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Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #60 on: June 27, 2018, 07:20:16 PM »
Yeah, I usually try to avoid adverbs too, but I lean on them a lot for various reasons. I hadn't noticed that I used the same one twice, though.

Good catch on the brothers'/bothers' typo that I glossed over. Man I gotta up my proofreading skills.

Hopefully we'll get to the other girl in the next chapter. I just gotta start it and follow my outline.
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline Last

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #61 on: June 27, 2018, 10:46:40 PM »
I liked the chapter! Better character dynamics in this one. The whole mansion felt pretty stale in that regard, so it's refreshing!


Although, all I keep thing is "The Brothers Maestro. The two brothers named Maestro. Maestro, and his brother Maestro."

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #62 on: June 27, 2018, 11:28:36 PM »
IS THIS WHAT HE WANTED WHEN HE SAID HE WANTED TO BE CALLED MAESTRO ALL THOSE YEARS AGO? LOOK AT WHAT YOU'VE DONE.
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline Last

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #63 on: June 28, 2018, 11:17:12 PM »
Meh. Probably. But let's be honest, his fate is sealed. Out of respect I won't say it here, but he'll have that nickname until either the day he dies, or I do.

Offline rubixmaestro

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #64 on: June 29, 2018, 09:31:05 AM »
On behalf of my brother, I curse you to a life devoid of any nekomimies in your dreams. You took everything from me T_T


Also NEKOMIMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII A rustic one too.  Sweet applesauce.


Also Maid Mahlua The Cleaning Witch?


Your productivity is on point Mahlua. Interesting in depth-discussions for this chapter and the other. Er... Now I know some terms to BDSM for some reason. TIL what sub means. *Pulls paper bag tighter around head*
real life has sexy graphics

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #65 on: June 29, 2018, 03:51:56 PM »
Glad to be of help in the learning all things BDSM department. I try to keep this as a fun little story, but I also like to explore the reason why the tropes presented are so common and well loved. I hope my social commentary doesn't override all the fun.
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Ecchiverse: Reset (Chapter 14)
« Reply #66 on: June 30, 2018, 10:59:11 PM »
Lol whoops.

Chapter 14
Spoiler tag (now that they work) so you guys
don't have to keep scrolling for ages.
Mahlua wondered if she hadn’t been spoiled for far too long at the mansion. The work for the inn wore her out, although, in some ways, she enjoyed it. There was a method for everything, a pattern in what needed to be done, and none of the work was particularly labor-intensive or difficult. She had been put to work immediately, and by nightfall, her arms felt lighter, which was a good sign that they’d be sore the next day, and of course they were.

Savannah left her to sweeping the main lobby of the inn that morning while she went shopping in town. Mahlua took to the task despite her arms’ protest, still tired from the previous night’s work. By the time she made it to the bar area with the broom, the soreness felt less painful—gods bless endorphins.

“She’s a real workhorse, isn’t she?” a familiar voice teased from the door.

Mahlua looked up. “Oh, good morning, Salem,” she said.

“You know, if you ever need a break,” Salem said as she hoisted herself to the bar, tail flicking playfully, “I could help mellow you out.”

In that moment, Mahlua couldn’t help but notice faint dark circles under the cat girl’s eyes, and suddenly it clicked. Mahlua cleared her throat and continued her work. “I don’t think Savannah appreciates people sitting at the bar when it’s closed. Besides, it looks to me like you need to take care of yourself a little more before you go worrying about me.”

Salem rolled her eyes. “Oh well. It was worth a shot, I guess. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so direct…” she trailed off, the tip of her tail still flicking from side to side.

With her main task complete, Mahlua turned her attention to sweeping the stairs. She would be asked to do it later anyway. Meanwhile, Salem stretched out across a few barstools and fell into a doze. All things considered, Mahlua didn’t have the heart to tell her to move somewhere else. When Mahlua finally got to the second floor, she heard Savannah return below.

“Floor looks good,” she called up, “But you somehow missed an entire cat!”

Salem groaned and tried to roll over at the noise. Instead she made an ungraceful thud on the ground.

“I tried to tell her you wouldn’t want her sitting at the bar, but she didn’t move, so,” Mahlua shrugged as she came down the stairs.

“I believe it,” Savannah sighed. Her tail swished to one side. “Well, since that’s done, you gonna help me get all these crates in the cellar?”

“Yup,” Mahlua said, walking around the bar to put the broom away. As she passed, she noticed that somehow Salem had either gone back to sleep or the tumble hadn’t woken her up at all.

