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Freedom City Guidebook

Freedom City PBP: A How-To Guide



Everything posted by Gizmo

  1. Set's expression froze in a polite if strained smile at Copycat's explosion of enthusiasm, eyes darting across the masked woman's face as though trying to determine if this was some surreptitious cry for help. Perhaps that distraction explained why the godling wasn't fully able to keep the grimace from their own face at Rainshadow's interruption, hands pulled back with wrists tilted up and fingers curled. As the large fellow floated away they shook their head, briefly raising their eyebrows expressively. "What a thoroughly unpleasant individual. Who walks up to strangers at a party and announces his outfit was 'off-the-rack'? Ra's shapely buttock." They reached back to shake out their five foot long dreadlocks, golden ornaments clicking softly. "Now! Absolutely we're going to take a selfie because obviously. But mayhaps tis not the ideal setting to make an affectation of fawning devotion, oh feline fangirl. Too many of the guests have seen too much of the real thing, aye?" Set positioned themselves between Ashley and Jean to pose for the photo, leaning in and speaking around a perfect, practiced grin. "Be shenanigans afoot? You can tell me, I've been know to pull a fast-one or two myself."
  2. "You aren't wrong but mayhaps you shall find something new to experience on the other side of the window pane, oh serval skeptic," an amused voice opined from over Copycat and Predator's shoulders. The speaker was only a little taller than Ashley but all slim, runway model proportions to her more solid, athletic frame. Thick, brick red dreadlocks reached all the way down to their ankles, combining with a wild, feathery mane of light red to frame angular features topped with a filigree-thin golden tiara that curved upward into a pair of points a bit reminiscent of Jean's ears. A knowing smile of too-white teeth was bracketed by silver lips but attention was inexorably draw to eye shadow that seemed to shift and roil in the light, cut through by two pencil-thin lines of blood red and leading to piercing storm grey eyes. Delicate chains leading from rings on their fingers to golden armlets and finally disappearing into that mane tinkled quietly as they bowed with a flourish, dipping one long, bare leg out at the same time. A trail of sand skated across the floor to follow their foot as it arced, solidifying into a crystalline stiletto heel the moment the movement ended. "Apologies for interrupting; gauche, I know!" As they straightened it was easier to see the sleeveless leather romper that made up the core of their outfit, cut through with diamond-shaped openings like a more robust fishnet that revealed the darker flesh beneath. This close both women could see that the fine, sparkling body glitter catching the light from their new acquaintance's skin was in fact tiny scales in a mix of ruby red, gleaming gold and light-devouring black. "But tis so heartening to see such a cute couple celebrating their, well, bestial inclinations on a grand stage!" Their new friend made a little gesture with one hand, fanning out fingers tipped with talons with an ombre from black to red and running them through their mane. "Tis the place, certainly. These be the people of Chiron and Asterion, aye? The point being I love everything about your whole vibe, truly." It likely wouldn't have been lost on either of them that the redheaded individual hadn't bothered to introduce themselves, nor had they heard the operatic singer at the entrance announce them.
  3. Kimber laughed cheerfully at Legatus' question, rotating backward from her floating position. Avro added several brassy meows of his own, not necessarily following the conversation but wanting to be included. "Oh, bud, you're so sweet to be worried! Truly truly, that's so thoughtful." The phantom righted herself fully while the star field portions of her dress seemed to twinkle a little brighter. For a moment the curving silhouette of her torso behind those semiopaque layers looked like the outline of a skeleton instead but maybe that was just a trick of the diffused light. "Like I said, I know when to cheat. Anybody who wants to tell me where I can or can't go is going to have a tough night, but thank you."
  4. "Thank you!" Kimber returned the compliment with a broad wink and an extended index finger pressed into her cheek. "I'm not too worried about Hades, honestly. Rules of hospitality are a whole thing for Olympians, they're sort of like fae that way. Don't outstay your welcome, don't take what isn't offered and you're probably fine. Like, eighty-twenty. Well, seventy-thirty at least." She shrugged expressively and tapped her scythe pendant. "That's the fun thing about being mortal or mortal-ish! Way easier for us to break rules when we feel like it!" The poltergeist waved a hand to Legatus. "You're a teenager, eh? Think of it like a house party, you don't just invite your friends when your parents are out of town, you invite everybody and then you're the kid who throws the radical parties for the rest of the school year!" Kimber pointed her thumbs horizontally outward and shimmied in the air with a light laugh. "Hades has had a pretty embarrassing, like, century or two. If I had to guess I'd bet this whole thing was his wife's idea, just to give everybody something else to talk about, y'know? Olympians and fae, also a lot like high schoolers, come to think of it!"
  5. Sekhmet gave Thaelia a respectful nod of acknowledgement, nudging Teagan behind the dragon's cloak, then returned Osla's smile, as warm and nonthreatening as her pronounced canines allowed. "Aye, Jónsdóttir. The mantle of the Arrowhawk has suited thee well, I see, and thee the mantle," she observed with an appreciative tilt of her head, golden eyes of a connoisseur tracing the archer's litany of scars. "Thy father be well?" Well over their heads Argus snorted audibly and she looked up just long enough to give him a withering albeit not entirely unamused glare. "Set will be about, for better or ill, I expect. Thy uncle's extremely public..." she turned her attention to the Atlantean princess and gestured broadly at the festivities, "...going-ons was taken as a challenge. My intent was to ignore them as best able."
  6. "The princess be of Olympian stock." Sekhmet leaned in to answer Teagan in a polite murmur. "Expect her to take thee up on the offer." The warrior goddess made no move to step away, allowing her hip to bump lightly into the corseted dragon as the younger guests arrived, absently slipping a hand under the cloak to rest on the small of her back. She sniffed the air lightly as Eira spoke and her eyes narrowed slightly but she left any questions unspoken, instead nodding deeply at the young woman's appropriate show of deference. She didn't bother to produce her own invitation for the giant. "Guardian Argus." "Lady Eye," the towering maître d' greeted in a gravelly rumble, bobbing in acknowledgement. "A pleasure after so many eons. Your sister is well?" Skehmet snorted and gave Teagan a sidelong glance as though Argus had just proven an earlier point. "As ever. I shall impart to Hathor that thee asked after her health." He adjusted his proportionally massive bowtie with surprising dexterity and allowed one corner of his mouth to twitch upward for a brief moment. "Obliged. And Dragon Delphyne, welcome," Argus continued, returning Teagan's invitation. The many-eyed giant paused as he looked between the two women before asking with a note of resignation, "What chance that I am not called to break up a brawl afore the festivities' end?" He spotted Thaelia approaching from the water's edge and squeezed two of his eyes shut with a sigh like an earthquake.
