A Science Fantasy Space Opera

  • Nobles of Null is a forum based roleplay site where sci-fi and magic collide. Here, Earth remains fractured and divided despite humanity reaching out to the stars. Worse still, the trans-human slaves of one major power have escaped, only to establish their own Empire, seething with resentment at abuses of the past. Even the discovery of aliens, though medieval in development, has failed to rally these squabbling children of Earth together with its far darker implications. Worse still, is the discovery of the impossible - magic. Practiced by the alien locals, nearly depleted and therefore rare, its reality warping abilities remains abstract and distant to the general populace. All the while, unseen in the darkness of space, forces from without threaten to press in. For those with eyes opened by insight, it is clear that an era is about to end, and that a new age will dawn.

Chapter 7: In the Limelight

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Co-authored by: Ray of Meep (GM), CadetNewb, TheCountryWarrior, Wallflower

Solaris Lihana (Dawn Star System), Planet Lihana (Planet Vermillion Bird)

Outskirts of occupied Hillsong (City Cloud Watch)

Two days after first expedition into the human city

As the three Aos Si returned to Lake Obdurate's Solace, a gentle breeze was whipped up around them. Above, a human-made, mechanical beast steadily descended to the ground with an audible whirling, but quiet enough to not disturb the Aos Si's sensitive ears. It was a sleek shape, that of an arrow fish, with white metal for its frame and generous with clear panels to view out of. The vehicle was topped by four large metal blades that rotated to a stop, outfitted with a set of smaller blades at the tail as well.

Li Shi Cheng stepped out from one of the back doors of the vehicle, and a lady stepped out of the front door taking off a helmet. Shi Cheng was wearing a simple jacket and his collared shirt, as usual, while the lady wore a slightly bulkier jacket.

"Gwaed, Amisra, Sai, I'd like to introduce you all to Lady Han." Shi Cheng introduced the woman, who nodded politely. "She'll take us around the city today. Feel free to ask her any questions."

"It's a pleasure meeting you all." Lady Han followed up. "I used to be one of Professor Li's students. Now I do my own research while piloting air shuttles on the side."

Gwaed was stoic as usual as he appraised the machine they stood before, then looking over the woman before them. "Well met..." he had to stop physically himself from saying Parasite, "human. Is the side occupation a hobby, or a monetary requirement?" He looked towards Professor Li, raising a rigid eyebrow. "Surely research is enough to live a human life on, for a species so built on discovery."

"It's a hobby." Lady Han replied. "But student researchers do take jobs outside of the institution. I've seen your group picture in that little convenience store. The lass who took that photo of you? She's a prime example."

Sai approached separately from the others, as she had made a habit of doing. Her lack of connection to the other two seemed more pronounced, either from some distance she had made from them, or because she no longer kept up appearances of trying to pretend a close link existed. She was dressed well, given what the elves typically wore. The armored clothes that covered her body were well kept and maintained, mostly free from scrapes or damage that would otherwise marr the armor. It wasn't clear if perfection in armor was favored, but today what Sai wore was fairly close.

Not that it would help stop bullets, of course. The light armor she typically wore was something that aided in close quarters, something that would limit pain and minimize injury to an attacker, while masterfully sewed studs that barely stood out seemed to be epicenters of contact on her shins and forearms. It was armor to protect while dealing damage, and by now it had become the standard for her.

Today, however, she also brought a satchel that was tightly slung to herself, sealed and with room to spare within. She approached the humans at a cautious pace, her eyes staring at the machine with a strange recognition. She had, her entire life, accepted this things as artificial constructs, things that were made by hand with a purpose. However she had never felt them to be as such. Instead they were like great sharks of the sky that rained hellfire down upon whatever it deemed unworthy of sparing its cruel molten blight. Now, however, it seemed much more complicated. She'd compare it to picking up a bow, but for obvious reasons such an action had never applied to her.

Now it seemed a great metal mass of moving parts that somehow clashed together in a way that gave it flight, safely enough and consistently enough to fly. A tool with impossible geometry, built by impossible hands. How were the humans capable of this? How could the same hands that slaughtered millions build such a wondrous thing? It made her head hurt, and she gave little recognition to the duo of humans that stood waiting for them.

She identified the feeling as she stared at the machine they were to board. She frowned, singular hand tapping her thigh like a nervous tick, mismatched eyes finally turning to the duo. "How long have your kind wanted to contact ours?" She asked in her accented way, a strength in tone that refused to fade, like she consciously refused to let her identifiable pronounciations fade. The feeling burned stronger, being identified, the feeling of it all being so unfair.

"Well, the Professor here managed to get his hands on all sorts of data about you." Lady Han replied nonchalantly. "The rest of us who didn't have the clearance were kept in the dark. But to answer your question, we've wanted to talk ever since we landed. The previous administration kept a tight lip on our parents and grandparents, but this new Heaven Forged Republic ordeal allowed the average citizen to make first confirmations of your existence. Of course, we never managed to get close to you until a couple days ago, no doubt thanks to the professor." She then teased, "Doesn't know to keep a secret, him."

"I'm certain it was for your own safety," Amisra spoke with amusement. Dressed in a modest white dress with long sleeves and skirt, the redheaded ranger's form was accentuated by the green bodice that hugged her every curve as it flowed into an overdress that granted color to her otherwise plain garb. "Given our own experience - " she glanced at Gwaed, her emerald eyes twinkling with knowledge of where his own eyes would go, " - it is natural to assume that conquest was a way of life instead." Even as she said this though, Amisra's eyes drifted over to Sai as though to acknowledge why the youngest of them had chosen her own garb. The fear and discomfort was legitimate. Very much so. "I hope you will prove this assumption wrong," the redhead continued to mildly smile.

Gwaed rolled his eyes, actively avoiding looking at Amisra for the very she had worn it in the first place, specifically to catch his eye in an appropriate manner. Gwaed himself had not allowed himself to be pulled from his armor. He wore it still, his regal suit of metal designed to protect him. He had no care to catch eyes, unless those eyes were filled with either fear or respect. "The secret it out, and so are we. May I enter your flight machine?" He spoke with a harsh politeness, as if he once knew what manners were and had to remind himself of them decades later. That's exactly what happened.

"Of course." Shi Cheng nodded. Lady Han put her helmet back on, gesturing to the three Aos Si to follow.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Strapped in to what the humans call seatbelts that felt more like tools of constraint and control rather than anything meant for safety, the Aos Si watched the red vegetated group beneath them grow less defined as the flying machine ascended into the air. It was a nauseating experience, as their bodies complained at them that this kind of acceleration wasn't part of typical daily life. The odd experience ended though as the flying machine stopped its upward movement and started to move laterally, seemingly effortlessly. In the distance, the human city of Cloud Watch could be seen, and only from this aerial view was the true scope of the city realized.

It spread beyond the old borders of Hillsong, even beyond the skeletons of buildings that reminded the Aos Si of Hillsong at its prime. Several strips of metal and glass reached out from the city in four different directions like abyss spider webs, ending at installations well beyond the city that seemed to host even larger flying vehicles. Several, upside down metallic torches could be seen descending from the heavens above, no doubt carrying more humans and their goods from worlds beyond Lihana. One of the strips seemed to extend even further, towards lands beyond this hilly region that the three Aos Si spent most of their lives in.

Flying above the subrubs, the Aos Si now took a full view of the city. Skyscrapers of varying simple but elegant geometries rose up, the literal centerpiece being an acropolips, more than a hundred stories tall, that stood almost exactly where the old Aos Si monument of the city was several decades ago. Stacks of subsections hugged each other, each subsection towards the center growing taller, forming this odd needle shape.

"That's Cloud Watch Center." Lady Han pointed to the architecture. "My parents grew up in it. Apparently it was built on top of the first colony ship that arrived here. It's still using its fusion reactor for power." It seems the young human woman had no knowledge of that day when Hillsong disappeared beneath Gwaed and Amisra's noses.

Li Shi Cheng seemed to know though, as he purposefully stayed quiet looking out the window.

"What a spectacle that must have been." Gwaed was really trying to be nicer to humans, if he was going to be spending so much time with them, but damn it was hard when they seemed to have so easily forgotten the past. He couldn't help himself. "Yes, I was there. The ship fell from the sky and landed right where our elders met, and the force of the impact decimated my home. The killing started soon after." He let that hang in the air for a couple seconds. "What a spectacle indeed."

"To be fair, it was quite clever," Amisra began, honestly interested in the tactics used. "The landing itself decapitated local governance, and the pushing-fire used to slow the ship's descent set off an inferno that rapidly consumed the city," she recounted the few survivor's accounts, using what words she could to describe the retro-thrusters. "Objects of interest were already marked ahead of time, absconded with or otherwise made safe from the fires using infiltrators, so they could afford to deploy in this manner." Eyeing what was the city center, she envisioned the next step in her mind before gesturing for the rest of them to see. "As the flames consumed the city, spreading outwards and away from the epicenter, the troops could deploy at their leisure to execute the survivors while the rapid heavy shooting emplacements on the surface of the landing spire made short work of any fire brigades or rallying guards."

