Golden Sun belongs to Nintendo and Camelot, not me. Support them if you like the series! I just write fanstuff. And if you feel like borrowing any of my original ideas, please, go right ahead.
When Alchemy was sealed, the majority of the beast races – sentient beings whose forms were irreversibly changed by the power of psynergy – vanished with it. The elements that made them inhuman was no longer present to exert its pressure. But there still existed some who, by some quirk of evolution, were more sensitive to alchemy than others, and Luna's subtle twisting of the forces of nature was just enough to put them over the edge.
For the most part, they were hunted down. People who lost their minds at sunset could not live peacefully among the population. But in the southeast, a group of these individuals managed to gather together, to train themselves to stay sane even with the rise of the full moon. They mastered their curse and overcame it, settling down to create the hidden city of Garoh, each of them, and their descendants, vowing to protect the city's secret from outsiders. Werewolf children were taught to control their beastial forms at the same time as they learned to walk or speak. Absolute discipline reigned, and the werewolves remained safely unknown to the rest of Weyard.
In all the years since then, the only time the secret was revealed was during the quest to light the Lighthouses, and then only to the Warriors of Vale.
After the Golden Sun Event, with the restoration of psynergy to the world, the werewolves found it even more difficult to control themselves beneath the full moon. Unity had always been their greatest strength, and together the people of the werewolf nation mastered their curse once more. But with Weyard's revival, so to speak, came a surge in expansion. New lands were settled, new nations were founded. For the first time in history, the werewolf nation stepped beyond its self-imposed prison.
Tradition was maintained wherever possible. The curse was kept secret from all but the most trusted of outsiders, and the greater part of the new generation was trained in the techniques of their ancestors.
But risk must always accompany reward. Life is never predictable. Nor is it eternal.
When a mother dies in childbirth, her newborn must learn to live without her guiding hand, her lessons in right and wrong. Far from her ancestral home, and with no one to guide her, the child would be deprived of the lessons of her people's history. One cannot substitute centuries of practice and refinement, not even a Warrior of Vale. Not even for one's only daughter.
With mastery impossible, containment was the only option.
"Oh, crap! Matthew, what are we going to do-"
"Everyone hurry! We must stop her before she-"
"Is... is that what she was trying to say? This was her secret-"
"No! Just no! She's not coming on my boat, there's no way I'm putting my crew's lives in danger for that-"
"What's going on?! What happened to her, why'd she-"
The voices washed over her, the meaning barely registering in her mind. Instinct was taking over, and to her other side, it was all just noise, an indicator that there were living things around. They pulled at her attention, her feral mind trying desperately to figure out if they were predators or prey.
She was still floating around in there, somewhere. She was still technically in control, the same way a bird is technically in control of itself in a hurricane. She simply didn't have enough willpower to make any meaningful change. The wolf was in charge. Karis was just along for the ride.
That was, of course, until her friends began to back away cautiously. That was when the wolf reclassified them as "prey." Impossibly strong muscles coiled, preparing to pounce, and-
I will NOT. NO. NEVER.
The wolf attempted to simultaneously launch itself forward and backward, which resulted in painful muscle spasms and a hard tumble onto the stony ground.
She brought a paw over her muzzle and wrestled herself down for as long as she could control herself. It was as though every inch of her body wanted nothing more than to devour her friends whole. It was nothing less than a fight against her own existence.
"Is she alright -"
"She looks hurt, we have to -"
"Stay back, it is a trick -"
Her mind shouted commands at her, and she could barely tell which came from the wolf and which came from her. Flee. Attack. Consume. Intimidate. Challenge. Dominate. Escape. Survive.
She tried her best to just do nothing, to stay idle. It was impossible. She was restless in the worst possible way. Temptation pulled her in every direction. She didn't think she would be able to hold back long enough for them to escape.
Then they started to approach her cautiously. Her feral instincts went berserk. She very nearly lost control.
Fine! she shouted at herself in desperation. Intimidate away!
So she howled.
She howled out all her rage, all her frustration. She howled out the anguish and sadness that came from sixteen years of restraint and fear. She howled out her claim to life, her resolution to be a human being, not a monster. For the first time, every part of her was working in unison toward a single goal – to be as utterly terrifying as possible to the group before her.
Karis felt it, that moment where their desire to help became a desire to run. It was like flicking a switch. One moment she was a friend in need, the next she was just another monster. It was the moment she had feared for her entire life. How ironic that she should feel such relief.
