VII. Luxury deadens the senses and soon becomes common.

Author: Radetch
Published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11
In which our story returns to a different perspective, after a Time of Troubles begins.

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Unfinished Starbound AAR

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Game: Other games

VI. Contact from Earth - Twenty Thetan Days

Images: 14, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

Growing accustomed to the poison of high society had been part of his training.
Bon-Hwa occasionally glanced up, offering a polite smile or quick comment to show that he was listening - to show that he was present.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awgSwFn81Jg

It must have been amazing to him how little was needed to affirm you were alive in this phantom world. His eyes would twinkle into merry action like embers - offering gentle reassurances to nobles and visitors alike.

Maybe he had been built for this place, she mused.

Maybe she just enjoyed watching him work.

Not that there was anything specifically they were looking for - after all, as bad as things were, you were sometimes safer in the middle of a tempest then outside of it. Espionage attempts had decreased drastically after the inter-House conflict, and with it the need for Magi had decreased.

So she could enjoy this little period of respite, and instead of watching for the concealed knife of a careless word, watch him, instead.

...

Bon-Hwa continued to glance at those around him, and Magda suddenly realized why.
The notebook was made out of some pulpy ocean-plant paper.
Kelp, perhaps.

She couldn't say.

"Whatcha writing?"

Magda asked curiously, draping her hands over his shoulders - and liberating the notebook from him before he had the chance to reply (since he wouldn't, actually, explain what it was).

As it turned out, it wasn't a notebook, but a sketchbook. From the pages, a cracked-coal impression of a Glitch nobleman looking somberly for the unfinished sketch of his dance partner.

Magda lifted her eyes from the page - watching as the impression became reality, dancing in the intricate and choreographed manner the Glitch favoured.

"You know, you should really ask before taking other people's things."

Bon-Hwa reprimanded her, attempting to take back his sketchbook. Magda leaned so far to his right that she almost fell to the floor - but that was her way, of course. The sketchbook lay entwined in her velvety-draped fingers...

Just out of reach.

"But I'm not finished reading it yet! Besides, I didn't know you drew. Sketched? It's interesting. You should have told me."

Their relationship probably wasn't the best, Magda would be the first to admit. Though Bon-Hwa had readily agreed to join the voi Tinselkampf in the face of overwhelming pressure, he had no love for the House or those who had joined it willingly.

Like her.

He had protested her hanging around, protested her choice in assignments, protested her complaints about how silent he was, and protested her protests about his protests.

Magda smiled peacefully, glad for something real in this little illusion.

The smile faded as she continued to flip through the pages.

"... Is that me?"

Bon-Hwa exhaled, looked at the ceiling, and replied tersely.

"Yeah."

"Do I look that... Tired?"

"... Yeah."

His reply wasn't terse this time. She couldn't tell what he felt, only that she hadn't heard a tone like that for some time. Closing the book gently, Magda handed it back to Bon-Hwa.

The two were silent, staring intently at an empty plate of roast beakseed on the table in front of them as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

"Sooooooo."

Magda drawled, steepling her fingers in front of her face - mechanical hand propping up the brim of her hat.

"I was thinking, we're not really on assignment, so - do you want to go somewhere else, maybe?"

Bon-Hwa frowned, though she thought she might see a slight smile under it. Maybe. Possibly.

"As long as it isn't a trap, I'm game."
It was a trap, of course.
Magda loved playing pranks on people and fooling with their expectations - it was what the fairies beseeched her to do, after all, or at least that was the excuse she gave.

https://youtu.be/c5QfXjsoNe4

The reality was, it was probably an attempt to drive people off before she did so unconsciously. Perhaps.

Looking up from where he was polishing an already sparkling glass, the Glitch barman turned his optics off in the mechanical equivalent of a welcoming smile.

"Cordial: Lonely night. You two can seat yourselves - may I get you anything?"

Bon-Hwa ordered something that had a long name and was probably boringly sober and Hylotl. Magda asked for her usual.

"Would you forgive me for saying that the last thing I think you need is a drink?"

Bon-Hwa murmured, watching her carefully. Magda brushed a stringy strand of hair out of her eyes and shrugged.

"Or maybe, that's exactly what I need! See, that's why I like you, Bon-Hwa. I can always tell what to do by thinking, 'what'd Bon-Hwa do!' and then not doing that."

He frowned and waved his finger incriminatingly in the air, as if about to deliver some fire and brimstone sermon.

Then suddenly, his cheeks puffed up, his eyes clouded over, and Bon-Hwa began to laugh as if it were the funniest thing in the world. Frowning and crossing her arms over the table, Magda glowered at him.

