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Absolute confidence. That's what Faetalis wanted to put on display for her remaining Overseers, for her remaining family; she had access to her HUD and menus - unbeknownst to her, a simple product of her Android design, and not what she hoped - which allowed her status of her Guild Members. Zero. They always say, that one is the loneliest number, but what is zero, if nothing at all - the peak of loneliness? Shaking her head, Faetalis attempted to dispel those thoughts that would haunt, like tacos after Tuesday, and focused on the ground beneath her.

Dragons had eyesight keen enough to pull a single human race from a crowd of thousands, and ne'er lose sight of it, even under illusion and witchery. As such, even in the blinding midday sun, it was child's play to take in the village so far below her, and every face that hustle and bustle about. It was a quaint thing; provincial and, most likely, ancestral to many of the people that she spied on from the cloud layer. It was impossible to know how they would react to a dragon, so she daren't go lower than she was, but they seemed to be acutely aware that something was amiss.

After all, they were communing on the side of the village adjacent to where Infactorium had crashed.

Unwilling to risk more, Faetalis took into the clouds, and saw something standing taller than any building in YGGDRASIL Online ever had; a tower into the clouds, that went beyond the skyborne ceiling, and out of her sight. Her demihuman eyes had not even glimpsed it, yet Havern's eyes could see it plain as day - yet, even to his eyes, it seemed ethereal, unreachable. Faetalis had so many questions, and knew, instinctively, there were no answers at this present moment.

For now, that shining tower was to be regarded as an errant model with bad coding. Havern was a monster, and Faetalis was not. It was probably that simple - had to be - so she turned her attention back to the village...

...it was dark.

W-What!?” Faetalis stammered, as she started at her "in-game clock".

[12:32 AM JST]

I've been up here... for twelve hours...” Faetalis realised with a chill.

In YGGDRASIL Online, even the most basic of Transformation Magic was timed. Faetalis could maintain, with her Mana Pool and Divine Magic, Bronze Raid Boss transformations for ten minutes; sacrificing power for time.

Twelve hours, however, was a far cry away.

Again, her mind reeled with questions too numerous to truly have answers, and she had to tear herself away from the turmoil of her own mind, and race back to Infactorium. As she soared through the clouds, she could see small fires burning along the mountainside - campfires.

While she was staring at the clouds, so to speak, an exploration party had assembled beneath her... aimed for Infactorium. Now, she had bigger problems. In their current state, Infactorium while had guards to defend her, she was in a state of being recycled, and her only forces were doing said recycling.

In the cover of the dark, she swept over the campsite - the darkness lending her a cover most welcomed - and landed before Infactorium. Her tongue darted from her maw, and she tasted the air; immediately, she could taste Levia’s dragonic taste, and Tungsten’s metallic taste. Setting off, she squeezed through the halls and rushed through the open spaces to the freest of her Overseers - forming a plan, as she ran.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by The Irish Tree
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When it came to the hardworking members of Infactorium, rest wasn't necessarily something that was considered on the job. This carried true for most, and the draconic chimera that loved nothing more than punching things all day long embodied the candid "I work for no overtime or vacation days" spirit. Still, even if demolishing almost a hundred buildings was a great deal of fun, she couldn't help but wonder if their guild leader was doing alright out there. She didn't doubt her power in the slightest but...

But...

But...

...Was she just going to abandon her? Like NotEvenHere had done?

Gritting her teeth, Levia slammed a piece of concrete into the ground and started taking her frustrations out upon it, stomping it so much that all that remained of it was powder. Levia's fear would be dispelled however, as gargantuan wingbeats resounded and signaled the return of Faetalis.

With the innocent concrete spared her continued wrath, Levia would excitedly pursue her master and skid to a halt, nearly running into her. "Mistress Faetalis, it is good that you have returned safely!" she said, taking a knee. Looking up, she smiled before saying: "We've been hard at work following your instructions to the letter Ma'am! We've nearly repurposed every idle building in the area, and have taken full stock of our resources. Tungsten and Cormac should be able to tell you more though." With her head bowed, Levia would await the words and orders of her leader, tail swishing idly and proudly, constantly pointing at the pile of rubble that she was just about to deliver as if to loudly proclaim: "I DID IT MASTER! I BROKE IT LIKE YOU ASKED!"

Levia didn't seem aware of this...but her expression certainly gave Faetalis that look that she really enjoyed her work.
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Work was dangerous and tedious, two things that neither Tungsten nor his Cyber Skeleton fretted about. It only took a short time for Tungsten to fix up superficial damage as he came across them, and more hazardous terrain were easily dealt with via Tungstens sheer brawn and the cooperation of his Cyber Skeletons. Indeed, while the damage to the guild was great, most did a good job minimizing its potential threat. The guild was in no more a ruinous state than one might expect from a low level dungeon.

That thought infuriated Tungsten for a moment, but he quickly casted the thought aside. The Infactorium was no noob cave, but a grand factory that produced wonders. Even in spite of the grave damages it has sustained recently, truly only something made by the Creator Gods could withstand this level of destruction. And only those chosen as its Overseers could hope to undo its damages. That being said there were some issues.

As mentioned the Cyber Skeletons did not heed danger nor tedium. While this makes them excellent workers this can leave them susceptible to the hazards that, while harmless for him, could actually kill a Cyber Skeleton. Ricky debris, getting impaled on a piece of metal, exposed wires. Things that would barely phase Tungsten, but it would kill his workers. And his workers didn’t care nor bother to look out for these dangers beyond recognizing how they are a symptom of the damage the guild has sustained. Many would waltz right into their doom if they had set their sights to repair something across treacherous terrain. This is where Tungsten was needed.

Though he shares the Cyber Skeleton’s ability to focus on mindless tedium, his greater experience and abilities allow him to not only recognize danger but act upon it. Where his workers would not care to avoid a falling stone, Tungsten would not only be able to avoid it, but have planned measures to ensure the stone would not harm himself or his workers. Such was the importance of leadership and independence. To be able to see things for himself and have others listen. These are traits that made the Creator Gods so great. Even if Tungsten could never reach their height, he aims to emulate them as best as he can.

And it was because of this vigilance that Tungsten noticed something subtly off. It was as his Skeletons worked to dismantle a now useless bulwark that he realized how dark it was. He had, of course, kept track of how long he was working, but he still felt a hint of surprise seeing how dark it already was. Then again they were in a new world now. When the sun rises and falls differs from the world he knew. More importantly in the darkness Tungsten could spot dots of fire. Even if he could not make out the details, he knew a campfire when he saw one. ”Ah. Of course. It would be foolish to think we alone inhabit this area. Creator Faetalis did mention she was going to look around the area.” He was only slightly worried. Worried because of course, as an Overseer he wishes for Faetalis to be well. Of course she was also the most powerful of them all, so there is no doubt in Tungsten’s mind that she is fully capable of taking care of herself. Still these were unknown lands with unknown threats.

And what Tungsten did know is that he, at least, lacks a military force to devote to the defense of the guild. Not while all hands were in the process of repairing the guild as is. Even as fast as they are, supplies were finite and some of the more complex structures would require individual focus instead of just a mass of cybernetic skeletons. Time was a resource, one of the many that the guild sorely needed more of. He wished he could devote a battalion to defend the guild, but a lack of numbers and subordinates would make such a desire impractical in these times. Just another thing Tungsten will need to add on his to-do list. Because there is no doubt that there are dangers in these mountains. While Tungsten hopes the guild can live peacefully with the locals, they must be prepared for war.

As raw materials were being transported for recycling Tungsten watched the skies and saw Faetalis return from her scouting. He was silently relieved to see that she was unharmed, but the fact she was here and seemed to have actively sought out her Overseers indicated that she had something important to say. Tungsten had his workers continue on without him as he went to meet with Faetalis.

The hulking robotic titan arrived at the location of one of the demolished factories. His workers have not yet reached this area as Levia was dismantling this location and frankly, it was safer to give her space until she finished. They both would greet Faetalis as she arrived, with Tungsten kneeling in due reverence. ”Welcome back, Creator Faetalis. Greetings Overseer Levia. Guild restoration is proceeding smoothly. The Infernal Engine is online and we are already stockpiling additional resources from recycled materials. My workers and I have also restored and reconnected the Big Scrap Alley to the main power grid, reactivating any communication towers, automated defenses, and minor power stations. Full structural repair is not yet completed, however I have ensured that Overseer Cormac has everything he requires to cover basic and intermediate repairs.” Tungsten reported in a smooth and calming voice. He knew that Faetalis no doubt had something important to say, so he wished to ensure her good mood by reporting good news. And fortunately they haven’t encountered any incidents yet either, so Tungsten did not have any reason to lie or conceal the truth.