  7. Avro's feline front paws appeared on the edge of Kimber's handbag as he leveraged himself upward to get a better look at Grimalkin as she introduced herself, making a brassy trumpet sound of curiosity and leaning forward to sniff the air. Fortunately the poltergeist had a very casual relationship with gravity and momentum so the manticore kitten's shifting weight did nothing to upset her gently floating repose. "Hi! That's me but you can just call me Kimber; I'm experimenting with like a 'just going by my regular name' phase." She gave Lynn a little wave with translucent blue fingers. The North Ontario in her own chipper tone was no less subtle than the changeling's own accent. "Nice to meet you! I love your dress, your boobs look amazing." Kimber paused for a moment with a small frown, glanced to Aquaria then seemed to realize she wasn't going to get the second opinion she wanted from that direction. "Jams, is that weird to say? I may be spending too much time in the castle."
  8. Ghost Girl “Ooh, I should have checked what the weather was going to be like in Greece,” Kimber Storm exclaimed with a snap of her translucent blue fingers. The poltergeist floated a few handspans above the boat’s railing, affecting a seated position with her legs crossed. Her sleeveless dress wrapped tight around her chest and torso, glittering royal blue sequins on one side and inky black shot through with a subtly shifting star pattern on the other. Great ruffled balls in layered blue and black topped each shoulder with a third, smaller ruffle at her left hip, below which the dress’ layered skirts billowed outward. By the time the skirt reached her knees it had transformed into dark clouds; at her ankles it had faded away to wisps of mist that trailed about her kitten heels. The retro, youthful aesthetic of the dress was shifted by the slight transparency of the black sections, the form beneath outlined faintly in starlight. She’d put her hair up in an elaborate style with a miniature top hat fascinator that matched her dress. The lenses of the little pince-nez balanced at the tip of her nose looked like a pair of obols over her eyes. He scythe shaped necklace hung on a longer chain than normal, dropping into the valley of her cleavage. A scorpion-like tail lashed back and forth excitedly from the top of her handbag as Avro’s little, simian face peeked over the edge, intrigued by all the goings-on but not sure about all the water involved. He’d been well behaved so far, albeit a little nosey about curious sniffing their satyr liaison before getting on board. Neither Jessie nor Tarva had been overly eager to attend such a busy event even before the considering the hosts and likely ulterior motives but if an underworld god was throwing a party Kimber felt a responsibility to show undead face. Besides she hadn’t been about to let Aquaria go on her own. “You look— well, you smell great. You let me know if any mermaids are trying to start anything, eh?”
  9. Sekhmet As Teagan’s great wings crashed against the air to hold her in place for a moment a smaller shape of golden brown fur and liquid muscle dropped from between her shoulder blades. The lioness landed easily on all fours despite the height and began to stand up onto her hind legs with languid grace, cast in shifting silhouette by the fires of the dragon’s own transformation. Open-toed heels in gleaming gold would have been lost amidst cascades of crimson fabric if not for their prodigious height, emphasizing sculpted calves and adding to the warrior goddess’ already imposing stature. The blood red legs of her pants were slit much like Teagan’s dress so that flowed like gushing arteries as she moved, belted with a broad strip of black silk held together by a palm-sized wadjet eye cast in gold. Her jacket was the same sanguine colour, fitted tight to her rib cage then flaring out slightly at the waist, displaying a dark expanse of defined abdominals and generous cleavage that caught the light with a faint glistening. The lapels were broad, inlaid with a sunburst pattern that framed the stretch of bare skin and wrapped around the back of her neck. A thin, almost transparent chain held the jacket closed just under her bust, dangling perfect red gemstones in the shape of droplets of blood. One golden eye glowed with internal light, enhanced by the dramatic layers of colour worked into her eyeliner and shadow, an ombré of black to gold, while the other eye was hidden behind asymmetrical black bangs highlighted with a strip of tawny colour. Her lip colour was liquid gold as well, apart from a dab of blood red in the middle of her lower lip, surrounding a flash of perfectly white, arrestingly sharp teeth. Each ear was pierced with a spiral of dark, ridged bone, wider in back with the points facing forward. As Sekhmet straighten she adjusted the cuffs of her jacket idly before clenching her fists and summoning yellow, solar fire around her fingers. These she traced through her own hair, creating a crown of flame reminiscent of their hosts’ laurel wreaths but turning upward near her temples. Between those points a slowly rotating sun disk hung suspended in front of her forehead, born of the uncompromising fires of creation to match the unyielding destruction exemplified by her pridemate’s conflagration. She doused the flames about her hands with a casual flick of her wrists and eyed the lectern ahead of them with a narrowed gaze.
