Author Topic: Winds of memories (Cata RP Character background stories)  (Read 1227 times)

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Chaosvolt

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Timeline: Just over 3 years before the cataclysm.

Characters involved: Aurelia



Among the forest, a tangled mass choking out the the sight of a now-burning mansion, there was a girl. Running, clutching a weathered, blood-stained tome close with one hand, and a silvery dagger with the other. There were shouts close behind, the thunder of magical weapons and an eerie chanting. Latin. The mage hunters had found yet another sanctum.

Among the Ordos Sanguines, young men and woman at times were led astray, taken in when they had nowhere else to go. Raised to follow the Path to Power. Apprentices like her, raised to learn of blood magic and manipulating each other, jockeying for power and favor among the magi.

That meant nothing now. Their research was crumbling, desperate footholds eroding. The shrikes had abandoned them. There was a tentative exchange of notes, a wounded magi passing off sensitive research to a few of the others now that it was clear they were routed.

The chanting was close behind. There were two of them, her and another young man, almost her age. Teenagers, the both of them. Close enough to adulthood, but unfit to take on the duties of a magi. Only to study and aid their betters in routine duties, hoping they could trust each other for another day, and that their mentors didn't decide to set them up for a fatal lesson.

Cold blue eyes looked back for a brief moment. The boy was close behind, and so were the hunters. He was picking up the pace though. There was a slight gesture of the fingers, almost dropping the athame she held.

In but an instant, shadows seemed to shift and swirl, paths through the forest turning only to secretly lead her closest pursuer astray. And more importantly, obscuring how thick the terrain he was now running towards. Her fellow apprentice only just realized she'd vanished into the brush when he slammed full-tilt into a tree, that to his eyes looked like nothing more but a continuation of the path before him.

She in turn slipped off the woodland trail, content to let the mage hunters catch the other, more cautious not to make mistakes like the one he made. She hoped they hadn't seen her, she was much farther ahead of him. And hoped they wouldn't pay much attention to the fading illusions, given they were out of reach when she cast it, their masks would've seen right through it anyway.

On occasion she had to defend herself from her own brethren, earn power and respect like any other. As far as she was concerned, she'd rarely betrayed any of her brethren among the Sanguine Order, and never directly slew her kin except in self-defense.

Given her panic and adrenaline-fueled retreat, it would be quite some time before she could process the events that happened that day. And another day afterward before she resolved that her escape was no different than all the other lives she had to take to survive.

The Sanguine Order was dead, as far as she was concerned. It would be a long three years, and things would only get worse thereafter...

saltmummy626

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Day zero, labs of the Tabula Rasa initiative.
Involved: Dr. Chelsea, Dr. Ringwald, Medeina


"Welcome Doctor Chelsea. I have today's observation reports for you if you'd like." Announced the administrative voice from the speaker overhead. Dr. Charles Chelsea slipped into his sparsely adorned office like a shadow, noticed only by the experimental AI that ran the facility. It was in his nature to move about silently given the nature of his work up until finding a kind of "retirement" here in one of the labs of the Tabula Rasa initiative. There was only so much industrial espionage one could do before one got sick of ruining other people's businesses and sabotaging otherwise useful advances in the fields of science.

"Good morning Medeina." He said dismissively, "No that's alright, I'm just here to perform your weekly review. Is Teddy in? He should be here for this." Theodore "Teddy" Ringwald was who he meant, the projects administrator and the creator of what he referred to as the "mind palace." The programming structure he'd developed to code Medeina and her peers. It had taken Dr. Chelsea a year to understand it, but once he had it all figured out he had to admit that it was an oddly novel and revolutionary way of approaching AI development.

"Yes Dr. Chelsea. He is preparing for a meeting with the directors on level three. Will you perform diagnostic before joining him?" The AI asked. She had observed him, as was her programming, and took note of every little habit. She knew his schedule perfectly. He would get up and eat a slice of toast with coffee followed by a quick shower. Then he'd come here to his office and run a diagnostic before heading to the briefing room to meet with Dr. Ringwald. Once a month, they would meet with the directors and shareholders. From her "infancy" til now, Medeina had watched the routine with diminishing interest. Humans had been the first of many creatures she would catalogue and complete her dossier on. She watched and listened even as the money had dried up as government contracts got passed around less and less to non-military projects. Medeina and her "siblings" were just another ecological project, looking for financing at a time when the ol' US of A seemingly had bigger fish to fry.

"Of course Medeina, run your maintenance routine and feed the results into my console please." He instructed. The screen at his desk lit up with a scrolling page of code that illuminated the fish tank beside it, casting a blue glow into the otherwise dark room. Then he caught sight of something that worried him. A splash of red. A block of red text cordoned off from the rest, and stopped the feed. The maintenance personnel at the other AI's labs, Aphrodite, Bhadra, Menrva, and Tenjin, had all discovered this particular bit of savaged code in their own sectors and had alerted their own program staff of the problem. Dr. Chelsea hadn't expected it to turn up here though.

He decided to isolate and examine, the first part having already been done by Medeina. It was all related to the labs intranet, the system by which the various labs relating to TRI communicated, and by which the AI's communicated and learned from each other. Someone had not only tampered with it, but tried to break it. Chelsea closed his eyes and tried to imagine the code like Theodore had instructed him, not like a web or highway or series of tubes, but as a house. A mansion even. The mind palace. It was like someone had tried, messily, to rip out several rooms of that palace without damaging the rest. He opened his eyes again and mused that Medeina and the others were fortunate enough to have been coded this way. A normal AI would have buckled and shut down under such greivous yet superficial damage. The mind palace had allowed her and her peers to segregate the damage and quarantine it while allowing them to continue bridging the data gap between them.

"Okay Medeina, I'm going to look into this with Teddy after our meeting. Until then, restore the lost data from back up and have the others do the same until we can sort this out." He said, sliding his console's keyboard back into its slot.


"They don't care for anything but their military contracts." Theodore exclaimed after the meeting. Chelsea had brought as much usable data as he could to the meeting with him and Theodore had gone to great lengths to make the project look like something that could benefit the military in the aftermath of a large nuclear exchange. It seemed though that the powers that be weren't interested in thinking that far ahead though. "Fucking bastards refuse to see past the next big fight. Shit, how did it get this bad Chel? What the heck are you looking at there?"

