• Closed • Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran

(Nat Greg)

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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran



Oberan seemed strangely disappointed as Natalia decided to not go ahead without him after all. It stood out, especially when contrasted with the angry surprise he’d shown when she refused to input the code he’d dictated, and had declared she’d move faster on her own. There’d been an eagerness flaring up too, eyes alight and excited underneath the anger, grinning on the inside. Now all that was gone, he’d slipped back into indifference. Almost seeming bored. He gave a shrug, grabbed both Mark and Hilda by the forearm, and trudged across the room.

Leaving the two of them by Natalia, Oberan drew yet another set of symbols on the panel. It clicked open, he took a small can out of it, which he uncapped, then shook for a few seconds. Crouching next to Natalia, he wiped away most of the blood –though more kept spilling from her arm—and sprayed the wound. A thick white foam bubbled where the liquid hit her skin, thickening to a few centimeters, covering the injury completely. Exposed to air, the foam’s surface hardened to a solid crust. A numbness spread through her damaged flesh, pain gradually dying out until it didn’t even throb. But she could still feel, an itch plaguing that part of her arm instead as her cells formed new tissue at a rapid pace.

Without a word Oberan placed the can back in the panel, closed it, and headed for the door, pushing Mark in front of him. “Let’s go.” He didn’t wait.

They traversed the remaining tunnels with Oberan leading the way, picking his path with confidence and no time for doubts. Perhaps he followed the growing din of the crowd, but unlike when he’d let Natalia guide them through, he needed no time at crossroads and split hallways to listen, immediately turning whatever direction they needed to go. There were no misses, no mistakes where they had to retrace their steps and take a different path after all. Even when it seemed they moved away from the audience, the noise diminishing, a couple of twists in the tunnel put them back on track after a little while.

A couple times they passed patrolling guards, but weren’t stopped. Some of them gave a curt nod at Nat and Oberan, which Oberan returned without fail. For the time being, it seemed the disguise held up fairly well. Perhaps the tangible aura of Mark’s misery help too, body language projecting his feelings of self-pity and defeated resignation to his fate into the mind of anyone who laid eyes on it.

Eventually, they reached a set of ornate double doors flanked by a pair of armed guards. They cast a brief glance at the two prisoners, bashed the butt of their spears hard on the floor.

“You’re late,” one said.

“Better hurry inside,” spoke the other, “the Gamemaster awaits with impatience.”

The two guards pushed open the doors to let them pass. Mark whimpered at the creaking hinges, starting to breathe faster. Oberan tightened his grip on his arm to make sure he didn’t try to run off, and forced him into the room.

There could not be a starker difference between this and the environment they’d navigated to get there. Up until now everything had been functional in its design. Bare walls of lifeless grey stone, floors and ceilings cut from the same. Doors simple and sturdy; thick slabs of wood held together and by bands of steel. Heavy, preventing unauthorized individuals from forcing them open. The tunnels were mostly empty, and –in absence of the ruckus created by the audience in the theater—silent. However, this room was the opposite.

Though fashioned from the same dull stone as the rest of the labyrinth, the walls here were covered with a beige wallpaper decorated with golden swirls. The chamber was divided in different sections, all crawling with many attendants. One with empty holding cells, the doors ajar. One had a the wall lined with mirrors, chairs in front of it as well as small tables on wheels. On top stood all sorts of bottles and containers of cosmetics. Another area was filled with steaming tubs and all sorts of cleaning products, heavy-duty brushes at the ready. The last consisted out of a desk with several tubes around it, running up to disappear into the ceiling. An overly stressed clerk held one in place against their ear with a shoulder, and spoke into another they held to their lips. With their free hand they reached for a cone-like instrument and barked an announcement through. “Ad break is done in twenty seconds! The prisoners are standing ready in the wings. Estimated time until we need to send up the next few is five minutes!”

“Five minutes! That’s not nearly enough time!” a rotund man in fancy garb exclaimed, curled mustache twitching in indignation. He waddled laps around all areas in quick succession, shouting instructions to the staff who stood idle, mostly telling them to clean up their workspaces if they didn’t have anything else to do, and to doublecheck if everything was ready for the next set of prisoners. “Most important thing is to get them looking clean. We can skip the maquillage if need be, depending. Maybe only conceal the ugliest blemishes. Don’t bother with tidying their hair, it’ll take too long. Where are those damn priso--”

He noticed Oberan and company then, rushing over instantly, his bulk jiggling back and forth under his shirt. “You’re late!” he snapped, wagging a finger. “Way too late! We’re in a real pickle right now, a real pickle! Where’ve you been? Who’re you? You’re not one of the escort teams I sent, are you?” He glanced over his shoulder and snapped his fingers. “Marci! My clipboard!”

Within moments a woman in a three-piece suit appeared at his side, thrusting the item in his hands. He browsed the papers clipped to the wood –timetables and checklists of all sorts of things—thick finger following the position of his gaze. “Ah, here we are. Two hours ago, Linda and Carl to go pick up a pair of prisoners from the dungeons. Special request for--” he squinted “--one fiery tempered booyah babe to make the audience go wild.” Casually he threw the clipboard aside, right into Marci’s waiting hands. Oberan was certain she’d not been standing there before.

“You don’t look like a Carl to me, not like a Carl at all,” the man spoke, frowning at Natalia. His gaze shifted to Oberan then. “And you’re certainly not a Linda. Who’re you? Are you one of the other teams I sent in the interim? Hm? Are you? Where's my clipboard? Marci!”

“Sorry mr. Gamemaster, sir,” Oberan said as Marci reappeared, handing over the clipboard. “I’m Gregorio Natalias, this is ehm--” he shot a frazzled look at Natalia, signaling with his eyes to come up with some alias. “Carl got dusted by the Grid, sir, Linda was putting him through the wringer and--”

“Three minutes!” the tube-clerk yelled.

“Three minutes?!” the Gamemaster echoed, waving his hands around his head. He pointed at Oberan. “You, stop talking. I don’t want to hear it, it’s not important! Not important!” He clapped his hands a couple times, waving over the personnel from the bathing area. “Get these two cleaned up, quick! Dunk them in the bath for a few seconds, get rid of the worst stains if there’s any, and make sure they’re dry! Make-up team, only the noticeable blemishes! Hair team, only a quick brushing if there’s still time! Chop chop, get to work! Hurry, hurry!”

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Just because I shouldn't doesn't mean I won't.


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Natalia Gregorios
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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran

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Arc 721, Vhalar 79
“When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.”
― Salvador Dalí


If Natalia noticed Oberan's strange disappointment, she said nothing. She was quiet as his mood seemingly fluctuated from high to low, appearing to focus on moving on and her injury more than any moody boys and whatever weird adrenaline fetishes they might have.

Her eyes were always on him, though, watching and noting. Curious and steady, Natalia's golden gaze betrayed little, but whether that was by design, intent, or disinterest, one couldn't say.

As the trio marched towards her, Oberan handed over their doubles and successfully opened a panel in the wall, prompting her eyes to narrow slightly, posture stiffening, but only while Oberan's back was turned.

He came towards her, and the young woman backed up a few steps as if unsure of his intent. The man took her arm and treated it but said nothing to her. Offered no words or glances, his silence allowed her to watch and consider her companion in relative stealth. She said nothing to prompt conversation, but when he finished with her arm, Natalia's mouth did open to offer a quick 'thank you,' but found herself cut off by his insistence they move on.

Rubbing her arm, Natalia grabbed Hilda and followed Oberan and Mark, taking one last look at the grid room as if analyzing something. Oberan seemingly wasn't in the mood to lollygag and happy enough to leave her behind, so she swiftly followed. The puzzle pieces dropped weren't fitting together, and a dramatic sigh slipped free from Natalia for whatever reason.

Noting the two men a bit ahead of her and Hilda in the corridor, Natalia spoke to her charge quietly, although the woman would be unable to respond because of the gag. "Men. Dramatic, moody creatures they are. And they say we are bad? Never quite know what to expect."

Natalia's eyes narrowed even further as the small group moved deeper and deeper into the maze of hallways. They had followed her lead by following sound and, eventually, the guards. Oberan had no such markers, and yet, he flawlessly navigated them through the maze.

Finally, he led them to what appeared to be something of a destination, based on the craftsmanship of the doors and the guards before it. Her demotion to disappointing sidekick after the events of the laser room endured, so Natalia simply played the part assigned to her, quickly pushing Hilda through to the next room so they could see what lay beyond the beautiful doors.

To say they had wandered into wonderland wouldn't have been much of an exaggeration. There was activity everywhere Natalia looked, and her senses were on the verge of overload. Sweet perfumes from the endless bottles of cosmetics and whatever happened to be in the tubs. People were talking everywhere, frazzled, shouting - a few even crying. It was uncontrolled chaos of the highest order.

The young woman seemed content for the moment, allowing Oberan to sort his way through the mess best he could, which allowed her to focus on observation. Information was priceless, and if her companion was busy dealing with the tumultuous room and situation, that left her to her own devices.

She stood nearby, listening to the words being thrown back and forth, and anyone that looked at her would recognize the look of someone focusing very hard on what was in front of her. Golden eyes occasionally flitted around, presumably considering action in other parts of the room, but always returned to what was before her, curious and thoughtful.