”We are at your command Creator Faetalis.”
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Lugubrious
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Early rummaging through the charred corpse of the Gorging Trough yielded a good few handfuls of salvaged goods, but the Maneater chefs' luck did not last. Though the larder of the guild's grand restaurant had been extravagantly furnished, little remained after the manic session of meal preparation that filled the banquet hall, and less still after the all-consuming inferno. It was hard to put aside the thought that if only Lord Sugi didn't order that grand send-off feast, the Gorging Trough would still be in pristine condition, but not a soul voiced that insubordinate notion aloud.

For her part, Mae dedicated herself to the task assigned to her with what supplies came her way. Pickings, however, were scarce. After the gains from her staff's initial search and rescue petered out, made into flavorful but nutritious hard tack, cured meats, and dried fruit or vegetable snack bags, Mae started finding herself with more and more free time. Whenever Cyber Skeletons entered her blindsight from the direction of the condemned facilities they invariably carried inorganic materials for the restoration of the Gorging Trough's structure. Organic materials were harder to come by. Mae's cursory knowledge of the other guild factories led her to believe that only Gammaton's might be able to offer her living matter, Hivehill was not on the chopping block. "Shame we didn't have some plant-lovin' druid or livestock-keepin' blood mage..." the headless horror muttered.

As she sat, parked on a hunk of scrap that served as an ample benched, she considered what to do. Lady Fatalis' order to her had been to process every organic thing that came her way into victuals made to last. That did not, however, mean she had to rely on the scrappers alone. She cast her blindsight over her kitchen staff, getting a sense for their mood. If the current situation concerned her, it distressed her underlings. Like her, they needed something to do while the others were all off being useful. Mae made up her mind. "Hey!" she rumbled. "Gather 'round! I've gotta new job for ya!" Her Maneaters hastened to assemble. If she had a head, her wealth of culinary expertise would be running through it, and she hastened to spill the beans. "Listen up. We need ingredients, and there ain't any more to be pulled outta the wreckage. But the others said we're on a mountain, and wherever there's land, there's food, if ya know where to look for it. I want you all to scrape the mountainside. Look for berries--black, huckle, mul. Grab some nice young needles from pine trees I can make tea with, or wintergreen! Pull up daylilies, dandelions, chicory, wood sorrel, scallion! If you're feelin' frisky take down some rabbits 'n squirrels. But listen..." Mae's guttural tone took on a sense of urgency. "Keep a low profile. If we ain't alone out here, we can't get discovered while we're still lickin' our wounds. So if you see anything suspicious, cheese it. Got it?"

Her sous chef bowed his head while the girls talked among themselves, excited to be given such an important task. "Certainly, ma'am. Your faithful chefs will not let you down." Unable to nod, Mae gave him a thumbs-up. With her stationed here, she would be relying on her subordinate to manage the willful -and not exactly physically gifted- crew. She watched the Maneaters as they went until they left the range of her blindsight, headed off to forage in the unseen unknown. Then she gave a great, guttural sigh, and tended to her stew.

It was a while until the first cooks returned, but they carried armfuls of mountain greens, and their colleagues followed with a steady stream of foraged offerings. After Rib lumbered up in her Jubiliant form, a number of rotund rodents impaled on his rib blades, Mae was regaled with a story of clever cooperation that saw multiple Jubiliant Maneaters uproot a sheltered section of loose stone, sending the little beasts nested their to their doom. Round returned carrying the carcass of a mountain goat that Shank managed to catch and kill, and the others followed suit with more greens, flowers, mushrooms, and roots. Mae's makeshift eatery was back in business. The abomination kicked herself into overdrive, processing and preparing the bevy of new ingredients with the help of her minions, but even still it took a while to get through it all. In the end the refugees of the Gorging Trough managed to produce a smorgasbord of dry salads, jerkies, and teas. As the shadows of evening stretched across the land, the staff gathered together around Mae's cooking fire to eat their fill. After sampling her handiwork Mae couldn't help but clap a flabby arm around the shoulders of the nearest Maneaters and exclaim, "I tell ya, in all my days, a meal's never moved me as much as this! This here feast's a testament to the soul of the Trough, and where it is: not in some buildin', but in each and every one of ya!" She raised her half-melted cup of wintergreen tea. "To the cooks!"

"To the cooks!" Her staff echoed, clanging their various containers together before they drank deep. If today proved anything, it was that everything tasted better with company.

As the toast turned to general chatter, Mae lounged in contentment until Head approached and tapped her shoulder. "Ma'am. Lady Fatalis has returned."

"Oh. Guess I oughta see her." With a groan Mae heaved her bulk onto her feet. She bade farewell to her crew and hurried off to where a few of the other Overseers had already accosted the Supreme One. "Lady Fatalis! Good evenin'!" she resounded as she stomped over. As she drew near she struggled to put together her report. She'd done her job in the time that Fatalis was away, but the Trough still lay in shambles. Mae elected not to mention that part, since she both figured that prioritizing strategic guild facilities instead would be obvious, and that one or both of the workmen might think she was being passive-aggressive. "I've got food aplenty, ma'am. Anyone who needs a meal is more'n welcome to come by the, uh, Trough 'n grab a bite of what we've scrabbled together." Compared to the achievements of the others it wasn't much, but it was what she got, and she hoped it satisfied.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Guess Who
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Tungsten wouldn't be the only one looking after his Cyber Skeletons as they went about walking into danger. Several times, Cormac found them walking across unstable ground, soon crushed by collapsing debris, or noticing a fire and deciding that the quickest path to the tools they needed to douse it would be straight through the flames. Every so often, the old blacksmith found himself pushing the automatons back from whatever danger they were throwing themselves at with one hand, as he tried to fix whatever it was with the other. At least they didn't break when they took a wrong step into a pit that obstructed their path thanks to their Heavy Impact ability. If they did take orders from other Overseers like himself, it never occurred to Cormac to try and give them any to prevent them throwing themselves at a problem until it was fixed. Chalk it up to his familiarity more with gears and furnaces than with electricity and digital technology.

So obsessed with his work, the giant wouldn't notice the time, let alone the fires outside that were slowly approaching Infactorium. If Faetalis or any of his fellow Overseers were to summon him or come across the man working, they would find him hammering away at a very stubborn piece of sheet metal that was probably best scrapped then pounded back into place. That didn't deter Cormac however. He would set this machine right no matter how many hours it took him. Though he wouldn't be happy doing it.

"Dadgummit! Aw, blast it! Poop flirt rattletrap camel flirt! You blonker! Rattle feet sturcklefrat! A womp sack butt ratter bottom fodder!" In the heat of battle, Cormac would weave a tapestry of obscenity that was sure to remain hanging in space for the next century. "Smick melly womp walker! Drop dumb fratten house snickle fifer!"
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With the worker ants performing their designated tasks, there was little for Gammaton to do; unlike Tungsten's automatons, the workers were 'living creatures' and had slightly more intelligent, self-preserving pathing. They were also considerably more expendable, so even if one ant stupidly killed itself, it wasn't a great loss.

Gammaton sat at a dilapidated desk, pondering about nothing. She didn't remember her own head feeling so empty and lonely as stray thoughts bounced around through her cavernous mind. Gammaton was...bored, and found herself longing for something to occupy her time with, but not just busy work, something...intellectually stimulating. That was when she remembered the holding pens at the bottom of Hivehill, where the supreme beings held gladiatorial competitions to test their mettle against some of the stronger creatures of Yggdrasil. Even before the calamity, the holding pens were poorly maintained; the supreme beings had slowly lost interest in fighting the creatures and resources were diverted to other places. Gammaton headed down to confirm her suspicions, and upon arriving could see a dwindling population of undernourished beasts. Well, waste not, want not; perhaps these could be slaughtered and sent to Mae. Gammaton wondered if Faetalis would partake of monster flesh, since Gammaton had an inkling that the Supreme Beings were averse to consuming monsters. But as a parasite, to Gammaton, food was food.

Still, the creatures were ferocious, so it wasn't like they could just be herded to the Gorging Trough without incident, but Gammaton was also unsure if Mae wanted her ingredients fresh, so Gammaton couldn't just have them killed and their parts shipped over without first asking. Besides, in her current form, Gammaton wasn't the most suited for combat, and even hungry, some of these creatures could give Gammaton and her frail host's body a run for their money. Gammaton returned to her desk and penned another letter, this time to Canology Mae, asking the chef what she wished to do with the soon-to-be ingredients in the holding pens. Gammaton ordered a worker to carry the message to the Gorging Trough; although someone would have to read it to Mae.