"What did I say that was funny? That's good advice, you should take it from me! I'm trustworthy, in all things - "

"No, sorry - It's just - I realized I don't need to even pretend to care about things like this in front of you. I don't need to care about anything."

He lay back in his chair, a weight vanishing off his shoulders.

Still.

Anything..?

Magda fiddled with her gloves, wondering if she'd let her fingernails grow too long again.

Their drinks arrived - two fruity drinks, though his was decidedly fruitier (of course). There was also a 'Friendly: Complimentary glass of something harder' which the bartender provided with the Glitch equivalent of a wink.

It was part of her usual, and Magda ignored the distraction in front of her and headed straight towards it, draining the entire crystal glass in a single go.

Bon-Hwa stared at her with undisguised worry.
As the reception for the evening died down, the bar began to fill up.

"Stop drinking, already. We could - talk, about something..."

Bon-Hwa offered nervously, but then he didn't offer anything to talk about. For some reason, this only made her more angry, and as her cheeks grew increasingly ruddy, Magda felt the desire to wave at him.

She wasn't sure why, but that didn't really matter. Fishes were stupid.

"I'ma witch. My magic protects me from bad breath, bad liquor and bad company like you."

... The scars were itching again, and she couldn't pretend to be drunk when that happened. At the very least, Bon-Hwa had kept the good grace to not ask her about that. He probably assumed it was about her mechanical arm -

And that was fine with her.

"... Hey."

Rubbing under her nose, Magda shot him a quick, hopeful glance.

"Sorry. Could we go get some air?"

Bon-Hwa stood up immediately, having barely touched his drink, and offered her his arm.

... He wasn't all bad, Magda decided.
The bar balcony on Isla Legionis was very pleasant.
Even though the air was pumped in from the same recyclers onboard the floating station, it 'felt' more realistic, more clear. It was an illusion of course - none knew that better then she.

But sometimes, illusions could be pleasing, too. And of course - she was glad that the Glitch were thoughtful to the needs of organics, as wearing an environment suit the entire time would've been miserable, indeed.

"Hey."

Bon-Hwa poked her in the face. Poked her in the face?

She laughed, though she wasn't entirely pleased with how long it had taken her to notice. His fingers, webbed as they were, were surprisingly soft - but the sensation came as if from far away.

She needed to respond quicker. Questions would be troublesome.

"What? Can't I just lean against you and enjoy the sight of the habs?"

"No. You've been acting weird for the last couple of days. Correction, weirder then usual. Given you're supposed to be monitoring me, I figured turnabout is fair play."

"What? No, I'm not monitoring you! I'm not!"

Magda huffed indignantly, pushing herself off of him and trying to fight off the fairy lights at the edge of her vision. They were whispering, trying to attract her attention -

And as much as she wanted to lose herself in those red eyes, she knew it was important. Her eyes slid slowly from him to the balcony...

Magda sighed, and straightened up from her usually horrendous posture.

"I see something down below. Do you mind escorting me?"

Bon-Hwa rolled his eyes - but her words were clear. He knew what she meant.
Sprinklers turned on automatically as they entered into hydroponics.

Most of the voi Tinselkampf agriculture came from conditioned worlds, but like most station-size craft, the Isla Legionis provided enough to supply itself in the case of emergencies.

https://youtu.be/PCOtyDglf-U

Unlike the fields, everything in hydroponics was organized by automatic labour - it was somewhat inefficient, and didn't taste as good something that a serf had worked over, if she had to venture her opinion. But it worked.

... Under the bright lighting and the dim moisture of the rain, humanoid figures receded into the distance.

"Should we alert guards?"

Bon-Hwa asked, quietly. Magda licked her lips, and waited for an answer - but the lights had vanished from the edge of her vision, and her scars itched.

Very well - it was no matter.

"... Let's take care of this quietly. No need to disturb the guests."
First she noticed their uniforms -

Unlike the relatively mercenary Apex that worked for the voi Tinselkampf, these were wearing enough grey to blend in with the concrete hab units that the Apex allegedly favoured.

They were making no attempt to be stealthy, so much so that Magda, eyes darting to and fro, assumed it to be some kind of trap.

... But then it became apparent they simply didn't care. Taking measurements and data as if nothing in the world mattered. Perhaps to them, it didn't.

There were some similarities between the Apex and her dear Glitch, as much as she loathed to admit it.

Suddenly, one of the strangers noticed them and let out a howl that sent distant shocks of memory down her spine. It was a warning and challenge, his bared teeth a threat.

