Moderated Men and Monsters

Atop a stony plateau overlooking the lands of central Idalos, and growing wealthy from the gem stones pulled from the rocky soil, Etzos is a bastion of independence; firm in its belief that man should rule Idalos, not be servants of the vain Immortals who nearly destroyed it. But can the many factions set aside their conflicting agendas and see this through?

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Kasoria
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Men and Monsters

Sat Jan 11, 2020 5:23 pm

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58th Trial, Vhalar, 719
Outer Perimeter
2nd break

It always surprised him how few hunters expected to be hunted. One would think that someone so devoted and adept at pursuing others would know the signs when the tables were turned. Was it hubris, perhaps? The arrogant assumption that no-one would dare? That surely they would simply know, on some base level, that they were being tracked? Or that the universe itself, all creation would bend to ensure that such a gross travesty of roles would not be allowed. They were the hunters, and as such, they could never be prey. Prey were weak and running and sniveling and fit only to be picked off. That was not the way nor fate of a hunter.

Kasoria did not subscribe to this, for one simple reason: he remembered that once, a very long time ago, he'd been prey, too.

Every time they cut you. Every time you bleed or bruise or wheeze or break. You remember you're a man. You're not a god. You're not a monster. Not an Immortal.

"Wolves die jus' quick as sheep."

The murmur escaped his lips almost without his bidding. As if his mind wanted to share his thoughts despite the taciturn nature of his soul. The whisper fluttered around the wet stone and cobbles of the alley. Kasoria kept walking, not slowing, always listening. There it was again. That telltale scrape against the ground. But not leather, oddly enough. Almost like something... sharp, dragged against the stone as it set off into motion again. The Raggedy Man frowned and turned another corner. This wasn't the long way home; this wasn't heading home at all. Ever since he'd traced the faint, persistent sounds behind him. Around a corner, up a street, he could tolerate that. This was a big city, after all, and there were many pedestrians.

But the sounds had stayed with him. Always at his back, a street or so away. Following at a distance, practiced and careful, but not invisible.

Kasoria had hunted men and women and yes, at times, even children. He knew the tread of a predator. So he knew when he was the one being stalked. He shifted the pack of food over his shoulder and changed his route. Moving further to the East, away from his home. Sliding around corners, speeding up when out of sight for a handful of trills. Until the sound of scraping on cobbles was distant, but constant, source struggling to keep up-

Now.

The Raggedy Man chose his route well, not randomly. As soon as he was down another alley, he darted to the sewer grate he knew was set into the ground and yanked it up. Just far enough for him to toss the pack down, then jump down himself. Strong, quick arms snapped out to stop his fall by catching the edges of the hole, feet finding the ladder in front of him. He got his footing, reached up, and dragged the grate back over the hole. Nothing but darkness, save for a few perfect circles of light coming through the holes in the great.

Maybe five trills, from darting to dragging. He listened, on the ladder. Knife in his hand now. Hearing the scraping. Hearing it stop... very close. He could almost hear the sniffing of a snout, the puzzled look on a canine face. Should it come closer, the tracking would be over for it. He'd plunge that blade between its ribs and drag it down here with him. Lost and buried, with but a single move.

But-

"... huh."

It moved off. Scrape-scrap-scraping across the cobbles and away from him. Kasoria frowned and finally shrugged. Good to know he still had it in him. He made his way down the ladder and reclaimed his pack. Not too far, on this level. He knew the tunnels, of course. He knew them well enough to find-

Scrape... scrape...

Kasoria froze. A feeling, a memory, a sensation gouged into his flesh from seasons before, flooded over him like the stink of sewage. There was no mistaking it. His Spark snarled and howled under his skin and he dropped the pack and drew his gladius before the bag had even fully settled on the stones. Knowing it would avail him little, but wanting, needing that ancient, solid reassurance.

She moved out from the darkness. She, that had herded and directed him. He knew that from the half-smirk on her face, glowing with victory and indulgence. Kasoria swallowed and was glad for the hood covering half his face. Mainly the half that was sweating quite profusely. He lowered his gladius a few inches as she came into view, to show he meant to harm in that moment, but also... damn him... also in the awe that he could not hide.

