XI. The streets were quiet and listless.

Author: Radetch
Published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11
The last entry... But not the end.

Part of the campaign:

Unfinished Starbound AAR

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Game: Other games

X. Exhausted: Is it over..? Is the battle yet won?

Images: 12, author: Radetch, published: 2020-01-09, edited: 2020-01-11

Disengagement had long turned into acceptance, after all.

"Condemned, condemned, condemned!"

https://youtu.be/fCLPH615utU

Magda whirled through the flooded streets freely, her once finely embroidered robes stained with muck and grime. She no longer wore boots, and Bon-Hwa could see the open sores, red and raw as she skipped through thick waters.

Her hand slapped a passing door as they went, placing a parchment on it that none would read, even if there had been those around to read it. Canopus was a world that neighbored Deneb; and like it, was a bog world.

But where not so long ago, systems of aqueducts and levees had ensured that the residential areas were well-maintained, conflict and exhaustion had seen the populace flee where they were able - and were they were not able...

Bon-Hwa pulled his cloak around himself. He was not cold, nor unused to the water. But Magda would not stop laughing, and had shook off all of his attempts to shoulder her.

Her eyes held a glassy sheen, and she doubled over most every hour, now, dry-heaving and nearly falling to the ground in obvious pain - and then acting as if nothing had happened.
But they had a job to do, for there were none left to do it.

At first, the voi Tinselkampf remnants had held out admirably; as it turned out, Eudokiatrice had not been chosen solely for the Voived's proclivities, but had climbed and intrigued her way into her position through a keen sense of when to turn the blade.

She led with iron character, if not creativity - and in the absence of lord, the voi Tinselkampf turned to her.

Then the great Houses of the Glitch had turned from cautious embargo to all-out warfare in an attempt to take advantage of the weakness of the moment.

Worlds had fallen, not quickly but inevitably. As always with Glitch warfare, both serf and noble fought to the last breath.

What was unusual, perhaps, was that other species had so truly considered themselves voi Tinselkampf; and now, they were all together in the ground, Bon-Hwa thought bitterly.

He should have left himself, of course. But...
Magda had stopped, skirts hiked around her legs.

"I know where were we are."

She said, eyes slowly gaining back some of the focus that had been lost so long ago. Her body was shaking, and he couldn't tell what the emotion on her face was - only that it was doing more to bring her back to life then anything he had been able to do since the fall had began.

Her hand took his, and it was so much more weak then before - her skin discoloured, perhaps from the heavy rain, perhaps from jaundice, perhaps simply because... Bon-Hwa shut his eyes, followed her, and tried to think of something positive to say.

His teeth wouldn't stop chattering.

"So, where are we going? Some place nice? Maybe wait out the storm a bit before we get back to doing grunt-work?"

Painfully slowly, Magda tilted her head to the side - listening to whatever voices haunted her mind. Then - she gave him a wide, innocent smile that looked none the worse for her missing teeth.

"Sort of. It's up the hill, so the flooding shouldn't be as bad, at least."
Row after row of similar low-nobility housing loomed before them.

Magda had let her robes fall down into the water as she let go of his hand and ran towards one of them - he could hear the water sloshing around her legs, but was too shocked by the fact she was running to do anything save run beside her.

https://youtu.be/EwUrtZB16PY

With a fury, Magda began to throw water-logged furniture and fallen masonry out of her way, clearing a path to a comparatively undamaged set of houses - totally uninteresting and indistinguishable from any other.

Bon-Hwa fell to the ground and helped her move some of the wreckage, though even as sick as she was, Magda's mechanical hand was still stronger then either of them naturally were. She maintained it more then she maintained herself, staying up late into the night adjusting and re-calibrating it.

To watch her do so in the pale light of morning, with no obligation to say anything or to smile, had been one of the few moments he had felt true happiness. Bon-Hwa wiped muck from his brow and eased back.

Magda was leaning against the house, breathing heavily. Her receding hair, stringy and ashen, still looked as he remembered it - even now.

She managed a curtsy, water dripping from her robes, and invited him in.
"Welcome home. It's not much. Could you look in the cabinets over there?"

She asked as if the house were undamaged and fresh, and not for the first time he wished he could see the world as she did - or pretended to see it, or however it went these days.

Wordlessly, she relented and began to lean against her shoulder - he did not notice at first, for besides the brocade of once-fine black robes, she felt as nothing at all.

