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The Avalon Chronicles

Discussion in 'FanFic' started by Errhile, Nov 25, 2017.

  1. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #18

    “Change of Year, Change of Heart”

    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “
    Gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s). Practising Christian, she sings in a church choir, too.
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).

    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:


    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include filing, mail distribution, drone operations, and assisting Ken on monitoring. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).

    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and AR digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Run by a simple pseudo-intelligence, it’s aware of, and can react to its surroundings - usually with comedic effects.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Gema Larasati - #12 (2. class, 17, Indonesian) Troublemaking skater girl, leader of a small clique of bullies. She and her gang have apparently been persuaded into doing strong-arm jobs for Dimante, starting with going after Octavia and Alex (and possibly other Angels, too).
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.

    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.

    Heart Piercers”:

    One of the local paintball teams. More competitive inclinations and higher in the league table than the “Spiders”.
    Needle” - #14 (mid-late 20s). Team captain and sniper. Scythe’s older sister. Turned up for a guest performance with her sister’s outfit, to judge the Angels firsthand as potential opponents.

    “Horizon Watch”:

    One of the local paintball teams. Located somewhere in the middle of the local league table. Initially dubious of the Angels worth as an opponent, but convinced to give them a chance by the Spiders and Heart Piercers.
    Whistler” - #18 (mid 20s). Team captain.

    Neve family security detail:

    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s, North American) Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard, and commander of Evangeline’s section of the detail. Very devoted to his charge. Dorothy's husband.
    Nemo - #9 / #12 (as unnamed bodyguard / full appearance) (early 40s, Italian) Shortish, stocky, and bald. Definitely not
    a clownfish, nor an Indian prince. Neve security’s cyber-warfare specialist.
    Belladonna (Bell) Shelke - #12 (looks to be in her mid 30s, Eastern European) Tall, with a body like a gymnast, and a smile like a knife. There’s something uncanny and unsettling about her. Seems she fought in the EI War - the question being, on which side?...

    Monday, December 30th

    “ - What’s going on, chicas?”

    - Oh, hey, Coach. Look what we caught!” - declares Alex with a nasty grin, looking at him over her shoulder. “ - A dirty, four-eyed rat!”

    With that, she turns fully around, dragging the person she’s holding onto - by the back of their underwear, stretched up almost to the back of their neck in a vicious wedgie - into view.

    Alex’s victim - another girl - is definitely not enjoying their experience. She’s stretched up onto her tiptoes, hands showed between her thighs, all in a desperate attempt to relieve the discomfort. Her face is screwed up, tears of pain and humiliation in the eyes behind her stylish spectacles.

    Despite that, Diego can still easily recognize her, even without the AR student name tag which helpfully pops up.

    It’s Samantha Silva.

    Oh, bother.

    So much for a trouble-free Monday, it seems.

    “ - Alex, don’t kick the lady, you’ll get tired.”

    “ - Aww, Coach, five more minutes? You know I don’t tire easily...” - she grins ingratiatingly. Unlike Samantha, Alex is obviously highly enjoying every second.

    The other girls look on with mixed expressions, but none of them seem to have all that much sympathy for Silva’s predicament.

    Morgan, who in the past was usually the first to try curb Alex’s meaner side, often physically, makes no such move this time, face rather deliberately set in her usual blank, slightly sleepy expression.

    Dominique and Nyree are mostly anxious for what Silva’s presence might mean for Eva. Their expressions make it clear though, that they consider Samantha to be getting her just desserts.

    Minuette keeps back behind the others. She seems the least hostile of the bunch, but looks to be mostly sad instead, regarding Samantha with some genuine hurt.

    Patricia is openly hostile and rather gleeful at Silva’s suffering. If Alex hadn’t gotten to Samantha first, it would quite probably be Patty administering the wedgie right now.

    Octavia, as one would typically expect when meeting someone she’s not very familiar with - not to mention not very fond of - is kinda hiding behind Patty’s back. Her expression is not typical, however. It’s restrained and mostly masked by anxiety, but Octy’s eyes hold a surprising amount of hard, cold resentment...

    Evangeline looks to be dreading the repercussions from Samantha catching her here. She’s also obviously still uncomfortable with the treatment her former friend is receiving, but makes no move to stop it either.

    - Alex…” - Diego frowns warningly. Not that he really cares about Silva’s discomfort. Avoiding getting Alex in trouble is a better use of his time.

    “ - Oh, all right!” - Alex mock-pouts.

    She releases Silva, though she can’t resist one last tiny bit of abuse. Instead of setting Samantha down gently, Alex suddenly lets go, making Silva’s underwear elastic waistband snap against her backside, eliciting a startled, pained squeak.