The wolf's ears caught another sound on the wind. Screams. Hundreds of them, sounding from throughout the city. It took a moment to reconsider its actions. If they were afraid, maybe it should be too.
Its hesitation gave Karis a foothold, and she held onto it with all her might.
"I hate to say it, but we might have other things to worry about here -"
"What do we do, we can't just leave her -"
"We don't have a choice, there's no way we'll make it back -"
They were leaving her. There was something else going on in the city, something big – the Eclipse was doing more than she had yet realized. She couldn't figure it out, but the others certainly had. It was a reason for them to leave her alone, to secure their own safety. And for her, it was a crucial distraction.
She focused on the screams. To her feral instincts, she pinged vulnerability. If something was screaming, that meant it needed help, and if it needed help, that meant she could overpower it. She didn't intend to hurt anyone. But it was something to focus on; if she couldn't hold back the flood, at least she could try to redirect it.
The wolf agreed. Before she knew it, she had bolted toward a nearby rooftop, reaching its heights in a single leap. She stopped herself, forcing the wolf into indecision, deciding which set of screams to pursue first.
It gave her a chance for one last look back at her former friends.
Sveta and Eoleo were herding them toward the docks. They were beset on all sides by some manner of shadow creatures – she had to hold herself back from protecting them, knowing that she was likely an even greater threat than the monsters – and they would be overwhelmed if they didn't try to escape. The looks on their faces said that they knew it, too; they had no choice, but abandoning her was their only option.
They likely couldn't see much of her beyond her silhouette. But she distinctly saw Matthew look up toward her before he left.
"We'll find some way to save you. I promise."
Time ceased to matter for Karis once Briggs' ship set sail. Her rational mind was exhausted from trying to hold back the beast. So she gave up.
She felt brushes of pain, and the exhilaration of combat. She couldn't tell what she was fighting. She hoped it was the shadow creatures she had seen before. It could just as easily have been helpless citizens.
It wasn't long before the concept of enemy territory started to etch itself into her mind. Some of the beings her instincts had identified as "targets" were gathering together; tempting as it would have been to go after them, she swiftly learned that they were well-protected. Advancing into those brightly-lit areas where the civilians hid meant being attacked by coordinated groups of Belinsk soldiers, much more dangerous than the typical shadow beasts.
Like the nightmarish creatures, she learned to avoid the light.
The wolf grew hungry. The dark, abandoned structures all around the city served as promising places to search, and it didn't take long for her to catch the scent of something edible. The Karis part of her willingly withdrew; certainly, the people of Belinsk would have prepared and stored food, but Karis had noticed that the shadow creatures left corpses where they laid. The wolf did not discriminate when it came to food.
She let the wolf eat. She did not take stock of her surroundings. The wolf was aware of what was going on; inevitably she was attacked, but she was not taken by surprise. The fight was brief, but took her far enough from her initial location that, with its stomach sated, the wolf no longer cared to continue its meal. When it was safe to do so, she opened her eyes – metaphorically speaking – and looked around.
That "abandoned building" that she wandered into happened to be Belinsk Castle. There were no lights; she saw only thanks to the enhanced night-vision of her wolf form, and relied more heavily on scent and sound anyway.
"You lied to me! You betrayed me, and without your interference my people would not be dying!"
It seemed ironic that the castle, intended to be a stronghold against attack, ended up being one of the more vulnerable locations in the city to this sort of catastrophe. All of the refugees and survivors were gathering in open, well-lit areas. The twisted corridors of the castle would have worked against them. If anyone had actually tried to take cover here in the first place, they were all gone.
"We did no such thing. We told you it was a weapon. We just didn't tell you that it was meant to be used against you!"
There were, however, echoes. Karis's enhanced ears picked them up easily, though in her feral form they made little sense to her. She could tell they were voices. She could tell that they were familiar. But she couldn't assign any meaning to any of it.
It was enough to draw her toward the source.
"You will regret this. If it takes me until the end of my days, my people will have their revenge-"
"Oh, I doubt it. You see, you still belong to us, whether you realize it or not."
The windows of the throne room seemed to let the darkness in, the same way a normal sunrise would have brought light. The purplish haze that hid the sky served to blacken even Karis's night-vision, and she found it easier to see what was in the centre of the unlit room than what was near the windows.