Now that her mind was on food, she wondered if she should try to consume enough bioenergy to power her metamorphosis. She had enough stored up that she could transform into Gammaton Infantilis immediately, and she wouldn't need much more to reach Gammaton Anastasis. Ideally, she should try to get to Nova Gammaton, as that form was most ideal for combat, which, back in Yggdrasil, also seemed to be the highest priority. But if Faetalis had gone out to survey their surroundings, then surely the Supreme Being would know best what skillsets were most needed right now. But until she was called upon, Gammaton would continue to passively oversee the work of her ants.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Enkryption
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Mistress. Creator. Lady. Each title drew inward pain and regret, as Faetalis was forced to confront the fact that she was all that remained of her once illustrious guild: Infactorium; now, a shambles of ruins, beset upon a mountaintop forest, and nothing more than a shadow of the dungeon it once was - like Aztec Ruins, in a beautifully, ironic way. However, she couldn't face that challenge further than a moment, as she refocused, and reached out a colossal forepaw to caress Levia's head with a single talon that was as long as she stood tall. “You've done well,” she says, “As have you, Tungsten. And, you've done fantastically Mae.

Despite the sovereign depths of harshness in Havern's voice, there was an undeniable kindness and genuineness from Faetalis's own speaking. Looking around, she noticed the absence of Gamma and Cormac, but, as she needed Levia and Tungsten more than either, that was fine enough for now. There was a suddenness with the watch that Havern's body seemed to crumble inwards, and the forgery of wood and metal flexed outwards, to crumble and collapse to the ground - leaving a skyclad Faetalis to be head-patting Levia, before her dress reformed around her.

I have surveyed the area around us, and I have... little to report, beyond an oddity...” Faetalis admits, “However, I will supply that report at a later date. What needs to be known is that we are being set upon.” Faetalis turned, “This is a problem we can prevent, however. Tungsten, I need you to use your sonar to ping the area that I'll be taking you and Levia to, as I wish to identify structural weaknesses to soundly smooth out a mile of the mountain face for Levia to destroy so perfectly that no-one can climb up with ease.

Faetalis turned back, “Canology Mae, your presence is serendipitous. If it would not trouble you, I have a request of yourself, your staff, and Gamma - although, it may be a demeaning request to you both,” she frowned, “Before I had Levia and Tungsten reshape the mountain face, I request that you and Gamma repel the expedition that strays near us - instill a sense that something demonic haunts this mountain, so they won’t get hurt by the collapse planned.” Sighing, Faetalis rubbed her cheeks, as if frustrated, “I’d rather not imply that you’re only purpose is to be monsters, but alas, such is what I need and request of you. If you find this agreeable, please relay this request to Gamma, and seek me out as swiftly as possible.

Despite the unspoken notion that Cormac would be unnecessary in this plan, Faetalis had designs in mind for the most human of her Overseers; though, giant as he was, his physique was still entirely human, as was his overall progress of thought. As such, once the humans were sufficiently cowed by her current plan, she could put into motion the idea of using Cormac by her side as an envoy’s assistant of sorts.

After all, how better to blend in, than to look the same. It was the reason she kept up her human appearance, after all. Plus, with his taciturn nature, Faetalis had little reason to worry about Cormac speaking out of turn - unless the matter was that of blacksmithing, but that was for another day’s worry.

Right now, she just needed Mae’s answer, Levia’s destructive nature, and Tungsten’s sensory prowess.
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Although she had no face to beam with, Mae made her pride palpable to her comrades in other ways. "Dahaha, thanks, boss!" she gurgled happily, her hands in a double fist-pump energetic enough to send her bulk swaying. The eminent voice and mighty being through which the Supreme One spoke only served to magnify her praise as far as Mae was concerned, and the headless horror was unafraid to show her adulation. After all her worries about measuring up to the others in terms of significant work, she'd been assured that doing one's duty with a full heart was all one needed. Lady Faetalis is the best!

Good news couldn't last forever, though. Barely had the guild arrived and begun to stabilize itself in this world, it seemed, than trouble decided to come a-knocking. We are being set upon. Mae's elation twisted into a mixture of alarm and anger. They were already under attack?! She applauded Faetalis for keeping her composure, but in its current state the guild couldn't hope to repel a typical threat. Was whoever did this coming to finish them off? When her master began to issue orders, however, Mae reigned herself in. Faetalis shared little in the way of details, but the chef realized that if making the terrain near the mountain impassable was enough to stave off this 'invasion', these unwelcome guests couldn't be that much of a threat.

Her conjectures came to an end, however, when the boss turned her way. She stood just a little less still than a statue as Faetalis outlined her own assignment, trying to hold in her growing excitement. Out of everyone present, she and hers would be trusted to make first contact with whoever these intruders were. For the first time since her creation, Canology Mae would be supporting the guild not from the kitchen, but from the front lines! She would have swelled with pride at being given the opportunity, if only she could get any more swollen. Already her flesh-hooks were singing for fresh meat! But then again, it sounded like Faetalis didn't want them hurt. "You got it, ma'am!" she roared. "You want 'em gotten rid of subtle-like, huh? Piece a' cake! Me'n the girls'll spook 'em so bad, they'll wish we did fillet 'em." To the comment about being a monster she gave no response, since surely the good lady knew she was being too polite. Monsters, after all, were what the cooks of the Gorging Trough were, and a chance to be themselves was as good as gold. "I'll hustle right on over an' tell Gamma, now. Be right back!"

Despite her declaration Mae left the meeting at more of a hasty trundle than a hustle, and she made straight for the insect's domain. On the way, however, her blindsight swept over the familiar contours of her sous-chef Head, tactfully having placed himself within her path. In so doing he could communicate that he needed her attention without so much as a spoken word or lift of his fingers, all in that politely pragmatic fashion that was so very Head. Mae slowed down. "Heya. What's cookin'?"

"A statement from the venerable Gammaton, chef," he responded drily.

Mae could sense the paper in his hands, but not what was on it. "A message, huh? Guess you'd better read it then," she told him.

"Quite." Having received Mae's permission, Head unfolded the letter and read aloud.

Conscious of the main task at hand, Mae processed the information as quickly as she could. "Creatures, huh? Well, they better not get consigned just yet! Kill 'em all for monster burgers and we'll eat for a week, but if we can start raisin' some livestock we'll eat forever! A steady line a' rare monsters is just what we need while we're short of ingredients!" She pounded her fists together, hyped up about her idea. "Alright, brainiac. You pay Gammaton a visit 'n survey the pens. Bring along whoever knows a thing or two about monsters. Figure out what beasties're practical to care for and raise long term, an' what we oughta kill off."

"Very good," Head told her, whatever he really thought thoroughly masked behind that cold veneer. "Since you're going that way, I'll follow you shortly."

Mae shook herself approvingly. "Great. See ya."

With a parting wave she waddled on over to Hivehill, searching for where Gammaton was overseeing the work of her ants. "Hey, Gamma! Boss got us a mission!" As she drew near she followed the concentration of the oversized workers in an effort to find their foreman. "Gamma! I'm here to getcha. Faetalis wants us to go and scare off an expedition that's comin' this way. Didn't say what of. Humans, I reckon. Anyway, we can bring our guys, too, and I guess we oughta be quick about it."
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Within the ever-busy-bodied-brain-in-body Levia Vishap resided the ever present desire to do good for those she respects. To be praised by them, work beside them, do her best for them, and to ever strive to be worthy of her father's their love. When Havern's claw descended upon her head, Levia felt time grow to a stand still, almost certain that now, since she'd destroyed everything she'd been asked to, it was her time for permanent firing. Violent permanent firing. But just when she closed her eyes, the talon turned into the warm hand of her guild leader. For what might be the first time in...

Forever. Forever was how long it had been. Forever it has been since she felt such warmth and gratitude. Forever had it been since she was praised so wholeheartedly. Forever would it be that she served this warmth. Tears streamed down Levia as she stood in stunned silence. Were it not for her respect for Faetalis, the guild leader would find herself victim to a dragonic four armed hug and wailing fest. Instead, Levia controlled her self. One of her back arms reached down and picked up the displaced hat that had fallen from the gigantic talon touching it. Adjusting her hat once Faetalis's hand had left her scalp, the chimera before Faetalis would wipe her tears of joy and clench her fists. She had a job to do, to continue to do, and whatever Faetalis could order, Levia would follow.

