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Thread: [Quest] Lost Singularity - Fimbulwinter

  1. #1401
    So Many Ideas, So Little Time SleepMode's Avatar
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    Curious to see more of her, hmhmm.
    The Act of dozing off in the afternoon is a luxury indeed.
    Coffee would be nice, though.

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  2. #1402
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    Club Alemán – Sala Hamburgo, Salvador Donoso 1337, Valparaíso
    Day 04
    Evening Phase – 07a
    Temperate (25°C/77°F)

    (BGM)

    Seating Arrangement

    …why the fuck am I overthinking this?

    “Please excuse me for a—uwah!” My attempt at standing up is mercilessly denied by Enheduanna’s golden radiance pulling me back to my seat.

    “You are not skilled enough to handle every single thing. Use the resources around you.”

    “What the Beloved Goddess means,” adds Caster as they stand up instead. “Is to please let me handle this, Javier. I must ask you to trust me when I say I have more experience in handling these situations.”

    We cannot see their smile, mostly covered by the veil, but there is a compassionate shine in Caster’s eyes.

    “As you said earlier, please focus on the reason you came here. Leave Liria to me.”

    I glance to my left, where Fiore is also looking at me.

    “Do we trust Caster?” she asks without regard for the person in question. Sakura shrugs.

    “Enough, I’d say. And I have the feeling Caster knows Liria better than any of us.”

    “I have met her for longer, yes,” Caster confirms while nodding. Certainly, Liria was an unwilling member of the Fourth Reich before the world froze.

    “And while we are all worried about her, we still have things to do here,” Sakura finishes, looking at the event’s hostess. Enheduanna, though, is looking at Caster instead, who returns the gaze with their usual devotion.

    “Do not do anything foolish, Caster.”

    “Oh, but then how would I prove my worth as a Heroic Spirit?”

    That is how Caster leaves, laughing at their own joke. We are left to enjoy the meal, which is admittedly very good. Well, almost anything would be great in this frozen Valparaíso.

    (BGM STOP)

    “So, Senta,” Enheduanna abruptly says. “When are you going to speak your mind?”

    “Ah, but you are having such a fun and engaging conversation! Wouldn’t want to get in the way!” replies the bespectacled girl with laughter as fake as it is boisterous. “Besides, I’m having a blast here, catching up with my best bud Ortrud here. Right, cowtits?”

    “Fuck off,” says the woman who looks like she would just rather doze off on her chair.

    “A ray of sunshine, aren’t ya?” Senta brushes off the other woman’s hostility before facing Enheduanna. “Anyway, I guess that bullshit divination of yours already told you what I want.”

    “Sometimes you do not even need divination to know what other people are thinking, Senta.”

    “True enough. Anyway, here it goes: why did you make us?”

    (BGM)

    Yes, I remember. Lily brought this up on our last meeting.

    “We both know we Hexensoldaten are utterly inefficient investments of time and effort, if we are meant to be weapons for the Fourth Reich.”

    “Well, there you have it,” Enheduanna interrupts. “You just answered your own question.”

    Senta is visibly taken aback for a moment, but quickly hides it behind her usual sharp veneer. Ortrud is still slouched like a bored dad, but she cannot hide that she is also paying attention.

    “…alright, so we were not meant to be weapons for the Fourth Reich. Then what’s the point? What’s our point?”

    “What must there be a point?” counters their ‘mother’. “Do every pair of parents make a child as part of some plan?”

    “Yeah, no, you didn’t make us in a bunch of one-night stands,” retorts Senta with no little sarcasm. “You made us. Built us. We came out of fucking vats. Nobody does something like…us, just for the hell of it.”

    Enheduanna looks at Senta for a while, then down at the table, but not really. For several silent seconds (except for Shielder’s voracious eating), she is not really looking at anything, save for perhaps within herself, until her serene gaze returns to her questioner.

    “You were a series of progressive stages towards the successful fabrication of Elisabeth.”

    She does not allow the ensuing silence to stretch beyond a moment, not even letting the words settle long enough to pull the two artificial girls into an abyss of despair.

    “Is that what you wish to hear, Senta? Well, I will have to disappoint you, because it is nothing like that.”

    Senta’s lips stop quivering, and she is no longer able to hide her surprise. Ortrud, too, has straightened up, looking at her creator in utmost disbelief. These girls had already drawn their own conclusion: as Enheduanna implied, they both believed they were mere ‘test runs’; ‘failed prototypes’ in the way to the final, intended ‘product’ that is the last of them, Elisabeth.

    I do remember the eyepatch girl. Well, besides being a clear 10-out-of-10 in the looks department, I don’t know what’s so special about her. Perhaps I should’ve asked at some point.

    “I already achieved my objectives with Astarte and the technology developed to build Otto’s body.”

    “Astarte?” Senta asks, and to be honest I am wondering the same thing, but Enheduanna could not care less, of course.

    “There was truly no need to go over additional iterations. I can confidently say I could have made Elisabeth successfully at any time,” she says with measured pride. “Yet, I did, and the most accurate reason I can give you is: I do not know.”

    I don’t have to time to seem everyone’s reactions before she speaks again. She likely understands everyone needs further explanation.

    “A while ago, you said nobody would make something like you ‘for the hell of it’, as the saying goes. Indeed, that might be true for ordinary human beings. Even I believe there must certainly be a reason for your existence. However, it remains one I am not aware of. When you see the world through the eyes of divinity, sometimes you find yourself making choices and doing things without a conscious reason, merely ‘because it feels the right thing to do’. Just like you do not question the Sun for shining, there is no questioning a god’s actions, for a god can only act according to its divine nature.”

    She shrugs.

    “I needed to make the five of you before Elisabeth, even if to this date I still do not know why.”

    Silence. Nobody at the table could possibly know this, but the person who could unveil the reason not even Enheduanna knows is most certainly Seigi Nomikata.

    Ortrud’s eyes look the largest they have ever been. She opens her mouth and then closes it again, as if desiring to say something yet unable to find the words. Senta…is stiff. She does nothing and says nothing; she just looks down at her meal, her jaw taut and her small hands gripping the edge of the table. Garmr has noticed there is something not quite right with his Master, but unable to read the heart of a woman, he can only look at her with vague worry. To my left, Fiore seems deep in thought, while Sakura just looks uncomfortable, and Archer…smiles. It is not as if he is somehow having fun, though; it’s more of an “I told you so” smile, sorta kinda.

    “Don’t screw me with me!” Ortrud finally finds the words, jumping to her feet while glaring at her creator. “Then what the fuck are we here for!? What are we supposed to do!?”

    Naturally, Enheduanna is in no way bothered by the artificial woman’s hostile voice.

    “Why do you need for me, or anybody else, to give you a direction?”

    “You made us! We were born in a workshop down there in New Asgard, and now you have the gall to say you didn’t have a plan for us!? Then why are we even wearing these uniforms!?”

    “I did present you to Wiligut to justify your existence, yes. However, if I had intended to make you to be devoted servants of the Fourth Reich, I would have made you that way.”

    That is…a very fair, if terrible, point.

    “Think of your sisters, you two. Brünnhilde chose to define the worth of herself and others through personal power, and lives accordingly. Kundry chose to validate herself through competence, and thus latched herself to the Fourth Reich that gave her a mission at which to excel. Neither I nor anybody else told them to live like that. Nobody forced them to live like that.”

    She shrugs.

    “If either of you did not like being part of the Fourth Reich, why did you not leave? You both know Wiligut would not care enough to pursue you, if he even noticed at all. Rider might have tried, but his resources for finding a single individual in this vast world were very limited.”

    Her expression softens at the sight of Senta’s livid expression.

    “Of course, the real reason was that you were afraid of me. That, I will admit, is truly lamentable.”

    She makes a vague ‘can’t be helped’ gesture.

    “The fact stands that the only one I absolutely need is Elisabeth. You two are free to do whatever you want, and live your lives however you so choose. My feelings on your choices are of no relevance. As human beings, however, the one thing you are not allowed to do is to give up.”

    (BGM)

    I…words cannot summarize the impact of those words.

    Ortrud falls back on her seat, looking even paler, her face like she is going over every single thing she has done in her entire life, and not liking what she sees. Senta soundlessly mouths the words ‘human beings’ and leans back as if giving up on bearing her own weight.

    “Does she not realize…?” Fiore mutters softly to my left. Whatever she means, it seems Archer gets it, because his knowing smile grows a little wider and he clearly nods in her direction.

    “She is just Enheduanna, after all,” he says, promptly drawing the attention of the person in question.

    “Something to share, Archer?”

    The huge man shakes his head, clearly enjoying holding something over the woman.

    “You would not understand.”

    The living goddess looks actually miffed. I did not even know she was capable of that.

    “Ser Archer,” Fiore interjects, ever bold enough to smother fire before they grow. “We are unfortunately unacquainted, but I can see you are a person of profound wisdom.”

    For the first time ever, Archer laughs. It is a wild sound, utterly devoid of the severe, regal mien the man has always presented. Perhaps it is just me hearing things, but there is a malicious something in that loud, shameless cackle.