There were three figures. Two of them radiated hate and malice in a way that made her hackles rise. The third... the third had a different aura. Her feral instincts told her that this was someone to be followed and obeyed. She respected him instantly.
"You see, Blados and I have plans for you, and by the time we're done, you won't have any choice. You'll be our pawn again, just as you have in the past."
"Nonsense! I will die before I listen to you again-"
There was a blur of movement and a loud clash. Karis's heart began to pound. She sensed the stench of conflict in the air.
"You're quick. I like it."
"A king must be able to defend his people in more ways than one."
"Too bad I'm still better."
There was a series of much, much louder clashes, ending with a ringing clatter. The wolf in her made her spring back away from the potential danger. They still hadn't noticed her, that was something she knew to be fact. But that didn't mean she was safe from collateral damage.
"So you have bested me. But how do you expect to make me your pawn if I am dead?"
"We were never going to kill you, fool... at least, not until you make yourself useful. We're going on a little trip back to Tuaparang. Don't worry – I'll make sure you're awake for the procedure itself!"
"Bedtime, Volechek. Blados?"
There was another clatter, but different this time; it was like dropping metal cutlery. And before she could react, Karis was nearly blinded by several arcs of lightning that seemed to spring out of nowhere.
The wolf, timid and afraid of what it did not understand, shied away. Karis seized the reigns. She still didn't know quite what was going on, but the two were ganging up on the one. In the back of her mind, perhaps she hoped to redeem herself, to prove that she was more than just a monster. But regardless of what she had done in the recent past, she made up her mind to do the right thing in this case, no matter how difficult it would be to fight her instincts.
"Still standing? No matter. Grab him."
She was a flurry of claws and teeth. The wolf joined in the moment it realized that there was no way out but fighting. She was a cornered beast, even though she had cornered herself willingly.
It wasn't quite enough. Once the element of surprise wore off, she felt her momentum vanish. Sharp stings of pain began to pop up all over her arms, torso and face. She was beginning to regret her decision.
The third man, the one who had been attacked, stood and watched dumbly, little wisps of steam rising off him from the earlier lightning. He was definitely injured, but not incapacitated. He didn't run. So she roared at him.
He narrowed his eyes. There was no fear there. A flutter of psynergy spread from him, but to no obvious effect.
She roared harder, struggling to keep both enemies at bay. It was a battle she wasn't sure she would win. No, loss was inevitable, in fact, and all she could do was put it off a little longer. The last vestige of humanity within her prayed that the man would just go, so her efforts would not be in vain. She was at her limit.
"...I am sorry. Thank you. One day... One day, I promise I shall repay you."
He picked up the sword that his opponent had knocked away, and fled. Karis gave a final surge of effort to cover his escape.
It didn't last long.
Succumbing to her wounds, the sounds and scents of the world began to fade. The wolf didn't understand. Karis, the rational part of her, had receded, knowing that its work was done. The voices continued. She ignored them. They were unimportant. It was all unimportant now.
She just needed to rest.
"...Well, he got away. Great job, Chalis."
"I'm hardly to blame for this, you brute. But no matter. All we needed was a pawn. Don't you agree that one has presented itself nicely?"
"Can we use it?"
"As easily as any other. I'm looking forward to this."
Nothing unites disparate people more than a common enemy.
Which is why, during the single greatest calamity in the history of Angara, so many of her warring states found it within themselves to unite beneath a single banner.
With the king of Morgal having escaped his besieged capital, he eventually managed to reunite with his sister, Princess Sveta, and her traveling companions. They had already embarked on a quest to end the Eclipse, and King Volechek had no qualms whatsoever about joining them, particularly to make amends after the part he played in beginning it.
What followed was a shockingly effective diplomatic campaign. Sana, the historic enemy and oppressor of the beastmen, was ironically one of the first to pledge aid when Morgal's royal family came to their doorstep. That was, of course, after Eoleo of Champa and Amiti of Ayuthay made commitments of their own, having accepted Sveta as a close friend beforehand. It was not long before Yamata followed suit (their Princess Himi setting out personally to assist), and as word spread, nation after nation formed plans to assist their bretheren in the north.
Ships full of refugee aid from Tolbi sailed into the darkness with escort ships from Alhafra. From Yallam to Contigo to even Prox, courageous men and women made their commitment to fight the spreading eclipse and protect those who needed protecting. Not everyone could be saved, but within the impenetrable shadow cast by the moon, hope lived on.
