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Futuristic The Cascading Cacophony - Rattling Chains and Twisting Loops

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Action, Horror, Mystery, Supernatural
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Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter
THE CASCADING CACOPHONY
PART ONE: A Table of Dolls
"INTRODUCTIONS AND REVELATIONS"

...you are staring at another doll with a hinge on its back. Its paint is old and faded, proof you are not the first to see it. Growing more frustrated, you open it and you find...
I AM TRUTH, AND I SPEAK LOUDLY.

I am the narrator of a tale, one of strings and the puppeteer(s) that play with marionettes. Don't worry, TRUTH and Terror aren't going to be here for very long. Truthfully, they are just here to serve as my... "Aides" as I coax your mind into something that, to you, is wholly alien and likely terrifying. See, you're very far away from where you were a few moments ago. Well, okay, time's irrelevant here, and because of that I need to explain a few things to you. These things are not going to be comfortable for you to comprehend, but that's okay! You're dead. Not like, actually dead, no, not quite. But you see, the way the universe works is that things are ultimately cyclical. You open a doll, and find another doll. You open that doll, and there's another doll.
I am Terror, and I am a soft whisper.
Okay, okay, I'll drop the centralized explanations and align myself properly in your view. You see, I'm telling you too much about me and not enough about you. Lemme just... Adjust the lens.​

Click, click, and fixed it! Now, ease into this not-death, and let us partake of reality. It is cold, and somewhat bitter, but this medicine needs to go down or we'll never get anywhere. WE WOULD NEVER PROGRESS AT ALL. Stasis means death. Okay, uninvited interruptions aside; I will take a wild guess and presume that you have the misfortune of not knowing anything that's transpired the past couple of centuries. The year is 2339, and thanks to a calender reset at around two-hundred years after a nuclear war, that is nearly six hundred years since you were on the planet you affecitonately call Earth. Don't worry, the blue ball is doing well! Spectacularly, in fact! We (Humanity as a whole, not you and I in particular) took off from our pretty blue rock at what your calendars would say was... Say 2251? Maybe 2301? Dunno, wasn't there, don't really care. The point is that when we restored society we built a martial republic and reset the calendar to the year 2000. Easy eno-

SPEAKING IN SIMPLE STATEMENTS CALMS NOTHING.

Okay, fine, TRUTH, ruin my fun. Anyway, we are well above that now. I'll give you the abridged version, the tale will explain more for you. Humanity founded the Republic of Terra, drank real deep of the "Citizen Service" juice, and thrived in a economy we don't have time to explain. Point is, it worked. People were actually starting to think nothing would be out there that would warrant the drums of war, and then they heard something else play the drums. The Plague War, when Man fought No-Longer-Man, was what nearly drove humanity to extinction. The Republic of Terra sounded its eagle's cry, but was not the only military voice. The Black Scribes erupted from the dark with the Torch of Prometheus in hand, and they cast a light into the dusk of Humanity's (seemingly) imminent demise and began burning back the foul beasts we know as the Plague. A lot of good people died fighting post-human monstrosities, but the Scribes and the Republic worked together to slay the hive-intelligence of the Plague, and once coordinated swarms became feral creatures that struggled with one another. The war was won, and peace returned to the species that, ironically, joined forces to combat a hive. Now everyone who participated in the war got a medal from the Republic, which earns just about anyone willing to move into Republic territory proper a minimum income, and all sorts of goodies.

But, I'm missing my own point: War's over. People are faced with peace, after twenty years at war. So what do they want? They want safety, and they want to get it themselves. You're asking me though, where do we come in? Just sit back. Relaaaaax. We come to a colony known as New Barnagh, and it was founded by a man who believes he's Irish (nuclear holocaust tends to make family trees educated guesses at best, but we all remember enough traits to match ethnic traits to regions of Earth because of course we do). He wants a peaceful clubhouse on a planet all his own, now that he can have it. He wants the Republic to stay the Hell away, because his family was not done any favors by them when they left his homeworld to dry in the early days of the Plague War. Republic insists it was because they had stretched thin, but our man knows better because his heart tells him so. I know the truth, and I'm tempted to tell him, just so he can squirm, but that's neither here nor there! Like attracts like, and now he has a xenophobic little bunch that live on a mountainous planet that might as well have its entire hydrosphere in fjords. Ironically, though, he attracted more than he wanted to.

Me! And well, by extension, you.

So, let's get this show moving. Let's spin the record, and see what tune comes out. I will present you a table with three dolls. We can talk more about them, or you can just pick one. These dolls represent people! Remember when I said we would talk about marionettes and those who held them? I'm dumping a bucket of ice on you, to wake you up, thrusting a piece of wood with string into your hands, and asking you to connect the strings to a puppet. All of these dolls are characters in this story, you just get to choose which one you want to follow. And, if you want to talk to the one pulling my strings, well, I guess I can let him explain things more. If you really want that, just ask, O, AUDIENCE MINE.

YOU WILL PICK A DOLL.
And your choice will shape the tale, for weal or woe.
  1. THE EAGLE: A resolute, firm figure with an eagle on their chest. This doll speaks of brotherhood, a warrior-heart, and hums a tune for freedom. She stands against a world of swirling dark, that others may live under her glowing shield. This doll seeks to tame that which cannot be tamed, digging her heels into earth as the storm approaches and hoping her resolve will discourage the storm from making landfall. People will rise and fall trying to follow her lead, but the eagle she wears makes her untrustworthy.
  2. THE TORCHBEARER: The Torch of Prometheus, clenched tightly in a fist. This doll speaks of light, and protects that which men rely upon. More of a rogue than a warrior, this doll is either the candle that banishes the darkness, or the exhalation that snuffs out an oppressive light when you wish for the safety of darkness. This doll seeks to understand, hoping that seeing the storm for what it is will save those in its path. People will grow to trust her, but her fist holds flame and terror for her foes.
  3. THE OWL AMONG RAVENS: Eyes that never blink, and arcing electricity filling outstretched talons. This doll speaks of power, and pursues it relentlessly. This doll was given a vision, one that set it apart from the others of its ilk. The Owl asked this doll if it enjoyed hurting other people. This doll said yes. This doll rides the storm, channeling its power already and seeking to push through to the Eye. He will represent weaponsmiths-yet-to-be-named, and his determination will overwhelm any who would distrust him.
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter

YOU CHOSE THE TORCHBEARER.
Good choice! Some decide not to choose, as if that is a decision all its own. You're smart. You chose to choose. Better than expecting ME to choose. I don't like to choose for the indecisive. It sucks.​
But is this choice the wisest?

