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e2d3c07474ea6c24621ef5a0944090a2.jpgThe soft clatter and chatter of a populous filled backdrop. It created a faint white noise, one of excitement muddied with concern. A day's worth of discussion played over and over, worn by different faces like masks exchanged. The soft shift of a page through an abysmally written novel by an author hardly known to all but a select few. A woman in an apron sets down a white porcelain cup on a platter with a rattle, fumes portraying heat bleeding off from its rim. A dark green and yet slightly transparent water within it, the metallic ticking of armor as soldiers under yellow markers shuffle past like toys under a turn key.

It was all fake

A mirrored reflection of the sun painted blotches of white that consumed eyes, as the cup lifts to lips and a sip. Once more the soft scratch of a page turned, words palette and yet left to roll off the shoulders. Quiet and yet not, peaceful and yet not. Arguments and solitude, victory and yet isolation, conflict and yet... nothing.

The waitress offers a bow, revealing a red robe adorning the back of a chair, akin to that of something that belonged on a lawn. A raised hand beckons that woman to the next table that mimicked ivory, a round platform concealed under white linen and cutlery. A café, something so quaint and simple. Blue flares from a fountain not too far from this place, as children portraying men usher words and attempt their hands against fate. A sharp scratching like a needle, a reluctance to remain seated. Stretched too thin, pushed too far. The omen, the creature and the villain whose heart chose to rest on his shoulders instead of in his chest. Quiet and yet not.

He could not save them from themselves.

Raidou | HP: 860/860 | EN: 104/104 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 44 | EVA: 4 | BH: 47 | LD: 7 | AA | REC: 6 

Spoiler

Raidou, The Red Wanderer
Level: 31
Paragon Level: 60
HP: 860/860
EN: 104/104

Stats:
Damage: 22
Mitigation: 44
Evasion: 4
Battle Healing: 47
Loot Dice: 7
AA
REC: 6

Equipped Gear:
Weapon: Auric Sunlight - Finality of Faith [T4/Demonic/2HSS] +3 Damage, AA
Armor: Robe of the Red Wanderer [T1/Perfect/Cloth] +3 Evasion
Misc: Leaders Epiphany - Fate [T3/Perfect/Trinket]: +1 Loot Dice, Recovery 2

Skills:
Searching R5
Cloth Armor R5
Fighting Spirit
Howl
2HSS R5
Battle Healing R5
Extended Mod Limit

Active Mods:
Detect
Focused Howl
Nimble
Ferocity
Vengeful Riposte
Tracking

Active Extra Skills:
Concentration
Parry
Survival
The Nomad who wanders

Battle Ready Inventory:
Iron Will (Tierless/Unique/Salve) Bloodclot: 1
Terra Firma Scale: 1
Darkness Salve: 3
Mass Heal Crystal: 5
Mass Heal Crystal: 5
Teleport Crystal: 1
Inert Pillar Fragment [Vanity/Broken Glowstone]: 1

 

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So here was Taft; dainty, quiet, peaceful -- bustling.

NIGHT was certain that the once medieval city had been caught under the overhaul of the system, turned from a small cluster of districts one would find in any standard isekai novel to a bona fide capital of such a setting, castle and all. Especially the cathedral; had the player not been perceptive before, she would've regarded its bell tolls a recent addition to the floor. What banners and garnishes the streets used to own were now brought out in full abundance, given the town compacting, but they were still wide enough to account for the variety of players and NPCs alike to charge around with their various wants and needs.

A lazy day alone. Had NIGHT a flair for the cliches, she would've been set on the rooftop of some stranger's home, gazing up at the eternal blue above, nary a care in the world. Instead, her gaze had always been one to wander, the woman sitting upright in time to feel that bluster against her scalp. Right below her was a cafe; intriguing, if she was in the mood to eat. Rather, people watching and escaping the responsibilities of her affairs on the first was much more soothing for her jumbled mind. Too many qualms, with not enough resolutions.