They are not Immortals, but they are far removed from men. All the monsters of the world are not equal to them.

Well... maybe that fucking Leviathan.


"Any reason yous're followin' me... miss?"
word count: 857
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
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Re: Men and Monsters

Sat Jan 11, 2020 11:18 pm


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The scraping turned out to be a simple chair the Immortal pulled with her as she approached. By the time she swept her silken dress to flow modestly over her legs as she sat, the smirk was gone, replaced by a slight look of request. "Why don't you put the weapon completely away, warrior, I intend no harm."

Her head nudged just slightly behind and to his side, "Please, have a seat and let us discuss things openly, if, admittedly, in private." She did not give any further gesture or expression to emphasize how the presence of this second chair gave proof of how completely she had predicted that he would arrive precisely here.

"Technically, I did not follow you here, so much as awaited your arrival. But I guess it does imply some previous...scouting on my part." She took a deep breath, as if troubled, and continued, "So, the first issue is obviously how to get around this issue of trust. I mean, commiting to memory the paths someone takes whom you would have once needed to...meet with...was a common enough necessity for you, no? Surely you have much more serious things to hold against me than that?"

She shook her head lightly, "You know, I almost wish those who DO trust me would stop making the exact same statements that I use to present my agenda, as it cheapens them as just copying what they've heard me say, as well as making me out to look like nothing more than a source of self-serving rhetoric. Tell me, is it truly that difficult to accept that I may genuinely believe what I say?"

Her eyes narrowed just a bit on the word 'agenda' see if her guest would give some sneer suggesting that he'd caught her. Then sighed in what appeared to be resignation that the argument would now begin in earnest. "I suppose you've heard it before, that the world is changing, and that alignment with an Immortal is going to be necessary for growth, or even survival. I can understand that coming from just such an Immortal, it comes off as completely self-serving."

"But we have shared the very evidence of it this past cycle. While you made tremendous use of the unexpected backlash of my sister killing so many of your fellow countrymen, you would not have eliminated her without me. She could have simply bided her time, relaxing in Emea, letting her city be sacked, awaiting the slow corruption and madness that takes over such lost souls, then renewing her revenge. Do you truly think you could withstand her a second time?"
word count: 453
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Re: Men and Monsters

Tue Jan 14, 2020 10:49 am

He could not be himself around this thing. Couldn't even attempt it. All he was, all he knew, all he'd done for arcs, had been in the context of fear and intimidation. Even when he'd been but a shadow, impossible to negotiate with, it was this aura of terror that had aided him most of all. Enemies and targets had quailed and thus weakened themselves before he'd ever stepped before them, steel in hand and ice in his eyes. His reputation, that had been his most savage weapon. Able to disarm and neutralize without a word being spoken by him.

She did not care for this. Did not care for any mortal in that regard. Kasoria stood before her and felt like an ant conversing with an elephant. Or a hurricane.

The little man stood there, feeling never so much like those two things, as she prattled on like a society madame taking afternoon tea. She sat down after fanning out the skirts of her dress. She looked beautiful. Terrible. Entrancing. Enticing. Divine. All these things Kasoria thought before reminding himself it was not a she, but an it. There was about as much commonality between the two of them as him and a blind fish in a cave.

That almost made him smile. You weren't even trying, that time.

The sword sighed on leather as he sheathed. Fates, but what good would it have been? He sat down, as he was bid, and spoke not a word as she said her piece. Again, there felt... little point to contributing to empty air. He saw her piercing gaze behind the light words, though. She was studying him, and he thought for a horrible trill that this was how those dozens, scores of poor cunts he'd killed had felt like. In those tense, trembling trills and bits before he butchered them. Interrogating, intimidating, questioning, needling and prying and poking and studying them like a bug under a looking glass. Wringing every drop of intelligence from them before tossing the carcass aside, unwanted and unnecessary.