Disregard everything they say. Focus entirely on my words, my friend. I open this doll. Now, three more dolls are on this table. No, these aren't people. Your time for choosing that has not yet started.

Actually, let's drop the dolls. You and I, we are entwined. The fate of this story is in your hands almost as much as mine. Why that is should make sense in the future, but for now? You are something of a captive audience. When you're something like me you get to transcend TIME AND SPACE ITSELF occasionally. You're watching things as they happen, but not really. Some outcomes are set in stone. Why? Because... Okay look you aren't allowed to have so many good questions. Stop that. STOP that. STOP THAT. STOP THAT.

NEW BARNAGH.
The land of rebirths and mountains.
Yes, thank you, you two. You've always been dear friends to me. Ignore the sounds of me clearing my throat. There are no throats where I speak from. Let the sounds of my voice fade away, let the sounds of reality gently wash over you. The world of New Barnagh is a viewport on your screen, and you are now watching from the eyes of the Torchbearer. You chose that. For Weal or For Woe. The dropship is a box, affectionately named 'Pigeon' by the folks who deal with it, because the Republic of Terra often paints theirs gray and they drop soldiers like, well, a pigeon drops its leavings. This bird is leaving the cold void of space and warming up as its cargobay rattles and sounds off. Things that shouldn't concern you somewhat do. And that's okay, you aren't terribly used to landings like this. At least not without a team of people you can trust.

This assignment puts you alone in a world renowned for its hostility to outsiders, New Barnagh. The Confederacy of Mankind is newly minted, and New Barnagh wants to be seen as wholly independent. So they allowed one Black Scribe operative, a small squad of Republic marines supported by one frigate and whatever supplies it could bring, and one highly specialized agent of the Manufacturing Clans of the Progenitor. You are the Black Scribe. You are the Torchbearer, and the logo of a fist holding a torch is on your gear. It's subtle, rather than the typical black patch with red symbols, it is black with grey. A trained eye can find it, but a backwater yokel won't recognize it right away. HIGHCOMM - the leadership of the Black Scribes known as "High Command" by anyone speaking their name - decided that you needed some subtlety for this job to work. These people are proud of their separation from the Republic of Terra, and they are very xenophobic of you. You thumb through the files, and read a few bits of information.

The land is mountainous, and farmland is scarce. The real money comes from its mineral riches, but the scenery would make it a tourist’s favored destination were the people willing to humor tourism. The cold weather is almost perpetually at sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit, with winters dropping it down to subzero temperatures at the worst. The vegetation is hardy, though, and what is farmed is virtually guaranteed to last the winter. While there are farmsteads, there is a clear divide between the people of the colony. There are the red-headed, pale-skinned folk who tend to gravitate toward the city at the center of the colony proper, and some of the farmsteads and mines that provide the colony most of its money. However, the people of Mongolian descent tend to keep to their migratory yurts in the mountains, traveling as their livestock requires.

New Barnagh was created by The Song of Barnagh LLC, a small corporation that seeks to restore the glories of Pre-Promethean Ireland. While the island itself is mostly restored as most places on Earth are, it has become a population center with a sprawling city consuming most of its territory. "The bombs that fell and created the Promethean Era forever muddled the rich history of the Irish people," Song of Barnagh CEO Conall Griffon is quoted, "And it stands on our shoulders to bring our heritage to the proud glory it has always deserved." While a significant portion of New Barnagh bear traits believed to be Irish (genealogy through the Promethean Era being nearly impossible making these traits approximations based on Pre-Promethean cultural remnants at best), another population quickly found the mountainous regions of New Barnagh home after Migrant Fleet Shuurga brought refugees from their previous desert colony of Little Mongolia. In fact, a proud point of note for the colony of New Barnagh is the strong bonds between the two cultures, which many believed would have been contending with one another due to how drastically different they were, and the Republic's involvement with the arrival of Migrant Fleet Shuurga.

A common frustration brings people together, and neither population is particularly fond of the Republic's mishandling of New Dublin and Little Mongolia during the initial stages of the Plague War. Most residents of New Barnagh believe that the Republic's involvement has given them reason to unite: they believe that had this alliance of peoples formed sooner, the Plague War would have deprived neither from their recent homes.
You are Marigold Dubois. Most people call you Mari. You were told once your name was Cajun, and that the Cajun people have a proud heritage all their own and-

Excuse me. Let me rephrase! You're the puppetmaster, but I am not telling you these things. You are experiencing them anew! I forgot, but no worries! It all washes out.

Marigold Dubois thumbed through the datapad, reading wall after wall of statistics and AI advisories from the Black Scribes Intelligence Office. Don't do this, don't do that, cultural taboos and whatnot. Mari had a Cell, before New Barnagh picked up its psionic disturbance. Now, as kids were going crazy hearing voices in their dreams beyond the mythical Mother and the chilling Entity, it was apparent that the Black Scribes needed to intervene. They sent an operative that could be a lone wolf, and one whose record showed an inclination towards the occult. Long ago, when Marigold had her first Psionic Awakening at the age of six, she dreamed of being there when a new song was revealed. It would be a song of madness, and it would be one she would need to discover. When she had her second Awakening, and became a powerful Grade Delta Psionic and expanded her powers, she dreamed it would come with a rainbow of colors, and there would be two distinct sounds that would be heard before the song revealed itself: throat singing and bagpipes.

