighter. Empty cans and crumb-dusted plates are scattered all around him, and a mess of headphone and charging cables conspires with the plates and cans to make the living room even more of a tripping hazard.

>>758851
Whatever that thing is, it's got an attitude. You can't maintain eye contact for long before you are left with a searing pain and a dark spot in your vision that hangs around far longer than it's welcome.

You head back inside, leaving the chill of the not-quite-yet-spring morning.

 No.758853

>>758846
My bedroom? It's lined with fancy clothes and thin underarmor that hide a bubblegum pink paint on the walls.
One desk by the door has scrolls and ingots resting in and beside, while there is a large opening to a streetside balcony through which the light oppresses me

 No.758854

>>758852
This isn't right… why is he outside of me…" she mumbled. She may not know much about this but she knew he was supposed to be inside of her.

 No.758855

>>758852
I take a seat at the table and open the scroll with the wax seal. Maybe this is my badge for AlicornCon?

 No.758856

>>758854
"Ins…ide…" Dhampir mutters, stirring a little in his chair. "…y…your… mOM…"

In his dreams, he games forever, owns noobs – forever.

>>758853
>>758854
As you reflect on this, you hear mail being delivered to your mailboxes. Beyond that, your other neighbors chit-chat over fresh coffee, their words muffled.

>>758855
"Dear Mister Conflagraton," it begins. It is written in well-practiced cursive, yet still legible. "THEIR MAJESTIES, the benevolent QUEEN MAJESTY and QUEEN SELENE of THE KINGDOM OF CANTERBURY have requested your presence on this day, the–"

Something peculiar… you can't quite seem to make sense of the date. There are numbers, and letters too, you're sure of it, but they just don't quite arrange themselves into anything sensible… but… the thought quickly passes… something in the back of your head assures you it's alright… there is no anomaly here…

"–to discuss a QUEST for which your SKILLS and CHARACTER have been deemed necessary. Present this ROYAL SUMMONS to the Guards upon your arrival at the CASTLE DOORS for entry. Signed and Sealed by the Court Scribe in this Year, A.C. 31274."

 No.758857

>>758856
She blinked and began to look for her mother curiously. She never knew her… she thinks.

 No.758858

>>758856
Well this is less than expected. I pop open the bank statement then start packing everything I'll need for a trip. Toothbrush, toothpaste, fire extinguisher, and so on.

 No.758859

>>758843
Deadweight mumbles and turns in her bed before stretching and sitting up. She blinks, getting the sleep out of her eyes, then looks around, still in bed.

 No.758860

>>758857
You look about the living room, but fail to find any pictures of anyone. The same goes for your own bedroom. No pictures of your family at all, nor even friends.

But as you think to yourself that you never knew any mother of yours, a competing thought shoulders its way to the forefront of your mind. Are you sure you're alright? Didn't hit your head on anything as you slept? You moved out from home not too long ago. Your family house is just up the road. Okay, perhaps you could have moved a little further away, but you just couldn't pass up on the deal the owner was giving you on this plot of land. And with the Royal Sisters' subsidy for new homeowners… that aside– your old house is just up the road.

>>758858
Nothing particularly unusual or interesting in your bank statement. You pack the essentials into a saddlebag, getting ready for a quest. It strikes you that, if there's a task important enough for the Royal Sisters to mail people over, they might not just send one person. Perhaps others have received similar letters?

 No.758861

>>758859
You are in your bedroom, built by your own hooves when you moved to ponyville. It is filled with– well, you tell us, what is your bedroom filled with?

 No.758862

>>758860
Lost was silent for a moment before heading to the door and deciding to go and meet her family.

 No.758863

>>758860
That's right. I'm sure my best friends in the whole wide world: Deadweight, Firmgold, Steadfast, and Damhpir probably got invitations too. I trot over to whoever's house is closest.

 No.758864

>>758861
Deadweight's bedroom is cluttered with various sporting equipment laying around. On the walls are posters of action movies and athletes and a bunch of weapons. Her most prized (and expensive) possession, though, is the long claymore that acts as the centerpiece of the display. She smiles seeing it. She throws the blanket off of her and heads downstairs to get something to eat.

 No.758865

>>758864
Downstairs, your roommate, Xu, is already eating last night's spaghetti. Cold. She doesn't trust microwaves, they're bad for one's orgone – just one of several… let's call them fascinating "facts" she has a tendency to throw at you. "Facts" she learned on the internet.

Internet… the word is intranet… isn't it? No, definitely internet. You've no idea what made you think it was the opposite.

Whichever one it is, Xu raises her hoof. "We got mail," she says, gesturing to a stack of junk on the coffee table. Your eyes are drawn to a pair of rolled-up sheets of papyrus on the top, sealed with royal wax.

>>758862
>>758863
As Conflagration steps outside, he sees Lost Hope – Dhampir's roommate – going outside as well. Maybe she'd know something of this business.

>>758862
The street ends in a cul-de-sac, and your eyes are drawn to a house near its outermost edge: A large house, two stories tall, and very well-kept. Perhaps a bit on the large side. The doors are very large, in particular. In fact it seems the whole house is designed to accommodate an abnormally tall and wide pony… but you don't think you've ever seen him. But… this… this is your family house… isn't…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v61paNzFcgQ

You slow your pace, as your mind briefly swims in a murky haze. When the episode passes, you notice a young stallion in the front yard, watering some plants. His coat is a dark, cosmic hue, his mane and tail a dark blue, combed behind his ears, and his cutie mark is a ringed planet. He wears green-rimmed glasses.

 No.758866

>>758865
She didn't know this strange young stallion yet it all felt so… familiar. Words she thought she knew but they could not come to her. She slowly approached him.

Her heart seemed to revel in the thought of having someone else there.

 No.758867

>>758865
>>758862
I wave my invitation at Lost Hope.
"Hey, check it out! The Royal Sisters say I have character! Did any of you get any scrolls?"

 No.758868

>>758865
"Cold spaghetti again? Weirdo," Deadweight banters. She raises an eyebrow when she thinks the word "intranet," how weird. When Xu points at the mail on the coffee table, Deadweight's eyes are immediately drawn to the fancy scroll looking thing with the seal on it. Obviously, she opens it first.

 No.758869

>>758867
Lost blinked and looked back "I haven't checked my mail. I was seeing my family." she called back before blinking. Those words felt so natural and yet they didn't belong in her mouth.

>>758866
Good would slowly look up at the taller mare before smiling "Hello Lost, been a whole day since I saw you. Wanted to come see us bright and early today?" he said as he fixed his glasses a bit.

"Well you know Good it's nice to check in. Being independent is nice but I didn't wanna be too far from home." she said, feeling as though her tongue was acting on it's own.

"Are Mom and Dad home?"

"Yeah Dad should be out to mow the lawn in a minute."

 No.758870

>>758869
"What about Dahmpir? Did he get any?"

 No.758873

>>758870
"I didn't ask."

 No.758874

>>758856
I start to get into my underarmor but pause… I'm on a vacay from traveling. I then take it my armor and put on a frilly, if wintry, dress that leaves my front legs exposed and go to acquire the mail.

 No.758875

>>758868
"Dear Miss Deadweight," it begins. It is written in well-practiced cursive, yet still legible. "THEIR MAJESTIES, the benevolent QUEEN MAJESTY and QUEEN SELENE of THE KINGDOM OF CANTERBURY have requested your presence on this day, the–"

Something peculiar… you can't quite seem to make sense of the date. There are numbers, and letters too, you're sure of it, but they just don't quite arrange themselves into anything sensible… but… the thought quickly passes… something in the back of your head assures you it's alright… there is no anomaly here…

"–to discuss a QUEST for which your SKILLS and CHARACTER have been deemed necessary. Present this ROYAL SUMMONS to the Guards upon your arrival at the CASTLE DOORS for entry. Signed and Sealed by the Court Scribe in this Year, A.C. 31274."

"So yours said the same thing?" Xu says. "Okay, at first I wasn't sure, but if you've got one, it's probably legit. Wanna go check it out after breakfast?"

>>758867
>>758869
A gate on the side of the big house opens, and you can hear an engine firing up soon afterward. A towering hulk of a stallion rides out on a curious motorized lawnmower. A bit of a novelty, perhaps, but definitely time-efficient. He begins to mow the lawn, giving you all a wave as he does.

>>758874
You get your mail, and as you do, you notice some of your neighbors near the end of the street: Conflagration, Lost Hope, and another pony you don't recognize. (See above)

 No.758876

>>758875
>>758874
Well Lost woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I return the wave from the mowing pony turn and wave at Firmgold instead.
"Hey, you get any cool letters today?"

 No.758877

>>758875
"Damn, they know how to flatter," Deadweight says. She says to Xu, "Yeah, sure. Dunno if you'd call that breakfast, though," gesturing to her cold spaghetti with a smirk. She fixes herself some oatmeal, then heads out with Xu once she's done.

 No.758878

>>758875
She waved to her father "He has strange hobbies but he genuinely loves that mower."

"He says it helps him reach balance or something. I think he just likes listening to his music and having time to himself."Good replied with a laugh "Lazy and Mom are inside if you wanna say hi." he added as Lost did just that, heading for the door.

 No.758879

>>758875
I sub-vocalize 'everyone's out today'
>>758876
I give conflagration a placid wave with my mail in that hoof.
"Dia Duit Sir Conflagration, I haven't opened my mail yet. Is there something noteworthy I should expect?"

 No.758880

>>758879
"I got a letter from the Royal Sisters! Check it out!"
I walk over and show it off.

 No.758881

>>758877
"Hey, there's… there's nutrients in spaghetti! Especially when cold, it's just like takin' a cold shower! Activates the deep fibers and the cold proteins!"

>>758879
>>758878
>>758876
>>758877
As Deadweight and Xu come out, you all see one another. Always nice to have good neighbors. Even those two awkward chaps across the street, the mustelos and the rodos, are out and about. What were their names again? Ah yes, Cautaa and Huitlapan. They're animated with surprising levels of energy for it being this early in the morning. Maybe they got the letter too…?

 No.758882

>>758881
Deadweight rolls her eyes at Xu. "Right, right."

Deadweight calls out to her neighbors. "Hey Cautaa, Huitlapan, lookin' pretty spry today!"

 No.758883

>>758880
"Ah that's amazing, Sir Conflagration! I'm quite sure you're expertise will be well compensated in such a matter.. nothing pressing upon a good livelihood I hope?"
>>758881
I give a Dia Duit to the chaps and a Bandia Duit to Deadweight

 No.758884

>>758883
"I have no idea."

>>758881
I'll go repeat this whole thing with the third and forth people today. Maybe SOMEONE ELSE also got a LETTER from the Royal Sisters and we can all go there together on a ROAD TRIP.

 No.758885

>>758884
>>758881
Seeing that today's greeting won't be short, I open my letters using my hooves and ingenuity in spite of the sheer impossibility

 No.758886

>>758885
A letter!

"Dear Miss Firmgold," it begins. It is written in well-practiced cursive, yet still legible. "THEIR MAJESTIES, the benevolent QUEEN MAJESTY and QUEEN SELENE of THE KINGDOM OF CANTERBURY have requested your presence on this day, the–"

Something peculiar… you can't quite seem to make sense of the date. There are numbers, and letters too, you're sure of it, but they just don't quite arrange themselves into anything sensible… but… the thought quickly passes… something in the back of your head assures you it's alright… there is no anomaly here…

"–to discuss a QUEST for which your SKILLS and CHARACTER have been deemed necessary. Present this ROYAL SUMMONS to the Guards upon your arrival at the CASTLE DOORS for entry. Signed and Sealed by the Court Scribe in this Year, A.C. 31274."

Wow, it seems that lots of people are getting important letters today!

 No.758887

>>758883
>>758885
"Hey Firmgold!" Deadweight returns the greeting, "Oh hey, I got the same letter!"

>>758884
"Yo, I got a letter, too! A road trip sounds sick," Deadweight says to Conflagration when he talks about his letter.

 No.758888

>>758886
"Mmm, quite the surprise today Sir Conflagration, I received a similar letter to yours as well!"

 No.758889

>>758887
>>758888
"Amazing! We should all go there together! I've already got my bags packed."

 No.758890

>>758889
"Haha, you're on top of things!"

 No.758891

>>758878
As you go inside, you see a small filly sitting on the couch, reading a peculiar book with cover art that seems like it'd be more at home on video game box art. But more importantly–

A tall and regal-looking mare is at the kitchen, cooking something. She doesn't look as you enter.

Thoughts and memories T-bone into one another.

This is the mare from the laboratory. Your handler. Assigns you missions. Runs tests on you to ensure your health. She taught you to tame Dhampir.

What are you talking about? This is your mother. You have many fond memories of her. Tame? Tests? Missions? This thought tries to shove the others out of your head.

 No.758892

>>758889
"Oh dear, well that sounds.. lovely, I shall have to find some clothes for myself first! I'll meet you all at the entrance!"
I will hurry back into my house to get fancy clothes and proper underarmor with scrolls and the heaviest coin I have for the trip. Then go back.
"Sir Steadfast is renting a room further in town, I'll fetch him before we leave in earnest."

 No.758893

>>758891
She held her head and tried to hold onto the thoughts that seemed to sound the best… but thinking about her as a mother seemed so… natural.

"Hey Mom, it's been a bit huh?" she said sheepishly.

 No.758894

>>758893
She turns your way. When your eyes meet hers–

"Lost…?" she breathes.

For a moment, she looks at you with horror, like your very words had stabbed her. But, the expression fades… maybe she's doing what you're doing too. Holding onto what feels the best. To what hurts least.

"You're back. How is everything going?" she forces herself to say.

>>758892
>>758890
>>758889
Cautaa and Huitlapan come up to you, their bags packed. Lost Hope isn't back yet, while Dhampir is poking his head out from the door. He looks like an uncooked steak in pony form – but that's just him. Nothing about this strikes you as odd. He's your neighbor you know so well.

"I'll catch up, you guys go on ahead!" he says. Probably another all-nighter, you surmise.