"Lady Faetalis, thank you for your praise," Levia said, bowing as she took a knee, trying to hide her excitement even as her tail batted one of Tungsten's CSo4 Units out of the room they were in with a happy flick. Standing, the dragoness's eyes were hardened once more, reptilian slits narrowing as she realized the implications of the words "set upon". Life forms. Hostility. Bad guys. The almost too lizard-like brain of Levia only heard that their territory needed defending, and was liable to storm off to meet this threat were that task not assigned to Mae. Draconic. Nesting. Protection. New instincts and new chemical pathways burned within that told her that the guild absolutely must be protected at all costs. Oddly, this involved Levia breaking a pathway.

"Whatever needs to be broken shall be, Lady Faetalis." Levia would clench her fists and pound the larger set together, while adjusting the gloves on her scaled human-like hands. "And, if you ever need the invasion permanently broken, I can melt down whatever Mae leaves, if it comes to that."

"I am SO telling Gammaton that I got praised later! Ooh, I gotta bring her something nice! Maybe if a human's stuck up on the mountain, I can get her a new host. Or a snack. Either way, its thanks to her help that I got praised, so I'll have to work hard to make sure she gets plenty of praise next!" Despite her cool posturing and threatening tone, any could see that Levia was, once again, excited to work, and happy to work.

Gammaton would hear all about it later. Maybe it'd be a Girl's Night. They could invite Mae for snacks!
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Tungsten knelt in silent respect as he listened to Faetalis praise his work. He almost wanted to speak out and humbly admit he simply did as he was told, but withheld his comment, as he was not asked to speak and he knew that Faetalis meant only good things by giving him such praise. More importantly however, she had a task for him, and confirmed some suspicions he had about the area. Namely that the flames he saw in the distance was that of the locals, coming to investigate their arrival. While none can be certain of their intentions, Faetalis has done an excellent job suggesting that regardless, they secure the Infactorium's safety. One cannot be too cautious in these unknown lands after all.

Faetalis has also given him, as well as Levia, a vital task. Once more the machine would be called upon to use his sensors to detect and determine the physical structure of the area around them, but instead of utilizing this ability for resource gathering (as was their original function), Faetalis intends to use it for fortification and destruction. Namely to cut off any paths to the guild while it is still undergoing reconstruction. "An excellent idea, Creator Faetalis. Your wisdom shines even in these dark times, and your mercy to both your loyal servants and those who would come to investigate us truly shows your steady hand. Indeed, lesser minds would think to attack blindly against the unknown, risking death and danger to all, but a cool head shall prevail over boiling blood." Truthfully, Tungsten would have preferred to take on these strangers directly, if only to confirm their intentions, but he knows he lacks the manpower to do so despite his desires, which is why Faetalis is the leader and he is not.

Conveniently, Levia knocked one of the Skeleton Soldiers out of the room. While critically damaged, it could still move, so Tungsten turned to it. "Receive Io." The machine did it's best to pull itself together and left towards Big Scrap Alley. Tungsten then turned towards Levia, nodding to her now that they had an objective. "As soon as I receive my weapon I will be ready to embark with you and Creator Faetalis. With her guidance and your strength, we will protect the Infactorium." Tungsten's words were filled with encouragement, despite being a machine entity. A hint of his bardic powers granting Levia a slight boost in power, as once Tungsten really gets his performance going Levia would need to be careful not to go overboard with the new strength he is able to grant her.
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Time passed... A lot of time... Oodles and oodles of time. Honestly, Cormac hadn't a clue how much time. For more time than he realized, he had been doing his best to turn what should have been scrap metal for Tungsten's domain into it's original purpose as a piece to a large boiler. No one but him would have probably been able to figure out that's what it had been, but somehow, through a long process of hammering and heating, he had returned it to it's original shape. For the most part. There was one small dent that really wasn't going to reduce the boiler's efficiency, but it could easily be ignored by anyone sane. Something the giant lacked.

Wham! "No," he grumbled. Turning it over, he slammed his hammer down on the opposite side to flatten the curve, only to return it back to how it had been the previous smack. Wham! Another grumble, another disappointed, "No."

Finally though, he'd find the perfect amount of strength to get the job done, and with the help of a Cyber Skeleton or two who just so happened to be walking by, reapplied the piece where it belonged. Only then would he notice the lights in the distance that the rest of Infactorium's occupants had already seen and discussed without him. At first, he chose to ignore it, intent on finding something else to fix and busy his hands with. Recalling though how their home had devolved into its current state, Cormac found himself mumbling to himself as he went about looking for Faetalis, wanting to hear what instructions she might have for him.

Any comments she might have on his being so fashionably late were well-deserved, if/whenever he managed to track her down.
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"Ah! Mae," Gammaton said with pleasant surprise in her voice, "Did you get my message, then?" Gammaton had been lounging on a bit of fallen architecture, pondering existence, and wishing she had something to read. She got up quickly at Mae's approach; being seen as a layabout was uncharacteristic and unbecoming of Infactorium's general.

After being filled in by Mae on the particulars of their mission, Gammaton nodded contemplatively. "It does not seem as if Lady Faetalis wishes to do harm to our enemies?" Gammaton asked incredulously. Though Gammaton obviously didn't understand the particulars of Yggdrasil having been a game world, their enemies in the past had either been mobs, players, or their minions, none of which could be 'scared' in the normal sense. Sure, 'Fear' and 'Flee' were crowd-control statuses that could be temporarily applied, and mental damage was certainly a thing that existed, but no battle, large or small, had been averted simply because the other side had been 'afraid', so Faetalis' proposed tactic was a bit of a foreign concept for Gammaton. Still, Faetalis was the greatest strategist Gammaton had ever seen, so it was not his place to question her plans.

Taking up Israfil's Hammer, bludgeon, and the Fan of Zhuge Liang, her focus, she set off with Mae. Being an illusionist, Gammaton was perfectly suited to the task at hand; the ability to use Israfil's unique passive to manipulate sound was an added bonus. "What do you think would be most effective to scare these intruders off? I'm thinking undead, ghosts in particular, no offense. But among monster races, the undead disproportionately tend to have fear-inducing skills, and tend to be difficult to kill if the opponent is unprepared. At the very least, it should force them to retreat and re-equip themselves with holy weapons and armor, buying us time. I might spread some miasmic toxins too, not too strong, to really give them the impression that this area is cursed."

Gammaton fell silent for a moment. "Did Lady Faetalis say anything about taking a captive? There is much I could learn from a captive if allowed to... consume their grey matter." Back in Yggdrasil, Consume Knowledge allowed Gammaton to execute a low level NPC, see their library of skills, and temporarily take one for herself at half of the original skill's level. Yet somehow, Gammaton had the sinister impression that she would be able to acquire more than just knowledge on their enemies' skills were she to consume knowledge this time around.
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Upon receiving Mae's rather agreeable confirmation, Faetalis would see her scamper off in her adorably rotund and jolly way; if not for the utter lack of head, Mae would make a picturesque Mrs. Santa Clause. Tungsten and Levia agreement was a foregone conclusion with the obedient nature of the Bardic Engineer, and the excitable puppy nature of the Dragonoid Wrecking Ball - perfectly suited to the desires of their creators, but less so for her. It wasn't like telling her Guildmates what to do, and calling the shots during GvG, but more like telling their children what to do.

It felt awkward, to say the least.

Still, she needed to keep the image that they saw of her, so they could keep their own morale. If they saw her as a leader - no, as the Leader - then... she couldn't stop leading.

CRAK!

Faetalis pivoted her arm, “[Craft Self: Prosthetic Arm] [Craft Form: Tyrant Maw] [Divine Artisan: Tyrannical Cannon]” and her arm erupted with metal and wood, forming a dragon-mouth cannon out of her arm, “[Rebirth: Genesis]” which came to life, as the dragon growled, and dripped molten drool, as it scanned the trees.

...only for a young buck to burst out of the treeline, and race beyond sight once more. It would seem, Mae still had some vittles to round up, in the future. Faetalis would need to assure she didn't over-hunt. “[Release]” the Technomancer Crafter sighed, letting the weapon crumpled into its component parts, as the life within died. “That was embarrassing,” Faetalis pouted, her shoulders dropping in embarrassed shame. “Idiot...

Scratching then back of her head, she turned to Tungsten and Levia, “So, anyways, let's talk a walk, you two,” Faetalis says, hiding the pain, “The plan is simple, but bears repeating, as such,” she looked to the distance, “Tungsten, you will draw a circle a mile deep, and Levia, you will use your destruction precisely as told to cleanly carve it out. Then, Gamma will - ” Faetalis froze, before she had a moment of panic, “I forgot to tell Mae that Gamma had another role!