As New Barnagh formed, she remembered the often-prophetic dreams people had at their Awakening. She also remembered that she had disclosed these dreams when she joined the Black Scribes. Due to this, she always knew that this assignment would be hers. She literally dreamed this day would come. She swung her eyes about the cargobay, spotting two families. On a second-glance, she realized it was one family. She thumbed through the datapad, avoiding eye contact, recognizing that these people were locals and she was not. To try being less conspicuous, she began to listen to the music player she managed to bring with her.

The information and all the briefings never told her if Black Scribes were welcome.

ALL JOURNEYS BEGIN UNDER CERTAIN PRETENSES.
But these pretenses are often the first whispers of Fate.
  1. THE MORNING: The pigeon lands in the early morning at a city-based starport. The weather is fair. The leavings are not noticed, but Mari must reveal that she is a Black Scribe.
  2. THE AFTERNOON: The pigeon lands in the afternoon at an unaffiliated mountain port. The weather is overcast. The leavings may draw attention, and Mari may be forced to reveal that she is a Black Scribe.
  3. THE EVENING: The pigeon lands in the evening, a field before a collection of yurts. The weather is calm after a light rain. The people are angry of the pigeon's leavings, but the opportunity to conceal one's affiliation is present.
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter

The rattling of atmospheric entry eventually stopped, and it became a slow descent to the surface that lifted Mari's stomach. She saw from her peripheral that the others were grabbing their things. A man approached them, asking a few questions in private. She took the opportunity to connect to the planet's communication networks, and search for a weather report. She was landing in the evening time, and the lights of the cargobay suddenly making a deal more sense than they had before. According to the weather, a massive storm had passed through within the last few days and left skies somewhat concerning but nothing that would cause delays in landing. However, the local air traffic controllers had moved their landing pad to somewhere far from the airfield. The new landing site was a known resting place for several pastoral nomads, and as such locals would be able to assist and provide succor as needed before a long trek into the city proper.

Mari could not help but feel a little distraught at this turn of events, and suspected that someone knew who she was and had set this up. Her fears were dispelled as the gentleman wearing a jumpsuit with a survival vest and parachute on walked to her, knelt, and brought his head in close to speak to her over the din of the craft. It had not fully donned on Mari just how loud the C-42F "Pigeon" was, and she chalked that up to nerves as the man spoke.

"Ma'am, we're having to land off-course," the man nearly shouted into her ear. Despite his hiked volume, she felt no pain from his shouting. If anything, the impact of his shouting was cushioned in the noise from the rest of the dropship.
"How far off-course?" Mari asked, moving her mouth close to his ear so that both of them could speak clearly, "I need to get into the city!"
"About a two-day hike to the nearest tram station, or a half-day's ride to it if you can get a horse from one of the tribes."
"Tribes?"
"Yes ma'am," the man laughed in Mari's ear, "Tribes!"
"So we're landing in tribal lands uninvited? Won't they be pissed?"
"Yea, they will be, we're doing a circle or two while they move the herd out of our way. Pissin' them off a bit, but they won't blame you for the pilot's need to land."
"How late into the night are we?"
"About two hours after sunset. So about eight o'clock, give or take thirty minutes."
"Shit,"
"Yea, anything you need before we settle in for landing?"
"Any advice?"
"For you n' your golden hair? Ain't much I can tell you, they'll know you're an outsider just by lookin' at ya. Go with your gut, and thank them!"
"For what?"
"You'll know!"

With that, he got up with a smile on his face, nodded to Mari, and walked to the flight deck. He snatched a helmet from the rack, slapped it after putting it on, and brought a microphone boom down before his face before disappearing around a wall. The Black Scribe put her right ankle on her left knee, and crossed her arms. She couldn't help but scowl, before realizing she was sulking. She put her foot down, and began to check her gear as best she could with her safety harness on. As the dropship's descent resumed, she felt eyes staring into the side of her head. She looked at the source of the sensation, and saw a child staring at the special gauntlets Mari wore.

Marigold Dubois' bright hair color shared her name, and while that was one key feature that made her stand out, the other was her gear. Due to being a psionic, she wore a specialized set of gauntlets that secured to her coat sleeves and interfaced with a glowing pink reservoir on her back that seemed to channel liquid along her arm into the gauntlet. The device was connected to a suite of neural implants which served to bring her Psi Node, an organ at the base of her neck that allowed her nervous system to extend her will into local reality. This gear augmented her Pyromancy, and provided the focus for her Entropism powers. Fire and Fear, respectively, were at her command thanks to this highly specialized gear. The lights from the gear dimmed and brightened in tune with her breathing, which seemed to have fascinated the toddler. The fascination had interrupted its distress at the changing pressure of the cargobay, and between snotty inhalations the child absentmindedly reached at the tubes. A slightly flustered mother was gently swatting at the grabby hands, and Meri realized the mother was mouthing an apology. She recognized the features of the mother and the man she presumed was her husband: Mongolian. There was an apprehension in the woman's actions, one that could be either a distrust of a stranger or just a general frustration from having an antsy, screaming child in her lap.

Remember, Mari reminded herself, No matter what people said to scare you out of this job, these are humans. Just like you.

  1. DISPEL WORRY: Mari will assuade any concerns of the mother with a polite smile, a wave to the child, and then take out the datapad again.​
  2. ENCOURAGE THE CHILD: Mari will perform a diagnostic on her gauntlets, making their lights change colors with her psionic power, and let the child investigate. It's perfectly safe, so long as she doesn't start a fire in the cabin.​
  3. PLAY THE STOIC: Mari will give a slight nod to the mother, and ignore the child's cooing. She has her own things to worry about, and will focus on them as she awaits the landing.​
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter
Ok, let's encourage the child. Sounds like a good idea to me.
encourage the child

Mari smiled to the child, then the mother, as she bared the conduits a little more. As the conduit ran along her forearm and terminated on the back of her hand, where smaller conduits seemed to funnel a glowing liquid to her fingertips, she willed it to cycle power. Since the cabin was pressurized, generating a flame would be very unwise, but she could warm her hands a little bit just to make the lines pump. As she channeled her psionics down her arms, she felt a warmth emanate from the base of her skull along her arm, and as that warmth rolled down her limb the pink contents grew into a deeper violet. There was a hiss as a mechanism clicked into place, and the light changed colors as if cycling liquid.