Her seeming lack of passion towards her own people as she recounted the memory was perhaps chilling, but perhaps more so was the almost childlike fascination Amisra displayed in the art of violence. Of course, this was nothing new to Gwaed. For her, this was simply how things were. Just business, and she did not seem to take it personally.

Emphasis on the word 'seem' however.

Sai remained quiet as she watched the city underneath. It was a monument of death and destruction on a large scale, of absolute and merciless xenocide carried out by an impossibly large group that never questioned nor refused their orders. If there were doubts or private acts of mercy, they did not make it out of the ships that they had poured forth from, or from the dark and bloodstained alleys that were flooded by boots and flame. Her marred skin began to itch uncomfortably, and her face twitched, leading her out of that solemn look.

Upon the corpses of society was built another, almost laughably ignoring what they had landed on as if they tossed toys to a board and let them lie where they remained. If there was old passageways and cellars, they had been sealed over if not outright collapsed, after of course checking to make sure that no unwanted native had taken refuge in them. Her skin continued to itch.

And from that, another generation of humans. They lived, they loved, they gave forth another, a cycle they were watching unfold before them. In such short time, the direction of wants had changed. The justice, the very right to have their chance of retribution stripped from them in the process. Like a cruel cosmic joke, the murderers and invaders replaced by men and women who had done no wrong but wore the same skin. How could she trust eyes that she had seen before, wielding weapons of war that killed dozens without so much as a thought?

They were too short lived to grasp the effects of their actions, truly. Never considering for a moment that they would one day want to make peace, because it wouldn't be them who did it, the problem and the flaws passed onto their children. Who cares if its a problem the children had to deal with that they didn't cause? The true murderers wouldn't be there to witness it. Before them stood a monument to hate, to destruction and xenocide and also life and rebirth and she couldn't help but hate it, and she couldn't help but want to know more.

She found herself infinitely fascinated by it, against her better judgement. Her silent reflection in her face and eyes, aided by the uncomfortable twitching of itching flesh spoke more than enough for her. They were given a paradox and told to make do. This was civilization, deserving of life, built from bones of hers, which deserved it just as much. "Where does the rest of this city gain its power?" She finally spoke, morose and refusing to meet the eyes of those present.

It could be seen in the reflection of the transparent material Lady Han's mixed expression, as she stopped speaking, unsure what to say. Shi Cheng was more than happy to reply to Sai's comparatively innocent question after hearing Gwaed and Amisra's uncomfortable description of how his predecessors conducted their genocide. "There are fusion and fission power plants dotted across the outskirts of the city and underground. We're working on a project that will beam energy down from orbit using solar arrays."

Gwaed thought, for about 2 seconds, about either apologising or saying something to assuage the situation, but his anger won out. Instead he went to his usual happy place, which was his angry place. He'd just be vaguely annoyed at Amisra just generally being around, like he normally did. Indirectly letting the tension hang in the air.

"I'm sure many feats of progress are thanks to the technology of that ship." Sai continued, trying to ignore the sour mood that her companions brought about. They were both correct, both justified, and she could think of nothing to say to either to persuade them to take a different approach. After all, she could feel the same want to linger on it, and she knew she'd be just as justified in it. So why then, did her thoughts linger elsewhere? "Unfortunately the source of our progress and our own technology is lost to time, even before your arrival. The destruction of our home simply solidified what was already lost."

She paused, thinking on it for a moment. She had seen feats of magic, closely guarded practices that scarcely took on new students in the months prior to the arrival of the humans. Even then, the smallest sparks and embers held in charred hands were like small miracles to her, entrancing her as a child as she dreamt of one day holding that same life changing spark. The world was simpler then, more grand and intoxicating in its wonder as well. "You must forgive me for changing the topic so soon." She continued, trying to keep her companions from lingering on any given destructive topic.

"Surely you know of the reports of our society, and the feats of once was capable of, thanks to what you would call magic." She prefaced as she looked upward to the sky, seeming so much closer yet eternally distant. The city below was like a painting, twisting her heart in several directions. "I cannot claim to be excessively familiar with the reach of your governments current power, but surely word of mouth travels further, even through the great void. Have your kind found magic elsewhere, that has not dried up like it has here?"

"Oh?" One moment musing over her thoughts, the next, Amisra's emerald eyes glanced back over to them, a question and potential answer from the others finally tickling her fancy. Whatever thoughts she had of the earlier topic, she largely kept to herself, but now, they had her interest.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Li Shi Cheng shook his head. "All records coming in from systems humans have colonized show that there aren't major magical activity present. That, or the other nations have been covering it up. I will say though, that the Yasny system occupied by the Soyuz has a healthy and thriving Aos Si population on it. That system is on the opposite side of the human sphere to us though."

Others existed, then. Far away among the stars. Could they comprehend what he had gone through? Could they understand his pain? Surely the people that understood weren't relagated to the second generation Parasites and fucking... Amisra. In that case why bother feeling again? Might as well become a golem, because if she thought she could exploit him she would, and humanity couldn't be trusted as far as one could throw them, despite how easy it would be for him. He couldn't keep the scowl up, the usual disapproving frown. Instead he simply looked sad, looking out the window at where his home once was.

He could vagely see where he'd played as a child, the places he'd loitered around for fun, the places he enjoyed to spend time. The library, so many books in one places, their thoughts and knowledge permeating the room. His home, where his family raised him to Command, to lead, to be strong for those that couldn't. And yet nothing remained. Perhaps sparse buildings and sections of walls stood still, but their soul was gone. Crushed under the mass of a machine from the stars, and the fire and death it brought with it.

It hurt. It hurt so much. Seeing it all laid out before him just sharpened the pain, reinforcing the steel in his heart. His face was turned away from the others, staring out of the window. He was doing his best to remain as stone, chiseled from the marble of the uncaring divines, but it was so hard. And the other elves were all the way on the other side of the galaxy. Was he truly alone? It certainly felt like it.

The answer was, of course, not the one that Sai had wanted. However she found herself not surprised, it would be too good if there were others like them with power. It would give them leverage and hope, and therefore couldn't exist, leaving them along to figure out their problems for themselves. She hid her grimace, instead opting to focus on what she could effect, rather than hope small it made her feel. "I take it that you will be more familiar with your own political systems than we shall ever be. I have a feeling that certain waters our minds tread through are inherently different by design."

She turned more to the humans, ignoring the hot burning that lingered under her flesh as the unfamiliar and alien landscape lingered over what was her home. "And more importantly you're more connected to this... Media, your people seem to be connected to. Regardless of whether we share your exact wants or intentions, you want to integrate us into your fold. So rather I would ask, what do your average people think? Especially given our recent incursion." She found it near impossible to believe that there would be an absolute agreement across the city, much less one that would be positive.

Shi Cheng pulled out a datapad, one of those flat rectangular bricks that replaced books and paper, for the most part, in the human world. "You'll find pretty much every opinion possible under the sun. After the previous administration fell, it was hard to keep your existence, and what my ancestors did to you, a secret. There's been curiosity, sympathy. Already, there are talks of reparations; it was only a few decades ago that we wiped out your culture, after all," He explained bluntly, "Many of the original colonists are still alive. On the other hand, there has been fear, xenophobia. How you might carry diseases that will kill us all, or that you will upend our society as we know it." He concluded. "With all the guessing going on, people in general are just confused at your appearance. Your official introduction to our world is expected."

Gwaed stopped, every muscle in his body tensing again. Original colonists still lived? Those that directly benefitted from the genocide of his entire bloodline as it stood still lived? Gwaed turned to look the Professor in the eye, searching for any semblance of a lie. Why should they get to live with their affronts to his people, when so many of his people had died because of them. The sadness he felt in his soul was replaced with his default emotion, burning rage. It was a temporary balm over the wounds of history, and he was sure it would fade when he again found himself alone. He broke eye contact, looking back out his window. "What a fantastical idea, that we could upend society. As if you've been doing so well without us."

He tried to balance this news with the more positive news that there were those in their city of blood who were sympathetic, though he was positive that these human fools had no real idea of his plight. "The official introduction to your city of stolen dreams, what can we expect to be spoken of us?"