Situated a bit behind Hilda, Natalia's hands were busy doing something, but obscured by the other woman's body so whatever it happened to be was hidden to the rest of the room.

Then Oberan glanced in her direction, ostensibly for her to come up with some creative name for herself so the jig wouldn't be up. Good thing she had been paying attention despite her abrupt fall from grace. She tried to 'introduce' herself but was cut off by people babbling about the time. Five minutes. Three minutes. It was all a bit mad when one thought about it, but sometimes action was the way to handle a situation.

"ENOUGH!!!"

Her voice could have stilled a theater, projecting just enough to reach every corner of the one where they happened to be. Dragging Hilda with her, Natalia stormed forward towards the Gamemaster, having picked up that title when Oberan attempted to speak to him. There was controlled fury in her expression as she began her spiel, because again, obviously, paying attention was a good thing.

"Stormy Weather is the name, and I must say that this is a mess if I've ever seen one! We aren't late, for your information. I'm right on time to witness this epic blunder of an operation you have going on here. No wonder the powers that be sent me in here to handle this disaster of monumental proportions. From what I've witnessed, the entire operation needs overhaul from top to bottom, but we can't help that now."

Tossing Hilda into Oberan, Natalia managed to grab the clipboard out of the Gamemaster's hand, appearing to read it over quickly. "Did you not realize that this whole thing is on a delay? You have an additional five minutes to get things ready? Can you read? I mean, it says it right here." As she pointed at the clipboard, the Gamemaster bent over to see what the young woman was showing him, but before she could, she tossed the clipboard directly into Marci's forehead.

"Whoopsie. You shouldn't have been standing there, dear. Watch out next time." Moving on like a hurricane, sweeping through the room as if she owned it, clapping loudly at the people assembled. She had their attention, for good or ill, and most seemed utterly confused.

"I need a dress. A beautiful dress, if I'm going to go up there and save all our collective asses. These clothes won't do at all."
Walking over to the rack of assorted clothing, she began throwing clothing off it left and right, until a breathtaking pink gown caught her eye. "This one will do nicely. Hair and makeup teams, attend now!"

Looking around, noticing the extreme lack of movement on anyone's part, she clapped her hands again. "I'm not talking to hear myself, people. Move it, move it! We don't have time for fancy, so do the best you can."

It took all of a minute and thirty seconds for Natalia to emerge from the gaggle of people, looking far better than when they had descended upon her. Somehow, they had managed to get the dress on her, which most would consider something of a minor miracle, and it fit like a glove.

The people on the tubes kept trying to get confirmation of what she was shouting at them from the people on the other ends, but all that seemed to be occurring was more confusion, which aided the plan perfectly.

"I don't know, Ed. There's a Stormy Weather down here, and it's all a bit confusing."

"Stormy weather? You are indoors – how can it be stormy?"

"No, I said there's a Stormy Weather down here kicking up quite a fuss."

"Storms can do that, Bob, but again, how did one get inside? You are talking crazy."

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice action, Natalia nodded, looking at her reflection in a nearby mirror and seemingly admiring what the beauty team had done. Long chocolate locks bounced lightly with gentle waves, and whatever cosmetics were applied only seemed to enhance Natalia's natural beauty.

Walking back over to the Gamemaster, she glanced up at Oberan – acknowledging his presence for the first time since starting her act but said nothing. In her eyes, however, he might recognize cool indifference, but there was something else there that laced the edges of it. Anger, perhaps?

Turning back to the Gamemaster, she shook her head disappointingly. "I wish you all the best down here, but I don't know if we are going to make it. I'll do my best to buy you all some time. Gregorio here can stay and assist, but I need to be going."

Arching her eyebrow gently, she refused to look at Oberan again, marching straight for the door on the other side of the room and disappearing beyond it, leaving a confused mess in her wake. One that had taken her all of three minutes to create from start to finish, by the way.

Walking through the door, Natalia wasn't sure what she would find, but she quickly kicked off the heels that had been shoved on her feet, annoying little 'click clacks' sounding on the floor as she walked. There was no sound to guide her, but she was drawn to another large door just a few doors down from the tube room. No obvious explanation, but her hand reached out, pushing it open.

A gorgeous ballroom appeared before her, clad with all manner of extravagance. Its beauty was undeniable, and attention to even the minor details. Breathtaking. Decorated tables with living, vibrant flowers, and elegant trees. Tiny crystals hung from branches, and candles flickered at differing heights on each table.

Walking through the ballroom, Natalia noticed that it was empty. Well, besides her, of course, or was it? At the back of the room, an enormous shadow rose. Immense, really, but all the young woman could make out were the large eyes. Big as wagon wheels, they were and entirely out of place in the ornate ballroom.

A voice called out to her – deep and magnetic. "Come here, little dung beetle." Her form glided forward, knowing now whom the voice belonged to, but then again, there had only been one option.

Vielkrontier.


The immense, nine-headed dragon came into view, features obscured by the relatively low lighting of the room, but it was unmistakably him. His massive form filled the space, and all eighteen eyes focused on the young woman before him. "You smell better than last we met. Report."

If she questioned his presence there, it wasn't outwardly acknowledged. "I got him free, but he knows more than he should. I expected a double-cross, so I disengaged before it happened. I left a few distractions in my wake. Getting arrested was the easy part." The dragon seemed to consider her words but said nothing about them, nostrils flaring.

"You always expect the double-cross, Nat. I taught you to, but you were doing that long before I came along." A voice sounded behind her, causing her to whirl, finding Grayson stepping out of the shadows, smirking at her. "You don't even trust me enough to tell me who your Immortal father is."

Fury laced her expression, stepping towards Grayson. "If you had been used as a chess piece your entire life, maybe you'd understand that it's a luxury I can't afford." Her cousin's ever-present smirk persisted, but then in a puff of smoke, he vanished.

The dragon's deep voice captured her attention again. "Your past deeds matter not, only your future potential. For I, Vielkrontier, am the future of Idalos. Now you shall explain why you should be spared to share Vielkrontier's future."

The words came quickly, as if she had spoken them before, or words like them. "There were four of us, and I'm the only one left."

The ballroom shimmered, and Vielkrontier's massive form vanished, although his voice lingered for a moment longer. "Think about that, little dung beetle."

Once again, she was alone.



Template Credit: Oberan
Last edited by Natalia Gregorios on Thu Dec 16, 2021 7:14 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 1982
"A girl should be two things: who and what she wants."


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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran



Natalia deftly took charge of the room, voice loud and eyes shooting flame at anyone trying to interrupt her. Within moments she had not only introduced herself, but also thrown some oil on the fires of chaos. The Gamemaster and his subordinates stood frozen, flabbergasted, unable to parse the storm of information flung at their heads. Stressed minds having a difficult time making sense of it all. The way Natalia carried herself, the authority with which she spoke, and the implications of her words all suggested she was a high-placed official tasked with quality control and evaluating the flow of operations. And yet none of them knew of any such organ within their organization.

Tube operators rushed to check in with their contacts on other departments, had their confusion met with more of the same, much to their chagrin. Whatever efforts they made to get the message across failed to deliver, the people on the other end not understanding what the tube clerks were talking about.

Oberan stood back, and said nothing. If anyone’d bother to look his way they might spot an expression of unhidden delight pulling his lips into a grin, causing his eyes to sparkle. But no-one did, all of the attention fixed squarely on Natalia as she just kept going and going.

And then, a few quick demands snapped the chaos into a more controlled form, attendants crawling around her like ants. Brushing, curling and styling her hair, rubbing in nourishing oils and crèmes for volume and shine. Others dusted her face with big brushes, applying foundation and contouring, lining her eyes and lips, enhancing her cheekbones with clever use of color. Then came mascara, lipstick and blush, and in hardly any time at all the prisoner was near unrecognizable from her previous self.

As she walked up to the Gamemaster, the attendants’ stares prickled her back. They nodded, satisfied with their work, wiped sweat from their foreheads and gathered to whisper excitedly among themselves. Oberan, for his part, bobbed his head slowly in impressed approval, even as Natalia glared in his direction. If he noticed her cold anger at all, he didn’t seem to care.

Then Natalia simply left, striding out the room claiming she’d try to buy some time. The door slammed shut before the Gamemaster had any chance to object or get his bearings. For a couple long moments he kept staring at the far door, mouth agape and brow furrowed.

“Gamemaster, the theater wants to know where the next prisoners are,” one of the tubemen called, breaking him out of his reverie. His frown deepened, eyelids blinking in quick succession.

“But that Stormy woman said we had five additional minutes?”

The clerk spoke a few quick words in his tube, listened and nodded, eyes widening. “Yes. Yes. We understand, we’ll get it done. Yes, sorry, sir. No sir, there’s no Stormy Weather here anymore. She’s moved on, yes.” He swallowed a lump, loosened his tie. One hand held against the opening of the tube, he mouthed ”It’s Jeremy” to the Gamemaster.

In moments all the blood drained from the rotund man’s face, cold sweat pearling on his brow. He waddled over and snatched the tube out of the clerk’s hands. “Hello, this is the Gamemaster? Yes. Yes, that’s right. Stormy Weather, yes. No, the forecast predicted clear skies today. No, sir, not at all.” He placed a trembling hand on the desk to stabilize himself. “There seems to be a problem with my schedule, sir, yes, five minutes delay. Can we not add in another ad break? Yes, the audience… yes, I understand. But they still have to be prepped--” Somehow his pallor grew even worse, and a hoarseness crept into his voice. “Yes. Yes. Understood, sir. Yes. No, it will not happen again. No, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Hands atremble, he pushed the tube back to the clerk, then staggered away from the desk. Oberan raised an eyebrow, the attendants shared anxious looks among themselves, all prior excitement long dead.