The child cooed a little as the coloration changed, jumping somewhat at the hissing noise, and the mother spoke an encouraging word to the child as it continued to watch in fascination. The woman gently held the toddler's wrist, looking to Mari with an expression that transcended language: "Is this okay?" was written on her face as the child struggled to touch the conduit. Mari held up her index finger, her right hand removing her left glove so she could touch the conduit herself to verify. The conduit was almost like a pot that held warm sauce that was beginning to cool: one could tell that minutes ago it would have blistered skin, but now it was extremely comforting in the somewhat chilly cargobay.

The mother touched her fingertip to it before guiding the child's finger to it. Satisfied that the warmth would not harm the young one, she connected its finger to the conduit. Upon making contact, eyes widened with a short phrase in its mother's tongue. Mari's translation implant didn't pick it up, or she'd have responded with assurance. Thankfully, the mother assured the child, who was no longer concerned at all by the changing pressure of the cabin. At least, until it changed again on descent.

But, that descent was not for another short while, and the chatter was notably more peaceful.

Before the dawn of the Promethean Era, humanity's resources had worn thin and evolutionary pressures were once again exerted on mankind as humans began probing deeper and deeper into the dwindling yet ever-increasingly hostile wilderness. After what was believed to be the beginnings of a supersoldier project, humanity experimented with genetic engineering to create an additional organ at the base of the skull in order to accelerate information processing. To explain the general idea, the organ was intended to create an equivalent of installing additional RAM to a personal computer.

Pre-Promethean records have gone on record as stating that this organ "solved a puzzle that nobody knew was there," and allowed humans to engage in telepathic communication across extremely limited distances. This organ - and the modifications that allowed it - became a fairly stubborn trait which caused it to become fairly common once it was fully disclosed to the public. While fears were many, contrary to popular fiction of the time Humanity quickly fell in love with this trait and it became almost venerated. When the Promethean Era began, the nuclear radiation caused an explosion of capabilities from those who have the organ. Once only the source of telepathic communication and mild telekinetic capabilities, the Psi-Node serves as a conduit between the nervous system of a Psionic and the world around them. Simply put, a Psi Node allows a Psionic to seemingly bend reality around them. Those who study this phenomenon vehemently refuse this notion of reality-bending, but cede that such an explanation is far easier to communicate to the uninitiated, as "providing a human the capability to manipulate the Strings that comprise reality and thus only seeming to be magic" is a mouthful.

Today, roughly 40% of all humans are some form of psionic, with fractions of that 40% being split into four categories, or 'Grades.' In order of strength from least to greatest, Psionics exist in Grades Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and culminating in Delta.

Mari shivered as her body felt the difference between her right and left halves' temperatures. Recognizing this, she rubbed the palms of her hands together and willed herself warm. Her body slowly began to warm, and she eased her back into the seat before hearing the mother's voice.

"Excuse me," the woman said in an accented form of Republic Basic, "Thank you, miss. He's been unruly all night, but you doing that has calmed him down so much."
"You're welcome," Mari said, noting the woman slid in her seat slightly, "I was feeling a little cold, so I was able to warm myself up and let him see my armor systems light up while I did it."
"Armor systems?" The woman nodded, "I see. So, I take it you're not from New Barnagh?"
"No," Mari said with an easy smile, "I'm not."
"Well, regardless of where you're from," the woman said, "I'm sure you will enjoy your time here. If you're here to leave the Republic, I'm sure you will find no shortage of people who are willing to help you find your way."
"You could say I am," Mari lied, her expression unchanging as she looked back to her gauntlet. She rubbed her index finger up and down her thumb, "And I'd appreciate it. I have to get to the city."
"Ah," the woman said almost too quietly to be heard, "I met my husband on a trip there."
"Really?"
"Yes, and he's with my oldest across the way," the woman waved to a red-headed man with five o'clock shadow that revealed how thoroughly his roots ran. The woman wanted to say more, but her son began to squirm as the jet began a descent once more. Mari waved back as the man responded, but noticed both parents were quickly occupied trying to ensure their children were settled into their seats. She gave a short exhale through her nose, a sort of half-chuckle at the bustle.


The descent was quicker than she expected it to be, and with one last lurch it seemed that the Pigeon had landed. Mari stood up, as did the other passengers, who all seemed to mob at the doors while Mari snatched her pack from one of the stanchions in the center of the cargobay. Slinging it over her shoulder, she stepped along the lights with the others into the lights that filled the landing zone as it hit her back.

As she felt her eyes adjust to the world, she found one light coming from beyond the landing pad. The smell of rain took over her senses, and above the sounds of people exiting a craft that was still running its engines, she swore she heard the rumble of distant thunder. A family approached the woman, with short hugs being exchanged around that group until she watched the husband get his right hand be firmly clasped by a far older gentleman, and they both came in to a hug and held their hands close to the chest. The older gentleman shared quite a few traits as the woman. Words were exchanged, Mari recognized the facial movements but none of the sounds. A message appeared in her view:

Engaging Translation Software...
Done.


The Black Scribe saw the mother gesture to her, and watched the far older gentleman raise his brows to investigate her thoroughly. She watched his face lock onto the patch on her chest, and felt her breath hitch. In the brief time it took for her eyes to recognize his face, she processed a slight shift in his stance and his head began to tilt. As a Psionic, a small benefit of being able to track so much more in the same amount of time as her non-psionic peers. She smiled, nodding as she recognized that he was not aware of what she was. Instead, his facial expression seemed to be one of respect borne from something else. Exactly what was beyond her powers, at least not without establishing a link to his mind.