    Silva manages to keep standing, barely, knock-kneed and pigeon-toed, gasping in relief.

    - So, now that that’s out of the way… Would Miss Silva be so kind as to explain her business at our extra-curricular gathering?” - Diego rises a challenging eyebrow.

    It may be petty, or even wrong of him, as a teacher, but he has no intention of coddling the stuck-up brat in the least.

    There is a flash of outrage under Silva’s pained, uncomfortable expression, as she realises that Diego doesn’t seem to intend to exact any discipline on Alex, or at least let Silva herself recover from the forced wardrobe malfunction before apparently grilling her over, like it was her in the wrong here… Well, tough.

    Samantha herself seems to be well aware she can’t expect any sympathy here. That, plus she seems to find Diego quite intimidating. Either way, her brief flash of temper turns into another pained wince.

    - I… Just wanted to talk with Evangeline.” - Silva declares shakily.

    - Of course. That’s why, in the age of the comlog, you had to stalk her, skulking in the proverbial bushes.” - Diego lifts a mocking eyebrow, making no effort to hide his extreme scepticism.

    “ - I was not skulking!” - Silva scowls. “ - I was… Waiting for the right moment to step forward! But then Narahari noticed and jumped me before I could do anything...”

    “ - Yeah, ‘cause I noticed you skulking, four-eyes!” - Alex grins nastily.

    “ - Whatever…” - Silva grumbles. She turns to Eva. “ - I thought it would be better to talk in person, instead of calling… Because I wanted to talk about the…” - she hesitates, obviously fumbling for a less ugly word, then gives up with a sigh, “ - ...Blackmail.” - she finishes, looking away uncomfortably.

    - Right, so you could give her more demands from your bitch-queen? Get lost!” - Patty scowls fiercely, taking a threatening step towards Samantha, fists clenching.

    - That’s not it!” - Silva insists, somewhat despairingly. “ - Tiana has no idea I’m here! And I’m not going to tell her, about Evangeline meeting you all, nothing! But I must speak to Evangeline.”

    The girls share a round of surprised, suspicious looks.

    “ - Well, Eva? It’s your call. Will you talk to her?” - inquires Diego.

    Evangeline wavers, uncertain, giving Samantha a long, searching look. Silva shifts uncomfortably.

    - ...Alright.” - Eva declares finally. “ - I’ll hear you out. But let’s move somewhere more private.

    The others scowl or shake their heads, obviously not liking the idea.

    - I’d suggest including senhor Smith in that talk.” - advises Diego.

    - He’s already on his way.” - nods Eva. Indeed, Roger is approaching the hangar at a brisk walk. “ - And, actually… Could I ask you to come as well, Coach?...”

    “ - Me?”

    “ - As completely off the record as this talk is going to be, I’d still like to have an Academy staff representative along, just in case. Also, you were involved in the matter pretty much from the start, and, well… I’d just like to still have your support. Please?”

    “ - Ah. Alright, then, chica. You can count on me.”

    Eva gives Diego a grateful smile.

    - Coach Ibarrez. Ladies.” - Roger Smith nods in greeting as he arrives. “ - Right. I already took the liberty of having Nemo make us ‘dark’. Miss Alephsdottir definitely doesn’t need to know about all this.”

    “ - She wouldn’t be too happy, hearing you say that.” - smirks Diego. Harmless as DeeDee seems, there’s no forgetting she’s an extension of ALEPH, and he definitely doesn’t mind tweaking it’s nose a bit.

    - Undoubtedly. Luckily, however, right now she’s very busy, frantically trying to remember what it was she was doing a few minutes ago.” - Roger gives a thin smile. “ - Now then, we should move somewhere less public. Could we use your office, Coach Ibarrez?”

    “ - Let’s go, then. Wait here chicas. We’ll try not to take too long.”

    With that, Diego, Eva, Samantha, and Roger move to Diego’s office in the hangar.

    As they enter Diego’s office, Roger does a deliberate show of walking around the room and very thoroughly checking it over for any possible taps or other security risks. He finishes by opening the window and leaning out to carefully check outside. Diego half-expects Roger to reach down beneath the sill, and pull up one of the Angels, attempting to listen in, by their ear. But it looks like none of the girls decided to try. Roger finishes his sweep by taking position where he can easily keep the entire room, everyone in it, and all the entryways, in sight. Curiously, he left the window open…

    With that little ritual done, Samantha Silva finds herself once more the focus of everyone’s attention. Standing in the center of the room, she throws a slightly unnerved glance over her shoulder, at Roger, looming behind her like a silent sentinel.

