B1 — 26. Rival Sisters

POV Change:  Violet, (Youngest Thélméthra Sister; most gifted with natural talent)

Recap: In the last chapter, Elinor learned more about Iris and the Thélméthra’s natural order that allowed her to easily incorporate her into her growing Empire.  Now, we take a look at each of the sisters to learn more about their own personalities and struggles.

Queen of the Thélméthra’s Name:  Iris

Eldest Sister:  Camellia (talent is inherited in progression, meaning the youngest will always outshine the oldest; Camellia seems like a really hard worker and tries really hard to prove herself).

Middle Sister:  Azalea (Seems to be more of the positive encouraging sister-type)

Youngest Sister:  Violet (Lazy, but competitive when she feels threatened, which is not common with her relationship with her eldest sister).


Elinor’s Currently Known Skills


Monarch of Death (Cluster Skill):  The physical manifestation of her authority as the crown and veil (comprised of the Death Element) atop her head.  The following are skills a part of this cluster (meaning they do not work if this main branch is not active).

Lesser Aura of Supremacy (Connects to Imperial Presence):  Releases from her crown.  Casts Horrify on others, if Horrify fails, casts Fear.

Lesser Minion Mastery: Provides buffs to her minions within a certain range.

Prose of the Potentate: Allows her to talk any language her minion knew in life (if her minion was an idiot, then her speech vocabulary and flow to the recipient would not be translated well).

Call of the Empress: Week cooldown, releases a burst of Death Energy that resurrects everything available in range at a base cost and set period of time.  It bypasses any limit cap on how many minions she can summon and are all unintelligent.

Other Skills:

Lesser Possession:  Allows Elinor to take physical control over one of her unintelligent minions within a certain range.

Herald of the Empress: Advanced form of Lesser Corpse Detecton (absorbed into the skill).  Allows Elinor to scan the area around herself for possible minions and gives her a rough estimate of their potential.  A ranged means she can use to raise the dead.

Racial/Kind Skills

Imperial Presence: Makes her act more dignified and regal while also implanting that mental image in weak-willed creatures around her.

Life Tap: Corrupts Life Energy into a usable form for Elinor to use.

Lesser Corpse Detection: Allows Elinor to detect bodies within a short range.

Raise Skeleton: Ignites fire at her hands; the embers can bring create the undead.

Emotional Loss: Does NOT get rid of all emotion, but dulls Joy, Trust, Fear, and Sadness, while leaving Anticipation, Anger, Disgust, and Suprise alone.  This creates an imbalance in her emotions, but Imperial Presence also affects her behaviors, causing her unfiltered emotions to burn below the surface of her cool appearance.  Inspired by Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

Minion Ranks:

White – Poor

Green, – Common

Yellow – Uncommon

Blue – Rare

Purple – Heroic

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Red – Epic

Orange – Legendary

Dark Orange – Mythic

Pearlescent – Transcendent

 

Elinor’s Current Minions:

Transcendent-Grade: Rank 9

Tiffany (Former Mother) – Royal Wichery Title, over all Witchery related Classes

Edmon (Former Father) – Royal Gatekeeper Title, over all Elite Defender Classes and the Empress’ Personal Guard

Iris (Thélméthra Queen; Otherworldly Tank-Spider) – Royal Executioner, over all Assassin Classes

Mythic-Grade Minions: Rank 8 (General Class)

Violet (Youngest Spider-Sister) – Close to Transcendent

Legendary-Grade Minions: Rank 7 (General Class)

Azalea (Middle Spider-Sister)

Epic-Grade Minions: Rank 6 (Commander Class)

Camellia (Eldest Spider-Sister)

Uncommon-Grade Minions: Rank 2 (Foot Soldiers)

Garu – Ri’bot that allows Elinor to speak Ri’bot.

Quin – Elite Hunter of the Quen’Talrat; allows Elinor to speak both Quen’Talrat and Yaltha’ma.

Common (Fodder) Minions: Rank 1

x17 Normal Quen’Talrat; Skeleton Type

x1 Thélméthra Drone


Violet hummed softly with a smile on her black lips as the Yaltha’ma listened to Tiffany’s instructions.  Her mother and Empress Elinor were already moving beyond sight into the tunnels.  She was too fascinated with her new clothes to follow the conversations, and it seemed like her sisters were also exploring their own new figures.

Sharp tingles shot across her body with every movement, and the saliva gathering in her mouth was a new experience.  She opened her mouth slightly, sliding her tongue across her perfect teeth as she extended her pointed fangs hidden in her gums, and after a moment, retracted them.

Flat teeth … how fascinating.  It’s like the creatures that eat plants and this liquid gathering in my mouth … is it meant for cleaning?

Her attention was pulled away by the sensation of her undergarments, pressing up against her skin as she shifted postures, and she lifted her arms up and down, enthralled how the silk-cloth caught the breeze and fell slower than expected.