Due to her abilities as an Entropist, or the Psionic Discipline focused on manipulating fear responses in opponents, connecting minds with a stranger was generally seen as taboo. Her forceful connections often piggy-backed someone's phobias and brought them to the forefront. Not exactly a great first impression.

The man broke into a smile, turned to his family, and spoke.

"Let us get you out of the weather, before it starts raining again. Surely we can get you some milk tea, and some warmth by a fire? While the dropship has made the cattle a little antsy, they are fine enough for now. Let's get dinner started, and save that issue for tomorrow."

An alien among fellow humans, Mari suddenly felt hilariously out of place.

  1. WARMLY ACCEPT: Mari will happily take the opportunity to get inside something. It may not be a hotel room, but even a light snack is better than nothing. If it's a two-day hike, might as well have some tea first.​
  2. INSIST YOU MUST BE GOING: While no deadline has been given, the disturbance is somewhat of a pressing concern. Mari will tentatively mention a more pressing concern, and gauge how to respond after they respond.​
  3. FIRMLY DENY: While tempted by the promise of a local delicacy, Mari's mission takes strong precedent. At the risk of performing a social taboo, she will ask which direction town is and start her trek.​
 
Refusing tea definitely sounds like taboo around here. There's just no way we can even consider it as an option.

Any hospitality is appreciated, so let's warmly accept the invitation and relax for a little bit.
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter
Refusing tea definitely sounds like taboo around here. There's just no way we can even consider it as an option.

Any hospitality is appreciated, so let's warmly accept the invitation and relax for a little bit.

"Why thank you!" Mari said with a short nod. The others followed suit, and it was a short walk to a fairly simple-looking yurt. Walking inside, Mari noticed that the rest of the group took care to avoid stepping on the thresh hold. She followed suit, and was beckoned to a table. Surprised by the air conditioning, Mari wore a smile and tried to keep her expression one of muted wonder. She didn't want to gawk, but she was certainly impressed by spacious the yurt felt. She watched the family hand over a cloth gift to the homeowners, and exchange close hugs. Smiles, warmth, and pleasure with the crackling warmth of a fire nearby.

Sitting at the table, tea was passed about in cups. There was a slight joke made, and when the family laughed so did Mari. It was very much a case of her mimicking the group around her, making clear note of all the minor trappings. She used both hands to take her tea, and gently sipped from it. There was some idle chatter, asking how the family enjoyed their trip to New Ceres, and how things were for their vacation. They went out of their way to avoid mentioning the Republic, instead talking about the fascinating United News Network broadcasts and how they seemed to have a handle of just about every colony forming in the Confederacy. If a conversation drifted to the Republic, there was a gentle shake of the head.

"Well, we do have an unexpected - but not unwelcome - visitor, and I think we should ask her a few things," the elder asked in Republic Basic as he gestured with a fully open hand, "How was your flight?"
"My flight was great," Mari said after a sip from her tea. She hadn't expected the tea to be nearly as tasty as it was, and while it wasn't something she would be buying a crate of to take home after this mission, she would certainly not have any hesitation with it in the future, "I was coming from New Ceres myself, actually." She had no inclination to reveal her Scribe nature, but a simple detail like where she was from didn't seem to be any cause for concern.
"I recognize by your gear you are a psionic," The elder said, "I don't know how well the translation software kept up, but the children were fascinated by your gear. May I ask what discipline you study?"
"My discipline?" There was a moment's hesitation, which was concealed by a sip of tea. She blinked, not expecting so direct a question, but then again her gear covered her extremities in their entirety and had quite a few lights. "I started with Elementalism, specifically Pyromancy, as a kid. As I got older, I branched out into the Eldritch discipline."
"Pyromancy, you say?" He smiled, "I should have guessed by the patch. It isn't often one wears a patch like that, without having some tie to the Flame. Which Eldritch subschool, if I may ask?"
Rattling it off without a second thought, Mari answered truthfully: "Entropism."

There was a reaction throughout the room, one of surprise. A few of them had looked between one another in some degree of concern, but then nodded. Mari grinned sheepishly, forgetting that the textbook definition of Entropists was one of sulking mystics who had all the personality traits of roadkill. She gently placed her tea to the table, and scratched the back of her head before letting out a comical exhalation.

"Entropists tap into things that skate the perceptions of mortal men. Phobias, delusions, and contained madness are all tools from an Entropist’s belt, these psionics are often embracing their powers to influence people. Why shoot someone to death, when you can make them faint from the fear of reality falling out from under them?"
- A Primer on Eldritch Psionics in Combat, by Elaine Harrington

Entropists are a branch of Psionics that are something of a mystery to non-Psionics, and something dramatically different to Psionics. They use targeted telepathy to rip and tear at a target's psyche in ways that often leave permanent damage. Unlike their companion subschools in the Eldritch discipline, Entropists treat their art as one of arcana, passing their knowledge along with tutors, spellbooks. Few Entropists study another art, and fewer Psionics add Entropy as a secondary study due to the sheer diligence needed to fully comprehend the art. For some, even entry-level Entropism and the studies that it requires are too much to pursue.

"Sorry, I know a lot wouldn't expect the Entropist pursuit out of me, considering I'm fairly cheerful in comparison to my tutor. Not to deny that they were a very smart tutor, but they..." Mari tried to find a way to say it, and winced as she ran out of the words.

"Bah," The Elder said with a chuckle, "It is fine. You have very welcoming personality, and I for one am happy to experience it. However, based on your gear and expertise, I must ask: Are you khölsnii?"

THE WORD HAS ITS OWN CONTEXT, INDEPENDENT OF YOU.
As do many things, Scribe. Does this make you shiver? Does the lone question amidst a warm conversation fill you with dread?
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN PLAGUES US ALL. AS AN ENTROPIST, YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS.
But as a Pyromancer, you must be eager to experience the warmth of new things. Lest the cold creep into your very soul.