"Ahahahahahaha!" came Amisra's laughter, bright and cheery as the newborn day. Though the metion of others of her kind spread across the stars grasped the redheaded woman's interest, she had remained silent. And perhaps for the first time, melancholic. Lost in her own thoughts, Amisra didn't say a word as her emerald eyes drifted off into the horizon, but it was the human's words that brought her right back. "Us? Carrying diseases?" Though she smiled, it was not a pleasant one. Her soft, warm, succulant lips curved with sweet contempt while her eyes shined with enough disdain that a person that enjoyed punshment would have relished her appearance, but it was her calm, almost aloof words that stung. "The very magic that runs through our veins sees to only the most benevolent of beings living with or upon us," Amisra graced Shi Cheng and Lady Han with knowledge. "But, I would not be surprised if one geographically separated group of your people wiped out another with a simple handshake, greeting or cough in the distant past," she calmly noted.

"Us? Diseased?" she rehtorically asked. "Dohohohohohoho!~" Amisra laughed again at the thought, her ample bosom bouncing at each sweet note. When she had finished her laughter, wiping away a tear that had formed, she added, "Aside, if you are capturing vision and sound of us, you may play my laughter to the other humans so that I may laugh at them as well." Her keen sniping of unseen watchers aside, the redhead confidently went on, "Still, the more important matter is this introduction as Gwaedcryf has noted. Have lines been prepared for us?" Amisra asked, thinking ahead.

Sai was silent for a moment, letting the comments and emotions of her companions air out onto the humans present. She returned her gaze to the window, to that expanse of a city. "Hm." She finally spoke once more. "You've been at the brunt of our own opinions and harsh words." She commented, the words meant just as much at her companions as the humans. "It should not surprise you to hear that our opinions are on the lighter end. I know many of our kind who would have lanced you the moment they found you unarmored and exposed, and found themselves completely justified."

She knew, after all, how harsh the initial response was when she informed her clan. They had nearly called for execution on the spot. Many still had refused to speak with her since, and the degrading looks had increased vastly since then. It had been some time that she had been mocked, until the humans had arrived. "Though it's easy to justify such actions when the only presence you've had in our lives before now was a malignant force, faceless and merciless, without the individuality that communication and dialogue creates."

"Of course what I'm trying to say is that it's going to be an uphill battle on our end, not just with yours. We will have to give ground, and so will your kind. Peace cannot be made otherwise. Your plan of raw integration and uplifting will be recognized as a nothing more than a political ploy otherwise. You will find that our kind as a whole would rather continue as we are than to submit into raw integration, cultural domination is just as lethal as military, and we will not stand for such."

Lady Han looked at Shi Cheng with a clear worry. It was to be expected; Gwaed was barely suppressing his anger, and Amisra was acting socipathically. Sai was only better in the fact that she was speaking candidly of the greater situation at hand. Shi Cheng, on the other hand, was flat faced in comparison. "We'll have to sit down and negotiate your rights once you meet with representatives of our congress. As for lines," He noted to Gwaed and Amisra, "I've been advocating for a more sublime introduction. The governor and her son can talk all they want. Real success will be when you actually go through the university's program unscathed. But I'm not the one in charge, so you'll probably still end up put on a pedestal." He explained bluntly.

Lady Han tried to change the topic. "Anywhere you want to visit? We can go to the university, maybe one of the city's museums, or a shopping district." Shi Cheng gave her a look with a raised eyebrow.

Gwaed was annoyed, angry, all of his emotions boiling under his skin. But Lady Han had raised a possible good idea, a distraction. Maybe a distraction would be ideal, a way to integrate themselves. They needed to be seen did they? Normalized? Maybe this was the way. He looked to Lady Han, the anger still in his eyes, though it obviously wasn't aimed at her specifically. "Where would you suggest? You live here, yes? Where do you prefer to be seen when time allows?"
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Gwaed was annoyed, angry, all of his emotions boiling under his skin. But Lady Han had raised a possible good idea, a distraction. Maybe a distraction would be ideal, a way to integrate themselves. They needed to be seen did they? Normalized? Maybe this was the way. He looked to Lady Han, the anger still in his eyes, though it obviously wasn't aimed at her specifically. "Where would you suggest? You live here, yes? Where do you prefer to be seen when time allows?"

Sai had a hard time believing that just appearing more in public would do much to assuage peoples concerns. Then again, she had a hard time expecting any single part of this to go well. Sooner or later, a deep pit in her gut told her, it would backfire and explode, and they would be worse for wear. Some perceived slight or goal would kick up the same destructive hivemind of humanity, and bring it crashing down on the freshly exposed, as if zealotous crusade was their right, and anything caught in their way was to blame for simply existing in the way.

She already knew that when excuses would be thrown, her people would raise hell. Of course, sooner or later, they would appear. "If my companions agree, I think a musuem tour would be informative, as well as... Calm enough, for us to easily do. I doubt any one of our communities even begins to rival the busy foot traffic of your city on an off day." The constant thought of how many humans there were made her head heavy. They outnumbered them by excessive margins, both due to how cruelly they had hunted down her people, and by how quickly and rapidly they bred, no doubt to make up for how short they lived.

"Though I must ask, what kind of security are we afforded?" The reminder that some, though now old and frail, still persisted from the days of the human arrival sickened her mind, and already she saw vague images of humans, just like the one at the convenience store, raising a pistol absent mindedly and trying to finish what they had started. Her face twitched as that sour mood rose, and she shook her head.

"Meeting this Governor and their Heir would be quite interesting, and I would look forward to it," Amisra began, having recovered from her mirth. "But I suppose that will come in time, as will this continued education system your people have built, as much as I look forward to it," the redhead added. As she looked out the windows across the cityscape, she pondered, keeping her thoughts to herself as she contineud to speak. "A museum may provide more intriguing background to our predicament as well as yours, though I would be happy to simply walk the streets and sample your vittles," she smiled.

"The streets it is then! We'll walk to the meuseum, get you all some gear along the way." Lady Han tapped a few things into the screen.

"Don't worry about security." Shi Cheng replied. "You'll wish there'd be less."

"Verbal confirmation: request for landing on East Wind skyscraper, landing pad number three." Lady Han announced to seemingly no one. The flying machine shifted ever so slightly, flying out of its circular holding pattern around the city and moving towards one of its large buildings near the center.

The outcropping of the building was an open flower pattern, each metal and glass panel supporting a square bit of stonish material that the group landed on. The entire building was an uncharacteristically tall affair that was far too thin, too brittle to stand, yet it did, covered entirely by glass with the bare minimum of metal lacing the inside. As the three Aos Si got out of the vehicle, four plastic constructs buzzed above them, like large Blade Wasps. Each one had a suite of round, black eyes, souless.

"Your automotons have no soul, built of machinery without love." Gwaed had little to gripe about here, at least openly. Honestly he had much to gripe about, but doing so would be pointless as this juncture. Instead he made his comment, the cloud of anger that he was continuing until they came to the railing. Without fear he looked down, letting the wind move through his hair. Such grand heights the humans had achieved, through blood and treachery. It was unfair.

[Optional comments here]

The pathway into the building was an inoffensive, rain cloud grey, protected on the two sides by rails. Looking down was dizzying, as the entire platform was dozens of stories above ground. Moving inside, it was immediatley apparent what the building's purpose was: a large community center, with caves cut into the walls, each filled with colorful human goods. The plastic constructs followed them in, forming a square, aerial perimeter around the group as onlookers watched the three Aos Si, some innocently curious, others was a slight dismay. Beyond the ultimatley harmless looking humans though, there were others in the mix: humans with black glasses that covered their eyes. They were harder to spot, mixed in with the crowd, but they were eyeing the group with a purpose, and the rest of the crowd around them.

Gwaed's gaze had picked them from the crowd easily. His eyes may not be as immaculate as Amisra's but he boasted sight better than the humans around him still. These were their unseen, to most, protection. It was clear why they needed it, as some of the Parasites around them looked on with dismay. What would their faces look like as they plummeted down the length of their soulless towers in the sky? To gain a new perspective on the back of gravity'sm uncaring pull? He shook his head, the rage on his face something he was trying to quell.

[Optional comments here]

"Let's get you all datapads." Lady Han offered. "You pretty much can't function in our society without one."

"Like your machines, your buildings, you seek to sap the soul from us as well with your technology born of ignorance?" Gwaed's words were stony, his face even still locked in a perpetually angry state as he turned said face to Lady Han. "To become like drones is undesirable. Simply teach me like it's meant to be done, with paper, pen, and a passion for lessons. Such is how understanding is meant to be."

The city, at closer inspection, was strange and foreign in ways that Sai found hard to describe. She was only a child when another city stood in this place, but the way it was constructed felt different, and even through that lens of childhood nostalgia in a time before trauma, something felt different. Something beyond simple species differences, something that lingered within the thought of purpose and intent, but perhaps that was based on species. Still, the line between hardened purpose with strict intent and the allowance for soul was cut sharply with a knife.