These are so fun!  I used to decorate the caves with different patterns and webs, but now I can do it with these coverings.  And this body … the skills that were granted to me after becoming a part of the Empire are magical.

She glanced over at her sisters, wide field of vision able to see much of the room without difficulty.  Azalea had her long blue hair pulled around, giggling as she combed through it, and she smirked at Camellia as she mumbled to herself, trying to learn how to use her mouth.

How can we be related?  Were our aunts that untalented compared to mother?

Camellia caught her staring and shot a dirty glare in her direction.  “W-What?”

Violet just giggled and turned away, closing her eyes; eyelids were a new experience to her, and it felt so comforting to block out the world.  The sounds echoing through the tunnels, Tiffany’s enthusiastic voice, her sisters’ and the Yaltha’ma’s movements enhanced with the action.

She took a deep breath, tasting the air with her hair, nose, and mouth; it was strange using some of the new human organs.  It took a bit out of her trying to stay calm and to not be overwhelmed by the alien sensations.

Activating the Spatial Perception skill, her other senses faded into the background, and everything within two feet became crystal clear.  She could count the pebbles on the ground, the rise and fall of Azalea’s soft breathing beside her with every fine hair sliding through her fingers, but more importantly, every inch of her new body was in acute focus.

Her three small hearts twitched, dense muscles rubbing against her steel-like bones, and the slight shifts of each strand of hair was mesmerizing.  The new sixth-sense brought a sensitive new awareness she didn’t believe was possible before.

Every muscle twitch working in perfect harmony took her breath away, and the reaction it made, traveling to the air and through her clothing, was like watching her mother dance between her targets, cutting them apart with ease.

Her Kimono swung as she swayed back and forth, stepping side to side to test the new balance of her geta sandals and further experience the harmony she felt with her environment.  Each movement was like watching the gentle streams of water she’d meditated on as a child, losing herself in its carefree tranquility.

With every new motion brought a new rhythmical song to her mind and body as it responded; she released her control over her web-like hair, allowing it to follow the tempo as she twirled, humming the melody that came to mind.

“What are you doing?  You look weird.”  Camellia’s annoying voice crashed against her serenity like the war drums that had beat incessantly during the war, disrupting her peaceful life.

Violet’s lips twisted with agitation as she slowed to a stop, deactivating the skill, and the symphony faded as her other senses returned.  I hate you sometimes; you ruin everything.  She sighed.

Her luminous white irises opened, and the world came to life before her.  Tiffany was still instructing the little creatures, seemingly not noticing her movements.

Camellia was looking at her with raised eyebrows, a frown creasing her face while she folded her arms under her chest.  “At least I go out and do things.  Can you not hear?  I was talking to you.”

Azalea’s smooth blue hair was tilted with her head as she studied her curiously.  “Was it one of your new skills?  I’ve been going over some of mine, and they sound so fun.”

“She … h-has a s-skill that makes her deaf?”  Camellia stumbled over her words before chuckling.

“At least I can talk,” Violet snapped, sniffing as she glared at her insufferable sister.  “And no, it doesn’t make me deaf … not entirely.  You wouldn’t understand; you’re too much of a scurrier .”

“W-What’s that … s-supposed to—to mean?”  She asked.  “What’s—w-wrong with—r-running?  It’s b-because I’m fast—at r-running you even got food!  You never went out, but—but Mom would a-always make me g-get more food for you.”

“Didn’t she tell you not to talk when you’re clearly challenged?”

“W-When t-talking to the E-Empress,” Camellia shot back.

Azalea bit the left corner of her rosy lips, sucking on it for a bit as she smiled, her large pink irises glancing between them.  “You two seem to be getting along well!”

Violet lifted an eyebrow, glowing white eyes sliding to her.  “You always say that, but we’re clearly fighting.”

“Right?”  Camellia asked, fingers sliding through her bright red hair and scratching her scalp.  “S-Sometimes I w-wonder what—what world you’re in, Azalea.”

“Right here with you,” she giggled before winking at them, “and I think you’re getting a little better at speaking, Camellia.  Oh, did you two search through the human DNA?  There were so many interesting things to pick and choose from, and there were personality traits that could be activated!  I hadn’t considered that before, but everything opened up to me like I knew it my whole life.”

Both Camellia and Violet gave each other an exasperated smile before turning back to their bright-eyed sister, and Violet nodded.  “Yeah, I did see a whole lot of options that opened up before me, but this just seemed to click with me; it felt natural.”

“The—same,” Camellia added.

“Hmm,” Azalea gave them a dubious look, folding her hands behind her back as she leaned back and forth on her heels.  “You didn’t want to experiment at all?”

“It never really crossed my mind,” Violet mumbled.

A low moan left Camellia’s throat as she pulled a handful of her ember-like hair around, sliding her fingers down it while whispering, “I’m having enough trouble figuring out how to control this, much less anything else.”