  10. Tiamat and Sekhmet - Extremely Frilly, Wildly Impractical The moment Sekhmet, Mistress of Dread and Lady of Slaughter, had known she was in trouble was when the tailor with whom Teagan had arranged an appointment asked what she would normally wear to a formal event and responded to ‘the blood of her enemies’ with only a polite laugh and expectant look. It would have been overstating to say she felt fear. A timeless and eternal being born of the very concept of battle with the fires of the sun itself roiling in her veins, she was fundamentally incapable of feeling something as petty as fear. Looking between the full-length mirrors and mannequins draped in gowns that filled the private ground floor studio however she was forced to concede that a sort of anxious discomfort may not have been out of the question. Batting irritably at the asymmetrical bangs that fell over one of her luminous golden eyes she turned to the muscular redheaded woman to her right. “I could attend in lioness form. Attire cannot be at fault if there be no attire. Tis tactically sound.” Teagan, the great and fearsome Wyrm, was taking visible pleasure in Sekhmet’s discomfort. “You could,” she agreed, “if you wanted to be mistaken as someone’s exotic pet or familiar. That might get you enemies enough to slake even your need for their blood, but it isn’t really that kind of party. Which is a shame,” she added, eyeing a garment more for its cloth than its cut. “They should throw those parties. This one’s probably all finery and no brawling. Have you really never crashed a fancy party? No showing up feeling powerful, wilting the proud and unworthy mortal fools?” Sekhmet narrowed her eyes to distinctly feline slivers. “For the majority of mortal reckoning the appearance of a lioness at a bacchanal inspired far more than ‘wilting’.” She folded her arms under the bust of her shendyt, became immediately too aware of the practical but simplistic garment and dropped her hands to her hips instead. “In that age I appeared as a beast large enough to blot out the sun, imparting the terrible knowledge that Ra had turned his blessed sight from their irredeemable sins. Such parties were utterly, awesomely ‘crashed’.” The warrior goddess clenched a fist before her for emphasis. “These fools don’t care about Ra, and are almost certain to be looking to sin,” said Teagan, grinning a grin that said she might be the latter herself. “Not that you should dress for them, anyway. They shouldn’t wilt because you dressed to wilt them, they should wilt because that’s what happens to mortals who gaze upon true glory.” At some point, her eyes had become slitted, some old memory or another stirring in her lizard brain. “As they should, in truth. Dress to feel powerful and beautiful and glorious - I will. If they do not already know who you are, they will be reminded, and all the better.” Grumbling under her breath Sekhmet shot a glance at the tailor, who was studiously busying themselves with organising a drawer of shears and tape measures, maintaining the conceit that they couldn’t overhear the imposing women’s conversation. With a huff she squared her shoulders and turned her singular focus on the array of dyed fabrics on display. “‘Dragon stuff,’ then. Very well!” She punched her clenched fist into the opposite palm. “Pride demands nothing short of excellence, truly naught to do with thy appeals to sin and beauty and so forth, thy understand.” Before that characteristically subtle bit of flirting could be reciprocated, the frantic jingling of bells interrupted as the studio’s front door was thrown open with enough force to collide loudly with the wall. A gorgeous dark skinned woman with a shaved head and bright golden eyeshadow and lipstick strode inside, arms laden with a half dozen massive boutique shopping bags. She wore a flattering turquoise sheath dress that ended perhaps two handwidths from her cinched waist and dramatic floating heels with broad, hoof-like toes. “Cherished sister!” she cried, throwing both arms over her head despite the apparent weight of the bags she carried. “Despair no more! I departed the moment I heard thee were being forced to attempt glamour.” Sekhmet regarded the newcomer with a raised eyebrow and mouth slightly ajar. As the announcement continued her other eyebrow raised in a mixture of realisation and disbelief. The bald woman paused for a beat then lowered her arms to drop the bags to the studio floor with a bright laugh of inspiration. “Ah! My sense of charity overcame my impeccable decorum!” She flourished with both hands and her eyes blazed with a familiar golden light. Above her head a pair of spectral horns formed from the same light, creating a great curving crown that ended in two upturned points above her forehead. Between those points a disk of stellar flame gracefully rotated, suspended in the air. “Ta daaaaah!” Teagan crossed her arms, tilting her head back an inch to regard the new god. Behind her, the tailor - no new hand at their business - decided it was time for a lunch break and quietly disappeared somewhere into the back of the building. “Sister, huh,” said the dragon; her nostrils flared slightly as she got the smell of it. “Do you think the Master Mage gets an itch when one of you steps over the Pact? I bet it itches. Do tell about your charity.” Clapping her hands the latecomer turned to Sekhmet with wide-eyed delight. “Is this the…?” She mouthed the word ‘dragon’ as though Teagan weren’t standing directly in front of her. “Glory to Ra, thee be darling! Fret not, some deities know to grace the mortal plane without making a whole fleshy incident of things,” she assured the glowering redhead with a pursed smile. “Tis one of my high priestesses, Nailah. Observe!” The glowing horns and sun disk faded and her golden eyes took on a deep brown, nearly black colour. The woman’s demeanour changed completely in an instant, mouth set in a serious line and gaze cool and composed. “She Before Whom Evil Trembles,” she greeted Sekhmet with a deep - and impressive, considering her footwear - bow from the waist. “I am honoured to be of service to both my goddess and yourself.” As she straightened the golden accoutrement flared back into view. “Truly, how perfect, aye? Nailah finds time to be a priestess and a professional model and an accolade winning designer! Love her to bits.” Sekhmet rubbed her temples and unclenched her jaw with tremendous effort. “Teagan Delphyne, I present my treasured sister, Lady of Contentment: Hathor.” “...if my sister showed up unannounced,” Teagan slowly mused, “I’d probably try to kill her. Is this a god thing, where you have to be nice?” She was looking at Sekhmet, genuinely curious, though she didn’t let Hathor out of her line of sight entirely. “Do you want her thrown out, with plausible deniability? I didn’t hear ‘world-class fighter’ on that list, and priests and gods the worlds over have always found it pretty convenient to blame the dragon anyway. You could return the favor later.” “Oh!” Hathor placed the fingertips of one hand delicately to her chest in surprise. “Thy usually go for the soft-spoken, intellectual