    “No, no, nothing like that at all,” refutes the man. “I am just another fool, unsatisfied with the life he lived.”

    “That statement might just be the wisest thing to ever come out of your mouth,” quips Enheduanna. Archer barks one last laugh before merrily returning to his meal, clearly energized with enthusiasm for reasons only he, and perhaps Fiore, understand.

    Turns out Archer might be a sociable person after all. Then again, he’s a Servant. Never straightforward with those guys. His eyes, ever intense and not quite warm, tell me that much.

    And then there is the two dark-haired beauties in uniform and their identity crises. I barely manage to stop myself from being a complete idiot and asking something as inane as “are you alright?”

    Of course they are not alright. I would only be stupider if I asked them what they are feeling. Yet, I do not feel it right to remain silent to their troubles, because I know the feeling—at least, something similar to it.

    Drifting through life without a sense of direction, without a purpose to guide you, without a place to call your own. A life without meaning. Enheduanna does have a point: nobody can give your life meaning other than yourself. That does not mean other people cannot help—what would I be without good old Father Scissors? We are not lion cubs to be thrown off a cliff to fend by ourselves. I think I’m a little more centered now, but I’m still out of a job, a vocation, or even a real passion in life. I’m not really that much different from these girls.

    “Senta, Miss Ortrud…”

    I still don’t have any words for them. A lost person cannot guide other lost people, after all. Yet, neither dismisses me nor lashes out. Ortrud looks at me with the eyes of a lost child, while Senta…whatever it is she finds in my eyes, it brings a smile to her face, and a chuckle that, for all its self-deprecating misery, is beautiful in how authentic it is compared to her usual attitude.

    “…guess we’re just a bunch of aimless idiots, huh.”

    Now, I know the right response to that.

    “Hey, it gets better.”

    That is a fact. Despite everything that’s happened, despite the tragedy unfolding all around us, I am definitely a better person than I was before the world froze, and if anybody in this table can see that, it is probably Senta (and Enheduanna).

    Her grin widens, back to its usual, natural naughtiness. Yet, it is further adorned with a liveliness that makes her look even younger in a different way from Ortrud’s confused glances.

    What the hell?

    What does it say about me, that the people with whom I can empathize the most, and the ones who understand me the most, are artificial Nazi women developed by an ancient priestess?

    And why does it feel like everybody else has figured out the exact same thing? I don’t like the way Fiore, Sakura, and Enheduanna are looking at me. It’s embarrassing! Why is it so embarrassing!?

    (BGM)

    “Well, since we are on the topic of your ‘creations’, Priestess Enheduanna…” Fiore continues after clearing her throat. Seriously, what’s with that catty smile of yours. Don’t look at me like that. “With Javier’s permission, could we talk about your work in his hometown of Villarrica? Liria told us you did something there, but she really does not know the details.”

    “Of course she does not, for she was never part of it.”

    “Wait,” I interject. “Liria is not one of the magic children or whatever?”

    The Servant shakes her head.

    “That child’s story is not mine to tell, but she was indeed entirely unrelated to my side project at the volcano village.”

    Side project, she says…

    “Never told us anything about it, either,” Senta adds. Seemingly restored of mood, she goes at her meal with newfound gusto. Garmr seems to be particularly delighted by that, if his smile means anything—wait, now why are you smiling at me like that, you wild mutt?

    “It was in no way related to you or to the Fourth Reich,” explains Enheduanna. It is by now clear that this woman holds no particular favor towards the Fourth Reich she pretty much single-handedly kept alive. Is everything a tool to her?

    …no. It cannot be that simple, and she’s not just your average ‘mwahaha’ evil mastermind.

    “Was this ‘Villarrica project’ part of your efforts to create a new Human God?” Fiore inquires. Unexpectedly, Enheduanna shakes her head.

    “No, no, nothing like that. A Human God Candidate is not something you can just ‘build’ by tampering with lives still growing in the womb…” She pauses. “Or, if at all possible, I remain unknowing of the way.”

    An unusual admission of ignorance from the almighty priestess.

    “That was but another experiment on alternative paths to elevate the human species and make my garden more beautiful. The world needs more than rulers and Human Gods, after all. If, for example, I were to restore the global environmental quality to the level of the Age of Gods, the quality of the average human specimen would also have to be heightened to guarantee their survival.”

    Everybody who made sense of her words—namely, not me—widen their eyes in frantic alarm, except for Archer, who seems to nod in a blatant ‘figured as much’ gesture.

    “You…you intend to flood the world with True Ether!?” Sakura almost shrieks. “Is, is that even possible!?”

    “It is a possibility under consideration,” Enheduanna admits. “And, yes, it is well within the purview of my Noble Phantasm, if fueled by a sufficiently potent magical energy source.”

    “The Holy Grail…” Fiore mutters. “Priestess, what did this ‘experiment’ exactly entail?”

    Enheduanna takes just a moment to build an answer in her mind.

    “The so-called ‘community’ of Villarrica consisted of the descendants of half-dozen or so mage families from central Europe that migrated to this country in the 19th-century upon finding no positive prospects from themselves in a magical Europe already dominated by much older and more prestigious bloodlines. After a century of meticulous eugenics, mixing their blood with that of the local Mapuche people in a failed attempt to revitalize their diminishing magical potential, this community was growing desperate and willing to take more drastic measures. On their own, they would have failed, and the lives of an entire generation of children would have been wasted, so I deemed it worthy to intervene.”

    Oh, she is good. Without any alternate point of view available, she can effortlessly paint herself as favorably as possible. If the other Villarrica mages are dead as Ricardo said, then we have no way to ever find out if things really happened as Enheduanna is saying.

    “However, there are limits to my multitasking ability, so instead I summoned my younger self and had her bring their project to a conclusion other than infanticide.”

    At that time, Lily was under this person’s control, but the Lily I met all those years ago did not seem my idea of someone mentally dominated.

    “It’s not like Lily was your puppet you directly controlled, right?” I ask.

    “Of course not, that would defeat the point of delegating a task,” Enheduanna agrees with a nod. “She had almost complete volition, except for the geasa that ensured she fulfilled my commands and did not act against my will. Her solution to the Villarrica problem was entirely her own, based on her limitations as a Servant. She personally handled the summoning of the transcendental and divine materials, and their subsequent implantation on the growing fetuses, to ensure not a single child perished from the endowment of ancient mystery. I will give credit where due: her achievement was superlative.”

    (BGM)

    “So, like volcano boy over here,” Senta interjects, gesturing in my general direction. “You just implanted an object of power in a bunch of babies.”

    “A curious coincidence, but a coincidence nonetheless,” agrees Enheduanna.

    “Um, how is that any different from the orthodox procedures to create magic crests?” Fiore then inquires, taking the conversation in a direction even further from my understanding.

    “No, of course the community was not aiming for something as simple as ‘new magic crests’,” responds Alter Ego. “The younger me even offered as much, but that would not please those families still simmering in their inferiority complex, and their desire to have something to gloat in front of the Association. Furthermore, such a simple procedure in no way would provide valuable information towards my desire to elevate humanity. Thus, we aimed for the deepest metaphysical substrata. Precisely like my student here, we transmuted the very souls of those unborn children with a speck of the otherworldly.”

    Fiore winces.

    “Oh, I can already see the Sealing Designations being signed…”

    “Tell me about it,” mutters Sakura further away.

    “Student,” Enheduanna then regards me. “I am aware of your ignorance of these matters. Perhaps it would be easier to understand if I tell you that what modern mages call ‘magic circuits’ and ‘magic crests’ exist in the lower Manas, while the implants in the Villarrica children and your own divine element reside in the Buddhi.”

    Finally, somebody explains it with words I can understand!

    “Please do not roll your eyes at my student, Fiore Forvedge,” then adds my dangerous teacher.

    “But it’s theosophy…” murmurs the girl to my left with the whiny tone of a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Yeah, don’t roll your eyes at me, woman.

    “So, what went wrong?” Sakura asks.

    “Nothing went wrong. The procedures were successful, resulting in thirteen children with their souls adjusted to contain transcendental power. However, every child needs education in the proper values and understanding of their place in the world. There was no room for my younger self to intervene in that regard. They were children of their families, anointed in their ambitions, their desires and their vices.”

    Yeah, there is no hiding that Diego was an entitled piece of shit brat. The others probably were too, but he was the top shitty brat, his leading presence so overpowering it actually makes my remembrance of the others all the fainter. Well, they are dead now, it seems.

    “You know Diego and Maria Magdalena are here, right?”

    “Yes, I briefly conversed with the Cherufe child, until I concluded it was a waste of effort. That child can only see what he desires to see, and do what he desires to do.”

    So he hasn’t changed at all.

    “He wants to kill me, I guess. To avenge his father.”

    “No, he is not that kind of person,” Enheduanna counters. “If he makes such a claim, it is nothing but a rationalization to justify a baser, more selfish desire.”

    …she is probably right. If the bratty child became an adult with his base personality remaining unchanged, then there is no real reason for him to hold a lingering attachment to his long-dead dad.