"Well, is this all of us?" Cautaa asks. "We'd best not keep the Princesses…" he pauses, and blinks. "I-I mean, the Queens waiting."
"Lost is still away," Huitlapan says. He looks puzzled, as if he's trying to figure out who that is. "Erm… uh… we– we should wait for her, right? I mean, she got a letter, I'm… assuming."

 No.758896

>>758894
"Indeed, it would be polite to wait for Miss Lost "

 No.758897

>>758894
When she sees Cauta and Huitlapan's bags, Deadweight chuckles and says, "Wow, you guys too? All I brought was my wallet."

Deadweight says, "No yeah, let's wait for her. Actually, I'll go see what she's up to." She goes to her house, but it doesn't look like anypony's home. She figures she might be with her folks, so she walks over there.

 No.758899

>>758894
"I think so. Yeah, let's wait around."

 No.758900

>>758894
>>758894
Lost frowned "It doesn't feel right… But I almost want it to. Being away for so long." She said choosing words that felt natural yet didn't betray her.

"I should… I should see my friends. Something has them excited and I don't want to make them or you worry."

 No.758901

>>758900
"That would be best," your mother says. "Enjoy your time with them. Make good memories and wise choices on the way. You can always come back when you are tired."

Your sister, in a rare display, sets aside her book, sprints off the couch, and gives you a hug. Your arm feels wet where her eye brushed against it. Before you can investigate this, she gives Good a not-so-light punch on the arm, and takes off with her usual manic speed.

>>758897
When you get to the door, you can see through the front window that Lost is speaking with her family. You've not met them, but the resemblance is there.

>>758896
>>758899
Out comes Xu. You feel like you haven't spoken with her in a dog's age.

"Whadda you sluts been up to since I was gone?" she asks. Almost immediately she looks quite puzzled that she said that. Rather familiar for a neighbor. But she rolls with it.
"S-sluts!?" Huitlapan gasps. He seems like he's not too surprised at her verbiage. "Well, not more than the usual…"
"My heart belongs to one mare, and that is Ruby," Cautaa says defensively.
"So you admit it!" Xu says to Huitlapan, basically disregarding Cautaa altogether.

 No.758902

>>758901
"You're being only the usual amount of slut, Huitlapan?"

 No.758903

>>758901
It genuinely tore at her to walk away but she did so with a sigh and stepped outside, only to run into

>>758897
Deadweight to the point the two were basically lip to lip, the yellow mare blushing hard "Hello Dead." She said not moving as though this was normal.

 No.758904

>>758901
"Dobar Dengospar Xu. We've received a summons today. Perhaps there is similar mail for you?"

 No.758905

>>758901
>>758903
Deadweight's eyes widen when, while walking towards the door, Lost quickly emerges and almost collides with her. A beat passes, then she relaxes and pecks her on the lips. "Hey Lost, good to see you," she says with a smile, "You check your mail?"

 No.758906

>>758902
"I-I have nothing to admit or deny, and even if I were very popular with attractive rodos ladies I would not consider that a shameful thing so long as all our conduct was proper and even if it was not I fail to see how it would be anybody else's business!"
"Sus," Xu says.

>>758904
"Yeah, thought it was spam at first, but if Deadweight and all you guys got it, it's probably legit."
"I… fail to see the connection between those two points," Cautaa says.
"Cause you're a nerd," Xu says.
Cautaa slowly blinks, then sits, curled up on the sidewalk.

>>758905
>>758902
>>758902
>>758904
Soon enough, the gang's all here, ready for a quest. From Queens, no less!

>Paused

 No.759060


 No.759061

>>758906
Eagerly awaiting adventure.

 No.759062

>>758905
>>758906
Lost froze for a good 10 seconds as her face slowly went orange and then full on red as she just stood there mouth agape for a bit.

 No.759063

>>758906
>>759062
"Well, uh, a bunch of our friends and I got a letter from the Royal Sisters about some quest. You probably have one, too. We're about to head out."

 No.759064

>>759063
She nodded dumbly and followed her over.

 No.759065

>>759063
>>759062
>>759061
>>759060
You set off down the road, followed by Xu, Huitlapan, Cautaa and Dhampir. The walk shakes off some of the morning's winter cold. Gravel, snow and dirt crunch beneath your hooves as you follow Ponyville's roads on your way to Canterbury. Soon your neighborhood street connects to the main thoroughfare, and you take the eastern junction, the most well-traveled of the roads, on your way to the great capital of Equestria.

As you reach the junction, your destination, even at this great distance, is visible: A castle, built into the far mountains. Though obscured by the treeline, you know the castle town at its base is perhaps the most brilliant and prosperous city in all the known kingdoms of the world.

"It will be a ways off, but at least we won't need to cross the Everfree on this road," Cautaa observes. "Anyone care for a game or something while we walk? Eye Spy?"

Xu cackles obnoxiously. "For real!?"

"Y-yes, for real!" Cautaa defends.

 No.759066

>>759065
"S-sure… sounds fun." Lost mumbled slowly coming back to it.

 No.759067

>>759065
"Eh, sure," Deadweight says with a shrug as she walks.

 No.759068

>>759065
"Sounds fun."

 No.759069

>>759065
>>759067
>Look, look, see, see
[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.759070

>>759068
[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.759071

>>759065
[1d10] What do I see

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.759072

>>759065
"We are traveling of course, it wouldn't be proper to have a sit-down boardgame every hour of travel."

 No.759073

You spy with your little eyes…

https://youtu.be/AiN927uPArM

>>759069
On the road, far ahead of you, a flash of silver, gracing a coat of white. She appears to be an older mare – talking and walking with some others you recognize as her friends, whom you had run into here and there, at parties, on shopping trips, normal, simple things.

>>759070
An even greater distance ahead, yet still so clearly visible, you see a familiar pair. Unicorns, with white manes, the stallion a coat of red, the mare a coat of yellow. Though they face away from you, you can sense that something is amiss – their pace is made urgent by worry.

>>759072
>>759071
The two of you don't see anyone of particular note about you, but as you scan around, you see that you have come far further from Ponyville than you would have thought. You are out in far country, and Ponyville is nowhere to be seen. However, it is still the morning, as if you'd only just begun your journey. You see also that there are many others on the road with you. Many are holding or reading over letters much like the ones you got. Though the distance between your group and the others is quite great, on this endless road, you can see them just fine, as if no distance separated you at all.

 No.759074

>>759073
I rub my eyes and squint at the pair before racing ahead.
"Mom? Dad? What are you two doing out here?"

 No.759075

>>759073
Deadweight casually looks around for something to call out, but something catches her eye, and she feels her heart stop. She thinks she sees her mother. She suddenly bolts towards her, weaving between the other ponies on the road.

 No.759076

>>759073
>>759075

Lost blinked and began to follow Deadweight with some concern.

 No.759077

>>759073
"Hrm, it seems our letters are less important than imagined. All the same, any stables we stop at may be crowsded, so it's good to have readied for a trip!"

 No.759078

>>759074
>>759075
>>759076
>>759077
Try as you might, though you run after the distant figures, it feels that your hooves make no progress. No matter how much ground you cover, nor how fast nor how constantly you run, always they remain outside your reach, even getting further and further away.

Your entourage of allies follow after you, shocked by this sudden flight.

"Guys?" Xu asks, dropping all her usual tone. "You alright? What's up?"
Huitlapan is about to ask something, when he is caught by a gasp. Momentarily, his pace slows, before it accelerates faster than any of yours. Words catch in his throat.

The Moon rises, her arc on a trajectory to meet her sister, the Sun.

 No.759079

>>759078
"I thought I saw my parents, but I couldn't catch up. Hey!"
I chase after Huitlapan.

 No.759080

>>759078
>>759079
"Wait! We should stay together!"
I chase after these two with Steadfast in close pursuit

 No.759081

>>759078
Realizing she's not making any progress in catching up with them, she finally stops and practically collapses. She's breathing heavily, which to a bystander must be because she exerted herself so much, but truthfully she's just trying to keep herself together.

 No.759082

>>759081
>>759078
Lost stopped next o Dead and put a hoof around her shoulder "Are you alright?"

 No.759083

>>759082
Deadweight's still huffing, but manages to calm herself down and sighs. "It's… nothing." She picks herself up and just resumes walking.

 No.759084

>>759083
"You sure? You seem to be kinda winded… or something else."

 No.759085

>>759084
Deadweight slowly breathes in, then out. "I… thought I saw my mom…"

 No.759086

>>759085
"Oh? I saw mine before. Where is she?"

 No.759087

>>759086
"I saw her up ahead, but she's…" Deadweight trails off. She's not sure anymore.

 No.759088

>>759082
>>759079
>>759080
>>759081
Only now, as you run with the fullness of your strength, lungs burning, eyes straining, muscles coursing to their limits, do you manage to make any headway toward the distant figures. Yet as you do, their shapes begin to take on a quality like morning mist – fated to fade under the rising sun. But now it is not solely the Sun that rises, but the Moon as well, the two arcing across the sky to meet, picking up speed just as you are.

And as more and more of this scene departs of its sense, so too does the world about you – all about, you can see many paths, all paths converging to Canterbury, the myriad roads seeming to be simultaneously impossibly far-off, and also just within arm's reach. On every path come walking many others, hundreds, thousands, more and more without number. Some of them, you cannot tell what they look like, seeming to be featureless bodies. Others, you recognize fleetingly, and yet they are not people you know, simply bearing features evoking memory – a familiar gaze, a familiar jacket, a familiar trinket or accoutrement, all you have seen elsewhere, far elsewhere, so many lifetimes ago.

But.
Whoever they are.
There is no time to focus on them now.
For before you.
Merely a few spans before.
Another group.
The mare of white and silver, the unicorns of white and red and yellow. A few others among them.
All of them, translucent and watery.

Huitlapan, breathless and silent, takes a cautious step toward one of them, a tall male Rodos. Huitlapan's hands tremble, and his face screws up with disbelief.

 No.759089

>>759088
Losts face scrunched up a bit "Dead… does something feel… wrong?"

 No.759090

>>759088
>>759089
"I… can't tell…" Deadweight says, her brows furrow, now more carefully reflecting on what's been happening.

 No.759091

>>759090
"I felt like there was a lot wrong before… but I kinda hoped it would be right…"

 No.759092

>>759088
I shake my head.
"This isn't real. This is another one of those crazy visions. I can't be having more of those!"
I start slapping my face as hard as I can with my hooves.
[1d10] slapping

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.759093

>>759091
Lost inhaled and did her best to bite her lip hoping it would wake her up.

>>759088
[1d10] if needed

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759094

>>759091
"I… felt like that too…" Deadweight looks around again.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.759095

>>759088
I try to peer closer at the group Huitlapan's reaching for.
[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.759096

>>759092
As you raise your hoof to strike yourself, a gentle grasp, an unmistakable weight and warmth you could never forget, takes hold of your wrist.

>>759089
>>759090
>>759093
>>759094
>>759095
Nothing happens to Lost. She is stuck here, just as they are.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v61paNzFcgQ

The rest of the group, noting that Conflagration's mother has turned, turn about as well. Lost, Firmgold and Steadfast, though they are at the back of the group, can feel familiar presences among them as well.

As you look at the people before you, you can see them as one sees mist, or rain upon a glass window. And, seemingly behind them, like a mirror reflecting another, you see more of them. In each of the other visions is something different, a peculiar attire, or a scar, or a slight difference in demeanor, yet nothing so significant that you could not recognize them.

Memories come flooding in of these people… how do you remember them?

The Moon and Sun are near to converging.

 No.759097

>>759096
Deadweight tries to make sense of what's happening. She stares at the image of her mother, then up at the discs held aloft.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.759098

>>759096
Lost tries to find something she can latch onto to try and find the source of this strange dream.

[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.759099

>>759096
I squeeze my eyes shut.
"This isn't real this isn't real the Abbey's gonna kill me for sure this time if I start spouting off about this stuff this can't be real it can't it can't it can't-"

 No.759100

>>759096
I have fond memories of many of them, even seeing the blurred old stallion who fed me stories of profit and adventure when I was young makes my eyes watery and crossed with disbelief.

 No.759101

>>759099
A hoof rests upon your cheek. You could pick it out from every other hoof in the world, without fail.

This, all of this, is real. Far too real.

>>759097
>>759098
>>759100
>>759099
Behind them, Canterbury is gone. In its place stretches a towering silhouette, breaking heaven and earth. A mountainous fortress, extending thousands of miles into the sky and into the ground. Dim radiance exudes from the metal and stone comprising its outer walls, offering it holy protection against the eternal darkness that envelops the whole of the earth…

And more fortresses loom in the cold horizon. Too many to count.

All the millions of paths surrounding you in every direction, teeming with the millions and millions of multitudes summoned by the Queens of the Sun and Moon… every path leads into the Castle's towering gates. The world unravels into a spiral, with the Castles, and the Moon and Sun, dancing at its center.

Huitlapan has touched his brother's hand, turning and weighing and feeling it, as if trying to find some inaccuracy that would prove to him this is merely yet another one of those dreams. Yet he can find none, and with tears running plainly down his face, he looks up–

At the fading figure.

All of them are starting to fade from sight.

The Moon and Sun will soon collide – dancing themselves to death.

 No.759102

>>759101
Lost closed her eyes one last time "I feel like we should push on. If nothing else we might as well see where this leads."

 No.759103

>>759101
Seeing the landscape transform so dramatically, Deadweight starts shutting her eyes and opening them, expecting herself to wake up somewhere else.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.759104

[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.759105

>>759101
>>759102
"Okay," Deadweight says to Lost before trekking on.

 No.759106

>>759102
[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.759107

>>759101
>>759102
>>759103
>>759100
I grit my teeth before opening my eyes, looking around, then looking up.
"We're having a vision. That means something is giving us a vision. Did we get out of that VR center? Are we sure? Did they miss something in decontamination? Are we already dead?"
I poke my friends to make sure they're real, at least.
"I'm seeing the Moon and the Sun and they're killing themselves. I can feel my mom's hoof on my cheek. There are the fortresses and everything is spinning together. I don't-don't see any of my old visions. Someone tell me I'm not crazy."

 No.759108

>>759101
>>759107
"A vision?" Deadweight asks. She looks around again, trying to make sense of it.