Much had been damaged or broken, of course. The Glitch did not steal, though they did pillage - but so far, raiding parties had not reached Canopus. Food that had grown rotten long before the fall had began was now home for insects and dust.

Bon-Hwa felt Magda fall off of him and caught her before she hit the ground. Her eyes were white and milky - cataracts having started to grow over their once-blue surface.

"There's a bedroom not far from here. Would you mind taking me there?.."

"Yeah."

He didn't know if he meant he minded - if he knew himself.

She was very light in his arms.
"I thought you had lots of serfs, and a huge place."

"I lied."

Magda smiled as she said it, as if it meant nothing at all. To her, perhaps it did.

"Damnit, Magda - "

"There must be some tea left. Could you please go look for it? I'll wait here, for you. Please."

Bon-Hwa left, constantly glancing back at the bed. Magda sprawled out against it in a haze - drifting away from the world had been easy for her, but now she was lost to it.

There wasn't any tea.

"I'm going to bring some over, all right? It's very fine, so..."

"That'll do. I'm very fine myself - I imagine it'll be the best I've ever had. Ah ha, ha..."

https://youtu.be/VlESspgxAcs
The cups clattered as Bon-Hwa set them down in front of her.

Magda stared at the empty, chipped porcelain, glazed in the old-fashioned Glitch style, and brushed hair out of her face - it came out in her hands.

"That looks lovely, thank you."

She held the cup to her cracked lips, and sipped delicately.

Then, finally, her shoulders wretched and she began to sob.

Bon-Hwa didn't know how long he held her, for she continued to tremble long after - and when she spoke, it wasn't the Magda he was used to. Her voice was low, and quiet, and serious - and begging him to listen with every word.

"I'm not a witch."

The sentence was ridiculous.

"Of course you are. The only one I've ever met."

She laughed, quietly.

"No. No... I'm an engineer. It was before contact had been made with the Glitch, and I had resigned myself to a boring life working for the Corps."

She placed the cup in front of her - trying to stare at it, or perhaps at him.

"Then, suddenly - it was as if it had all come true. Knights and wizards and chivalry - I ran, and went from court to court, offering my services. At some point, I tried to graft this arm; but that failed, mostly."

"Hadn't noticed. Seems tough as the rest of you."

"My body rejected it entirely. I've been drinking Glitch coolant for years. It wouldn't have mattered - none of this would've mattered, in the end."

Her eyes shut, and she knelt against him.

"I wasn't scared of dying, before. I am, now."

Her breathing was slow, and he could feel her whisper drifting against his ear.

"You must live. Someone must."

"Can I do anything..?"

Perhaps he was asking her, perhaps himself - she managed a reply, however. His fingers shook.

The scars were old and must have itched terribly. He rested his hands upon them as her robes fell to the floor, and waited. Her breathing began to grow normal again, slowly.

"I love you, utterly."

Bon-Hwa said, but there was no reply.

Perhaps, the fairies whispered at the edge of his vision, she had heard; and just for the moment, he pretended that he could hear them, too.
He left not long after, having buried her out in a surprisingly maintained garden.

The storm had cleared somewhat, though the paved streets were still wet. Bon-Hwa was surprised to hear the distant marching of forces, and fell back for a moment. Could it be that those from other Houses had come so quickly..?

Fortunately, the bright clothes gave them away almost instantly - it was the Ulany, the new unit the Voived had thrown together before his disappearance. They had fought admirably so far, though this particular band looked as worn and tired as any other group of soldiers he'd seen.

What's more, they stopped at every house, glancing it over. Laughter and brusque words echoed from the troop column as they approached, and Bon-Hwa hailed them, stepping out from the shadows.

"Are you leaving? Can I tag along? There's nothing left here."

"Jocular: So we can tell, Hylotl. In time we'll be leaving."

Something seemed off, but so emotionally exhausted was he that he didn't notice the looks passing between the Glitch.

"My..."

Many words canvassed through his mind, and none of them felt right.

"Traveling companion died, here. She - "

One of the Glitch laughed, and then others did as well. Bon-Hwa took a few steps backwards.

"Questioning: Is the body still warm?"

It was then that he noticed the convoy behind them, shackled and faced to the ground; men and women with empty eyes and listless expressions, Glitch and Terran and Avian alike.

Bon-Hwa felt an indescribable rage fill him, and ran forward.