Azalea’s cheeks puffed to the side as she pushed her hips out, staring down at her butt, clothed in the spandex-like silk-cloth.  “We’re kind of stuck with this appearance, unlike Mom, and so I carefully went through my options.  There are a few things I’d like to change now that I’ve experienced it, but overall I’m happy with this body.”

“I know,” Camellia giggled, dropping her hair to stretch her hands high in the air.  “It—it feels so—free—c-compared to our big bodies.”

“I hate to admit it, but you’re not wrong,” Violet mused.

She gave a slight start as she noticed Tiffany smiling fondly at them, left hand on her hip while her right cupped her chin.  She’d been so focused on her sisters that she hadn’t even realized the Yaltha’ma had already left.

“Umm—Tiffany,” Violet fumbled.  “What … should we call you?”

“Dears, dears,” Tiffany laughed, “you can just call me Tiffany!  So, I see that you three are getting used to your new bodies.  How are the clothes?”

“Interesting,” Azalea promptly responded with the same enthusiastic edge as she twisted and turned.  “I’ve never had soft parts that would flap before; it’s very strange, but that’s not to say they’re bad.  It’s just different.”

Violet nodded, hopping back and forth on each foot.  “I’m a lot lighter with this body, and I love the idea of decorating your body; it never crossed my mind when I was alive.”

“That’s a—a shock,” Camellia chuckled.

“Oh?  Why’s that?”  Tiffany asked with an inquisitive expression.  “You expected Violet to think of creating clothes?”

“W-Well,” Camellia’s light red eyes shot to her left as she rubbed the damaged section on her back.  “It’s just—V-Violet was—was always making w-webs.”

“She was a bit of a decorator,” Azalea chimed in.  “She made such beautiful designs!  I always loved coming back from a fun day hunting to see what she’d created.”

“Thanks, Azalea,” Violet whispered, feeling her cheeks burn a little.

Tiffany’s smile softened as she studied her.  “You were a bit of an interior decorator?  That’s perfect!  This broken-down fortress needs a lady’s touch.  Oh, you know, we should have nicknames for each of you; it would be so cute!”

“Nicknames?”  Camellia asked, starting to get the hang of her human tongue.

“Yes,” Tiffany held up a finger in a matter-of-fact way.  “A nickname is a short form or alternative to your name.  So, I mean, naturally, Tiffany’s short form is Tiff … that’s what Edmon calls me sometimes, but you don’t have to use that,” she chuckled.

Violet swallowed nervously as Tiffany’s intense orange irises slid over them.  “Hmm … how about, Cami for Camellia, Vi for Violet, and Lea for Azalea.”

Azalea hopped forward a few steps with her hands behind her back, pink eyes wide with wonder.  “Oh, oh, why is my nickname linked to the end of my name, and my sisters are at the beginning?”

Tiffany’s smile turned forced.  “Well, Aza just doesn’t sound right.  What do you think?”

“I like it,” Azalea said before doing a cartwheel.  “I love this form!”

When Violet and Camellia nodded, she asked, “Your enthusiasm is so refreshing, Lea!  By the way, can you tell me a little bit about this transformation racial ability you each have?  Since I am not over your Unit, I am not privy to all of your abilities; I’m over the whole of the Witchery Unit while your mother is over the Executioner Unit, and the Elite Warrior Unit has yet to have a Royal,” she commented, glancing at Camellia.

“When will that happen?”  Camellia asked, brows furrowed with concern.

Tiffany blew out a drawn-out sigh.  “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.  When we find a suitable person to fill the position.”

“I see,” she whispered with downcast eyes, and Violet knew how depressing that answer was.  They were used to a strong power structure, and having a gap in that pyramid was not a happy thought for them.  She was lucky her mother filled the position of their superior.

Violet cleared her throat before licking her lips.  “It’s called Morph, and as our mother said, it can only be used once.  I do not regret my decision to take on your human form.”

She glanced between her sisters, and each of them shook their heads, indicating they also had no regrets.

Azalea hummed softly, stretching out her arms, bra pressing against her chest.  “It’s very convenient, light, small, thin, and gives me a lot of functions I didn’t have in my previous body.”

Violet nodded before easily hopping to the ceiling, hand sticking to the rough surface.  She hung there for a moment, causing the three below to stare up at her.  “It’s just as Lea said, extremely convenient.”  Swinging forward and flipping back down, she landed on her new sandals, balancing dexterously.

“S-Show off,” Camellia grumbled before jumping up herself.

Violet couldn’t help an amused smirk lighting her lips as her sister’s actions slowed, her mind adjusting for Camellia’s swift movements.  Her red-haired sister slammed against the ceiling with an oof, causing a clash of sound as a chunk of stone broke off, falling with her to the ground.