---

Savannah adjusted the last crate on the shelf and dusted her hands off. “Now, I know you probably have a couple of questions about Salem, so I’m going to clear them up for you. She’s not from this village. She does some odd jobs here and there to earn her keep, but for the most part, she has a bad reputation. People just don’t trust black cats. In her hometown, when things went missing, they ran her out. Ain’t nothing gone missing here, so it probably wasn’t fair, and we keep her up. Seeing as her situation is so rough, she’ll take to any kind of work, and not many people are fond of that, ‘specially for the dirtier work. Frankly, she don’t have the pleasure of denying it. She stays here a lot, and I don’t mind it. She’ll run errands for me every now and then. Dunno where she goes when she’s not here, though.”

Mahlua sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. “I got a vibe like that when I saw her eyes this morning.”

“Did she try to put the moves on you, too?” Savannah asked as she turned to inspect produce on another shelf.

“She offered to give me a break from work, if that’s what you mean,” Mahlua said.

“I was afraid of that,” Savannah sighed. “The game is getting to her head.” She withdrew a few tomatoes from a crate and gave them a squeeze, testing for bruises. “Can’t say that I blame her, though. There’s good money in it. Dirty money, but more than a simple livin’ like I get.”

“All this because she has black hair and a cat parent?” Mahlua asked, shaking her head.

“She wasn’t always black-headed. She used to be the spittin’ image of her brother,” Savannah said, moving on to the old carrots.

“Her brother?”

“Max followed her here. He hates that she’s like that, but that’s still his sister. The fact that her hair started to change to match her ears and tail proves that her parent is specifically a black cat. Doesn’t always happen like that, y’know? Usually it’s just the ears and tail. Some people just take after their parents more than others.”

Mahlua stood silently for a few moments, trying to imagine Salem with dusty blonde hair. Now that she thought about it, there was a bit of a similarity. Before she could think too hard about the pit of lead that dropped in her stomach, Savannah drew her back to the present.

“How do you feel about some tomato sandwiches for lunch?”

---

After lunch, the guest from one of the rooms softly padded down the stairs. The girl kept her hair in a short bob and wore a simple sweater and long skirt. Her full moon glasses slid down to the tip of her nose. Most notably, she lacked any animal ears or corresponding tail.

“Ah, there she is. The one going on the journey with you,” Savannah said. She smiled and waved the guest over. “Can I get’cha a bite to eat, Marissa?”

The girl pushed up her glasses and nervously tugged at her sweater. “Uh, sure,” she said. She sat at the far end of the bar and kept shooting Mahlua glances, as if trying to size her up.

“I should have all the supplies to get y’all on the road by tomorrow,” Savannah said, leaning on the counter. “I got high hopes for both of you. Now, if y’all will look after the place while I go out and get some things this evening, that’d be much appreciated.”

“You got it,” Mahlua said. Marissa simply gave a small nod.

“Good,” Savannah said as she stood up for a stretch. “I’ll start heading out then, see if I can make it home before nightfall.”

As the horse woman headed for the door, Max stumbled in. “Hey, have you seen Salem?” he asked, breathless.

“She had a nice nap on my bar floor this morning, looks like,” Savannah said. “Come on, now, Max, you know she’s probably chasing money."

Max paced back and forth and scratched behind his ears with both hands, clearly frustrated. He turned back to face Savannah. “Did she say she’d be back?”

“Boy, she was out like a light. Wouldn’t’a said nothin’ unless she were sleeptalking.” Savannah’s tail swished. “Go try with Angus. He usually has honest work for her.”

“I just came from there,” Max retorted, voice raising in pitch.

“Leave it be, Max. She goes around sometimes, but she always comes back.” Savannah rested a hand on his head. “Now, I gotta go for a bit. You can have yourself a drink or two—no more than two—while I’m gone. Just don’t make a mess.”

“But, Savannah!”

Ignoring him, she kept walking and waved on her way out. “We’ll get it sorted out. Don’t worry about it.”

All the while, Marissa’s shoulders had tensed so much that she practically curled in on herself.

“Are you all right?” Mahlua asked.

“No,” Max interjected. The nude man threw himself into the seat next to Mahlua and held his head in his hands. “She usually tells me if she’s going to go off somewhere.”

Not who I was trying to talk to… Mahlua thought. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to worry you. Come on now. Let’s get you something to drink. Do you want anything, Marissa?” she said.