  1. AGREE: Make a guess, based on the context clues, and agree that she is a khölsnii. The word may have significance, and agreeing to be one could mean all manner of things that are vaguely positive.
  2. DISAGREE: Make a guess, based on the context clues, and disagree that she is a khölsnii. It is better to deny being what you aren't sure of, anyhow, as wildly agreeing to something might cause a grave offense, one that might not be easily recoverable from.
  3. CITE THE TRANSLATION SOFTWARE: Mari will smile, trying to ask for a direct translation of the word.
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter
This is a tough one, but I think I'm going to disagree and see how the man responds.
It's better to ask for clarification first, so as to make sure you know what you're doing.

TWO ANSWERS.
Neither excludes the other.
TRUTH CAN COME FROM MULTIPLE ANGLES.
It is the simplicity in which the angles intersect that fills you with dread, is it not?
THE SCRIBE IS NOT INTERESTED IN THE SIMPLICITY.
No, the dread comes from the intersecting angles of wildly varied stances. Of raw perseverance to endure the storm,
AND THE SHEER INDOMITABLE WILL TO PIERCE THE WALLS OF THE STORM THROUGH ITS EYE.
Yes, it is the intersection of these things that will cause discomfort. Not now.

Mari put a fist to her chin, considering her tea. Truthfully, she should decline. That much was certain. However, the translation software seems to have missed a word. She could simply cite that, and ask for clarification. But, this was not something she wanted to state before moving forward with at least some sort of answer. It felt rude to leave it unaddressed? She was not entirely sure what drove her to this train of thought, but she felt the inner conflict need not be perpetual.

"I'm going to have to say no," She nodded, having decided, "Because I'm unfamiliar with the term. Could you elaborate on it, for me?" She asked, deciding not to take a sip of her tea immediately after asking. She wanted the question to hang in the room, uninterrupted by a gesture as simple as drinking tea. Mari's Psi-Node allowed her to watch a strange reaction throughout the room, one she was only able to observe through her enhanced perception. The strings connecting everyone in this room all twinged as if plucked, and actions spiraled. Had she not been a Grade Delta, this uneasiness may have contributed to a Psi-Terror later on: the reconciling of reality and the Strings That Make are one of the things that lesser Psionics must find ways to deal with.

With increased processing power, comes an inherent imbalance to the brain chemistry of a Psionic. Most Psionics of the Confederacy of Mankind (roughly three-fourths) are Grade Charlies, and Grade Charlies are often susceptible to their brain chemistries swinging wildly in one direction or another. Depending on the nature of a Grade Charlie's power, they may find themselves having to meditate on things to reconnect themselves, or exert their power in order to silence the Strings That Make. However, when this is not possible, or a Grade Charlie pushes themselves beyond their limits, they fall into what is known as a Psi-Terror.

No two Psi-Terrors are ever precisely alike, with the most trained and disciplined psionics being able to funnel the destructive power a panic attack inward and maintain limited exertion of their power on the world around them. For the rest, a Psi-Terror is a complete and utter break of sanity. All the previously-not-quite-paracausal powers tear out the throat of existence and render naked the sheer destructive capabilities of their Discipline. Elementalists become avatars of elemental fury, Kineticists play the laws of Physics like musical instruments, and Eldritch psionics become the telepathic equivalent of nuclear detonations. While often extremely localized (most simply affecting their immediate surroundings), some Psi-Terrors have been known to affect the flow of time in areas of at least square miles.

A popular theory on this phenomena (and one that is widely accepted as true), is that a Psi-Terror is a cost. A sort of a balance: the sides of an equation must equate. A Grade Charlie often may warp reality, conjuring the elements around them or ripping bulkheads from starships with nary but a thought, the Psi-Terror is an example of the typical human mind being fully unable to cope with the power it truly holds. A Psionic must spend something in order to maintain its powers: things cannot truly be spontaneously created as that invalidates the most basic laws of reality. Charlies can sometimes entirely lose track of this, and spend more than they have to give. Those few who can resist overspending rarely stay a Grade Charlie, and ascend to Grade Delta when they shift the cost from their mind to the entire human body. However, when the stores of energy in the nervous system cannot pay the cost of what the Grade Charlie, Bravo, or Alpha attempts to perform, they lose control and pay the cost with their immediate surroundings instead. This causes the lasting destructive effects of an area, from time-dilation of several seconds (as if under the effect of a gravitic imbalance) to a permanent temperature shift, to "hauntings" as fragments of the mental break persist telepathically in an area.

Beyond this clinical explanation, Psi-Terrors are a genuine concern for psionics and the loved ones of psionics. If you are in immediate danger from a Psi-Terror or are currently experiencing one, do everything in your power to reach out to the local planetary authorities. A crisis team will be more capable of assisting you. However, if you suspect you or a loved one are on the verge of Psi-Terror, contact an Eldritch Psionic of the Somaticist subschool as soon as safely possible, so that they may guide you from the Strings That Make back to reality. The following hotlines can help you find one on your planet: [INSERT LOCAL NUMBERS HERE]

But such juvenile breaks of the mind were beyond Mari. As a Grade Delta, she had conquered such costs and could exert her will as long as her body would sustain the costs. No, this was just normal, mundane anxiety. She watched the reactions, finding them mostly neutral, with a few understanding nods.

"That is understandable, I apologize, the term translates best in Republic Basic to 'mercenary,' but the Confederacy at large has a different understanding of that word than ours. As per our nomadic society, we have a few who are tribeless khölsnii and safeguard those who are currently migrating to follow the herdbeasts. There is not much danger in the work here, but many have left this planet and our last to pursue similar lifestyles. Not to presume," The Elder smiled, "But it seems to me that such a way of life is yours, as well."