She caught Tiffany wince as the rock slammed against her back, and dust rained around them.  “Brilliantly executed,” Violet chuckled while moving her long black hair to sweep away all the dust particles around her.

She caught Azalea doing the same.  “You’ll get it next time, Cami,” she encouraged, but Violet could tell she was trying to restrain a laugh.

“F-Flaming Infernal A-Ape,” Camellia cursed, easily brushing off the slab that likely weighed more than half a ton.

“You really need to work on control, Cami,” Violet chided.  “Of course, you were always more of a brute; Lea was the most efficient of us.”

“Aww, thanks,” Azalea beamed, giving her a charming smile.

Tiffany’s concerned mask was perfect, but Violet knew her sister’s blunder amused her.  “Are you okay, Cami?”

“F-Fine,” she mumbled, face bright red.  “I’m not—not hurt.”

“Well, your pride,” Violet giggled.

Camellia shot her a furious glare but turned away from her, rising to walk to the nearest wall; they watched her with mild interest as she began crawling up the wall and practicing jumping little by little up the vertical surface.

“There you go!”  Azalea cheered.  “You’re getting the hang of it.”

Violet huffed.  She’s such an embarrassment.

Her attention was pulled back to Tiffany as she smiled fondly at her eldest sister.  “I’m impressed, Cami.  You don’t seem to give up; you know, your mother has told me just how much she enjoys that part of you.”

What?  I suppose she can be in contact with mother through the Empress’ network, and seeing as they’re of equal rank, they’d likely be communicating with one another.  I thought Mom was talking with the Empress, though.  She is talented enough to multitask … I just can’t believe there’s anything good about Camellia.

She shot an inquisitive glare at her sister as she jumped and missed her mark, tumbling across the ground, but she got back up and kept trying to learn how to control her strength.

Never giving up … no matter how hard she tries, she’ll never beat me.  It’s pointless effort, but Mom praises her for it?  I just don’t get it!  Azalea is normally a little better than me at some things, but if I try it for a bit, then I easily surpass her, and she just cheers me on … I don’t get them at all.

“Violet,” Tiffany hummed with a dubious grin.

Her luminous eyes moved to the Witch.  “Yes?”

“While your sister is experimenting with her new abilities, why don’t you tell me a bit more about this racial ability, Morph.”

Nodding obediently, Violet shifted her arms behind her back, sliding her hands back into her sleeves and around her wrists.

Tiffany is the same rank as Mom, which means she’s extremely powerful in her own right.  I can sense danger in her orange eyes and fervent stare; she certainly does have strength, but what kind  … I don’t know what a Witch is.  Could she really be as strong as Mother?  I suppose I’ll find out in time, but … her personality is nothing like Mom’s.

“As I stated before, we can only stay in this form for thirty minutes, and then we’ll need two hours before we’ll be able to transform again.”  A thought suddenly struck her.  “Do you use the same time system as us?”

“Oh, that’s a good question!”  Azalea commented, moving to join their conversation.  “It seems that we can all understand each other perfectly with the Empress’ ability.  Does that extend to other facets?”

“Indeed,” Tiffany chimed, folding her arms under her bra.  “The Empress has been slowly adding levels and gaining proficiencies through her interactions without her even being aware.  You see, we each gain experience independently of each other, except for Empress Elinor.

“A portion of each point of experience we gain goes to the Empress for her to be able to advance her own abilities.  The faster we grow, the faster she grows, and communication has been a major point of interest for her since coming here; unconsciously, she wishes to understand the creatures of this world, and the system has responded in kind.”

“This system,” Azalea hummed thoughtfully, absently playing with her hair.  “It seems to almost have a mind of its own.  It gives me answers and withholds them, but there seems to be a set of conditions to receive an answer.”

“My, you’re so smart, Lea!”  Tiffany praised.  “Yes, there is…”  She paused, lips curving into a wicked grin.  “Give me a moment, Edmon has just given me some delicious news; talk with one another,” she prompted.  “I need to ponder how we’ll proceed with Edmon and your mother.”

Tiffany promptly walked over to the stream of water, bending down to study the fungus, moss, and water; Violet frowned as she snapped her fingers, creating a blazing orange ball of fire.

“Exciting!”  Azalea hummed, nudging her a little before pausing.  The sensation was entirely different than what she remembered in her previous body, and her sister sensed it, too.  Azalea reached out again, touching her shoulder.  “This feels so different,” she mumbled.

Violet released her hands, pulling them around to press against Azalea’s palm.  “It’s … soft; you’re shell … no, it’s skin.  It tingles, too … like the rain sliding into my cracks.”

“It does,” Azalea giggled, left hand passing through her hair.  “This feels different than mine.  Is it the same for you?”

Her fingers touched Azalea’s cheek, fingertips moving over her ear and through her hair.  “You’re right,” she mumbled, licking her lips before swallowing.