“Just water,” the girl replied, looking at her hands in her lap.

“And I guess I’ll just have a bottle of cider. None of that crazy alcohol stuff, though,” Max added.

---

Night had started creeping across the horizon when Savannah finally returned. Max already left to continue his search for Salem, and Mahlua cleaned up the drinks.

Savannah surveyed the place and gave an approving nod. “Looks like you two managed to take care of things just fine,” she said. “Now, I can have you out of here as early as tomorrow afternoon. The closest shrine is only about a day and a half away on foot, so I hope you can keep camp well.”

Mahlua nodded. Marissa remained quiet.

“Good. Tomorrow morning we’ll gather the rest of the materials and get you all packed. You two have helped me out quite a bit, even if one of you has only been here for a day.”

“Thank you,” Marissa said. She still sounded tense. Mahlua wondered if the ruckus earlier had spooked her that badly, or if she was just nervous by nature.

“Ease up. I’m sure you’ll do fine. And even if it doesn’t—you can go back as many times as you need to. It took even me three visits,” Savannah said. She clapped a hand on Marissa’s shoulder.

Mahlua’s ear twitched in disbelief.

“Now, both of you probably need a good night’s rest. If you need anything in the night, just give me a holler,” Savannah said. She turned and disappeared into the back room.

Marissa stood and steadied herself. “I guess I’ll be off to bed, then,” she said. She gave a small nod before heading up the stairs.

Mahlua sat and contemplated. She could go to sleep, but with all that happened in that day, she needed a moment to process. After a few minutes, the witch got up and headed to her own room, where at the very least the stars would keep her thoughts company. A few questions fuddled her mind, but she would save those for tomorrow, before she left on the journey. Surely there would be time.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2018, 11:06:33 PM by MahluaandMilk »
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline Last

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #67 on: July 01, 2018, 11:03:15 PM »
Hm. Just for fun, I started reading so.e of the longer speeches out loud. Got a bit hard to not trip up during some of them. People just don't tend to say that much in one breath, so think about breaking it up with small actiond. It doesn't have to be much, but sometimes you reach a point and it's like "are they really still talking? Take a breath already."


Also, right at the end there. I'm pretty sure "starts" should be "stars".

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #68 on: July 01, 2018, 11:10:57 PM »
You're totally right with the typo. And probably about all the dialogue. I guess I fell into that trap of thinking like a scriptwriter again. It's easy for me as someone who has acted out and written my own scripts to feel where the pauses and tension go, but when writing prose, I have to remind myself that those things need to be made explicit. I caught myself towards the tail end (lol) of it in this one and started breaking it up with action, but it felt super forced for me to do it. I'm not sure if that adjustment helped or highlighted the problem. I'm sure it would've been worse if all of Savannah's speech there had been in one paragraph.

Welp, first too much introspection, then too much jabbering...maybe by the end of this damn fic I'll figure out where the balance is lmao.
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline Froneezy

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #69 on: July 03, 2018, 12:22:18 AM »
After giving this another quick read, I'm convinced that Salem is gonna be extremely relevant throughout the rest of this level.

I'm also convinced that girls with glasses who are naturally shy like Marissa is another weakness of mine...

Gotta love a chick with glasses, man...

Looking forward to the next installment!

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #70 on: July 03, 2018, 01:36:08 AM »
If there are still questions for Salem's relevance after the level is over, I will be happy to answer them. For now, I'm not doing so well mentally so I've been trying to work through that before picking up the next chapter. Might be a few days before any more activity. Or maybe not. Depression is a fickle mistress.
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Ecchiverse: Reset (Chapter 15)
« Reply #71 on: July 19, 2018, 04:31:59 AM »
Haha, there is finally a productive spurt! Chapter 15 is almost 2,000 words, but here it is. Looks like there should only be about one or two more chapters left for this level. Enjoy, leave comments, feedback, smart remarks, and all that.

Also, while I was working, I had this mix playing in the background. Lol, I bothered to make an iTunes playlist, and I still listen to other mixes.


Chapter 15

You're welcome for not making you have to scroll forever through the thread again.

The sunlight that filtered through Mahlua’s window still clung to the darkness of pre-morning blue when Savannah came to wake her. Still groggy from late-night anticipation, the raider dressed herself and gathered her things. She hadn’t been able to carry her weapons on her person while working, but with the adventuring ahead, she figured they’d come in handy. As she exited the room, Savannah made no comment about them.