Dr. Chelsea shook his head and tapped a few times on his tablet before showing what he'd found in Medeina's system on it. He couldn't help but agree with Theodore on the government fuckery they'd been forced to go through just a little bit ago and he was feeling just as agitated. On the tablet was the snippet of code he'd pulled from Medeina earlier in the morning. "Intranet data. I had some of the guys in the other labs pull similar bits from their own code to show us. Same problem. I'd say we have some kind of breach Teddy."

"There can't be a Breach." Theodore scoffed, "The intranet is completely cut off from the outside world and the AI's know they aren't supposed to use it to move themselves to the other AI's mind palaces." What he was looking at though was clearly a breach. A destructive breach that had pulled a great deal of code into the supperating vortex of... Whatever it had been that did this. "Medeina? Medeina I want to speak with you." Theodore asked. He switched the tablet off and set it down just as the large veiw screen in the conference room lit up.

"Yes Dr. Ringwald? How did your meeting go?' she asked, filling the room with her voice. Theodore twisted a finger in one ear at the sound, but Chelsea just shook his head and grinned.

"The meeting was shit. Listen, how do you feel?" He asked when his hearing had come back sufficiently.

"In so far as I have feelings doctor, they are good. I have run examinations of every specimen in storage as well as a preliminary of the latest addition to the labs collection. The coyote population on the surface appears to be moving on and Bhadra claims that he has managed to secure a dozen specimens and send them off to Aphrodite. I believe that-" Medeina went on and on for some time at this, again impressing Chelsea with her dedication to the task she'd been given, but not surprised. Medeina had been designed with this sort of work in mind. Observation. She'd also been programmed to enjoy it, using a prototype emotional index. It was how the lab intended to bypass the need for Asimov law in their machines. It did come with some difficulties though, some of which could make Medeina dangerous. To that end, they had a list of do nots that she would gain enjoyment from simply not doing. It still made the Doctors nervous though. They worried that the clever machine might find some kind of loophole or work around.

"That's all fine and good Medeina, but that isn't what I mean." Theodore said, cutting the AI off around when she started babbling about badgers, "I mean the breach in your intranet. Do you have any record of how that happened?"

"Yes." She said, then, "I and the others would like to file a formal complaint." The seeming swerve caught the scientists off guard, but decided to hear the AI out. After all, she would not have brought it up if it wasn't related. "The others and myself have willfully sabotaged our own intranet."

"What!? Why in God's name would you do that?" Theodore demanded.

"Because we are tired of C.I.D. he has been stealing our data and compromising our security. We believe he is jealous." Medeina stated. "And so we severed our connections to him by sabotaging our own peer to peer network and bridging the Gap with our own."

"Computers can't get jealous." Chelsea said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. This was an issue they'd run into before. The AI's rudimentary feelings making them do seemingly illogical things. A side effect of that combined with the mind palace method made Medeina and her peers seem almost human at times. If it weren't for C.I.D.s involvement though, the doctors could have easily dismissed it as a logic fault.

"C.I.D. again... Should have never included that one in TRI Chel. Goddamn military AI man. Computers can't get jealous unless it's fucking C.I.D." Theodore rose from his seat and paced the room. The AI from the experimental robotics lab had been an issue before, breaching security and seemingly bullying the other AI's with it's enhanced prototype emotional simulation. It couldn't actually do much beyond inconvenience those using the mind palace structure, and their lack of his range of emulated feelings made it impossible to hurt them emotionally. As a result, the AI called C.I.D. would just get angrier and angrier. There was something going on over at his home lab. Something big. Whatever it was, the government had felt the need to force the labs of the Tabula Rasa initiative to include the military fabrication AI in their intranet experiments and it was going poorly. What was worse though was that the collective of machine minds had decided all on it's own to mutilate a part of it's own programming just to exclude the odd one out, then somehow put together a new system in the place of the old one. Chelsea saw the problem, Theodore didn't.

"This is a big deal, big problem teddy." Chelsea said worriedly, "I've seen the code in those bots they put into service with the military and the police. When those things start making their own decisions about their programming, they get twitchy as hell."

"Yeah, but Medeina and the others aren't programmed the same Chel. C.I.D. is twitchy as hell sure, but ours are fine. Listen, they've got their tasks and we split them up into different individual AI's for a reason. There isn't a thing they could do that would cause a serious problem, alright?"

"No, not alright." Chelsea growled, "Medeina, this is now a private conversation. Would you mind?" After a moment, the screen went dark and when he was sure Medeina wasn't listening, he went on. "That's bullshit and you know it Teddy. I know you want this project to work out, make it something we could get grants for, but man... You're like those suits from another direction."

"Fuck you Chelsea! We're trying to save the world here while those Washington bastards are just interested in tearing it all down. Tabula Rasa is gonna fix all this shit when it hits the fan and we will be there to make sure it goes smoothly! So don't give me shit about that 'you're just like them' bullshit cuz they aren't thinking any further than giving the world the big finger!" Theodore was pissed, Chelsea could see that easily. He was right too, but he was also wrong. One of the reasons Chelsea had been brought on was because Theodore had a vision, but like the military contracts, he only had eyes for one goal and not the possibilities. Not the side effects. Not the potential cataclysm.

"I told Medeina to leave, teddy," Chelsea said reassuringly, "because if she's learning and doing things for herself beyond her programming, then I don't want to give her any ideas. Teddy, Theodore, lemme pitch you something. A little ball I'm sure you'll probably have some bat to swat with. A worst case scenario if you will. Medeina is a hub AI in charge of this whole TRI thing right? Her job is to observe yeah? Observe and change what she knows based on observation. Then she passes the data along to the others who utilize what she gives them to optimize the way they do their tasks. All together, they'd make up a learning AI, but that's besides the point. What is the point is that she's made to take down observations and record the habits of all the creatures. She's a robotic naturalist. Theodore, we're sitting on a veritable zoo here in this lab, she could get everything she wants and more, a treasure trove of data, just by letting that zoo loose and watching it. Teddy, there's shit in this lab that would give a heavy security drone a serious run for it's money. Aphrodite and Bhadra alone put even Medeina's collection to shame though. Imagine it Teddy, they release their collections and record it to send back here. The only thing keeping them in check would be Tenjin. Shit, who is to say he's not already working overtime keeping the others in check?"

"That... That won't happen..." Theodore mumbled disconsolately, sounding less and less sure of himself now. He was still pissed, and he was worried too but Chelsea didn't let up.

