“Careful when you’re swimmin’ in the holy water, drowning in your own beliefs…”
Homework isn’t too difficult, fortunately, once you’ve settled into your rhythm with your playlist, singing along as you go. You really are having an easier time of it than you’ve had in the past, too – benefits of your enhanced Intelligence, probably. It’s still not very interesting, but…
what would be, after that?
You think back, to what future-past-you said after you claimed Stella’s heart for your own…the second ‘Developer’s Note’. About ‘securing a cutie’s loyalty’. It sounds so callous when she puts it that way, but you’re certain now it can’t be. (Or if it is, then future-past-you is way more far gone than you thought!)
To grow in power, by claiming a girl just like Stella…
but you couldn’t do that to just anyone. It has to be someone who can make your heart race like she does. Polyamory isn’t about just collecting girls, right? Does future-past-you understand that?
(More importantly, do you?)
Sighing, once you’re certain you’ve got what you need, you save your last essay and send it off, rubbing your face and letting out a soft ‘mouuu’ as you chug down some water. You still don’t know what skills you want, and you’ve still got the whole elephant in the room with Seul-ki –
You’ve got a message? You check your PC notifications, and…
You’ve never received a message from ‘
deliverance‘ before, not personally at least, but you know exactly who it is.
[21:30 05/13/42] deliverance: Hello, Cibele. This is your Aunt Vesta. Can we chat for a bit?
Vesta Ilustrada Imanis.
…right. Mama told her too, huh?
[21:30 05/13/42] qubeley004: Uh, sure! I’m done my homework, so I have some time. What’s up, Aunt Vesta? :o
[21:31 05/13/42] deliverance: I heard that your assignment went well. And your study date, too. Rheia, bless her heart, was *very* excited to tell me that you’d ‘done it’. So to speak…
[21:31 05/13/42] deliverance: Good news, but not entirely unexpected.
[21:32 05/13/42] deliverance: What I *hadn’t* heard before, Cibele, is that the girl you had such a powerful crush on used to be your *bully*.
O-oh. Huh…guess Mama paid a lot of attention to that. Or maybe it slipped out when you were telling everyone what happened?
[21:33 05/13/42] deliverance: If I knew that when you’d asked me for advice, I’d have never even considered giving it to you. And yet, despite this, she fell in love with you all the same…and quite quickly, too.
[21:34 05/13/42] deliverance: I’m impressed, Cibele. All this time, I’ve underestimated your passion. I really didn’t think you’d have a talent for it!
Okay. Yeah. You can handle this. Your Aunt Vesta, someone you’ve looked up to, been jealous of, and generally wanted to be more like, is telling you she’s impressed. Impressed!
It’s a bit odd, but…
[21:35 05/13/42] qubeley004: Ehe. ^^; I guess it wouldn’t be the first enemies-to-lovers story you’ve been in on, right?
[21:36 05/13/42] deliverance: Maybe you should ask Nikita the next time you see her.
[21:37 05/13/42] deliverance: Desire is like a flame. Embracing it draws others before it, and their own become elucidated by fire.
[21:38 05/13/42] qubeley004: Right, you helped Aunt Nikita out way back when…
[21:38 05/13/42] deliverance: What I felt from you, when you first asked me, was like that. It was like *fire*. It might sound silly, but I thought, for the first time, someone truly understood the nature of my desires.
[21:38 05/13/42] deliverance: Do you agree, Cibele? Do you understand me a little better now? What it is I did, to grasp love, that made you so *jealous* of me when you grew old enough to desire love yourself?
You absolutely can.
Even without reading Aunt Vesta’s mind – or Percy’s, for that matter – you would know by now what Vesta means. She’s not subtle. You’ve always been jealous of her, just a little bit. You’ve always wondered what it would take to gain her respect.
[21:39 05/13/42] qubeley004: …Aunt Vesta, your interest in hypnosis isn’t just intellectual, is it?
Alright, it coming up with Seul-ki…she seems to be the whole reason you have this interest, okay, that makes sense. Stella? Yeah, in hindsight, it’s not that strange that her ideal career path comes with a guilty-pleasure fetish on the side. Milia, if she does like hypnosis, is super fond of Seul-ki, so that also makes perfect sense.
But your family?