At the bottom of the stairs, Marissa sat with two bags at her sides. She rubbed an eye under her glasses and yawned.

“Now that you’re both awake, let’s get you some food together. Last thing we need is a tarp in case you need to camp out and the weather turns foul,” Savannah said. She passed Marissa and led the way to the back room at the bar. “We have plenty of apples and peanuts, some cheese and jerky, and probably enough carrots and celery to last you.” She grabbed two drawstring bags from the wall and handed one to each guest. “You should only be travelling for a couple of days, and they’ll have food at the shrine for your trip back. Have at it.”

Mahlua went for the jerky and apples first, and between her and Marissa, a good portion of the cheese was taken.

“Ah, I see you, too, are a woman of taste,” Mahlua winked.

Marissa gave a confused look before continuing to pack her bag. Mahlua sighed and examined carrots and celery for the trip. It was a shame they didn’t have ranch dressing to go…

---

With the food properly packed and thrown over their shoulders, Mahlua and Marissa followed Savannah along the dirt roads to a cozy little house on the outer edge of the village, backed by fields of crops. Savannah knocked on the door, and after some bustling inside, Angus poked his head tiredly out from the crack in the door.

“You sure are a mornin’ bird,” he yawned. “Suppose you’re here about the tarp we discussed for the shrine-goers?”

“Yup,” Savannah nodded.

Angus hefted his large body through the door and stepped onto the porch. “It’s in the shed out back. Come with me,” he said, then awkwardly shuffled past the group down the porch stairs. “Might smell a bit,” he said over his shoulder. “I use it to keep the crops dry when the barn roof springs a leak. Big enough for a tent, though.”

“Thank you,” Mahlua said.

“Naw,” Angus said with a dismissive wave and a laugh. “You’ll only be gone a few days, so it won’t be a problem.” He fiddled in his pocket for a jingling set of keys. When he finally fished out the one he was looking for, the group had reached the padlocked door to the shed. He opened it and ducked inside.

Farm equipment sat in neat racks and along shelves build into the walls. From one of the shelves, he drew out a large roll of a dark brown tarp. “It’s a little heavy, so you might wanna take turns carrying it on the way,” he said, passing it to Mahlua.

It definitely had weight to it, but Mahlua managed to fit it over her shoulders without too much effort.

Angus turned his attention to thin rope in coils around a nail. “This should help you pitch it up,” he said, taking it down and handing it to Marissa, who bit her lip and gave a shy nod.

“Y’all have a safe trip out there. We look forward to having you back,” Angus said with a smile.

Before Mahlua could thank him again, Savannah spoke up.

“By the way, any word on Salem this mornin’?” she asked.

Angus sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t get up too long ago, so I haven’t heard yet. Max sure was losing his mind yesterday, though. I’ll keep an eye out for her, but you know she might’ve—”

“We’ll give her a couple of days before we start thinking like that,” Savannah interrupted. “Besides, with these two going to the shrine, if that’s the case, they might run into her.”

Angus let out a slow breath through his nose and shrugged his shoulders.

After that, Savannah led the two adventurers back to the main road. The morning dew started to dry on the grass, and the outline of the nearby forest became more clear. They stopped by the big tree in the center of the village.

“Best way to get to the shrine from here is to follow along the road that passes through here towards the mountain,” Savannah said, gesturing to the path opposite of the way Mahlua had entered the world. “Weather’s been fair, so shouldn’t be too bad. If it rains too hard, sometimes the rocks like to tumble a bit, so be on the lookout.”

Mahlua and Marissa nodded.

“You’ll see signs for the shrine probably on your second day of travelling. They’ll guide you right,” Savannah continued. She leaned against the tree and crossed her legs. “That should be about it. Any questions before you go?”

Mahlua shrugged, but Marissa made a small noise.

“Um..?”

One of Savannah’s ears twitched. “Yes?”

“Salem…should we be on the lookout for her? You said something about it,” Marissa asked, keeping her eyes on the ground.

Savannah’s shoulders slumped. “I dunno. The girl’s been a mess since she got here, and probably before that. Some of us have been worried for a while that she might go back to the shrine.”

Marissa’s eyes widened, and she looked up. “You think she might…cut ties?” A tremble in her voice gave away her concern.

“I don’t know if she’d go that far. She knows her brother would be devastated. But, I also don’t know if even she knows what she’s going to do,” Savannah replied.