Without hesitation, she grabbed Bon-Hwa, who had been caught flat-footed. Wincing internally from her own carelessness, Magda made a decision even as the Apex stabbed the surprised Hylotl in the leg, and then the chest.

It was time for some magic.

She moved quickly as she could, the canister under her robes opening readily as her mechanical hand unsealed it. Whatever she threw shone prismatically as it hissed through the air. When it hit the Apex, he dropped Bon-Hwa and began screaming horrifically.

Magda licked her lips and ground her fist into the Apex to the left the moment she saw Bon-Hwa get to his feet and wrestle with the remaining combatant.

Soon, only the silence of artificial rain and the pound of weaponry rang out, and then not even that.
"Geeze, I thought you Hylotl'd be lighter then Novakids, ahaha..."

Magda's nervous laughter burbled out as she kept talking, making sure to pay attention to Bon-Hwa as she hauled him through hallways, hands over his bloody wounds.

https://youtu.be/wXVQNSlFJ6M

Tiny voices whispered that his blood felt nice, and she tried not to listen to them.

Bon-Hwa muttered something, then began to drool slightly. Yelling, Magda hefted the Hylotl over her back, her spine writhing in pain. The pneumatics in her artificial limb hissed in protest - but held study.

When she arrived in the medical lab, an on-staff Terran doctor noticed her and immediately helped Bon-Hwa to one of the hospital beds. The infirmary was much more modern then most Glitch works - but again, it wasn't designed for Glitch, specifically.

"Thought you were gonna drag me home... For a second there."

Bon-Hwa murmured, possibly delirious.

"I thought about it, of course, but my place is off-world, and you know, really huge, and I don't think serfs'd provide the best medical care - "

"Breath."

The doctor instructed wryly as he shuffled Magda out of the way.

"He's fine, just a big baby. The wound didn't go under his gills. You should count yourselves lucky - what were you two playing at? Kids these days..."

Shaking his head and developing the entirely wrong idea, the doctor set to work, and Magda felt a huge sigh of relief shake from her trembling shoulders.

Then she heard a metallic 'ting' as the doctor accidentally shook something from Bon-Hwa's shoulders.
With a careful swab, the doctor gingerly picked the fallen object up and placed it in front of them.
"What is this, a USMC brand?"

Magda shook her head, eyebrows furrowed.

"No, I don't think so..?"

"I grabbed it when - that thing happened."

Bon-Hwa interjected, coughing.

"Don't know what it is, precisely, but it seemed important."

His eyes managed to find hers, and they communicated in the silent manner of career diplomats. Of course, his hands hadn't been going for the object around the Apex's neck...

Still, how very fortunate.

"Dear doctor," Magda whispered, billowing out behind him and whispering into his ears.

"Would you be so kind as to keep this little indiscretion a secret? I'd hate to want to unnerve the Hylotl residents with my horrific desire for their exposed flesh."

The doctor sighed, as if this was a not uncommon occurrence.

"Whatever you say, miss. Just - don't let it happen again, yeah?"

But Magda had already receded, alerting one of the Voived's attendants of the need for an audience...
The new-type soldiers paraded in front of him proudly.

"Esctatic: Very good, very good!"

https://youtu.be/SbwgdajNpU0

The Voived roared, and the soldiers saluted him. A mixed-species unit drawn from the low nobility and incorporating other citizens as well as the Glitch, the colourful armour of the Ulany was completely at odds with normal utilitarian armour favoured by Glitch conscripts.

Wraxelbrande, his squire, stared up at him, optics wide.

"Curious: Is this truly necessary, my Voived?"

Placing a strong arm against the young Glitch's shoulder, Radetch gave a knowledgeable nod.

"Certain: To protect the tradition of our people, we must adopt some measure of the tactics of others. There are simply not enough members of the high nobility amongst us. Those who survive may call themselves noble in name and House. It seems - adequate."

Of course, he had his doubts.

In a way, this concession was all he had never hoped to confront. Progress was a dangerous thing - it created fear, and uncertainty. Without places, people sought the void, and the void sought them.

Still, the Voived mused, his squire was of right hew and glistened pleasingly in the midday sun off of Apsu. Though he was not chiseled in the manner of the great Glitch statuaries - maybe it was his youth that Radetch found himself valuing most.

Suddenly, the Glitch found himself exhausted, all the more so when a courtier demanded his attention with whispered voice.

Excusing himself courteously, Radetch vanished into the depths of Apsu's Governor's Hall.
Magda was shifting from toe to toe, kicking the floor as if it offended her.

That was just her nerves, of course - Radetch had always known she was the kind of Terran to only show discomfort rarely, which meant that this news was important indeed.

"Troubled: Speak, Cunning Magda."