sort, beloved sister. She seems rather… toppy. Mayhaps tis a better fit, given past attempts! I like her!” She gave Teagan a much shallower bow than her high priestess had affected. “Dragon Delphyne, thee have my assurance I came seeking no unseemly brawl.” When she met the other woman’s eyes again however, there was a certain predatory hardness to them that made the family resemblance clear for the first time. “Should any injury be done to my Naliah, however, I should be bound to demand severe recompencence.” Sekhmet let out a long groan and stepped partway between them. “None shall be slaying anyone’s sibling,” she insisted, looking skyward for patience. “Why did thee come, hallowed sister?” That earned her a huff and a pout as Hathor stomped one foot lightly. “As I said, to help! We cannot have thee arriving to the Olympians’ event wearing just…” She gestured vaguely to Sekhmet from head to toe. Cheering immediately she made an excited little hop. “I bear gifts!” Holding up one index finger to forestall any further arguments she bent down to retrieve something out of one of her shopping bags. “Here!” Her twin tilted her head slowly to one side, regarding the strips of pearly white material being held toward her, too pliable to be leather but stiffer than cloth. “Belts? Or bracelets?” “Eh? Nay, tis the whole outfit,” the horned woman clarified after a nonplussed blink. She held it in front of herself to illustrate, looking to Teagan for support. “Forgive the wordplay but we do not mean to pussyfoot around, surely!” Teagan had rolled her eyes at deific threats, and had just started to turn away unneeded after Sekhmet stepped in, but the almost-an-outfit Hathor was holding up caught enough of her attention to turn her head back around. “<Maybe the pun loses something in translation,>” she said in pitch-perfect Old Egyptian - almost an apology. And then, in English, “You should keep that one. Maybe not for the gala, but I bet you’d feel powerful in it.” She was grinning and her teeth were too sharp to be human, arms unfolded and hands tucked into her jacket pockets. “I don’t know if it screams ‘fearsome warrior god cat’, though. I was once lectured for an hour on how the outfit should suit the wearer and the occasion both, and it’s been pretty good advice so far.” Hathor returned the strappy garment to its bag and slid it toward Teagan while Sekhmet gave the dragon a reproachful, betrayed look. “Mayhap thee the best hold onto that until an opportune time then, friend dragon.” Out of the corner of her mouth but still easily heard by everyone in the studio the fertility goddess added, “Tis a matching collar and leash within as well.” “Hathor.” She puffed out one cheek and scrunched up her nose, placing her hands on her hips in a familiar pose. “Thee be my dearest sister, I cannot rest easy without the assurance thee be having good sex!” In the same perfunctory sotto voce she added to Teagan, “Twas a dry spell.” Sekhmet clenched both hands and mimed strangling the air in front of her. “Hathor!” “In so much as the Sahara be a ‘dry patch’.” “Hathor, I swear to glorious, vengeful Ra–” The visiting twin raised both hands above her head again with a put upon sigh. “So very sensitive! Very well. Thy have a better idea for ‘suitable’ garb?” The goddess of battle looked about the studio space for a distraction from imminent deicide. One sandaled foot tapped faster and faster with impatience until in desperation she stalked over to a mannequin near the street-facing window wearing a high necked, lacey wedding dress with puffy sleeves and a ball gown skirt of genuinely impressive volume. “There, extremely frilly, wildly impractical. ‘Fashion’, or what have you,” she grumbled gesturing to it with a grimace. Teagan’s grin nearly split her face, shiny pointed dragon teeth filling a jaw too small to hold them as she threw back her head and laughed; not a malicious sound, but a deep noise that couldn’t be held back by even a dragon’s bite. It took her a moment to get that back under control, and another to make her teeth less menacing. “‘Tis a wedding dress,” she said, still amused. Her accent had slipped entirely, falling back into something old and vaguely Celtic. “A grand and impractical thing, an impression to be sure, but you’d want something to raise eyebrows and not questions. And you might need a bride or groom to match you in the set.” A couple of rumbling chuckles followed, but even a dragon had the decorum to clear her throat and stop antagonising a god. “No.” A more modern accent again, familiar deep tones of American with hints of Britain. “I’m no great fashion designer, I haven’t the patience. But I’ve had my ears talked off by princesses and courtiers and courtesans, and even I think you worry too much about the…frills.” She gestured at the dress, and others like it, snorting. “Pick a theme. A goal. If you wish to dress yourself in blood, seek a dress that clings and flows like blood might. If you wish to be a goddess of war, look to the uniforms of the military. To be a lioness, seek a lion’s pelt and colors. Then make it your own - add, remove, change, dress it in Egyptian gold to shine against the skin. Get the advice of those who do know fashion, once you know where to start.” She grabbed the edge of the dress she’d looked at earlier, pulling it out to gesture at the fabric, dark red and heavy. “There was a dress where I am from - near to your medieval, I suppose - with cloth much like this. I was thinking to begin there, a long and corseted dress in my colors, but split and slitted to show off a warrior’s legs and arms. The original was fine clothing, but with changes and fine jewelry, I could be no princess born but a fearsome and savage dragon queen. You see? Not practical, but powerful.” While Sekhemt’s grimace stretched into a look of weary resignation at the laughter, Hathor’s golden lips formed an appreciative ‘oh’ as Teagan described her thoughts on an outfit. After a long deep breath the lioness deity rolled her neck as if preparing to lunge and pulled her own lips back from pronounced canines. “Blood red,” she said without preamble, with the force of a general giving an order. “Tight at my waist, broad belt or sash, loose in the legs. Slit in front to the knees so the fabric falls like life from the neck of an antelope.” She walked purposefully to the counter toward the back of the studio and grabbed the pencil and pad of paper the tailor had abandoned to start recording her instructions. “Matching jacket. Wide… folded part. Lapels. Wide lapels with a golden sunburst design, around my neck then down to here.” The almost violent scratching of the pencil into the top several sheets of paper paused so that she could indicate her lower abdominals. She paused to give Teagan a significant look. “Bare beneath. To display a warrior’s physique.” The look she gave Hathor carried an almost imperceptible hesitation. “Mayhap the goddess of cosmetics would lend assistance in that arena.” Her sister looked genuinely surprised for the first time since barging into the studio but quickly covered with a light clearing of her throat. “Mayhap