Face blank. Eyes cold. Don't give her anything.

How will you know if you have?


Kasoria swallowed and remembered Rhakros. Even that memory was better than this present. Two feet from a goddess, one slip from a quick death. He remembered... but did not remember. He recalled a recollection; he pondered on what should have been, what must have occurred. Lissira was dead, she was right about that. Ended in the realm she had crafted for herself after trials of pursuit. Yes, yes, that was... what everyone said. But whenever Kasoria tried to remember the killing blow, the glorious moment of triumph... all was shadow and writhing, formless things that hid beyond sight and light. She was dead, and he was sure of it. But how, and who...

"That's why yeh came t'find me? T'ask me that?" He spoke eventually, words as measured as well-chosen as weapons before a mortal duel. "Can't fault yer thinkin', I'll admit. Would have been a harder fight, t'be sure. Cost far more lives, more magic, more Spark." He managed a one-shouldered shrug. "Can't say if we'da stood a second siege. But we'd a' left her without anythin' t'siege us with, an' next time... we'd be ready."

It was a childish, petulant response. Giving up nothing, retreating not a step back from a stance prideful and belligerent. It was all well and good to be a proud, stubborn Etzori among your fellows, even foreigners. But before an Immortal, it felt like the chest-puffing of an angry cat. Sintra had been there, with them, since the march to Rhakros. She and her agents had paved the way, smoothed, the road, assisted at moments too dire to contemplate. Would they even had breached Lissira's Domain without her? Would they have managed it over the walls, through the canopy? Kasoria was not strategist of grand campaigns, and he did not know. He knew what he saw, and what he saw-

Say it. Throw her off the scent. She can smell your hatred, your scheming. It's what she is. So give her something else.

"I... never thanked yeh, by the way," he said, words coming out slow as if pulled tooth by tooth. He hoped the hesitation gave not too much away; he'd surely not have missed it. "Fer what yeh did. Fer us. In the real, an'... wherever yer... sister-" Fates, can't even imagine these cunts having kin. "-went to. Woulda' died without yeh, m'pretty sure."

Kasoria, the Raggedy Man, staunch and rabid and brutal, bowed his head in thanks to an Immortal. Even as his soul roiled and stomach lurched... but his mind approved.

"So I thank yeh."
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"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
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Re: Men and Monsters

Wed Jan 15, 2020 4:17 am


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The response came smoothly enough to let Kasoria know that he had asked precisely the way she had wanted him to. For all its depth of power, her voice was casual, "No, of course it is not the only question I want to ask. It simply leads into the larger question. One that I have confidence that you will answer without posturing or an excess of diplomatic rhetoric. In effect, I believe you will give me a "straight" answer; that is, if you know it."

He looked ready to hear it, but she held a single finger aloft, "First, however, I want to impress upon you the odd, and perhaps unexpected, DISadvantage that I operate under whenever I speak to free-thinkers such as yourself. By this I mean those that are trying to make neither a friend nor an enemy of me. This whole affinity for manipulation which I possess makes it impossible to simply level with someone, and have any breakthrough in trust or truce endure beyond the first few moments when I am no longer present."

She shook her head, indicative of countless memories of such failures of accord with others. "Now don't worry..." she chuckled lightly, "...I appreciate the thanks, but I am not trying to get you to feel sorry for me or anything. But honestly, even when I can establish some trust, the moment someone has a second thought on a topic we've come to terms on, they immediately assume they've been "had", and that I've manipulated the entire thing."

She leaned forward slightly, "I have often been confronted by those that have later concluded that some agreement must be rejected, and that the alternative, which does not benefit either of us in the least, must be the right choice. I swear, these people assume that I would willingly bring ruin upon myself just to have one more successful incident of manipulation."

Her mannerisms were right in line with the display of frustration one would expect from such occurrences. "And why must manipulation always be viewed as some vile thing to be accused of? Everyone manipulates in some fashion, some time. Schedules are devised to take advantage of numerous considerations. Manufacturing is centered around material availability. The two make every effort to manipulate the other to their highest gain; cheapest cost.