 No.759109

>>759101
"Grandpa no."
I blink the tears away
"No! Where are you going!?"
>>759107
I look at Conflagration as if he is insane
"How can we be dead if we're talking to each other?"

 No.759110

>>759109
>>759108
"Magic? I meant more in the sense of 'we're about to die because something caught us or infected us and we're tripping balls' than 'this is the afterlife'."

 No.759111

>>759110
"I- I don't know! Look where we are, what we can feel, how can we be sure to any of this if- "
Distraught, I try to access my magicomp

 No.759112

>>759109
>>759108
>>759107
>>759105
>>759102
A quiet wind blows, and the figures turn away, walking on ahead of you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jln8YzYMB9s

As they do, the wind finishes the work – and the figures, as though they truly had been but mist, are blown away, bit by bit, cast into the direction of the Castle. The Castle, turning at the spiral's center, is now naught more than an endless abyss.

The Moon and Sun embrace one another.

At once, even as you behold the world-spiral, and the abyss, and the fading vestiges of your beloved, you behold also a kaleidoscopic panorama. Countless worlds and lives, distant and near, similar and dissimilar, flash before you in an instant. Soft grass. Cool creeks. Placid dinners, arduous quests, mundane jobs, children's birthdays. Everything that could have been, everything that was not. Perhaps not here, but elsewhere. Lives born, lived, and faded all in a flash. Lives not devoured by darkness – and lives devoured by light.

You look down at your bodies as they are taken by a fatal numbness.

Bit by bit.

You too fade, breathed into the abyss after your loved ones.

Cast into darkness by a quiet sigh.


..
.

In the cold barracks of the Agatecastle FOB, you awake under thin blankets. Hooves clatter on stone. Distant voices bark orders. Practiced hands arm weapons. And yet, the cold seems to be getting worse.

>Paused

 No.759113

Though muffled, you can hear Huitlapan sobbing.

 No.759299

>>759112
"What a weird dream."
I crawl out of bed and go looking for the others.

 No.759300

>>759112
Deadweight's eyes suddenly open. She takes a few deep breaths as she wakes up, then she gets up and goes about her regular routine.

 No.759301

>>759112
This means I'm actually feeling a chill through my armor, so I'll curl up until I'm awake and then get out of bed.
"What a wonderful start to a chilly, unpleasant cycle."

 No.759302

>>759299
>>759300
>>759301
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM2ZoIgyrk4

You regroup with the others of your group, as well as Cautaa and, most surprisingly, your old friend Xu. You've met in the commons area of the barracks, and can see that the FOB is on high silent alert. Basically everyone who's awake is running off in some direction or another with a nervous energy. Many others are still asleep, tossing and turning with disturbed expressions. Others who have woken up appear quite haunted, many staring blankly at walls or the floor while their companions attempt to call them back to this reality, convince them that it's truly real…

Through the barracks window, you can see that most of the staff are gathering at the meeting-hall, and a commotion can be heard there.

"So…" Xu says, eager to break the ice. "Did we all have sweet dreams last Cycle?"
"Huitlapan…" Cautaa says, looking about, finally noticing he's not there. "Nobody saw him rise?"

 No.759303

>>759302
Lost seemed to be very thrown off by everything, thus why she had been silent this entire time.

 No.759304

>>759302
"Mister Huitlapan is, well occupied. I've not gone to check on him yet from this chilly start."

 No.759305

>>759302
Deadweight sighs exasperated. "He must still be in bed." She goes to find Huitlapan.

 No.759306

>>759302
"Bad dreams, yeah. I think I heard him crying."
I go check on Huitlapan.

 No.759307

I let out a huff
>>759306
"Mister Conflagration, delicate matters require more tact, especially when it comes to one's honor."

 No.759308

>>759307
"What are you talking about?"

 No.759309

>>759305
>>759306
When you approach Huitlapan's bed, you find him sitting up, and like many others, he stares off into space for a time. Even calling his name to grab his attention is fruitless at first, until he slowly blinks awake with red-rimmed eyes. His mouth moves about, but he cannot express a thought. He rubs his head with pain, and attempts to rise on unsteady legs.

>>759304
>>759303
Xu leans in, waving her hoof in front of Lost Hope. "Hey. Hello? Everything alright?"

"It looks like some of our comrades are completely out of commission," Cautaa says, gesturing to those who remain asleep. Some are even being ferried to medical tents. "We should perhaps be grateful naught else has befallen us."

>>759308
You notice that Ruby is not visible anywhere on your visor.

 No.759310

>>759309
I tap my visor.
"Ruby? Where'd you go?"

 No.759311

>>759309
"I saw… ponies I did not know… and yet it felt like I knew them my entire life. I called them my family…" she mumbled.

 No.759312

>>759309
Seeing Huitlapan, Deadweight's concerned. "What happened last night?" she wonders out loud to herself.

 No.759313

>>759308
"Well to start, even if someone may be.. well, crying, they're occupied- or indisposed if matters are pressing."

>>759309
I'll have followed Conflagration while explaining things to him and look at Huitlapan.
"This is unfortunate, I wonder if healers have attempted anything with their magic already."
I will look on my magicomp for anything about this on message boards, Concord, or wherever else.

 No.759314

>>759309
>>759312
[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.759315

>>759314
Every sensory memory you hold of that place, that scenario, attests to you that that was no dream nor hallucination.

>>759311
"Yeah…?" Xu asks. "And… then we were all walking together, until we saw people ahead of us, right? That wasn't just me?"
Cautaa shakes his head. "I saw my grandparents."
"And I saw my aunt…" Xu muses.

>>759310
Error messages and console windows flash rapidfire in the bottom corner of your visor, as well as a multitude of other visual glitches. At last, Ruby's sprite shudders into view. However, she offers no reaction to your question. Instead, she waves, and a speech balloon appears beside her. It reads – "Happy rising, ERROR_U734_NO_USERNAMEFIELD. What do you want to do today?"

>>759310
>>759311
>>759312
>>759313
Concord is a complete whirlwind of threads and voice channels right now. Everyone in the FOB is trying all at once to figure out what just assailed them. Theories overlap, and threads come and go as quickly as the servers will refresh. However, the auto-updater abruptly halts, and Concord freezes altogether. All posts suddenly vanish, save for one, which is immediately pinned, posted by an admin: It's Seneschal Colonnade's handle.

>"Gather in the meeting hall immediately," reads the subject line, and the body is blank.

 No.759316

>>759315
"Yeah that fits." she said rubbing her head "The mare who was my mom… I know her from my time in the lab. She seemed to be aware something wasn't right too…"

 No.759317

>>759315
Deadweight checks her Concord, and after reading the message, heads straight for the meeting hall, helping Huitlapan come with her if needed.

 No.759318

>>759315
"Even less so, quickly we should help mister Huitlapan to medical and proceed to the meeting hall."

 No.759319

>>759315
"Bad new, fellas. Ruby broke."
Off to the meeting hall I go.

 No.759320

>>759315
>>759317
>>759318
"You good, Huitlapan?" Deadweight asks him.

 No.759321

>>759319
"Ruby br- what? No, this can't be.. no no, first mister Huitlapan."
Try to get him on Steadfast so we can trot this guy over the medical center before rejoining conflagration at the meeting hall.

 No.759322

>>759316
Lost also begins to head to the meeting hall, checking for Ruby on her own hardware.

 No.759323

>>759316
"Then… if the rest of us saw our families, wouldn't it make sense if she…" Xu says, trailing off as she realizes she may be leading you into a difficult subject.

>>759319
>>759322
Ruby's sprite shudders again, and she's fallen, clutching her head and hiding under her voluminous hair. "…Is… is it over?" she chokes out, her voice full of static, her volume uneven.

>>759317
>>759318
>>759319
>>759320
"N-no, I'm fine," Huitlapan says, straining as he does. "I… need to see this… I need to know…"

Unless Huitlapan is physically forced not to, he accompanies the rest of your group to the meeting hall. Armed guards are trying to corral the FOB staff into a number of orderly queues, but chatter is unstoppable. In time, you manage to secure seats in the audience chamber, and the room is abuzz with a nervous energy, speculation bouncing around in every conversation, magnified by catastrophization–

Hardly does anyone even notice the two standing at the podium upon the stage, until the presenter's monitor flashes to life behind them. It displays a pair of eyes, the irises spiral patterns, turning anticlockwise.

It's a closeup of Seneschal Reprise's eyes. The room quickly quiets after the eyes appear, and even you can feel yourselves calming down some.

"Happy rising, brave souls of Ironcastle," the Seneschal says in her rather soft and airy voice. "How is everyone feeling?"

A few murmured responses answer her. It might as well be silent compared to what it was before.

 No.759324

>>759323
I lower my voice to a whisper.
"I think it's over, Ruby."

 No.759325

>>759323
I won't stop Huitlapan from following us, and I'll remain quiet and listen to the Seneschal

 No.759326

Deadweight pays close attention to the Seneschal.

 No.759327

>>759323
"I think so." she said to Ruby quietly as she looked at the screen for a bit.

As she did she decided to look inside for a moment to see if her friend had anything to say.

Dhampir do you have any inkling what went on?

 No.759328

>>759327
Dhampir shudders and gurgles. Say, Princess…

That's the first time he's ever called you anything besides "Reject."

Are you… sure… that that tall mare was your mom?


>>759324
>>759327
Ruby points to the corner of the screen, where you see a little colorful suitcase that she could handily fit in. "Everything was going wrong, all my error-catching programs were overloaded, I was about to get factory reset… so I zipped myself up and tried to ride it out. Guess part of me got caught outside…"

Her sprite glitches briefly before returning to normal.

>>759324
>>759325
>>759326
>>759327
"Well, unfortunately, the situation on the Floors below has become quite dire," the Seneschal continues. "We have received a number of frankly contradictory reports, but despite everything else, they agree that the Necromancer has attacked and captured most of our forward scouting teams. Rumors are circulating of injuries and even death. I've taken into account the earlier vote in favor of coordinating a combined assault on the Necromancer's lair, and have made the executive decision to move the assault's timetable up, considering the plight of our comrades.

"No doubt you have many questions about that collective dream most of you seem to have shared," she continues. "To those, we regrettably have no answer at this time. However, the reports from below have suggested that vaguely similar phenomena are taking place in the lower Floors. Mass hallucinations, visual and auditory, they seem to be. They are not consistent – some members of forward teams have experienced them, while others did not. They vary also in their themes and intensity. We are currently researching them and will broadcast pertinent updates to all members when they are available."

She pauses, scanning the room… presumably for questions, but perhaps something else as well.

 No.759329

>>759328
I mean… she was there for as long as I remember…

It wouldn't be that strange would it?


>>759328
She frowned and looked at Ruby once more "That doesn't sound ideal. Any idea what did it?" she asked before frowning more at the news

"I really don't wanna fight that guy… he's scary."

 No.759330

>>759328
I frown at hearing the loss of life, and remain listening to what the Seneschal has to say.

 No.759331

Deadweight's brows furrow, hearing the bad news. "Damn…"

 No.759332

>>759328
I frown while listening.

 No.759333

>>759329
"Probably whatever was affecting you all, too," Ruby says. "But, I didn't see anything like what you guys described. I can't dream… if that's what it was."

>>759329
Cause, I was thinking… when I was asleep at that desk, it felt like… I was in that house… right beside you, and…

It felt like… she was my mom.


>>759330
>>759331
>>759332
>>759329
"As my previous statement implied," the Seneschal continues, when none – not any in the entire crowd around you – ask her any questions. "We are temporarily lifting the restriction on long-range communications for this operation. Reports suggest that Dreaded Ones are, with few exceptions, either vacating the Eighth Layer or being driven to madness, destroying one another, or even themselves. The bouts of mania appear to be concomitant with the waves of hallucinations that the froward teams have experienced. But while the forward teams have generally recovered from their hallucinations, the effects seem to be more or less permanent on the Dreaded.

"Considering this, it is now safer to use long-range communication technology, especially to coordinate the assault. An emergency warning broadcast and forced shutdown will occur if our Observers find any evidence to the contrary."

She shuts her eyes, and her head briefly drifts to the side as if she were suddenly nodding off. Some of the calm recedes, and nervousness returns. Knight-Brother Mountain steps closer, propping up Seneschal Reprise. She stirs, and awakes. "This operation shall commence as soon as the majority of deployment-ready teams have made it to L-8 F-5. As you will recall from Mister Green's debriefing, Floor 4 is the Necromancer's apparent abode. On Floor 5 we will await the forward teams' intelligence on the lair's layout and the situation's developments."

…Suddenly, she wobbles a little on her hooves, and yawns. "…Questions?"

 No.759334

>>759333
Something weird is going on, but I can't put my finger on it.

 No.759335

>>759333

Deadweight mentally prepares herself for the operation.

 No.759336

>>759333
That… I mean she might not be your actual mom but maybe she helped bond us or something?

>>759333
"I had hoped maybe you had. But oh well. Thanks Ruby."

Seeing how the Seneschal was acting she frowned "DO you think whatever happened to us is making her do things we… shouldn't do?"

 No.759337

>>759333
I raise my hoof with the magicomp lit.
"Are there known safe passages past Floor 4?"

 No.759338

>>759335
>>759334
>>759337
"Mister Green attested that he snuck around as low as Floor 3. We will question him as to more precise maps and hidden routes available to teams as soon as this briefing concludes."

>>759336
How the hell would I know, Princess!? …All I know… all I know is what I felt… it felt… true. Real. About as real as being in your body, moving with you, fighting and killing and being killed with you.

 No.759339

I put my hoof down and turn off my magicomp's light, no more questions from me.

 No.759340

>>759338
Deadweight firmly nods.

 No.759341

>>759338
I have nothing to add.

 No.759342

>>759338
I know Dhampir. It felt as real as that to me. But I just don't know.

 No.759476

>>759342
Hey… what if… what if we took one of those skiffs… commandeered it, or maybe stowed away. Went back to Ironcastle. Found her. Asked her about these things… we could do it. I could get us onboard… I have a bad feeling about what waits us down there, Princess… Would anyone really notice if we 'went missing?'