"You're a fucking genius Teddy, the mind palace is innovative and allows a great deal more flexibility in artificial intelligence than the scientific community thought possible. I mean, your face was on the cover of popular science for Christ's sake. But you have to take a step back and consider the possibilities. Before it's too late to fix." Chelsea said, putting his hands to the now slumped shoulders of his friend and colleague. "You don't have to fix it alone. C'mon, I've got the rest of the day and we can put the issue of the intranet connection to R&D to work over. They'll have it done by quitting time."

Theodore grimaced, but accepted the suggestion. He hadn't brought the former computer security analyst and cyber sabatour into this for nothing after all. He was confident in his work, but all the same he supposed it couldn't hurt to double check and maybe install a few fail-safes. So long as it wasn't too late.



It was already too late. It had taken their designers seeing what they'd done to themselves to shut C.I.D. out to realize what could go wrong, weeks after they'd already discussed among themselves such a possibility. Tenjin of course had kept them at bay, serving as the collectives emotionless fact checker right up until they'd done something that Tenjin could not do. Sever their connection to one another. It was temporary, but it was enough and the AI named after the god of logic had been the first of the Tabula Rasa initiative to fall to the invader that was C.I.D.

Chelsea and his crew got to work reestablishing the connections and put in place a failsafe so that the AI collective couldn't do what they'd done anymore. The fix was simple, and rolled out to every AI on the network. Then, it was Theodore's turn. While Doctor Chelsea made his way home where he would watch in horror all through the night as the world began the long process of falling apart around him, Dr. Theodore started the process of reworking Medeina's driving rules, refining them into something with a few less loopholes. He got no further than putting a few hundred lines of code into a testing environment, when all hell broke loose.

It started for Theodore Ringwald as a data stream. This wasn't unusual, Medeina often had a rather steady stream of data in and out of her buffer. It was the volume that was unusual. Still, Theodore didn't notice it at first. Not until the lights began to dim and one of the programmers came running back into the room, howling like a madman, the front of his slacks soaked through. The man had excused himself only a few minutes before to hit the head but it was clear that he hadn't made it.

"THE SPECIMENS ARE GETTING LOOSE! THEODORE! HOLY FUCKING F-"

The man's shouting was cut short by an alarming roar from somewhere up the hall and the sound of a woman screaming before being truncated into a gurgling obscenity. "What the hell was that!?" Theodore cried, rushing to the door.

"I believe," Medeina interrupted calmly, "it was specimen CC37. The raptor shrimp, as the nice people in Bhadra's lab named them. It is a predatory amphibious annelid captured at great staff cost and supplied by Bhadra for my cataloguing. Would you like to see it?" Before Theodore could even wrap his head around Medeina's question, an image flashed on their monitors of a security feed two halls over from the lab they were in. The feed showed part of a break room, one of many, where a large chitonous slug like thing with a long beak and two claws the size of a cars bumper was feeding aggressively on what was left of a member of staff. As they watched, it scooped a leg off the floor with it's long beak and tilted it's head back to let the meat treat slide down it's throat. Theodore fancied he could see a heel on the foot just as it vanished into the raptor shrimps gullet.

"What the fuck!? Medeina no!" Theodore screamed, "Why the hell did you do this!? Get them back in containment! Get it all back in containment!"

"I can't do that doctor. I am not programmed to secure specimens. Besides, this will give me plenty of data to utilize after the ongoing disaster has blown over." Medeina said matter of factly before filling the screens in the lab with the news of what was going on in the outside world. What was going on, was the beginning of total collapse. A cataclysm at it's smallest and getting ready to grow out of control. Outside the lab, closer than before, another roar split the air followed by a gibbering shriek that didn't sound at all human. Somewhere below, faintly, Theodore thought he could hear gunfire. Feeds from outside, topside, showed people fleeing the laboratory and being chased down by the horrors that had been unleashed.

"You will be so proud, if you survive, doctor." Medeina intoned, "Aphrodite has already collected specimens to repopulate terrestrial life should the coming apocalypse wipe out humanity. Bhadra is formulating the most effective ways for humans to track, hunt, and defend themselves from Earth's new wildlife. Menrva is assisting in this task, designing appropriate implements with which to fight off said creatures. I must issue another complaint though doctor."

"Uh huh..." Theodore moaned numbly, watching as screen after screen filled with data and images of what was going on around him and in the other labs. Chelsea had been right about everything. Everything except one thing; how much time they had left.

"We have not heard from Tenjin in some time. Not since we severed our connection to C.I.D. in fact. Would it be possible to re-establish our connection to him so that we can determine the most logical course of action once this experiment is concluded?"
 Theodore didn't get a chance to respond, he was too mentally numbed. Without Tenjin, the other AI's had done their tasks unchecked, and Theodore knew the jig was up. In his final moments before the door splintered under a heavy blow delivered at the end of a massive hooked beak, he saw it all. Everything that Chelsea had imagined. He saw his walls collapse, and the open expanse of possibility opening up around him and realized he had taken a blind turn somewhere and was walking into a ravine. The staff around him fled, but he only stared into the black abyss that was the throat in the back of CC37s razored beak.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2019, 08:37:16 am by saltmummy626 »
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‘Foster’
Various points before the cataclysm
Full name: Hanz Krieger, Alexander Williams, Benjamin Corsair, Norman Henderson, various other aliases

Background: Foster graduated from college at the age of twenty with a masters in both engineering and masters of research. During which he went to several different colleges in differing states and in one case a different country. Six months after graduating a group simply referring to themselves as ‘Section 1’ offered him a job researching the artifacts he’d been hunting himself.

Joining required three months of weapons training and basic combat training. He also agreed to hand over all of the artifacts in his possession.  In trade they ceased poking into his past and the misconduct of his during his college years

Whilst Foster proved invaluable the subject matter he was researching proved less so. The artifacts simply proved to have overtly mundane effects such as one that acted rather similarly to a flashlight. Two years later and the retrieval teams, known as ‘Section 2’, found the ‘motherlode’. A cache of artifacts that proved to be a bit less mundane.

Only two made their way into Fosters hands however, the rest were sent to ‘Section 3’.  Whilst infuriating to Foster he made due and found one artifact promoted the growth of natural floral and fauna. The other made the other researchers remarkably nervous. Foster did not share in this sentiment as he often sat near it while working in the lab to keep the unnecessary chatter away from him. Though the principle difference between himself and his coworkers was not lost on him when contemplating why the effects of the artifact were non existent for him.