    “Well, whatever the case, when he comes for me, I’ll have to deal with it and that’s that.”

    “Be mindful, student. Even if the power of a Cherufe must prostrate itself before the authority of Villarrica’s ngen, what that child lacks in potential, he makes up in self-centered, even manic drive.”

    I nod. Sounds like Diego alright. On the other hand…

    “What about Magda, then? Ever since I realized her magic comes from Kuyén I’ve been wondering: why is she subordinate to her brother? Isn’t Kuyén above and beyond a Cherufe?”

    “Um…” Fiore raises a hand like a shy student, while Sakura nods, her mouth stuffed with food. “Now we are the ones unfamiliar with the local mythology…”

    Ah, maybe I should roll my eyes now.

    “Don’t roll your eyes at Fiore, Javier.”

    Et tu, Senta!?

    “It matters not that she bears the treasure of the personification of the Moon, student. She is not Kuyén herself. She was born, raised and trained to be a support unit for her brother. Of course, that is the intent of her family, including her brother. What lies in the girl’s mind is her own.”

    Magda, the quiet one. Like a petite shadow of her brother, her presence smothered by the attention black hole that is Diego Vyhmeister. Even in this frozen Valparaíso, we have only seen Diego furiously rampaging around, while Magda lurks unseen. Who knows what she holds in her mind? What kind of woman she has become, living her entire life in her brother’s shadow?

    …does she hate me, too?

    (BGM)

    “What? Why the hell?”

    I am brought out of my thoughts by Ortrud’s unexpectedly loud voice, inching away from Senta who is learning closer to speak privately to her.

    “Oh, come on, it’s gonna be fun! You’ve got nothing to lose!”

    “How about my being perfectly comfortable here?”

    “Come on! We gotta enjoy life, right?” Senta insists before further closing the distance, cupping her mouth to speak solely to Ortrud’s ear. The elder Hexensoldat listens for moment, her eyes shifting from Senta to—she is looking at me. Why is she looking at me? And now she catches herself staring and looks away with what I think is embarrassment?

    Why does this feel like high school all over again?

    “Fine,” the woman finally acquiesces; her voice could not sound more reluctant as she…moves to Caster’s seat?

    “Alright!” Senta celebrates, then excitedly looks at me, patting the now empty seat. “Get over here, Javier.”

    Eh?

    “Eh?” Smooth as silk, me.

    “Come on, let’s hang out and chat,” she invites me with almost childlike excitement.

    For some unfathomable reason, I make the mistake of looking around. Enheduanna and Archer could not care less, currently engaged in eating and drinking, respectively, while Sakura smiles at me with the most infuriating Mom smile I’ve ever seen in my life, and Fiore tries to act naturally while grinning like she is watching a funny soap opera. Now I really want to roll my eyes.

    “Somebody please say something. Shielder, say something.”

    Garmr looks up at me, then sniffs the air, then apparently catches something in the air and sniffs Senta next to him.

    “Master’s scent changed a bit,” is his sole comment before exploding in joy as a radiant servant delivers yet another roasted bird to his section of the table, leaving his Master to explode in a bright red blush all by herself.

    Seriously, what the hell’s with this scene?


    Choice Time!
    Change places to sit between Senta and Ortrud?


    1. Yes.
    2. No.

    Last edited by Daneel Rush; January 5th, 2022 at 04:08 PM.

  3. #1403
    1.​ Javier should just embrace the people with whom he can sympathise the most easily, all three of them clearly need it. :P

  4. #1404
    The Long-Forgotten Sight Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    Silence. Nobody at the table could possibly know this, but the person who could unveil the reason not even Enheduanna knows is most certainly Seigi Nomikata.
    Curious.

    In deference to the quality comedy, the answer is obviously 1. Javier should support these young women experimenting with their humanity; what could possibly go wrong?
    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  5. #1405
    1.

    We need some comedy before the storm of the building climax comes forth.

  6. #1406
    love warrior <3 world-0 the god of world-0's Avatar
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    here is a list of my servant sheets(new and improved format for my servant sheets)

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    Fate / White Memoria

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  8. #1408
    屍鬼 Ghoul
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    1. Come on, let's go sit with the ladies.

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    後継者 Successor zikari8's Avatar
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  10. #1410
    So Many Ideas, So Little Time SleepMode's Avatar
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    What could possibly go wrong?
    The Act of dozing off in the afternoon is a luxury indeed.
    Coffee would be nice, though.

    [Collection of my Servant Sheets]
    Now Revamped!

  11. #1411
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    1. Time to hop on the bully train

  12. #1412
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    Beyond Their Sight – 10a

    Parish of Saint Aloysius de Gonzaga, Valparaíso
    Sheer cold (-30°C/-22°F)



    (BGM)

    “…’sup, Marco,” is Maria’s greeting the moment the gruff-looking man sets foot in the otherwise deserted church. With most of the pews stacked against the main entrance, the holy chamber looks even wider, the Christ on the cross behind the altar gazing upon vast emptiness with his eternally suffering expression. It is precisely on that holy altar that Maria Westinghouse currently sits, crossed legs swaying back and forth.



    “I thought you were calling me Otto.”

    Maria harrumphs.

    “Yeah, well, if you’re going by Marco now, then I guess I should stick to that. I’m not into being unnecessarily rude. So, how’s the people?”

    “The Drakes are finally sleep. Alicia needs it, and Oliver has had it rough too.”

    “Mah, the guy’s not a combat mage. Can’t blame him for anything. If anything, staying alive this long is a feat in itself. What about the priest?”

    “He said he was going to try to rest, but I do not believe him. That man will probably not get a wink of sleep before the others return.”

    “…real dad vibes, huh.”

    “What about you, Miss Westinghouse—”

    “Seriously, just call me Maria.”

    “…then, Miss Maria, will you not rest for a bit? I can very well handle the guard.”

    “Nah, I’m already plenty rested,” refutes the girl, shaking her head. “I don’t need that much sleep as a Servant, and I can use the thinking time.”

    “A penny for your thoughts, then?” offers the Nazi hunter as he leans against the wall to make himself passably comfortable in the stunning cold.

    “First tell me one thing: how you dealin’ with the cold? You seem to be just fine with only your suit, not wearing headgear or gloves. I don’t think it’s a mystic code, ‘cause then you’d be an asshole for not sharing it with the Drakes.”

    Marco shakes his head.

    “The details belong to the Brotherhood of Death, but basically this is not a standard homunculus body. This body was built to be durable and lasting, and in exchange it does not have any supernatural features unlike the usual. Even my circuit count is mostly dedicated to sustaining my body, so I cannot cast any magecraft. Most I can do is fuel and use mystic codes.”

    “Yeah, but you were born in…1904, right?” Marco nods at Maria’s accurate memory. “And you’ve been in that body since, I assume, 1939. That’s a hell of a lot of time.”

    “Yes. To be honest, I was about to fall apart about fifteen years ago, when Lily found me. It is her alchemical treatments that extended my life long enough to be here for the end.”

    “And that Lily is no longer around.”

    “Yeah. I mean, she’s definitely left notes at HQ, so I guess some other competent alchemist could handle it, but…it’s not like I need to stick around any longer after this is over. I’m very much ready to let this life reach its natural end.”

    Maria is too young to understand something like that. She could not possibly imagine herself thinking she has lived long enough. She can only accept the solemnity of the man’s resolution.

    “So, you are something like a sibling to Senta.”

    Marco snorts, finding the idea thoroughly amusing.

    “More of a cousin, I’d say. They were built with a talent for powerful magecraft, closer to the Astarte paradigm than to mine, with a matching reduction to their expected lifespan. Well, they were made by that woman, and they are not as monstrously powerful as their original model, so they will definitely last at least a bit longer than an equivalent product made by a modern mage. I’d say around five, six years.”

    “Six…almost like she aimed for that.”

    Ancient Mesopotamians did work with a base-60 number system, after all.

    “So, what’s this ‘Astarte’?”

    “The first homunculus-type Hexensoldat, in which she basically tested how powerful an artificial mage soldier she could make.” The sheer remembrance brings a frown to Marco’s face. “Astarte was way too powerful, so much so I’ve always wondered why she was not dispatched to oppose the Allies’ mages, instead of using her as a Master in the Pyrenees Grail War. She could have singlehandedly shifted the course of the hidden war; that’s how strong she was.”

    “If she was so strong, why didn’t she win the Grail War?”

    “I do not know the full details because I was not there, but from my understanding, the catalyst she was given did not work as intended, and she summoned the wrong Berserker, which was quickly killed by…I think it was Archer. What happened afterwards remains unclear, but she disappeared and was declared MIA, along with Archer’s Master.”

    “Huh,” is Maria’s lame response, following by a long and loud groan as she unceremoniously and blasphemously falls on her back and sprawls herself on the altar. “Man, I can’t believe Grandma hid all this stuff from me. She and Grandpa were in a Grail War! She was the head of a secret Nazi hunting group!”