that could be arranged, aye. Also…” Hathor retrieved another of her bags and sifted through its contents. “Naliah predicted you would like this. She shall be impossible tonight, alas!” She stood back up with a delicate, almost transparent chain stretched between her hands. Bright red gems hung from the piece at irregular lengths and intervals, forming a beautiful if macabre illusion of falling droplets of blood. “Twas intended as a necklace but instead a clasp for thy jacket, I think. Poor manners to ravage some poor mortal’s sanity by display more of thy ‘warrior’s physique’ than intended, esteemed sister.” Hathor crossed the studio to present the jewellery to Skehmet, who gingerly accepted it in silence, holding it in her upturned palm as though it were much heavier than it were. Teagan made an appreciative rumbling noise, stepping closer to eye the gems and chain. “It’s a fine gift,” she said, red eyes reflecting red jewels, “and a prescient one. It would make a fine clasp, and draw the eye nicely without…exposure.” She seemed amused by the idea. “Your priestess has good taste in accessories, and must know skilled artisans.” Phantom horns and glowing eyes fading, Naliah nodded to Teagan with a faint smile. “I’m gratified to hear you say so.” With Sekhmet’s hands occupied she retrieved the pad of paper on which the goddess had been writing. “I’ll have this taken care of,” she stated in a light tone that managed to be deferential without stopping to ask for permission. “Along with Ms. Delphyne’s ensemble.” She retrieved a tape measure from the counter as well, extending it with a whip crack. “I have a good sense of your measurements already but if you’ll allow?” The dragon and the priestess held eye contact for a moment before Teagan gave her an uncharacteristically respectful half-nod. “If you can make or acquire that,” she said, pulling off her leather jacket and gesturing at Sekhmet’s ruby-red gift, “I’d be a fool to refuse.” Her boots came off too, heavy as they were, and she dropped the jacket over top of them and held her hands to her sides for the tape. Naliah did her work with a practised efficiency, jotting down the results in shorthand before tearing the sheets from the notepad, folding them in half and tucking them into the top of her sheath dress. Once she’d put everything else back down on the counter the sundisk and horns blazed back into view above her shaved head and Hathor folded her arms. “Truly, I did not even need to be here! Ugh, forever unappreciated.” “Thy priestess shows far greater skill and competence, aye,” Sekhmet agreed without hesitation, almost managing to maintain her deadpan as she mirrored her twin’s folded arms. “However, there may have been - arguably - value in thy presence.” Hathor stuck her tongue out and made a rude gesture before her expression turned a bit more serious. “Infallible Ra would grant thee at least leave to return home briefly. Another could watch the Deceiver, surely.” The warrior goddess paused briefly before slowly replying, “Tis… more complex. We two could speak more often though, aye. I do miss my favourite sister.” “Well, obviously.” Hathor’s exaggerated petulance returned with a broad wink and she made ready to leave the studio. “Naliah and I have a date with a pint of gelato so I shall leave thee to wait about for the return of this shop’s owner. I assume thee have nowhere else to be.” Sekhmet made a rude gesture of her own. “Take thy parcels with thee, at least,” she demanded, gesturing the remaining oversized shopping bags on the studio floor. “I named them gifts, so gifts they be,” Hathor shot back over her shoulder. “Beside, tis naught within that I would be caught wearing.” Teagan waited for Hathor to leave before shrugging her jacket back on, frowning thoughtfully at the front door. “I admit,” she said, slowly, “to some sibling envy. I wasn’t kidding when I said I would have tried to kill mine. You and yours seem…kinder, perhaps. Less…” She shrugged, flatly miming the stabbing of a dagger into someone’s stomach. “I would not take her for my own, I think, but it’s nice to see.” “In Heliopolis we would have come to blows somewhere about the usage of the phrase ‘toppy’,” Sekhmet admitted with an eyeroll powerful enough to move her whole head. “But there, in our full glory, the consequences of such be a different sort.” She moved to idly nudge one of the abandoned bags with a sandaled toe. “Twas different in ages past, when we were two sides of the same blade. After the Pact, there was little for me to do while Hathor remained ever popular, ever beautiful, ever…” Sekhmet made an all encompassing gesture in the air. “Playful banter became mean-spirited and cutting. I could not tell her in as many words but being on the mortal plane has given me purpose. Perspective.” She looked toward Teagan. “Among other things. Mayhaps was far-sighted Ra’s intent all along.” Kneeling to inspect one of the bags, Teagan pulled something halfway out to inspect it; the bit of gentle cloth had aspirations of being a dress when it grew up. “I have met several gods, and suspect more of them could do with the perspective. No coincidence, I think, that her priestess was more capable than her in everything but banter, even while being possessed.” She released the garment back into its bag, standing up and looking around the shop - and its still-absent keeper. “Still, I think we got what we came for, and more besides. Are you suitably excited for your useless frills and bloodless party?” “Suitably excited for thy corset, aye,” Sekhmet replied blithely, sticking her tongue out in an expression that now immediately reminded Teagan of Hathor’s behaviour. She continued with a huff, allowing, “Mayhaps some entertainment will be had, after all. In preparation, I would hear more of thy exploits ‘crashing parties and wilting the proud,’ aye? An enticing turn of phrase.” “Where I am from,” said Teagan in her best - if not wholly serious - storyteller voice, “few were so proud and in need of humbling than lords and kings. And yet, time and again, they forgot a cardinal rule of party-throwing: never forget to invite the local gods and dragons…”
  11. “Ah!” Set pointed at Merlin in surprise not when the the simian social media manager appeared but when he ‘spoke’. “I understood your meaning!” “Thy make thy command of language known often,” Sekhmet grunted flatly at the shorter godling, taking a reflexive sniff in the capuchin monkey’s direction. She settled her weight on her heels with the contentment of a predator deciding to tolerate a prey animal’s continued presence for the time being. Set nodded and waved a hand in a hurried circle. “Aye, aye. God of foreigners and outsiders, naturally.” He gave Neko a meaningful look but breezed past to the topic that currently had his interest. “But tis not my own prodigious gifts at play! Our concealed capuchin content creator cleverly communicated concept with counter-causal chitchat!” He paused to consider his own alliteration. “Stretching, admittedly. The meticulous Merlin sidestepped language altogether with a terribly tidy bit of spell work. Colour me curious.”