She walked at pace with the others, her one clear eye and the other marred seemingly seeing two different places, at two different times. The difference was astounding, but not for the reasons she could immediately put into words. "Tell me, humans, about how you construct cities." She finally spoke, ignoring the flux of people that shifted around their guarded and watched group. "What are your architects told to make? What do they put into their work?" She was slowly piecing it together, how many of the buildings looked hauntingly similar, as if they weren't just brothers and sisters, but twins with barely differing traits, if any at all. A sea of clones. "Is... Architecture, seen as an art among your people?"

Shi Cheng at first ignored Gwaed's comments, instead answered Sai. "Yes and no. We would prefer our architecture to be artistic. For centuries, we've attempted to build our buildings to resemble natural forms of nature, but we always had to compromise between artistic vision and plain utility: putting people in boxes. Those with enough capital, however, have been more successful turning their architecture into art."

"Gwaed, if you were without anger or complaint, I suspect you'd be lost," Amisra teased the man, a smile laced with smugness on her lips. Despite saying this as they stepped out though, the redhead turned towards him and neared, her soft hands reaching out to adjust his armor. "It helps not to say the sky is blue or the stars shine," she pointed out to him. "We have much more urgent thoughts at hand, and you may be happier thinking of your own labor and the fruits that they shall bear rather than the faults of our uninvited guests," Amisra both agreed with and antagonized him all at once. Turning her gaze to Sai, gestured at the buildings herself. "You ask them this, but what do your own eyes see?" she asked of the human made structures. "Surely, after putting away your initial complaints, you've realized their buildings tell you much about them?"

"I will complain as I please and woe to those who disagree," he replied sternly. "One may be remiss to state that the stars shine, yet those alive ruminate on them regardless." He grumbled, looking away from Amisra as she adjusted his worn armor. This closeness was always something he was uncomfortable with, but he wouldn't stop her. He looked over the building they walked in, voicing more complaints in the form of observations. "Built for space. Built up to the unforgiving heavens, mostly likely to conserve said space as they fear and loathe to expand and potentially see what they dislike. I'm certain the buildings serve different purposes, unless creativity has been sapped from this hapless mob."

Lady Han couldn't help but comment with an anger. "This hapless mob can hear you, you know."

Shi Cheng put a hand in front of her and spoke more politely. "I believe this was supposed to be a learning experience for both of our kinds. Just as I seek to learn from you, I'd like you to give my people the benefit of the doubt as well. You will find much of how we do things rather baffling to your people. But in due time, you will understand that they are done out of necessity, or out of cultural and historical reasons."
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
He stepped towards one of the box caves. Its innards were revealed by the front glass wall and was well lit by soft white lights. The rest of the room was covered by fake and glossy wood panels, while the tables were egg white. On each table were variations of the datapads that the all the humans seem to be carrying around, along with watches and and glasses that had human tech all over them.

The professor then continued to explain to Gwaed. "To answer your previous statement, centuries past we have extensively used paper and pen. In a way, we still do." Entering the room, he picked up one of the datapads from the show stand with his good arm and set it on the table. With a false pen provided, he then used the same good arm to write on it. No material came out of the false pen, but the datapad displayed black streaks nonetheless. "But as our knowledge accumulated, it became increasingly cumbersome to carry around piles of books and note-filled papers everywhere. Technology such as this allow us access to milennia of knowledge in a convenient, and carriable form." He remarked, picking up the datapad again to show to the group.

The explanation of how architecture was treated did not sit well with Sai, paired with Amisra's morbid and upfront statement that her answer stood before her, leaving Sai to contemplate the strange dichotomy in a brooding silence. "Curious." Was all she could say on the matter. It made little sense to her, that they be considered different at all. Was their concept of art so removed from its application that they couldn't fully combine them outside of luxury? It simply reinforced the difference between those on the bottom of this society and those of the top, and gave life fracturing root that began to split the rock of her image of this society. It had problems, problems that her people had solved, and it was almost some bizarre form of justice that now, having eliminated the precursors, been left with the problems they were so close to solving.

Perhaps they weren't even aware there was a problem at all, and that sent a shiver down her spine, like they walked around with an untreated wound uncovered, unaware of the oncoming sepsis. She shook her head to clear the thought, knowing that arguing the semantics of architecture when she was neither an expert on human or Aos Si architecture. Her attention instead went to the datapads that had been laid before them, instruments of knowledge, or action, as she had heard. They reminded her vaguely of the terminals they had accessed at the library, in some strange cousin-like appearance, though as she saw its function the immediate differences became clear.

Same base, different soul, it seemed. A new type of brain. Cautiously she reached out with her one hand, looking at it with curious eyes, the vague reflection of her split face staring back at her as she quickly saw a flaw, one that had not accounted for her, or others like her. She frowned as she held it, trying to think of a way to hold it that allowed her to also use it. Barring some strange and uncomfortable position, she simply elected to placing it down on the table once more, strangely discontented with the situation. "I'll take your word on their convenience." She muttered, instead stepping towards the other bits and pieces of other tech.

"I have noticed, and have been told, that deformities such as mine are common, as a result of your... Civil war, if I may call it as such." She began, eyeing over each item and how they would be used. "Has your technology adapted in tandem, to help care for those effected?" She vaguely knew the answer, if only because of the professor, and the homeless man they had seen in their prior visit to the city, but wished to hear of their own perspective of the matter.

"It depends." Shi Cheng unraveled his jacket, showing his bad arm bare. It visibly grew since they first met. A band with a plastic vile was strapped to the upper arm, tubes going down to the wrist of the adolescent looking wrist. "Some can't afford replacements at all. Much of our technology and infrastructure is built to accomodate those people. Most who can choose mechanical replacements. A few, like me..." Shi Cheng lifted his bad arm up. "We participate in special programs to regrow body parts entirely. It's not the most convenient, but it does help advance our science and technology."

Gwaed, fully armed as he was, if one could pardon the horrific pun, picked up a tablet, holding it as best he could like one would hold a stone tablet. Even a stone tablet of the ancient times held more soul than this hunk of garbage, but he would be required to use it. One allowance he'd give to the Parasites that surrounded tham. Of similar import was Sai's handicap, one she shared with their second-generarion parasite benefactor. "Do you expect her to join you in your experiment? I think that's unlikely. Surely in your great and ever so stratified society you haven't left behind those with handicaps from experiences under no control of their own?" He spoke semi-mockingly to Sai's ealier point of a heavy class system. Though it wasn't as Amisra spoke so often, behind half truths and other indirect ways that annoyed him to no end, his style was far more accusatory, straight and to the point. More honest, in a way.

"It would be more rude to not speak in a language they could understand," Amisra pointed out. As Sai took her musings on human architecture inwards, the redheaded Aos Si turned her attention to another matter both different and related. "I think it may benefit Sai to consider it sometime in the future, but not so soon," she suggested. "However, there is something more important. It would seem that someone is moving up in the world," Amisra gestured to Cheng's arm. "Is this a recent change, or one that had been ongoing, even as we met?" she asked, emerald eyes set on the man.

"An ongoing one, to be sure." Shi Cheng turned the bad hand into a fist, then relaxed, repeating three times. Each time, the muscles twitched, then shudered unnaturally, threatening to disobey the simple motion. "Relatively speaking, anyways. For the longest time I used a mechanical arm that worked fairly well. But as I said, science needs its experiments, and I volunteered. You're right, Sai can take her time. Even if she does consider something like this, I'd start with the least intrusive. We can look at some of the off-the-shelf parts today if you want."

Lady Han, looking at some of the datapad models, looked back at the Aos Si. "Have you three figured out what you want here? If not, I can give you recommendations."

Gwaed exhaled sharply, annoyed. He had moved on from Sai's problem now, and onto the matter at hand, namely which of these nearly identical slabs of technology were ideal for him. "I have no idea what I'm looking at. I see different types of the same shape all listed as the best thing ever. I have no context as to their function, which is more efficient, which one appears more or less conspicuous and which one will suck out my soul faster." He was rife with complaints, but it was a better option than doing what his heart wanted him to do. Namely smash the stupid devices for affronting him with more unwanted change.

"You said yourself that not all of your own can afford such procedures and replacements. It would be wrong to offer me such accomodations when they are not provided to your own with the same charity." She immediately recognized, however, the contradiction of the statement. After all, if every action of these people was to be regarded in such a light, there was no place for the Aos Si to be here to begin with.

"They contain information." Sai added onto Gwaed's comment, moving on from the deeply unsettling topic that her stomach still churned at. "But I think you're far too used to them, we lack the context you do to understand them appropriately." Context, it seemed, was far too lacking in this place. "So let's start with the basics." She continued, mainly to distract herself. "Which one is the easiest to use? Preferably one that can teach us about your society, how these devices are made, and how to understand this technology you utilize."