    “I am also terribly sorry, Miss Maria. Your grandmother never told us she taught you magecraft. Had we known so, we of STRIFE would have certainly contacted you when she passed away.”

    “Nah, that was obviously her plan,” Maria admits. “She didn’t want Mom and the rest of us getting involved in her past.” Turning her head to look at the former Nazi, she offers him a blatant smirk. “I guess you would know a thing or two about hiding things, Mr. ‘Homosexual Jewish-sympathizer working for the SS’.”

    Marco chuckles.

    “Look where that got me.”

    “The official story is that you killed yourself, but I guess it wasn’t precisely like that.”

    “No, I did kill myself, Miss Maria. It was the last act of free will I was allowed once my…preferences were put in the spotlight, for I knew too much and was too useful to just be disposed of.”

    “So, they just put you in a pliable body they could control, the fuckers.”

    The serious-looking man nods.

    “That is the difference between the Brotherhood and your average mage cabal. You do not develop something like Black Sun Necromancy to pursue the Root. That magecraft is something you use to trample and exploit others.”

    “They’re still around, huh,” Maria points out. “At least that’s what I read in the Vatican secret files.”

    Marco nods.

    “They’re a lot better hidden now, of course, and most people who deal with them are unaware of their origins in Ahnenerbe. That goes for the other cabals that sprouted from the ruins of Ahnenerbe after the fall of Germany, like the Iron Diggers and the Urlied, but they seem content with staying in the shadows and sticking to their research.”

    “Yeah…no, letting those guys to their devices is definitely gonna bite us in the ass one day.”

    The Nazi hunter chuckles.

    “Perhaps, but that will be a challenge for another.”

    (BGM STOP)


    *** ***


    Outside Club Alemán, Salvador Donoso 1337, Valparaíso
    Sheer cold (-30°C/-22°F)




    Liria Colhuán bursts out of the building, but no amount of anger can withstand the onrush of coldness meeting her with its smothering embrace.

    “Fuck, it’s cold!”

    The shuddering and the striking wind claim her energy, to the point it feels a waste to be angry. However, what swirls within her is not entirely her own. That which lurks encourages her to attack, to infect, to pollute. It is blasphemy, it is ruin.

    Really, this monster suits her way too well.

    Leaning on the wall right next to the door, Liria sighs loudly and pointlessly.

    Ah, que mierda.”

    Her right first strikes the wall. Again. And again. When it aches enough, she brings her monstrous, hairy hand close to her face. It already feels nature to her, this ugliness. Her wings twitch; she wants to fly, but where to?

    Her legs giving in, Liria plops on her butt, bringing her knees to her face. A gale swirls around her, and she shudders. It is absurd, how underdressed she is. The clothes she produced upon becoming a Servant expose unnecessary amounts of skin. Of course, to her, it is business as usual.

    …esto. Esto es lo que soy.

    Her resignation becomes breath that becomes puffs of condensed vapor.



    This is how the Caster of the Black Sun, another blatantly underdressed Servant, finds her a minute or so later. The pitiful form of the twin-tailed beauty, arms wrapped around her knees, elicits no change on Caster’s serene gaze. Liria does not raise her head even after becoming aware of the other Servant’s presence, but this would not bother one such as Caster.

    (BGM)

    “You know, Liria,” she instead begins. “I grew up worshipping Enheduanna. She was a literal goddess to me, to all of us. Well, she still is.”

    She crosses her arms, grasping her elbows.

    “She was the example we were expected to follow: The Priestess above all Priestesses. The perfect servant of the gods. The worthiest person to have ever assumed the position. Of course, this was a person who lived centuries before my time, her writings transmitted to us through generations of copies and rewrites, to the point that it is impossible to tell how much of her original brilliance remains in the tablets your modern archaeologists have found.”

    Closing her eyes, Caster holds herself a bit tighter, bearing with the cold that cannot hurt her, but nevertheless makes her uncomfortable.

    “I could not know what kind of person she was, but I should have known. I mean, she is a goddess. A human who truly achieved divinity in life, and not through the worship of man. Even if she sees humanity in ways we cannot begin to imagine, a person such as her cannot possibly understand ordinary humans.”

    Liria groans.

    “…I’m missing the part where you make me feel better, Caster.”

    The priestess scoffs.

    “I am here because I am worried about you. I do not remember claiming to intend to make you feel better, nor am I interested in offering false platitudes or short-lived relief.”

    Caster chooses to wander in front of the building, moving to make herself a little bit warmer.

    “I wish I could have met that Lancer Lily. I mean, you assume the worst of everybody, except for her.”

    Liria finally lifts her head just enough to glare at the other Servant.

    “If you came here just further piss me off, kindly fuck off, please.”

    “…alright. But, please first tell me why exactly you are so angry.”

    Liria strikes the frost covered pavement with her monstrous fist.

    “I’m trying to sulk here! I don’t need you and your spiels about understanding that woman!”

    “Oh, but that is important to me; understanding,” Caster retorts. “Just like I am trying to understand the sublime existence I looked up to my entire life, I also want to understand you. So, please tell me the cause for your anger.”

    “You tell me why I shouldn’t be angry at that woman who looks down on me for my job!”

    “Liria, Ishtar is the goddess of prostitutes. It is not your job that she attacked back there. If anything, that…sensitiveness towards your job is at the core of what worries me so much about you.”

    Caster comes to a halt in front of the woman sitting down.

    “In the short time we have know each other, sweetheart, I lost count of the number of times you have brought up your job.”

    (BGM)

    “What’re you trying to say, Caster?” retorts the glaring young woman. Unlike Enheduanna, who returns hostility with dismissive apathy, the lesser priestess meets Liria’s glare with serene compassion pouring out of eyes much warmer than the world around them.

    “Liria, you have defined yourself by your job.” Pausing at her choice of words, Caster shakes her head. “Rather, you have let your job define you. You have nothing else for yourself aside from being a prostitute. I know nothing about you, save for the fact that you are a prostitute.”

    Caster is pure elegance and femininity when she drops to sit in front of Liria.

    “What do you like, Liria? What do you do when you are not spreading your legs for cash? What would you like to do, rather than spread your legs for cash? I would love to know these things, but you will not share them with me. With anybody, it seems. The only you that you show to the world is Liria Colhuán, the whore.”

    Liria glares with all the ferocity of a cornered gerbil.

    “I am not ashamed of what I am.”

    “Because you have no other choice,” Caster ruthlessly counters. “Your pride would not let you feel ashamed of the one thing that is central to your life. Because, as far as the rest of the world knows, you have nothing else. We don’t know your dreams, your ambitions, or your aspirations. Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you feel about the person you are now?”

    Caster shrugs.

    “Oh, if you are so attached to your job, then we can also talk about that! As a priestess of Ishtar, I am most interested. How have your years of experience defined your ideas about love, sex, family, and procreation? About what it means to be a woman, and about the opposite sex?”

    The ancient priestess can only hope Liria can see the longing and the hope in her gaze.

    “I would bet my life you are full of interesting insights, of unique, nuanced thoughts so many people would value, if you would share them. Perhaps you shared all those things with the Lancer Lily, but she is not here anymore. What will it take for you to open up to others again?”

    With her point made, Caster settles into silence, waiting for Liria’s response, whatever it may be. She may choose to flee, in which case Caster would allow her to do so, granting her the time to dwell in her thoughts, albeit not for too long. She may choose to attack, in which case…well, Caster would probably die. However, Caster knows Liria will do neither. She knows Liria is both too prideful and too brittle. It is that pride that allowed her to last this long in spite of that brittleness. That, and the hope to not disappoint that one person she respects the most in this world, all the while failing to escape the prison of her own childishness and cowardice.

    So, what does a cowardly child do when pushed too far?

    “Oh, dear child…” Caster murmurs at the sight of Liria breaking down in tears. Like a small child who tripped and scraped her knee, she can only make herself as small and possible and sobs pitifully.

    Bearing with things is hard.

    Having a thick skin is hard.

    Priding oneself in being able to bear with one’s shitty lot in life is nothing commendable. That is just another form of surrender. And no matter how broad your smile, and how boisterous your voice, to live in surrender is to live in misery.

    “Come here,” Caster offers as she moves to sit next to Liria, also resting her back on the wall. “I am truly sorry, my dear, but I had to subject you to this, before somebody else does with greater cruelty.”

    There is no wall that cannot be broken down, so it is folly to reject the world by building ramparts around oneself. It is time for Liria to build that which Lancer Lily could not build for her. That which can only come from herself.


    Quest Master's Note: Marco Ahrens' profile has been majorly updated, and a few others have received minor retouches.
    Last edited by Daneel Rush; January 3rd, 2022 at 01:21 PM.