It was one of the least planned decisions he had ever made in his life.
Which went as well as planned.

https://youtu.be/aHInCK0R3UM

The first metal fist took him in the gut, sending the Hylotl sprawling to the streets. The second hammerblow landed against his skull, causing Bon-Hwa's vision to spiral in all directions. He managed to pull himself up, wheezing, as the Glitch laughed merrily - content to let him wander.

Yelling, he charged again - right into a Glitch boot.

The leather caught him under his chin, hiked up and sent him back through the air, crashing into hard pavement. Then the Glitch stomped downwards, and Bon-Hwa felt his arm shift and crack.

Screaming and managing to pull his arm to his waist, Bon-Hwa somehow managed to rise again, rushing towards the Glitch, who had finally began to stop laughing. One readied a crossbow, point-blank.

The plasma cut through him like rippling fire, sending shards of metal roiling to the ground as sellsword and prisoner alike scattered in fear.

https://youtu.be/Td6cSZ8ddxA
"The butchers...!"

One of the marauding Glitch murmured, before a durasteel battleaxe as long as any organic cut through him lengthwise, heated plasma visible along the tips. Instantly, the bandits remaining turned to give the heavy soldiers their full attention - and were cut down in less then half that time.

One managed to spit up at their leader, clad in armour as black as the void of space. It was met with a crunch as heavy sabatons crunched still-writhing Glitch under their bootheel.

Sarah voya Burwell flipped open her faceplate, the facial scarring from her many burns doing little to dampen the smile on her face.

"Get folks freed up, Butchers. If you see any other marauders, bring them into line. Those who forsake their oath to House and Serfdom are already dead to us. Fear not dishonour. Protect the serfdom! Death need not be the end of hope!"

Her soldiers - and Bon-Hwa noticed many were former USMC - yelled a loud, monosyballic shout in reply before moving out. Sarah placed a heavy gauntlet against his hand and pulled him to his feet.

"Cripes, Reedwind. That was brave, but dumber then a sack of potatoes."

Her expression darkened.

"Where's that moth-eaten woman who always follows you around? Voived's eyes and ears?"

He did not reply, and she nodded.

"You going to hold?"

"Think so. Are we heading to Deneb?"

"Zenobia. You haven't heard?"

She lowered her faceplate, so that all he could see of her expression was the concealing dark-tinted glass of her visor.

"Deneb fell. Eudokiatrice has moved court to Zenobia. We make our stand there."
Hubertus voi Craixleur sank into the throneroom.

He was handsome in all the ways a Glitch monarch should be - of darkened steel that seemed to be cut from one piece of compacted metal; all lines and angles with dashing chin and burning yellow optics.

"Gleeful: How arrogant that voi Tinselkampf was, to have a room so decadent. Clearly, it was his downfall, no?"

His scribe - for Hubertus did not deign to read - nodded mild assent.

"Trusting: To be honest, this entire conflict smacks of pointlessness. I do not relish the spill of coolant against a brother-in-arms, even if he appears to love the organics more then is prudent."

The scribe gave a mild frown, to show that he felt much the same.

"Bitter: But to be conqueror of the Lodus system, and be reinstated in a marshen hell such as this for my service - it is a bit much, isn't it? One might even grow deluded in such swamps... Dream themselves higher even then Voived."

The scribe stopped, slightly agape - then quickly began to affect disinterest. Thankfully, Hubertus had not noticed.

"Honest: Well, it is of no matter. Bring more of the defeated nobles in; we shall see whom repents and who is repurpoused."

"Meek: And of the serfdom, my lord Voi?"

"Firm: Melt the entire lot of them down. I imagine it shall send a good message, as well as being a better use of their material."
"Seem to be clear, eh... Radish or whatever."

The bored outpost security gave his vessel the once over, and had barely checked it before clearing him for further travel.

https://youtu.be/wo2O_oUXvnY

"Confused: Are you quite sure that's all right? I do have papers in proper order."

And they were in proper order - the most effective forgeries gold could acquire. But Radetch had far overestimated the interest coreworlders had in travelers headed to rim systems; let alone ones populated by those outside their species.

The Apex gave him a toothy smile.

"Nah, don't worry about it, Radish. You're good in my book. I mean, honestly, do you know how boring it gets up here?"

Radetch felt a terrifying sense of inexorability slide over him.