Mahlua looked between the two and made a mental note to ask later what any of the conversation meant.

“But, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you do run into her, tell her to get her tail back here. If you don’t see her, we’ll deal with it,” Savannah said, uncrossing her legs and then crossing them the other way. “Now go on. Y’all have a long day ahead of you.”

Marissa stood still for a moment, as if she were going to say something else, but then relaxed and turned to Mahlua. “Yeah,” she said, to no one in particular. Mahlua swore she could almost see sweat on her brow.

---

The sun had risen almost to its zenith by the time the two adventurers decided to stop for their lunch break. As expected, Marissa didn’t talk much during the trek. It started to drive Mahlua a little out of her mind.

Mahlua took a bite from one of the apples and pondered how to make small talk, but to her surprise, Marissa spoke up.

“So…you’re not from here, are you?” she asked, nibbling on her cheese.

“What gives it away?” Mahlua asked, leaning back against a tree.

“Your weapons,” Marissa pointed out, “They’re forged with fine detail, foreign, even, and yet, you had to work for money here.”

Mahlua chomped on the apple again. “I suppose you have a point there. Even where I’m from, this is considered something of a ‘foreign’ weapon,” she said, giving her khopesh a firm pat.

“Do you fight a lot?” Marissa asked. She still didn’t exactly meet the raider’s eyes, but she seemed more relaxed and comfortable.

“Sometimes there are…” Mahlua paused to figure out how to explain spam ninjas. “…These creatures that try to mess with the order of things. They’re not necessarily dangerous, except in large numbers, but I’m something of a protector of the two big cities I call home. One of those cities is the one with the portal that brought me here.”

“Is it scary?” Marissa asked, tucking her legs closer to herself.

“Not really. I mean, a little, sometimes. There are scarier things than those creatures that I’ve been against, but I’m still here.”

“Like what?”

Mahlua finished off the apple and kept the pit in her bag. “Well, let’s see. There have been zombies, giant monsters, an organization of people who wanted to exterminate anyone who didn’t think like them…a few others, too,” she explained.

Marissa sat wide-eyed for a moment, letting it sink in. Then, with the faintest tremble, she started to laugh. “I think I like my world a lot better,” she said.

“Can’t say that I blame you,” Mahlua said, gnawing away at a slice of jerky. “I like it here too. People seem more connected and aware. Like, you listen to yourselves a lot more.”

“That’s right,” Marissa said, “Kemonomimi aren’t common where you’re from.”

“Almost non-existent, I think,” Mahlua agreed.

“I wonder if you’ll be able to have a parent at all, then,” Marissa said, resting her hands on her knees.

“I’ve bent the laws of reality before. Don’t see why it’d be any different here.”

Marissa actually looked the raider in the face with that.

“Well, I am a witch, after all, although I think what that means in my world is a little different than what it means here,” Mahlua explained.

“I heard,” Marissa said. She gave a small half smile. “It still sounds kind of silly, though.”

“Believe me, it doesn’t get less silly by living it,” Mahlua said. It was her turn to laugh. After all, it was true, when she thought about it—the whole witch thing, and the entirety of her universe—it was all at least a little silly.

She noticed that Marissa was making a face, so she quieted down.

“You wanna get on the road now?” Mahlua asked.

Marissa started to gather her things and stand up. “Yeah…it’s just…”

“Hm?” Mahlua prodded, gathering her own things.

“When you laugh, somehow, you still sound sad.”

Mahlua gulped. “Well, I suppose my life has been more of a tragedy than a comedy,” she said, turning her eyes to the horizon.

---

The trek wore down on the duo, and by the time the sun started to dip below the horizon, Mahlua at the very least was exhausted. The two decided to set up camp a little ways off the path. With the rope and tarp Angus let them borrow, the two eventually figured out a way to pitch a tent using a couple of fallen tree limbs for support. It did smell a little like old barn, but the scent welcomed them in for the night.

After a small meal, Mahlua’s mind returned to the odd conversation between Savannah and Marissa that morning. She turned to her companion, who had already taken off her glasses for the night, and whispered.

“Hey.”

Marissa stirred. “Yes?”

“This morning, you said something about ‘cutting ties’. What exactly does that mean?”

A pained look crossed Marissa’s face as she sat up.

“Sometimes,” she explained, “People don’t want to connect to their animal parent. Salem’s being a black cat, I can understand, but…it’s supposed to be incredibly painful, and you lose your ears and parent forever.”