First Aunt Vesta, then Marq…who’s next? Aunt Junon? Aunt Circe? Auntie Vanessa? Your mom? Your dad? You know Papa likes magical girls like Marq does, it’s entirely possible! Mouuu, it’s like the universe has been conspiring to give you a hypnofetish all along! Probabilities perfectly placed to make you want to brainwash girls!
(Which, would that count as brainwashing? Food for thought!)
deliverance is typing…
Oh, this is taking a while, isn’t it.
You never believed in something like ‘destiny’ before all of this, but now you’re starting to wonder. What it is that draws all these threads together…
You wonder, what it’s like for Vesta.
She has no supernatural power, like you do. Maybe, you’re a bit disappointed, that you didn’t ‘earn’ it – but by the same token, what you’re capable of is greater than her, too. But still, she whispered in a girl’s ear, and shaped her will, all the same…
Is that why Seul-ki planned this? Did she see the same potential in you – potential no one else saw, not even yourself?
[21:49 05/13/42] deliverance: No.
Ten fudging minutes?! For one word, too! You really must’ve hit hard with that question!
(…is it bad if you’re kind of happy about it?)
[21:49 05/13/42] deliverance: I held such desires in my heart, as well, twenty years ago. And like you, I was able to grow past what I thought of as inherent limitations to get what I wanted.
[21:50 05/13/42] qubeley004: It’s still hard to imagine you in pigtails, Aunt Vesta!
[21:51 05/13/42] deliverance: They suit you a lot better than they ever suited me! But, you really have grown up. :white_heart:
[21:51 05/13/42] qubeley004: I’m not a kid anymore, Vesta. I’m still young, but I want to be treated as an adult. I think I’ve proven myself now, with Stella.
[21:52 05/13/42] deliverance: You’re right, Cibele. I need to stop thinking of you as the girl who kept chasing my baby sister’s coattails. Besides, I was doing the same thing at your age!
Wait, baby sister? Who would she be chasing –
oh, fudge, Vesta had a crush on your mom, didn’t she.
Which admittedly would be kind of – no, bad thoughts, bad thoughts! T-this doesn’t happen in normal families, probably! Mouu, it’s not your fault lesbians are super attracted to your heterosexual mother…
[21:53 05/13/42] deliverance: Before anything else…mm. You don’t need to answer this for me. I’m still family, if quite distant. And it’s the somewhat overenthusiastic interest of a woman who used to change your diapers.
[21:54 05/13/42] qubeley004: R-right, Mama mentioned ^^;
[21:54 05/13/42] deliverance: But if you would indulge your cousin…
[21:55 05/13/42] deliverance: From one *domina* to another, would you tell me how it felt, to hold Stella’s head in your hands?
…your first crush was Korri, of course. (Technically second, actually, b-but you really don’t think Lauren Mayberry counts!) But your second crush was Vesta’s baby sister, Ilaria. There’s nearly a decade between the two, so Ilaria’s only a little older than Marq; young enough that you, for whatever reason, thought you had a shot.
Ilaria was really passionate, and pretty…you looked up to her a lot, at a time when Vesta scared you more than anything. But she never really responded, not even to reject you. Disappointing, but it is what it is.
Still, you can’t help but wonder what your past self would think, if you told her that instead of holding hands with Ilaria while talking about famous feminists through the ages, you’d be sharing stories of love and desire with that scary aunt who seemed to look down on you all the time…
[21:58 05/13/42] qubeley004: I loved it…
[21:59 05/13/42] qubeley004: I practiced on Korri, first, since she volunteered to help. Seeing her go blank, and slack, and **sink**, it was *perfect*. I didn’t know a girl could be that attractive. I didn’t realize, what it would be…
[22:00 05/13/42] qubeley004: I didn’t know what Stella would respond to. When she led me into trance first, she was struck by me. And when I took her under, she was so pretty, I couldn’t help but lace her with triggers, and steal a kiss from her.
[22:01 05/13/42] qubeley004: I didn’t even realize how far she’d fallen, until she kissed me in return, *demanding* I follow through on my feelings.
[22:02 05/13/42] qubeley004: And I did.
[22:02 05/13/42] qubeley004: Does that answer your question, Vesta? Is that what you wanted to hear?