Debates are rarely won purely on the merit of the facts and references given. It is on the delivery as much as anything. On the ordering and collating of information, and the luring of the opponent into asking just the right question, at the right time, to set up a response that will have its greatest shock value and rebuttal impact! Does this make them fiends? Or just someone who is doing something in their own interest? And outside of the occasional necessity for sacrifice, is it not everyone's right to act in their own self-interest?"


There was s a pause as her gaze turned slightly more scrutinizing, "Ahhh...You're doing it right now. 'What is she trying to set me up for?'...'What am I being maneuvered into?'...'Say nothing'...Alright, I'll admit, I steered you into asking if that was my only question. So call me a debating fiend! Not an entirely successful one though; you were supposed to ask me what the larger question was."

She waited a moment, her face falling in slight increments of disappointment, "Very well, I will just ask it myself. Why is the hidden power behind a throne no great concern when it is a powerful mage, with ruthless agendas equal to my own; yet a ghastly calamity, not to even be countenanced, when it is an Immortal?"

She began filling in her own blanks, counting off on her fingers, "Is it the discrepancy in power level? The difficulty for mortals to grasp the subtleties of a plan that will not come to fruition for decades? Centuries perhaps? The gap in sensibilities possessed by someone that lives forever, as opposed to one of mortal life span?"

Wrath suddenly soured her visage, her fingers becoming fists, as she made her last guess, "Or is it perhaps this ongoing nonsense that I stand accused of, which generates such a level of misguided resentment that none would welcome me. This absurd claim that I specifically CAUSED the ether storm and prolonged it in order to whisper in my sister's ear that the time to strike is ripe, just so I could come running to Etzos' aid. A treacherous savior! Killing millions to hopes to gain the gratitude of thousands? It is laughable! Or would be did it not stand directly in the way of such a mutually beneficial arrangement."

"All I want...all I need is the genuine devotion of a populace for whom I genuinely provide. This very gap in sensibilities should be reason enough for you all to know that I have less cause to interfere in your mortal lives than Lord Vuda ever had. It sounds very self-aggrandizing, I know, but the fact is, there is very little of what graces mortal lives that I have any interest in."

She sat back, her expression conveying concern that she might have spoken too passionately. But the fact was, it was part of her game, to display a potential for loss of control. In the long run, it did not actually serve her agenda to convince this mortal of anything. Her servant, Marshall Webb had become overly troublesome to her. In the course of this discussion, she would drop the hint of his connection to her, and let this Kasoria brood in simmering outrage over the thought of one of the leaders of Etzos' army being a minion of an Immortal.

Were she to actually sway this man's opinion to her favor, he might decide that it was best for Webb to stay in power. That could not be allowed. But it had to be done carefully. Kasoria must not suspect that she was only feigning this attempt to win him over. She needed for him to leave this conference all the more convinced that she was a monster, and that anyone serving her needed to be jailed or eliminated.

He would be the best choice to accomplish the latter, and she could throw the troublesome Llyr into the pot as well. There were certainly tidbits of contentious information she could drop in this discussion regarding him as well. Things Kasoria would find almost as sickening as he found her to be right now. Two strokes of the knife instead of one. Then, once those two problems were "solved", she could betray Kasoria to the guard and see him rot in a warded cell beneath the tower.

It was important, however, NOT to let this mortal before her know that she was aware of Val, and her exposure of Webb's tie to her Webspinners. She needed to present a picture of knowing nothing about the artifact, and knowing of Kasoria's encounter with Val would muddy those waters. It was alright to know the name of course. That would be one of the 'loose-lip' items she would hang upon Llyr to prompt Kasoria's outrage against him, then the fact of his mortalborn blood, and the threat of Alistair, brought to this town by Llyr's cowardly flight from Quacia.

Indeed, the ruse would practically sell itself...
word count: 1250
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Re: Men and Monsters

Sat Jan 18, 2020 4:35 pm

They can read minds, you know. See your thoughts.