Mahlua felt a pang of guilt. “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked,” she said.

“No,” Marissa said quickly. “I mean, it’s certainly taboo to do, but it’s not like people don’t talk about it. They say people who go through with it are never the same.”

“I take it they become hermits or something?”

“Yeah,” Marissa nodded.

An uncomfortable silence fell, and Marissa rolled over to her side. “We can worry about all that tomorrow. Besides, we still haven’t met our parents yet.”

Mahlua lied back on the tarp, but sleep eluded her for a long time. That thing about Salem’s eyes haunted her. It made sense. It was loneliness, after all.
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Ecchiverse: Reset (Chapter 16)
« Reply #72 on: July 19, 2018, 09:58:46 AM »
Oh boy, not even noon here and I've done TWO chapters? What a day this is!
I wrote this chapter to this mix this time, and I think it really affected the mood of the work. It added something more somber than I was expecting.

This one is also a little longer than the last one, but, ah, well, at least it looks like level three only needs one more chapter. Enjoy, guys.


Chapter 16


Putting more random text here so the spoiler box doesn't take massive hand-eye coordination to click~

Morning mist shrouded the path when Mahlua and Marissa woke up the next morning, so they took their time taking down the tent and eating a nice breakfast. The chill in the air finally began to fade around mid-morning, and by that time in their hike, the forest path slowly turned uphill and more into rock. It was there that they found the first simple sign, carved in wood. “Shrine to the Animal Parents” it read, with an arrow pointing up the mountain path. The two shared a look and continued in the direction the sign pointed.

The type of trees began to change, and the altitude caused the air to become lighter as the hike droned on. The environment felt unmistakably clean, and Mahlua found herself grounded with every step. Of course her mind began to wonder if the path formed some sort of meditative sigil, or if perhaps the land itself were sacred, or if the mountain contained massive quantities of valuable ores, such as hematite. Hematite would ground someone like this.

The sound of her companion stopping for breath pulled the witch from her thoughts. “You okay?” Mahlua asked, turning to face her.

Marissa smiled and adjusted her glasses. “Yeah. It’s just, today’s hike seems a lot more harsh than yesterday.”

“You want me to carry anything for you?” Mahlua offered.

Marissa waved a dismissive hand. “No. I’ll be all right. We may just have to take a few more short breaks than yesterday.”

Mahlua nodded.

---

Come mid-day, the two passed another sign directing them to the shrine. A small stream gurgled near the path, allowing them to refill their waterskins. They took their lunch by it, but anticipation clung to the crisp mountain air and stifled any hopes of conversation. Little twitches of movement gave away Marissa’s restlessness. Mahlua had to admit, after the comment yesterday about her sad laughter, a heavy feeling draped over her.

They started on their way again, almost without discussion. With the shrine so close, Mahlua started to think more about the kemonomimi, and the possibilities of animals that would step forward for her. She had a couple of ideas from the gods and goddesses she served, but, knowing her luck, she might wind up with a black cat as well. More than one of her deities had a feline aspect, after all. Before she could fixate on the idea, she got a creeping feeling that it wouldn’t do well to worry about it, and that meditation should wait for whatever ritual lie ahead. Instead she turned her attention back to Marissa.

“Still hanging in there?” she asked.

Marissa blinked in surprise before giving a sure nod.

“Cool,” Mahlua said. “I think we’re getting close.”

“What makes you say that?” Marissa asked, keeping an eye on her feet as she stepped over a few uncertain-looking rocks.

“I have a bit of a knack for sensing the divine. It’s tickling the edge of my senses, so my guess is that we’ll be there by nightfall.”

“Are you sure that isn’t just the pent-up excitement?”

Mahlua gave her companion a sly smirk. “Who says the two are mutually exclusive?”

Marissa returned the look with a confused one of her own, but continued on the path, going on ahead. Mahlua, meanwhile, drew a small slice of jerky from her bag and made a small prayer for wisdom and snacked on it as she walked.

---

The water’s gurgling crescendoed to a dull roar as the warm saturated colors of day turned their way to the deep oranges and stark blues of dusk. Another sign met them at a fork in the road, stating shrine to the left, and nothing noted for the right. Sure enough, just up the hill, an Asian style temple clung to the side of the mountain. Beside it, a water wheel made its slow, arching laps around its axel, feeding on the river that no doubt led to or drew from a waterfall nearby.

“We made it,” Marissa said with a happy sigh.