Faetalis, rather suddenly, groaned in clear and evident frustration; turning away, she scrubbed her hands in her hair, fitfully. She was clearly agitated, but didn't wanna be seen weak. Her mind raced for a moment, before she turned, “Tungsten, can you pass a massage on to Gamma with a Cyber Skeleton? I need her to, once she and Mae are done, if she choose to go, start having her colony dig an elevator shaft to the bottom of the mountain, and tunnel door outwards from the centermost point of Infactorium. However, I need the entries to be made discreetly; a door for us to know, and no other.

Faetalis looked back, her eyes glowing as she looked positively monstrous for a Human, “Another thing, have Mae and Gamma both understand, the humans aren't to be physically harm by them, but if any should harm themselves and be left for death, they thusly spoils of war. They deserve something in return for being used in such a vile way by my hand. That's all.

Levia, I will require the brilliance your father instilled in your mind, for when we are done, I will ask you to breed a specialized breed of Slime,” Faetalis says, approaching her, and taking her hands in her own. “I believe you can do so without fail. Before that, however, if you two and ready, let's be off.

Turning on her heel, Faetalis headed off for the cliff where the approaching expedition was camping. Hardly a threat, alone, a scouting party represented the potential for a bigger threat to mount in the shadows.

Infactorium was not yet online. All threats, no matter size, would be efficiently routed.
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Levia was a bit worried that Tungsten was approaching to get revenge on the accident that happened moments ago with his subordinate, but instead Tungsten Jazz's words, as inspirational as ever, stirred a fire in Levia's stomach as she clenched her draconic hands and grinned. "Her guidance, my strength, and your awesome bardic powers. Let's make sure nobody can ever harm our home, Tungsten!"

Levia's tail raised in alarm as Faetalis's arm transformed into a cannon, the chimeric dragoness dropping to all four's, ready to incinerate a plethora of wildlife to keep her mistress safe. Only for it to be a single deer. ...Were it not for the awkwardness of the moment, Levia would chase it down and beat it to a pulp for startling their guild leader.

Levia didn't have time to say anything before once again their leader had a minor freakout. ...Their guild leader seemed to be really high strung, for some reason. That awkwardness faded though once Levia saw the serious, monstrous eyes looking back and demanding that the humans not be harmed. Levia had to wonder why, but also didn't care enough about why to question it. As such, why would forever remain why, while who was all she knew. Then she started complimenting Levia!

"Ohhh my god she said I'm brilliant! AND NOW SHE'S TOUCHING ME!" Levia screamed internally, cheeks lighting up a pale green from her noxious blood flooding to her cheeks at her hand being in contact with Faetalis's. "Y-Yes! Anything for you Lady Faetalis!"

Levia would march at a merry pace, ecstatic at having been used more for her intended purpose in the last twenty four hours than she'd ever been used in...

...What was it?

...Seven Hundred Years? Yggdrasil time?

Either way, Tungsten would find he'd need to give Levia very specific instructions, lest her eager innocence cause her to level most of the area around the mountain. She loved feeling useful.
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It was not long before a Cyber Skeleton, a different one from the one he sent, returned to Tungsten with Io. The weapon of his Master, his creator, AlphaQ. For a moment the giant hesitated. He has never touched her belongings without her permission ever since she had left. She gave him and the Cyber Skeletons specific orders, and never returned. Her mission was surely important that... That she couldn't be here. All that was left was memories of her.

"Hesitation doesn't suit you."

Tungsten snapped out of his trace as he looked to the axe as it spoke to his mind. He picked up Io, slinging the axe onto his back where one of his magnetic plates ensured she was secured to his body despite lacking a sheath or strap. He turned and began to leave, following Faetalis and Levia out.

"Of course. I am glad to see you are well."

"Creator AlphaQ made sure that even in the face of total global annihilation, I would be safe. I am more interested in knowing how you had survived the calamity."

"So you know. I... Cannot say. We were simply doing our duty when this cataclysm occurred. Creator Faetalis has given us orders and we have been following them since."

There was no response from Io, so Tungsten assumed that she had no more questions about the matter. After all she was fairly intelligent and would know that Tungsten has no answers himself. As curious as they both were about their circumstance they wouldn't be able to find out much just by chatting to one another, not to mention Tungsten had a job to do. He'll debrief Io later once he returns to the Big Scrap Alley. The two joined Faetalis and Levia, silently following her out of the guild and towards the forest. It was uneventful aside from the deer, which Tungsten had picked up upon and identified it as not a threat. Though Faetalis didn't realize this and nearly blasted it, making Tungsten make a mental note to remember that not everyone shares his level of perception.

Shortly after Faetalis asked Tungsten to have a Cyber Skeleton message Gamma about her tasks. Had Tungsten been alone, he would've had to awkwardly explain how he would be unable to do so, considering he didn't bring any Cyber Skeletons with him and they were all back at the guild. But fortunately he had the foresight to bring Io along. "Of course Creator Faetalis. The message has already been delivered." On his back Io had heard Faetalis' message and relayed it back to the nearest Cyber Skeleton relative to Gamma's location. He would immediately drop what he was doing and would head to the hive to ensure Gamma received the message.

Soon after Faetalis left to continue her scouting, and thus it was time for Tungsten and Levia to begin their operation. Though Tungsten had passively been scanning the area since he got out here, he took out Io and flourished his weapon. Focusing his sensors on the area around him, expanding it further than usual, he was able to get a geographical layout of the area. It was a good location for a fortress, and perhaps once the guild is fully operational what would have been a cursed would become a boon as their Guild becomes an impenetrable bastion against those who would seek to harm them. But for that to happen there was much work to be done.

"Overseer Levia. Follow me over here. This area is most efficient at reaching us, and thus it needs to be destroyed. I recommend that you cause a landslide over there, so that the resulting destruction will make the path hazardous."




Meanwhile, a Cyber Skeleton received orders from Io. He would make a beeline straight towards Gammaton, making his presence known with his footsteps as he knelt down to deliver his message. "Orders from Creator Faetalis for Overseer Gammaton." Sticking his hand out the Cyber Skeleton produced a hologram of Faetalis giving her order as Tungsten and Io heard it. Afterwards the Cyber Skeleton would remain in case Gammatron had any further orders for it, or until she dismisses or leaves him behind.

“Tungsten, can you pass a massage on to Gamma with a Cyber Skeleton? I need her to, once she and Mae are done, if she choose to go, start having her colony dig an elevator shaft to the bottom of the mountain, and tunnrl door outwards from the centermost point of Infactorium. However, I need the entries to be made discreetly; a door for us to know, and no other. Another thing, have Mae and Gamma both understand, the humans aren't to be physically harm by them, but if any should harm themselves and be left for death, they thusly spoils of war. They deserve something in return for being used in such a vile way by my hand. That's all.”
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After several minutes of searching, Cormac would come to realize that Faetalis had already left Infactorium. In fact, it seemed that he was alone with nothing else but Tungsten's Cyber Skeletons. He considered that perhaps later, when the others returned, he would make a remark about leaving him behind without notice. However, even he realized that it was no one's fault but his own that he hadn't noticed any summons. Best to avoid bringing the whole thing up instead.

Cormac would take a seat at a nearby window, looking out upon the distant lights. It was doubtless that the others left to investigate them. Did they need his help? Should he go and grab his sword and spear? Charge toward the invaders and join the fray? Or would that only make things worse? Would he unknowingly ruin any plans the Overseer of overseers had made and only make things worse? The answer was obvious, to wait until he was given a sign to make a move, but it didn't make the waiting any more bearable.

Rising from his seat, the giant would begin to pace around the room, his restlessness rising without anything to keep his hands busy. However, in case anything went wrong, he wanted to be able to see it from this chosen perch, meaning he couldn't return to The Mór Brionnú where he wouldn't be able to see a thing. With a 'hrumph' he looked back out into the unknown outside and peered into the darkness, trying to see if there was anything he could make out.
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As Mae got into range the edge of her blindsight brushed against Gammaton snapping to attention, no doubt having been occupied by some crucial task. Unable to nod her confirmation to the question posed to her, the headless horror replied, “Yeah, I got it. Head’s takin’ care of it. I figure we can set up some sort of exotic ranch with some o’ your critters an’ get a renewable meat supply up ‘n runnin’. We might not have any beast tamers ‘round, but if anyone’s gonna make it work, it’s Head.”