"Hmm," Amisra mused, carefully taking in all they said. After carefully deliberating, she decided to speak at last. "I understand that this is a deeply personal issue Sai, but have you considered being more economical with your words?" the redhead jabbed at her younger compatriot. Though the discord in their own ranks was clear, it was something that she knew had to be addressed sooner or later. Sai had to hold herself like a proper woman of the Aos Si in front of these...beings. Whether or not this small loss of face was worth the gain however, would be entirely up to the younger. "These seem so familiar," she then remarked. "Like an...infoslate?" Amisra tried to improvise a word in Chinese, an eyebrow raised above her emerald eyes.

Shi Cheng raised an eyebrow in return. "Yes, a datapad." Perhaps somewhere in the conversation the words were lost on the Aos Si, most likely due to gaps in language that still need to be filled. "Infoslate" and "Datapad" end up being the same word in Chinese. Regardless, Lady Han walked over with two show datapads. One had colorful, thick rubber borders and several large buttons on it. Shi Cheng gave her an unamused glare at the sight of it.

"Sorry. I figured this is their first time with tech, so..." Lady Han apologized with an embarassed smile.

"... It's a crude joke." Shi Cheng shook his head.

"Fine." Lady Han set it aside, instead presenting the Aos Si a different datapad. Like the building itself, it looked far too fragile, a thin metal board with a screen on it.

"This one is what I used. There's not too many differences between this one and the others, but I personally felt it was the easiest when I was in college." Lady Han explained.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Gwaed glared at Lady Han, as she had quite foolishly given him a reason to vent his anger in some manner. That was all he wanted really, and peace talks demanded that no one provoke him in some way, because he was looking for a reason to be mad. Good job. "You were about to hand me a device for a child, weren't you? How humerous." His face denied that claim, suggesting it was anything but. More like a personal attack. "I'm sure you inspire humor in many a hapless second generation Parasite before they lose themselves to moronic devices in my goddamn city." His piece said, he turned about, ignoring her advice as he browsed the rest of the devil boxes.

"To be fair, I would have done the same if our roles were reversed," Amisra pointed out with a faint yet amused smile. "Still, this is a puzzling issue, judging by your dumbfounded expressions." A finger upon her lips in thought, the redhead cupped an elbow in hand, supporting her chest as she pondered. "The Chinese symbols for 'infoslate' must have more meanings than which we were informed during our quickened edification of the language," she observed, emerald glancing over the products available. "Slate, as in a stone that forms into black-grey sheets. What word is that?"

Lady Han went quiet after Gwaed's scolding. Shi Cheng replied, "'Shi ban (石板). Stone plate."

Gwaed grumbled, not looking at the group, pointedly looking at the selection of parasitic devices. "If you had done it I would have been more angry, harpy," he muttered in their native tongue, snark for those who understood, aimed at his only friend. That term was loosely applied.

Sai eyed the newly presented datapad, though she felt that the fact that they had no real understanding of the differences wasn't coming across correctly. Paired with the strange feelings the topic of prosthetics had brought up, and the nigh-constant tension between Amisra and Gwaed were starting to pile up onto her nerves. The want to speak bubbled and broiled through her throat, but as it reached her mouth, she found herself unable to choose what words she wished to say. Instead she simply reached out and took the new offered datapad, shifting awkwardly to place it down so she could tap and touch the screen itself.

She narrowed her eyes, instinctively trying to piece what it presented her as if it were a book, or held runes carved into it, but she quickly realized such an approach was ultimately hopeless. This was something fundamentally different, a library of condensed information a wafer thick, the crystal-like screen standing as either that bright screen itself, or the thin barrier that kept all that information within. How did it work? She had a hard time believing that it was something difficult to produce in this society, if so many had one.

It made her feel alone, to hear that quiet bickering between her companions. She thought originally that they were better connected, perhaps friends who she would slowly get to know. Now, she realized, such a concept was beyond childish, naive to a fault. Gwaed could barely stand Amisra breathing at this point and yet stayed at her heels like a puppy. "How do we find information on this?" She found herself asking, conflicting eyes ignoring the other Aos Si and instead looking to the humans. They had their problems, of course, but they seemed for the most part to be sincere. She hoped that wasn't another naive, childish thought.

Shi Cheng moved besides Sai, the two crippled people working on the single datapad together with their combined good two arms. "Here." With Sai holding the datapad with her hand, Shi Cheng tapped on an icon on the screen, bringing up a new, white screen with a bar in the middle, the same bars the Aos Si saw in the library.

While the professor was showing Sai now to navigate what the humans called "the net," Lady Han sheepishly tried to engage Amisra and Gwaed.

"So... have you come to a decision yet? Of course, we will be paying the costs of the datapads for you."

Gwaed had to make a choice, and the timer was running out to make it. Granted, the Parasites couldn't make him do much he didn't want to do, but socially he needed to interact with them with some amount of respect. It would be easier if they afforded him the same in return. He picked up a sleek looking one, fancying the sleek and almost elegant look of it. It would pair well with his features, even if he himself had no idea how to use it. He would learn, stubbornly if he had to. He looked back to Lady Han, his face still holding a tinge of annoyance. "This one. Will it be a problem?"

"As always, a very interesting language system," Amisra replied. "I'm certain that wordplay is a prominent feature in your traditional literature." Turning her emerald eyes onto Lady Han, she smiled kindly. "Do not let his ire bother you. It is simply so hot because he cares so much," the redhead remarked, placing a hand upon the man's shoulder and drawing close-close-close until they touched. "He will never admit it though," her eyes glinted at him. Even as she said that though, her hands were reaching out to touch something that had caught her attention. "I'll take this," she continued to smile, holding in hand a slate that could fold along the screen itself.

Gwaed leaned away from Amisra, the annoyance on his face growing as well as it's measure of... well he looked largely uncomfortable to have her so close. "I will throw you off this unnaturally tall building and finally be free." He wasn't actually going to do it, this was only a more extreme way to say 'bitch get off we are in public.'

"See? And not once has he failed me, or I him," Amisra smiled with amusement, earning only a muted growl from Gwaed as he stood there, staring forward, pointedly not engaging. It was a hard action, but he was well practiced.

He did add one thing though. "Wouldn't even reach the ground, you'd hit another building first." Practice made perfect apparently, as he engaged anyway despite attempting not to.

It was a strange concept, Sai quickly realized as she was guided through the basic process of the 'net' and how to dig through it. It was like a codex of information that had an unknowable amount of information. Even the small comments visible on basic searches showed the mind-numbing amount of content. There was no single avenue of approach, basic questions would pull thousands if not more results, only narrowed down by specification. It was almost, in a sense, like magic, yet created entirely by the basic scientific processes that the rest of their society was built on.

Without giving much thought, she shifted the tablet to lay against the table. "I'll take this one." She murmured as her fingers deftly input the symbol that the humans had given her species, immediately sending the search through to find what this collective resource from countless hands had to say of them.

Lady Han nodded, letting the Aos Si mess with the show datapads while she went over to the counter with three small cards in her hand, each with a picture of the respective datapad on it.

The first bits of information Sai found of her species was actually photos of them, plastered over the human social media, pictures of them in the library, in the convenience store, and eerily, in this very building. Then there were pages of text written recently, speculation of what the Aos Si's purpose here was, why they showed up now. There was an article titled "Mayor Lv Addresses Aos Si Appearance in Cloud Watch".

"... We have one of our most prized researchers in xenobiology, Li Shi Cheng, acting as liason to the Aos Si."

"...Their entrance into human society raises questions about their rights as sentient beings. How do you expect the State of Dawn to address this issue?"
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
"That will depend, in part, to their willingness to cooperate with us."

"... What do you expect the chances are that elves and humans will be able to participate in this cooperation you speak of?"

"Well, Mr. Reporter, our chances will increase if we address them by their proper names: Aos Si, not elves."

The mayor looked similar to the rest of the humans here: light brown skin, black eyes, well maintained black hair. He was described as the son of the state's governor.

While public human information on the Aos Si seemed sparse, beyond what was clearly speculation, there was a treasure trove of content on these "elves". Artwork, stories, fictional works that involved "elves" that dated back centuries.

Lady Han returned to the group with three boxes, each with a datapad inside, handing them to the Aos Si. Li Shi Cheng covered his bad arm back up with his sleeve. "So, where to next?"

"Where else are we to go?" Gwaed spoke, still seeming annoyed and uncomfortable with the nearness he was subjected to at the moment. "We are intended to be presented still, yes?" He looked to his companions, one of which was still far closer than was proper, and he was too annoyed to make any decision with weight. "I'm sure I'll be relagated to following you all on a fool's errand anyway."