“That tickles,” Azalea giggled as her locks slid through Violet’s fingers.  “What about your clothes?”  She asked, rubbing her right sleeve.  “It’s smoother than the silk you used to weave back at the cave, and it’s not sticky … it’s so much finer than mine.”  She whispered.

“Well, you heard mother,” Violet chuckled.  “I even impressed her with my weave.”  Both of her palms glided over Azalea’s sides, skin as smooth as a still pond, moving up to her silk-cloth bra.

Violet paused as she reached her armpits, and Azalea danced away, giggling while her blue hair wrapped around her left shoulder.  “Why does that tickle so much?  The rain never tickled like this … I’ve never felt anything like it!”

“I don’t know,” Violet said with a sheepish smile.  “These human bodies are so strange and sensitive.”

“But, they’re magical!”  Azalea whispered, throwing out her arms and closing her eyes as she spun around in circles.  “Try this, Vi!  Wait, what was it you were doing before … swaying, left and right … no, it was a bit slower.”  She muttered, tone softening.  “Oh, this is nice…”

Tiffany giggled as she rose to join them, and her soft voice turned musical, “I stay up all night, tell myself I’m alright, baby, you’re just harder to see than most.  I put the record on, wait ‘til I hear our song.  Every night I’m dancing with your ghost.”

Violet was a little stunned to see Azalea right beside her; she hadn’t sensed her approach, but she was bouncing on her toes.  “Oh, oh, what was that?  The thing you did with your voice!”

“Yeah,” Camellia whispered, moving back to join them.  “I-It was—was nice.”

“A song,” Tiffany said brightly.  “We’ll have to come up with some of our own some time!  That’s one of my favorite songs; we have millions upon millions back on our world.  It’s used to express emotion and tell stories … I can’t wait until we fill the Royal Rhapsodist position.”

“Can I try?”  Azalea asked.

“Sure!  How are you feeling right now?”

“Umm,” her thick deep blue hair fell behind her back again as she sucked on the corner of her left lip.  “Kind of a little excited and happy; you’re showing us so many new and fun things!”

Violet’s jaw set, and she eyed her sister’s bright pink eyes.  I’ve never tried this before … will Azalea be better than me?  She shouldn’t; I’m better at everything, but she can pick up things really quickly, too.  If I don’t practice a little, then she might get better than me at it.

“Oh, why don’t we try to sing Living Proof by Camila Cabello!  You’ll really have to work your voice, and I don’t know if I can hit some of those notes, but it’ll be so fun.”

“I w-want to t-try,” Camellia interjected with an earnest face.

Violet couldn’t help but giggle, drawing the other’s attention.  “You want to try performing controlled actions with your voice when you can’t even talk properly?”

Tiffany’s lips pursed to the side for a moment.  “Mmh, Violet isn’t wrong, Cami, you should first focus on stringing together full sentences, but once you get the hang of that, then we can help you!”

“You m-mean it?”  Camellia asked, smiling with hope in her light red irises.

“Of course!  Music is all about harmony, and the difficulty of bringing more voices into it climbs dramatically.  It’s a work of art!  Here, you can listen to me sing, girls.  You see, there are seven elements in music, rhythm, dynamics, melody, harmony, tone color, texture, and form.  Ah, I’m going a bit too deep into it,” she chuckled.

“Here, just listen to me sing this and try to copy it; we can go into the deep dive on it another time, but I love singing!  Although, note that normally you’d have many instruments and other noises to harmonize with the form.”

Tiffany took a few deep breaths, and Violet’s eyes widened as nearly everything changed about how she spoke.  “Ooh … tell me something, but say it with your hands slow.  When you touch me, paint me like a Van Gogh, ooh; I wanna study every inch of you, ‘til you trust me to make the angels come through…”

When she finished, Violet saw that her sisters looked as stunned as she felt, and Violet couldn’t help but think back on what she felt when using Spatial Perception.

“That’s called music and singing?”  Azalea asked, arms wrapped around her chest.  “It’s … the feelings are so new … everything is.”

Tiffany winked at her.  “I’m an amateur compared to the professionals back on Earth.  Oh, I completely forgot,” her orange irises shot toward Violet.  “You were telling me about Morph before I ran us down this rabbit hole,” she giggled.  “I have a tendency to bounce around.”

“Right…” Violet mumbled, eyes dropping to the floor.

Tiffany is talented, and she seems to know so much; I just need to see her in action.  She’s supposed to be the height of Witchery as the Court Ritualist … can I compare to a Witch?  I can surpass mother in some areas, but what about the other Court positions?  I don’t know enough.

Her focus shot to Azalea as she used her pause to answer Tiffany’s question.

“I don’t know what Vi’s told you, but we can use Morph every two hours; we can also transform back into our original forms at any time.  The human metamorphosis cooldown starts the moment we use it, but we can space the thirty-minute length across that two hour wait time if we wish!”