  13. #1413
    Time to burn some dread Daneel Rush's Avatar
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    Beyond Their Sight – 10b

    New Asgard, Beneath Valparaíso
    Cool (10°C/50°F)



    (BGM)

    “What the hell…what the hell…what the hell’s this…”

    It is a swelling, pulsating mass of anger that wanders the abandoned halls of the underground complex of the now all-but-defunct Fourth Reich. It did not take Berserker long to find that many of the labyrinthine passages are now flooded with magma. After a number of very close calls, even the Servant addled by madness found wisdom in avoiding the familiar routes and looking for a more roundabout way to his intended destination. Thus, he wandered for hours, from dead end to dead end, with no other company but darkness and rage. He bore witness to the loss of what he—actually everybody else but him, but it is only natural for the king to claim the fruit of his subjects’ labor—built all these years. Collected research, records, and entire battalions of etheric soldiers have been erased by magma. A waterfall of molten rock pours down on what once was Kammler’s hangar. Even the arcane machinery that fed on the Grail’s perpetual outpour of magical energy to beget new soldiers is no more. So much is lost. Too much.

    “How dare they…trample on my kingdom…!”

    The furious madman has no target for his rage; thus, his magical energy lashes out in every direction without conscious cue. He walks in a cloud of spell effects—lightning, smoke, and black flames dance chaotically around him, striking at everything and nothing around him. The bedrock shudders with every single of his steps. The drool dripping out the corner of his mouth vaporizes a second later. Light is twisted and misshapen around, for even gravity is distorted by the walking clump of uncontrolled magic. Plants bloom out of the bedrock, and it is only when Berserker leaves them far behind that the World realizes that plants cannot grow out of solid rock and makes them shrivel and die. An ancient Aryan song that never existed echoes mournfully throughout the abandoned passages and halls.

    Eventually, after far too long, Berserker reaches the inner vaults; Ortrud’s last mistake was going through the effort of saving what could be saved, instead of abandoning the base to its fiery doom. Not that she had a choice, for her King had appointed her to protect New Asgard while he was out hunting.

    What did happen to that one? She was obedient and submissive; perhaps she did not just desert. Perhaps the enemy got to her, or she did not flee the magma in time. A shame.

    Oh well. As the King, he has the pick of every woman of good blood in this world.

    It is not a door that blocks access to the inner vaults, but a single slab of rock as tall as two adult elephants and as wide as the gap between a football field’s goal posts. It is adorned with the Irminen runes that are his prideful achievement. He built this powerful seal…when was it? He forgot, but it is not as if it matters.

    (The truth of the matter is that the Irminen system is unsuitable for precision applications such as sealing, so this “door” was built by The Maid using Guido von List’s Armanen runes. However, if the King says they are Irminen, then they are Irminen.)

    It takes only his hand (and his magical energy) to activate the runes, and the slab sinks with a rumbling sound, accompanied by the hum of generators coming to life.

    “Good…” Berserker’s quiet voice still echoes through the wide passage. The vaults were not only spared the magma flows, they are still powered, which means nothing has been lost. He still has weapons. He has an army.

    “Good indeed,” an unexpected yet not unfamiliar voice agrees behind him. Naturally, Berserker is surprised, and further surprised by the fact he is surprised, so he quickly turns to face the unexpected…and then his right shoulder is blown off by a high-caliber rifle.

    (BGM)

    “You might be wondering why your Clairvoyance isn’t working, ‘boss’,” the mocking voice begins, every word dripping with sadistic glee. Berserker cannot hear it over his own howls of pain as he falls to his knees, clutching the mangled shoulder while glaring at the insolent traitor.



    “It is entirely your fault,” reveals Hexensoldaten I, Model “Brünnhilde.” while tossing aside the rifle fired by the corpse on the wheelchair in front of her through a contraption of wires she promptly detaches from her right hand. “After all, you rejected the existence of this corpse, erasing it from your delusional vision of reality.”

    “What…you…urrgh…!”

    “You see, everybody has made this weird assumption about me. More than strength, what I want is to trample over everybody else,” the smirking woman is enjoying every moment of this. “Just because I prefer to crack open the skulls of my enemies with my bare hands doesn’t mean I’m incapable of subterfuge like this. After all, can you even call yourself strong if trickery like this is enough to defeat you?”

    Brünnhilde pats the frozen corpse of Karl Maria Wiligut.

    “The last thing I needed from you was to open these vaults for me. Now I can destroy you as I desire.”

    Berserker snorts through the pain, turning this humiliation into further kindling for his rage.

    “Hmph. So it’s a particularly stupid traitor this time. You should’ve aimed for my Saint Graph core when you had the chance.”

    Rising to his feet, Wiligut clenches his fists before extended an outstretched hand in Hilde’s direction.

    “Know your place—!”

    Silence. A powerful, heavy silence in which absolutely nothing happens. Brünnhilde’s wicked grin, a Hexensoldaten specialty, brims even more twisted and gleeful.

    “Now you are wondering why your Mad Enhancement is inactive, and why you can’t cast any spells.”

    “Accursed woman, wha—!!!!”

    “And now you are wondering why you cannot move anything other than your eyes.”

    Again, she pats the corpse.

    “As far as you know, my abilities come from the runes engraved on my bones, which allow me to cast the Five Runes Inner Chant without an incantation. But, you see, like all my deplorable ‘siblings’, my name comes from a character in one of Wagner’s operas, and my magecraft is inspired by that character.”

    She taps her generous bust.

    “I am Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie from Der Ring des Nibelungen. You are educated enough to know that a valkyrie ferries the souls of the dead to the otherworld. In other words, a valkyrie is a creature with power over the souls of the dead.

    She taps the corpse’s shoulder, and Berserker’s outstretched arm drops limply against his will. He cannot move at all, except for his eyes widening in ever-growing horror.

    “Senta was never the only necromancer among the six of us. The runes in my bones are just how I imitate the physical prowess of a valkyrie. However, unlike that imbecile Senta, your little puppet playing with the corpses of the pauper and the derelict, I was preparing my art for the truly worthy prey: Servants.”

    She shrugs lazily.

    “Turns out Servants come in all sorts of flavors. Assassin and Rider were both living beings, Caster is worthless to me, and there was no dominating the likes of Archer, Lancer or Mother. However, when we attacked Mother at the temple, and I saw this wonderful doll,” she explains, again patting the corpse. “Then I saw my chance. Sympathetic magic is textbook knowledge, after all. This is basically voodoo.”

    Pushing the wheelchair like The Maid did for so long, Brünnhilde nears the unmoving Servant, who cannot even voice his outrage anymore.

    “Resisting is a waste of effort. I already got through your Magic Resistance. There’s no way I’m letting you go anymore.”

    When she stands next to him, her beautiful hand reaches for the line of his jaw, tracing it with alluring gentleness that does not match the loathing in her eyes.

    “You are no king, ‘Weisthor’. You never were. You qualify for a dog at best, and that’s what I’ll make out of you,” she declares in gleeful triumph. “Tonight, I’m going to break you. In every way imaginable. I’ll break through that madness of yours, and teach you your place.”

    Rendered immobile by her control, Berserker is now allowed the luxury of shuddering in fear. Only his eyes project the dark, hopeless future his mind is already conjuring, as the realization that, again, he has lost control of his everything settles in.

    “Yes…” Brünnhilde’s voice is a viperine hiss. “Every single time I broke out of your brainwashing charisma, I fantasized of the moment your eyes showed me this.”

    The hand holding his chin instead reaches from the back of his head, pushing him until their foreheads almost touch.

    “The moment you feared me.”

    Her face flushes and her chest heaves from ever-growing excitement.

    “This is how I experience the pleasure I never got from your dick.”

    She pushes him away, and he falls like a discarded mannequin. She cares not for his head hitting the wall. He remains immobile; a doll, not yet broken.

    “Move, dog,” she demands callously, well aware that he cannot obey her orders, for his body is but an instrument of her will. “The humiliation you inflicted on me and my worthless siblings, I’ll have you suffer it a hundredfold.”

    D-rank Endurance will not be enough to withstand the hell that awaits this fool.



    *** ***


    Club Alemán – Sala Hamburgo, Salvador Donoso 1337, Valparaíso
    Day 04
    Evening Phase – 07b
    Temperate (25°C/77°F)

    Seating Arrangement
    (BGM)

    I…am not sure why I’m doing this.

    “Alright! Welcome to the fun side of the table,” Senta greets, her wicked smile even wider now.

    “Uh…huh,” is my admittedly lame response upon taking what used to be Miss Ortrud’s seat. The servants of radiance swiftly moved the plates around without any visible cue or command from Enheduanna, so it is my meal that rests in front of me.

    Past Senta, the Herald of Fimbulwinter is all smiles.

    “Archer! Archer! You should eat this, too!”

    “…perhaps I should,” accepts the huge man, clearly more open to conversation now. “Are you offering?”

    “Wha—no! Get your own!” Garmr all but grabs her roasted hen and holds it to herself, her fervor taking even Archer by surprise. For a moment, he looks like he does not know how to respond to that.

    “There is enough for everybody,” the host says almost tiredly. A while later, a servant appears with a new portion for the sole other man in the room—unlike Garmr, who keeps getting whole animals.

    “They are taking their time out there,” Fiore muses, obviously referring to Liria and Caster.

    “They’ll take the time they need,” Sakura posits with a shrug. “Perhaps they won’t come back. We can only leave it to Caster now. Being honest here…there isn’t much we could’ve done for her. Besides, like, giving her a big hug.”