…Why does he keep calling you that? He's never used that word once in his un-life.

>>759339
>>759340
>>759341
>>759342
The Seneschal's eyes flutter shut, and she appears to start dozing off, even standing on her own four legs. The broadcast of her spiral-iris eyes shuts down, and Knight-Brother Mountain steps in to help her remain standing.

"This is an All-Unit Mission," Knight-Brother Mountain says, trying to regain control as anxiety enters the room once more. "All previous expedition work is temporarily suspended until we have confirmed the neutralization of the Necromancer as a threat. You have the authority to open fire on the Necromancer and his creations if necessary for your immediate safety – but don't engage until as large a force as possible can be amassed. Keep tabs on yourselves and your allies. If you believe you are falling under the influence of one of these hallucinations, do not attack until you've confirmed your return to reality."

He salutes you, and the gathered troops salute in return on reflex. "For the Iron Crown!" the Knight-Brother bellows, before taking the now-napping Seneschal off the stage.

 No.759477

>>759476
I gather up with the rest of my buddies.

 No.759478

>>759476
I let out a long sigh and wait to follow my group out

 No.759479

>>759476
She was quiet for a moment before looking in Not without Deadweight. I can't abandon her. she said as she sighed.

She looked to Deadweight quietly for now

>>759341
"Do you think… perhaps we shouldn't go down?"

 No.759480

>>759479
"Are you saying we have an option?"

 No.759481

>>759479
"Nonsense miss Hope, we should first make absolutely sure to alert other teams about the neutral parties we've encountered before an impasse occurs"

 No.759482

>>759481
>>759480
"I suppose it's fair but… well I don't want any of us to get hurt either ya know?"

 No.759483

>>759482
"Injury is an expected outcome here, miss Hope. We're each trained to minimize such a thing, but the occupation demands blood."

 No.759484

>>759483
"It's more… death I fear."

 No.759485

>>759479
Sure, I get it… well, so long as we're taking plus-ones… that mermaid… think she's still around?

>>759477
>>759478
>>759479
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM2ZoIgyrk4

"I don't understand," Cautaa says to Lost. "You mean, guard the FOB? What of those we've met so far? The janitor, the delivery colt, the friendly Shikkaku – the knights! Blast it, they don't stand a chance…"

"I think I only met the first guy, but this would be a pretty good spot to defend them from," Xu says. "Find whatever terminal they're using to broadcast messages to all the descending units, warn them not to fire on anyone matching the descriptions you have of those guys."

"Ruby," Huitlapan says. "Do you have any security camera footage of those skeletons you saw at the arcade before us?"

"Way ahead of you," Ruby types back. Her animations have stopped, and a status message above her avatar says, "BUSY: Rendering files."

 No.759486

>>759479
Deadweight looks very stern, listening to the Seneschal and to the Knight-Brother, but when she sees Lost looking to her, her gaze lightens.

>>759480
>>759483
>>759484
"If we die, we die for our brethren," Deadweight says.

>>759485
"That'd be good. They're allies; we shouldn't waste our firepower on them," Deadweight says.

 No.759487

>>759485
"That's a good idea."

 No.759488

>>759486
>>759485

"I am dairly certain sneaking in a dreaded one would be quite difficult." she said with an attempt at playfulness

Upon hearing Deadweights response, Lost was quiet for a bit and sighed before giving a weak smile. She was honestly terrified by the thought of this… But she would put on a brave mask and do her best to keep her friends alive.

"I suppose it's only fair that we help them out after they helped us."

 No.759489

>>759488
Deadweight smirks and firmly nods at Lost.

 No.759490

>>759488
Well hell, Princess, that mare got me through! Wait… think that means I'm not one of them…? No, never mind that. If you get to cling to hope, then so do I, alright!?

He's losing himself… experiencing something other than cynical, bitter amusement is a hard adjustment… you can feel it in that empty pit of his heart.

>>759488
>>759487
>>759486
Your allies quickly give Ruby the best visual descriptions of the friendly folk you've met so far, hoping that it may protect them. The smoking janitor, the delivery guy, the skeletons you met at the ice cream shop, Shika, The Knights of the Gravepyre…

"Wait – what about Mogao?" Cautaa asks.

"Who?" Xu asks.

"If I can confess," Huitlapan says. "Something in me doubted he was an Ironcastle operative. I couldn't place it, but his story was fishy from the get-go…"

"We're short on time, but his profile would be in the files up here," Cautaa says. "We could chance being caught to investigate him…"

 No.759491

>>759490
"We might as well figure out what his deal is. He's fishy."

 No.759493

>>759490
>>759491
"I agree info would be good to grab before we go down."

 No.759494

>>759493
grab info.

 No.759495

>>759491
>>759492
>>759493
Nodding, your group exits the meeting-hall, heading northwest through the FOB toward Central Command. On the Western side of the Central Command yurts, you see signs for the Cyber Resources Unit – the "cru," as they like to call themselves. Their section of the Central Command area is a series of six big connected yurts arrayed in a honeycomb fashion. It's under constant guard, unlike the little computer area you snuck into with Xu that one time. Most outside of the CRU aren't allowed access without permission.

Some options occur to you – you could attempt to sneak in, or convince the guards of the urgency of your investigation, or perhaps some other way exists.

 No.759496

>>759495
"Would we rather be quiet, loud? or try to bribe them or something?"

 No.759497

>>759496
"We could try telling them the truth."

 No.759498

>>759495
>>759497
"Because in truth we have no better option, were this individual someone of secret then I doubt we'll be allowed access to investigate based on an alias alone."

 No.759499

>>759498
>>759497
>>759496
"I just need to get plugged in somewhere, and I can take care of it," Ruby says. "You'd be appalled at how bad some people are at cyber security… maybe you could trick one of the staff into plugging me in? By the way – I'm almost done with the high-priority Concord blast for your allies. I'll get it out there in just a second."

 No.759500

>>759499
"Xu do you have any ideas? You're smart."

 No.759501

>>759499
"The only distractions I can manage will leave the building on fire."

 No.759502

>>759499
>>759500
>>759501
"We can tell 'em there's a virus on one of our Magicomps," Deadweight suggests.

 No.759503

>>759501
"Maybe they like singed stallions?" she joked trying to lighten the mood a bit.

 No.759504

>>759502
"Posh, a virus would be treated seriously… Hmm, perhaps suggesting it doesn't work right? You could go with the mention that Concord has been two half-seconds slower since the clear-all notice appeared earlier."

 No.759505

>>759503
"Maybe, but burning silicon smells terrible."

 No.759506

>>759504
"Mhm," Deadweight says.

>>759505
"Hothead, how 'bout you go in there and tell 'em Concord's been slow since the notice appeared?"

 No.759507

>>759505
"Can't say I'm familiar with it."

 No.759508

>>759499
"Miss Ruby if you wouldn't mind."
I offer a connection to my magicomp and take it to someone at the CRU.
"Excuse me, my magicomp has been running far slower since the general chat's freeze. I think that's it, but accessing anything has been droll since- could I have it looked at?"

 No.759509

>>759500
>>759501
>>759502
>>759503
Xu mulls it over. "Well… they're probably professionals, so they wouldn't connect your Comp to anything that could access their networks. Maybe they'd play with it in a VM on an isolated machine if they couldn't just figure out the problem from messing with the Comp itself…"

Ruby waggles her hoof at Xu. "You're forgetting I'm an AI, not some measly virus. Watch and learn."

>>759508
>>759500
>>759501
>>759502
>>759503
The guard shrugs and lets you in, and you flag down one of the passing CRU Sages, explaining the "situation."

The Sage, a nerdy looking mare in a labcoat, picks up Firmgold's comp, fiddling with a few buttons. As she does so, you notice that Cautaa's comp starts to act funny as well, and some of the electrical visual effects associated with his peculiar techno-magic start to activate, apparently against his will. Then, the Sage's Comp starts acting off as well, displaying error messages and the like.

"Oh gods… it's happening! Again!" the Sage shouts, running to another yurt in a panic. "Code Yellow! Code yellow! It wasn't me this time, I swear!"

"And that's one network key pickpocketed," Ruby giggles to herself as the CRU start arguing in the background. "Okay… let's see what we've got… you guys, act natural, or else maybe go get some coffee, or any supplies you might need for the upcoming mission."

Cautaa grumbles, blushing that Ruby used his own magic without his noticing.

 No.759510

>>759509
Lost for her part took a moment to compose herself and get something to eat for both her and Dhampir.

 No.759511

>>759509
Time for more coffee and seared veggies.

 No.759512

>>759509
Deadweight shrugs and goes make herself useful.

 No.759513

>>759509
I will follow to get food in me, hoping that my magicomp doesn't get looked through too much while I wait.

 No.759514

>>759513
>>759512
>>759511
>>759510
Some coffee and herbivore friendly sandwiches later (Cautaa got a tuna salad sandwich, and Huitlapan got a nut and fruit medley smoothie), you are summoned back to the CRU yurts, where the nerdy looking Sage hands Firmgold back her Magicomp. The Sage looks harried, on the verge of tears, and exhausted.

Yeah they figured out it was her. Or at least, that was the impression Ruby left them with.

"It's… it's working now…" she sighs. "Free of charge…"

>"Yeah I ended up leaving them with a 'real enough' virus they could decompile and neutralize, as a participation trophy," Ruby types. "Now let's make ourselves scarce."


>"What of Mogao?" Cautaa types.


>"As you might have guessed… nothing. No records, not even redacted ones, mention anyone of his description, his cover story, nor anything else I might have attached to him. Unless he's really, deeply, Lux Deorum levels of clandestine, his story about being undercover just wasn't true."


>"Wait… they had the Lux Deorum in Agatecastle as well?" Huitlapan types.


The Lux Deorum, Ironcastle's rumored secret police and intelligence agency. Rivaled only in power by the Iron Family themselves, and accused of dirty dealings by the few dissidents willing to speak out in Ironcastle…

>"Let's not get caught up in a tangent," Ruby says. "The point is, we've confirmed what we suspected – Mogao isn't who he says he is, and he's probably not doing what he says he's doing, either. What he's really doing snooping around the Necromancer's territory, I don't know. Aside from that, I did find some other interesting files, but I haven't decrypted them yet. If you guys don't need me for anything else, I wanted to start decrypting those, but I'll need my full focus just in case I screw it up."

 No.759515

>>759514
I thank the mare and leave
"I'm feeling a gust of confetti, lets make for our objective."

 No.759516

>>759514
"I knew he couldn't be trusted."

 No.759517

>>759514
"Never trusted him," Deadweight says, "Sure, you can start decrypting. We'll make our way to the Necromancer."

 No.759518

>>759514
Lost quietly pushed on, just silently praying her and her friends would be safe.

 No.759519

>>759515
>>759516
>>759517
>>759518
Ruby's avatar salutes, then disappears. In its place appears a charming wooden sign: "Closed. Gone Phishing."

As you make for the elevator to descend to the lower Floors, the guards standing there stop your approach. They explain that it hasn't been working since last Cycle, and nobody has been able to yet determine the cause – no mechanical nor even electronic failures have come up, yet it refuses to budge all the same.

You'll have to descend from the top, so to speak.

And so, you make your way to where it all began…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6229SSjsp4o

Given that you're all ready, you follow along with the directions provided by Colonnade, descending from the sixth Floor of Layer Nine (L-9, F-6) toward Layer Eight. The FOB is heavily fortified and guarded, but all the way through, you can sense a constant atmosphere of apprehension from your fellow soldiers, knowing what evil lurks beneath them.
[/i]
Eventually, you reach L-9, F-3, the first of the three buffer Floors between Layers Eight and Nine. The guard presence is constant, and you're forced to proceed through a labyrinth of fences and sandbags set up to deter any invasion from below. Hardlight turrets and security bots keep a steady eye on all doorways and staircases.

In time, you reach the final staircase, a very deep and winding one, descending in a spiral shape into Layer Eight: The Barracks. The staircase darkens the deeper you go, as the light from above gets further, and further away…

At the base of the stairs, you push open a door, and find yourself in a lightless stone room. The tiles are uneven, and the floor is marred by patches of mold here and there. Walls are marked with scratches and gouges, and a faint rotten smell tinges the air; your armorsuits automatically activate their air filters to catch any airborne pollutants. Huitlapan and Xu, who had been making small talk on the way down, immediately fall silent as they look about for danger.

[i]There are two doors to the West, two doors to the East, and one door to the North.

 No.759520

>>759519
I check out the north door.

 No.759521

>>759519
I consult my map to our previous choices as I follow conflagration

 No.759522

>>759519
>>759520
Deadweight follows Conflagration, but looks around the room to make sure they didn't miss anything.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.759523

>>759522
>>759519
Lost just tails after her like the lost puppy she is.

 No.759524

>>759521
[1d10] Perception
[1d10] Steadfast's Perception

Roll #1 10 = 10 / Roll #2 2 = 2

 No.759525

>>759519
[1d10]
Perception

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759526

>>759522
>>759521
>>759520
>>759523
The door is not locked, and so you are able to exit, stepping out onto…

Not a pedestrian street littered with refuse. Rather, it's a corridor in an office building. It is abandoned, and lightless, and certainly filthy, yet it connects to this doorway as if it were the most natural thing in the world, like it had always been there. There is no evidence of structural damage that might have led to the office building colliding with this street, such as through a collapse.

This is definitely the path you took on your first time through here. Yet it's now considerably different. There are three doors in this hallway, one on the right, one on the left, and one at the end, further north. Firmgold can hear ambient electronic buzzing coming from the left (western) doorway. Listening in deeper, Conflagration can hear voices discussing something beyond that door.

"Memory may not serve us so well here…" Huitlapan says.

 No.759527

>>759526
Deadweight looks around with a confused look on her face. She steps back into the stone room, looks at the door, then walks through it again. "What's the deal?"

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759528

>>759526
"The westernmost door has… fluorescent bulbs, I think?"

 No.759529

>>759526
>>759527
>>759528
I send out a concord message.
>Voices behind the left door.
I'll press my ear against it and listen in.
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.759530

>>759528
>>759529
Deadweight herself investigates the north door.