"Yes, where else are we to go?" Amisra echoed his sentiment. "I thank you," she took the boxed datapad from Han. Despite this though, she continued to eye ball the display datapad as her soft, delicate hands took the box apart. "It would seem that we are all the rage," the redheaded woman reamerked, placing the contents out on the table as she opened everything up. "I care not for your fiction of us for the time being, but it seems I have already achieved true fame with this 'Rule 34' of yours," the ranger knowingly smiled, her emerald eyes darting over to see the humans' reactions. "I can't tell if some of your speakers are simply posing rhetorical questions or are genuinely stupid though. As if our rights as sentient beings is a question!" Amisra scoffed, tossing the instruction booklet aside after she finished leafing through its contents. "Does this have a data plan?" she suddenly asked Han, her datapad held in hand.

Now wondering what she was on about as he took his box from Lady Han, his eyes turning to see what she was looking at. At first the content shocked him to his core, images of frightful passion on display with detail that was, honestly, annoying well crafted for parasite hands, but a far more intimidating question came to the forefront of his mind. "We've been known to the city for a day. How is it they've had such free time to accomplish this since then?" Now he was even more uncomfortable, tearing his eyes away from the images. The barest hint of flush to his face was detectable, covering his feelings as he usually did, with annoyance. "Your people are stange and alien. I don't like this. My likeness should not be doing such things to... certain people," his eyes barely shifted to Amisra, "on your forsaken devices."

His eyes now traveled the humans around him, that crowd of people milling about their daily lives. How many thought of him in such a way? Could anyone be trusted here? Well no, none of them could, they were Parasites, but even still the realization rocked him. "Back to the topic at hand, where will we be going?"

It was a strange, uncomfortable feeling, to see pictures plastered over this network of information of herself. She expected, in some way, to find the image taken by that employee from their first gaunt into the city, but there was far more than just that. It's like the city had been built with countless cameras, all uploading anything strange they caught. That, or the instinctive action of each human here was to upload their findings to the collective thought of this device that she now held in her head.

Was there privacy here? Could something like that really exist when this was the response? She knew this was large news for the people, the first time any of the sort had happened, but something still felt off about the whole thing. A culture of watching from the sides at those who actually acted.

She paused as she saw one of the pictures of herself, confused for a moment as she obviously had to take a moment to recall where she was at the time. It was while she hurried through the library to fetch papers she had printed. She looked uncomfortable, shying away from the groups of people she had hurried past. It was plainly visible from the image that she did not belong, and it was a feeling stronger than just the framing of the image that made her stand out.

She cautiously looked at the others, who discussed something that largely had passed her by, before shaking her head. What they discussed was something she wasn't willing to burden her mind with as well when it already felt so hazy. "Perhaps that musuem you spoke to us of would make a good next destination." She commented, swiping the uncomfortable image of herself away and silencing the screen to its neutral void state. "Unless there is some other stop like this you'd wish to bring us to."

Shi Cheng put a hand on his face while Lady Han struggled to contain a chuckle. "Sorry, we spent three centuries perfecting the technology to depict people in suggestive situations. That's how they come out so fast; artists just pick the poses, color pallete, background, and artificial intelligence handles the rest. At this point our artists are more programmers."

"Let's just... go to the museum already." Shi Cheng's face went red.

"Wha--" Lady Han began to tease her former teacher, before he glared at her. "Han Feng, keep that mouth shut before you say something all of us will regret." He commanded, skipping the pleasantries and using the woman's full name.

"Right... sorry, professor." Lady Han whimpered.

The trip to Cloud Watch Museum of Heaven Forged History was silent. Lady Han kept her eyes on her monitors and the sky lanes, while Shi Cheng watched the Aos Si fiddle around with their new technology

Gwaed stared at his new device, fiddling with it like a well educated child trying to understand something new. With this strange device he could look up history, art, information of all sorts. It felt like cheating, he wasn't sure how to take this. Throughout his work examining the device he held the same scowl as he usually did.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Like a teenager completely immersed in her own datapad, Amisra remained silent as she quietly tapped away at her display. Already, she had in mind what she wanted to find out and know. Politics. The major players. The parties. The demographics. Their worries. Their woes. What did the humans consider concerning? She didn't even bother looking for news of herself and her kind. At least, not yet. Her personal vanity would be satisfied, but it would have to wait its turn.

[Optional post here]

The museum was located right in the middle of the center and the outer edge of the urban area of the city. The surrounding area seemed to be a larger museum complex, sparsley dotted with far more artistic buildings compared to the rest of the cityscape. The area was covered by reddish green grass and a few trees with brown trunks, with light grey pavement weaving through, connecting the buildings. None of the vegetation was native, but it seemed they were trying to adapt to fit in anyways.

The group's flying shuttle was parked on a nearby skyscraper. As they continued their trip on foot, new mechanical buzzers joined the airspace above them, their soulless eyes fixated on the Aos Si. There were far more humans wearing black lenses around them now, and far less of the ordinary crowd. The Aos Si's datapads were lit up with news notifications, photos of them at this moment, taken from aerial view.

The museum in question was distinctively torch shaped, skinny at the base and ended with a wider, flatter bulge near the top, covered by white panels, mostly windowless, unlike most other buildings in the city. The interior space had a staircase that spiraled upwards, with elevator shafts in the center. In between the staircase and the elevator shafts were either three dimensional, floating images or physical, human relics. Along the walls of the museum were lined smaller rooms, each containing their own section of this human nation's history.

Gwaed's eyes looked to the drones around them, seeing the news app light up with images of them as they walked, pictures from seconds ago. It was worrying, and frankly it was demeaning. Like animals behind glass they were, watched every step of the way. The building before them was horrific looking, unnatural, but at least the Parasites had put more work into this one than the tall buildings.

Some small part of Gwaed dared to enjoy the history around him. It wasn't his history, that of his people, but something about history had always sat in his mind, an itch. Amisra would know his old habits before he became far less personable after decades of war, his hobbies were history and warfare, like many noble boys of his time. She'd also know he wouldn't show anything outwardly with so many eyes on him, no excitement, no wonder, no enjoyment. Instead he looked over the exhibits before them with a neutral expression.

"This is a place of history, yes?" Amisra began, breaking the silence as she eyed her datapad. Perhaps taking note of Gwaed's changed demeanor, however sublte it was, the redheaded woman spoke with an even, level care. "I would like to see where you all began." Putting away her datapad for the time being, her emerald gaze turned to the two humans accompanying them. "Not your species, but you as a culture of course. I'm curious as to the story of your origin." Amisra knew what Gwaed liked, and in this instance, it lined up with her own interests as well. Dealing with these humans, these people, they needed to know who they were and why they were the way they were. If anything would have him stopper his anger for a moment, it would be that almost childlike curiosity. But, the ranger pondered what Sai would think or say. Being younger than them, and more an aquaintance than anything else, she couldn't predict how she would react.

There was something different about the musuem, Sai noticed. There was something more personable in its design, something more personal in how it was shifted and crafted. Sai did not know who built it, but there was a bit of the architect left behind in the art. Immortal, in a sense, as long as the building lasted. Though if history taught her anything of these humans, that timeframe could be a lot shorter than she expected.

Sai said little, instead letting Amisra guide them towards whatever part of the musuem she wanted, though she did have her own silent preferences. While Amisra and Gwaed could poke and prod at their devices, Sai didn't have the hands to do so, instead keeping her eyes open as she looked around curiously.

Shi Cheng nodded to Amisra. "Follow me." He led the group into one of the rooms on the first floor. The room was dimly lit with orange light. There were cabinets filled with ancient human relics, basic tools: pottery, farming equipment made of iron and wood, carefully preserved. In the center of the room was a table with a three dimension map on it, a map of a river with all the geography along side it. Shi Cheng manipulated the map with his good hand, which moved along the table as if the group were aerial, looking down and forward as they navigated along the river. On a plaque read, "Yellow River of Earth: Nursery of the Chinese Civilization."

"Humans have always been constrained by geography." Shi Cheng explained. "The river is to our ancestors as the superluminal engines and the orbital trajectories are to us now. They make transportation and communication much easier, providing treasure troves of resources along the way. Without the Yellow River, we would've never organized, much less explore the stars."

Gwaed did his best to retain the most stern face he could, but history was one of his more enjoyed subjects. Maybe it was alright that it wasn't Aos Si history, just this once. He had to admit, the history of a different people entirely was fascinating. With the barest change in demeanor only another elf could notice, Gwaed looked at the map, waiting for more.

"The river?" Amisra pondered, her skillset quickly being put to use. "I see. A basket filled with grain first, then fish, and finally what else you can muster," her sharp, emerald eyes observed. "And the sides of this basket woud be made of the deserts to the north, sea to the east, mountains to the west, and jungle to the south," the redhead reasoned, moving her head to part a few stray strands away from her gaze. "The entirety of your civilization's infancy would have been here in that crib, and however far from the shore your people could stray." Deep green flicked back to Shi Cheng expectantly. "And what stories did they make while there in that basket? That crib?"