That matter could wait, though, so both Mae and Gammaton prioritized their joint assignment instead. Their order to repel the human incursion through intimidation rather than butchery did seem to imply what Gammaton suggested. “Uh huh, looks that way. Not a problem though! I can be one hell of a monster when I’ve got a mind to. We’ll scare ‘em but good!”

With Gammaton’s weapons collected, the pair began their mission. Despite her size Mae’s excitement lent wings to her feet, and she plodded at deceptively brisk pace away from the dilapidated collection of factories and toward the tightly-packed, murky woods whose jagged-branched trees clung to the mountain slope like flies to a rotting corpse. Gammaton did not hesitate to start work on a plan of attack, and though Mae had to respect both her colleague’s abilities and ideas, there was one problem: Canology Mae wasn’t in them. “Hey, hey, hey, hold on a moment,” Mae rumbled. “If we just used your illusions, what’m I here for? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea, but the boss wanted me ‘n mine for this job. She must’ve had a reason. Hmm...”

She scratched at the pallid flesh of her chins. “Well, zombies ‘n skeletons are good and all, but they’re pretty common, right? What if they’re ol’ hat? And retreatin’ only a li’l while to get the right gear ain’t as good as retreatin’ forever.” She raised a flesh hook, let it fall until the chain went taut, then yanked it up to grab the hook again. “I’m thinkin’ we show ‘em some real nightmares. Somethin’ they’ve never seen before, too horrible to make any sense of.” With her other hand she jabbed a thumb over her shoulder back at the Gorging Trough. “My Maneaters’ Jubilant forms are just the ticket, an’ I’m no slouch myself! Lemme grab a couple. Your illusions as the seasonin’, and us as the main course to make it real. We’ll scare the lights outta these schmucks together!”

“Hmm…? Oh, right,” Gammaton hadn’t considered that she was leaving Mae out of her planning. Gammaton had assumed that Mae would be happy to not have to do anything...and there it was again; laziness, this unusual feeling that was responsible for Gammaton’s boredom earlier. So strange to not want to do anything while wanting to do something. Snapping out of it, Gammaton considered that there must be some wisdom to Faetalis assigning the both of them to this task. Was it simply because of Mae and her minions’ appearances? It surely couldn’t be as simple as that. “Yes, you have a point. If nothing else, illusions rely on subtlety, the more grandiose the illusion, the easier it is to get found out.

A Cyber Skeleton soon arrives and elaborates on Faetalis’ orders. “Our assumptions are confirmed,” Gammaton commented, then reiterated, “Do not harm them, though we are free to take any stragglers captive.” As for the tunnel, it was an interesting prospect, though there was no need to discuss it at present. “Very well, I will support you and your maneaters with my illusions. Now let’s see how much progress those pesky invaders have made up our mountain.” Gammaton summoned a small insect familiar to scout through the forest, a mosquito, a nocturnal creature that could sense blood was perfect for nighttime scouting. It took an unexpectedly long time for the mosquito to return, and after it had communicated via pheromones what it had seen, the time of travel made sense; the party of humans were moving fairly slowly and were still a good distance away, giving Gammaton and Mae ample time to prepare. For her part, Mae visited her staff’s encampment in front of the Gorging Trough once more, and after a quick inspection returned with a number of her Maneaters in tow.

“It could be a bluff,” Gammaton began, “But these invaders do not seem anywhere near the level of Infactorium’s enemies whom we’ve had to repel in the past.” Gammaton remembered that over time, the strength of their enemies had progressively increased, so this was an unusual surprise.

Although Mae hadn’t considered the possibility of a bluff, there wasn’t a lot she could do differently. With her flesh hooks in hand she was ready to go, and so were the Maneaters at her back. Looking at them right one, it was hard to imagine them as anything other than normal, well-dressed chefs; Rib was sturdily-built and professional in manner, Round seemed pleasant and took after her boss in the weight department, the rather ordinary Flank offered a peppy smile, Tender hid her pale face behind her long black hair, Tongue bore a sourly austere expression, and the pretty Roast commanded a sporty charm. But anyone with even a fraction of familiarity with their accursed kind knew their humanity existed merely as a facade for the twisted aberration within. “Guess we’ll find out,” Mae rumbled in response to Gammaton. She took the first step forward. “Let’s go.”

As they pushed down the mountain through the dark forest, the monsters ruminated on the possibilities. Mae’s underlings offered their own insights and ideas readily, and the group’s brainstorming paid dividends. What began as a grim joke from Flank eventually grew into a plan so cunning that even imagining it filled Mae with glee. “Gahaha, by the Great Ones, this is gonna be delicious!”




Once again, that annoyingly subtle smug manifested itself. “Alas, it would seem that Lady Luck favors me, after all.” He reached over the dice he’d rolled into the empty bowl, whose upturned faces all held four black dots burned into the wooden cubes, and collected the pot. A couple coins didn’t make for much of a reward, but together with his winnings from the last two rounds it added up. Although he couldn’t suppress how pleased he was entirely, the gentleman managed to maintain the appearance of a graceful winner. He held up one of the coins and watched it glimmer, reflecting the cinders of the bonfire, before glancing at his fellow watchman with a slight smile. “Care to go again? What are the odds that I’d win a fourth time, after all?”

From head to toe, Iago Floeres was an eccentric. As the third son of a petty noble family he stood to receive nothing in the way of honor or inheritance as he walked the path of knighthood through which so many sought glory. A brief stint of actual military service, however, convinced him that he’d much rather learn from other nations’ peoples then kill them, and though his hair went gray early in his middle age that passion never waned. Hedge knight, scholar, teacher, vagrant--his occupation changed by the day, and though he clothed himself in other cultures’ sophistications most just called him strange. Still, a sword was a sword, and anyone who could swing one half-decently was a good hire when short of hands. If the expedition’s leader thought him a good candidate for a first watch, however, he didn’t account for Iago producing a dice game to pass the time.

Szilard Wentham, an unkempt looking old man with a scraggly grey beard grunted in disgust. “We’ve wasted enough time with silly games when we should be keeping watch,” he said, trying to veil his desire to quit behind some pragmatism. He swore Iago was cheating, but now wasn’t the time to accuse a nobleman of foul play. Szilard wrapped his cloak tighter around himself and turned to stare out into the darkness and sulk, signaling that the game was over. Szilard was a narrow-minded, sour old man who worked as groundskeeper for the mayor. His son had left town a few years ago and established himself as a merchant. When he returned, Szilard’s son took his mother and siblings away. Turns out Szilard’s family couldn’t stand him. Szilard was handy with a crossbow, but mostly he dealt with pests using traps and poison. Despite his protestations on the matter, the mayor had voiced full confidence in Szilard’s abilities to investigate the disturbance on the mountain, so here he found himself, losing a dice game to some fancy fop. Despite giving his eyes time to adjust, the darkness of the forest was nigh impenetrable, but he wasn’t going to admit it lest Iago poke fun at his eyesight. So he continued to stare, as if he was actually being vigilant, hoping he wouldn’t have to socialize any further.

With an accommodating nod the eccentric put away his game and resumed his vigil in silence. Lucky streak or not, it was in poor taste to press the matter with his fellow watchman, whose bitterness suggested he didn’t need any more grief. It surprised him that Szilard accepted his offer at all, in fact, but he supposed that boredom could be rather persuasive. He stifled a yawn and settled down, making sure his position wasn’t too comfortable. Sleep could come after he did his job, or he might not get another one. Besides, as the night got deeper and its shadows darker, who could say what might come drifting down toward the camp from the mountaintop?

Iago lost track of time before too long, weathering each minute as it came and went. First watch ended when he and Szilard could stay awake no longer, but sleep didn’t come too easily to the pair. Even if he couldn’t see anything, he could at least keep his ears busy, and in that regard the forest could offer a great deal. The brush of wind against the leaves and between the branches, the intermittent noises of insects and animals, and the snores of the slumbering expeditioners made for just the usual ambiance. Here and there he heard sudden one-off noises, nothing too alarming, but mystifying enough to provoke intrusive thoughts of ill-intentioned men and hostile wildlife. He did not actually expect to hear the thump thump thump of increasingly loud, fast-paced footfalls, nor the gasp of heavy breath. After another moment of listening he felt confident that it was too much to belong to just one person. Once certain he tapped Szilard to make sure he heard it too, then stood and readied himself with a hand on the hilt of his sword.

A moment passed before the pitch black coughed up two figures, who spotted the lookouts a moment later and slowed down, panting. Both were human women in dirtied servants’ attire, unarmed. The older of the two had a motherly air around her, with glasses and a bun of black hair, and red eyes that caught the light. Her younger companion looked ordinary, although ‘plain’ was the wrong word to use, with voluminous brown hair tied back and a little heft to her. Neither seemed hostile or threatening in the slightest. Still, Iago kept his eyes narrowed. The presence of these women here invited a veritable heap of questions, and he given the circumstances he felt justified in taking precautions. He opened his mouth to address the two, only for the younger woman to burst into speech.

