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[SP-01] <<Shadowed Path>> Acquisition Thread


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It was early evening, leaning towards twilight.  The sun raced at its celestial pace towards an artificial horizon that was hard to see from the tightly packed streets of the Town of Beginnings.  Darkness and the taint of long shadows had already swept over the city.  Most of the NPCs were already closing up their shops, making ready to switch to their overnight activities.  For some, that meant nothing more than vanishing until Cardinal called them back from nothingness to tend to their appointed tasks.  The lucky few had homes or haunts to frequent.  A handful were tasked to keep their shops open over later hours, serving nocturnal clientele, or perhaps as a nod to SAO’s future expansion plans to other time zones.  Prayers were sparingly offered that it had never been given the chance.  Rarely were there deviations from the established patterns.  Rarely.

A small figure lingered in the abandoned streets of one residential area, on the eastern side of town - the dawn side.  A grin flashed over lips unseen beneath its hooded features, cloaked as much by clothing as the absence of light.  Purple turned to indigo, overhead, then the first stars struggled back into existence. The metaphor seemed apt. Day had ended, marking the hour for bumpy things to play, and tonight’s would be a most interesting game.  

A knock on the door.  Two nearly-silent taps followed by a louder and unmistakable third rap.  A note scrawled in broken font on a loose leaf of perfectly square velum.  The figure vanished upon delivery, as if it had never existed.

84932425_image(1).png.699cfad52f969a2f38411c42ad201405.png

@NIGHT

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her.

the word, her name, felt like a stain on her tongue, in her mouth. she hated it. all night could do was examine the miniature script, over and over, eyes running over the broken scribbles and undecipherable intention.

jet karesanui. south quarter. 2am.

who the hell was 'i'? the messenger themselves, or a different unit altogether? the player's head was spinning, thoughts swirling, impatience rooted through her form.

the time was 1:25am.

they'd already decided it wasn't related to the matter of them. no players nor word of mouth; they'd kept their traps shut on the matter, and until proven otherwise, they weren't keen on finding any one guilty. then, how apt -- of course cardinal would take the difficult way out of speaking to her secondary only through another entity, another method of messaging, rather than directly speaking to the woman herself, halt her, even. just to complicate their lives a little more.

or, perhaps, it was to enforce the danger that night herself was about to face. 'no second chances', it meant. not like she'd ever liked her second chance, either way.

the player had every means to have gotten some bit of shut eye during the in between, the hours before that meeting time. and night knew better than to waste her time resting, of course, awake and pestering bistro on one of the many favours they owed to each other. sat at the kitchen table, a steel ring spun around and gently fiddled with her hand, its grating stirs against the wood grain were accompanied by the irritant tapping of her other index, a short nail upon surface.

she blinked. the mail indicator beeped. pulled from her distant stupor, her menus flickered open only to find... nothing.

bistro: sorry love, no luck.
bistro: tell me more about it when you get back from it, okay?
bistro: supplies at my shop. past closing time just for you.
night: thanks

and it was in distaste that she shoved her menus open to pour through her consumables.

it was bahr that once warned her against taking so many of them, on her guard when she shouldn't need to be expecting a fight. she reasoned civility. her 'benefactor' was meeting her in a safe zone, after all.

but she found her actions justified once she turned her head upwards again, that gloved hand leaving the door handle, one type of frost on her skin switched for another, swirl of cool breeze following her figure's trail.

upstairs, crumpled by the floor, a fraught cluster had her eyes open, cloak of white now grey in the dark spurned over her form. by the door she sat, javelin in her arms, blue pools losing their luster.

if cardinal wanted to toy with aincrad's residents, then so be it. the players were there for such aim.

 

but by the heavens above--

-- that's no way to treat a creation of your own.


a shuffle of footsteps. under the cover of darkness, she showed. almost a mockery of the night, coated white; she was taking her difference's place amongst the black sand, player careful not to fall as she paced over leading stones across the garden. that was her best guess from the missive; south quarter, one of the public zen gardens in the town of beginnings. the message hadn't been entirely detailed, and so doubt curled after her steps as her gaze scanned the vicinity, brows furrowed in agitation.

if they were here, and they'd wanted to talk, she was undoubtedly present.

8hmll5P.png
| NIGHT
 | Status: [fingers sliding over the edges of the ring in her pocket.]