Sai's interest was not to the map, in fact she was certain that she could find identical ones from her new tablet if she felt so inclined to do so at her own pace. Instead, the physical artifacts that were preserved behind glass drew her attention, and silently she moved away from the other two to investigate small stretch of tools and pottery that were crafted by ancient hands. She had a brief understanding of how the humans counted years, as well as their general system of time. These tools however, were outright ancient.

Even by Aos Si standards.

Vague imprints of worn out images tattered the clay pots, crafted by hands that could never imagine where it would end up. What would one think, to be told 'One day your creation here will sail the stars, to be gazed upon by eyes that are not our own?' It scared her, briefly, to think about just how much would have changed around this piece of pottery. The drone of the talk on the map went by her, and her one hand went to the rail to balance herself as she deeply considered things that she truly would rather not.

What would she leave behind?

Gwaed looked over the map with a musing glare, not so much a pointed glare as he'd displayed before, but more of a resting angry face. After so long being angry it was just natural. He spoke evenly, steadily, almost like a teacher in some regard. "All that civilization in one crib, left alone to prosper and grow. Communities would form in that crib, and from those communities there would be an Empire. A civilization for the ages." His gaze turned to the humans in their group, eyes not accusatory like they often were, more annoyed than angry. "I'm assuming that Empire didn't last. Humans are terrible at looking past their own generation, much less the next."

"Not the Empire, Gwaed. Several." Shi Cheng corrected. One room after another, Shi Cheng guided the Aos Si through five thousand years of Chinese history. First the infant dynasties, before the first proper Chinese empire, the Qin Dynasty. Then came the two Han Dynasties, what the humans here considered the true origin of their culture. Then the Three Kingdoms era, which had a remarkable amount of cultural works describing and romanticizing the time period, but spanned less than a century in reality. Afterwards, the Tang, the Song, high points in the people's history before a foreigners occupied the empire for less than a century, before another high point, the Ming Dynasty, during which these people made their first, extensive steps beyond the mainland shores. For four thousand years, empires rose and fell on this sizable area on the planet, what the humans called the "Earth Ball". However, even during the interdynastic periods, the people of this mainland seemed to hold dominance over its neighbors. Even under foriegn occupation, the culture thrived.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Then came the Qing dynasty, when the mainland was occupied, once again, by foreigners, but this time different. These were humans to be sure, but paler skin, with brown and blonde hair colors, wielding weapons of metal and fire not unlike those employed against the Aos Si themselves. Described as the first century of humiliation, the mainland was in a constant state of warfare against both the foreigners and amongst themselves, struggling to overcome the cultural and technological disadvantages. In this room, the images on the table were of flying machines and terrible, metallic beasts on both land and ocean. The relics were grey and oiled machinery. Just outside the room, one of the actual flying machines hanged between the spiral staircase and the central elevator.

Gwaed followed along, at some point having forgotten to appear angry. For the first time since he'd been in direct contact with humans that didn't involve war, death and pain, his face was not angry, nor stern, nor sorrowful. It was neutral, and honestly anyone that knew him knew that was a huge improvement. Knowing him he'd reactivate the anger if anyone brought it up, but for a small amount of time he was allowed to just learn, passively, something he'd found joy in before his home was replaced in the most violent fashion. History was fascinating, the story of cultures, nations, peoples, laid out before him in a convienent manner. He greatly enjoyed it, though decades of a dark attitude was hard to break. His arms were still crossed, but instead of being a gesture of anger, it was defensive. Some small part of him was worried what people might think of him if he wasn't miserable.

Sai found herself being left behind, though she didn't speak up to stop it. There was a lot to learn about human history, but something in her mind told her that here wasn't the only time she could find all of that information. However the sparse artifacts kept here were finite, there were only so many spread out through however many musuems were built. Clearly each nation would primarily keep the artifacts most relevant to themselves, though vaguely overhearing their history, she wouldn't be surprised to see conquered pieces of history stored as if it belonged in the same building.

Humans, historically, had extraordinarily short lifespans. She had learned as much through the resources they gave her, and only in the recent stretches of technological innovation leading way to advanced medical sciences, did they find longevity that were still considered short lived by the standards of the Aos Si. Though, she noted, the Aos Si had faced something quite opposite, their lifespans shrinking dramatically between harsh military oppression and the waning of their way of life. Magic vanished, and so did its effects on them.

Sai would still likely live to be at least a few hundred years old, assuming that nothing killed her beforehand. Humans, throughout their history, strived to make a difference in the short times they lived, and it seemed like much changed as a result. Short sighted decisions weakened them, as expected, but what was short sighted to the Aos Si was long lived for humans.

She blinked, and it was like she had blacked out, realizing that the other two had simply moved on to further exhibits. She blinked a few times, slowly taking in the large room that sat a fair bit quieter. Without thinking, she simply picked a direction and began to walk.

"This...can't be right," Amisra began. Pointed ears held even higher, the tips quivered as her emerald eyes dilated at the displays. Closing them for a moment, she rubbed her temples, showing them some degree of distress that they had perhaps never really seen from the Aos Si woman before. "There may not have been many surviving records, even before humans interfered, but - " she paused, eyebrows furrowing in thought. " - there always had been Tírnandeor, and only Tírnandeor." The redheaded ranger, ever calm and aloof, began to pace, something that even Gwaed hadn't seen before in all their years. "Its as though Empires are mere fodder, disposable things on this place called Earth," the redhead remarked in disbelief. Taking in a deep breath, she slowed down and turned her eyes back to them all. "Where is Sai?"

Amisra's sudden shift to pacing in thought was rare enough that Gwaed tracked her movements with a small amount of worry, and maybe just a little bit of selfish amusement. About time she got to experience uncertainty openly. "As we've gathered, humans have trouble seeing a larger picture. They see their generation and their desires and act on them, often not thinking of the future generations that will have to deal with their actions when they're gone." His eyes looked over at their human companions, searching them. "This entire visit has proven that. The previous generation saw fit to annihilate us for little reason other than our existance being inconvientent for them, not thinking of what painstaking effort mending possible relationships would be for those that came after."

Gwaed had been caught up in the history, how human Empires rose and fell like waves on the beach. "I wonder what the point of it all is. A legacy? They live so short a time, perhaps they wish for their names to be remembered forever, so they act in a way to gain them that acclaim. I'll assume that mass destruction is one of the more common methods, personal bais completely withstanding."

Of course, Amisra did raise a good question, and when he realized Sai was gone his entire body tensed as if something was about to go horrifically wrong. He looked around, senses on edge. Surely the humans wouldn't lead them here to die? To split them apart and destroy them individually? After so long, what would be a point to such a sudden action, after days of work and hours of this visit? He was back to being angry, which just might be his substitute for worry. They'd dragged her out here into the lands of the enemy, and if it destroyed her that would mean Gwaed had failed again. He started stalking through the halls, leaving the others behind with his long legs as he searched for their comrade.

It actually didn't take long to find Sai; a couple of the mechanical buzzers were following her at all times, along with the men in dark glasses and whatever small, curious crowd allowed to follow at a distance. She was in a long chamber dedicated to musical instruments, from simple pipes and strings, to more complex assemblies of keyboards and organs that weren't carriable by hand, which were specified to be foreign imports. The chamber allowed Sai to interact with it using her datapad, letting her listen to the various songs these instruments produced at her own pace. The physical artifacts stopped at a large metal box with wiring and green chips inside, with smaller boxes next to it with nets over large pores. This assembly was described to be a digital music producer that translated electrical signals into sound rather than producing them directly.

Finding Sai set Gwaed at ease, allowing himself to calm down a bit. Instead of interupting her browsing of the museum, he stopped and started looking over the exhibit himself. Pulling his datapad out he followed her actions and began to sample the music these instruments made. Music seemed to have been something both species had invented, and they weren't too far from each other in that regard. Listening to the sounds of a stringed instrument, he closed his eyes and let himself feel it.

It was a strange feeling, to go from the annals of war and conquest through the ages to this place. She felt disconnected from the wars and countless empires that seemed to span across that corner of earth. Bloody conquests that erased each other time and time again, rarely, if ever, mentioning the finer details of who these people truly were. It was like she was expected to know and readily identify the differences between these people who changed name every other century. They were all the same, to her, evolution of the same cultural line rewriting itself in a strange, barbaric ritual of revolution.

It was why she was almost shocked to find an elongated room dedicated to little else but musical instruments.

The room was quiet when she had entered it, aside from the humming of their various devices that followed her and the awkward, tempo-less pacing of men and women in suits who kept a quiet crowd from getting too close. She walked slowly from exhibit to exhibit, listening to the speakers give heartless descriptions of each instrument before playing something laced with something the entire city seemed to lack before now.