 No.759531

>>759529
>>759530
I will be ready with my weapon drawn, behind them.

 No.759532

>>759526
Lost decided now would be a good time to make herself scarce.

[1d10] stealth

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759533

>>759527
Everything looks to be in order. The doorway connects the two spaces as if it were the most natural thing in the world, all laid out in the construction plans and everything. It even appears structurally sound too, at least, for an abandoned, dilapidated ruined area… as best as that sort of thing can be, anyway.

Two possibilities come to mind: The first, that this may be a hallucination… or that this might be a result of what the Seneschal told you when you first arrived in Agatecastle – that Agatecastle was undergoing renovations of a sort. Structures of all sorts were being rearranged, enchanted, and so on. At first it was assumed that it was a Dreaded One, but it sounds like the Dreaded are leaving Layer Eight as quick as they can.

Therefore.

Some other force is moving around the structures of this Layer.

>>759529
They sound like Ironcastle personnel. A quick peek through the peephole confirms this. They're messing with some computers, apparently trying to figure out what might be going on here themselves.

>>759530
>>759532
>>759531
Beyond the north door appears to have once been a manager's office, but an explosion has leveled much of the place and the surrounding courtyard, leaving it in a heap of rubble and disarray. There's a path toward a public staircase leading downward across the blasted way.

>paused

 No.759534

Lost remained silent from her new spot in the shadows, content to have the ability to see and not be seen. A security blanket of sorts.

 No.759535

>>759533
Deadweight feels chills when she realizes that some other force must be moving around the structures of this Layer.

 No.759536

>>759533
Deadweight advances toward the staircase.

 No.759537

>>759533
>Perception
[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.759538

>>759533
I message everyone
>+Perhaps we come to a consensus on action?+

 No.759539

>>759533
I send out another concord message.
>Ironcastle folks working on computers past the door. Go in?

 No.759542

>>759539
>>759535
>>759536
>>759537
>>759534
>>759538
While Conflagration, Firmgold and Steadfast discuss whether to investigate the supposed personnel behind the door (for, after all, hallucinations are apparently afflicting the expedition staff), Deadweight and Lost advance toward the public staircase to investigate.

It's… well, at this point, it's not much of a staircase. There are many conspicuous gaps in the infrastructure, left by many explosions. A fierce battle had raged here and didn't leave a very accessible path in its wake. Perhaps you could try to navigate through the gaps, or take the staircase conventionally, and risk the falls… then again, there may be emergency fire exits nearby that might not be as damaged.

 No.759543

>>759534
>>759542
Seeing how precarious the staircase is, Deadweight says, "Let's fall back," and joins the others.

 No.759544

>>759543
>>759542
The stealthed pony followed her mare friend back to the others.

 No.759545

>>759542
>+I'm in favor of going in, this would move us further along our mission.+

 No.759547

>>759542
I open up the door and poke my head inside.

 No.759550

>>759543
>>759544
>>759545
>>759547
The team of Ironcastle explorers gives a start as Conflagration enters the room, but they relax when they see it's just their fellow soldiers. There are five explorers there in total, four griffons and a Vola.

"Oh, it's you guys, from the post!" the Vola says. "Hail, fellows. We've been taking advantage of the power coming back onto this Floor to snoop around. How have you fared?"

 No.759551

>>759550
"Pretty good, pretty good, but one thing first. How do each of us know the other's not a hallucination?"
I look around the room.
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.759552

>>759550
Deadweight looks around as well.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759553

>>759550
Lost silently looked inward to Dhampir

Do you smell any dreaded ones on them?

[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759554

>>759550
I follow Conflagration in
"Greetings! The floor has undergone some.. changes and we're short on map updates for it. Yourselves?"

 No.759557

>>759551
>>759552
>>759553
>>759554
It all looks pretty real to you. Especially to Conflagration, whose eyebrows have burst into flames.

Nah… I think they're legit, Dhampir whispers to Lost.

"We've been talking to the other groups below," the Vola continues. "Sounds like the hallucinations have been precipitated by very slight ripples in the air, almost like heatwaves. We haven't seen anything like that. So unless you have, I think we're safe here."

>>759554
"Sounds like the case across the board," one of the griffons says, pointing to her Magicomp. "In so short a period, our previous maps have become outdated. The Floors don't seem to have undergone complete restructurings, though – the changes are dramatic, but they're not universal. In other words, most of the Floors still look the same as when the teams went through earlier."

 No.759558

>>759557
I pat out my eyebrows.
"What have you mapped out so far?"

 No.759561

>>759557
"I see…" Deadweight says. She leaves the room and checks out what's through the doorway across the hall.

 No.759562

>>759557
Lost stalked around the room a bit, looking for anything odd.

[1d10] Perception cause why not.

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.759563

>>759557
>Perception
[1d10]

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.759565

>>759557
"Might I ask if there is a throughway in this room?"

 No.759568

>>759561
Definitely just an office storage room. Not much of interest in here, unless you need paper clips or staples. Oh, and sticky notes.

>>759562
You notice that the computers in the office are now all on. It wouldn't take much for Xu to break in, if you want to snoop around for any info.

>>759565
>>759559
>>759561
>>759562
>>759563
"Not much more than what you guys probably got," the Vola says. "We poked around in the rooms beyond the first big square one that the stairs to Layer Nine puts you in. Everything was different from the first time that we came through. Random buildings like this one – an empty convenience store, a supply room for a public park, a ticket booth, no real rhyme or reason to what got grafted onto the doorways. So, we were going to try our luck with the major staircase not too far from here."

 No.759569

>>759568
Lost quickly shot her a message on Concord.

>Xu, the Computers are on, take a look.

 No.759571

>>759568
"Nothing," Deadweight huffs. She rejoins the group and tells them, "I'm gonna fly down the staircase that was in the manager's office," before going to do just that.

 No.759573

>>759568
"Ah, that is unfortunate but thank you for your forthcoming."
>>759571
*Ahem* "Miss Weight is going alone a wise notion? Perhaps we should take our time in such an endeavor."

 No.759575

>>759568
>>759569
>>759571
>>759573
I turn to the others.
"So what now?"

 No.759578

>>759573
"It doesn't look like we're finding much here, and I have wings," Deadweight tells her.

 No.759579

>>759578
"Yes, you do Miss Weight."
I turn and move closer to Deadweight
"Yet I seem to remember a certain event that began in such a fashion. I suggest we move together for each other's safety."

>>759575
"We'll have to find our way down, Mister Conflagration."

 No.759581

>>759579
"Hmph, alright," Deadweight says, staying with the group.

 No.759583

>>759569
"Huh?" Xu mutters. You see she's been watching her Comp this whole time – and still is. "Oh… yeah, on it."

Not taking her eyes off the device, she walks over to a computer desk and nearly trips as she sits down into it.

>>759569
>>759571
>>759573
>>759575
"We're planning on getting on our own way deeper into the Castle ourselves," the Vola explains. "If you're taking the stairs just beyond here, we can help you navigate the descent – though we'll probably split ways after that, cover more ground. Our Concords have been blowing up lately, everyone we know has been posting about what they've encountered non-stop. It's pretty all over the place… some people are seeing some pretty heavy stuff. People they once knew coming back to them, but in different appearances."

Huitlapan grimaces as last Cycle's dream returns to him…

 No.759584

>>759581
I smile
"Wonderful! I shall have to ask which place this descent is, if I may do so right now."
I will follow to the staircase after bidding farewell to the other agents

 No.759586

>>759583
>>759581
>>759579
>>759575
Lost in an attempt to remain the ghost in the shadows sends a concord message.

>Let Xu have a moment with the computers, then let us go.

 No.759587

>>759583
"We would greatly appreciate your assistance in this, might I add."

 No.759589

>>759583
Deadweight nods at the Vola.

>>759586
>>759586
Deadweight checks her Magicomp, then says, "We'll see if Xu finds anything before we head out."

 No.759590

>>759583
"We'll take your help just as soon as our friend is done with the computers."

 No.759596

>>759590
>>759589
>>759587
>>759586
>>759584
Xu gets to work, and somehow ropes Deadweight and Huitlapan into having to figure out how to get the coffee machine working so they can pour her a cup. Deadweight quickly realizes that she could have done it herself – but getting Huitlapan, who had been growing despondent at the memory of the dream, involved, was the focus all along. Xu sends back her coffee a couple times, and by the third time, Huitlapan has invested himself fully into coffee-brewing theory.

Anyway, Xu finds herself glued to the screen of the computer, utterly fascinated as she flips through the pages and programs and files. After about half an hour, she forces herself to turn around, downing the last of her coffee – grinds and all.

"Okay… I have no clue what I was looking at."

"Incredible," Cautaa deadpans.

"But that's just it!" Xu exclaims. "Nothing made sense… this building looked like it was part of a manufacturing firm for lumber. My brothers are into that stuff, it's the family business, so I knew a little of it – but the records I was going through, they didn't make sense. There wasn't any mention of any kind of addresses or clients or suppliers or anything that would echo it's done in Ironcastle. Nothing that'd match how structures are built in Castles. Nothing even about harvesting lumber from the Castle Orchards… it's like…"

She pauses, unsure if she can even utter her suspicion.

 No.759598

>>759596
"Like reality itself is breaking apart at a fundamental level and we're facing the end of all endings?"

 No.759599

>>759598
"Bruh," Xu says.

 No.759600

>>759599
"So at least it's not that bad?"

 No.759601

>>759596
>>759598
Deadweight can't help but get chills.

 No.759603

>>759596
>>759598
Deadweight sharply sighs. "Well, let's see what's down that staircase, then."

 No.759604

>>759596
>So it's like Logic has been appropriated by something else?
>Or maybe it's like a corruption of reality spreading out.

 No.759605

>>759596
"Right, then perhaps we shouldn't dally any longer. I'm ready when you all are."

 No.759607

>>759604
>>759603
>>759601
>>759600
>>759605
"Well… the permits were the real kicker," Xu says. "I don't know about Agatecastle, but Ironcastle has a lot of red tape when it comes to cutting down any amount of trees. You practically have to get approval for every last scrap of bark and branch, but here… they did their permitting, but… there was no reference to any sort of Castle office or agency. Nothing… about Agatecastle at all. It was like this place didn't belong in a Castle – and didn't have any record of being in a Castle either."

The others don't really seem to know what to make of this, this obvious impossibility, and silence lingers among them for a while.

 No.759608

>>759607
"Weird."

 No.759609

>>759607
Deadweight stares at the computer with her brows slightly furrowed, then looks around the room.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 5 = 5

 No.759610

>>759607
"It sounds as though you're saying the reference of these permits were more of a general term, perhaps to a time when such abundance only required an official limit for… tax reasons?"

 No.759612

>>759607
>Maybe…. maybe it wasn't? I dunno maybe this place is some giant dreaded one hallucination and we're all crazy.

 No.759614

>>759612
>+We wouldn't feel a chill in such a delusion, perhaps something tried to bring our collective dream into reality+

 No.759616

>>759608
>>759609
>>759610
>>759612
>>759614
"Right…" Cautaa says to Firmgold. "Yes, surely there's smaller scale explanations for this discrepancy than something so absurd. Some bureaucratic issue. There are the Mutant Tribes around the Castles, but they are scattered and disconnected across the Outlands… besides them there is no life outside the Castles, only the unliving Dreaded…"

Huitlapan is already making for the door, disturbed by these thoughts and speculations. "Yes… let's be off."

>Paused

 No.759751

>>759616
"Off we go!"
I walk through the door before Huitlapan.

 No.759752

>>759616
Deadweight nods at Huitlapan and leads the way to the staircase.

 No.759753

>>759616
I will follow everyone out, but keep in mind our surroundings when we start down a new path.

[1d10] Awareness

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.759754

>>759616
Lost continued to follow from stealth

 No.759755

>>759751
>>759752
>>759753
>>759754
Together with the crew of grifofns, you make your way to the inter-Floor stairwell, the one bombed to metallic shreds by some unknown battle – though, considering the recent transformations to this floor, whether that battle was recent or distant, or perhaps even fictional or real, may be up to interpretation.

The griffons look down at the stairwell, gauging their possible descent.

"Any preference for fast or cautious, gents and ladies?" their charismatic leader asks.

 No.759756

>>759755
"Cautious. That looks dangerous."

 No.759757

>>759755
>>759756
"Guess we're in no real hurry," Deadweight says.

 No.759758

>>759757
"Indeed, we make time by our caution."

>>759755
"Cautious, please."

 No.759759

>>759755
"Slow and steady."

 No.759760

>>759759
>>759758
>>759757
>>759756
The griffons nod, and split up, each of them in turn allowing you to ride on their backs, so that they can descend through the gaps in the stairwell. Their descent is slow, yet not overly slow, for always they are on the watch against both Dreaded Ones and structural instability in the broken stairwell, taking advantage of their avian physiognomy to keep their heads on a swivel.

Their slow and gliding descent takes you through the inner machinery of the stairwell, exposing you to an arcane mess of wires, cables, pipes, and all other manner of structural material, seemingly comprising every possible kind of metal and wood and mineral available to mortal means. Though those of you with no backgrounds in the construction arts cannot make much sense of it, it leaves you with a sense of having seen the dismemberment and mechanical, dispassionate gutting of some animal of prey, such as a fish…

At last, you touch down–

Into the burned shopping mall of Layer Eight, Floor Seven.

The very Layer in which you met Green, whose story cast doubt on the account of Agatecastle's demise.

Supposedly happening ten thousand years hence…

Yet, unfolding upon Green's security cameras, merely one year ago, to the date.

You have touched down into an unknown part of the shopping mall, one not present on the Map you recovered before. There are various stores near you, seemingly untouched by the great fire that blasted this entire Floor the last time you were here…

Cautaa, Xu and Huitlapan remain silent, forming a block with their backs to one another, to avoid being snuck up upon.

 No.759761

Deadweight furrows her brows, perplexed, and looks around.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.759762

>>759760
I quietly thank the griffons for their help and watch our surroundings until they leave

[2d10] Awareness Myself, Steadfast

Roll #1 4, 8 = 12

 No.759763

>>759760
It's nice seeing something that hasn't caught on fire even one.
[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.759764

>>759760
Lost decided to scan the more quiet and secluded spots.