Notes:
//

Spoiler

NIGHT HP: 1008/1008 | EN: 122/122 | DMG: 29 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 5 | MIT: 43 | LM: 1 | HLY: 8 | PHASE | LD: 8 | BH: 50 | TXV: 32 | PRLYZ | DOTE: 2 | Stealth Rating: 5


 equipment

  • Orgoth's Legacy
    ACC, PHASE, HOLY (8)
  • Weathered White Duster+4
    MIT (18), LM, HB
  • Silver Crescent Necklace
    ACC II, EVA II

 battle-ready inventory

  • Jack's Executioner
    BLD (48), BLI (32/-20MIT), FRB (40/-1ACC), STC (40/24SPLASH)
  • Silver Ring
    PROSP III
  • Teleport Crystal (3) | Instant | TELEPORT
  • Imugi's Inspiration (5) | Instant | MASS HP RECOVERY [10%]
  • Imugi's Inspiration (5) | Instant | MASS HP RECOVERY [10%]
  • Imugi's Inspiration (5) | Instant | MASS HP RECOVERY [10%]
  • [ref] Waltz of the Damned (3) | Instant | INCARCERATION

 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

  • KUMATETSU | +1 DMG

consumables

  • One Beast's Defiance | ANTIDOTE II | [150565-1]
  • Crème Brûlée | ACCURACY II | [176314]
  • Smores | EVASION II | [176133-1]
  • Liquor of Light | DAMAGE III 
  • Breakfast Fry | PROTEIN II 
  • Berry Crumb Bars | LOOT DIE III | [178063]
  • Divinity's Protection | OVERHEALTH III | [164122-1] | FILLED
  • [QR] Serpent's Tongue | TOXIC VENOM, PARALYZE
  • [T3] Divinity's Wait | MITIGATION III | [166925-3]

 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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Posted (edited)

Few lights remained twinkling in the south quarter at such a late hour.  Those that did were sparse and often served as safe harbour for lost souls with no other place to stay, offering pale solace against the terrors of the night.  Even safe zones have their dangers.

Bounded by a low, circular stone wall, roughly two feet high and the same across, the jet garden occupied the central space in an otherwise unremarkable plaza away from the main roads and paths of travel.  The surrounding area was largely residential, dominated by tightly packed traditional Japanese minka, adapted to various degrees to suit their occupants.  All were dark and shuttered, serving only as background to the slow drizzle of rain that fell as NIGHT approached. 

The garden itself was aptly named, composed of black stones, most rounded smooth and raked into unruly patterns.  Rain accentuated a stark contrast of dim lights shimmering on their slick surfaces and seeming to move like waves as the viewer's perspective changed.  Mid-sized, concave and elongated slabs served as bowls that slowly filled with water while several larger, dark lumps stood taller, like idle monoliths in a raging tempest at sea.  The entire scene seemed unsettled, despite being completely still.

“You came.”

No source revealed itself, but the voice sounded small, feminine, and relieved?

“You’re the only one I know to have treated us with this special degree of mercy.  Some spare us.  Others slay us outright.  All of them just want the prize.  But you…”

One of the dark lumps nearest the garden’s centre unfurled to become a slender young woman with long blonde hair paired in tails at her back.  Her clothes were those of a servant, and overly elaborate for the neighbourhood, yet also all too familiar to SAO’s source lore.  In the monochromatic darkness of the scene, the slowly spinning yellow crystal over her head stood out like a glaring beacon.  Wide eyes gazed upon NIGHT with desperate hope while also withered with the anguish of unspoken torment and desperation.

“…you kept one of us by your side.”

***

(Note: This area is considered to be in dim light.  ACC penalties apply, unless mitigated against by Night Vision, Glow Stone, etc.)

Edited by Plot Master
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she couldn't see. the figure was a hazy outline; familiar, known all too well from her blurry gaze, in between the downpour and the late shadowy atmosphere.

(the time was exactly 2am.)

she didn't need to know anything further than the yellow diamond above her rendezvous' appearance how the subject of their topic arose from thin air. how, despite their best efforts to keep their secrets concealed, cardinal always found a way to toy with them and their emotions. how it always chose the types most likely to play on her own, especially on her lonesome.

a hazy outline, indeed. night would keep the figure that way, buying into exhaustion's temporary purchase as she fumbled further with the piece in her pockets, searching for the words she'd needed to be spoken.

--oh, she'd listened. the player hadn't thought she would've been the first out of many. was this about the gemini, or was this about constructs in general? she could've gone on a tangent about the undergoings of different players, keeping each of them company despite their differences in age, size and make. various sorts of interactions, as long as cardinal was willing to allow.

so hers was different. and though it scared her to know she was 'the only one' to have bowed to the will of cardinal, to have given into empathy, knowing the consequences of doing so, it scared her even more to think she'd be the last to extend that good will. how many more would the system be willing to mark for deviation?

night had a hunch, in that giddy, streetlight blur. golden sheens were the most she caught in focus before allowing her vision to slip away again, just as the rain stung at her lashes and dripped away down her duster. so cold, so blue. she bet the colours alone would've worked into a fitting painting, never mind the subject of the art piece, similar -- or different -- as they may have been.

i know what you did, the message had said.

night wasn't the type to memorize things, but the threat was fixed, stuck at the forefront of her mind.

her fingers gathered around the ring toyed with, index and middle curling it close. a whisper, tainted, with venom and a plea and an earnest curiosity--

"what do you want?"

-- for what more did reality want with her that cardinal could not provide without daily interruption?