And there in the sea of yellow diamonds she spotted another one. Wasn't that Firm Anima's leader from below?

The player wouldn't be quick to move with such an individual. Instead, she stayed put from above, deciding to embody the city in its original retrospect.

Dainty. Quiet. Peaceful.

8hmll5P.png
| NIGHT
 | Status: [do not disturb.]

Notes:
//

Spoiler

NIGHT HP: 840/840 | EN: 122/122 | DMG: 23 | ACC: 3 | EVA: 3 | MIT: 44 | LM: 2 | HLY: 8 | PHASE | LD: 6 | BH: 25 | Stealth Rating: 5


 equipment

  • Orgoth's Legacy
    ACC, PHASE, HOLY (8)
  • Tracksuit of Unfathomable Fashionability
    MIT (24), LM II
  • Silver Crescent Necklace
    ACC II, EVA II

 battle-ready inventory

  • - - -
  • - - -
  • - - -

 skills

Spoiler

mod count: 7/7

  • 2HSS | RANK 5/5
    • ferocity, stamina
  • CLOTH ARMOR | RANK 5/5
    • athletics, nimble
  • COMBAT MASTERY: DMG | RANK 3/3
  • SEARCHING | RANK 3+1/5
    • tracking
  • BATTLE HEALING | RANK 3/5
  • EXTENDED MOD LIMIT
  • ENERGIST
  • FAMILIAR: PROFESSION

extra

  1. SURVIVAL
  2. CONCENTRATION
  3. HIDING
    • blindside, vanish, surprise attack-t
  4. [CS] METAMORPHOSES

 consumed buffs

Spoiler

statue

  • OROCHI | +1 LD

consumables

  1. - - -
  2. - - -

 misc buffs

Spoiler

housing

  • Dimensional Backpack, Item Stash
    | +2 Battle-Ready Inventory Slots.
  • Well Rested
    | -1 EN for the first three expenditures of each combat. 
  • Relaxed
    | +(5 * Tier) HP per out-of-combat post. Full energy restoration occurs after two turns out of combat.
  • Squeaky Clean
    | -25% DoT damage taken from the first DoT applied to this player in a thread.
  • Skylight: Searching
    | +1 Expertise to declared utility skill. Cooldown of 30 days to reassign.
  • Multipurpose
    | +1 LD/Prosperity/Stealth/Detection to one post per thread. Can be applied after a roll.
  • Filling
    | +1 T1 slot to a food consumed by this player in a thread. Can exceed Cook enhancement caps.
  • Col Deposit
    | +5% col from loot-minimum mobs, +10% col from treasure chests.

paragon

  • Lv. 5 | Gain additional col equivalent to 10% of EXP earned in that thread.
  • Lv. 10 | +3% EXP Gain.

gathering

  • Greenhouse
    | +2 G.EXP, +1 CD&LD to gathering attempts.
  • Familiar: Profession
    | +2 G.EXP
  • Demeter's Cornucopia
    | +1 CD to gathering attempts. 

 

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Another twist of his wrist before his hand moved to the cup, lifting it to his mouth as a notification pops across his screen. The book finds a red ribbon and closed before folding upon those white linens. Opening it up and taking a quick peruse of what was written. His left hand quickly taps out a message before the screens slam shut, reply sent. Raidou leans forward in his seat, as if thinking intently for a moment, before he turns and looks off into the pack of NPC and player alike. The gentle ringing that sound so similar to church bells. Like a ring on the hour, perhaps it played the part of a clock tower. Adjusting his lenses and scanning the group in a disposed composure, a mental break was so hard to take.

His left hand clutching the book, he clasps it in both hands, and one would catch him looking at it with intention for a moment. A heavy sigh, before it's peeled back open. Making her rounds the waitress finds her way back, and without a word, Raidou simply raises a hand and offers a smile with a dismissive shake of his head 'no'. Soft shuffling over, you see him read a few lines, before he stops and begins to rub his eyes beneath those lenses. Something inside had made him question completing the thing at all. This author may need to be shot.