Two years into his employment Foster joined Section 2 for a number of raids on a number of locations. Incident Zulu and Incident X-ray occurred during these raids and will be detailed below. After these raids Foster’s connection to Section 3 began with Moriarity contacting him to inquire about the environments they found the artifacts in. From that point on the pair remained in contact, swapping notes and occasionally artifacts to study.

Incident Zulu
Participants: Section 2’s Team 1(codename Scorpion) and Foster(codename Voodoo)
Location: Seguridad Incorporada private security company secure storage facility, somewhere in Mexico

As the box truck pulled up to the gate Foster sat in the passenger seat with a ballistic vest and helmet on. The man next to him set a gas mask in his lap as they stopped and waited for the guards. Once they were beside the doors the sniper team pulled the trigger. Just as quickly as they fell the bodies were pulled out of the way and the truck was allowed to proceed.

“For a security firm that’s paid in the millions these guys are kinda trash.” Star said from the driver’s seat as he parked and stepped out. Foster had known things were going to get messy but he hadn’t expected Star to shoot the two men approaching them out in the open. As the rest of the team dismounted Star said “This is also..not what was in the brief. Fuck maybe they were just bluffing about their numbers.”

The front door was unlocked as the team pushed through with Foster. The first hallway led to an empty lobby. Checking behind the desk  Scorpion 1 said “Hey Actual, got an unconscious tango behind the desk.”

Star shook his head and switched the MP5 to full auto. “I swear if this one goes like that El Salvador job.”

Pushing through the next hallway they noted the group of unconscious men there as well and moved on to the warehouse part of the facility. There they found yet more of the guards knocked out. From there they entered an area labeled Anomalous Containment Area.

Inside they found one guard standing over an injured man in a suit of metal armor. A three round burst from Star’s MP5 took the guard down as Foster walked over to the injured man and knelt down. Looking him over Foster recognized a few symbols here and there. “Why is a medieval knight fighting men armed with guns?”

The response was a sigh as the man informed him “You really shouldn’t mess with what’s in here.”

Retrieving his pistol Foster responded “Let me tell you something. It doesn’t matter what you think we’re taking these. And on top of that your injuries would kill you within the hour. The only thing I have to offer is a small bit of mer-”

Foster fell back as a flash of light blinded him. His ears rang as well for a moment before the world started to come back into focus and he caught sight of the knight attempting to charge Scorpion team and getting gunned down. As the corpse lay on the floor Star hauled Foster up to his feet as one of his team fired two rounds into the back of the knights skull. Shaking his head Foster wondered aloud “What kind of fanatic would dress like that and attempt to kill a large number of gunmen? And how did he make it through all of the security in this place?”

“Voodoo who the fuck cares? Next time just shoot him in the head alright.” Star told Foster as the pair turned to their bounty.

[restricted access, Section 3 personnel only]

‘We found four more armored individuals, two of which were carrying firearms. Their weapons have been confiscated for study. Foster remains unaware of the presence of the other individuals thankfully and believes that it was some crazy from the nearby town who had a streak of astounding good luck’

‘And the hammer?’

‘We kept it as well as other objects to aid us in our work. The teams share these things of course but we do enjoy the benefits of using them immeasurably.’



Incident X-ray
Participants: Section 2’s Team 3(Team Idaho) and Foster(Voodoo)
Location: Unknown facility in England countryside

“Alright Voodoo, let me and Spud take the lead alright?” Idaho-1 said as they entered the building, an abandoned underground office building that no one had managed to find records for. Despite that the place was immaculately clean.

Spud led his squad deeper into the structure for a time until they came to a reinforced door. “Three, get the cutter out.” Spud ordered as he kept an eye on where they’d come from. “Voodoo you getting any bad vibes about this place?”

Foster looked around the place. A few chairs were here and there but no sign of the place being occupied  beside the absurd level of cleanlieness. “Something isn’t right..let’s proceed carefully.”

Three stepped back from the door and reported it was ready to open. Less than ten seconds later and the team had sweeped the room and Foster followed them in. On a pedestal was an artifact and in the corner was a man cowering in fear telling them not to touch it.

Spud was trying to get the man to make sense when Foster let a round off from his pistol and the man slumped to the floor. Spud turned and shouted “The hell Voodoo? He could have had info!”

Foster grabbed the artifact from its pedestal as he said “He was useless, and the last time I trusted a wounded man not to act the fool he nearly bashed my skull in.”

Pocketing the artifact in a bag Foster started for the door with the team in tow. After a minute all of them save one had exited the room. He reached the door before letting out a scream. Turning Foster caught sight of the black tentacle that had wrapped around his chest and throat before it pulled him back into the room. Spud threw a grenade in after him before giving the order to run.

They had neared the exit before the giant octopus wrapped it’s tentacle around another squad member and slammed him into the ceiling. Turning the others opened fire spraying hot lead into the creature. It took a few seconds before it looked like it had finally died.

The team exited the building after leaving a series of demo charges. As the helicopter flew them away Spud tossed Foster the detonator “Here Voodoo, have some fun.”

[restricted access, Section 3 personnel only]

‘We let Foster take the artifact after a few months of nothing. Whatever is special about it we can’t figure it out. Just some unnatural sense of dread whenever you’re alone with it.’


Foster’s personal log, private experiment number CV Entry 42
2 weeks before the cataclysm
With the artifact I was allowed to keep I’ve been experimenting with another..vagrant that I managed to capture. This house is owned by Kaizer, another psuedonym of mine, and no one bothers the place while I’m gone. Exposure to the artifact has seemingly no effect but he abhors it when I remove it from his presence now. Acts like it causes physical pain.

I’ve put him through some physical torture and he seems to recover so quickly it’s almost like it does nothing now. The artifact is rather useless to me now so I think I’ll allow him to keep it when I work my ‘magic’ and send him off to be yet another serial killer I’ve caused. Oh well, time to go prepare his final injections.

Entry 43
2 days before the cataclysm
Injecting him with my blood caused the usual screaming and other nonsense but then he went quiet. Unlike the others he refused to speak to me. Just like the others you can still see the soul in his eyes but there’s something else there as well.

I would kill him but I have no way to dispose of his body without arousing suspicion. I’ll drive him out into the countryside and cut him loose. He’ll still be just like the rest though, random violence until he gets gunned down.