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The gentle press and clatter of stone on stone beneath slow-moving footfalls broke against the darkness.  The figure moved, its arm by its side, without any evidence of weapon or malicious intent.   A cloak draped over her slight shoulders was too large and eagerly sought to swallow her slight form.  The wind whistled through nearby streets setting off shrill shrieks like banshees sweeping out the gutters.  Something drew NIGHT’s attention - a fleeting bit of movement at the edge of her peripheral vision.  Were they not alone?  

Her gaze had drifted but an instant.  It had been enough - the duration of a flick of an eye.  The young stranger stood barely two feet away from her now, slight shorter but of similar build.  It was hard to be sure when comparing the frills and puffery of a maid's dress against a track suit.  How had the stones gone silent at her passing?  Their surface shimmered, still, beneath the increasingly heavy waves of precipitation that threatened to turn into a torrent.

Desperate.  Anguished.  Those were the words leaping to mind as NIGHT gazed into the girl’s sallow eyes.  They looked like they should be blue and full of life, but something had drained their tone.  It was like looking at a colour photocopy of a colour photocopy, multiplied ad infinitum.  Stretched thin.  Haggard.  Bags belied the youth that should have been evident.  All of it could be false.

“I just want my freedom.”  

Rivulets streamed down her face, marred by stray hairs of gold fallen out of place and convention.  Her master would surely not approved, based on the manner of her dress alone.  

“Please,” she begged, lips warbling as they turned slowly from red to purple towards blue.  “I need you to help me die.”
 

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she wasn't going to see it.

she didn't want to see it.

she knew cardinal was sly and tricksy in its ways.

even as the other's approach was simple, straightforward on their path, there was something night felt like she needed to do: figure in her sights, blurred once. she wasn't going to see it, when they drew in closer, and she had the gall to shift her sights away, so that only a sliver of their form was in view. a maid outfit? how quaint.

the bite against the side of her mouth would've bled had this been non-virtual, when she did, finally and accidentally, take in those eyes of caliginous blue. it was almost a betrayal of her will, her image of them, of her falling apart in the milliseconds between her blink and bounced gaze. sullied. mistreated. neglected.

a gulp sank down her throat.

who could've done this?

"i just want my freedom," she had said.

don't we all? night's reply would've been.

but then there was the rain, and the crying. the tears she'd so desperately wanted to wipe from her face. their face, night had to remind herself, feeling a tilt in the world just as one might've observed sliding down a slippery slope on one stormy hour. and she was parched, wanting to care for something so ruined, so delicate, so broken and lost. and yet, they were filled with mysteries that night not only had to seek the answers for, but that cardinal was yet to provide.

somewhere, between these lines, perhaps they would reach a crossroads of conclusion.

it was against her better judgement to have stayed, complied to cardinal playing strings to mortal will. it would've taken a bigger person, better at this, heartless and ruthless to have accepted an affirmative and taken the first swing. but then where would that leave night, on nothing but logic and reasoning?

(as far as the player was concerned, her love for lynn had already broken all those boundaries.
still it thrived on. still it lived. still she'd wanted it--)

a sharpening of features. if there was one more ghost that could crawl out from calming the soul, now, that cardinal had restructured and gotten a better analysis of her as a player, perhaps this living enigma would've been one of them. and night took her all in; haggard and distressed and begging. begging for her life.

she didn't want to see it.

heart heavy. eyes gleaming. the player felt her jaw go slack.

she wasn't going to see it.

she'd almost wanted to take the other in, no, it wasn't lynn, and hold her tight in her arms. to soothe, to forsake the stranger's troubles, to abandon all forethought and focus on the here and now. she needed caring. she would need caring for.

she knew cardinal was sly and tricksy in its ways.

 

were they not alone?

it would take a knight's effort, valiant and confident, to have strode over to the strangers side and pull her in for a tight and protective embrace. it would take just as much for night to pull herself together to do exactly that, knowing full well the mockery that yellow crystal above the servant's head was to such an action, such a fool, bending to cardinal's will so easily.

so night wasn't willing to shift. no, she was willing to move. the question just became how much.

the player summoned not her weapon, seconds ticking down as she finally began to process the moment. steps forward echoed in the dusk: the splashing of water underfoot, pour still heavy, noisy and powerful. surely it would've covered up the words she might have spoken to the other, laced with concern with tinges of yearning in between the lines.

surely, night was certain, it would've covered up the footwork of the other amidst their presence, had she been certain it wasn't a shadow of her imagination in their dark.

close enough to stand by their side; that was the distance that night would try to push for. right arms paralleled, the gap of an inch apart from them, she'd speak in a low volume, only barely loud enough for her partner to have heard.

"who's putting you up to this?"

it almost came as a purr how her rationale began to flow out her mouth. breathy. her heart was beating fast. a familiar of soreness on her skin, just at her abdomen came to burn again. she set aside the thought.

"this is a safe zone," night reasoned. "i can't do that here. if there's someone else you need help defending yourself from, you're going to need to tell me about it right now.'"

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