  12. Set Set, timeless primordial god of the unspeakable unknown and continuously trending social media darling tossed the gold foil embossed envelope onto his kitchen counter and seethed. “A gala. An Olympian - one who famously espouses the rules of hospitality as though pulling teeth with ill-spun piano wire - plans to hold an event of culture and fashion.” Wisps of dark grey clouds formed along the ceiling, following overhead as the storm-caller paced and made irritable gestures to the empty room. “As though Hades would recognize style were it to break a gaudy marble pillar over his furrowed brow.” Spinning on his heel Set pointed an accusatory finger at the full length mirror mounted on the back of the apartment’s front door, crimson lightning flickering amongst the indoor clouds. “And clearly reformed deific destroyer turned gregarious gadabout tis my brand! Unconscionable!” Jaw set stubbornly the gosling snapped his fingers and his shirtless shendyt look transformed into tasteful if subdued tuxedo with a blood red cummerbund and a lapel pin in the shape of the was sceptre. “Mayhaps I ought to ‘phone it in’. Spats as passive-aggressive spat.” He considered the outfit in the mirror for a split second before snapping his fingers again. Instantly the godling took on a female presentation and the suit was replaced by a backless gown in the same deep red, her dreadlocks twisting themselves upward to accentuate her slender neck and shoulders. She turned in a half-circle and looked over her shoulder at the mirror, placing her hands on either side of her read and experimenting with how far the neckline should plunge. Her painted lips curled into a grimace. “Ugh, nay. Subtlety be for cowards.” Turning back around she snapped her fingers rapidly, trying different iterations. The tuxedo returned but cut for a feminine figure, with then without a dress shirt underneath. Set tried the gown with a male presentation, the something high-necked and severe, something with a massive bustle, a sailor uniform-inspired number with buttoned hot pants, an asymmetrical leather daddy meets Roman centurion look, low-rise bellbottoms with a tight t-shirt that read ‘Demeter Was Right’ over the silhouette of a snowflake, a Sunday-best dress with petticoat and a peacock feathered fascinator, followed by an outfit that was nothing but three strategically placed such fascinators. The outfits sped by one after the other with Set’s form changing just as quickly as they snapped their fingers faster and faster. “Professional, then? Make it a work trip.” In a male presentation this time they adopted a more ornate version of their usual shendyt with a wrap over one shoulder that called to mind a toga. His head took on the aspect of the pointed eared Set animal, short black fur covering a long, canid snout. Considering for a moment he snapped his fingers again and grew two more such heads on either side of the first, each looking down at the outfit from a different angle before turning upward with a chorus of unimpressed groans. “Unbelievable,” the leftmost head grumbled before winking out of existence along with the rightmost. Set returned to a fully human appearance and narrowed his eyes at his own nude reflection. “Not an allusion, nor antic, nor affront, then. Simply… Set.” The godling stood in silent, motionless contemplation for several long moments before slowly adopting a more androgynous physicality than they usually preferred. They reached back to run long fingers through their dreadlocks, letting the brick red hair grow out until it reached down to their ankles in fluid curtain that swayed in the preternatural indoor wind. A single piece of lightly coloured leather wrapped around the lean muscles of their torso in a sort of sleeveless romper, the shorts ending only an inch or two past their pelvis and the neck rising to just below their chin. With a more purposeful snap than their earlier experiments that leather split in a thousand diamond cuts, becoming a mesmerizing expanse of fishnet-like pattern where darker skin showed through. Another snap and brighter red fur, thick and almost feathery, grew around their neck and bare shoulders, part boa and part mane. Light caught sparkling flecks of ruby red, stunning gold and the truest of black across Set’s cheekbone, down their arms and legs and behind countless diamond windows. At a glance it might have appeared to be body glitter but a closer examination would have revealed tiny, perfect scales dusting the godling’s form. They snapped again. Thick golden rings appeared on each finger alongside curved talons that shifted from a smokey black at the base to gleaming red at the tips. Each ring bore a a single etched hieroglyph and as Set raised their arms to either side impossibly delicate golden chains trailed from them to connect to matching armlets then further still to disappear somewhere in the voluminous mane. They moved about is a slow dance and smiled at the faintly tinkling of the links. Similar gold accessories appeared in their trailing dreadlocks with another snap, followed by a thin, practically filigree tiara across their brow that curved upward into two points, more than a foot tall and shaped to evoke the ear of their Set animal head. Their already dramatic kohl eye makeup became something that drew all attention inextricably to their piercing grey eyes, smokey shadow that seemed to roil like something alive and blood red liner cutting through it like the trail of a dagger. They took a few steps in a lazy circle to survey their handiwork from all angles. Each time their bare feet would have set down on the apartment floor a shift pool of sand rose up to meet them, crystallizing into a breathtaking stiletto heel before dropping away into formless grains again as soon as their weight shifted to the other foot. The sand trailed along after them like the train of a wedding dress. Set completed their circle and regarded themselves in the mirror with a smug upward turn from the corner of their lips. They rolled their neck and shoulders with a predatory sort of grace, setting the fine chains clinking in chorus with the soft shifting of sand. The storm cloud that had been hovering overhead rumbled and broke, showering them with a fine mist of summer rain. The beads of water refracted light glinting off of scales, traced crisscrossing lines down the leather netting and highlighted the arched curve of long calves. “Well now. Let none say the once guardian of blessed Ra’s barge has forgotten how to slay.”
  13. "They make me proud," Ryder agreed, scratching the top of Yellow's head with his index finger. "And yeah, one of your older gauntlets! The army had it and they weren't being what I'd call 'responsible' with it so..." The teenager made a vague gesture with his hand, inviting Koshchei to fill in the blanks. "They, y'now, ceased to have it." He felt a little self-conscious relating that story to the device's actual inventor but moved on. "The capsules were pretty much out of particles anyway but there was enough to check out and, like, it's one thing with current over-the-counter tech and a decent geopolymer binder, obviously, but I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how you would have synthesized them in the first place without knowing the specific wavelength ahead of time or going through just, I mean, a ridiculous amount of tungsten running trial-and-error tests.