"That was the Gamemastermaster," the Gamemaster said. "They've never had any Stormy Weather upstairs. She didn't make it in time." He clenched his fists, pinched watery eyes shut. Lower lip quivering, he took a deep breath, words heavy and sullen. "We are officially late."

A wail escaped the collective of clerks and aestheticians, a horrible sound of utter despair. People falling to their knees, fingers digging into their scalp. Others burying their face in their hands, and others still just staring into the empty void, consciousness abscent.

The Gamemaster soothed them with a few gestures. "We're in luck though. One of the last prisoners is desperately clinging to life, refusing to die, so the audience and the Emperor are still entertained, though we don't know for how long. However, it means that if we're quick, we can still make up for this blunder."

"But how?" One of the hairdressers asked, "We haven't even started working on the prisoners!"

"We send them up as they are," said the Gamemaster.

There was an audible gasp.

"No make-up? No styling? No bath?"
"He's mad! He's lost his damn mind!"
"We can't do that! Can we?"
"What about our pride? You want us to just cast it aside and crush it underfoot?"

The Gamemaster's eyes were hard, his face determined. "If we fail to deliver our prisoners on time, the Emperor will eat us alive," he bit. "Is your pride worth your life as well as all of ours?"

No reply came, and the Gamemaster gestured to Oberan, ushering him, Mark, and Hilda to the door. "Gregorio, we're counting on you, get these two backstage, stat. Your life's on the line, too!”

* * *

In the ballroom, someone cleared their throat behind Natalia. A woman dressed in black and white stood before her when she turned around. White button-up shirt and black tie with a black waistcoat over it, black slacks, black shoes. White gloves on her hands, and a white tea towel hanging neatly from one arm. She stood very straight, posture perfect as if she’d practiced it for many, many hours. Clearly a servant of some sort.

“I’m very sorry, Miss,” she said, “but I am afraid the ballroom is not yet accessible for the vee-aye-pees. We’re still in the middle of setting everything up for the reception.” She gestured around, where –indeed—several other black and white-clad servants busied themselves placing high tables throughout the room, and several lower ones near the walls, stacking wine glasses on top. None looked as if they’d just witnessed a gigantic, nine-headed lizard speak to Natalia only moments earlier. “I would request you to please return to the vee-aye-pee seats. The reception will start once the show is over, not to worry.”

One of the other servants walked up, carrying a round tray with Natalia’s discarded pumps on it. Wordlessly he presented the shoes to her, placing them carefully on the floor. The heels made not a sound as he did. “Forgive the presumption, Miss,” the first servant spoke, “but I have taken the liberty of having your footwear collected, as it seemed you had lost them.” It didn’t bleed through in either voice, expression, or body language, but somehow Natalia would be able to tell the servant disapproved of walking around barefoot. Perhaps they’d only recently mopped the floor, and now there were footprints all over.

“Now, please follow me, Miss. I’ll escort you back to the vee-aye-pee area.”

She did exactly that, taking off with large and confident strides, choosing the most efficient path through the mass of servants. Natalia was led into a pristine hallway of smooth marble and colorful tapestries. Then through a few chambers and doors into a delicate cage –clearly not one for holding people trapped inside. Two servants stood next to a wheel to side of it, arms behind their backs, posture as straight and perfect as all others of their kind. Natalia’s escort entered the cage after her, slid the door closed, then gave a curt nod to the two other servants. They began cranking the wheel, straining at the effort, but refusing to huff and puff, and slowly the cage ascended into the ceiling.

It stopped about three floors up, where the servant held the door open for Natalia, then guided her through another lavishly decorated section of the building, stopping at a set of double doors. Their dark wood shone as if polished, and the carved decorations were inlaid with gold. Muffled chatter and elegant music seeped through, a far cry from the incessant boisterous roar she’d been hearing up until entering the Gamemaster’s dressing room.

The servant knocked softly, and the doors swung open, a duo of doormen in deep-red garb responding without delay. “There we are, Miss,” the black-and-white servant spoke, gesturing inside the room, “the vee-aye-pee area. Please enjoy the show.” Without further ado, she turned on her heels and strode away.

Through the opened portal, Nat could see an expensive interior that bordered at the excessive. Everything, from the wallpaper, to the soft and thick carpet underfoot, to the furniture and the crystal chandeliers, screamed quality and ridiculous price tags. On the leftmost side a small stage rose a foot or so above the floor, a downsized orchestra filling the air with pleasant background compositions. The wall with the door also housed an expansive bar, five servants bustling about juggling bottles and crystal glasses to craft exotic cocktails, or filling flutes with the all-time classic, and --considering the multitude of people in possession of the drink— ever popular champagne. The opposite wall was not a wall at all, but happened to be fashioned out of glass. In front of it, comfortable sofas and couches and padded armchairs crafted from the finest leather stood in a crescent line, allowing the VIPs to look down on the crowd below, while also providing an excellent view of the arena itself.

The opening of the doors had not gone unnoticed by the occupants of the room. Signaling a new arrival, conversations fell silent, all heads swiveled in Natalia’s direction, all eyes suddenly fixated on her, subjecting her to a thorough visual inspection.

There could be little doubt to the difference between herself and the actual VIPs. While her dress was certainly beautiful, her hair luscious and glossy, and her make-up perfect for accentuating her features, it failed to blend in with the style of her present company. The best way to describe it --and perhaps the only way that might just barely do justice to the sight before her-- was eccentric. They wore loud and clashing colors, garments with too much folds and flaps and frills and lace. Many layers too, as if simplicity was simply beneath them. Flaring dresses with ruffles and corsets, shawls and shoulder capes and other draped items for the women. Silk and velvet and fur. Men wore tight bodices and three layers of coats, each larger, thicker and more ornate than the last. Heeled shoes, bows around their ankles. Sleeves too wide to be practical, and even if they would have been, the extreme frill at the ends made sure they weren’t. All wore cravats so white they could serve as beacons in the night.

Neither gender shied away from cosmetics. Even more layers of make-up on their faces than they wore layers of coats, a thick mess of white powder caking skin. Contrasting lipstick, too much eyeshadow. They knew not the meaning of the word ‘restraint’. All women sported a drawn mole near the nose or mouth, and none of the men had anything close to facial hair –apart from their eyebrows, which were pencil-thin and perfectly arched, as were the ladies’.

And their hairdos! Large and bulky updos, with bows and nets and large corkscrew curls. There seemed to be no distinction between the genders in that regard, every single one of them vying to be the most bombastic, as if it were a good thing.

Yet all stared at Natalia, eyes wide for a moment, lost for words. Then the whole room exploded in conspiratorial whisper and open gossip Compliments, for the most part. Admiring Natalia’s understated style, adoring her courage to be so ‘au naturelle’ with her cosmetics. Such a simple but elegant way to do one’s hair! Where were the dozen underskirts hidden in that dress of hers? And what about all the frills? No corset either? Such confidence to go against the current trend of tiny waists and nearly choking yourself to death for unrealistic beauty standards!

Fortunately for Natalia, none seemed to notice the brand on her forearm marking her as a felon, the sheer fabric of her dress somehow managing to obscure it enough that it didn’t attract any attention. That, and the VIPs were too preoccupied studying every other aspect of her revolutionary sense of style –some were even taking notes on gilded pads—to notice the angry welts the burning iron had left on her flesh. For now, it seemed she was free to mingle without fear of her ruse being discovered.

Static crackled for a moment, a brief screech filling the ears of the people in VIP area, who shuffled towards the seats, though they didn’t stop their chatter. If Natalia followed, she’d find an unclaimed chair in front of the window. Looking into the arena, a tiny figure waved its hands excitedly, their voice amplified by a rod held near its lips.

“Ladieeeeees and gentlemeeeeeen! Now contestant Em two-four-six-four’s extended struggle has come to an end, and his broken body has been removed from our beeeeeautiful stage, it is finally time for the laaaaaast event of todayyyyy!”

While she couldn’t hear their roars and screams, the crowd beneath Natalia was going absolutely wild. The VIPs scoffed at it, chuckling self-importantly and sipping from their expensive champagne. Their offhand comments full of disdain for the masses did nothing to quell the eagerness oozing off their body language, or to smother the bloodlust in their eyes.

“Let me introduce you to our next contestaaaants! Let’s hear it foooooorrrr, drumrooooll pluh-lease!” From somewhere in a hidden corner of the theater the requested noise erupted, increasing in speed and volume. “Conviced for the despicable act ooooooooooof … littering! Here is! Em! Two-fouuuur! Siiiiiiiiix! Fiiiiive!”

A spotlight flashed on, aimed at the side of the stage, where a barely-clothed and gangly-limbed prisoner staggered through a curtain. Blinded, he shielded his eyes for a moment, then stared in wonder and confusion. The crowd pumped fists, their cacophony growing loud enough to breach the VIP area, calling for blood. M-2465, or Mark –as Natalia knew him—shied away, turning back to the curtain, attempted to return backstage. Several spears appeared from the opening though, forcing Mark to back off.