“Oh my gosh, thank goodness, we’re saved!” She babbled, collapsing to her knees as she approached the men. Behind her, the other woman bent over, her hands on her knees. “Please sirs, please, you’ve got to help us! We just barely got out, the others, they all...ohhohohh, please, save us, they’re coming!”

Szilard tried to pretend that Iago’s shoulder tap had not just woken him up from having dozed off. Turning to face where Iago had focused his attention, Szilard slipped a bolt into his pre-cocked crossbow and pointed it towards the darkness. Seeing the maids raised Szilard’s hackles; he never liked maids, he always felt that they used their feminine wiles on the mayor to get better treatment and forgiveness to shirk off work, leaving Szilard to attend to what he felt were their chores. He stole a glance at Iago, wondering if they were from his estate, given that he did not recognize them from the bunch that worked at the town hall, but their ominous words drove such thoughts from his mind as they referenced unseen terrors. “S-save you? From what?” Szilard asked, trying to hide the tremble that clung to his throat, waving his crossbow into the oppressive blackness, expecting at any moment for some monstrosity to jump out. From the forest, a strange unearthly hum began to rise in volume. The sound was a perfect sine wave, A440 to be precise, but to a civilization that had not technologically advanced far enough to produce such pure tones, a note without timbre or fluctuation was truly alien. “Wh-what’s that god-awful sound?” Szilard asked, the panic becoming apparent in his voice.

Iago desperately wished that he could answer, but even if he hadn’t been choked by fear, he couldn’t for the life of him guess what that ungodly noise might be. Chills ran down his spine, the hair on his neck stood on end, and his sword hand locked around his weapon’s hilt in a death-grip. Cold sweat streaked across his face as his eyes danced across the wall of absolute darkness.

Above the undulating murmur came the closer woman’s voice in reply. “The horror, those lurking, mangled things!” she cried, vying to be heard over the rising tone. “Bone and blood and teeth, too many, too many arms and claws. It’s a nightmare made real!” Wild with fear she grabbed the watchmen’s arms, her fingers digging into their clothes. “But please, don’t just stand there! You can save us!”

The sudden pain jolted Iago into action, somehow pulling him back from the brink. “You...you’re right. We have to warn everyone!” Still shaking, he lunged for the burnt-out campfire and seized the cookpot. When he beat the ladle against its bottom the clamor stirred the sleeping camp to life. “W-wake up! Up! We’ve got enemies incoming, we’ve got…”

As the sleepers rose from their bedrolls in a muddle, grabbing for weapons and torches to light, Iago’s nerves went slack, and with a final clonk the pot hit the ground. Behind him formed up the gruff, black-bearded expedition leader Vorst Zwartmeer, the beanpole huntress Riny Verloren, and the grubmaster Orsolya Kelte, but their words too died on their lips. They stared, trembling, into the woods. It wasn’t pitch black out there--at least, not anymore. Through the trees there came the glow of a thousand little lights, greenish-yellow like fireflies, but why had they all flared up at once? That phenomenon lost all its mystery, however, when he beheld what their light revealed.

Between the trees were silhouetted things he could not describe. Inhuman things that twitched and swung, gnashed and writhed, gelatinous masses and excesses of twisted limbs, tendrils and masses that swayed and bulged as if to to the tune of that otherworldly resonance. And whether they staggered, lurched, crawled, or oozed, they were closing in on the camp, from seemingly every direction.

A croak rose and died in Iago’s throat. The girl gave a strangled yelp and stumbled behind him for shelter, as if he could move a muscle to protect her. When the older woman tried to follow, however, she stumbled and fell to her knees, coughing blood. Averting his eyes from the more distant horror, Iago looked down to see a blade sticking out of her gut, soaked with red.

He didn’t remember seeing that before; when had she been stabbed? Before his lingering eyes, the woman convulsed, and a second blade appeared, pushing its way out of her flesh and through her dress--an outcrop not of steel, but of bone. The men could only stare, paralyzed, transfixed by the inexplicable horror, as she staggered to her feet. From inside her there came a sickening crunching and cracking, and her torso started to twist upward. Her clothes and flesh burst apart in a shower of blood-soaked shreds, loose entrails flailing about as ribs extended outward like blades, or branches. Higher and higher the hapless victim’s lolling head and arms rose, spinning like a top above the grotesque tower of bone-pierced viscera, until the thing loomed above the men like a nightmarish tree, swaying in the wind. From its zenith came a gurgling moan. “Help...me…”

“BAHAHAHA!” A booming laugh echoed through the woods, accentuated by heavy crashes that no sane mind would have dared to call footfalls. The vivid yellow-orange radiance of a blazing fire approached the campsite, but no torch produced it. Instead a burning, melted husk of fused bone and ash stalked the expedition’s way, a ghoulishly live brazier, and in its light the wretched humans could see the horror to end all horrors. A mountain of engorged flesh in an absurd set of chef’s whites, with an apron-clad belly that hung down to her knees and no head, the horror was a mockery of the female form. Just looking at her planted the seeds of insanity, causing Madness to build. Her ghastly merriment resounded from the neck where her head should have been, and as she stomped forward every inch of her was in motion. “Thought you could get away!?” She raised an arm and sent a flesh-hook flying into the terror-stricken crowd, where it snagged around the other maid’s waist. With a cry the woman was yanked through the air and sailed, screaming, into the abimination’s waiting hand. “Bahaha, gotcha! Now, become my flesh!”

The girl’s shrieks suddenly cut short as her body began to change. Her upper body started to swell, bloating out to more than twice her original size, and from her waist erupted leg after leg until a couple dozen bloody, branching limbs writhed a few feet above the ground. With another raucous laugh the woman tossed the malformed woman aside to roll along the ground.She clanged her flesh hooks together, activating Monitor and Abuse to kick things off with a heaping helping of Fear. “Who’s next!?”

A dark crimson ooze seeped towards the camp from between the roots of the trees; a veritable broth of eyes and teeth and fingers. It crept slowly, lest it actually touched one of the humans and spoiled the illusion. Some of the teeth flowed together into what could pass for a mouth and said, “...Szilard...join us…” In spying on the camp, Gammaton’s mosquito had heard the names of some of these humans being spoken, and felt that adding a ‘personal touch’ would accentuate the fear. Szilard, who up to this point had been paralyzed by fear and indecision, fired his bolt at the mouth in the ooze, his projectile having obviously no effect.

“N-NoOo! FUCK THIS!” Szilard screamed, before tossing his crossbow on the ground and bolting away from the camp, ready to abandon his party. In an act of instant karma, his foot caught in an upturned root, causing him to fall to the floor with a sickening crunch. “MY LEG!” the old man yelled, and despite having intended to leave his fellows to their fate, cried out, “HELP ME!”

The ooze continued to advance, “Iago...VoRrst…” it called out, before the voices mixed into the muddled gibbering of madness. The pure tone of A440 began to modulate in pitch, reminiscent of schlocky, synthesized, sci-fi horror music. The sound played from Israfil’s Hammer applied the ‘Harmonic’ status. Though the status by itself was harmless, the humans could feel some resonance deep within their bones and gut. As the music continued, the Harmonics would stack, and a new debuff would be applied, ‘Interference’. Like Harmonics, Interference was harmless by itself, but it gave to the humans an almost imperceptible but uncanny feeling that some fundamental aspect of themselves had become ‘perceived’ by some antagonistic force, that their weaknesses had become exposed, that they felt suddenly, very, very brittle; like a delicate glass of wine about to shatter.

The combined Harmonics and Fear, plus the sheer horror of everything the ill-fated night had in store for them, hit the breaking point for Iago. He screamed, a wordless, toneless noise straight from the soul, and fled. Vorst turned as well, and then like leaves in autumn the rest fell in line. The humans dropped everything, forgot everything, and ran. Without a single thought of Szilard in his head as anything but an obstacle, Iago leaped over the fallen man and sprinted the opposite direction. He pushed straight through those any less swift than he, which included the huntress Riny. “Guh!” Too tall and thin to resist the unexpected force, the storied adventurer could only swear as she stumbled into one of the tents. “Damn you, Iago, you bast--ugh!” It collapsed beneath her and tangled up her gangly limbs, leaving her hopelessly ensnared as her fellows abandoned her one and all. Rather than struggle she lay still, playing dead, hoping against all odds that the monsters wouldn’t detect her, or would think she was already a corpse. Biting her tongue she waited as the tramp of terrified feet faded into the distance, leaving only the agonized breaths and guttural, despair-fueled groans of Szilard amidst the hideous, otherworldly cacophony.