Naturally, the Children of Vale, with their royal entourage, were far from idle. As they petitioned for aid, they searched for clues as to the nature of the Eclipse. Hunting myth after myth, they eventually found what they were looking for: the Apollo Lens. It could be fired at Luna Tower, destroying it and ending the Eclipse, hopefully once and for all. The Lens itself was located along Sana's Endless Wall, deep in the centre of the afflicted area, but after trial after trial, they reached their goal.
But not without cost.
Karis supposed that she missed when the world made sense. She had been running on instinct – letting the wolf lead the way – for so long that she almost forgot what it was like to be in control of herself. But she didn't mind, not anymore. Sitting back, dissociating from herself, spared her from the pain that accompanied every facet of existence now.
A pain that had only intensified due to recent events.
"Yeah, what?! What now, huh?! Can't handle it? Then step off and let the good guys do their job!"
This was the first time in a long, long while that she could remember seeing light. Now there was too much of it. Had she adapted to the darkness? This couldn't really just be sunrise... was it? It had been a long evening...
"Settle down, Tyrell. We're done here. All that's left to do is fire the Lens."
She hallucinated, not for the first time. As always, it mattered less to her what the voices said, and more how they sounded. It was the comforting familiarity that she needed. It calmed her to imagine that she could hear her friends.
"...Wait. Something is wrong. This is..."
Karis hoped they had escaped safely. How long had it been since she last saw them? Since the last time she felt sane?
"Brother, what... hold on. I sense it too. Matthew, come, I need -"
Their silhouettes stayed with her. They meant less now than they had once. She supposed that when she had been human, she might even have been able to tell one from another.
"I know this one. I saw her before. She... she jumped in between myself and those two. She sacrificed herself to save me. She knew what she was doing -"
A saddening realization occurred to her.
"Oh. Oh, hell... Crap! Rief, Amiti, get over here -"
Had they ever existed in the first place?
"Wretches! You were planning to... this! To ME?!"
Had her mind invented the idea of friends to satisfy her, to keep her going?
"Gods... Volechek, you were almost... oh, brother..."
It had been so long since she was certain about anything. Perhaps pain was all there was. Perhaps she only dreamed of an existence where she could be happy.
"Matthew, I know I have asked a lot of you during my time among you and your companions. But please... is there anything you can do? Can you save her?"
Perhaps she was okay with that.
"She's our friend too. If there's a way, we'll find it."
If her friends were real, then that meant somewhere out there, they might still have been trying to save her. Even worse, they might have died trying.
"We're doing our best, but Matthew, I don't know... it's not looking good."
If there was nothing, then that was fine. It meant Karis had always been alone. It was sad for her. But she preferred that to being a burden on everyone she met.
"Rief, Amiti, Matthew... I trust you. I trust every one of you here. All I ask is that you do your best. I owe her my life, and so much more than that. But for now -"
Her father. Her childhood friends. All the people they had picked up along their quest.
"The Lens, right? It must yet be activated. I will do the deed."
They had all sacrificed so much, risked so much, just to give her a chance at living a normal life.
"No, sister. You have done well in leading us safely here, and for that I thank you. But you are tired. If you make this final ascent, I fear you will not make it back."
If they existed, that meant they must have had failed. All their work had been for nothing.
"Volechek, we can see how intense the light is from here! If you go, who is to say that you will find any more success than I? If one of the Czamarals must die, let it be the runaway princess, not the -"
Karis didn't mind suffering.
"Give me the Umbra Gear, Sveta. I will make it back. I made a promise that I have yet to see through."
Just as long as she suffered alone.
Something felt different when she awoke. She couldn't put her finger on it, not at first. Nothing really seemed out-of-place or unusual. Nothing jumped out at her as "wrong."
It didn't take long for her to realize that was exactly what was different.
Karis still didn't feel particularly lucid, but she could still feel a sense of ease in the atmosphere. It wasn't completely quiet, not in the lonely, nervous way she was familiar with. She could hear that there were sounds in the distance, and for once, they were not the sounds of battle or pain.
The light in the room – for she was in a room, she realized, and she could see at least three walls from where she laid – was at a manageable level, not the unnatural pitch-black of Eclipse ground zero, nor the desperate brightness of a safe zone. There was color, and a sense of comfortable clutter that designated it as a place of relaxation.