“Yeah, let’s get you in. You’ve gotta be exhausted,” Mahlua said.

Wooden planks eased the trail more into stairs, making the last bit of hike easier for the two travelers to ascend. Along the final stretch, Mahlua noticed small animals carved into the bark of trees, and ornaments of animal figures hanging from the branches. She reached out her hand, but looming intuition whispered to her to not touch what isn’t hers, so she turned her attention back to the path. Once they finally reached the deck, a sliding door opened.

“Welcome,” a woman’s voice called. “I’ve been expecting you two.”

Mahlua stepped forward to see who had spoken. She knelt on the floor and wore the attire of a traditional Japanese shrine maiden. Her fox ears faded into her silver hair, and her tail curled elegantly at her side. Marissa also stepped forward.

“For tonight, the two of you shall rest. Tomorrow, we will prepare for the ritual. Please, bathe yourselves well and let your travels be cleared from your mind,” the priestess said.

The hair on Mahlua’s arms raised. Marissa gasped, and Mahlua looked down. Surely enough, the old hieroglyphs glowed as the priestess spoke and began to fade when she stopped.

“So there is the breath of the divine here,” Mahlua muttered to herself.

The kitsunemimi raised her head, revealing her white eyes. “Yes, lightning child. As you know, the divine is in everything. No matter how far you are from home, it will find you.”

Mahlua took a shaky step back. “How did you—?”

“It’s how you look to me. Soft lightning circles you,” the priestess said. “Now, a new priestess in training will guide you to your rooms. Please leave your belongings there. Once you are settled, she will take you to the nearby hot spring.” A knowing smile etched into her face.

From around the corner, another woman emerged, wearing the same shrine maiden attire, with familiar black hair, ears, and tail. Marissa gasped.

“Salem!” Mahlua said in shock.

Salem looked up, then looked to the side when she realized. She must have expected the duo to come later. The kitsunemimi priestess chuckled.

---

The initial shock finally died down by the time the travelling duo were shown to their rooms. During the walk to, Salem said nothing. It wasn’t until Mahlua’s and Marissa’s belongings were safely put away that she actually spoke at all.

“Come with me,” she said.

Salem led the two back down the stairs to the fork in the road and down the unmarked path, which led to the hot spring on the right.

“So,” Mahlua said, trying to pull her into conversation, “You’ve decided to help out at the shrine?”

Salem’s tail flicked from side to side in agitation. “It’s better this way,” she said simply. Now, there are baskets to hold your clothes while you bathe and fresh towels. When you’re finished, I will lead you back.”

“If you have to wait for us anyway, why don’t you join us?” Mahlua asked. As the words fell out of her mouth, she realized the probability of a ritual taboo and cringed at herself. Salem gave her a blank stare for a few moments, and then shrugged.

“I suppose,” she said, rolling her eyes.

The trio stepped inside the bathhouse with Salem in the lead. She began pulling away her traditional garb, and Mahlua followed. Marissa shuffled awkwardly and tugged at the bottom of her sweater.

“If you’d like, the two of us can go on in ahead and you can wrap yourself in a towel,” Salem pointed out. Marissa bit her lip and nodded.

As Salem peeled away the rest of her garb, Mahlua couldn’t help but notice deep bruises on her back, sides, and thighs. In fact, Mahlua got tangled in her shirt due to the distraction. She did figure out how to get her clothes into the basket, but what she saw shook her. The steam from the spring helped relax her tense muscles as she stepped through the door. She tried not to make a big deal of the knot in her stomach, though.

Salem turned to face her. “I assume my brother was throwing a fit by the time you two left the village?” The nekomimi already sat in the water up to her shoulders, leaning against the wall of the spring.

Mahlua slid in, grateful for the heat of the water. “Yeah. Looks like Savannah and Angus were worried too.”

“They worry about everything,” Salem said, leaning her head back.

“Well, not giving a heads up certainly doesn’t help that,” Mahlua said. She shook her head. “Did you think they’d stop you?”

“Probably. They don’t get it. Money, status, domesticity, none of that stuff really matters to me.”

The door slid, revealing Marissa, wrapped in a towel.

“I know Max will throw a tantrum over it, maybe even run up here to try to join me, but can I trust you two to bring the news back to the village?” Salem asked.

Mahlua pressed her lips into a flat line. She had no way of knowing if she’d make it back to the village. Next to her, Marissa slid into the water, flinching at first.

“I’ll tell them,” Marissa said.