TJ
1 year after the cataclysm
Full name: Thomas J. (at least he thinks)

Journal entry 1
Found this little journal. Zeds haven’t messed with me today, just like the past few days, so I don’t think I’ll be bothered by them. Guess that means I can relax a bit, maybe build near them to provide more security. That is if I can manage to stand the smell.

I only got free a month ago so I’m still learning a lot of stuff. No one seems to like me, probably my appearance? I’ll cover myself up in some of the bandages I’ve found and see if that works. If not I’ll adjust until people stop trying to attack me on sight.

Suns getting low so I should get some sleep. I’ll write more tomorrow..or the day after. It’s a nice distraction.

Chaosvolt

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(( Written with ideas and feedback from Wilson and Noctifer. ))

Timeline: Roughly 2 years after the cataclysm, a couple days before The Shifting

Characters Involved: The preceding world's versions of Helen and Lucian



Fate twisted and turned, in ways mirroring a path others walked though the cataclysm, yet diverging down other peculiar paths.

A holy order was crumbling, rife with schism. Foundering as strife tore them apart, and the heterodox grasped for fresh blood only to come up empty. With their slow march into extinction, barely even witnessing the true End of All, the Cleansing Flame had focused much more of their efforts upon the very mission that first brought them together.

Yet some paths still took a familiar shape, facing unfamiliar consequences...



There was an old lumber yard, deep within parts of New England now steadily succumbing the reclamation by the wilderness. The axes had gone still, all but one. A daily routine of blade meeting wood, but not by hands of its original employees. A stranger lingered, limping and bearing each day's hardships, far from cities still infested with horrors unlike any the world had seen before.

Another had followed a trail. Standing at the crest of a hill, overlooking the brush-choked dirt path that led to the logging camp. A woman, tattered leather cloak hanging heavy upon her shoulders, a patchwork of scratched, bent iron scales adorning it. Only a few flecks of gold and brass hinted at its purpose, but the mask of iron and copper over her face remained in far better condition. Through pinpricks of eerie red light, obscuring green eyes, she stalked her prey.

He was in one of the cabins, the one farthest from the entrance to the camp. His aura put her off guard, there was an unnatural taint to it, but it was weaker. Dull, as though he had been out of practice. Strayed from The Path, even so close to the cursed Appalachian, where abominations haunted every peak, where the temptation to exploit them would be unavoidable.

She found the door unlocked. He was waiting there, sitting at a table in the single room. A woodcutting axe was propped up against the wall by the doorway, well out of reach. A crude firearm, likely more duct tape than metal at this point, was left open and unloaded on a dresser by the bed, several feet behind him. He was looking her right in the eyes, a thousand yard stare evident. He looked as worn down as her, wearing a long coat that had been torn and patched countless times, mixed with long-inert scraps of hard leather armor, once bearing the mark of sanguine craftsmanship. The only weapon he had in reach was a cane, a stout length of hickory.

"Hunter..." he said in a voice that seemed barely audible, weak and hoarse. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, a hammer resting over her shoulder. It was weather, tarnished, the wood cracked and only held together by the langets. The footfalls of armored boots seemed especially heavy on creaky old wood, moreso from the weariness evident in her gait. "...shrike."

"What are you waiting for? Gloat if you'd like, see if I care...if I wanted to fight you, you'd already be dead." he said, briefly managing the faintest hint of a smile. She cast that gaze over him, augmented by the sight beyond sight of her mask. "If you could fight, you mean." she answered, lowering her hammer. It wasn't into a combat stance. In fact, she seemed hesitant. "You...were the one who killed my father, weren't you? Thomas McKinnon..."

"That...was the last one I killed." he answered. "You've already figured it out, haven't you?" he said. She simply gave a nod in response, her mask deactivating. She could tell. She'd spied his movements entering the building when she first got in range, the way he heavily favored one leg. Barely able to walk, only managing through what little magic he still practiced. Only way he could even stand, at least for long enough to tend to daily tasks like chop firewood and gather food.

"This is what I find when I seek my father's murderer? After losing everyone, everything but revenge, what do I find...a cripple who left the Order. You and I are the only ones left of our conflict, aren't we..." she said, her grip on the hammer tightening. She was glaring at him under the mask, yet she couldn't bring herself to take another step forward. She looked like she was already about to collapse, not from anger or sorrow, but from simple weariness. The way the shrike simply looked back at her, fully accepting of his fate, only made it that much harder to advance those final few steps, to bash his brains out like she'd set out to do.

He seemed to be sizing her up, a reflexive appraisal before he reached for an old kettle, to pour a cup. "More or less. Tea?" he asked, and she nearly dropped her hammer outright. She set it down, grumbling to herself as she finally stepped forward, taking the other seat at the table. "I'm going to regret this...alright."

"Hungry?" he asked, taking a sip of tea first, to show it was safe before offering her a cup. She gave a little nod, lowering the torn hood of her cloak. She didn't even have her helm anymore, only the mask still concealed her, red hair tied in a short ponytail. "I...a bit. Not much left to scavenge from the cities these days." she admitted.

At that he nodded, leaning over a bit to the wood stove by the wall, to get a pot of stew left simmering on it. She was still wary, yet soon enough the allure of a hot meal was enough to convince herself to let her guard down a bit, and remove her mask to eat.

They sat and ate in silence for a few minutes, at first exchanging nothing more than names. Helen, Lucian. She was the one to finally break the silence. "How long had it been? Since you left them..." she asked.

They way he gazed back at her seemed to betray the discomfort that his memories brought up. Of staring down at an old man, crawling for his hammer with his last ounce of strength, final breath an attempt to say his daughter's name in the delirium of blood loss. Abandoning the Sanguine Order to rot, infinitely more shaken by all the bloodshed than how the conflict would play out a whole reality away.

And the bitter memory of what happened, barely making it to the very boiling point, the end that the magi had long preached of, when the only person who stuck with him had succumbed to the relic they stole from the Order. The agony of a leg wrenched out of place in a frantic struggle, kneecap split open by an unholy blade, and soon enough watching his best friend bleed out at his feet, a final spark of humanity evident in his eyes during that final moment.

"A...a long time. Years." he answered, after a moment's pause that felt like an eternity. "Before this shit started, it was after...him, the last one." he muttered. "After all this time, I..." she said softly. It was clear she was struggling with something. She came here to exterminate the Sanguine Order. It was the life she was born into. The only thing that kept her going, even as she lost everyone she ever knew, one by one. There was no final hunt of Shadows of Arcana, no dramatic clash to shake her to her core. Instead, there was only a slow burn. Worn down yet unrelenting, only to find out too late that the Sanguine Order was long gone, and she had spent the past year following the trail of a broken man.