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No to tea. And it seemed, with due time, no to the book as well. NIGHT had half a mind to start hazarding a guess to its contents; books were most usually rare in Aincrad, there being a significant lack of essayists, poets and craftsmen who'd prefer the pen and paper to the sword. Then again, most of her journalist friends were the type to flaunt a story than work on a neutral, objective piece. Had she her right to it, she'd guessed they could've picked up the pen, too, should they so choose.

Perhaps it was in the loneliness and confinement during the process of writing that such a world they live in would confine willing players to a state of uncertainty. They were already trapped; why take the extra effort to lock oneself in once more when they should be making the most of it? NIGHT was no active bookworm, not in the way Bistro had copies of narratives and documents in her workshop, nor in the way that Raidou was examining his pages, opinions floating in the back of his mind, no doubt. But if she were willing to hazard a guess, there was most likely this realm's equivilancy of popular writers outside. HP Lovecraft, she mused; a player afraid to venture but resigned themselves to the quill in these troubling times, but less problematic and more anxious.

NIGHT continued to watch. Her eyes flicked over to the white ceramic set aside. What kind...?

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The edge of a cup still within range of his head, page after page you could see almost a faint shake of his head. It would be clear that something within the confines of the pages were just not quite sitting right with him, and occasionally he takes pauses and rubs his forehead as if traumatized by the experience. Back to his side, once again the worker keeping tabs on the tables she was dutied to. A small folding book with pen in her hand, a notebook for tracking orders, as if she needed it at all. NPC didn't, but they liked to pretend that they did. "More of the same?" Raidou slides the glass toward the edge of the table, and you catch him take a glance into the empty thing before finishing sliding it, the woman placing the parchment under her left arm and cradling them both in her fingers.

The girl reminded him fondly of one of the booth keepers at Tanabata, that same flared red hair and chipper demeanor was unmistakable. Perhaps it even was the same, recycled and reused somewhere else, that cardinal assumed no one would piece together. A slight tilt of his head to his right, shutting his eyes and offering her a nod in agreement. "Coming right up, that will be 10 col. Settle up when your done m'kay?" Moments pass without much, an almost deafening peace that seemed like an alternate reality to horrors that happened elsewhere. Back with a pot, brushing an open palm down the white apron on a yellow dress. Something black or brown put a nice size blotch around her waist. A customer, no doubt. A new cup, and from a similar composed vase a soft green mixture of water bleeds from its opening into this fresh set. Billowing steam portraying its temperature, and small bits of black that float in the swirl before sinking.

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What troubled her more was the sudden stain amidst the whites of the pavement. Now, who could've done it? In earnest, she would've decided to watch for the troublemaker, had she the will to do anything about it. But the focus on the other player was in willful ignorance, moreso than a decision to keep a watch, voyeuristic as she was certain to be by now. That thought went back to the sort of material Raidou was working on. And what seemed like green tea...

Fitting, no less. Because despite what the world around them was shaped to be defined after, a portrait of the western past, it was the philosophy and the values of the creators beyond it that had given breath and life to this place. Japanese morals, biases and beliefs. It bled into everything, from the size of the UI to the festivals they'd choose to hold. So of course a man fitting the bill of leading an organized corporation would've savoured it, that eastern tea. As though Cardinal had shaped the players into a reflection of its own makers, traits and all.

-- Right, the book. She'd almost forgotten, once again, blinking herself awake from that dazed trance of thought. But she hadn't pinned anyone in Aincrad, let alone Raidou, so far to have been indulgent with fiction. Maybe it was documentation instead. Finance accounts, possibly. Tax records.

... Then again, maybe she shouldn't be so surprised. Hobbies were hobbies, after all. Now, the more interesting question, NIGHT decided, was what he was out on *his* lonesome for.