“Oh boy, it seems Em two-four-six-five does not fancy the opportunity to win his freedom,” the host’s amplified voice yelled, eliciting booing from the audience. They strode up to Mark, holding the rod into his face. “Would you discard the privilege to earn back your freedom in favor of immediate execution?”

Mark stammered something incomprehensible, which the host seemed to take as a negative. Without giving the prisoner another chance to elaborate, he already walked away. “I didn't think so! Well, there you have it, folks! The lure of freedom is simply too irresistible for these poor animals! Now! Make some noise for Em two-four-six-five’s rival, convicted for assault and battery, murder, and being too damn sexyyyyyyy! Eff five-one-nine… seveeeeeeeeen!”

Hilda was pushed onto the stage, looking no less confused than Mark, and the host pointed the both of them towards a large and colorful wheel.

“Now our lovely contestants will spin the wheel to determine the nature of their challenge! What shall it be? What will test their determination and lust for absolution?”

Again the crowd roared, stomping rhythmically until the whole building shook. Spin! The! Wheel! Spin! The! Wheel!

After a few moments of hesitation, both prisoners shooting questioning glances back and forth between themselves, Hilda gave the big wheel a whirl. It rattled as it spun, losing speed fast, until it stopped and the arrow indicated a green pie-segment.

“Oh! What an absoluuuuute treat! It is the Obstacle Course of Pain! And! Sufferiiiiiiiing!”

Horns tooted, sirens blared. The light flickered for a few moments, then winked out. A thunderous clank came from underground as it shifted into a different form. An enormous dais rose up from the middle of the theater, surrounded by flamethrowers and fireworks. Then the lights flashed back on, revealing the full extent of Hilda and Mark’s challenge.

A large beast of an obstacle course with multiple viable paths to take, more than big enough for four contestants to tackle simultaneously. However, every single part of it seemed crafted with the specific intent to cause harm and dole out agonizing pain.

For example, the first obstacle they had to overcome was a large ramp that would bring them into the actual course. Its steepness was expected, but the myriad shards of glass sticking out of it were not. Then they had to swing over a pool of caustic acid, steaming with deadly vapors. The ropes, however, were comprised of razorblades and barbed wire. Further along, handholds were studded with spikes, platforms built out of knives, and at one point a trapped floor panel would cause burning oil to be spilled over whoever was so unfortunate to trigger it.

Several guards marched up to form a half-moon around the prisoners, poking them with sticks that crackled with lightning, driving them towards the contraption. It was hard to tell from afar, but one of the guards seemed to possess features identical to Oberan’s.

“We’re all set and ready! These fiiiiiine contestance will rrrrrace across our looooovely Road of Pain and Suffering to be absolved of their crimes! The first to reach and press the button at the end wins! The other will suffer ... a horrible and agonizingly slow deaaaaaath! Now, let us wait for the Emperor to sound the starting signal!”

All stares flitted towards the lone balcony above even the VIP box. There sat a man dressed in very simple clothes; a half-buttoned white shirt with jeans. His hair was short and greying at the sides, and prominent on his face was an infuriating, mocking smile. Three buttons sat in front of him, two large –one gold and sparkly, the other blood red with and angry ‘X’ on it—and a smaller one in between, which he pressed briefly to produce a buzzing noise.

“There they gooooo!” the host screamed, both Mark and Hilda rushing up the torturous incline, slicing open hands and feet on the sharp glass, blood flowing down to pool at the bottom. Hilda winced every time, but Mark didn’t seem to care, barely reacting at all, as if he didn’t even feel the pain.

Up in the VIP lodge, the VIPs laughed and cheered in dignified manner as befitting of their station, and placed exorbitant bets on who’d succumb to their wounds first, who’d fall off the course, who’d lose what limb first, and so on.

A man next to Natalia, his hair adding at least a foot to his height, turned towards her, the first to muster up the courage to string up some conversation with their newly discovered style icon. “Are you not going to partake in the wagers, my dear? Oh, I don’t blame you, I used to find them terribly frivolous myself too. But to simply watch the show is rather dull, don’t you think? A man needs a bit of a lark every now and then. A little bet spices things up quite nicely, yes. Even if you lose, it is but a small price to pay for a little thrill, no?” He chuckled, hiding his lips behind his fingertips. “Oh, but where are my manners? Jean-Louis de la Coquille Dix-sept. Might you grace me with your name? I do love your attire, such a novel idea! Stand out and outdo everyone by dialing back the extravagance rather than aim to increase it! How drôle! Pray tell, how did you come by such a brilliant idea? Oh, and you must introduce me to your stylist, dear. I simply have to meet the genius capable of bringing such revolutionary vision to fruition! Can I offer you a drink, by the by? Champagne?” He didn’t wait for a response, instead snapped his fingers to beckon one of the servants over, deaf to any words of protest Natalia might utter.

word count: 3523
Just because I shouldn't doesn't mean I won't.


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Natalia Gregorios
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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran

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Arc 721, Vhalar 79
“When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.”
― Salvador Dalí


Natalia appeared lost in her thoughts as the servant silently approached her. The situation seemed to be taking something of a turn and not in a delightfully fun way based on the young woman's expression, though she said nothing. There had been an expectation of privacy that was spectacularly shattered, and a new problem arose from the shards. Not one she couldn't tackle, but perhaps an issue she had hoped not to encounter.

Reception? Surveying the room, Natalia noted a gaggle of other servants, one of whom brought her the delicate heels she had discarded elsewhere. A reception made sense, but it seemed that the young woman was mistaken for one of the guests - a convoluted, mixed bag of blessings and curses in her opinion, but even from that, an opportunity could rise like a phoenix.

There was nothing to gain from speaking, so she simply nodded, giving precious room for thought, logistics, and strategy. The servants seemed to accept her as nothing more than a gilded bird that had lost her way and kindly, although perhaps a fair amount of annoyance, were showing her the way back to her flock, or so they thought.

Hopping around for a moment, reattaching the damn heels to her feet that the servant had grandly returned to her, she managed to wiggle them back on without much fuss. Not the most graceful thing for another to watch her do but there it was. One might wonder who the beneath invented such a torture device, wrapped in the trappings of fashion. Sure, the pointy end of the heels could be used as a weapon, and not a bad one at that, but still, walking on stilts was never a good time.

The young woman could have refused to go with the servant, but to do so would have drawn more attention to the situation than necessary, and discretion was paramount. For the moment, all that she could do was agree and follow along behind the servant penguin, which Natalia did. Opportunities could appear at any moment, and the more information she obtained, the easier it would be to manipulate things to her liking or advantage. Wasn't that always the goal? It certainly was for her.

The hallways were unlike the ones she had traversed on the way to the Gamemaster's room – vastly different. The distinctions between them were almost obscene, but there was no trace of expression on Natalia's face that someone could use against her. In fact, to any that looked at her, all they would see was a bored young woman because that's what she wanted them to see. It was all they needed to see.

Stepping into the conveyance device, she watched as the door was closed and the cage moved upwards, haltingly, towards an unknown destination. All that was readily evident was a direction - up - and she was now with three servants. There would be no issue taking them out if that's what the situation demanded, and it did not currently.

When the lift stopped, Natalia and her escort left the cage, traversing down the hallway to another set of doors. Music could be heard from within, prompting a raised eyebrow from the guest. So, that was where they kept all the 'important' people? And she had been led straight to them without so much as lifting a finger? How amazingly convenient and accommodating these people were! Part of her sensed a trap, but then again, she always did, and if that were the case, she would deal with it appropriately.

Two sharp knocks and the doors swung open to reveal something familiar, but Natalia's expression betrayed nothing. Striding into the room as if she owned the place, the circumstances presented a different challenge than she had faced in the Gamemaster's dressing room. The primary directives were to confuse and disorient in the previous room, but a wholly unique test lay before her.

It was easy to see that the gilded flock that stared and whispered were impressed. Possibly a bit jealous. Natalia had mystery on her side, and it was working for her. No point in fixing something that wasn't broken, she thought, and in fact, amplifying it could be even a better idea. The goal was to find a way out without alerting anyone to her identity. So far, things had gone swimmingly. Even Oberan hadn't figured it out, at least to her knowledge.

She moved through the crowd of gossiping geese, averting her eyes as if they were beneath her. Well, to her, they were, but there were only two ways she would be able to escape unscathed – make them afraid of her or become one of them, and the latter wasn't really an option. The grotesqueness of the people present was nauseating at the very least.

Natalia heard the comments behind her, and she summarily ignored them. A few tried to engage her in light conversation before she reached a seat but easily ignored, furthering the mysterious presence of 'the new girl.' Who was she? Why was she there? Particular importance was assigned to her, for only someone significant would appear silently, captivating an entire room without uttering a single word. Natalia had something none of the geese could claim – power. It was quiet and cold but tangible to all.

As the air filled with static and, finally, a voice, the geese flitted off to their seats, prompting her to look about and find an empty seat in the front. Not ideal, but her options were limited, and standing in the back wouldn't look good.

Her golden eyes gazed down into the arena, drawn to the tiny figure in the center. It appeared that everything, programming-wise, had worked out by what was said. Mark and Hilda had made it as well.