"Firm: I really must be going - "

"I mean, I can't even get any daily feeds from Big Ape here. It's a fucking bywater, man. So you'd think 'wooo, freedom' or maybe not because you're one of those stick-throwers."

"Pleading: I will pay you to stop talking - "

"But I mean, what the fuck is freedom if you can't even watch gory, sexy television? I haven't seen the Scienz Reality Power Hour for years, except bootleg episodes that friends smuggle me. Bad quality, uploaded quickly. You know what I'm saying?"

"Desperate: Yes, yes, I know exactly how you feel...! Please..!"

But then, the Apex lay back in his seat, eyes widening.

"H-holy... Wait a sec. I know you."

Radetch had already began to boot his craft and make the jump.

"All vessels, this is A-X #132,913. We have a priority one issue. Resolve."

https://youtu.be/juigMRtyzys
Apex fighters caught up to him swiftly - their pristine white coats mirroring the dirt of his craft.

"Surrender, voi Tinselkampf. There will be no pain."

The soothing voice coming in from the comm sounded - strange. Neither Apex nor quite like any other being he had heard before. It spoke with slow, heavy emphasis, as if tasting each word while talking.

"Regretful: I have no intention on surrender. Allow me to pass; this quarrel does not involve the Apex! We had a treaty!"

Again, his comms were greeted by the pleasant - yet unfamiliar - voice, wispy as a soft breeze. The outer ring of Apex Planet Designation #4,321,080 grew distant around them, heavy with passing meteors, too slow moving to provide any real danger.

"Unfortunately, there are higher powers in the world then the rule of law. All craft, open fire."

Then the voice faded, and the shuttle was torn apart by precision Apex beam weaponry.

Radetch rested his faceplate in his palms, and tried to think - but nothing came to mind. It was strange - the sense of peace he felt was against all his morals and purpose.

So he could not give into it. Not now. If he must die, it would be defying fate, not because of it.

Of course, there were no weapons on the craft, so - ramming it was, then.

The Voived of House Tinselkampf prepared himself.
Red-hot plasmafire tore through the sky.

Several small vessels detached from under the cover of meteors, smeared with the splotchy, assymetric paint so favoured by rebels, brigands, and pirates. Radetch prepared to flee once more, only for the comms to crackle into life.

"You're a prince or something, right? Just realized we should've ransomed you when we had the chance."

Placine chuckled to herself, then barked an order. Several of the clearly-stolen vessels formed a pincer, catching the fleeing Apex craft before they had a chance to retreat. Radetch could hear the hum of boarding pods and the screaming of Apex grunt technicians unprepared for physical combat.

"Peculiar: You probably shouldn't have come after me. The voi Tinselkampf hunt pirates in our space, after all."

"Nah, probably not." Placine did not hesitate as she spoke.

"But I did. We're not turning back now. The whole damn crew is here, so consider our services under contract. You can show me your largesse later."

He could make Krila out from the blur of the bridge - could see quite clearly how crammed the rooms were as pirates returned, carrying salvaged Apex technology from burning hulks.

"Yielding: What a fearsome woman you are, Placine. I suppose I have no choice. We ride to Deneb."

His voice grew firm, some strange confidence finding it's hold in the Voived. Switching comms' wide, his next words echoed throughout the motley fleet of pirate vessels.

"Undaunting: To all who ride with me, I shall reward you as I reward any other; serve me as sword and shield, attack not the peasantry nor those who fly the white banner, and you shall be given letters of marque and be forever known as heroes amongst the voi Tinselkampf!"

Pirates, it turned out, were motivated quickly by treasure - and blood, and the roars of applause and hooting rang even as he switch comms back to private.
"Hope you aren't bundling me in as 'any other.'"
Placine remarked sardonically, once comms had went quiet.

"Gentle: Obviously, not. There was no need to do this."

"No. There wasn't - but people don't always do things based on need. I can be pretty forceful when I want to be. Hope you don't mind."

"Thankful: Not in the slightest. But are you sure - "

He thought of Krila - of the many old-timers he had seen.

"Piracy is brutal work. My people will follow me to hell and back. If I didn't feel that your people must feel the same, we wouldn't be here. Now - who're we cutting down?"

"Firm: The Glitch Houses must be made to see reason, at least an armistice. After that - "

His eyes met hers, and then the stars.

"Firm: We shall go to hell and back."

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