This went on for at least another minute. Then, abruptly, the noise went away. It didn’t trail off, or die out. One moment it was full volume, resonating deep within her soul. In the darkness of her confines she blinked, dumbfounded. After a few moments there came that booming laugh again, but somehow it sounded different. “Bahahahaha, oh, we got ‘em, we got those poor suckers! Scared the livin’ daylights outta ‘em!”

A fiery lightsource drew near, and in its illumination Riny could see an opening in the tent canvas. Still in shock, she tentatively reached for the opening and peered through, only to flinch at the sight of the monsters from before. For a moment she had wondered if this was somehow an elaborate magical prank, but true terror once again clawed at the huntress’s heart.

“Didja see the way a couple of ‘em were runnin’?” the biggest one echoed. In a crude pantomime the obese abomination raised her arms, flailing them wildly. “Just, SHOO, didn’t even touch the ground! I tell ya, there’s never been a finer...ugh!” The horror fanned an arm in front of where her head should have been. “Sugi almighty, at least one of ‘em musta up ‘n soiled themselves. Well, there ain’t a better sign we did our jobs ‘n that, I suppose. Proof’s in...bahaha, proof’s in the puddin’, as they say!”

“Yuck! That’s so gross, Mae,” the blazing husk sputtered in a very not-monstrous fashion. As Riny watched, the fire coalesced and disappeared, leaving behind a pretty young woman with what looked like dyed gray hair in a partially undone chef’s uniform. The smile it wore made it clear she was joking. “And what was with that line? ‘Become my flesh’? That wasn’t scary, and it didn’t even make sense.”

The headless horror shooed her off. “Aw, can it, you. And hey, Rib? You can come down now.”

“Oh, yes ma’am.” A familiar voice came down from on high. The blood-spattered tree of bone untwisted herself, undoing the visceral transformation, until all that remained was the same professional-looking cook who’d run into camp a few minutes ago. “By the way, ma’am. You should turn off Monitor & Abuse to conserve mana.”

“Huh? Oh, right.” With a flourish the abomination performed some sort of magic, and just like the noise from before the fear that still clung to Riny’s heart vanished. Utterly overloaded with confusion, the huntress could only lay there in the remains of the tent, failing to process it all.

“Truly a magnificent performance,” Gammaton said, clapping slowly and approaching the firelight, having holstered her acoustic weapon. However, her gait suddenly changed. As a parasite, Gammaton could sense the pulse of living blood flowing through veins.

As if to confirm her suspicions, Szilard spoke up, “Wh-what is this…?” He looked around, curious that the strange unearthly music had abruptly stopped and the black ooze had likewise vanished into motes of mana. It was clear that there was a mental disconnect between the terror that he had just experienced and the sight of these monsters joking it up.

”It seems we have unwittingly exposed our ruse to these two poor souls,” Gammaton said menacingly as the violet glow of her vertical visor swept from Szilard to Riny. With a wave of his hand, the dire mosquito that Gammaton had used to scout the party out previously zipped over and jabbed Szilard in the neck with its proboscis, injecting a powerful paralytic, before darting over and doing the same to Riny. ”I regret to inform you that, given what you have just seen, we cannot permit you to leave the premises. Levitate.” Gammaton waved her fan towards Szilard and Riny, using wind magic to lift them into the air. ”What do you think, Mae? One for you, one for me? Though I suppose you did do most of the work, so if you want a more proportional split, I could spare the limbs, since all I’ll need is the head.”

“No! You monsters! What are you doing!” Szilard began protesting loudly.

Gammaton sighed, and unsheathed her weapon. ”Noise Cancel,” Gammaton said with ennui. The Hammer of Israfil began vibrating inaudibly but a strange ‘static’ could be felt, which rendered Szilard mute. ”Noisy creature.”

The headless horror reached out one of her great, grubby hands and took hold of Riny, slinging the huntress over her shoulder like a sack of flour--or in this case, a rolled-up curtain, maybe. “Nah, we were just goofin’ off,” Mae told Gammaton. “Keep that one, all of ‘im. Boss said not to hurt ‘em, right? And we can use all the help figurin' out where we are, right?” She was unaware of exactly what her comrade planned for the poor watchman’s brain, and more focused on her own captive, anyway. The archer was so slight that Mae needed to double-check that she was even there. “Gosh, I thought I lost ya for a sec. You’re practically skin ‘n bones.” She patted Riny on the back a little too heavily, much to the woman’s displeasure. “That can’t be healthy. I betcher fixin’ to keel over from our little show too. Tell ya what, I’ll whip ya somethin’ up when we get back to base.”

Having also turned back from her Jubilant form to her Placid one, Round gave a laugh. “That’s Mae for ya! Might look like a pigsty after a tornader but the meanest she gets is makin’ a mean stew!”

“Shut your yap, ya li’l lardball,” Mae ribbed good-naturedly. “We need a fresh set o’ buds anyhow.” She conducted one final sweep of the ruined camp with her blindsight before declaring, “If those poor schmucks show up ‘round these parts again I’ll be mighty surprised. Alright folks, let’s hit the road.” With her cargo as comfortable as she was going to get Mae stomped in the direction of the guild, her entourage right behind and very interested in the hapless humans along for the ride.
Hidden 7 days ago Post by The Irish Tree
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Levia would eye Tungsten with an eagerness that betrayed her lack of professionalism, the clearest sign of it being the wagging of her tail. There wasn't a lot of need to hide it, in Levia's mind, and there was even less need to hesitate on performing the job at hand. Levia's hands clenched, and her eyes lit up. "One landslide coming u- Oh wait!"

Levia would hurriedly rack her brain, rubbing her temples as she let out a slight grunting hum, saying: "Didn't Lady Faetalis want you to draw a circle a mile deep and have me only target those areas? Much as I wanna break anything that looks fun to break, I wanna make sure I do it right." Despite her eagerness to work, the reality of it was that without proper guidelines, Levia was likely to carry her landslide too deep into the mountain.

I'll wait for the circle, and then I'll tear down whatever you tell me to. That way Lady Faetalis doesn't get mad," Levia explained.
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As pieces of her plan fell into place, Faetalis would double-back on Infactorium; her intention to try and grasp what processes could and couldn’t be put into place. As far as her cursory scans indicated, they were without any Unit Production, beyond the capabilities of Mae’s kitchen, and only “Staffing Units” seemed to remain intact, from Tungsten’s admission to the state of his Factory’s more advanced robotics, and the lack of Gamma’s more evolved insectoids.

Normally, with such forces to bear, Infactorium would see this place as an easy holdout, and nothing more - normally.

There was nothing normal about this. Faetalis still refused to believe she was anywhere, but trapped inside her game - this addiction she held - yet, physical damage hurt, her pseudo-human body was fatigued, and she could feel the assault of the cold air against her synthetic skin.

This felt real.

Then, there was the problem with MinMaxine, and the strange debuff that held her unresponsive. Why was she in such a state, while the other Overseers of her peers that had been dragged on this wild journey with her had come out relatively unscathed? Although, notably shaken in different ways at the probable loss of their “mothers” and “fathers” - now a painfully permanent reality for some, such as Levia, while still a hopeful denial for others, such as Mae. For now, she could only hope to distract them, employ them, as they were always meant to be, and deal with the emotional damage later.

...could they even truly feel emotions? Faetalis couldn’t help but wonder that, as she walked the hallways; stepping around ventilation grates turned to pits and over fissures from factories shoved out of place. They still functioned like Overseers - followed orders, prioritized the Guild, and obeyed her without question... but, Faetalis couldn’t lie to herself that they weren’t...

Awake.

Not “alive”, but “awake”. That was truly the right term for it. They were thinking on their own terms, and not just following codes and routines - they weren’t acting like A.I. functioning under set rules, but other players, as well. At first, Faetalis thought, perhaps, they were her friends - trapped in their own creation - but, they were too much their programmed personalities, and moving past them into their own evolved personalities.

Case in point, as Faetalis watched Cormac pace before a window; lost in his own wonderings and ponderings, before he reached a consensus with himself, and returned to the window to be greeted by, not darkness, but her glowing eyes and the cool night’s air. IN YGGDRASIL Online, he would never allow himself to be brother by whatever had caused him such internal drama.

Even a fool could see, something was troubling him.

You seem restless...
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