  1. ADMIT TO BEING A MERCENARY: Using their word, own the partial truth in being a Mercenary. Black Scribes are something like that, with more of a "do the right thing" mentality. Mari won't admit to being a Scribe, just that she is formally a mercenary. Where the money goes, she goes. People who need help buy mercenaries, right?
  2. ADMIT TO FINDING RELATION TO THE WORD: As the saying goes, "if it works, it works." State you find it very suiting, but haven't quite considered yourself a mercenary in the past. Their term is a much more satisfying way to express what you are, in practice. You do not find a particular pull to the money, more a pull toward helping those in need. The money just helps you eat.
 

Historical Storyteller

Four Thousand Club
Admit to finding relation to the word. I bet the people are anxious because they think you're a dangerous mercenary. That simply isn't the case, just tell them you're a freelancer, or you're self-employed.
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter
Admit to finding relation to the word. I bet the people are anxious because they think you're a dangerous mercenary. That simply isn't the case, just tell them you're a freelancer, or you're self-employed.
Yes, I agree as well, we'll admit to finding relation to the word. I don't think we're all the way there with the mercenary thing, so this answer sounds better to me.
This word suits you, Scribe.
YOU ARE EXACTLY WHAT THEY SEE YOU AS: TRIBELESS.
Though, perhaps that may be your greatest strength?
NONSENSE. TO BE ALONE IS TO BE ISOLATED. TO BE ISOLATED IS TO BE VULNERABLE.
Vulnerability can be made into a knife, just as much as any other quality. Will you grasp the hilt and stab, when the time comes?

Mari hemmed, nodding after a moment of further consideration, "I can't say I am one but I do find it suits me better than any word in Republic Basic." She smiles, "I'm something of a freelancer, helping those in need where I can. This gear is just how I keep myself safe. I'm close to the khölsnii you know, though, I help those I can while being something of a drifter."

The Elder seemed to understand this, his eyes drifting along the conduits on her arms as he nods along to her explanation. Eventually, finding himself too silent, he speaks after a long moment of consideration. "Perhaps, then, we may be able to introduce you to the khölsnii we have currently accompanying us. Before the storm, we had lost our most recent addition. He was an outsider, and not the kind who was as friendly as you. Not to draw comparisons where none should be drawn, but he wore the word 'mercenary' as armor plating. It defined him," the man seem slightly troubled by the statement, "Almost as much as his piercing gaze. But, enough with that," The man smiled, "Let us enjoy the moments we have now."

The night progressed without much further incident.
FOR MARIGOLD DUBOIS.

The morning came as something of a surprise. The family had warmly accepted Mari and served her a myriad of drinks. While far from potent liquor, the gentle buzz of low-proof alcohol smoothed over tensions. The Jaruud family had welcomed its newest member by marriage, Alexander MacDonagh, at least eight years ago, and they were more than eager to welcome the newest addition to their family, the child who was cooing at the sight of Mari's gauntlets. Hardly six years old, the Jaruud family had something of a dilemma: Jacob MacDonagh was a psionic. As such, he was due to have his Awakening at any moment. The interest in the equipment was something of foresight at the hands of the mother, who was excited to have a psionic child despite the concerns of the father. The dilemma came from the Jaruud's almost nonexistent psionic heritage. While a quick explanation of Alexander MacDonagh's more varied lineage would easily explain it, he was as far from it as he possibly could be. This is not exactly rare, but it is uncommon enough to be taken as something of an omen.

"Perhaps he is a Child-Surprise," the Elder says with a chuckle, but despite the joking tone it seems to rattle Alexander.

THE SURPRISE. THERE ARE FAIRY TALES OF THIS. ARCANA SPEAKS WELL OF IT, YOU ARE AWARE OF THIS, SCRIBE.
There are oddities even in a world encased in cold, unfeeling steel.

The Elder entreats Mari with his issue in a private moment, after using the introduction of other khölsnii to the Scribe.

"Marigold," he asks quietly, in the morning light of a sunrise, "My son-in-law, as wonderful as he is, did not come only to introduce us to his latest son." The colors contrasting in the purple skies of an alien sunrise. Having recently been to Earth for a family affair, she could not help but notice that the sunrise looked... Far more blue. However, she could not bring herself to speak for a long time, this time created an uneasy silence. One that seemed to be the source of the morning mists that rolled through the lands.

"Alexander told me that his little boy, Jacob, vividly described the inside of our yurt one morning. He had never been, but he mentioned a particular sight. A flower, wrapped in violet light."
"He had a vision before his Awakening? Of something so... vivid?" Mari had broken the silence quickly, uncomfortable. Her studies had hinted that such a thing was possible, but highly unlikely.
"Aye," the Elder's face did not move beyond his lips, "Painfully so. He said that the flower would be beautiful, and happy, and that the violets would warm the room alongside the 'gold flower.' I was told that a psionic child often had signs to their powers before their Awakening, and-"
"Don't worry," she nodded, "That's a myth. Rarely is that true."

Mari hesitated.

  1. INQUIRE ABOUT THE VISION: Explain to the Elder that the visions normally speak more about those the child sees. Take this opportunity to further illuminate the visions you, yourself had. Seeing the same prophecy from a child's eyes might very well give you a lead as to the disturbance. Such leads are invaluable, especially from a source as trusted as a child still in active conversation with The Mother as to receive visions! While the metaphors might be frustratingly vague, something is better than nothing.
  2. LEAVE THE VISION: Assure the Elder that there is nothing to fear, the child's powers are not told by visions they receive necessarily, and that the powers the child may develop are not set in stone until they have their Awakening. The vision already predicted what it needed to predict, that Marigold Dubois would meet the Jaruud clan. Diving any further into it risked sounding too much like a typical Entropist.
As Mari considered her answer, her eyes saw a man on a horse with a rifle across his back. Similarly armored as she was, the man clearly seemed to be the other khölsnii that the tribe had. Such a job seemed to be fairly easy for now, and might even earn her a horse without having to spend credits. She would have this idea after elaborating on her response.