Focusing then on the guards, Natalia picked out Oberan quickly, watching him as he assisted the other guards with the management of the prisoners. It might have been difficult for another, but the young woman had skills and knew how to use them. If anyone looked at her, they would note a slight brooding look on her face, as if something might be bothering her, but she didn't allow the expression to remain, banishing it for the moment. It was all about control.

The pair spun the wheel, and the challenge assigned to them sounded a bit daunting. Natalia watched as the dais rose, immediately analyzing it as was done with all things, and seemed to conclude something, although her perfectly full, dusty rose-hued lips uttered not a word.

Hilda and Mark took off, and while she was interested in watching, something else got her attention. The tiny figure mentioned the Emperor, looking up somewhere above the observation room they were presently in. Before Natalia had time to react, it seemed the man had done whatever he was supposed to do to signal the beginning of the match, but at least she had surmised his location. Accessible by the cage she had ridden up briefly? Maybe.

Next to her, a man began speaking. She glanced in his direction and observed his ridiculous hair and clothing, carefully noting what he said to her. He didn't give her a chance to answer, well, anything. He just droned on and on, although the content provided her with a few ideas. Natalia thought about what she would say if she said anything, but he kept talking. Perhaps he enjoyed the sound of his own voice? She couldn't be sure, but he certainly loved to say words. All the words. So many words.

Finally, the droning ceased, and there were some apparent options. As much as Natalia enjoyed being an utter mystery, it wouldn't last long. Mysteries were more fashionable in short-term bursts. If people didn't feel they had a chance to solve a mystery, it lost its appeal, which would not work in her favor. Striking while the iron was hot, so to speak, was a much better use of one's talents and not overstaying her welcome.

Champagne was on the way, and once he had snapped his fingers, the words stopped, allowing her to go to work, taking on a somewhat hypnotic tone as she used an accent that often managed to attract her more admirers than she cared for. "There are many ways to spice things up, my friend. A little thrill is everywhere. One needs the courage to reach for it. Once that happens, I think people can find the most unexpected surprises. Taking chances, that is."

Her name? Hmmm. Stormy was dead and buried, so she needed something lavish. A name denoting wealth, status, and that rolled off the tongue in a pleasing manner. The little details were important! "Sophia Renaldi. A pleasure, Jean-Louis, or is there something else you prefer me to call you? I apologize for presuming. My manners, I swear."

Smiling at the confirmation that her attire and presence eclipsed others in the room and silently amused because of that, Natalia took the glass of champagne offered by one of the servants. "No stylist. Just me, so I suppose you are meeting the stylist." Lightly laughing, something caught her attention nearby, and it wasn't good news.

Chatter was happening. Not usual chatter, in her opinion, and in places it shouldn't be. Turning, she noted the guards were talking into their communication devices. Turning her attention to the arena, she saw the Gamemaster from earlier at the edge of the arena, talking to another man, glancing everywhere but the obstacle course. Shit.

It had been only a matter of time before somehow, people figured out what had happened. Now the game's name was survival, and for that, only one option presented itself, which made her curse a bit more under her breath. She looked at the arena again and made her decision. Turning to the man, she gave him her most winning, charismatic smile. "If you would excuse me. Opportunity beckons, darling. It was a delight to meet you."

Grabbing a paper napkin from a nearby table and finding a writing utensil discarded on another, the young woman quickly wrote some words out on the napkin and approached the guards, smiling at them. "If one of you handsome gentleman would have this taken to the Emperor? I'm very certain he will be interested in what it says. Hurry. I'll wait right here."

Looking a bit confused, the guards glanced at each other as if asking what they should do. One leaned over and spoke into his communication device, and someone must have given an answer because he immediately took the napkin and departed.

Not two bits later, he returned with an orate note card that he handed to Natalia. Opening it, she grinned as she read the words. "Offer accepted." The guard indicated for the young woman to follow him, and she swiftly did.



Everyone was paying attention to Mark and Hilda, who were remarkably still alive, but were starting to slow and show the wear of the gauntlet. Their show was the crown jewel of the evening, so of course, it was staged so that it wouldn't end too quickly, which worked well into Natalia's grand plan for the remainder of the event.

Oberan was still with the guard group when a door in the side of the arena opened behind them, attracting the attention of those nearby. Striding out came Natalia, a mischievous look on her face. Gone was the beautiful gown and, in its place, leather. All.the.leather. Boots, leggings, vest. A vision in leather, one might say.

Glancing up at the VIP box, the once-VIP noticed almost everyone in the box glued to the window, looking down at her as if she were mad. What was their new muse doing down in the arena in…leather? To be fair, Natalia made leather look good. Real. Good. The gilded geese chattered amongst themselves excitedly because their muse had inspired them yet again. Leather was the new black! Stylish. Chic. Raising his glass of champagne, Jean-Louis de la Coquille Dix-sept – and his hair – gave a toast. "To Sophia Renaldi! May she forever reign in our souls as the Muse of Haute Couture."

Pulling on leather gloves, the young woman ignored Oberan for the moment, walking to the sides of the gauntlet, seemingly analyzing it as she had the laser grid before, expression severe and focused.

When she did approach him, she got down to business. "I don't trust you. I don't know if you are working for the Emperor, someone else, or just plain bored, looking for fun. Right now, it doesn't matter." Nodding subtly to the guards around them and the Gamemaster at the edge of the area, she continued. "I have about two bits before the important people realize that I've been the one causing all the mischief. My instincts tell me that in the middle of that gauntlet is the safest place to be, and I've hopefully arranged some insurance in that regard…."

There was a 'but' coming. It really, really sounded like it, and Natalia didn't disappoint. "But, I need a partner. I've made a - let's call it a diplomatic arrangement – with the Emperor. I pointed out that it's really not so much fun to watch sickly people run the gauntlet like this, even if some fail-safes are built-in for maximum effect and show."

Turning, she gestured towards the gauntlet. "I've studied it. Whoever made this thing didn't take into account two people working together, so there are ways to get through if one is creative and skilled enough."

Glancing back at Oberan, she laid it out for him. "So, I'm betting that you are the type of man that would find value in one singular, unique experience that is unlikely to repeat – a challenge. Consider this an offer. If you accept, there is a change of clothing behind the door for you. Something more suitable to the task at hand and better fitting, I dare say."

Her gaze found its way to the gauntlet again, smirking. "Oh, and I should probably tell you that to win the challenge, we'd both have to make it through alive. If one dies, all bets are off, but then again, I anticipate being found out long before then, so this might turn into something completely different. By then, it will be too late for them. I'll be in the gauntlet with all the weapons I need. It's just a matter now of where your interests lay, clever boy."

Arching one exquisite eyebrow, Natalia glanced in his direction and waited for the answer.


Template Credit: Oberan
Last edited by Natalia Gregorios on Thu Dec 16, 2021 7:16 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 2504
"A girl should be two things: who and what she wants."


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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran



While Natalia spent her time concocting plans and sending proposals to the Emperor, the show continued on without a hitch. The crowd chanted their support for their favored contestant, oohing and aahing with every successful obstacle cleared, cringing when Mark or Hilda suffered especially gruesome-looking wounds, and holding their breath when they attempted dangerous gambits to get ahead.

The host barely stopped talking at all, his amplified voice echoing through the whole theater.

“Ohooo! Em-two-four-six-five seems to be slowing dooooown! His reckless advance through the Road of Pain and Suffering is claiiiiiiiiiiiming it’s toll! Look at that trail of blood behind him! The ability to ignore his wounds is definitely a poooooowerful asset, but it turns out to be a double-edged sword! A human body can only take sooooooooo much punishment before ceasing to function! Is this a repeat of the classic tale about the tortoise and the haaaaare?”

Indeed, whereas Mark had taken the lead immediately after the starting signal, breezing through the gauntlet with surprising speed and agility, and without regard for any injuries he inflicted on himself, Hilda had employed more caution. Picking and choosing her route carefully, sometimes taking a little detour to avoid more debilitating wounds. It’d caused her to lag behind, but her body was far less of a bloody mess than Mark’s. Sure, from her limbs trickled a steady stream of red, however it couldn’t compare to the volume her competitor lost with every step he took. Having turned pale as a sheet, Mark gradually became more sluggish and less coordinated. Now, the distance between him and Hilda shrunk quickly.

“Ef-five-one-nine-seven is on the move! Only one hurdle stands between her and Em-two-four-six-five. It’s the horizontal ladder of blaaaaaades! Underneath is a pool of sizzling acid! To reach the other side you have to grab hold of sharp daggers, but if you hold on too tightly, you might lob off a finger or two! She’s backing away… it seems like she plans to build up momentum and skip as much of the ladder as possible. Yes, she’s breaking into a dash, be-autiful jump! Oooowwwww! There goes her left index finger! But! She doesn’t faaaaall! Such a beautiful display of willpower! She grits her teeth and clambers onward! Em-two-four-six-five’s position is really threatened right now! He’s chosen to cross the circle saw platforms, a risky gamble in his current state, but it will buy him a lot of time if it pays out! Hey, you’re not--”

Natalia appeared from a door to the side of the arena, striding past the host, who reached out to stop her, lowering the rod away from his mouth so his voice didn’t get broadcast to the audience. “—supposed to be here! Who are you? What do you think you’re doing? You’re not included in my show!”