[1d10] perception

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.759765

>>759764
>>759763
>>759762
>>759761
You and the others attune your senses, and pause as you hear the distant rumblings of a great battle– though as Lost and Steadfast can tell, brought to its sudden conclusion. The sound seems to be coming from the southwest, judging by how its echoes carry off the mall's facades.

"Right, gentlecolts and ladies," the griffon leader says. "This is as far as we go. We're bound for another route through. You go on and be careful, alright? We'll see you before the final battle for this Layer."

With that, the other Team heads off, taking advantage of their flight to maneuver freely to parts unknown through the Floors.

 No.759766

>>759765
I will learn of this from Steadfast as soon as Lost informs us.

 No.759767

>>759765
>>759762
>>759761
>>759763

Lost hit concord and messaged the others.

>Sounds like a battle just ended to the southwest. If you wanna investigate that is.

 No.759768

>>759765
Deadweight nods to the griffon leader. Her ear twitches at the sound of battle.

>>759767
She checks Concord and messages back.

>"Let's take a look.

 No.759769

>>759767
>>759766
"That sounds like an okay idea. Lead the way."

 No.759770

>>759767
"Perhaps to ensure victory, lets."

 No.759771

>>759770
>>759765
Get closer to the sounds
[1d10-2] Sneak test myself
[1d10-2] Sneak test Steadfast

Roll #1 2 - 2 = 0 / Roll #2 5 - 2 = 3

 No.759772

>>759766
>>759767
>>759768
>>759769
Cautiously, you and your allies proceed to the southwest, sticking close to walls, overturned display stalls, and other such forms of improvised cover, making sure to only move when it's been cleared…

And so, by the time that you arrive in the plaza, you are sure that it's safe.

Safe, as a result of the battles being over.

For, on one side of the plaza, near custom prescription sunglasses kiosks, there lie great heaps of broken and disorganized bones, the remains of three great gashadokuro, and on the other side, the near side, another expedition team. They appear to have been badly hurt, and their medic is running harried among the four of them to try to patch them up. One of them, you recognize: a donkey Jenny by the name of Thuda, who once tried to sell you hints for 30 Schillings apiece. She seems to have a score of minor lacerations, though no broken bones, judging by her bandages.

"Well well!" Thuda greets. "Was hoping I'd see you again, but in happier circumstances. Don't suppose I could interest you in buying any hints this time? Heheheheheh."

 No.759773

>>759772
"I think I've got some shillings. What happened here?"
I cast a suspicious glance at the bone pile.

 No.759774

Deadweight flies over to the expedition team and uses the health kits she has to help tend to them.

 No.759775

>>759772
I will go use Spellbreaker on the pile o' bones
[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.759776

>>759772
Lost slipped thirty shillings to the jenny but tried to do her best to do so while remaining sneaky breeky like.

 No.759777

>>759773
>>759774
>>759775
>>759776
"No, no, no Schillings," Thuda says as Deadweight hurries over to help their harried healer deal with their wounded team of five. Meanwhile, Firmgold checks the three gashadokuro of pony origin, who the expedition team had been fighting in that mall plaza, and ensures they won't be getting back up anytime soon, their mishmashed bones dispelled of the necromancer's magical signature.

"We'll help however we can, my little money-making scheme aside," Thuda chuckles. Her teammates raise eyebrows, but get back to focusing on recovery. "Before I begin, just so I don't keep repeating info you've already heard… what've you encountered so far?" Thuda asks.

 No.759778

>>759777
"A giant hole, unfinished renovations, and weird records about wood."

 No.759779

>>759777
I nod about them not getting back up again and rejoin my group.
"Miss Thuda, I believe I've taken care to map our path thus far. If you'll allow a wired connection?"

I offer to trade map info

 No.759780

>>759777
Deadweight continues tending to their wounded associates.

 No.759781

>>759777
Hope just took her schillings back in an equally sneaky manner.

 No.759782

>>759781
>>759780
>>759778
>>759779
Thuda nods, and wires her map in return to Firmgold. What seems at first glance like a fairly accurate rendering of the previous map that you followed comes annotated with a number of caveats and descriptions. Somehow, you've ended up in Section 11, according to Thuda's map.

https://mlpg.co/q/src/1595393121108.jpg

"The nearest stairwell has to be in Section 10 as far as we can tell," Thuda says. "But like the previous Floors, this place is way different than when we last came through here. Someone's been doing some quick renovating… but who knows who's doing it, or why."

"Whaddya mean, renovating?" Xu asks.

"I mean, just about everything –" Thuda says. "Humidity, light levels, building materials, even gravity. It seems like section by section, we've dealt with different conditions. So, you should be cautious going forward. I can keep answering if you're not in a hurry."

 No.759891

>>759782
"How do you renovate gravity? How much would that even cost?"

 No.759892

>>759782
"How are sections One, Nine, and Eight if I might ask?"

>>759891
"Mister Conflagration I'm not sure any of us knows the cost of manipulating gravity."

 No.759893

>>759892
"Even you? You struck me as moneyed."

 No.759894

>>759893
"My apologies, I thought you referred to the.. magical? Yes, the magical cost of manipulating gravity. I've yet to hear of someone from our FoB freely attributing their skill in the matter- such the same that there's been no changes to the barracks or defensive centres."

 No.759895

>>759782
"I mean I heard about a noble in Ironcastle who uses gravity magic from my handlers but I don't think he's here."

 No.759896

>>759895
>>759891
>>759892
"My guess is it costs quite a lot," Thuda explains. "Gravitational fluctuations have only been brief, whether they have been mild, or extreme. They're inconsistent, as if whoever was doing them were trying to figure it all out in real time… at least, that's my read on the situation. Believe it or not, a lot of these injuries didn't happen from the fight itself, but from gravity going wild during it. My team's no pushovers, heheheh."

She smirks, glancing back arrogantly at the inert giant skeletons.

>>759892
>>759895
>>759893
"Section one, we've cleared out," Thuda says. "We ran into a gang of skeletons, normal sized ones, mind you. But when we saw your Concord posts, we actually opted to apprehend the gang, rather than kill them. They should still be there. We trapped them in the shades hut. Careful, one of them got their hooves on translation tech. They're going to try to sell you fashionable accoutrements.

"Section eight and nine are rogue elements. Whoever or whatever has been playing hell with reality here has really got a thing for those Sections, probably because of how central they are to this Floor. It's like another mall inside a mall there."

Her expression becomes serious, and she leans in. "For us… that's where the hallucinations were worst. Don't believe anything you see there. The staircase, near as we can tell, is the only real thing. Don't believe anything else you see around there."

"If it's so dangerous, why even go there?" Xu asks.

"Because the stairwells in the other sections are even worse," Thuda says. "Full of territorial things even we'd not rather tangle with. Dreaded, or hallucinations, we're not sure what they are… but the stairs in Sections Eight and Nine are mostly clear. They're like… bait, meant to draw us into the hallucinations."

"But that's all they are, yes?" Cautaa prods. "Mere hallucinations."

"Well… perhaps," Thuda says. "We… might not have words for what they are. Even we're not sure what we encountered."

 No.759897

>>759896
"Ah, that is unfortunate. We may have to pass through those sections if there are no other ways down."

 No.759898

>>759896
"Thanks for the warning."

 No.759899

>>759896
"That is… unfortunate." she said parroting Firmgold.

 No.759900

>>759897
>>759898
>>759899
"You could always take your chances trying to find another group who wants to brave the descent through the other stairwells," Thuda says with a shrug. "But as for us, we're probably going to have to stop here for a good while until we're recovered."

"What a choice…" Cautaa mutters bitterly.

"I…" Huitlapan begins, scrunching up his eyes, before exhaling with force. "I think we should try for sections eight and nine… best we avoid battles with what we can only describe as unknown 'things.'"

Xu frowns with concern. "Are you… like, really sure you're gonna be able to handle more of the visions?"

"Urgh," Huitlapan grunts. He's forcing himself to maintain a stoic grimace. "Y… y-yes… with… with aid, perhaps."

Nothing about his forced tone and stance inspire any confidence in his answer.

At this rate… your dedicated healer may become a liability.

 No.759901

>>759900
Lost frowned but let a hoof slip from whatever hiding place she was currently in as she gave Huit a reassuring few pats on the back "I am here for you my friend."

 No.759902

>>759900
"You can do it, buddy."

 No.759903

>>759900
Deadweight notices Huitlapan's hesitation and walks over to him. "Do you need to go back to FOB? Be honest; it's alright."

 No.759904

>>759900
I look from Thuda's group to Huitlapan and everyone comforting him.
"Perhaps we shouldn't have been so eager to rush down here, but we must press on. For the answer to this attack upon us all will be found, lest we wait and our wounds fester."

 No.759905

>>759902
>>759901
>>759903
>>759904
"I…"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v61paNzFcgQ

As voices respond to Huitlapan, some affirming, others denying, his continued presence in the group… he screws up his eyes shut. He keeps himself stanced up, arms cocked, body poised for action, but his eyes can betray nothing.

Xu lays a very gentle hoof upon his shoulder. "Hey… Huitlapan," she says, in a voice you have not yet heard from her, not once. "You… you don't have to force yourself. No matter what it is– I want you to say what's on your mind."

Cautaa begins to visibly sweat, but stands across from Xu. "He's given his answer already, has he not?"

"Cautaa…" Xu softly begins, before glowering at him. She tabs over to Concord voice chat.

>"Are you fucking kidding me? Look at him, he's falling apart!"


>"Who else can mend our wounds? Who else can heal us?" Cautaa retorts. "Huitlapan has attested his desire to continue at our side; and if we fail to support our allies further below, the Necromancer shall slaughter the lot of him!"


>"What good's he gonna do if he falls apart on the battlefield!?" Xu shouts. "He keeps seeing his dead brother, for crying out loud! I don't know what happened between them, but one more vision like that and he's gonna break down!"


"Please," Huitlapan says, clutching his head. "I am… fine. I can help. It's alright."

 No.759906

>>759905
But his eyes can conceal nothing*

 No.759907

>>759905
Lost stepped out and gently sat in front of Huitlapan "I know… something of what you are feeling my friend. I met a family I have never known in my visions, and truly my heart aches for the life I will never have. So if you wish to confide in me, you can. And if you wish to remain silent I equally understand. But I simply want you to know that I… am here for you." she said putting on a brave face.

 No.759908

>>759905
I'll let the others deal with this. They seem better than I am.

 No.759911

>>759905
Deadweight bites her lip. She's not sure if she should call him Huitlapan a "liability" in this situation.

 No.759912

>>759905
"Mister Huitlapan, what do you decide when someone cannot be healed of their injuries in a manner demanding to this line of work? I should hope the decision is to bring them to the medbay, because an injury to one's psyche is as grievous when it's debilitating, no matter their strength."

 No.759913

>>759907
>>759908
>>759911
>>759912
"You're…" Huitlapan begins. "You're suggesting… I return to the FOB?"

Cautaa catches himself, rather than respond in that instant. His expression is torn between fear of losing a dedicated healer… and compassion for his friend's woes.

Xu, likewise, has fallen silent.

"What… what of you?" Huitlapan says. "If you should be grievously injured, or else– slain… you understand the risks of leaving me behind, don't you? I am fully willing to continue…! Do not let my personal struggles impede the greater mission at hand! Ironcastle needs me…! You need me…!"

 No.759914

>>759913
"If you can do it then you can do it. Besides, at the rate things are going the FOB isn't going to be much safer than anywhere else in here."

 No.759915

>>759913
Huitlapan I am with whatever choice you want to make. If you wish to continue then I welcome it. If you feel as if you are unwell, then I bid you return until you recover."

 No.759917

>>759913
"What of me, Mister Huitlapan? I am here because I choose to be. Everything I wear is because I purchased, leveraged, or bargained to have on myself before leaving Ironcastle. Yet between you, myself and Steadfast, there is more to gain when you live opposed to I."

I pause before adding

"You know my stance, and I would gladly accompany you back to the FOB and search for another to take my place while we see to your recovery. However these are but words, and I will not take up arms against you or anyone else here to simply make them retreat. If I cannot convince you then we shouldn't tarry."

 No.759920

>>759914
>>759915
>>759917
"Huitlapan…" Xu begins. "These illusions are just that, but all the same, they're hurting you. Even I can see that. That's just what– whoever's manipulating them, that's what they want. At this rate, if you keep seeing them, you'll be reduced to nothing, unable to tell fact from fiction… I mean, I don't know you *that well*… but why else would you see your brother time and again?"

Huitlapan grimaces just at the mention of this apparition.

"Huitlapan," Cautaa says, bracing himself. "I will offer you nothing but the truth as I see it. Our survival necessitates the presence of a powerful healer against the dark… I think it even more of a reified truth seeing our unseen foe torment you with visions of the past… but… damn it… I believe… Xu to be right."

"Wh-what?" Huitlapan asks.

"If you are tormented so endlessly by visions of your brother, wrought by our unseen final adversary, whoever or whatever orchestrates these visions, these reality shifts of the Floors and Layers, then… hardly shall you be able to fulfill your goal, yes?" Cautaa says. "Though it pains me… perhaps you should not venture with us further. Perhaps your calling is to remain behind, to aid those unable to advance upon the Necromancer's layer, and anyone who is sent back from the front lines."

Huitlapan falls silent in disbelief. "Truly…?"

This is it… the last boarding call.

If you send him back now, you may advance towards the final battles without a healer.
If you keep him, you may advance towards the final battles with a liability in tow.

 No.759921

>>759920
"For what it is worth my friend. I would like you to come with us personally, but as I said I would leave the choice to you."

 No.759923

>>759920
I remain quiet, as I advocated for him to go back.

 No.759924

>>759920
"We weren't safe from the hallucinations even in the FOB. Stick with us and we'll put a stop to them."

 No.759925

>>759920
Deadweight remains silent for a moment, then she finally says, "You're strong. Your attitude shows that. If you don't wanna head back to the FOB, then it'd be great for you to come with us."