“Is that right?”  Tiffany’s teeth flashed.  “You have about fourteen more minutes in human form.  Then, can you each turn back into your original forms?”

The three sisters glanced at each other with a questioning look, but Azalea and Camellia obeyed without hesitation; they moved back, and their silk-cloth undergarments were ripped apart as they transformed.

Violet frowned, glancing down at her newly created clothes, and before she could ask, Tiffany said, “Oh, yes, yes, Vi, you can take them off.  Would you like some help?”

A lump dropped down Violet’s throat as she forced a smile.  “No … I think I can handle it.”

Tiffany’s face was unassuming, but Violet could sense amusement in her tone.  “Good luck!”

Violet nodded and got to work.  The sandals were a simple task, but she paused on the ribbon at her back.  How … I weaved it into the design she illustrated in my mind, but she didn’t give me instructions on how to remove it.  It’s just a knot, though … I just need to untangle it.  Although…

Lips pursed, she activated Spatial Perception, and used her hair to pick the knot apart; the task was effortless with every fiber crystal clear to her sixth sense.  Finding it much easier with the skill, she used it to help her quickly remove the rest of her clothes.  Her hair discarded the articles beside her; it only took thirty seconds once her ability had been activated.

She opened her eyes while deactivating the skill, and Tiffany clapped.  “Impressive!  My, you girls are gorgeous,” she whispered with an appraising eye.

Violet tried to restrain her grin with a slight bow, hair obscuring her vision as she transformed.  “It was nothing.”

She stretched out her eight long legs, releasing a low groan as the restrictions of her body returned; she raised her abdomen slightly before letting it fall.

“I hate my body, now,” Azalea grumbled, human voice still echoing around them with the Empress’ ability active.  “It’s too big and bulky … and I don’t have the … you call it a neck?  I miss my neck, eyes, mouth, hair … I miss everything.”

“Me too,” Camellia sighed, voice now perfectly synced since she knew how to speak in her original form.

“I know, I know,” Tiffany said while folding her arms.  “I just want you to try out your human forms when on the hunt!”

“The hunt?”  Camellia asked, the ground trembling as she rushed forward.  “When, where?”

“Yes, I’m so excited!”  Azalea squealed, hopping up and down.

Violet kept her enthusiasm in check, trying to be more dignified than her sisters.  “I assume this has to do with your conversation with Gatekeeper Edmon and our mother?”

Tiffany’s glowing orange irises sparkled as she brushed her bangs to the side and held her hands behind her back, head tilted to look up at her.  “Indeed!  We have some intruders.  Toads … well, they call themselves Ri’bot,” she giggled, but the atmosphere around the woman had changed dramatically, and the hidden danger Violet felt increased as she licked her moist lips.

“Our Empress has quite the recent history with these particular Toads, and we are at a severe disadvantage in many areas.  This is a new world with many unknowns to us; we need information, and our enemies have brought informants to our doorstep.”

Tiffany’s eyes moved between each of them.  “Your mother will be giving you your assignments, and I will be preparing for your return.  Now, excuse me, I must be on my way,” but after a few steps, she turned back to stare at Violet’s discarded clothes.  “I’ll bring your clothes with me, Vi.  We’ll find a room for each of you to put your collected personal items in when this business is done.”

The sisters moved back to allow Tiffany space to take the articles and watched in fascination as she snapped her fingers, causing a ball of orange fire to appear.  Violet tensed as the flames encircled the clothes she’d put so much work into, but kept her thoughts to herself.

No, please … they aren’t burning?

Tiffany winked up at her.  “I’ll clean off all the dust that they collected; you shouldn’t be throwing such high-quality clothes on a dirty floor!”

“I—I understand,” Violet said, words dying as Tiffany waved at them and left, humming some strange tunes.

It only took several more seconds of silence before their mother’s voice entered their heads.

“Violet, Azalea, you will go to the east jungle; follow the link you share with the Quen’Talrat slaves.  The Ri’bot are currently watching them gather food for the Yaltha’ma.  Capture them alive and bring them to Tiffany; I want them in one piece, and Tiffany has requested that Azalea help her with gaining information.  Violet, you will help Edmon with some temporary repairs to the fortress.”

Violet caught Camellia’s back left leg twitch, indicating she was nervous.  “What about me, mother?”

“You will be joining me temporarily to go hunt for two groups of Ri’bot with human prisoners.  Once we pick up the trail of both, you will separate to go collect them to the west, and I will go south; I will give you the details as we move.  Stay at the entrance, and I will meet you.  Violet, Azalea, begin, and show the Empress how useful you are.”

The three of them jumped into action, racing down the tunnels toward the bottom level of the fortress that they’d broken through what only seemed days before.  Azalea and Violet quickly outpaced Camellia as they scurried along either side of the walls, passing a smiling Tiffany.