The guard who’d brought Natalia the Emperor’s reply, and who’d later accompanied her to the backstage of the arena rushed up, whispered something in the host’s ear. His eyebrows rose a couple inches, wrinkling his forehead. “Emperor Siwell did?” he asked. The guard nodded, fishing a missive out of a pocket. The host unrolled it, read it mere moments, then nodded slow. “Well, this is highly unusual, but the Emperor’s wish is my command.”

He waved a hand then, attracting the attention of the technical staff, and gestured his hand in a series of distinctive signs.

* * *

Oberan watched the obstacle course intently, gaze focused on Mark and Hilda. He didn’t cheer either of them on, nor did he pray for their failure. Something sparkled behind his stare, drew forth a delighted smile from his lips. Not bloodlust, no, the gore repulsed him, and he flinched in sympathy whenever the others suffered a new wound, face twisting as if he’d been hurt himself. Still, he did not act, but merely watched, eyes often flitting ahead, tracing a route through the harmful obstacles, and sighed when either Mark or Hilda –or both—didn’t quite approach it the way he would have.

Even when Natalia entered his field of vision, striding up and down the sides of the Road of Pain and Suffering to study it, he didn’t react. He registered her presence, questioned internally why she wore leather now, then turned his attention back to the struggling Mark, and the dark horse Hilda.

Soon enough, Natalia did come to speak with him, the guards around them making room so she could pass through. They frowned at her words, as did Oberan. Then she lowered her voice, and simultaneously a loud buzzing noise erupted from all around. Red lights flashed around the obstacle course. Mark and Hilda stopped for a moment, looking around in confusion. A hatch opened up below their feet, and before they could react, they plummeted, screaming, into a deep, dark pit. The walls looked disturbingly slick and red in the light, beset with a myriad of white blade-like protrusions.

Oberan’s frown inverted, eyebrows raising up high. Not just in response to the sudden elimination of both Mark and Hilda, but also Natalia’s words. It took him a moment to comprehend.

“You made a deal with Siwell?” he asked, glancing up to the Emperor –who licked his lips, then wiped them with the back of a hand. “To get us on the show?”

A sigh, a grin, a shrug. “I’ve been waiting so long to be put on stage,” he said, wistful. “So, so long. And they never did choose me. Always someone else. Very well, I accept.”

On cue, the host’s voice rang through the entire theater, amplified once more. “Our sincerest apologies for the unexpected and anticlimactic end to this last event of the day.”

The crowd booed, robbed of their entertainment. Waving his hands, the host tried to calm them down. Gradually, the cacophony subsided.

“However! By courtesy of our beloved Emperor, I am thrilled to announce a new final event, never seen before! Two people have volunteered to be on the show, to take on the unique challenges we provide! Since they are healthy individuals, we have opted to tweak the rules. As per usual, failure to complete the challenge will result in death!” That evoked cheers from the audience, excited whispers exchanged back and forth. “However, this time around our two contestants will both have to complete the challenge in order to win. If either of them fails, they both die!”

He motioned, sending a series of signs towards the technical personnel. With a groan of metal gears, the stage shifted, the obstacle course sinking back into the floor, being replaced by a large and colorful wheel. Oberan frowned, lips slightly pursed. He stepped up to the host, who lowered his amplification rod.

“Is there a problem?”

“Not a problem, per se, but I was under the impression we were to tackle the Road of Pain and Suffering?”

“Ah,” the host nodded, “Yes, it seems that was the original intent, however, as your fellow volunteer has donned a protective leather outfit, it defeats the whole point of the challenge, don’t you think? If we wanted to have the two of you take on a regular old obstacle course, we’d have built one.”

“That does make sense, yes,” Oberan said. “If you take the challenge out of the challenge, it’s not really a challenge anymore. The victory would not be earned, not feel as satisfying.”

“Exactly.”

Oberan inclined his head and trudged back to where Natalia waited, satisfied with the explanation, not miffed in the slightest. Yes, he wouldn’t get to face the mighty Road of Pain and Suffering, but he did not mind. To be honest, while he did not enjoy pain –or suffering, for that matter-- in any capacity, he had been a little disappointed by the reveal of what Nat’s armor was for. Defanging the gauntlet went completely counter to his thirst for thrill. How was he supposed to get excited if the stakes had been lowered? He’d finally gotten to be on the stage as a contestant, he would do things as intended! Else it wouldn’t be any fun whatsoever.

“Let us take a better look at our neweeeeeest contestants!” the host’s voice boomed. Spotlight following his movements, he strode up to Natalia, bathing her in light as well. “The first half of our intrepid duo is none other than… Sophiaaaaaaaaaaaa Rrrrrrrrenallllllllllllllldiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”

Pyrotechnics flared in all kinds of different colors. Brass horns blared loud, the crowd cheered. Up above in the VIP box, the privileged nobility lost their collective minds. They dropped their flutes of champagne out of sheer shock, covering their brightly painted lips with folding fans or the tips of their fingers. Jean-Louis de la Coquille Dix-sept looked as if he was in the middle of attaining enlightenment. His myriad coats rustled as he led his peers into the first of many rounds of wildly enthusiastic applause.

“Now Ms. Renaldi, please tell the audience a little about yourself. What drove you to volunteer to appear on the show?” The host held his amplification rod to her lips, causing her voice to be projected into even the furthest corners of the room, her words reaching any and all present. He nodded as she spoke, laughed if she joked, and quipped when the opportunity came knocking. Once her introduction was over, he turned to Oberan. The light focusing on Natalia switched to him instead.

“Every light needs a darkness. Every sun, a moon. Every princess, a knight. And every beauty needs a beast!” If Oberan took offense, he didn’t show it. Instead he grinned wide and waved at the crowd. “Presentiiiiiiiing, definitely the less visually pleasing part of our duo! The one! The onlyyyyyyyyy--”

Abruptly the roar of his cries cut out, as the host realized there’d only been one name on the Emperor’s missive –Sophia’s. Rod away from his mouth, his voice faded, echoing a little as the crowd held its breath.

“Your name, please?”

Oberan nodded, gestured for the host to continue hyping him up. Told him he’d take his cue immediately after.

“The unexpected! The mysteriouuuuuuus!”

He whipped the rod back into Oberan’s face, two more spotlights flicked on, showering him in bright beams. Oberan grabbed his guard uniform by the chest, and somehow pulled all of it off in one quick motion, leaving only the loincloth. The clothes landed in a crumpled heap as he posed, the hateful brand on his forearm marking him as a criminal proudly on display. The host gaped, dumbstruck. The audience was deathly quiet. The VIPs’ skin turned ashen behind their layers upon layers of makeup.

“Em! Ooooooonnnnnneeeeeeee!” Oberan yelled into the hosts amplification rod. Somehow, that shook the man out of his stupor.

“Em! Oooooooooooooone…?” he echoed, the trailing of his words telling he expected to be fed more numbers. None came, and silence fell again.

“Just Em-one,” Oberan said, smiling.

Sweat beaded on the host’s forehead, color draining from his face. He glanced up at the Emperor, who simply sat, waited. No instructions came, other than to continue the show. He swallowed a lump, but to his credit he managed to grin, and his voice lost very little of its energy. “Well then, Em-one, how come you volunteered to be on the show? Usually we have to have the guards drag our contestants onto the stage, kicking and screaming.”

“Ah, well you see, I’ve waited ages to be picked as a contestant. I waited, and I waited, and I waited. A dozen prisoners came on the show before I did. Then a hundred. A thousand. Seven thousand.” He scowled. “And while I would have been willing to sit and wait some more, it seems obvious I never had any chance of getting on the show as long as you lot had anything to say about it. An opportunity came my way, and I seized it. I volunteered. And here I am.”

“I think there’s a life lesson in there for everyone,” the host said. “Don’t wait for your dreams to fulfill themselves. Take action! Take your chances, create opportunities, and grab hold of what you truly desire!”

He paced away, flourishing with his arms as he rambled on. “Now then, with both halves of our dangerous duo properly introduced, it’s time to get this game starteeeeeeed! Yes, that’s right, ladies and gentlemen! It’s time for what you’ve all been waiting for! It’s time for our contestants tooooooooooo— say it with me now! Louder! I can’t hear youuuuuuuu!”

“SPIN THE WHEEEEEEEEEL!” roared the crowd. The lights all focused on the large wheel in the middle of the stage. It was a simple thing, really. A horizontal disk divided in colorful segments, all but two with the name of a challenge written on it. On the side a mechanism with a large arrow sat attached, serving to both slow the spinning of the wheel by colliding with and being pushed aside by the pins separating the segments, and to indicate which challenge the contestants were to tackle.

“Yes, eeeeeeeeeexactly! Our lovely volunteers need to spin the Wheel of Misfortune to identify their challenge, chosen by fate itself! Now, who’s going to spin it?” Oberan exchanged a few quick glances with Natalia, then stepped up. “It is none other than Em-one himself! Go ahead Em-one, give it a powerful whirl!”

Oberan did just that, sending the wheel rattling with all strength he had. It spun so fast the colors blurred, the springs within the mechanism of the arrow click-clicking rapidly. Then it gradually began to slow, until its segments passed the arrow at a leisurely pace. Black, blue, green, red, yellow. Slower still. Blue, green. Even more slowly. Red. Yellow. Gold—

Instant victory.

It hit the pin, mechanism creaking. The wheel struggled, pushing against the springs of the arrow. Straining, trying. Momentum too low, it bounced back.