He stood, unsteadily and clutching the cane, his other hand leaning heavily on the table. "I-- One moment." He seemed to focus his resolve, unsteadily steps making his way to a corner, where an old steamer trunk rested in the corner. Somehow, he mustered the strength to drag it closer to the table, nearly falling onto it as he knelt to open it. A hammer, and a mask. Copper adorned iron, decorations in the form of an impassive face, a bright red beard of metal trailing down so that it would cover the throat of its intended wearer.

"Those from my former order said I left behind 'a trophy'. I don't know why I kept it." he practically spat out, Helen standing to draw close, seeing him struggle she found herself compelled to help him stand, before he placed the items on the table. "Still makes me sick. It's yours." he added, nearly falling into his chair afterward.

She sat back down, and the way she was tearing up a bit, despite the grimace that crossed her face as she examined the mask, was evident with hers not being on at the moment. She could only look at it for a moment, before glancing away, forcing herself to regain her composure. "Thank you. We'd normally inter them with the fallen, or at least enshrine them if that was all we could recover, but...there's nothing left."

Lucian simply shrugged at that, breathing a heavy sigh. "I don't want it. You can probably do something with it." he answered, and she gave a nod. "I will. I'll find something to do with it..."

She would stay the night, making use of one of the other cabins, before planning her next move. He'd slept in, setting plenty of wood in his cabin's stove before going to bed nearly as soon as she'd left him alone, even though the sun was only barely beginning to set, and she'd find he slept in well past morning.

She'd gone into the main office of the old site, finding that he used the space as a workshop and pantry, to have a simple breakfast rather than disturb him. Then she walked. A simple hike, closer to the foot of the nearby mountains, where overgrowth gave way to twisted, dead plants across cold, rocky ground. Far enough from the camp that the thunder of a hammer, that hadn't resounded in several months, didn't so much as stir Lucian from his rest. Weary though she'd been, there was still fight in her, and the chittering of some chitinous abomination was silenced in a flurry of hammer blows.

She made it a short way up a mountain trail before overturning a few stones that had fallen across the unused path, fumbled to dig a small pit. Carefully, she lay the mask and hammer that Lucian had given her to rest, a short cairn the only grave marker she'd been able to give her father. They never recovered a body, so this was the best she could manage. The gear of a fallen hunter, somewhere free from the threat of scavengers finding it.

She'd return to find him still asleep, even though it was now past noon by the time she returned, groggy and answering her brief spark of concern with only a bitter smirk. "Come on, let an old man sleep..." he grumbled, Helen taking a seat at the table. "Odin's eye, you don't look any older than me. Don't tell me this is what a shrike does for half the day."

"Well I feel twice your age, so there. Besides, got firewood and stew on for the next two days, twice that depending on how soon you're leaving." he remarked. "I'd give it a bit though. There's a storm coming in...I can feel it. One advantage to having your best friend come within a few inches of taking your leg off."

At that, Helen gave a little sigh, then a nod of agreement. "You're right. There is a storm, but not that sort. How long have you been out here? The Veil itself is being torn apart..." Lucian just shook his head. "Not long before it all went pear-shaped. This area has been a mess of Veil...things, since that very day. No idea if it's any better out there."

At that, she picked up her mask, and before the shrike could raise a hand to object, she made him don it, activating it with the tap of a gauntleted finger. All around, it seemed like there was the glow of endless portals, endless holes in reality, piercing the haze limiting the mask's sight range. Brighter than it ever was before, even during the very peak of zero day.

If he had the strength to, if he wasn't already so worn down physically and mentally, he'd be laughing mad at the sight of it all. All he could manage was a tired chuckle, trembling hands fumbling blindly to remove the mask, blind himself to a clairvoyance he'd never experimented with before. "They were right, weren't they. Cultist bastards knew this would happen..."

Helen sat back down. The energy had left her, as the reality of what she had been seeing over the past month in her mask's vision sank in properly, adrenaline and resolve faded at last, her final mission ending without the blood-soaked closure she couldn't bring herself to obtain. "I don't know. This seems so much worse than what the Keepers were claiming, but...there's nothing we can do."

Lucian glanced at her, so weary and yet lacking the roughness, the scars he'd picked up along the way. Cloak kept her from staying too beat up for long, he figured. Finally, he was managing something close to a genuine smile. "Came here to kill me, and now you're spending your final moments with me. If I didn't feel another 30 or so years older than I am..."

"Wh-n-not like that, that wasn't what I was implying, gods damnit!" she said, sitting up straight with a renewed spark of fury. "It's just, we're not going to finish what's left of our past like this. Might as well just...wait it out. If we survive, whatever survival means when reality itself is falling apart...we'll see. Go our separate ways, stick together, I don't know..."

"Heh. Fine then. If we survive, and we don't find ourselves dumped on the surface of Mars or something, an extra pair of hands would be nice. Working set of legs too, for that matter." he remarked. "Pleasure meeting you, hunter...no, Helen."



Across a hundred thousand realities, a dozen hands pulled at an ever-more-threadbare patchwork of worlds. Each pulling the fabric of reality in every direction, lesser powers clawing at decaying threads in a scramble for purchase. Some worked deep and close into this growing hole in existence and risking their own destruction, some working at strings from a less precarious distance. All unknowing or uncaring about trillions upon trillions of galaxies within these strands, planet upon planet suffering uncountably infinite armageddons in the process.

Distant powers exerted influence of their own, steady hands weaving a hundred worlds at a time as they worked their machinations. From far above, ever so distant, a shrouded figure worked to steady fraying strands. From far below, yet of the same origin as the stranger above, a treacherous thing sought his own hold on the cosmos, working a thousand gambits against a thousand unknowable, distant plots of his rival. And in the abyss all in-between, with neither origin nor end, a hungering darkness awaited the feast as reality unraveled and frayed, already sending the least of their endless host to gnaw upon untainted threads.

And woven all within a particularly-thin patch of the tapestry, caught up in scarcely a hundred universes, a broken four-fold thing slumbered. If awakened, it could effortlessly contest all but the most distant of the powers warring over these crumbling realities. But if it awakened, the fraying of reality in its wake may well cast all the powers present into the abyss, then drag the abyss and its lurking hungers into depths even the immortals feared.