  14. "Mayhap risking accusations of arrogance... have you seen us?" Set purred with a cheeky wink, expertly sliding into frame beside Neko, feline ears twitching theatrically. For her part Sekhmet stiffened slightly, shifting from one foot to another as she tried the gauge where to stand given the implied but unseen audience. "Nay, I jest. Fortunate are we to have grown a community most active who know the value of welcoming the unexpected and unknown with kindness!" The godling continued discussing the cultivation of that online following in rosy terms, interjecting a few jokes for pacing, a public speaker with practice on a time scale impossible to mortals. That bounty of time did not prevent Sekhmet from growing visibly impatient as he went on, lips curling up around her rows of sharp teeth. "Titles of grandiose rhetoric to prey upon the 'clicks'," she interrupted flatly. "The phrase be 'clickbait' oh gorgeous grump," Set replied cheerfully. He placed a finger to one side of his face as though letting Neko and her audience in on a secret in confidence. "Never claim Set knows not hot to play the game!"
  15. Set snapped his fingers in recognition. "Ah ha! An ascendent sun of content creation indeed!" While only moments had passed since Neko had made her more comprehensive introduction her accounts pinged in rapid succession with notifications that Set had subscribed to and followed her channel, tagged her in a social media post telling his followers to be on the lookout for an upcoming collaboration - along with a string of shocked cat emoji - and organized a raffle giveaway on one of this own channels for gifted subscriptions to her videos. That legwork done the phone vanished from his hand again with a small flourish and he gave the girl a genuine, beaming grin. "I would be truly heartbroken should you not, oh robed reviewer! I can send a boilerplate press strategy to your manager, correct links, pronoun etiquette, most efficacious SEO terms, so forth!" Sekhmet sniffed the air again and narrowed her eyes in the direction of Neko's seemingly unoccupied shoulder but said nothing. "And I adore you," the godling added in Red's direction. "I am indeed patron of redheads, obviously and I do believe you count. Have you a scarab sibling, mayhaps? Absolutely too cute!" Returning his attention to Neko, Set rolled his neck as if working out a tight muscle and a pair of feline looking ears sprouted from the top of his head, covered in brick red fur, shorter than her own. "Speaking of cute, what do we think? Shall I add the tail? Might it read a mite appropriative? Tis your gimmick, Neko-chan, tis your call, naturally."
  16. Sekhmet stood almost impossibly still as Neko made eye contact, matching the girl's preternatural unblinking stare with luminous golden eyes. She listened to the entire poem and greeting before meeting the bow with a deep inclination of her head. "Well met, oh courteous mortal." As she straightened her head seamlessly became that of a tawny furred lioness with a distinct black streak. While a few other convention attendees were startled by the sudden change Neko could smell in the aroma of blood dried in desert heat that neither this nor the human appearance had been illusions. "Know me as Sekhmet of Heliopolis, She Before Whom Evil Trembles and Lady of Slaughter." Sekhmet's shorter companion tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow in theatrical inquisitiveness throughout the exchange. He clicked his tongue and placed his hands on his hips. "And yet you receive deference and respect unbidden!" "I be respectable," Sekhmet countered flatly. He nodded amiably. "True! Whereas I be Set," the gosling introduced himself with a cheerful wink. He produced a smartphone with a flourish and proceeded to operate it one-handed while his attention remained primarily on Neko. "You I know from somewhere, aye?"
  17. Red buzzed a short tut-tut of dismissal at the compliment but flew in a pleased little loop nonetheless. She lifted the three segmented legs on her right side then lowered them one at a time in a countdown before going live with the camera installed behind the black dot at the front centre of her elytra. As Neko spoke she banked gracefully through the air over the heads of the crowd, angling for the most flattering angle and most interesting backgrounds. The Robug had been raring to get to work since Ryder had introduced her to Neko and Red was approaching the convention livestream with all the enthusiasm of a new sheepdog. One of those background shots captured a young man with thick, brick red dreadlocks and wearing a silk suit in an impossibly loud floral pattern and a thick gold necklace under the jacket in place of a shirt. He stood with his back to Neko and her camera, next to a much taller woman with the sleeves of a golden-yellow dress shirt rolled up to prodigious biceps and the buttons only done up to just below her ribcage. The shorter of the two was shaking his head in irritation as he indicated a life-sized cardboard standee of what was clearly himself, topless and wearing an ornate, folded skirt, winking and giving the passing crowds a pair of enthusiastic thumbs up. "Behold and despair, oh Mistress of Slaughter! Such feeble idolatry that should fail to capture the divine truth of my chiselled musculature! My jawline most cutting! Lips so exemplifying the platonic ideal of fullness as to inspire nothing platonic whatsoever!" "Tis inks upon thickened parchment," his companion pointed out, sounding incredibly bored by the conversation and distractedly sniffing the air as Neko passed. "Sculpture may be printed thrice across dimensions by machines, Sekhmet! Or better still, the venue might have commissioned one of those statues made of multitudinous children's blocks!"
  18. "Ha! That sounds like a good way for the winner to get their butt kicked by Nat for being a possessive creep. But y'know, I like flowers. I like colours, I like pollinators." Ryder lifted the flap of his bag and multiple bright objects burst forth. The bounding robotic bush cricket, roughly palm-sized, launched the furthest, landing on the desk near Koshchei. Cyan bounced up and down on his light blue and silver back legs and chirped in cheerful greeting before hopping away to explore the space. A praying mantis cast is saturated pink and glossy white landed read Ryder's feet then scuttled forward toward their host, completely unafraid. Magenta raised her curved forelimbs toward Natalia's grandfather and held them parallel, slowly sliding them further apart. It took a moment to realize that she was trying to gauge the size of his prodigious biceps, triangular head tilting to one side in disbelief. With a muted hum of vibrating wings a little wasp shaped robot followed, hovering uncertainly in the air around her creator's head. Yellow rubbed her front legs together in an approximation of wringing hands while zigzagging about, stopping every few moments and choosing a new direction, trying to decide whether to stay where she was or risk finding somewhere new but out of the way. Well after his siblings had exited a black and gunmetal grey beetle trundled out of the bag, across Ryder's arm and down his torso and leg, in no rush to drop down to the floor. Black nodded the long protruding horn on the front his head toward Koshchei in a polite bow then sauntered over to where Natalia was seated, waiting patiently at her feet to be picked up, quietly unimpressed by their surroundings. "Sir, meet the Robugs! That's Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Don't worry, they're used to being around, well, volatile equipment but if there's somewhere you want them to stay away from just say!" Ryder closed the bag again and raised his arm like a falconer for Yellow to set down atop.