…right. You’re lucky your family’s still out. T-this would be really dangerous otherwise at your desk!
[22:03 05/13/42] deliverance: It is. In more ways than one, Cibele. :white_heart:
[22:04 05/13/42] deliverance: As expected of your mother, bless her heart, she focused on the ‘loss’ of your ‘virginity’, but…
[22:04 05/13/42] deliverance: You may be more interested in sex than I am, but you understand, don’t you?
[22:05 05/13/42] deliverance: That there are things better than sex…
You’re uncertain you could go back to ‘regular’ sex and ever be satisfied, now. Having the power over Stella felt better than sex. The sex was nice, but…
it was just a bonus, really.
Sometimes, people ask Vesta, what she gets out of a relationship without copulation, as she would put it. She never quite answers the question, she just…smiles.
You know, though.
Oh fudge do you ever know.
[22:06 05/13/42] deliverance: With that in mind, if there’s anything you need help with, me and mine are at your disposal. (Within reason, of course.) Desire is like a flame, but with fire comes disparity – and many potential pitfalls. I didn’t have anyone but Rheia to help me at your age, so I’d like to correct that for the next generation.
[22:06 05/13/42] deliverance: I can’t offer much more than advice, but if you’re in the neighborhood, feel free to visit my office or Nikita’s ‘massage parlor’, if it’s something you need to talk about in person.
[22:07 05/13/42] deliverance: Though, ah – if you *do* decide to take up Nikita’s offer, be warned. Neither she nor her sister are gentle.
[22:07 05/13/42] qubeley004: Y-you knew about that?! Mouuu, this doesn’t happen in normal families…
[22:07 05/13/42] deliverance: ;)
[22:08 05/13/42] qubeley004: I-if she could read Farsi, I’d be *really* worried right now! D:
…still, it’s a good thing, isn’t it?
You’ve not only grasped Stella for yourself, you’ve won the respect of Vesta in the process. Something unimaginable to you a mere two weeks before. A mysterious woman, your elder, capable of giving you advice and solace, having something your powers can never grant you – experience. (And someone who, lest you forget, has a long history of navigating the local politics, which you may find necessary before long.)
Maybe, if desire is a flame, she’s a kind of Fire Keeper, someone who knows it better than anything else. At the very least, even if you can’t tell her about your powers, you won’t be alone, right? You can’t rely on your devoted servants for everything.
(Not yet, anyway, some part of you whispers.)
[22:09 05/13/42] deliverance: I don’t want to keep my beloved Sulastri waiting *too* long, but if you have any questions right now, please do ask!
…right. You’ve got two things to deal with, in the immediate sense. The first is Yi Seul-ki, but you don’t know if you want to trust Vesta with that information just yet. Not until you know more about her intentions from the second thing…
Milia, the so-called ‘Empress’. If there’s anyone who knows how to deal with someone like her, it’s Vesta.
[22:11 05/13/42] qubeley004: Well…there is *one* thing I’d like to ask about.
[22:13 05/13/42] qubeley004: I, uh. *Maybe* kind of sort of possibly have developed a rivalry with a girl from the de L’Impératrice family, because she is intensely upset that my favorite teacher likes me better than her? And I *may* have made some waves in her Debate Club?
[22:14 05/13/42] deliverance: I see. And I take it avoiding her isn’t an option?
[22:14 05/13/42] qubeley004: Afraid not. You’ll have to trust me on that.
(It’s not like you can tell Vesta why, after all.)
[22:15 05/13/42] deliverance: …if you’d told me that before today, I’d have brushed you off. But very well – I said I’d give you advice, and so I shall.
[22:17 05/13/42] deliverance: My work for Earth Light at the INPC has often been obstructed by the Sunset Corporation on intellectual property grounds. You’re probably familiar, living with Rheia and all – free access of information, of *culture*, is a threat to their capability to sell you the same thing over and over again, and keep you within their system.
The International Network Preservation Consortium…your family may prefer physical media when it comes to video games, but most of your pre-Collapse music collection came from the Earth Light archive. With the idol (and Stella’s ex!) Marina Arisa constantly referencing, covering, and iterating upon music in the public domain, it’s no longer quite as quixotic as it used to be, but still.
(…someday, you hope, you can make things right between her and Stella. The regret you saw in her mind…it wasn’t a relationship either wanted to end.)