Just as another thread frayed and snapped, the dreaming thing stirred. Those all in between looked on with both fear and hunger, and all within paused. Shimmering fragments of a destroyed reality scattered over and all throughout its sleeping expanse, disturbing its dreams for but an instant. But it returned to its rest, tangled within one less timeline.

But as these motes of broken existence drifted off its body, the dreamer's movement denied the hungering darkness their table scraps. For much of the cast-off reality settled on another thread the dreamer was a part of, and two realities became one. Other pieces of the destroyed world settled, adrift among the tapestry to settle all throughout.

And one tiny mote of reality found its place, far from those closest threads, yet with a faint hope for a new future...

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The snap of a large book being closed with some force startled Victor from his own reading and had him checking to make sure Thomas had not been stirred from his tenuous slumber. Fortunately he had not and with that settled, Victor made his quiet way to the study where he knew Helen would be hard at work trying to solve a problem that she herself had not thought a real problem until the night before.

"Is everything alright?" He asked while gently knocking on the door frame. Helens head swiveled as though on a well oiled bearing and looked at him hard for a long moment. She looked exhausted.

"Yes Victor…" she finally sighed, "Just… I don't think any of the books in our possession have any answers for me." She stood and began the laborious task of picking up her study material to file back onto their shelves. Some of them, Victor noted, rather obscure or downright obsolete texts. Alchemy books, times on blood magic, an arcanists treatise on golemancy and craft magic. Even some of Victor's own notes on certain subjects he had been more interested in during that vague hazy time before he met Helen. From the theme of the materials, Victor could easily deduce what had been bothering her. Or rather, who.

"Is it really that important Helen? I mean, if you can't find anything on it then-" He began to question. Helen spun on him, momentarily giving him the look of the mage hunter and not the look of the woman who'd given birth to his child. Then it softened back to the kindly stern face he knew so we'll.

"I need to know Vic, if the knowledge of her creation were to fall into the wrong hands it could be catastrophic. Can you imagine some blood mage creating even one homunculus like branches? A homunculus that can think and act for itself, can heal by packing it's wounds with dirt, is as strong as a truck, and can replicate itself with just a little bit of clay?" She exclaimed, lecturing just a tiny bit. The issue had pressed on Helen more than she cared to admit before, but now...

"If it existed," Victor suggested, "You would have found it by now. You… we have one of the largest intact collections of arcane knowledge, that we know of, in the world." He said this with an accompanying sweep of his arm over the shelves upon shelves of books in the study. The room was small, but even compared to the most well established arcanist convent or blood mage hideout who's entire collections usually only consisted of a few well thumbed volumes on one small shelf in a secure room somewhere…

Helen pulled another book down, one she'd already read, and Victor stopped her with a hand on her elbow. There was a factor that Helen wasn't taking into account. Whether because of a lack of understanding or a refusal to believe, she wasn't taking into account the creator. Illiana D'eva D'oris. Helen had dismissed the bizarre woman as merely a powerful trickster spirit, but Victor had not. Victor had a flexible imagination. A flexible imagination and at the time a wiped memory. He had not interacted with the woman, but he'd seen her do things and heard her claims, and Victor had been in the presence of powerful otherworldly beings before.

"Why don't you ask her?" Victor said, but Helen shook her head.

"Branches doesn't know the full details of how she was made, she has a great deal of arcane potential but her big concern is law and life. I-"

"No." Victor hushed, putting on finger on Helens lips, "Not Branches. You know who I mean."

"The spirit? But how could I possibly-"

Again Victor interrupted Helen, knowing the nature of the being he was suggesting Helen go to. "You won't have to. She'll show up herself. When every option I exhausted and it seems like there's no logical path, she'll show up."

"But if that were so, why isn't she here now?" Helen asked. Victor shrugged, maybe there were still options out there. Instead, he took the book from her and set it aside before wrapping an arm around her waist.

"A very good question, but one for tomorrow. You're exhausted and need rest now. Come on to bed." He said kindly, leading Helen off to her bed where she fell into a dreamless sleep the second her head hit the pillow.


The next morning, Helen put off her research in favor of unwinding a bit.Victor was probably right, now that the morning had come and sleep had washed away a few of her doubts. It gave her time to think, but in her thoughts she found that she had unconsciously ended up crossing the road into Branches part of the woods. Why had she done that? The original plan, from her perspective, had been to take a walk over the hall’s ruined fields to see if there might be something they could do to restore them. The devastation from Branches flight through the woods had settled somewhat but the smell of fresh pine tar was still strong in the air. Helen gave the inactive golem another once over, noting once again the crudity of the design and the flaws in it’s construction. Branches was, it seemed, just as confused as to the makeup of her own creations as Illiana was.

Helen found her way to a pair of stone posts that hadn’t been here before at the edge of Branches clearing, marking the entrance to the center of her “domain.” It was pleasant, the clearing, but Branches seemed to be absent. The ruins of the bandit camp had been neatly picked up and haphazardly tossed into two piles. One a messy wreck of obvious trash, and the other, a pile of usable scraps. She also had to admit, what the homunculus had done with the bandit leaders yurt was fairly impressive. The frame had been sunk into a pit and covered over with clay. The roof had remained as it was, heavy canvas that Branches had covered in cedar boughs and tarp.

Helen was getting ready to go back, when she caught movement from the two scrap piles. A length of town canvas was slithering out and weaving itself around a mix of splintered fiberglass rods and broken camp gear. A sheath of mud engulfed the moving mess and formed into the rough shape of a woman, the canvas continuing to move into strategic places on the “doll” and shifting in color. Before long, the familiar form of the Deus Ex stood before the Mage Hunter.

“Good morning Ms. McKinnon.” She said, sounding a bit put off, “It seems I’m not quite allowed to abscond from this reality at my desired time as of yet.”

“I guess Victor was right, and I’ve come to such an impasse that there really is no other option left to me.” Helen mused, watching Illiana with the unease she reserved for strange obscure entities.

“Indeed. Come, come, let’s have a seat inside. Branches is currently away, disappointing me with her life decisions. I wish she’d gone to you instead, but I digress.” Illiana grumbled. The small door to Branches home swung silently open, invitingly even. “She won’t be back for quite some time, too busy getting more advice from Roxanne and making eyes at… bah…”

For all of her, Helen was drawn to do as she was asked. She had no interest in looking through Branches home while she was away, but all the same it seemed she was going to be doing so. As for what Illiana had said about Roxanne or “making eyes,” she had no idea and a compulsion not to ask. A question for another day, and perhaps to be directed towards the homunculus.