One of many memories that came unbidden. A hundred tales and whispers that he'd heard during his childhood. Those meandering, nonsensical but earnestly pursued conversations where children spoke of monsters and ghouls and wraiths and, yes, Immortals fell into that grouping. They'd talked about how the Immortals could do anything, possess any magic or power, just by thinking it. Only the grown ups kept them at bay, for they had intrinsic powers by virtue of being... older and larger, apparently. Kasoria had never quite worked out what rationale they'd used.

Kasoria felt like he hadn't aged a trial since then. Sitting there, looking into the face of something far beyond men and monsters yet definitely closer to the latter, he wondered... and feared how little he truly knew. He knew they could control minions, scores, swarms, legions of them. He knew they could change their forms at will, grand and humble, and most of all, could weave magic magnitudes above that which even the most belligerent mages of the world could manage. But they were mortal. They could be killed.

An ant could kill an elephant, in theory, a pessimistic little voice chimed in. Doesn't mean that it ever will.

"Etzos has never needed an Immortal leadin' her," he said eventually, struggling to keep his mind focused on the direct questions, the pertinent facts. Fates, but she reminded him of Llyr too much. Weaving around webs and layers and shields of nonsense to hide what her true intentions were. Separating his attentions, guiding him here and there, stripping away his focus little by little until he wasn't watching himself anymore. But she never stopped watching him. "Dun' seem like we need one now. But she ain't ungrateful. Ask Hiladrith, from way back inna' histories."

The human leaned back in his seat, stretched out his legs... and placed on hand in his pocket. At ease. Serenely so. Nonchalantly. Ignoring the organ pounding against the inside of his ribs and hoping she couldn't hear that, too. He shrugged and pointed a quick finger up, to the bustling world above them.

"But mebbe I'm wrong, eh? Been lissnin', been watchin'. Folk seem t'like yeh. More'n they liked the Morties-," he paused briefly, watching her reaction as he used the age-old slur for her kind "-fer generations back. Dun' much matter what one Oh'Pee scrote like me thinks a' the way things're goin'. Yer better off askin' the well-to-do inna' Citadel, more'n me..."

Kasoria managed a smile that was at once brittle and keen. Fates, what he'd give to be able to jam two feet of steel through her skull. Twist it, tear it out sideways, shattering her cranium like a vase and splattering these walls with whatever foulness passed for brain matter. The world would be better for it. He knew that for certain, sure as he felt the stones under his feet and the chill in his lungs. No more manipulations, no more scheming, no more monster in the shadows pushing and pulling hapless pawns to destruction for her own amusement.

Went a little far there, you lying cunt, he thought, letting the secret words color his smile, making it a tad more genuine. If you didn't care, you'd never have come as far as you did. Not about us, not about our lives and souls and who we are... but what we do? Oh, you care. You care and it frightens you. We frighten you. Because if we aren't your weapons, we could be for someone else.

"Why're youse tellin' me this?" He spoke after long moments, pointedly not attaching a title to the sentence. Now it was Sintra's turn to be studied. Examined with canine intensity as Kasoria tilted his head slightly. "Sure yeh've got better things t'do wiv' yer time. So why me?"
word count: 675
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Re: Men and Monsters

Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:27 pm


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Her gaze leveled upon Kasoria, "Does not every mortal ask that when great things are thrust upon them? One could as easily ask 'why NOT you'. I have not gotten the impression that you shrink often from difficulties."

Calculation instructed her look to sour to a small degree, "But herein lies the manipulation you expect, yes? I am offering flattery, and answering a question with a question, aren't I?" she made a face as if in anticipation of his own. "Truly, two mainstays of the very concept of manipulation."

A gleam seemed to brighten her eyes, "And even if I then withdraw my question, the point is made; like a magistrate telling the sitting jurors to strike the words from their collective head. If anything, it only engraves the words all the more fully into their minds. Advocates use this ploy constantly, do they not? And who loves an advocate? The one they are representing, that's who! At least until they make a mistake, which is usually due to a failure of manipulation!"