    “Sometimes that is all that is expected of you,” Enheduanna surprises us all with that unusual opinion.

    “Sometimes we hope to rise above others’ expectations, though,” Fiore proposes; a simple and straightforward challenge.

    “That is an expectation in itself,” posits the priestess. “You make a fair point, though. Sometimes faith is all it takes to rise above the masses and reach beyond your limits. This I know very well.”

    Fiore ends that particular exchange with a courteous nod, then taking on Sakura on a quieter discussion on, it seems, the places they’ve visited the past year. Enheduanna eats with her eyes closed, but who knows what sorts of things she sees, even without relying on her sight?

    And then, to my left, well…there is a lot of woman. Although, it is a more immediate realization that keeps my eyes on her.

    “Like what you see?” Ortrud, the woman who somehow manages to make her smile even more villainous than Senta’s, goes the extra mile and makes her voice especially bored-sounding even as she straightens her posture to further emphasize her, in lack of a better word, extraordinary bust.

    “Well, yeah.” What? I like what I like, and it’s worth it just to see her eyebrows go way up. Gotta let this one know I’m not taking any of her shit. “But that’s not what I’m looking at.”

    “It isn’t?” Seriously, Senta, why are you assuming I’ll reduce your not-sister in my mind to a pair of huge tits?

    “Yeah, when I first saw you, I thought your hair was black, but now that I’m close and pay more attention, it’s actually a really dirty blonde.”

    “Never have you been described more accurately, Ortrud,” taunts the other Hexensoldat, before looking at me. “Actually, her hair is a very bright blonde, but she decided to dye it for whatever reason and she utterly sucks at it.”

    “It’s too bright,” complains the other woman. “I already attract enough attention as it is, and it gets in the way of stealth.”

    “You could hide it under a hood,” I quickly suggest. Senta nods and then adds her two cents.

    “Or tie it up and shove under your cap, or a friggin’ bonnet. Seriously, any solution that doesn’t involve messing with that beautiful color.”

    After blinking hard at the sudden and clearly unexpected compliment, Ortrud scoffs and drowns her embarrassment in a good chug of wine. How do these artificial women handle their alcohol, anyway?

    “Whatever. I do what I want.”

    “Yeah, and what you want is stupid.”

    “Fuck you.”

    “You wished,” Senta counters, and then turns to me. “Come on, Javier; you’re a guy, right?”

    “Last I checked, yeah.”

    “So, you gotta think she’s super-hot; like, even with our uniform, you can tell she’s hella thick in all the right places. Sure, she’s gotta work on her creepy-ass smile—”

    “Like you are any better!”

    “Yeah, yeah, but we’re not talking about me,” Senta quickly dismisses Ortrud’s retort. “Anyway, like, Ortrud’s fucking hot, right?”

    Why am I even being asked this? Look, even the woman in question is sighing. I can only be grateful most of the others seem to be not paying attention, or at least choosing to stay out of this. An option obviously not available to me.

    “What are you getting at, Senta?”

    “Well, like I told you, she’s actually a blonde. Like, really vivid blonde hair. Don’t you think she’d look even hotter like that?”

    I stare at Senta for perhaps way too long, hoping against all hope that my accusatory eyes will sway her. Finding myself wasting my time, I turn to take a good look at Ortrud.

    “…you are actually indulging her,” she says as if talking to a complete idiot. Maybe she is not that far from the truth. Yet, there is something about her words and the way she pronounces them that just urges me to talk back at her. As if I need to beat her at some sort of game that I’m not even aware of.

    “It’s not like I need Senta’s cue to check out a hot girl,” I muse. “But don’t listen to her; dye your hair however you like.”

    I do prefer people who stick to their natural looks, but that’s just my preference. People are entitled to do whatever they please with their bodies.

    “…whatever. Don’t need you to tell me that.”

    It is her sullen voice and the way she avoids my gaze to refocus on her meal that lets me figure it out. Like most people, this woman is weak to flattery. However, unlike most people, she is not used to receiving compliments. Considering she comes from that so-called Fourth Reich, perhaps she’s never been complimented in her life.

    …isn’t this precisely the kind of people who make you wanna tease them?

    Looking at Senta, I am met with that wicked smile of hers, truly rich in twistedness. This is exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?

    (BGM)

    “Javier, from what I got, you’re self-taught, right? Magecraft, I mean,” she suddenly brings up. “How did that even happen?”

    “Hmm…well, I used it by accident when I was young, so I knew there was such a thing as magic since then. I didn’t really start figuring it out until…five years ago, when I stumbled on a copy of The Key to Theosophy in an Istambul market. I don’t really know why, but I went ahead and read it. And kept reading it. And figured it that, after filtering out most of the bullshit, there was something in there that let me call upon the power hidden within myself. Or something like that.”

    It was sheer coincidence that, three years later, it was also in Istambul that he was able to cast a spell successfully for the first time.

    “If only you had stumbled on something more traditional…” Fiore interjects, with her usual overdone lamentation. “Like the Lemegeton, or the Greek Magical Papyri.”

    “…nah, isn’t that kind of amazing?”

    I notice the faintest of smiles on Enheduanna’s face on the way to glancing at Ortrud.

    “The thing is, theosophy is almost broken as a thaumaturgical system, in that you can figure out a way to do pretty much any spell imaginable with it,” she continues. “But that’s precisely what makes it so stupidly complicated. Most people, heck, even most Clock Tower snobs wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of a theosophic spell formulation.”

    “That is why Madame Blavatsky is so maligned in the Association,” Enheduanna adds. “They still cannot figure out how she could do half the magecraft she used in life.”

    …huh, so that’s how it is. Yeah, I kinda get it; without the underlying assumption that, yes, magic is real, most of it comes out as sheer nonsense. Even if you know magic is real, theosophy remains an absurdly convoluted, incomprehensible mess of reimagined Hindu mysticism syncretized to insulting degrees, mixed with an unnecessary dose of racism. Sad thing is, Blavatsky definitely could not realize how her Seven Races bullshit would be perceived by future generations.

    “Yeah. It’s not for everyone,” Ortrud adds. “The fact you actually pulled it off without instruction tells me you are either hella smart, or not quite right in the head.”

    Her wicked grin has a taste of sauciness in it.

    “Probably both. So, what’s your ray?”

    “Fifth,” I answer quickly. I mean, this is the first time I get to talk about my magecraft with anybody—even Enheduanna in her lectures never dabbled in my magic system. Can’t blame me for indulging.

    “Ah, an alchemist. Terrestrial, I guess?”

    “Human.”

    “Oooh, aren’t you impressive?” Her voice is half laughter. “And you just started five years ago? Alright, so there’s some actual talent in that brain of yours.”

    “Indeed.”

    Alright, I’ll be honest: like most people, I too am weak to flattery. I didn’t expect Enheduanna of all people agreeing. Sakura is holding back her laughter at Fiore’s face, which looks like she just heard Enheduanna praising the flavor of surströmming. Once a traditional mage, always a traditional mage, huh.

    Perhaps more surprisingly, Archer is not looking at me like he demands absolute servitude or death. When our eyes meet, there is something resembling respect in his severe mien. Garmr is alien to this whole convo, wholly dedicated to stuffing his stomach.

    …wait.

    “Hey, why would you immediately assume I’m a terrestrial alchemist? For all you know I could be a cosmic.”

    (BGM STOP)

    Silence. Ortrud stares at me like I just said the stupidest thing, but the corner of her mouth is twitching. A second later, we are both laughing, to the bemused looks of the other women at the table—ah, looks like Enheduanna also gets it.

    (BGM)

    Oh man, I just made my first theosophy joke, and somebody actually got it and laughed. Ortrud is in fact holding her stomach, a step short of banging the table. What the hell. Perhaps we already drank too much wine.

    “If there is such a thing as a cosmic alchemist in this world, you are certainly not it,” Enheduanna retorts in Ortrud’s stead, for the homunculus girl is still stuck in haha-land. This is my cue to get back to my cooling meal…which has not cooled down at all. What is this sorcery…I would say, but I can pull this off with my magecraft, so I shouldn’t be surprised Enheduanna can do the same. From a distance. Without an incantation. And probably to all dishes on the table at once.

    Holy shit.

    “Javier? Um…what was so funny?” The utterly confused Senta is kind of adorable. I can only shake my head.

    “It’d really take a long time to explain, and then it wouldn’t be funny. Sorry.”

    Considering that some minutes ago, it was Senta who had regained her good mood and Ortrud who looked like a lost child, this sudden reversal of fortunes is both interesting and worrying. Senta…well, yeah, Senta is my friend, and with all that we’ve learned tonight, she’s probably still a little shaken.

    “You know, I think this is the first time I look at you without your cap,” I blurt out the first digression I can think of. Indeed, the Hexensoldaten girls are not wearing their headgear. “How that thing stays on your head outside with all that wind is beyond me. That, and how you deal with all that hair.”

    Seriously, it reaches her knees.