Before it could fully stop, Oberan grabbed one of the pins at the edge and pushed it along. Blue, green… red. It stopped on red this time. The text on it said:

“The Doors! Of! Paaaaaaaaiiiiiiiin!” the host roared, “Howeverrrrrrrrrr!”

From high above, higher than even the VIP box, a sharp buzzing noise erupted, and on the back wall of the stage a huge, bright red cross mark blazed to life. All eyes swiveled up to the Emperor, who smirked his trademark insulting smirk. He kept his full hand pressed down on the angry red button before him.

“Em-one has interfered with the Wheel!” the host continued, “By result, he is dis-qualifieeeeeeeed!”

The crowd jeered and booed. A hail of half-eaten snacks and near-empty drinking containers descended onto the stage.

“Oh, come on! What else was I to do? Instant victory is no fun! I didn't come here just to leave after watching a dumb wheel spin for a minute! I want to be challenged, I want to feel the rush!”

“Toooooo baaaaaaad!”

A hole opened up beneath Oberan’s feet, and before he could do much but flail his arms and let out a surprised noise, he was already several meters down. “I just wanted to be on the show!”

His sudden disqualification and subsequent disappearance gave way to a bit of confusion as to how to proceed, however. Since the both of them had to complete the challenge to win, did that mean Natalia had also just lost? A bit anticlimactic; the audience would certainly leave bad reviews.

As the hole closed back up –disturbingly organically, like some kind of sphincter, an orifice, a maw— a guard busted onto stage, delivering a rolled-up message to the host. He read it quickly, raised his amplification device to his lips. “Ladieeeeeees and gentlemeeeeeeeeeeen! Since we are down one contestant through disqualification, we have elected to alter the rules slightly. Em-one cannot compete anymore, and thus cannot complete a challenge. Therefore Sophia Renaldi is now considered a solo contestant. Even though her partner has been eliminated, he did not fail any challenges, so she is allowed to continue. Go ahead Ms. Renaldi, spin the wheeeeeeeeeel!”


* * *

The world tilted sideways, smacked him right in the head. Oberan woke with a start, sweating and confused. Believing he should be somewhere else, though likely in a similar, inverted position. Just for a moment, then his mind kicked into gear, rational thought waking up. Becoming more aware of what had occurred.

His lower body still lied in bed, but his head and shoulders were pressed into the floorboards at an awkward angle. He laughed, it'd been years since this had happened last. Slowly, carefully, he attempted to untangle himself from his blankets, and slid out of bed fully.

He stretched long, enjoying the pull on his sleepy muscles, yawned, and cast a glance through the curtained window. Still dark out, but to the east the sky transitioned from dark blue to soft pinks and orange. Birds already started their chittering songs. In the distance a rooster crowed.

And his fragmented memories of the dream already started to blur.

word count: 2911
Just because I shouldn't doesn't mean I won't.


Mortalborn Abilities | Die Roller | Capstones
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Natalia Gregorios
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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran

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Arc 721, Vhalar 79
“When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.”
― Salvador Dalí


Natalia barely paid attention to what was occurring in the arena, focusing on what she needed to do. As she made her way past the host, he reached out to stop her, prompting a swift reaction from the new leather-clad player. 'Sophia' offered a look of pure menace – a warning – to the host as she deftly smacked the hand away. The action, obviously unexpected by the man as evidenced by the look of pure shock, was accompanied by a deliciously quiet snarl, delivered slowly, and enunciated to perfection so the words would be understood. "I wouldn't do that again if I were you."

His questions were trivial, not of the moment, and summarily ignored in favor of observing the chaotic clamor present. People tried to figure out what was happening, but something would always turn the moment on its head again just when it felt like clarity was imminent. There was quite a sticky situation brewing, and she needed her wits about her, choosing to focus on the factors she might be able to control, and if she couldn't, well, that was a different condition entirely.

The guards gave her deference, stepping away from her path as she approached Oberan. They had no reason to do so, but something in the young woman's behavior radiated confidence and nobility. There was an undeniable quality in how she looked and moved, and they found themselves unable to resist reacting suitably.

Her golden eyes finally fell to Oberan, quietly telling him her plan and of the fact that she didn't trust him. The words were correct, as they were said, although omitted were a few additional fragments that would deepen the meaning. Natalia trusted him to act in his own best interest, whatever he desired at the time. Her companion was a whimsical creature of ever-shifting needs and wants, and that's the part of him she was betting on to help her conquer the obstacle course. His own best interest, she hoped, was an alignment of their current goals, but what remained to be seen was his thoughts on the matter.

Natalia couldn't quite place the expression, watching the man's face as she spoke. It was a mix of confusion and delight, but Oberan agreed to her offer in the end. "Who else would I ask?" she said quietly. The comment was left hanging in the air, but the mischievous grin offered allowed Oberan some latitude in interpretation.

The din around them continued as technicians raced to accommodate, what they thought, was the Emperor's brilliant twist, but most of it was lost on Natalia who, at that moment, was focusing on the most important thing she could – Oberan. While some would argue that her focus was better spent on the room or what was said, she would say that the most critical resource, and unknown factor, being worked with was him, and as such, deserved the most notice.

A creaking emitted from behind Natalia, prompting her to turn and watch as the Road of Pain and Suffering vanished. Oberan asked about the wrinkle, and an explanation was given. He didn't seem too put out about it, so she didn't give it another moment's thought.

Besides his initial comments to her, Oberan paid no mind to his companion, at least that she could observe. That was fine, and all the better, for it allowed her to analyze without interruption.

However, Natalia found herself being accosted by the damn host and his voice box thingy before she could get too far with that. Her earlier scowling hadn't daunted him enough where she was concerned. Either that or his intense desire for the dramatic overrode whatever menial survival instincts he had.

Casting him another warning glance, Natalia lifted her eyes to the Emperor's box. Instead of answering the inane, boring questions asked of her, she simply smiled, lowering into an elaborate, graceful curtsy.

As she rose again, the activity in the box below the Emperor's containing the privileged nobility, who currently appeared as if all manner of decorum was lost considering their muse being front and center, didn't escape her notice. A kiss was given to her pale hand as crimson lips pursed, a puff of air sending the sentiment floating in that general direction to inflame them further.

The entire glass room of nobility erupted into something of an all-out brawl, each person scrambling and fighting to be the recipient of Sophia Renaldi's favor. Arching a soft eyebrow as her eyes watched the chaos erupt, Natalia winced a bit, watching two young men slap each other, fighting for position. Perhaps not her best idea ever, but somewhat hilarious to witness.

The host laughed off Natalia's curtsy and antics as if it were all part of the show - his idea, of course - and moved on to Oberan, who had a much, much different reaction to the attention.

The introduction entertained Natalia, for the host was right. Balance ruled all. Suppose she and Oberan were going to work together, two halves creating a greater whole, more significant than both of them, although she wouldn't have gone so far as to call him a 'beast.' She had a suspicion that her presence didn't alter how he would have approached the situation, so she watched as he took center stage and got his moment.

If Oberan's abrupt, startling, and altogether ludicrous revelation of his status as a prisoner concerned Natalia, her expression and body language didn't show it. The eyebrow that seemed to have a mind of its own shot up again, preceding what could only be described as amusement crossing her features, as she watched his antics, noting the difference in the way he carried himself as opposed to her more measured behavior. There was a joy – was that the right word? – in being contrary for him, whereas something of a necessity of survival for the grifter herself. It was more who he was, and something was appealing about it.

The crowd's roar swiftly brought her attention back to the host, who was moving on to the horrendous wheel. Natalia had no intention of spinning it and was only too happy to allow her companion the 'honor,' gesturing that direction as Oberan glanced over at her, giving a small laugh. "Be my guest."

The wheel spun, and she could see where it was going to stop before it did, and with lightning-fast reflexes, Oberan had pushed it just a bit more, too quickly for her to stop him. She was sure it was an involuntary reflex he hadn't thought about before acting, but even so, his fate sealed the moment he interfered, and Natalia knew it. There was nothing she could do to stop what was going to happen.

He admirably defended his actions and had there not been other forces at work, it might have paid off. Natalia moved quickly, trying to make it to Oberan before the floor opened beneath him. Her hand grazed his on the way down, trying desperately to grab it and haul him back up, but she was a trill too late, and he plummeted out of sight.

She was still down on hands and knees, eyes focused on the spot Oberan had just fallen through, when the host's voice boomed throughout the arena once again, speaking of rules that didn't matter and things she couldn't care less about, and they were going to find out just how much she didn't care about their rules.

There was a fury in her eyes as she rose that was indescribable. What prompted it was anyone's guess, but there it was, plain to see. Her fist backhanded the host in the temple, knocking him clean unconscious as the crowd looked on, confused as to whether they should be enjoying the carnage and unexpected turn of events, protesting, or purely enjoying the dramatic scene they were being treated to. It seemed so unscripted! So organic!

One nearby guard chuckled at the young woman's move, leaning back against the arena wall to watch the rest of the action. "Now that's the way to make an entrance," he said, looking at the others nearby. The guards didn't move to stop her, simply watching and waiting for her next move. An excellent piece of theater playing out before them, wasn't it?