“Have fun, girls!”  Tiffany yelled, brushing her thick black hair back at their passing as the wind flurried with their movements.

Camellia’s frustrated growl echoing through the tunnels gave Violet a burst of amusement, but it was short-lived as Azalea gained the lead, displaying her shiny blue abdomen, and making Violet focus more on each motion of her legs.

When did Lea get so fast?  She did always focus on efficiency, maximizing what she could do, but to this extent?  It could also be her new abilities since being raised by the Empress … did I get slower?  No, I think I’m actually much faster, and the Assassin Class is supposed to excel in speed.

“Hey, Vi, watch this!”

Violet slowed as shadows surrounded Azalea, and she vanished from sight.  “Lea?  Where…”  The hair on her legs stiffened as she felt the slight movements of air around her, and she pounced to her left, wrapping two of her arms around her sister.  “What did you do?”

“Aww,” Azalea huffed, becoming visible again, “you caught me.”

Releasing her sister, Violet backed up and scanned Azalea’s shiny blue body, but she hadn’t changed.  “You can disappear?  It didn’t look like what I can do; I just blend into the environment, but you vanished completely.”

“Yeah, isn’t it amazing?  It’s called Cloak of Shadows.  It makes me basically invisible … hmm, did you sense me moving the air?”

“I did.”

“Thought so,” Azalea sighed.  “These bodies are just too bulky!  C’mon, let’s hurry.  I want to try out more stuff with my human form!”

Understanding her sister’s enthusiasm, they flew back into action just as Camellia rounded the corner.  “Oh, c’mon!”  She shouted.

Violet was beginning to feel a bit fatigued as Azalea retook the lead, and they passed the hole leading from the cave to the fortress.

I used up too much energy on those clothes … it might have been the wrong play, but it did show my skill to the Empress, mother, and Tiffany.  I didn’t think it would take this much of a toll, though.

Her sister slowed slightly as they exited, scanning the room to look for an exit.  “Something wrong, Vi?  You seem a bit slower than usual, although, you didn’t normally go out with me.  I haven’t seen you run for a while.”

“No, nothing,” Violet lied.  “I’m just saving a bit of my energy.”

“Okay … you sure it’s not all that web you spun?  It looked super complicated.”

“I’m fine … I think the way up is over there,” she said, pointing toward a set of stairs.  “The Infernal Apes liked the rigid structures since they couldn’t stick to walls.”

“Isn’t that strange!”  Azalea giggled.  “Imagine not being able to climb up walls.”

“I can’t,” Violet said, mirroring her laugh as they moved up the stairs.

“What are you going to do to the Ri’bot you find, Vi?”

“Eh, probably just wrap them up in webs and haul them back.  They couldn’t cut through my silk before; I don’t think they can now.  What about you?”

“Hmm … I want to try out some of my new abilities as a human.”

“Like?”

“You’ll see!”

If Violet still had a neck, she’d shake her head.  “Okay…”

They kept climbing until they made it to the top, thirty floors up, and a thunderous downpour met them.  The liquid hitting their steel-like exoskeleton was more than a welcoming feeling.

“Mh,” Azalea breathed.  “It tastes so good!  I’m happy we can still drink and eat.  I love the taste of food … I wonder what humans eat?”

“Probably meat and plants with how their teeth are structured,” Violet pondered.

“Why are you two loitering here?  Was I not explicit in my instruction?”

Violet and Azalea jumped, quickly turning to spot their mother standing behind them; she still didn’t sense her presence, and Iris’ full lips did not seem amused.

The raging rain slid down her smooth skin and made it glisten in the faded light, bleeding through the dark clouds of the night sky.  Her deep-red irises slid between her daughters, and her left hand was squarely on her hip, right held loosely by her side as she glared at them.  Her straight butt-length white highlighted black hair repelled the pelting liquid, sending it sliding down to the muddy granite floor.

A sharp bolt of lightning cracked across the sky before the deep rumble followed, shaking through Violet’s body as fear blocked out all thought.  “Mother … we—we were just gaining our bearings.”

Right hand rising, Iris pointed down the road to the east.  “That way.”

Bowing swiftly, both Azalea and Violet raced in that direction, feeling the heat of their mother’s gaze on their backs.  They didn’t dare speak until they passed the palace, and didn’t look back.

“Did you sense her at all?”  Azalea asked with a forced chuckle.

“Not at all,” Violet mumbled.

“Right?  It didn’t even feel like she was standing in front of us!  Mom really is amazing.”

Violet didn’t respond for a moment, passing small crowds of Yaltha’ma that paused and followed their movements, but she barely paid them any mind.

“Don’t you think it’s insane?”  She whispered.

Azalea seemed to have missed or ignored her comment, jumping into the air while flipping around a few times.  Her twirling sent water flying everywhere, and she landed without much difficulty before catching back up with Violet.