  1. OFFER SERVICES RIGHT AWAY: Dangerous to immediately do upon seeing one man on horseback, an eagerness to please might go a long way.
  2. ASK TO MEET A POTENTIAL PEER: Learning how a word is worn by so close an equal can go a long way to gaining insight to the unique cultural role of New Barnagh.
  3. ASK THE ELDER ABOUT A HORSE: An innocent inquiry might turn into a job offering, which can have a host of benefits all its own. In this situation, one benefit happens to have four legs.
 
We're gonna do it. We're gonna inquire about the vision. The kid may definitely have some insights we aren't aware of yet, and we should do what we can to figure them out.

Part of me wants to approach the other man and see if he's as khölsnii as the folks say he is, but let's wait and see if he does the same. In the meantime, how about we... ask the elder about a horse?
 

Crocmon

Pop-punk n' space magic. Not always in that order.
Supporter
We're gonna do it. We're gonna inquire about the vision. The kid may definitely have some insights we aren't aware of yet, and we should do what we can to figure them out.

Part of me wants to approach the other man and see if he's as khölsnii as the folks say he is, but let's wait and see if he does the same. In the meantime, how about we... ask the elder about a horse?

Are all visions worth investigating? Some do not do you well to investigate, Scribe.
REALITY IS BUT A VISION YOU CANNOT LOOK AWAY FROM. STARE BACK, FOR IT SEES YOUR SOUL.

"Tell me of the child's vision," Mari inquires slowly, "At that age... The rawness of it can be very helpful. Even to a pragmatist like myself, a child psionic-to-be can gain insight to terribly useful things." This stiffened the Jaruud Elder, and Marigold was now painfully aware of a golden facsimile of a torch he wore around his neck. He thumbed it, then held it between the tip of his thumb and the side of his left index finger. His right hand rested on a cane, which Mari quickly understood to be more of an emotional brace than a physical one.

"The boy, according to Alexander, woke with a start one night. He spoke of puppets. Strings, and nesting dolls, all of this surrounding the 'golden flower wrapped in violet light.' A piercing owl with lightning wings, a terrible eagle dragging a shield in its talons, and you. If we are to maintain that he saw you in this dream... He spoke of a dance floor. Nothing was coherent, but he seemed insistent that 'the dance floor' held great significance. A week later, he insisted that something was on 'the land of rebirths and mountains,' and that it slept by this dance floor."

This made Mari pause. She had read a report that the local music scene was something of an oddity. Despite being predominantly Irish and Mongolian, a rave culture had sprung up following Pre-Promethean dance music. Particularly, the work of the Pre-Promethean House genre. While a cultural analyst - Mari was sure there was a better name but she had no clue what it was - had drawn a conclusion that the Irish-Mongolian colony of New Barnagh simply enjoyed music it did not have historical and cultural ties to, the rave scene being of particular note in an odd intelligence report combined with the vague visions of a pre-Awakening child... She put her finger to her lower lip, tapped twice, and nodded. This gave her an excellent segue.

"Well, if I'm to find a particular dance floor, I'll need to get into town. How would I go about getting a horse?" She smiled, hoping to lighten the mood. This seemed to make her companion in this sunrise ease his stance, and work into a smile.

"Well, I suppose we could see about getting you a horse, if you were to help us out with a small problem. I believe in the Republic it's called a 'quid pro quo,' but the Republic loves its Latin."

"It sure does," Mari chuckled, "And I could work with that, if payment was a horse you could spare."

"Funnily enough, we do. Lucky for you, a deal we had to trade horses for food supplies was made unnecessary by our trading partners in the city needing exactly three less horses than they expected. A group of racing steeds recovered in a way they didn't expect them to. They said they found a healer in town, for horses of all things!" He moved his left hand from his medallion to his gut, patting his stomach after laughing himself into a light coughing episode. This caused him to laugh a little more, and he used his left hand to dismiss the concerned hands of Mari. "Fear not, I'm fine. Just getting old. We can't all make it to one-fifty," His smile was oddly assuring, but something about it gave Mari pause.

Age has never been something you considered, is it?
THE HUMAN MIND CAN SEE SUCH HORRORS AND STILL SURVIVE.
Tell me, Scribe, what horrors have you seen?
THE PATH OF THE BLACK SCRIBES HAS SUBJECTED YOU TO TERRORS UNIMAGINABLE.
What would your age be, had things been different? Would you have made it this far?
THE CLOCK STOPPED TICKING FOREVER AGO.
How long have you been up, Marigold? Can you get a grip?
YOU DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO HOLD ONTO.


Mari looked to the sunrise, and the vivid nature of it seemed to fade as the star rose in the sky. She blinked, hard, and could not find the colors again. The Strings That Make were humming something, something that she could not place into words.

  1. CONSIDER THE HORRORS: Age does many things to people. This quiet, peaceful moment, might have something invasive surface in the mind of Marigold Dubois. A tragedy, personal or communal? A reason she relates to the fears of the Jaruud child's future, perhaps?
  2. CONSIDER THE CLOCK: When did it stop ticking? How long had Mari been doing this line of work? When did she start? She found relation to their word, but why did she find relation to it? When did she unwittingly match the word for the first time? Had her life been a search for a word to explain herself beyond 'Scribe?'
  3. CONSIDER THE COLORS: The Strings That Make hum a tune. This tune often coincides with cosmic events, the Entropist Arcana often relates such tunes to things. Psionics often interpret these tunes as more vivid colors, subtle tricks as the brain processes the raw feedback of existence the Psi-Node detects.
 

Zer0

Haiku Hitman
CONSIDER THE COLORS: The Strings That Make hum a tune. This tune often coincides with cosmic events, the Entropist Arcana often relates such tunes to things. Psionics often interpret these tunes as more vivid colors, subtle tricks as the brain processes the raw feedback of existence the Psi-Node detects.
 

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