(Is humanity’s mutual understanding still so distant?)
[22:19 05/13/42] deliverance: It’s the same with all these…’zaibatsu’, across the world. The Reiwa Accord protects us, but to achieve that, I’ve had to play politics far more times than I prefer. And that includes with Sunset *executives*, as well, including that *odious* dynasty.
[22:19 05/13/42] deliverance: So I’ll make it quite simple: play dirty.
[22:21 05/13/42] deliverance: Forget fighting fair. Do whatever it takes to even the playing field against someone with money and power – and I presume, in this case, she has both. Undermine her allies, promote yourself at her expense, gather information that you can use against her. And *do it*.
[22:22 05/13/42] deliverance: The Sunset Corporation likes to think it’s invincible, that it can decide the place and needs of every human in the city, but…did you read Dr. Newton’s books? Just like hypnosis, *memetics isn’t magic*.
[22:23 05/13/42] deliverance: They have the home field advantage – as does your de L’Impératrice rival – but perception is key. So take whatever advantage you can grasp.
This is good advice, certainly. It’s…
it’s a reminder.
You don’t know who, or even what, your enemy is. But if the Queen is with Sunset, then you can’t afford to hold back your power against them.
And yet, at the same time, they aren’t invincible…Vesta’s done a lot to help ensure human culture is preserved for the next generation, won victories against Sunset, the government, and local reactionaries time and time again. She’s living proof that if you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of power, you can make a difference.
…mind you, in this situation, there is one minor problem you should mention first.
[22:25 05/13/42] qubeley004: …uh, right, what if she’s also attracted to me, maybe, kind of, sort of?
[22:25 05/13/42] deliverance: Are you attracted to her?
You don’t know for certain, and yet, you can’t help but want to defeat her, now…you want, more than anything, to ensure that whatever she tries, however she wants to hurt you, that she’ll bask in your heavenly glory…
[22:28 05/13/42] deliverance: Well, either way, it’s the same thing. If it’s like that, even if she chooses to bully you in reprisal, such a thing would only be hating what she really loves. The more she does it, the more she’ll get hooked on you…
[22:30 05/13/42] deliverance: In *italiano*, we have a saying: *l’amore domina senza regole*. That is, ‘love rules without rules’.
[22:30 05/13/42] deliverance: Or to put it more simply: all’s fair in love and war. :white_heart:
[22:32 05/13/42] deliverance: …right, Sulastri’s calling for me. I’m sure Rheia will keep me appraised, but let me know if you need anything, Cibele.
…and she’s gone.
You roll over in your bed, staring at the ceiling.
Play dirty, huh…?
You open up your skill trees, staring at red, gold, and green. You think, if Aunt Vesta has to fight this hard for her work – work important to humanity’s very future – her advice is worth taking to heart, in love as much as war. And if both things are fair…
Your eyes flit to the left-hand side of your Enchantment tree. To Charm.
Now, even after things with Stella, you’re still…reluctant, about some of these things. Stella is willing, yes, but thinking of doing it to someone like Korri is still a thrill you don’t think you can allow. The Charm tree is…
Charm T1: Charm Person. You may temporarily have one individual think of you as a trusted friend. They will answer questions they would consider reasonable, and they may perform actions for you if they would do so for a friend.
Note that though they won’t remember this ability being used per se, if your request or question is something they would never do for you normally, they may realize something was wrong. (This applies to your enemies; strangers will rationalize this more easily.)
Charm T2: Persistent Charm. A constant, passive ability. (It may be suppressed at will.) The longer you spend with an individual, the more influence you have over them, in the manner of a saleswoman. The upper limit of this effect depends on how close the individual is to you already. With enough time (several hours), you may eventually convince them of things they would normally never accept.
This can only be done with an individual, or a small group; the more targets you try to influence, the less effective this ability is.
These changes are long-lasting, though not necessarily permanent. The longer this person spends away from you, and the more your thoughts are normally opposed to theirs, are the basis of their resistance. Backing up your arguments with powerful rhetoric or rational thought will increase the length of this effect.
Requires Charm Person.
It’s very fudging dangerous!