“Mom’s gone … I think.  I mean, we can’t really be sure,” she chuckled nervously.  “By the way, it takes so much more effort jumping in this form,” she huffed, and before Violet could comment, she jumped into the air, activating Morph.

Azalea’s large body transformed in an instant, and her dark blue hair wrapped around her body, creating a new set of undergarments before touching the ground.  Her movement increased dramatically as she leaped to the nearest wall, using it as a platform to jump from building to building, easily outpacing her.

Violet released a low growl as Azalea released a loud cheer.  “I’m so light, and the control is phenomenal!”  She paused fifty meters ahead of her, standing horizontally against a building, sticking to its wall with her bare feet.

Running to the nearest building, Violet used Morph, emerging black hair wrapping around her body to create simple clothes, and she instantly felt the free movement return as she turned her head.

Pressing both feet against the wall, she shot forward, jumping between buildings to quickly catch up to her sister.

“See?  Isn’t this fun!”  Azalea asked, doing a few flips as she matched her pace.

“Weren’t we supposed to wait until we got to the jungle?”

Azalea winked at her as they reached the wall, and her hair extended, wrapping around her waist before throwing her over halfway up the wall.

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“Hey!”  Violet shouted, sliding up the granite blocks before sticking to the stone.  “What’s the big idea?”

“Loosen up, Vi!  We’re so flexible,” Azalea giggled, jumping up several meters as the wind and water raged around them, and she crawled up the slick stone to meet her.  “Tiffany wanted us to experience hunting in these forms.  We’re already on the hunt!  We need to learn more about this amazing form, too!  C’mon, don’t want Mom getting mad at us again.  What were you saying, again?  Something about being insane?”

“No,” Violet sighed, climbing up the wall with her; the rough texture felt entirely different against her fingertips and toes.  “I just think that … I was supposed to be the strongest; I was supposed to succeed Mom, and she was stronger than anyone.  Now, Tiffany, Edmon, the Empress herself … the Royal Court will only grow, and they’re all as strong as Mom.  Am I really not that gifted?”

Azalea slid a lock of her hair across Violet’s left cheek.  “Don’t think like that, Vi! Nothing’s changed.  We both just need to do what Mom says, and she told us Elinor is the new Queen; that’s all there is to it.  Plus, we get all these new abilities,” she giggled, doing a few backovers up the wall.

A smile touched Violet’s lips.  “You’re right, Lea … I like these new nicknames.  They’re quick and simple.”

“I know, Vi!”

They reached the top of the wall, and Violet chuckled as Azalea kept her body low as the strong gale cut around them.  Her older sister launched toward the edge and leaped over the two-hundred-meter drop to the ground; a lock of her blue hair shot out, cutting past the wind and rain to latch onto the top of the wall, and with a yank, she was sent flying toward it.

Violet followed her action, stomach swirling with the rolling thunder, and grin widening as she passed over the gap.  The strong wind made her skin tingle as she sent out her own web toward the top, and slingshotted herself.

Landing near the top of the wall, she cut it off and dashed up the final stretch with her sister.  They both jumped off the opposite side, using their silk-like hair to slow their descent near the bottom.

“It’s so much faster,” Violet laughed, taking the lead, but it wasn’t for long.

“And so much fun!”  Azalea said, running beside her as they moved their hair to minimize drag, lifting it up as if blowing in the wind.  “Let’s play a game.”

“What kind of game?”

“Whoever gets the most Ri’bot wins!”

Violet licked her black lips, feeling her competitive edge spark in her hearts.  “What do I get when I win?”

Azalea laughed, glossy white teeth flashing as her pink eyes glanced her way.  “You might be surprised, Vi.  It won’t be that easy, and if I win, you’ve gotta make me five sets of clothes, all to my liking.  I’m sure Tiffany will have some wonderful input!”

“Again,” Violet grinned.  “What am I going to win?”

“I’ll try my best, Vi!  This is my territory, don’t take me lightly, but I’ll amuse myself; what do you want?”  Azalea asked as they found the large imprints of the bony Quen’Talrat footprints in the wet soil, and without prompt, they both followed the trail toward the jungle.

“Hmm … you have to do whatever I say for an entire day!”

Azalea’s pink eyes narrowed, but her smile grew as she licked her wet red lips, rain sliding off her hair and skin.  “That’s not obscure at all, but I like playing your little games.  If it doesn’t conflict with any other orders I get, then I’m down for some master-slave.”

“Then you’re on,” Violet said.  “This will be fun!”

“I totally agree; don’t be mad when I beat you!”

The two sisters gave each other a vicious grin before leaping to either side of the tree-line, and Violet lost track of Azalea, shadows surrounding her.

Azalea and her games.

Violet slid her bottom lip under her teeth before activating Camouflage, and her body blended into her environment.  “You can’t beat me, Lea!”


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