  19. Ryder was silent for a beat, not in hesitation but in respectful consideration of Koshchei's words. "Intense!" he decided finally, nodding amicably. "Normally it's like pulling teeth to get folks to articulate their personal philosophies and mantras, y'know? You ask somebody what their dream is, like capital 'D' dream and they go, 'whatever man, I just want to sell super science laser guns to kids,' and I'm all that cannot possibly be the sum total of your life's ambitions, that's so sad. If you're going for power or respect or something mind numbingly basic like that fine, at least then we can start working out a way to get you there without being a massive tool but I'm going to need a drop of introspection and self-examination, right?" He thew his hands up with the air of someone who had voiced this exact frustration more than once before. "I was thinking more like, 'buy her flowers sometimes for no particular occasion,' or 'she hates banjo, never learn to play the banjo,' but heck yeah, 'commit to your passions,' I can get behind that." He looked down to his bag as something jostled within. "Oh! Uh, do you mind if my guys look around while we talk? Getting a little antsy which is funny when you realize none of them are ants." He gestured to the front flap of the saddlebag as though that provided context for his question.
  20. Ryder bit the corner of his mouth to stop himself from laughing at Natalia's grumbling but allowed himself to give her a look with raised eyebrows when her grandfather revealed that she had talked about him. "I have a big personality," he suggested to Koshchei, "and I'm more of a, y'know, 'provides the distraction' type than a 'not draw attention' type." The teen gestured to the room as a whole. "At least there's nothing in here you'd be all that upset about catching on fire or exploding or turning itself inside out, right? Learned the hard way to prioritize that in a workspace, ha!" He was curious about the gauntlets but it seemed gauche to be too obvious about it. "Any advice on being good enough on a longer timeline?"
  21. "Sir," Ryder greeted with a hand raised an unhurried suggestion of a wave, giving an easygoing and friendly smile to the serious faced man. "Glad to meet you and I appreciate you taking the time. I know it can be crazy tough finding a chunk of unclaimed workshop space in this city, right? Matches up with that industrial, utilitarian aesthetic too, so that's a plus." He laced his fingers behind his head and took a few steps further into the room, looking around curiously to see what infrastructure had already been there and what it looked like Koshchei had set up since his arrival. "I had a chance to check out one of your older designs, actually and I was hoping to pick your brain a bit about it but you probably want to do sort of an interrogation slash cold read thing on me first?" He tilted his head to one side and gave Natalia's grandfather a broader, dimpled grin. "Ask away!"
  22. "You're doing the thing where you establish a rule then immediately show it doesn't apply to you." It didn't sound remotely like a criticism but Ryder did give her a small frown and he peered into the darkness of the abandoned building, shielding his eyes from the sun overhead with one hand. "Is this a psyching yourself up thing? If you want to bail, we can tell him it's my fault and go find some rubble for you to smash and crush until you feel better." He snapped his fingers then brought both raised forefingers in front of his chest as a different interpretation occurred to him. "Oh! Or were you saying that I would be allowed to use pet names if it weren't for other people? Aw! That's sweet." He straightened up a bit and grinned, buoyed by the thought.
  23. "Managing to keep things from you seems pretty optimistic," Ryder observed, putting one scuffed up, rainbow laced sneaker directly in front of the other to walk solely on what was left of the raised edge of the curb as though it were a tightrope. He'd worn the jeans that only had a few small motor oil stains and remained paint splatter free, along with a long sleeved henley with a relatively tame colour block pattern that included a pink close enough to his strawberry blond dyed hair to make the latter look a bit more cohesive. Maybe. At least like an effort had been made, hopefully, which was really more the point. He hadn't mentioned any particular worries about how he ought to dress out loud but Natalia had noticed he'd brought along his messenger bag, the one big enough to conceal all of the Robugs at once. She knew Ryder well enough to recognize that as just the same sort of nervous decision paralysis. "Is there stuff I should, like, not mention around him? Lie of omission style?" He dropped one hand to rest meaningfully on the oversized belt buckle hidden behind the bottom of his shirt. He tended toward forthrightness in just about all things but this was Nat's family which he figured meant playing by her rules.
  24. "No fawning," Ryder recited, miming taking notes with a phantom pen on an imaginary pad of paper, "parenthesis yet question mark close parenthesis. See, this is good, actionable feedback already. But also, uh, y'know. Thanks." A little colour rose in his own cheeks when Neko whistled and he gave her a little half-wave and a dimpled smile back. "Ha, literal catcall. Gotta see if she'll teach me to do that finger whistle thing, that's classic." He glanced back toward Nat then off toward one of the better preserved paintings in the church, lowering his voice enough that it wouldn't carry so well to the other teenagers. "Not knowing what I'm doing generally doesn't worry me on account of that handsome willpower stuff you said but messing anything up with you is weirdly way scarier than just breaking another limb or whatever so you'll tell me if I'm being, like, a lot or just oblivious, right?"
  25. Ryder hooked his thumbs into the belt loops of his overalls and let out a long breath, almost a whistle. "I mean obviously we agree that I'd be a fool to say no. By any reasonable estimation you're catastrophically out of my league," he estimated with a serious tone that might have been interpreted as a teasing impression of Natalia's cool appraisal. "But are you sure you're up for it? Like, I'm probably going to end up saying some pretty genuine and heartfelt stuff about how your outfits are all fantastic and how I really admire your commitment to your personal principles and how you're incredibly fun to spend time with. And I'm probably going to take the opportunity to get to know you on a deeper, more meaningful level, the better to support and cherish you." He shook his head and gave her an exaggerated grimace. "I may even try to hold your hand at some point. People might get the impression we like each other. It's a pretty dangerous proposition."
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