She still felt the pain. It stood out as a sort of mistake among the otherwise carefree atmosphere. But she had managed it for so long that it was just another part of life. She set it aside and allowed herself some relief in the fact that life had inexplicably gotten better.
The wolf was tired. Her instincts no longer held any sway over her. She was able to be herself again, at least until she recovered.
"You're awake again. Can you hear me this time? Can you understand me?"
She twitched in response to the sudden noise. For the first time, she noticed the scent of another person in the room. The wolf made a weak play at demanding a hunt or a chase, but Karis could barely move, and the wolf gave up without much trouble. She whimpered, cringing as her throat burned from the effort. But at least she had answered, and under her own power.
"Here, just..." She felt something move under her hand. "Tap this once for yes, twice for no, three times if it's more complicated and you want me to read you. Understand?"
Karis paused. Then she cautiously lifted a finger, fighting through the pain the movement triggered, and brought it down as heavily as she could. The noise reverberated a little more than she expected. It was still rather silent, but whatever her hand was on – a cold, metallic feeling – it made enough noise for her responses to be audible.
"Oh, thank goodness," continued the voice. "You've been here for weeks now, drifting in and out of consciousness. I didn't know if you'd ever be yourself again. You're safe now, Karis. Matthew and the others brought you back. You're still not 100%, as I'm sure you've figured out, but Mia's on her way down here now that Imil's on the road to recovery."
She was utterly perplexed. She tapped three times. What's going on? Where am I? I'm so confused...
There was a faint sensation she couldn't quite identify, and then... contact. A gentle, comforting squeeze around her midriff.
"...I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd been so... in the dark, if you'll pardon the pun. The Tuaparang did something to you. I'm not sure what. It's like they locked you in your wolf form and corrupted it, so to speak. Rief and Amiti have been doing their best, and they're telling me that they're sure it's reversible. They just don't know how yet. I'm sorry it happened. I just wish you had told me before you left. I was so worried..."
Karis waited several seconds, but there was nothing more. She tapped once. Yes?
"Right. I forgot that you can't exactly respond. The Eclipse is over now. King Volechek fired the Lens and took out the tower. It's a good thing the group had two beastmen to share the burden of the Umbra Gear, otherwise things might have gone much worse than they did. Anyway, the continent's recovering now, there's plenty of foreign aid coming in. Some nations got hit worse than others, but there's no permanent damage. And the diplomatic repercussions of having five royals setting out together toward a common goal... well, I think things are on the upswing in general."
Tap. Yes. Okay, sure. Karis had been disconnected from the world for long enough that none of this mattered to her, but it was such a relief to not only hear a friendly voice, but to be able to understand it. It was almost like having a conversation.
"Make no mistake, Weyard lost a lot in the Eclipse. But it gained a lot too. We'll get back from this, and we'll be stronger than ever before. Which reminds me – as upset as I am that you left home without telling me, and as worried as I was when the eclipse hit and you were nowhere to be found, Matthew and the others told me how well you acquitted yourself. I might have been a little overprotective as you grew up. I'm sorry. I'll do everything I can to help you back to normal, and then... I'll work on it, I guess. Okay?"
Tap. Sure, why not? This person was certainly making a lot of assumptions about how coherent Karis was. She still hadn't figured out who the voice belonged to, or what their connection was. The words were certainly nice.
"I'm glad to have you back home, for now. I'm sure you'll want to be out and about again as soon as you've recovered. In the meantime, is there anything you need? Do you want me to get you anything?"
"Alright. Well, the King wanted me to call him in when you finally woke up, so if he's not busy I'll send him in." There was a blur of movement. "Karis... I just want to say this. You're all I have left of your mother. If Matthew and his friends had come home, and you hadn't been with them... I just..."
There was a painful silence.
"I know what you did was necessary, and I know it all turned out to be for the best in the end. But I heard from Volechek what you did, and... can you maybe keep the heroic self-sacrifices to a minimum in the future? For me?"
She gave a noncommittal whimper. Whomever this person was, they seemed to genuinely care for her well-being. She didn't know what to say.
The room's single door opened, and the figure departed. Karis was not alone for long. There was a polite knock on the frame of the open door, and someone new – with a starkly different silhouette – entered, closing the door behind them.