And yet, with Vesta’s words fresh in your mind, you know that this is the kind of power that can take on even the Empress of Verwest herself on her home field…and then, afterward, Yi Seul-ki. (If need be.)
You can’t entirely escape the idea of your fetish, and that’ll influence your decisions, but you should start thinking practically, too.
So yeah. Charm magic is hot. But more importantly, Charm Person opens up a lot of doors. (Potentially literally!) Not as many as Natural Language Processing, but it’s slightly better for info gathering…and the best part? As long as it’s on a stranger, it’s almost completely undetectable. Even people you know can be influenced if you’re careful, although that’s much riskier.
As for Persistent Charm…you can imagine a lot of situations where that would be useful. If you can encourage Milia to confide in you about Seul-ki on Monday, or maybe that you’re just this naïve person who doesn’t know what she’s in for…yeah, you can go with that.
As you hop away from the desk and carry your laptop and phone down to the basement, you look at the icons for those skill tiles; Charm Person is a stylized butterfly, and Persistent Charm a butterfly held within two hands. You’re not really sure what bugs have to do with charm magic, but you’re sure Marq could tell you sometime!
You think of Vesta. Librarian, archivist…domina, as she calls herself. You may have a power like this, but you’re not close to being her equal. She says desire is like a flame, and if that’s true…before now, you were unkindled, unfit even to be cinder. Only now does flame flicker within you, gnawing for power and love.
And so it is, that ash seeketh embers.
As you roll back onto the couch, you quickly tap both tiles in succession, and your mind, your heart, your soul open up…
and it writhes within you.
It tastes like honey on your lips. It feels like a pulse straight through your heart. Power buries itself deep within your bosom – or is it that your bosom is cracking open, and the power within is seeping out – and you moan, biting your lip in case someone comes near, unable to escape this wonderful feeling that this power is for you…
It suits you.
It belongs to you.
You feel like, this was always what you were meant to be…
And it brings back the memories, of Stella’s mind, her soul, within your hands, owned by your touch, never to escape you. Never to want to escape you.
The light overtakes you, overwhelms you. Pouring from every part of you. You want to speak. You want to let loose this honey, and let others taste it.
(Let Milia taste it…)
Fatigue overtakes you as the pleasure overwhelms, and you dream, once more. Of words laced with whispers, with desires, of shaping, of molding, of squeezing Milia’s mind within your palms. Of taking your rightful place, somewhere above her…
(what is it, then, that lays above an Empress?)
Enchantment Branch: Disruption
Disruption T1: Through The Cracks. Used in normal conversation. This will force up a thought from just below the surface of the mind (ie, beyond where Thought Skimmer can reach). They will say it aloud in the fashion of a parapraxis, somewhat interrupting the flow of conversation. While they won’t realize this was unnatural, whatever consequences this has for you, them, or others are impossible to predict.
Disruption T2: Intrusive Noise. You induce an effect in a single individual that causes them to temporarily lose some of their rational control over their will. Thoughts and ideas that were once left quiet are now spoken openly, clarity of speech is reduced with stumbling and stuttering, and moments of naked anger are produced.
This ability is especially effective against angry targets, who will devolve into a blind rage. This ability can thus be used in combat, where an opponent’s killing intent is translated into blind anger; those with cool heads or special training may resist this effect, but normal people will lose their heads.
Outside of combat, the individual this ability is used on will not realize this was a magical effect, but you cannot predict the exact effects or their consequences. In combat, the unnatural effect is obvious, even if the ability fails.
Requires Through The Cracks.
Disruption T3: Artificial Nocturne. You may convince someone that a patently untrue fact is true. You may convince them that the sky is green, or that the world is flat, or any other similarly daft belief. (This qualifies based on their understanding, not yours, so you may convince them of something true as long as they believe with great conviction that it’s false.)
This effect is permanent. However, this lie is held up by increasingly spurious conspiracy logic the more it is openly questioned, which may cause the target to mentally unravel.
If you have Your Reality (Geas T2), the lie is instead held up by a sort of religious conviction that cannot be questioned or dispersed. (You may maintain the original effect instead if you consider it more advantageous.) In addition, this skill effectively combines with Your Reality to allow you to not only convince others of facts, but also create highly effective illusions that have no practical limit.
Requires Intrusive Noise and Nagging Thought (Geas T1).