She actually rose to her feet with the appearance of passion. "So much is made of manipulation as an evil thing, until it benefits them! Then suddenly it is just another means to see to it that the truth comes out in the most clarifying way, the most impactful way, the way that will be most beneficial to them! Hypocrites!"

Se paused for a moment, as if catching her breath from her outburst, then resumed her seat, "Perhaps it is a better analogy for me to say I aim to be Etzos' attorney. Set against those that represent your...opponents. Could you think of a better one?" Mock worry took its turn upon her face now, "But at what cost?? The darkness...The evil of her followers!"

Scorn lived in her snort of disgust, "We of our part ALL have cells of followers, watching out for our global interests. ALL of us. Mine are the Webspinners you hear whispered about so darkly. But what? Their loyalty is proven by the taking of a life. Is that really that uncommon a thing?"

The human's ability to avoid reaction, good or bad, was commendable. She went on, "You were in Rhakros, you saw sacrifices made. You did such things for arcs before this war. I see no reason to levy any judgement against you. I assume you gave your loyalty to protect something or someone. But more than that, do you think my so-called "good" cousins and siblings don't sully their squeaky-clean hands in such proof of loyalty? Because you have not heard about it?"

She leaned forward, "You are in Etzos. None of my kind will speak ill of another of our kind in this town, no matter how much they dislike them. For it makes them ALL suspect, as they should be. All the Immortals drool over this fortress, wanting to make it theirs, and for the same reason I do. The devotion of a loyal congregation."

She sat back to let that sink in, "So what makes me any different? Nothing! Absolutely nothing except that I'm admitting to it. This...slander of my having triggered this whole event is propaganda from my rivals. And as the Matron of Manipulation I must say, it was well-played! Now there is talk of my having whispered in ears during this event. Yes I did. Of course I did. I had no choice. I turned the tables on them! Taking what was meant to ruin me once and for all and instead becoming a savior!"

She seemed to recover somewhat from her emotions and shrugged regretfully, "At least savior of those that survived my sister's initial onslaught. There are those of my kind that could probably engineer some gadget to prolong an ether storm. And there are those that are allied with each other in their hatred of me. But such artifice is not my strong point. And would I be so foolish as to etch webs onto a device that I was then going to have to prove I had nothing to do with?"

She felt good about how this was going; feeling she'd struck just the right balance of legitimate points versus scapegoating, and nearly breaching outright power-mongering. She went on to again make herself out to be unfairly denied what others were granted, giving an admittedly impressive litany of the many cities serving as the seats of other Immortals, emphasizing how Etzos seemed to have been manipulated to sit between two of the most hateful of these rivals. Why should she not possess such a boon?

But it was time to apply the knife, "...and they are not the only threat you are facing here. Your Lord Parhn has already accepted me, as safeguard against a threat of an entirely mortal bend. A thrice-revealed spark-bearer named Alistair. And he only learned it from the young biqaji that recently insinuated himself into the population. And that only because of the likelihood that this Alistair is going to come chasing him down. They were lovers or something. Flattened a town in Quacia, I hear. Parhn wants me to protect Etzos from him, and I am willing.

"Your Lord Vuda already fled in fear of this mage, and this Biqaji, though also bearing three sparks, is not of comparable power in any of them, what were they? Becoming?...Etherism, or Transmutation, I think you call it. And one other...Anyway, he just had a big event at his new 'Curious Constellations' business. Your Marshall Webb was there as his guest."

She seemed to gather herself anew, "But I digress too far, mentioning this biqaji has reminded me that you want to know 'why you'. Now please do not feel pressured, but I have heard that this fellow met with some woman called 'Val' on a caravan, which is where this claim of an artifact proving my guilt was first stated." she decided that it would not hurt to mention meeting this 'Val', so long as it was only treated as a rumor.

"I have also heard that you have met her, Val, I mean. If you have not, I will make an appointment to meet with this biqaji fellow and ask him. But if you did, did you ever actually see anything being claimed to be such a device? Going back to the attorney analogy, I would like to face my accuser."
word count: 1092
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