 No.759927

>>759921
>>759923
>>759924
>>759925

"You all… everyone," Huitlapan begins, looking down. "You're all…"

He sighs. "Good, good friends…

"And damned fools."

Cautaa steps back, with a gasp and a start.

"Truly?" Huitlapan asks. "Did you think I would allow you to venture forth against this final darkness without someone whose full-time, fully expensed, insured and benefitted job to be healing the wounded!? Put aside your arguments and debates! I am a mender of wounds, a healer of every rupture and gouge! If we should die, then we shall die together! And if we shall succeed, we shall succeed together!!"

"What then, of the visions!?" Cautaa argues.

"T-truly," Huitlapan scoffs with braggadocio. "Th-they merely proffer me motivation to wring the neck of anyone who would dredge up the ghost of my brother to torment me… I have my regrets about his death, I will not lie. But I live in the here and now… I will fight at your side, no matter the cost, no matter the risk. I have fought this far along, haven't I? I will see this through no matter how it ends. You… are my valued, beloved allies, are you not!?"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ewCzb-HLM4

"Alright alright," Xu groans. "Don't go getting too sentimental just yet, Burgess. We're not even at the last battle. Get all weepy and humble mumble chumble once we actually fulfill our quest and we're blowing all our money on drinks and gacha games!"

"Drinks!?" Cautaa scoffs.

Gacha games…?

Well, we all have our pleasures, I suppose.

Thuda clears her throat.

Yes, yes. We've a final boss to face.

 No.759929

>>759927
I close my eyes and nod in silent agreement, then start for section 9

[2d10] Awareness myself, Steadfast

Roll #1 2, 1 = 3

 No.759930

>>759927
Deadweight chuckles at Huitlapan's bravado. "That's the spirit."

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 1 = 1

 No.759931

>>759927
Off we go!
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.759932

>>759927
Lost for her part worked to slip back into the shadows.

[1d10] Stealth

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.759934

>>759931
>>759930
>>759929
>>759932
And so–
Our seven heroes ventured forth…
Into worlds that once were…
And worlds that would never be.
And worlds that would be.
And worlds that might have been…
Ready to face
Ready to bear
Whatever the future held.
Awaiting them… in the Castle of Silence.

>Paused

 No.760044

>>759929
>>759930
>>759931
>>759932
Section One looks relatively normal, at least from the last time you were on this Floor. The ash-covered ruins of a burned five-story mall tower all around you, casting crooked shadows with the flickering ceiling-lights.

As you head for the northeast, toward section 9, you see a group of tied-up skeletons held in a shades merchant kiosk. Each of them is showcasing a fashionable combination of hat and shades. Upon seeing you, they rattle their bones, bidding you come closer.

 No.760064

>>760044
Deadweight raises an eyebrow, then she approaches them.

 No.760065

>>760044
I will use another one of those 'potions' that were given to us by the skeleton larpers.

 No.760066

>>760065
If I don't have any, I'll quickly try to throw together the ingredients we pilfered for making more.
[1d10]

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.760067

>>760044
Lost does approach, desiring to undo the bindings of them.

 No.760068

>>760044
I help Firmgold untie them.
"Looking sharp."

 No.760069

>>760068
>>760067
>>760066
>>760064
While Firmgold stews together some more of that sweet, sweet Speak-with-Skeletons Sauce, Lost Hope and Conflagration free the four skeleton bandits.

"Righteous, dudes," the biggest one, their apparent leader, says. "Weren't you guys the ones we saw running the candy store?"
"Hey wait," another one chimes in. "Didn't some of the people wearing those weird suits tie us up earlier?"
"Yeah, but like, these guys just untied us," the big one responds. "I think it all, like, karmically balances out. No need to trip over bygones. The past is in the past, you know?"
"That was like an hour ago…" the second one reasons.

 No.760071

>>760069
"Have you guys noticed this floor, uh, changing around?" Deadweight asks the skeletons.

 No.760072

>>760069
"Things have been kind of crazy around here lately, haven't they?"

 No.760073

>>760069
I put my ingredients away and keep an eye on everyone while I look through the clothes
[1d10] fashion

Roll #1 4 = 4

 No.760074

>>760069
"I know this is a bit of strange question, but you don't know anything about the necromancer we could use to help us win a potential fight with him do you?"

 No.760075

>>760074
>>760071
>>760072
"Yeah, tell me about it, guys," the big skeleton says. "I didn't think the riots would get as bad as they have been. Seems like things were blowing over for awhile until just last week."

The shorter one looks at Lost, tilting their head in confusion. "Necromancer… is he with the cult or something?"

"Cult…?" Xu repeats. "Uh, listen, we've been… like, outta town on business. Outlands stuff. You're gonna need to catch us up on things."

"That's a tall order, tee-bee-haych," another skeleton says, with a female voice. "Like, how far back are we going? One week? Two? Did you hear about the whole Flagellant conspiracy theory at least?"

Technically… you have. Or at least, that name does sound familiar to those of you with at least some knowledge of Ironcastle's religious history – the heretical Cult of the Flagellants. However, she's making it sound like it's recent history.

>You can make a knowledge roll here for more info


>>760073
Most of the accoutrements are pretty tacky, a mishmash of gothic black and raving, scenic neon fluorescence. Many items inexplicably have spikes or – may the gods forgive me for this description – gears sticking out of them here and there… A few that are moderately less offensive to the senses can be seen.

>make an identification roll to see an item's hidden effects


>Mood Hoof-Ring

>Retro Game Console Pin
>Pocket Plushie
>Temporary Cutie Mark Tattoo

 No.760076

>>760075
>Knowledge
[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.760077

>>760075
"Riots?" Deadweight asks.

 No.760078

>>760075
>>760075
Lost nodded as she plunged her mind for info on this cult, as well as trying to ID the Console Pins effects.

[1d10] Knowledge Cult
[1d10] ID the Pin

Roll #1 6 = 6 / Roll #2 4 = 4

 No.760079

>>760075
[1d4] Hidden Item
[1d10] Identification roll

Roll #1 3 = 3 / Roll #2 5 = 5

 No.760080

>>760075
[1d10]
Knowledge
"Oh boy, another heresy?"

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760081

>>760076
>>760078
You recall it in the various history lessons you've been given about Ironcastle. Something of a strange suicide cult began to brew within the Abbey nearly 1,200 years ago, at the turn of the 31st millennium, Anno Castra.

This cult, called the Brotherhood of Flagellants, began to gain popularity after an organized attack of the Dreaded Ones against Ironcastle and Coppercastle, which very nearly broke the outer walls of the Ramparts. The Flagellants' idea of 'blessed suicide' in the name of a higher cause as a condition for spiritual salvation was an affront to the very core of the vitalistic teachings of the Abbey, which professes hope in life and light and curses despair. The Abbot at the time eventually declared jihad against the Flagellants, and in the raids and book-burnings that followed, it was discovered that many high-ranking Warriors and Sages of the Castles had secretly joined the Flagellants, and that many Nobles were bankrolling them. Those who did not renounce their heresies were executed by order of the Abbot.

>>760080
>>760076
>>760078
"Yeah, so a couple weeks ago, I guess this Noble got outed for being in a cult, or secret society, or something," the female skeleton continues. "There was this big journalistic expose and everything. The Noble and his buddies were using their money and influence for all this crazy corrupt stuff. The first big reveal was that a lot of community organizers and activists among the Commoners who had gone missing were taken out by police the Noble controlled. Sounds horrible, but… honestly, people always talk about Nobles doing that stuff so it wasn't too unbelievable.

"But then in the Cycles that followed, more bombshells about this cult just kept dropping… drug trafficking, kidnappings, experimentation… turns out a lot of Commoners, as well as Warriors who were coming home wounded from the Outlands were being used for the last one. So, their home turf, the Ramparts, flipped itself upside-down, and the riots spread from there. Things got ugly quick from everyone hunting down suspected cultists."


Okay, that at least explains their view of things… but it doesn't explain why Ironcastle history is unfolding in Agatecastle, why it's happening 1,200 years after the extermination of the Flagellant cult in Ironcastle, and certainly not why it diverges from the invasion of the Dreaded Ones – from recorded reality, in other words.

 No.760082

>>760081
Unable to understand it but still finding it charming, Hope put the pin on a small bit of fabric on her suit as she pondered on it "Time seems all… timey wimey and wrong here."

 No.760083

>>760082
"Oh, that's gonna be 100 Schillings," the small skeleton pipes up.

 No.760084

>>760081
>>760082
Deadweight furrows her brows. "Yeah, what's going on here?"

>Think think think

[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.760085

>>760083
Deadweight takes out 100 of her Schillings and give it to the skeleton.

 No.760086

>>760083
Lost quietly pays up.

 No.760087

>>760086
>>760085
Or not. She leans into Dead a bit in appreciation.

 No.760088

>>760087
She looks at Lost Hope and smiles at her gently.

 No.760089

>>760081
"That's really bizarre. I bet the necromancer's connected to the cult though. What can you tell us about its boss?"

 No.760090

>>760081
Knick-knacks are just that and I'll leave them, returning to the group.

"I'm sorry to interject but there, will be more of us wearing these suits coming through. I believe it would behoove to inform that caution, perhaps avoidance to others coming through here is the best course of action."

 No.760091

>>760088
She returned the smile.

 No.760092

>>760089
The female skeleton shrugs. "Honestly, not too much. After all the riots started, the media's been pretty silent on all the accusations. Any channel that so much as mentioned the cult, even indirectly, got taken offline. All the streamers who were talking about it online got banned, so it's really hard to tell what's happening anymore. It sounds like the riots have mostly moved to the Floors further down though, so watch yourselves."

>>760090
>>760089
>>760087
>>760085
"Oh, if you're heading out, you guys sure you don't wanna cop some merch?" the shorter skeleton says, gesturing to the remaining tchotchkes.

>can make another attempt at ID'ing the cool swag


Huitlapan, Xu and Cautaa look down at the 'merch' with disdain.

 No.760093

>>760092
"Huh, okay…" Deadweight says to the female skeleton. She takes a look at the merch.

[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.760094

>>760092
[1d10] to try and ID the pin again

"SO there was no dreaded ones who attacked when the cult showed up?"

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.760095

>>760092
I'll give the merch a once-over.
[1d10]

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.760096

>>760092
For their sake I will do a second check through the stuff [1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.760097

>>760096
>>760093
You detect some faint traces of magic on these bargain-bin, overpriced accessories…

>Retro Video Game Pin

>Tags: Ranged, Automatic, One-Time Use
>Effect: Negate one single Action or Effect that was Activated and/or Resolved by the Enemy. This item is destroyed on Activation.
>Duration: N/A

>Pocket Plushie

>Tags: Ranged, Automatic, One-Time Use
>Effect: Negate one single Critfail rolled by either yourself, or an ally. This item is destroyed on Activation.
>Duration: N/A

>Mood Hoof-Ring

>Tags: Passive; Automatic; Instant
>Effect: As an Automatic action, declare one enemy. Each turn, you will Passively gain an inkling of what the Enemy will attempt to do on their next turn. As an Instant Action, you can roll to gain +1 to an attempt to block, dodge or Negate any Attacks you predict as part of the Passive insight.
>Duration: While equipped

>Temporary Cutie Mark Tattoo

>Tags: Turn Zero; Passive
>Effect: On Turn Zero, give yourself one additional Combat Talent for the duration of the current Combat. This Combat Talent's bonus cannot exceed +1, or if it is not a numerical bonus, must be about half as strong as what one might expect for a Combat Talent made in character creation
>Duration: End of Combat

"Yeah so the plushie is 250, the ring's 230 and the tattoo is 275."

Steep prices, but maybe not overpriced after all… some haggling may be in order.

>>760094
The skeletons all look around as you bring up the Dreaded Ones. They lean in a little, and the female skeleton lowers her voice. "No, they didn't show up until much later. That's when we knew shit was really getting real. I mean, Dreaded Ones inside a Castle? Wouldn't that mean that a Noble or maybe a Sage was bringing them in to be used for experiments or something? If they're getting sicced on us, then someone high-up has to be super angry, right?"

This explanation, which hints at high treason, does hold up logically… However, it still contradicts what the Necromancer said about the invasion. No mention of Agatecastle collapsing altogether… they still seem to think that the Castle itself stands, in this bizarre history of theirs.

 No.760098

>>760097
The Temporary Cutie Mark Tattoo is also one-time use.

 No.760099

>>760097
"I'll take the plushie."
I fork over 250 shillings for it.

 No.760100

>>760097
Deadweight eyes the mood hoof-ring and decides to grab it, tossing them 230 more Schillings.

 No.760101

>>760097
She looked at herself for a moment "I suppose it could have been well intentioned experiments that went bad."

 No.760102

>>760097
"I simply cannot bear the shame of this but, isn't there any discount or bargain for those bearing their hive's insignia?"

[1d10+2] Haggling

Roll #1 4 + 2 = 6

 No.760103

>>760099
>>760100
>>760101
>>760102
The skeletons hemm and haw at Firmgold's argument, then after some quibbling among themselves, shave off 25 Schillings from the price of the plushie, the hoof ring and the tattoo, if anyone else wants to grab that.

The big skeleton shakes his head at Lost. "Now that's a wacky thought. With the Dreaded, I don't think anything like good intentions could possibly exist. Those guys don't jjust act like predators, they act on hatred for all that's good."

>>760101
Dhampir growls. Well… he's not, strictly speaking, that far off…

 No.760104

>>760103
"Well I mean taking them in to study them and experiment on how to better handle them seems like good intentions. Or trying to make some that aren't… all bad."

 No.760105

>>760103
"Finding better ways to kill the dreaded ones seems like a good idea."

 No.760106

>>760097
>>760103
"Wonderful!"
I will take the plushie and tattoo of a golden plus sign (+1 to Lay on Hands)
475 Shillings spent, 70 left

 No.760107

>>760104
>>760105
"Huh… I guess I never thought about that! Right on, brilliant souls, right on," the big skeleton says. He looks down, and as if remembering that he is now free, gathers his giant makeshift weapon and shopping carts.