Salem leaned further into the water for a few moments before she resurfaced. “Good. That should stop them from worrying too much.” She looked between the two visitors, and her face looked tired again. “You two worry too much, too.”

Marissa’s eyebrows touched. “Maybe so, but it’s not a crime to have concern for others.”

“And it’s not a crime to have concern for yourself, either,” Salem countered.

The knot returned to Mahlua’s stomach. She hated to ask, but she forced the words out of her mouth. “Just what were they doing to you?”

The blankness on Salem’s face pierced more painfully than any real answer would have. Mahlua could feel Marissa tense next to her. It seemed like the heaviness in the air would never subside, until Salem turned her gaze away.

“Nothing that has to bother anyone anymore,” she said.

Mahlua moved on instinct. She hardly realized she had moved until her senses returned to her, and she could feel the soft body trembling in her arms. Behind her, Marissa made a small gasp. No words would come, so Mahlua let her arms talk. They served as a barrier, keeping the past out. They served as a weapon, slicing through the lingering pain at the core.

Despite the faint tremor to her limbs, Salem gave a small “Ha,” and rested her hands on the arms that held her. “I told you you worry too much.”

---

The rest of the bath went by without event. Mahlua let go when Salem stopped trembling, the air lightened, they cleaned themselves, and got dressed again. The group followed the now dark path back to the shrine, and Marissa returned to her room immediately. Mahlua, however, stayed on the deck, gazing at the stars. Salem stood nearby.

“You know,” Salem said. Mahlua turned, surprised at how close the priestess in training became. The cat girl rested her head on Mahlua’s shoulder. “My offer from before…I think I’ll leave it open for you.”

Air caught in Mahlua’s throat. She coughed, accidentally shaking Salem off her. Before she could say anything, Salem gave a sly smile and padded away in near-silence.

Still dazed and confused, Mahlua returned to her room and stared at the ceiling. Shuffling in the next room caught her attention. One door opened and closed, and then hers slid, revealing Marissa, who stood biting her lip and looking concerned.

“Why did you…do that, at the bath?” Marissa asked, sitting at the foot of Mahlua’s bed.

Mahlua sighed. They had a big day tomorrow, and now the girl wanted to get talkative. She supposed the sudden snaps of tension could do that to a person.

“I don’t know, really. I just knew she was hurt, and it hurt me. I wanted it to stop,” Mahlua said.

“You do it to me, too,” Marissa said, shaking her head.

Mahlua propped herself up on an elbow. “What do you mean?”

“You don’t ask the normal questions. You just…do things, it seems like. You don’t ask people to talk, but what you do hits deep. You include people who usually get overlooked. You take up their problems, too, but you don’t think twice. How?” Framed by the starlight behind her, it was clear that Marissa was shaking.

Mahlua let out another sigh and flipped the corner of her bedsheet over and patted it, inviting the girl to join her. “Whatever it is,” Mahlua said, “It’s probably the same thing that makes my laugh sound sad.”

Marissa hesitated, but slid past the door and closed it before curling up in the spot Mahlua made for her. “I wish I could be that brave,” Marissa murmured.

Mahlua patted her head. “Is it bravery, or foolishness?”
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.

Offline Last

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #73 on: July 19, 2018, 10:19:59 PM »
I'm sorry, but all I can think of is how disgusting ranch would be after sitting in a warm pack for half a day's hike.

Nice to see things moving along, and a bit more naturally too. Although to be honest, there's a recurring trend where you come across as a bit...I don't know. Talk down upon-ey? Especially after getting up to the shrine, it feels like you're trying to beat the reader over the head with the "magic is in everything" angle. I understand it's a theme, but you're being maybe a little too blunt with it. Too much telling, not enough showing.

It's a trend, but not like, a deal breaking one. Maybe experiment with conveying the same idea without using the word "divine". It's probably the most heavily recurring, and stands out after a while.

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: Ecchiverse: Reset
« Reply #74 on: July 20, 2018, 06:18:10 AM »
Yeah, that would be the issue.

Huh, thanks for the heads up. I guess as someone who lives it I'm kinda used to it being so...everywhere, I guess, that I don't quite see how different it is for others to read it. I'll keep that in mind for future dialogue and descriptions so it doesn't try to take over the fic. I'm quite not sure what you mean by talk-down-upon-y, but I assume that will also go away if I stop sounding so...textbook-y maybe?
"It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure."--Marquis de Sade
But yes hello I am the freakier freak than you.