    Senta looks a bit surprised by the unexpected topic, but it seems to be enough to bring a smile back to her face.

    “Actually, my magecraft is the manipulation of dead organic matter, so haircare is not an issue for me. Like hell I’d grow my hair this long if I had to take care of it like a normal person. Like, really, how the hell do you do it,” she explains, then turning the topic in the direction of the two in front of her.

    “Her hair is a woman’s pride, or so they say,” comments Sakura, fingers idly reaching to twirl her dark locks. “In all honesty, it is a bother, but I am well used to it by now. And my friends like it, so I’m happy to keep it long like this. I would probably be a lot more reticent if I lived in a warmer place, though.”

    Fiore nods.

    “Yes, you get used to it. I will probably cut it when I start working, though.”

    “Alas, the world will lose something beautiful on that day.”

    It is only with the faintest of blushes that Fiore nods and acknowledges Archer’s praise. Now there’s a woman well used to flattery.

    “You praise me too much, ser Archer,” she says before turning back to the person in front of her. “With that said, I do envy you, Senta. I never even thought of using magecraft for hair care.”

    “Cosmetic magecraft is not a popular path to the Root, I guess,” Sakura muses with some humor. “In fact, what about you, Archer?”

    Certainly, he does have long hair, too. The powerfully-built Servant guffaws at becoming the target of such a question, but seems to take it in stride.

    “Of course, I had women to take care of that for me.”

    Of course.” Oh, been a while since I heard sarcastic Sakura.

    “Oh, so I am right to assume we are speaking with royalty?” Fiore then inquires.

    “Was that ever into question?” Archer retorts, words dripping with arrogance.

    “Indeed, he is a king of a very distant, legendary past,” then interjects Enheduanna. “And like so many kings, in hubris he found his end.”

    For a moment, I and everybody else feel the tension building in and around the powerful man. Even the Herald stops her gorging and glances sharply at her neighbor, ready to pounce to protect Senta if necessary. What a fine hound. More importantly, why are the two homunculus girls using me as a shield? Have some shame, you two; I bet your bodies are tougher than mine.

    With a sigh, however, that tension is dispelled, and Archer allows a faint smile to return to his face.

    “I do have a long way to go, indeed, if I still let myself be bothered by the likes of you.”

    Enheduanna makes a “you said it, not me” gesture—in lack of a better explanation—, and the exchange ends with that. Not least because of Fiore’s following intervention.

    “What about you, Lady Enheduanna? How did you care for your beautiful hair?”

    “Hmph,” is the start of the Servant’s response. “The younger me was thoroughly educated in how to look her utmost best for her divine spouse. Naturally, such issues are beyond the current me.”

    “Well, it is true that Beauty is part of your divine purview.”

    “Indeed.”

    That seems to be the end of the topic of hair care around the table, which brings me back to its source—namely, me—and its original target. By the way, Ortrud’s done laughing.

    “Doesn’t it get in the way? All that hair.”

    Senta chortles.

    “I know how to handle it. I know I shouldn’t keep it this long, but this is my one little vanity. I’d say it doesn’t look half bad, does it?”

    “Nah, it’s great.”

    It’s not just Ortrud; these artificial girls are unfamiliar with so many things. How many people had praised Senta’s hair before this evening? Perhaps none. That is why she is allowed this smile, brimming with almost-childlike glee.

    “Hey, cosmic alchemist.”

    (BGM)

    I chuckle as I turn back to the other Hexensoldat.

    “You said you’ve reached human alchemy,” she begins, wearing that cocky smirk she seems to share with Senta. “So, Linga or Sthūla?”

    Sthūla.”

    This seems to surprise her.

    “Really? I thought you more of a Linga-type of guy.”

    Off the corner of my eye, I catch my teacher faintly smiling yet again. Nonetheless, this is surprising. Of course, this is the first time I discuss my magecraft with someone, so it is also the first time someone criticizes my choice of expression of my human alchemy. I do not feel attacked in the slightest; if anything, this is kinda…no, this is really, really fun.

    “How come?” is my retort, all too mindful of the broad smile on my face.

    “I mean, you have a Fire affinity, don’t you? Isn’t that by definition more compatible with Linga-Śarīra?”

    I nod, albeit slowly.

    “I…guess you are right, but when I made the choice, I wasn’t really aware of things like ‘elemental affinities’ or whatever. Also, Linga is a lot harder to pull off.”

    “Oooh…” Ortrud utters, one eye closing in a wince. “That’s rough, man. So, your Sthūla-Śarīra is non-aspected? Just raw physical optimization?”

    “Yup.”

    “Damn, man, that’s such a waste,” she laments, before pausing to apparently retrace her words, looking and sounding apologetic. “Uh, no offense. I mean, just learning that spell is plenty rough, and nothing you can do about it if you didn’t know, but…”

    “None taken, Ortrud.” Honestly, perhaps at some point in the past I would have felt ridiculed or insulted by this, but right now I’m too happy to care. This must be how it feels when you find that friend who shares that geeky hobby you keep a secret from everybody else. “So, you think I should switch to Linga?”

    “Oh, absolutely!” Ortrud’s small eyes gleam like a child who’s gotten a new toy to dismantle. “I mean, the possibilities are obvious! Fire magecraft is most suitable for energy transfer; this is just a deeper expression at the conceptual level! Once it is manifested, it becomes a direct channel for terrestrial applications of the Fire element! You could cast any Fire spell without an incantation! And it would look badass as fuck!”

    “Yeah…” I add, feeling myself a bit infected with her enthusiasm. It would be pretty awesome. Two issues, though. “But, again, Linga seems pretty damn hard.”

    Ortrud purses her full lips.

    “Well, yeah, but when has magecraft ever been easy?”

    My smile becomes a smirk, which she promptly mirrors.

    “You got me there.”

    She winks.

    “You hafta ignore the sunk-cost fallacy of having stuck to Sthūla all these years. Seriously, man, you’d do much better with Linga. And I think you still have the advantage of your Fire affinity. I mean, you can just use the Rosicrucian formulation.”

    “Rosicrucian?”

    “Yeah! You know, Robert Fludd, the Utriusque Cosmi…” Ortrud does not take long to read the ignorance in my face. “…you haven’t read the Utriusque Cosmi.” She groans, burying her face in her hands. “Oh man, and the library is probably submerged in fucking magma!”

    Her small hand closes around my arm to spell the urgency of her words.

    “You hafta read that book. Trust me on this.”

    “S-Sure, I’ll look for it when I can.”

    “And, and then you could study runes! There’s so much cool stuff you can do with runes, you have no idea. Except for Wiligut’s Irminen runes, we don’t talk about those—”

    “Alright, get a room, you two,” Sakura half-cheers, half-laughs. Archer’s closed-mouth chuckle is a raspy sound echoing out of his throat, which sounds like the growl of some underworld beast.

    “I was going to say ‘get a workshop’, but that works too,” Fiore thus joins the teasing. Ortrud catches notice of her enthusiasm, which makes her pale skin glow a bit red, but she quickly brushes it off with laughter of her own. As for myself, that is not quite the kind of thing that makes me feel embarrassment.

    “Hey, cowtits,” calls out the girl to my right. “When did you become the theosophy guru?”

    Ortrud sighs, and I am impressed at how she manages to make a sigh sound smug.

    “You see, while you were locked in your lab studying your weird necromancy shit, I was hitting the books,” she explains with the tone of a tired parent going over the multiplication table with their child for the umpteenth time. “The Irminen runes were Wiligut’s attempt at one-upping von List and von Liebenfels. And those two were heavily influenced by Blavatsky, so it all goes back to theosophy. It’s just useful knowledge to have. By the way…”

    Abruptly, I find myself jerked to the left, pulled by Ortrud so she can whisper to my ear.

    “My ray is the Fourth,” are the words that fill my ear canal with the warmth of her breath. The same words that make me jerk my head to gape at her smug face and her saucy wink.

    “Hey!” I vaguely catch Senta’s complaint from the other side as she pulls me back into place. Right now there is only one thing I can think about.

    Ortrud didn’t just read about theosophy. She is a fellow theosophist mage! I…



    (BGM)

    …wow.

    What happened to the me who would have thought “No! My thing is not unique anymore!”?

    Wherever he left, I say good riddance. How could I have known that meeting someone who shares your intellectual interests would be so cool?

    “Student.”

    The voice that demands nothing but one’s undivided attention pulls me out of my reflections.

    “While I would personally utilize a different foundation, my child speaks truth,” then says Enheduanna while gesturing in Ortrud’s direction. “From the beginning, bearing the divine aspect of the ngen, you were always more suitable for Linga Śarīra. Divinity is something to be expressed and acted upon the world, not contained within the self. Have you not noticed that it is when you utilize Sthūla-Śarīra that the divine seed ignites with utmost ardor? For that spell taps into the cellular history of your body, which is insignificant before the memory of the native gods. Thus, the effect of the spell becomes the outpouring of the divine flame throughout yourself.”

    She thinks she is being clear, but she is definitely skipping a few steps in her explanation.