Heart.

Each instrument was different, and though the speaker always described them using similar words and descriptions, it was apparent just by listening that each one was designed differently for a reason. Slight tinges of intention and accompanying feeling, ringing through the air one after the other as she went through them. The drums she found were the most basic, a few even sounded similar to ones she recalled from childhood, though the stringed instruments resonated with her the most.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
When she found the exhibit that allowed her to create her own music using the collected resonance of the instruments through history, she was a bit stunned. The last time she had held an instrument was when she was a child, both hands too small to properly pluck and strum at her fathers instruments. She idly played with the exhibit, listening to the simple rhythms it suggested as she began to shift and move the tempo, tune, and construction of the song. It wasn't perfect, a machine could never reproduce the true feeling of the instruments, but as she heard the growing assembly of stringed attunements building together in a basic, guided way, she realized something as the images began to grow blurry and indistinct. She hadn't held an instrument in years. She had fully accepted that, no matter how many hundreds of years would pass, that she would never hold one again.

As she frowned, trying to make the images in front of her clarify once more, she realized why she couldn't see it anymore.

She was crying.

Gwaed stopped, watching her cry for a few moments. Music had always been something one had to feel, and feeling was something they'd all had trouble doing for some time now. He remembered the music of his childhood, songs his mother had sung to him, music played at a gathering. Even now he felt the effect of the music, but pure stubbornness wouldn't let him display the emotion he felt as his mind was assaulted by memories. He couldn't cry, not now. He needed to be strong, and so he put on a brave face until one day he might find a moment alone. He stepped forward, unsure of how to comfort Sai. Her thoughts were her own, he couldn't guess at them with any accuracy, though he held suspicions that she remembered the music of home too. He gently laid a hand on her shoulder, trying to convey understanding through his eyes alone, the notion that he understood, to an extent, what she felt.

"We really should get you that prosthetic arm, and a few of our instruments." Sai would find Shi Cheng and Lady Han besides her as well, Amisra following slightly behind, deep in thought, silent, for once. Shi Cheng tapped his own datapad to listen to the music and sighed gently. "Even when North Capital was engulfed in flames, I always had access to music. I've taken the artform for granted, but you..." He looked at Sai. "... Your kind, as far as I'm aware, live through these artforms. They are as important to you as your own limbs. Losing the ability to play music must've been unimaginably painful." Shi Cheng commented sympathetically.

He then made an observation. "Of the three of you, you seem to be the most atuned to the arts, even beyond the necessity of it for your kind. So how about it?" Shi Cheng made an offer. "If you do choose to enroll in the institute, why don't you join our humanities department? Either the School of Music, the School of Visual Arts, or the School of Interactive Arts?"

The tears were a strange thing. She had recalled crying as a child, over wounds and burns and pain, over loss and solitude, but it was always something accompanied by such sharp drop in emotion and feeling that it was overwhelming. Something, in each case, was lost. The crying was always the apex of it all, something that came about as it broiled out of her, until one day she simply stopped crying, and never did again. Had she truly become that stern, that immovable that tears evaded her? It was the same feeling as trying to recall when her mother last held her, something so inconsequential that it was impossible to truly remember but something so profound to who she was that it seemed bizarre that she couldn't give an honest answer.

These tears were different, as her hand reached up to wipe them from her eyes and cheeks. She did not sob, nor did her shoulders shudder with exasperated breath, they simply flowed freely as if whatever blocked her from doing so had vanished. She felt Gwaed's hand softly rest on her right shoulder, the one that connected to nothing, and turned her head to him before giving a brief, knowing nod.

The offer that followed was a strange one, to be inserted into one of the Institutes schools of art. Hours ago she would have scoffed at the idea that the arts were important enough to these people that they would have to divvy up the instruction between different branches. At the very least she would have immediately assumed that these over-rational people would slice up the art itself into such objective categories that they lost the soul and conjoining tissue along the way.

Now she wasn't certain. In the moment she couldn't even imagine putting herself on some pedestal to describe how they used to live. Where the difference between 'art' and 'science' were intangible. "I had given up on music." She admitted in the same tone as if she had just admitted to murder. "I was a child, last time I held an instrument or a paintbrush." She further described. "I will not pretend that the concept of your prosthetics does not arise some strange sense of alienation from me. It does not fill me with hope, but perhaps I can be proven wrong twice in the same day." She paused. "I would like time to think on your offer, as well as more information. Perhaps there is a way forward, through your schools."

Gwaed kept his hand on Sai's shoulder, a sign of support. Actually, now that he gave it thought, he hadn't had a chance to lay a hand on any shoulders in some time. He hadn't had a chance to show someone support for years really, Amisra just did as she pleased, keeping everything close to the chest. And heavens forbid she ever show emotion like this in public, or hell, even while he was around. He was the same way anyway, he couldn't bring himself to cry. He'd love nothing more than to sit alone somewhere and listen to the strings' desperate cry, but for now he stood there and forced himself to feel very little. "Music would suit you well, I believe. Music is emotion calling out through the air, a tool to display complex thoughts." He gave her a stiff smile, as though smiling wasn't something he was used to. By all evidence, it wasn't.

"As much information, and as much time, as you need." Shi Cheng nodded, reassuring Sai calmly. There was a buzz in his pocket, as he took out his datapad, eyebrows furrowing at what he was seeing on screen. "Well..." He muttered something dirty under his breath. "I have to apologize for my people again." He stowed away his datapad. "Sai, as much as I've been personally moved by your passion for the arts, my people's news sources have reported on it, as we speak right now..." Shi Cheng leered at the buzzers surrounding them. He looked to say something directly at them, but decided against it.

"... And that got the attention of the Governor herself. She'd like to speak to you as soon as possible."

There was a rising shame that came about as she arrived at the realization that her response had not only been witnessed by these few individuals, but by the people at large. Broadcast and spread through their society at blinding, impossible speeds. A collection of individuals with a network more akin to hiveminds and gestalts. Though the idea of such a connection would seem to fill one with joy at the progress, it strangely filled her with a bizarre and overwhelming sense of dread. As she stood thinking, trying to regain her composure, how many eyes stared at her from countless cameras, chattering words with fingers and sharing them to one another with rampant speed? How many opinions formed before she had said a word to a single one of them?

She blinked rapidly, turning away from the oppressive field of cameras and eyes that stared at her. The room was moderately empty, but it suddenly felt like an ocean of eyes was at her back. It was a heartbreaking realization. They had caught the city by surprise upon their first intrusion to its streets, but now it had stirred like a great leviathan and now every eye was upon them. She could not even begin to fathom how many had seen her in these last minutes. Emotions were not meant to private, hidden things, but regardless she felt spied upon. How could she communicate to so many at once? It seemed impossible.

She shoved the great foreign anxiety down as she gave little sign of it other than a sudden momentary shudder that rose up her spine. Taking a deep breath she turned back to face Shi Cheng, a sudden cloudiness to her eyes. "I suppose it would be rude to keep her waiting, in any culture." She replied, glancing to Gwaed and then Amisra, after having to take a moment longer to find her. "Though that fully depends on my companions, on whether they could spare me, or wish to accompany us."

Gwaed too felt annoyed that a private moment couldn't be spared from the prying eyes of a hive of individuals. Surely this society they'd be forced to wrestle with allowed for some degree of privacy! Or where they destined to live like caged animals, curiosities that people would visit, comment on, without ever speaking to them once? Had they struck a nest of insects, each of them aware of their presence, buzzing with impunity? Something to ponder later, though his face grew stern anyway.

"Yes," he replied disdainfully, "Might as well let the drab hordes focus their eyes on others as well, rather than baring ourselves to unseen judgement." His gaze travelled around the room, taking in the sights once again. He'd have to visit again, sometime in the future when there were less eyes on him. For now, he'd decided to accompany Sai to meet with this Governer, someone of importance no doubt.
 

Ray of Meep

Administrator
Even lost in thought, Amisra's upbringing showed. Head turned to wistfully gaze off into the distance, the redheaded woman had unconsiciously reached across with one hand, tightly grasping the other arm as it dangled. The tightness that she felt in her chest went from emotional to physical as Amisra squeezed her arms tigther together, but just as quickly stopped the moment her breath caught. "There at the point where eyes and ears are in all their linked together trinkets then," she offhandedly remarked, noting the post-privacy condition of humanity. "This Governor of yours must smell an opportunity. It is with her that we will discuss our status?" Amisra asked, her emerald eyes turning their gaze on the humans again.

Shi Cheng nodded. "My guess is she wants to ride high on the public relations wave right now; it's not everyday that a foreign species cries in front of human culture." He remarked bluntly, starting to lead the group out of the museum.
 
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