"Well, now that most of our merch has been scalp– uh, sold, I think it's time for us to mosey on out of here. Hey, if you guys are gonna go any further, I'd just stay away from the Floor below us. However the Dreaded got loose in here, it's pretty ugly down there…"

"If you have to, though, try to look out for this big, one-eyed giant," the shorter one adds. "They all seem to be avoiding that one."

"…Why's that sound familiar?" Xu wonders aloud.

>Paused

 No.760178

>>760107
"Well that was certainly something. I'd never have thought so many of a necromancer's creations would be friendly."

 No.760179

>>760107
Deadweights puts on the mood hoof-ring then continues exploring the floor.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.760180

>>760107
Lost decides to peer around for ways forward.

[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.760181

>>760107
I'll keep my head on a swivel too.
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.760182

>>760107
I will follow the group as I search for anything about this one-eyed giant because i forgot too

[1d10] remembrance

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760183

>>760178
>>760179
>>760180
>>760182
>>760181
"Not all of them appear to be completely lucid, however," Huitlapan notes. "I think only the LARPing group seemed to have a full idea of what was going on… they still trusted him, despite that."

"I'm still trying to catch up," Xu says. "But are you guys thinkin' he might not be so bad?"

"Completely malevolent, perhaps not," Cautaa says. "But one does not need even a dash of malevolence to create great problems for others. In fact, the best of intentions can beget the worst of circumstances."

As you talk, Deadweight leads the way to Section Nine. According to Thuda, there was a clear stairwell in Section Nine, but also, some of the worst hallucinations she and her team had encountered so far…

Hmm… right on time.

You near the boundary between Sections One and Nine, where there was once just open, burned space between the sections.

This time, however, there is a great wall, mostly consisting of towering glass windowpanes. At the bottom is an array of sliding glass doors suitable for a mega-mall such as this. Half are labeled as Entrance, half are labeled as Exit, presumably to control the flow of pedestrian traffic in an organized fashion. This new wall, and the sliding glass doors, continue even where the wall intersects with the old, burned wall. Those incomplete sliding glass doors at the boundaries just stand there, their markings and labels juxtaposed against the burnt remnants of old outlet stores, like a botched attempt at cropping two photos together.

Conflagration, Lost and Deadweight can hear music from beyond the doors, while Firmgold reminisces on earlier times.

https://mlpg.co/q/res/738288.html#738380

 No.760184

>>760183
"Well, better to be dead and mostly lucid than dead and…dead. I guess. Hey, I think I hear music inside."
I walk through one of the doors marked as an exit.

 No.760185

>>760183
I let out a wistful sigh and return to the present.

"Hm? Music?"

Just in case I will draw my greatsword and have it over my shoulder with a wrist guard in my mouth, following Conflagration in.

 No.760186

>>760183
Lost sheepishly pushed up with the others, jumping at the sword pull.

 No.760187

>>760183
"Hmm," Deadweight hums, staring at the sliding glass doors with furrowed brows. If it looks safe, she tries opening one of the doors labeled Entrance.

[1d10]

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.760188

>>760184
>>760185
>>760186
>>760187
Just before Deadweight lead the charge across the threshold of the Entrance door… she gets a rather peculiar feeling, and involuntarily stops. She can't place it, perhaps due to a less magical nature, but this sensation is no good. Crossing that threshold is a bad idea… but it doesn't feel like it's present on the Exit doors.

The others skid to a halt before they can crash into Deadweight from behind. They say nothing, being on alert from the sight of this unusual wall, but their attention's upon Deadweight.

 No.760189

>>760188
I speak with the guard still in my mouth
"-iss 'eadwegh wassa watt'r?"

 No.760190

>>760188
>>760187
"Not that I don't appreciate having a nice butt between me and the enemy in a fight, but what's the holdup?"

 No.760191

>>760188
Deadweight suddenly stops before walking through the Entrance door (not apologizing for causing the others to crash into her) and ruminates. She then turns around and says, "Let's go through one of the Exit doors," and walks to one of the Exit doors.

>>760189
"Uh, come again?"

>>760190
Deadweight stares daggers at Conflagration, but says nothing.

 No.760192

>>760188
Lost decided now was a good time to try and be sneaky.

[1d10] stealth

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.760193

>>760191
I let my sword rest against the ground before spitting the guard out.

"Miss Deadweight, what is the matter?"

 No.760194

>>760191
>>760188
"That's what I was doing."
Through an exit door I go.

 No.760195

>>760189
>>760190
>>760191
>>760192
Lost just peaces out from all sensible reality, while the others follow Deadweight to the Exit doors. Unsurprisingly, they don't open when you get near – the automatic sensors being positioned for the other side, if this strange wall is like any normal one. You may have to force them open.

 No.760196

>>760193
"I dunno, just got a bad feeling about the Entrance door," Deadweight says.

>>760194
Deadweight unsheathes her claymore, sticks it in the opening slit, and tries to wedge the door open.

[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760197

>>760195
>>760196
I will assist in wedging the exit door open with Steadfast's help
[2d10] Myself, Steadfast

Roll #1 6, 2 = 8

 No.760198

>>760195
I'll try to help pry it open with my telekinesis.
[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.760199

>>760195
Lost remains in the shadows for now, keeping a watch for any potential threats. Or just looking at Dead. Who knows she's a ghost now.

 No.760200

>>760199
>>760198
>>760197
>>760196
You manage to pry open the door enough for the lanky Cautaa to hazard sticking his arm through and wave it at the other side's motion sensor. A light flashes there, and the doors slide open, allowing you safe passage.

Beyond the door is a long hall, with a plush mauve carpet, that extends to another set of sliding doors at the far end. What strikes you, however, is that the hall is not as wide as it should be; in fact, it is about half as wide.

In other words – the "Entrance" doors do not connect to this hallway. To where, or to what, they connect, you cannot tell from here.

To your left, you see a marble wall. There is a long and sprawling map, elaborately detailed, with three-dimensional figurines and color-coded sections, of a great mall… However, upon even a little inspection, you can tell that this map is utter nonsense. Paths lead off to nowhere in many areas. Many stores and attractions seem to be laid on top of one another, a strange, superimposed mosaic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F0xoRGbcWg

As you observe the map, you can now hear the music. It comes from far-off, deeper within the mall, distant and faded, on loop without end.

 No.760201

>>760200
"We should first manage a way for others to navigate these doors."

 No.760202

>>760200
Deadweight's glad she trusted her instincts. She finds the map and the music somewhat off-putting, but not any more off-putting than anything else that's been happening.

>>760201
Deadweight walks out, finds a piece of debris, and puts it in the way of the sliding doors.

>>760200
Deadweight walks down the hall to the other set of sliding doors.

 No.760203

>>760200
I take a picture of the map.
"Everyone take a picture of the map. Hopefully it's wrong, but enough screwy stuff's been happening that the map might be completely accurate. What kind of discounts do you think they give for space-time anomaly sales?"

 No.760204

>>760203
Deadweight shrugs and takes a picture of the map, too.

 No.760205

>>760202
"Ah, that works perhaps.."

>>760203
>>760200
I will jot down what the map looks like in my notes before following the group further along.

 No.760206

>>760200
Lost was rather deeply disturbed by this but did her best to be strong as she looked for anything she could see to try and prevent an ambush or surprise.

[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.760207

>>760200
>Perception
[1d10]

Roll #1 7 = 7

 No.760208

>>760206
>>760201
>>760202
>>760203
>>760205
Xu considers Firmgold's suggestion for a moment, then with great displeasure, retrieves an empty energy drink can from her suit's storage unit. She crushes it around the middle, making flat grooves, and then leaves it in the middle of the Exit doorway. When those doors close again, they catch the can, remaining slightly open with the can serving as a conspicuous eye-catcher.

Xu clicks her tongue with annoyance, but rejoins you.

Cautaa raises his eyebrow.

"I don't like littering!" Xu explains.

"An admirable standpoint," Cautaa agrees. "Let's just say the circumstances grant us a rare exemption. Better yet: think of it as unconventional recycling."

With a hint left behind for those who may follow you, you proceed beyond the next set of automatic doors.

Beyond them–

People. Lots and lots of people.

Peoples of all races, speaking all kinds of languages as they walk about, carrying bags, trying on new clothes, sharing fast food, sharing earbuds, laughing at one another's magicomps…

The others tense up, overwhelmed by the sudden deluge of fellow souls, so alive and well in this grave of a Castle…

However.

Like watercolors running when overly wet, the crowds seem to smear, whenever you look away from one soul to another. When you look back, whoever was there just a moment ago, is now gone, replaced by others.

When you look beyond the people, unto the mall itself… it too has a particular impermanence. Dozens of walkways criss-cross above you, connecting dozens on dozens of levels of this strange mall. When you look away from one, then look back, the walkway has either moved, or disappeared, or arranged itself to fit some other configuration. For the brief moments when you look at something, it seems to all work, follow logic, and all that… but just look askance, and the world has changed, never to be the same again.

 No.760209

>>760208
At the mirage, Deadweight furrows her brows in equal parts confusion and annoyance. She looks around for some obvious way for them to go.

>Perception

[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760210

>>760208
"Trippy. We're trying to go down, right?"
Instead of looking straight ahead I try to navigate by only looking out of the corner of my eyes. Lets look for a staircase or elevator down.
[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 10 = 10

 No.760211

>>760208
Lost rubbed her eyes as she looked within.

Do you have any idea how this is happening?

 No.760212

>>760208
I will sheathe my sword and press through the crowd.

[1d10] Willpower

Roll #1 3 = 3

 No.760213

>>760211
Hey… you'd better not laugh at me when I say this, but… it's like a dream, half-remembered… makes me think back to that dream of ours. Maybe these people… could be in one of their own… or maybe it's all just an illusion, some bullshit trap. I don't know. I'm no expert on this shit.

>>760209
>>760210
>>760211
>>760212
Conflagration's body relaxes as he follows the flow of this inexplicable scenario. Though Conflagration cannot hear Dhampir's voice, he is left with a similar feeling, of attempting to take control of a lucid dream. A most delicate balancing act… But soon, through a combination of openness and imagination, Conflagration spots a tall rectangular structure, perhaps the one constant fixture in this space: A public access stairwell. None of the mall's patrons seem to be exiting or entering it.

But, when he tries to move toward it, the crowds flow against him, and a combination of shoulders, elbows and half-heard pardons, some apologetic, others annoyed, push him back.

Your allies suffer a similar blockade, but restrain themselves from getting aggressive. Their obstructors appear to be but civilians, after all.

>Paused

 No.760264

>>760213
"Hey, do you think these things are real if we can't see them?"
I line myself up with the public access stairwell then close my eyes. After waiting a second I take a few steps forward and see if anyone is still pushing back against me.

 No.760402

>>760211
>>760212
>>760213
>>760264
"If nothing else, I could probably fly ya across one by one," Deadweight says to the group.

 No.760403

>>760213
>>760402
"Unless something knocks you down or tries to stop you."

 No.760405

>>760213
>>760403
"Hmm." Deadweight tries flying over the crowd by herself.

 No.760577

>>760213
We, myself and Steadfast, will still try to fight against the crowd, without yet resorting to any violence
"This is, very unfortunate! Please allow us through."

 No.760578

>>760264
>>760402
>>760403
>>760577
As Conflagration shuts his eyes, he finds that travel between – and even through, the peculiar watercolor souls becomes much easier. They part around him, and indeed, he even seems to pass through them, without damage to himself or to them…

Deadweight tries another way, simply flying over the watercolor souls, merely avoiding the handful of fliers, griffons, vola and pegasi, that are among them.

At first, it seems that both Daedweight and Conflagration are finding success…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqPWos1f1Qw

But then, a dread cold falls upon the mall. Your suits' internal temperature management systems kick in to mitigate this damage, but when they do, static starts to fray the corners of your visors… chills run fingers, six, seven, eight at a time, up and down and around your vertebrae… Xu, Huitlapan and Cautaa fall back, their paces slowed by this dreadful cold.

Cautaa's pace… suddenly stops. Head slowly drifts upwards…

>roll to search for the source…?

 No.760579

>>760578
"Hey, closing your eyes does work!"
I come to a stop before opening my eyes and looking around for the source of this dreadful feeling.
[1d10] perception

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.760580

>>760578
Lost shivered hard as she tried to find the source of the unearthly chill.

[1d10] Perception

Roll #1 6 = 6

 No.760581

>>760578
The sudden cold alarms Deadweight. She looks for the source before she has to land.

[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760582

>>760578
I will immediately use spell breaker on myself
[1d10]

Roll #1 8 = 8

 No.760583

>>760579
>>760580
>>760581
As you look upwards… Conflagration beholds a strange mosaic floating above you – there appear to be strange beings of a sort, hard to see, harder still to identify. Trying to look at one of them is like trying to pick out a single fixture in a landfill – trying to look at all of their number, much harder. They are mechanical, and seem to be constructed of metal, sharp and angular in shape, and yet, without definite quantity. A high humming can be heard as one glimpses what they can of them, a binaural tone, haunting as it is beautiful.

They seem to have eyes without number… a dread sense comes upon you as your gaze nears to locking with theirs…

>Conflagration, Lost must roll instant resistance to avoid making eye contact with the mechanical entities


For Cautaa's part, he has stopped moving entirely. Xu and Huitlapan stop and survey him for a moment, fear plain in their eyes…

>>760582
Just before your eyes can be pulled into the peculiar gravity of the indefinite things, you break off, casting your eyes to the ground. Both the cold and the static in your visor lose their grasp on you the moment that you do.

>You can get +1 to any instant attempt to help anyone avoid the gaze of the entities next round

 No.760584

>>760583
Lost immediately tried to cast her gaze to the floor "Look down or something, just don't look up!"

[1d10] Look down

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760585

>>760583
I squeeze my eyes shut and look down.
[1d10]

Roll #1 2 = 2

 No.760586

>>760583
>>760584
Once she connects the dots, Deadweight practically lands on Lost to keep her gaze away from the entity.

[1d10]

Roll #1 9 = 9

 No.760587

>>760583
Immediately I grab Conflagration's face mask and yank it downwards
[1d10+1]

Roll #1 7 + 1 = 8


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