Her eyes lifted to the Emperor, who appeared ruthlessly delighted at the turn of events as Natalia picked up the amplification device. She spoke to him, and only him, in a voice just above a whisper. Calm, collected, controlled, or was that just how she wished others to think?

"Did you think removing him from the board would stop what's going to happen, Emperor? The only thing you've accomplished is pissing me off. One of us dies here, and I assure you, it won't be me."


In stark contrast to Oberan's angry outburst towards Hilda earlier, Natalia's own brand of rage might have been considered more savage. Outbursts only managed to taunt people, giving them precious time to react and respond, and she wasn't going to allow that to happen. He had taken something from her, and now he would pay the price.

Up in the VIP booth, the privileged masses were currently experimenting with the backhanded fist maneuver Natalia had demonstrated on the host, knocking each other out because if The Muse did it, indeed, it was all the rage! Guards were dispatched to the glass room to quell whatever madness was happening but only managed to get themselves into the middle of the brawl too.

The Emperor leaned forward in his chair, reaching over to push a gold, glittering button nearby. Nothing changed in the arena itself, but the clang of mechanical parts and moving gears filled the area. The stadium shook, an intensity that could mean only one thing – The Golden Gauntlet.

The guards began buzzing. The Golden Gauntlet was a myth, a legend whispered about through the citizenry of the entire Fortress transforming into a giant labyrinth of challenges, leading to the Emperor himself. It was never seen but often talked about, only be revealed once the Emperor found a worthy adversary that earned it, and apparently, Natalia would be the one.

A door opened on the outer rim of the arena, beckoning the young woman forward. She wasn't one to resist such an invitation, so her feet had begun taking her that way when a hand reached out to stop her. Whirling around, intent on confronting who would dare touch her, she found the host upright again, eyes curious. "Why? It's a death sentence…"

Focusing her eyes on the door, the young woman shook off his hand, refusing to look at him as she answered. "Perhaps. But Oberan would be disappointed in me if I didn't try."

Natalia gave a stern look to the closest guard, a hand extended out and demand issued. "Sword. Now." The man quickly complied with her request, realizing that perhaps putting his own life on the line to defy her wasn't something he felt compelled to do. Natalia stalked towards the open archway and disappeared.

Beyond the doors, everything looked a bit different. Richly adorned hallways still retained their shine and glitz, but dangers lurked around every corner. Pits of acid, monsters of the week, dance battles, and even….gasp….a hallway of litter that wasn't in an appropriate receptacle!

Now and then, she'd catch glimpses of whom she assumed were the privileged elites she had rubbed elbows with. It seemed that they had taken to the Golden Gauntlet too, clothes ripped and torn into passable replicas of prisoner loincloths, or their ridiculous interpretation of Natalia's outfit was. Shouts hurled at one another like "One of us dies here!" or "I just wanted to be on the show!!!!!", acting out horrific scenes in honor of Sophia Renaldi, The Muse, and Em-one, The Valiant.

Breaks passed, and Natalia continued, battling her way through challenges unimaginable, suffering injuries and exhaustion along the way, but she never wavered in her goal to get to the Emperor. Up flights of stairs that moved and changed, hallways that went other places, and doors that led back to where she started, she trudged on, sorting the way as she went.

Strained muscles, cuts, bloodied clothes. Willing herself on, all Natalia could do was think about the purpose of her mission. Once it was complete, she could rest.

Weaker and weaker she became. Challenges were more difficult to complete and pass, but finally, there was the light at the end of the tunnel. Like, literally – there was a light at the end of a long tunnel. An ornate set of doors stood there, and a shadow was standing just outside, backlit by the aforementioned, and possibly overly dramatic, convenient light.

The Emperor.

He didn't speak, other than to ask the same thing the host had. "Why?"

Natalia didn't have much energy left in her diminished state, but she managed to whisper a reply, leveling her sword in his direction. "It was my mission. Now, it's the very last thing I'll do. He just wanted to be on your stupid show."

And the world faded to black, accompanied by an indescribable chittering noise.





Gasping, Natalia's eyes flared open, finding her bed coverings wounds tightly around her body and Apollo jumping up on down on her head, trying to wake her up. Blinking, she sat straight up, collecting the dragonet from her head, trying to catch her breath, muttering softly to herself. "What the f…."

Untangling her legs from the mess of sheets and blankets as she attempted to slip out of bed, her bare feet finally touched the ground, happy for something solid beneath them after the somewhat disorienting experience. Images and voices whirled in her mind, further confusing her as she tried to hold on to the remnants of the dream as best she could.

Laying Apollo on the bed, Natalia padded over to the nearby water basin, nightshirt snugly flowing about her lithe form. Leaning over the basin, she splashed a bit of water on her face, then wiped it clean, trying to clear the cobwebs and find her center again. The dream had been unlike any other she had experienced, and the young woman was unsure why, but she wanted to find out.

Moving to the window, golden eyes glanced out. Darkness still lingered, but the sky was beginning to move from dark blue to soft pinks and orange to the east. Birds already started their chittering songs. In the distance, a rooster crowed.


Template Credit: Oberan
word count: 2497
"A girl should be two things: who and what she wants."


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Re: Fantastic Mortalborn and where to find them: The Crimes of Grindelbran

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Player Name: Oberan & Natalia Gregorios

Points awarded: 15 xp each
Magic xp: none

Knowledge: None for a non-lucid dream.


Renown: 0
Loot: nothing
Injuries/Overstepping: a pleasant dream, fading into memory.
Wealth Points: n/a
Consequences: n/a

Skill Review: All Skills used appropriately to PC's level
Notes:

The opening to this dream was atmospheric and dark. I very much felt drawn into the setting of the dungeon. Oberan's humorous reciting of the others' crimes was a nice way to cut the tension of what might be an otherwise miserable situation. He's a funny guy, that's for sure.

Natalia has a lot to say in the next post. It was interesting seeing a different side to the character in this dream. I've seen a lot of her in various threads, but this is the first time I've seen her as nonchalant about a bad situation. Perhaps going to Yaralon has had an affect on her.

Oberan's thoughts on Natalia's self-defense plea were interesting, but not too convincing. I don't think a dagger is excessive when someone has decided to attack you, and they're arguably stronger, but meh. At least that line of thought opened up into an interesting examination of the idea of registering weapons, something wholly absent in a fantasy world like Idalos. I wonder if some politician would have any success at trying to implement such a policy in one of the cities?

The sequence where the inmates are reciting all of the crimes of Oberan was an amusing one. I wonder why they'd assume it's only one thing that got him into jail though? People could very well be guilty of many crimes, as he says. But then I suppose they were wonder which of the crimes got him caught, which makes for a convenient segue for Oberan as he tells Natalia (supposedly).

I very much enjoy Natalia's newfound nonchalant attitude in this dream, and wonder if aspects of it will carry forward to her waking personality. It's an interesting side of her, for sure, and I look forward to seeing her develop along those lines. Also, Natalia seems quite taken with Oberan! It'd be interesting if they actually met outside of dreams, if they'd get along just as well. I think they would.

Her joke about needing her cuticles treated was a nice touch. Natalia is probably getting used to being on the backfoot, by now :lol:

The action sequence that followed Natalia's retrieval from her cell was exciting to read about. Your action writing is very good. And it was smart thinking putting on the woman's uniform after knocking her out. I chuckled a little when she mentioned carbs, when the clothes ended up as a loose fit.

I did wonder when Oberan gets to making the plan of escape for them, what exactly this 'theater' that they're escorting prisoners to is. So it was astute of Natalia to ask Oberan in the next sequence, as they're about to depart with their prisoner in tow.

I :lol:'d when Oberan made the 'big butt' comment when they arrived in the room with the beams (that I would suppose are alarms or traps of some sort). Which it becomes obvious as he tests the beams that they are in fact disintigration rays. Hah.

It was amusing when Oberan instructed her on trying the panel next to the door, to possibly disarm the security system. It was tense for a moment, but then the beams of white light went out, and they were in the clear it seemed.

LOL, I love these two PCs together. Natalia is really flirty with Oberan, returning with a 'butt comment' of her own. heh.

For all that they seem to have a sardonic attitude between the two of them, the characters are different enough to make the interplay extremely interesting between them. Natalia is more neutral or orderly type, while Oberan thrives on chaos and confusion. It was a very interesting dynamic building throughout the thread. I hope to see more in this vein.

The song Natalia sang as she made it through was well written, in my opinion.

The guy running the theater was an interesting character, I found it amusing that he had to check his clipboard to figure out that Oberan wasn't on the escort team he'd sent along to the prison.

The mashed up version of Natalia's name that Oberan gave was positively inspired. Gregorio Natalias LMAO. Ahh this was good. I'm glad you gave Natalia an opportunity to introduce herself as well!

Stormy Weather is an... interesting choice of fake name :P But it was still very amusing to me. I enjoyed how Natalia took charge of the siutation with assertiveness, at least it worked to get their attention.

The climax didn't disappoint either, and I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of several familiar characters, like Vielkrontier and Grayson for Natalia.

The final fight and sequence there's a lot going on, a lot to keep track of but it was enough to keep me reading through to the end.

I always love it when PCs write the part that occurrs immediately after they wake from a dream. A lot of dream threads don't touch on that, but in my opinion they add so much to the atmosphere of the overall thread.

Great job the both of you.

This has been my review.

I hope you have enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding this review, feel free to PM. Enjoy your rewards!
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