"It's about the Apex. D'you remember that tiny altercation we had in Upsilon Beta? I'm thinking that the monkeys have long memories."

"Chiding: Aren't you Terrans also monkeys?"

Magda frowned, arms crossed.

"That isn't true! We're children of stardust! I am, possibly."

Looking to the left and to the right, she then conceded that truth quietly.

"But it doesn't matter. The point of the matter is, there was an incident on Isla Legionis. It was strange - we found a scientific tag of some sort in the Hydroponics - "

"Sly: We? I had no idea I had tasked you a partner, forgive my memory..."

Turning red, Magda stammered and stuttered in a way that pleased the Voived to no end - for the only thing he enjoyed more then rulership when it went well, was the joy of making subordinates flustered.

And perhaps - just a little - matchmaking, as well.

"Concise: Regardless, we depend on Apex science too much. Nor will I instigate harsh measures against one species because of such strangeness."

Holding up a burgundy-clad hand, Magda smiled.

"That's not what I'd recommend anyway. I think - "

But then sirens drowned out everything, and the plans of witch and lord broke asunder.
Lances of fire cut through the lower atmosphere above.
When the sirens finally roared to a stop and the planetary constabulary dispatched, trade vessels were found to be floating quietly in space - their occupants butchered, but all cargo intact.

https://youtu.be/7OQx3dMjBMQ

Blood and limbs and bits of flesh were piled haphazardly amongst crates; Glitch limbs and human limbs and Avian limbs made a ghastly pastiche of flesh and metal.

And there seemed to be no point to it, no point at all.

Attempts to catch the perpetrators failed, but rumours of Floran hunting parties in the region had convinced many of their culpability.

Radetch protested feverishly until the letters had stopped piling up - and finally gave in.
Apsu IV was a jungle planet, dense in beautiful foliage not unlike the beauty of Bog worlds.

But the drone of xenoinsects and the pounding rain only aided the alien canopy in closing in around them - making the search party headed by the Voived himself feel tiny and insignificant against this primal, allegedly uninhabited world.

Old knights, their chassis bent and left unrepaired in the scars the Glitch bore proudly, followed their lord down - though he had hoped to go alone. To talk, perhaps - if there were Floran present at all.

But they wandered the planet for hours, and not only were there no signs of Floran raiding parties - there was no sign of anyone at all. Despite the tidal lock of the planet, it seemed that eventually they would have to stop and draw rest...
When a particularly dark blot of canopy obscured their vision. Optic lights clicked into action as the Glitch foraged forwards - but already, something had change.

In the depths of the darkness, tiny peals of flame beckoned the Glitch closer - until they found, perhaps, what they had been looking for.

It was not as they expected.

Radetch stared in a mixture of horror and confusion at the sight in front of him.

Floran corpses, some still fresh, had been thrown into a great bonfire. Their limbs crackled and writhed in the flames, smelling of burnt resin and almost-organic flesh.

Some of the knights began to rummage around, looking for enemies - or survivors. But there were none, nor any sign of footprints nor landing point.

For all intents and purposes, it looked almost as if the Floran had found themselves present, piled themselves into a large grouping - and left themselves ablaze.

Radetch turned his optics off, and listened quietly to the unending hum of the fire.

... Slowly, he began to perceive something.

It struck him as peculiar, and yet familiar all at the same time.
Peculiar: It reminded him of a play he had seen performed once, long ago.

The star burnt brightly in his mind - more brightly then any flame.

It called to him with a quiet, beckoning power.

And he knew where he would find answers.

Turning his optics back on, the Voived of House Tinselkampf addressed his gathered knights.

"Stern: Noble allies, bury the corpses here. Return to your demesnes and loved ones and make merry; for the time shall come soon when merriment itself may be at risk. I feel... I..."

It was no time for doubt.

"Gentle: I believe I understand the crisis we face. Gather your hosts, and prepare for a conflict greater then our feud with the Glitch of the Council."

"Cold: For there will be no rest under these alien skies."
The wind blew gently, and soft rains hit the flowering cotton trees.

"Afraid: My lord prince, is there anything I can do..?"

The palace on Zenobia felt old and frightening to him, and yet Radetch found himself staring into the horizon, regardless. He could hear Wraxelbrande beside him - feel the squire's fingers upon his shoulders.

"Soft: Please. I do not wish to think about the future."

Time passed, and then finally, the Voived spoke again.

"Resolved: Fetch me my armour, my sword. Fetch me my things, squire. I shall deal with this matter - personally."

Next chapter:

Game: Other games

Interlude: Collection from the Russet Book of Fables & Fairy Tales

Images: 13, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

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