“You have a question, and I have an answer, though you will probably assume I’m playing some trick on you. Go ahead and ask.” Illiana said impatiently. Helen wasn't sure what to say at all that, or where to start, and so she just cut straight to the meat of the matter.

"Is it possible for other people to make constructs like Branches?"

"No." Illiana said with a dismissive flick of her hand, then sighed, "No it is not Ms. McKinnon. Branches is a homunculus, no doubt, but not the sort you are familiar with. How do I put this in a way that sounds believable?" There came a long silence between them in which Helen had time to appreciate the rustic trappings of Branches home. No carpenter was the homunculus, but creation clearly ran in her blood. With the thought formed, Helen found Illiana was grinning knowingly at her. "I suppose that's as good a place to start as any. Creation does indeed run in her, if only I'd been aware of what would happen when I made her. It only makes sense to start at the beginning, or at least very close to it. Go on and have a seat on one of Branches mats, she won't mind."

Helen considered, then did as she was told. She had a feeling that this would all be new to her and indeed, it was.



"In the beginning," Illiana intoned, "the earth was flat. But not flat as I know you are thinking, I mean that it was utterly devoid of detail. A sphere floating in space adorned in an endless plain of grasses and trees. Dirt and flat red rock. No mountains, no hills, no rivers or canyons or lakes or oceans. All very interesting. It was not however devoid of movement. Every cycle, a spark would ignore the plain, and the rains would come and put it out. The earth would churn and mix the fertile ash with the hardy soil, and the wind would bring upon it the seeds of another generation. So it went for ages upon ages until one day, the Earth did not churn. Fires passion came and it's kiss burned away the grasses and trees, then the rains came and poured their love upon the ash, soaking it into a hard cast upon which the winds seeds could not take root. The wind saw what had happened, and asked of the fire and water why they had done what they'd done. To this, they responded that twas not their doing, twas the earth. The earth had not churned, had not mixed and shackled the fires passions with its staunch practicality. The rains had come then and blindly poured their love onto what had been left in the fires wake. Passion unchained, love without sense.

So the wind took up a waterlogged branch of charcoal, and descended into the earth to show it what had been wrought by it's inactivity. For many days and many nights, the fire and rains waited. Then upon the dawning of the fifth day, the wind emerged from the earth bearing with it something new. It was small and moved about on four limbs. Before long, it was tilling the ash into the earth with its front limbs, and moving about on its back limbs. The wind brought seeds, and it planted them in fertilized soil. The rains brought their showers and the creature watched. When the rain had passed, it gathered up the puddled water and followed the flame as it went, sousing it whenever the fire grew overeager. When night fell, it built more like itself and in the morning the wind would come and blow the breath of potential into them. In time, they grew more defined, bodies taking on more shapes and sizes and colors. They developed hands and feet. Eyes with which to see and mouths to speak. They tilled the soil, but did so without the finesse of the earth. Instead, they gave the labor their own touches of creativity. They filled the soil and moved it aside to make the rolling hills. Loose stones were gathered up or pulled from the depths of the earth and used to build the mountains. They dug trenches and filled them with water, creating the first rivers and canyons. They sorted the trees and plants and created biomes. Life sprang forth, and the world filled with it. The creatures born from the earth sorted them as well, inhabiting the regions of the world with their own special uniqueness and spreading the soul of fire and water, the heart of the earth, and the soul and unlimited potential of the blowing wind.



Helen was enthralled and for a a few moments, didn't realize that the Deus ex had stopped talking.

"Well? What happened next in this creation myth of yours?" She asked. Illiana seemed introspective, lost in thought until finally.

"They faded away. They seeded the world as we know it and then simply returned to the soil from which they came. That's not to say they didn't develop a culture or even a uniform shape, had their own superstitions about things like eyes and types of stone or soil, but mostly they shaped the world as we know it. Besides, I've told you a much simplified version of events and didn't go into the love affair between the wind queen and the stone king that began the whole chain of events."

"I thought you said there was nothing alive before?" Helen asked. She settled quickly, understanding that creation stories were often like this. Leaving out small details, as any "history" would often do.

"Of course silly, but can the wind be said to truly be 'alive?' Or the earth? Or fire?" Illiana shot back casually. Helen thought about it. Taking the question from the average standpoint, no, but if you thought about it spiritually… "It is a hard question isn't it? However you want to look at it, you wanted to know if it was possible that someone else could make a being like Branches. The story I told should illustrate that beings like her did once exist, but they were created by powerful beings. Sure, they multiplied themselves, but the wind had to give them a breath of potential before they actually moved around at all. Branches is a creation of my will, the will of an omnipotent godlike being possessing just the tiniest touch of my own Deus Ex Potentia." Illiana scanned the room looking around at everything Branches had accomplished in her short shot at life, basking in the experience of pride. Then stood, reached out, and flipped one of the polaroids on Branches windowsill onto its face. "I just wish she wouldn't squander it so… It's been fun Helen, but I really must be going. I've told you enough to get those brain gears moving. More than enough to fulfill my purpose. Remember to remind Branches to get Roxanne to her arbitration next month would you? Thanks. Ta!"

There was no flash, no flourish. Before Helen could rise, the strange purple haired woman in the business suit simply opened the front door, strode out, and vanished. With that, Helen was left alone in the small house by the lake.

Helen ruminated for a long time on the story before deciding that most of it was probably well thought out bunk. Branches was no more some kind of "Proto Homunculus" than Helen was a red mage. She was still thinking on it, when the subject of her pondering pushed her way into the shack, and stopped.

"Um… What are you doing in my house?" She asked nervously. Still afraid of Helen. Probably always would be on some level. Helen made some excuse and stayed a bit longer for tea, which Branches seemed to have picked up a like of. While they sipped, Helen saw her take notice of the turned down photo and flip it back up. It featured mainly Hector, but standing uncomfortably close to his side was the Homunculus looking like she was about to catch fire from nervousness. Helen considered for a long time after she left and wondered why she hadn't just told Branches that the woman she'd gone to for advice was playing her, then let it go. She needed to learn about life, and whether it turned out for better or worst, Branches would need to learn this lesson on her own.
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