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Three more pings, small envelopes in tiny glowing circles of blue. Raidou places down the novel and removes his lenses with a pluck of his left fingers. Using a bit of his robe still dangling from the chair to polish them, he casts the messages open and reads them without the spectacles present. Folding them and with an appearance of concern, his hand placed to his chin charading some thought. After a minute or so, he starts to work on the answer. One by one he handles whatever it was that those little pigeons conveyed, and within what felt like minutes sees the bell chime again. Another hour gone.

A patron and a ruckus, the waitress can be heard arguing with another fellow not but two tables away. Raidou's head shifts quickly, like a pointing hound on a scent of blood. His eyes flash in red, and with it silence. A bag of coin slammed on a table with an ego beside it. It never ended. With tail between legs, the distraction gone. The nomad buries his face in his hands, giving it a feverish rub. A faint orange began to mix with the effervescent sky, signaling a day slowly waning. She comes back, intending to check that cup. But curiosity gets the best of her, and while Raidou was nose deep in that book, you catch her lean a bit to her right for close inspection. Her eyes light up, as if something whimsical had just transpired.

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Reading glasses? It didn't feel right. NIGHT had always supposed the leader had always worn them out of need; then again, it was strange how their vision needed improvement despite the fact that the game was being projected directly into their consciousness. It would've made more sense to achieve 20/20 vision in such a scenario, wouldn't it? May just be as likely that one's brain had altered their perception to reflect the blurriness they had grown accustomed to. She mulled over this, still, as he fiddled with his interface further. With the way his fingers were moving, it seemed to be a message of some sort.

Guess even he couldn't catch a break, could he?

She'd almost glanced over to her own interface, a will to check her own messages rising, though she smothered it knowing better that she'd have to quit her observations had she tended to the matters of the citizens of Aincrad. And she'd stolen time away on purpose; would be wrong to let it go after such lengths to escape her matters. They had to be related to his horde of merchants and crafters, hadn't they? Last she heard, however, the guild had run on tough times. Maybe that was why Raidou himself had been ushered plenty during his break, despite a need for absence.

A guild leader. NIGHT decided that role wasn't to her taste in the least.

Her gaze shifted instead to the sudden commotion; were most other patrons this disruptive to a quiet afternoon? It was resolved quickly with pocket change; money bought privilege, after all, and that had stayed constant even in their virtual realm. The player let out a sigh as her sights meandered through the tables, as though drowsy and disinterested in the populous as a whole.

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Squabble settled, peace returned without a single word spoken. Doe like eyes still riddled the back of the novel the nomad's eyes were locked in, and it took a moment before he finally notices. Folding the book loosely, still clutching the two halves with both hands, he glances up to the woman who proceeded to stare. It was as if the thing was some program on a TV, and she was the infant placed in front of it. Raidou's face twists into a bit of confusion, a brow raising as he stared back at her.

A slight move sees her head follow.

He coughs sharply, and is met with a flustered response. Folding her arms behind her back, she looks down as embarrassment casts her face in a red hue. Strange circumstance. She leans forward and cup's a hand over her mouth, whispering something softly into the guy's ear. Reaching down after marking his place, one can faintly pick up him, presenting the cover to her. A wide smile, and more murmurs under coned lips. Raidou's expression looks faintly appalled, but rather well masked. A shrill beckon from the interior of the cafe sees her snap to attention, the work she had was not quite over and this gossip was unappreciated.

The girl takes back to her job, and the swordsman finds another break from the break in his concentration. His skin was itching from the downtime, but even still he was trying his damned to do this. Remember himself before this place had taken it all away. It had been far too long, slowly wiping the slate of his identity clean and leaving nothing more than a construction of this place in its wake. Convincing himself to set the troubles of Aincrad aside and remember was the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.

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She couldn't blame the waitress' passing interest in the book; frankly, if it was a work of fiction, NIGHT would've liked to at least checked out its blurb before giving anything within it a read. But, granted, most novels in Aincrad were crafted in this standardized manner, fabric and hard-back and paper only, with nothing to show on its covers except for the title on its front and spine should the book itself get so lucky. Genericized copies helped the world form better, not to overload the systems on all text outputs until time necessary that players had their hands on the reading material itself; the way she knew of it now, sometimes even reality was prone to lagging when she stepped close to Bistro's shelf of documents. Though that might be more of the shop's organization than Cardinal's handling of pages; she oft wondered how its passing calculations worked under the hood, give and take each inch of understanding how loading and unfurling items to and from working memory would cause their clients, not even to think about the server just yet, to chug.