    Linga Śarīra would provide an outlet for the divine flame, and a safe channel through which it can exert its power upon the world. You might be thinking that the ease with which your current connection to the divine allows you to wield the element of Fire renders Linga Śarīra obsolete, but that is a mistaken assumption.”

    I was indeed thinking that. It was my second point against taking that path.

    “After all, the astral body is greater, and by its fundamental nature it exists closer to the World than your body and your magic circuits. It would allow you to tap into the flame without twisting yourself into something less human.”

    With that, she claps exactly once.

    “This is the end of my instruction, for you now have a path lain before you. I do not think we will have the opportunity to discuss alternate formulations, which is regrettable, but we walk different paths from now onwards.”

    Ah…yeah. I guess after this we cannot keep pretending to be teacher and student on the side. No matter what, we are on opposite sides of this conflict. She wants to change the world in ways we cannot begin to imagine, and that we cannot accept. Nevertheless, I now have more of a direction than ever, both as a human and as a mage, and she is a major part of it.

    “Thank you very much for your instruction,” I respond as respectfully as I can muster.

    “No, thank you,” is her response, her voice elegant and her nod regal.

    (BGM STOP)

    “You should eat more while we still have time,” Ortrud suggests. “Here.”

    I can only nod and smile in gratitude as she refills my cup of wine.

    “This wasn’t part of the plan…” sulkily mumbles the girl to my right. What is she on about?

    …wait. Is she feeling alienated from the conversation because she doesn’t know theosophy? Come on, that can be easily solved.

    “Alright, we’ve talked enough about my magecraft. Senta, it’s your turn. I’m still confused about the difference between the zombies controlled by Liria and the ones you control…”

    I can tell right and there that I messed up somehow.

    (BGM)

    The atmosphere around me has changed. Archer harrumphs and turns his gaze down to his meal as if to detach himself from whatever is happening. Enheduanna does the opposite, laying down her cutlery and staring in our direction, as if expecting something to happen. Ortrud sighs to my left, while Senta lowers her head and looks away from me.

    “Yeah, it had to end…” murmurs the blonde Hexensoldat. Heck, Garmr stopped eating to stare at his Master with a flat expression that looks plain worrisome.

    “Senta? Ortrud? What…?”

    “She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Ortrud replies. She sounds…resigned. Angry. Defeated. Any and all traces of her earlier good humor are dead and gone. Just like that. Her smile is just sad now. “Talking about her magecraft means talking about the fucked-up shit we’ve done, and she doesn’t want you to hate her. I don’t blame her; I kinda like you, too.”

    “Ortrud…” Her not-sister pleas.

    “This is it, Senta,” continues the other girl, the plea falling on deaf ears. “This is how it ends. Saying we’ve left the Fourth Reich doesn’t change anything. As…fun,” she continues, gesturing towards me. “As this is, it doesn’t change anything. We haven’t become good guys.”

    “Ortrud, please—”

    “We are still the ones who used this city’s indigents and criminals as materials for our experiments.”

    Fiore closes her eyes, wearing a pained expression. She knew. Or at least she had guessed. And I guess I knew as well. I mean, they were Nazis.

    “Ortrud…” I say in Senta’s stead.

    “Come on, sweetheart; what do you think Senta’s Dutchman was made of?”

    The Dutchman. That abominable mass of muscle that almost killed me. God, that feels like it happened ages ago.

    “We were following orders…”

    “So fucking what, Senta? We did it. I won’t go into the details of the things we did to those people because I don’t want anyone to get ill in the stomach. There are still chambers down there filled with the messed-up shit we built out of the living and the dead of this city, all ‘for the glory of the Fourth Reich’.”

    “I promised Garmr I wouldn’t use that magecraft again—”

    “Good for you,” Ortrud spits out with zero praise in her voice. “Doesn’t change everything we’ve done till now. ‘Ooh, the ones to blame are Kammler and Wiligut’. ‘Oooh, we’re not real humans, so it’s not like we have empathy for these raw materials.’”

    She snorts.

    “Bullshit. It was all bullshit. We were a pair of morons who didn’t know better, and we let Wiligut turn us into monsters. And we were okay with it, because we wanted to use and improve our magecraft, right? Because it feels good to be useful, right? Because it was a direction.”

    The two girls shake their heads, probably for very different reasons.

    “And before either of us noticed, you spent your days locked in your lab talking to your animated corpses, and I wasted my own getting gangbanged by those soldier-shaped dolls. And that was when Wiligut wasn’t raping us, and Kammler wasn’t including me in his goddamn hero delusions.”

    Fuck. We had just gotten through Enheduanna’s revelations, but yeah, it couldn’t be that simple. This, this is what these two have been holding within themselves all this time. What Enheduanna’s assertion of their humanity has stirred to the boiling point.

    “Stop it…!” Senta gasps out, hiding her face in her hands. She has never cried. She does not want to start here. But she is struggling. And Ortrud knows no mercy.

    “Dream’s over, Senta. We’re messed up people who did messed up shit, and there’s no hope for us. Even if we wanted to make amends, even if we wanted to do better, to be better, we can’t. We’re homunculi; we’ve got a few years at best.”

    That’s the crux of the issue: hopelessness. No matter what, they cannot get rid of the stigma of their actions under the Fourth Reich. The atrocities committed under that banner, under the assumption of inhumanity. Not unlike the Third Reich, which justified its actions by targeting ‘enemies’ and ‘lesser races’.

    “Life, freedom, love—those things you’re dreaming about; what even are those things? Hell if I know. We can’t have those things, anyway. So, yeah, let’s stop this already. No point in pretending we can get along with these people, or even live in their same world. Even if…no matter…”

    My eyes find Ortrud’s. Her eyes sway, light shifts in their depths. Lips so full she cannot hide their trembling. She looks away.

    “…nice while it lasted…”

    After that, my eyes find those of my former teacher, blood red eyes as regal as ever, the very image of sovereignty. She has yet to act. Ortrud’s confession is not the thing she is waiting for. She expects someone else to do something. No, she expects me to do something.

    Damn it, woman; they’re your daughters, do something for them besides turning their lives upside down!

    No, that’s pointless. Time is better spent…helping…them?

    Can I help them?

    Should I?


    Choice Time!
    Suddenly, the soul of two lost girls in in our dashing protagonist’s hands. No pressure.

    Standing at this crossroads, what comes to mind, Javier Lucero?

    1. My circumstances, and how they mirror theirs in some ways. It already worked once, right?
    2. Lily’s last pieces of advice she left me. Her wisdom can’t fail.
    3. Liria, and the rough life she has lived. These two are not the only ones carrying a stigma.
    4. Marco Ahrens—rather, “Otto” as Enheduanna calls him. Didn’t she bring him up a while ago?
    5. The fight against Berserker—the parts Liria described for us.
    6. …Ortrud is right. They are damned in this world and the next.

    Quest Master’s Mercy: There is more than one right choice, but some are righter than others. On the other hand, there is more than one wrong choice, too.
    Last edited by Daneel Rush; January 5th, 2022 at 04:07 PM.

  14. #1414
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    Hmmm...

    2.

  15. #1415
    The Long-Forgotten Sight Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    2 feels like bait somehow.

    Can't say I'm confident, but 5.
    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  16. #1416
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    I feel like while obviously the actions Ortrud and Senta have taken were *very* different from Javier's, they still sprung from a desire for purpose, for making sense out of their own existence and giving themselves meaning. I think Lily's lessons about what it means to be human - especially the part about finding meaning in others, not just yourself - would help them.
    Though now that I've said that "out loud", so to speak, I'm starting to wonder if it won't make them feel even worse about what they've done.

    Hm. Now I'm undecided.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Starting to wonder if maybe *6* is the right choice - in a tough love, "Yeah, you've screwed up badly... Now what? Are you going to do something about it or just continue to be putzes?" kind of way.

  17. #1417
    後継者 Successor zikari8's Avatar
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  18. #1418
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    Time is better spent helping yes, Javier's been trying to be a good person despite some of the votes we have taken (namely "divinity and magic? both! please and thank you), therefore 6 is the last thing we should do. I am frankly unsure however.

    With the second option, a part of me feels like it may be bait as hearing from her might be the last thing they want to her. 3 might not work as it's a big jump. Marco's not been much of a big player so I am not sure that this is the right call and may indeed make the worse response. With Berserker, Elizabeth is about to have him breathe through a new hole in his skull...

    In the end, Lily's lessons about what it means to be human - especially the part about finding meaning in others, not just yourself. To shamelessly rip off the good place, what really matters is how people move forwards and how we decide to be better than we were the day before.

    2. and whatever happens, happens

  19. #1419
    So Many Ideas, So Little Time SleepMode's Avatar
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    Aaaaaaah, ended up overthinking and not voting, sorry Daneel ><
    But Hermes struck up a good point — regardless of the girls’ transgressions, their search for direction was ultimately a human one.

    2
    The Act of dozing off in the afternoon is a luxury indeed.
    Coffee would be nice, though.

    [Collection of my Servant Sheets]
    Now Revamped!

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