"Hello, Karis. Do you remember me? Be honest."
Tap. She hesitated. Then she tapped a second time. I want to be polite, but I don't know if I remember you. I don't remember much. Not that the newcomer would be able to comprehend all that meaning. It would only even be interpreted as a "no" if...
"Your father told me about the arrangement you had come to, what with the one-tap, two-tap system. As before, tap thrice if your answer is complicated. You will be glad to know that Spirit Sense works on much the same level as Mind Read."
Karis would have shrugged if she had the strength. Instead, she just whimpered again.
The figure moved forward and pulled up a chair. He sat quietly for a moment, thinking deeply before beginning.
"I do not take offense at your lack of recognition. I know how it is to go through traumatic experiences. I know what it is to feel loss. When we met, I suspect you had more on your mind. But you saved my life, and for that, I am still in your debt. I am King Volechek of the Czamaral Clan, second King of Morgal. If you had not arrived when you did, I would be in your position now. Or, likely, a rather worse one."
He took a breath to continue, then paused. He reached across and took Karis's ravaged paw. He held it for several seconds before he carried on.
"By ordering the activation of Luna Tower, I failed my nation, perhaps... perhaps more than any other king who ever lived. You gave me the chance to redeem myself. I am not sure if it was your intention. But... I could have stayed, and..."
He hesitated. He pulled his hand back and stood abruptly, turning and folding his hands behind his back.
"Karis, your father told me about your... condition. Frankly, the concept that there has been an entire nation of, if not beastmen, beast-kin all along was startling to me. We did not know the werewolves existed. It is possible that they do not know of us either. I believe our peoples have a lot to offer each other. I believe we can help each other out.
"I have come to the conclusion, based both on stories from your friends and from simple logic, that your transformation that night came about due to the activation of the Luna Tower. In essence, your loss of control was my fault. My lapse of judgment was the first in a long chain of events that led to your current predicament. I believe I have repaid my people for my mistake, at least as well as I am capable. I have done what I could for Weyard in general. But you, I have yet to make amends with. You saved my life, I destroyed yours. This cannot be the status quo. Do you understand?"
Karis nodded. But she tapped three times.
Volechek did a sort of intrigued half-turn, and then knelt next to her.
You did what you had to, she thought. You didn't set out to cause trouble for your people, and you made things right as soon as you could. And as for me, it was only a matter of time before I lost control anyway. I'm just glad I was in a position to do some good with it.
She heard a low chuckle. "I think I understand," said Volechek. "We are not so different, perhaps. Thank you, though. That means a lot."
He sat back down in the chair. "Most of Morgal's resources must be committed to the nation's reconstruction and renewal. But believe me when I say I will do everything in my power to ensure you recover. You will once again see the light of day, Karis, standing under your own power in the form you see as your own."
Then he leaned forward. "And when that happens, I would like to make a request of you. As I said, I aim to pursue diplomatic relations between Morgal and Garoh. This will mean traveling there personally to meet with their leadership. It would be a boon to have someone connected to the nation in my entourage. Will you come with me, Karis, to Garoh, as Morgal's ambassador?"
"I understand that you have never had the opportunity to travel there before. This would give you the chance to learn about your history, and of the techniques the other werewolves use to manage their transformations. You do not have to answer immediately -"
Karis tapped three times.
"Hmm?" said Volechek. He leaned in and put a hand on Karis's arm.
Oh, sorry, thought Karis. I meant to say "Yes" three times in quick succession. I have nothing important to say beyond that. Thank you.
"Ah. I am glad." Volechek stood. "Thank you, Karis. For everything. I pray for your swift recovery. I cannot remain in Kalay for much longer, but I promise we will see each other again soon. Rest well."
He turned and left, and before long, Karis went back to sleep.
For once, she was looking forward to waking up.
Finally got it done! I wish I could have pulled it off without infodumps, but for now I just like the change in tone they provide. I'd love to have more chances to go full-epic like that.
I was mildly tempted to throw in some VolechekxKaris at the end there, which I don't think has been done before. Would that have been too weird?
And I'm a little worried I sacrificed meaning in favor of flowery text in a few places, so tell me if anything's confusing. This is mostly unedited. I'll be compressing the whole story into one chapter at some point, and when I do that I'll do some general cleaning-up. Hopefully it'll turn out pretty cool!
That's all. Hope you enjoyed it.