Then again, perhaps her concern should've been how she was treating these assistants of the realm to be of actual sentience. A glance and a read as a behaviour was nothing short of expected for the system after 8 approximate years of neural training, and yet every movement, precisely inaccurate, had to be the result of calculations and guesses that neither its pawns nor its users were certain how it worked. Kept the secret of the world alive, then, the players on their toes thinking and the entities not to think about their make too much. And yet the thought stung at her, watching the waitress shuffle back around, weaving through the other tables to take on another order, another serving to a different table. 

NIGHT redirected her gaze back to Raidou after a moment, wondering when he'd find it time to call it quits -- the sun was setting on the horizon, wasn't it? Not that she could tell from the look of the sky, though the atmosphere of the environment felt serene otherwise, basking in the light of an orange glow.

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A waning sun takes a leg to the beginnings of twilight, the rather a bustle crowd starting to diffuse into a more scattering smattering of faces who begin to yawn and draw into a close. Another turned page and another sip, simple and repetitive. A welcome addition to a rather hectic lifestyle, to take these short respites away from the status quo and the constant rat race into the guillotine that waits overhead. And yet Raidou was restless, a million small factors and numbers rushing through his head in the tedium of recurrence. Words read but not received, distracted despite the best efforts not to.

Raidou Sighs

Folding the book and looking up into the slowly blossoming night sky, the faint white noise of chatter from a crowd joining hand in hand with a soft breeze. Mind races both forward, and backward in time. To other fields under the same sky, to other moments of clarity muddied with a sickening urge to pursue a dangling pair of keys on the waist of tyrant. Those same brilliant white wishes that clung so desperately in the tapestry of the void, waiting so precariously for a hand to reach out and pluck them.

Or snuff them out

Poetic, that although they were facetious and yet represented something so real, so finite and very real. Like lanterns in water, these stars were almost a direct connection. His eyes advance down to the crowd, a single flare of a skill on his iris as he scans them. Rushing vision and looking into the populace for some to have the same epiphany as him. But there was none that he could see, so few understood the gravity of this place. A hell masked as paradise, none were looking upward. All were rushing from door to door, discussing the next big leg up in the race. Not one mention of sword or shield raised for the front lines. Not one mention of the possibility of escape.

This was their reality, trapped in this glass box.

Another sigh, and to his side the waitress still enamored with the book now laying closed to a man pondering the future by inspecting the past. How many stars would go out, before the dawn?

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The orange glow came and went as quickly as it faded in from light. Had it not been for the other fore warnings of her mind, she would've sat idly by watching with intrepid tranquil. Likely, she was known to have received a message wondering about her return home -- but she was an independent player herself. Doubtless there was no need to answer every seeker's beck and call whilst she had the way of it.

But what was she then, unkeen eye settled on the cityscape over Taft? Part of her imagined a black back alley cat, unfettered by most of society and keeping her swirling thoughts to herself. Maybe she should stretch, having lounged around tiles for so long. Perhaps brought a mat for her personal use next time.

In earnest, her sentinel was over the guild leader's leisure; surely governance did not come easy to the head of such a boisterous gathering. And while most of the day did prove that -- multiple times over -- there was none of that significant action most would imagine out of anime or manga, none of that political banter and showy exclamations and butt-ins from fantastical rivals. Though perhaps the mishap was within the way she imagined his way of life to begin with; surely these things might happen, may not happen on repeated frequency, and only laid themselves present at the edges of his time.

She yawned, as her mind registered the flashes of candle flames at the streetlamps alongside the roads of town. And, had she actually been the feline she'd assumed herself to be, she would've arched her back in a stretch, too.

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