    - Well, then, Samantha?” - Eva, face carefully neutral, brings Silva’s focus back to herself. “ - What is it that you wanted to say?”

    Diego himself is content to sit behind his desk and watch for now. The Devil, on the other hand, gleefully stokes the fire beneath his bubbling cauldron of tar, throwing anticipatory glances at Silva.

    “ - Right.” - Samantha sighs, seeming to brace herself. “ - See, I am not as dumb, nor as passive and slavishly devoted as everyone thinks.” - she declares resolutely. “ - I can see when antagonizing someone is a bad idea.” - she turns to look at Diego. “ - I know what happened to Larasati and her gang, both officially… And not.” - it’s quite clear what she’s implying here. Diego maintains a neutral expression, not confirming - but also not denying! - anything. “ - I can add two and two together to realize for myself which way the wind is blowing. And, following that… I can see when maintaining old loyalties might not be the best idea.” - Samantha shifts uncomfortably.

    - So wait. Are you saying?...” - Eva’s eyes go wide in surprise.

    - Yes. I… I want to change sides, so to speak.” - confirms Samantha. “ - I know your security detachment must be planning some move against Tiana,” - she turns to Eva again, “ - To try seize and neutralize that recording. And I believe I can help. You undoubtedly have your own ways of obtaining info on the security at Dimante House. But every little bit helps, and I was much closer to Tiana than you, for a long time now. I was a guest there quite often. And, inexperienced as I undoubtedly am at intelligence gathering, I do have an eye for detail. There must be things I can tell your people that they don’t know yet. If nothing else, even if you could eventually get this info through your own means, receiving it now could speed up the operation, and the sooner the blackmail threat is neutralized, the better, right?” - she shrugs.

    “ - The obvious question now, of course, is: what is it that you want in return, miss Silva?” - asks Diego. Eva is still staring in astonishment.

    “ - Right. It would be useless to try to tell you that I don’t want anything, that it’s because I had some big change of heart, and realized how wrong what we were doing was… Nobody would believe that anyway, seeing what reputation we made for ourselves…” - Samantha sighs again, somewhat glumly. “ - Especially since I very much do want something in return. See, destroying Tiana’s recording is entirely in my interest as well… Because I know for a fact that she also has one of me, from the same incident.”

    - She- She does?!” - Eva is obviously scandalized.

    - Yes. She doesn’t know that I know, but I was able to check. Couldn’t delete it myself, not without her knowing… I only saw one copy, anyway.”

    “ - But why? She hates me now, but you have always been her most loyal friend. Why would she do that to you?”

    “ - I was always her friend, yes. Just like you.” - Samantha points out, shrugging. “ - I doubt she expects to ever have to use it… But she’s keeping it just in case. Just like she did with you. And now it looks like she will have a use for it after all, once she finds out I took your side. And I have no doubt she’d do it… So I’d rather not give her the chance. That’s the main thing I want in return. Plus, well, protection. Once she finds out I betrayed her, I’m going to have a target painted on my back, just like you and your team. But I know you all take care of your own, protecting them... Or avenging, if that doesn’t work.” - she gives Diego another pointed glance, obviously not for a moment believing his saintly expression. “ - If nothing else, there’s strength in numbers. I will need someone to watch my back.”

    “ - Well, if nothing else, you should be congratulated on your sober evaluation of your situation, senhorita Silva.” - Diego gives a thin but honestly appreciative smile.

    “ - The question remains, of course, can we trust you?” - ponders Roger, looking Samantha up and down with hard, judging eyes.

    “ - That is a good question.” - admits Samantha, fidgeting uncomfortably under his gaze. “ - One that I don’t have a good answer to, I’m afraid. It certainly doesn’t look good, considering what I’m doing here…”

    “ - Well, espionage and counterespionage loyalty games are obviously not my area of expertise…” - puts in Diego.

    “ - Right, Coach, your expertise lies in much less subtle games, of the ‘shoot them in the face’ variety.” - Eva can’t resist a little smirk.

    “ - Quite.” - Diego returns the smile. “ - Still, I bumped elbows with enough clandestine types over the years to pick up a thing or two. So, taking this logically? Seems to me that, trust her or no, she’s a source. A potentially valuable one, that we can’t afford to simply dismiss because of trust issues. Let’s see what she can give us, and then come back to the question of trust based on verifying that.”

    “ - Agreed, Coach Ibarrez.” - Roger nods at Diablo. “ - I’ll have miss Silva debriefed in full. Then we’ll see how well what she tells us aligns with information we already obtained through our own channels, and what she can add to it.”

    - That’s fine by me. Not that I really have a choice, do I?” - Silva shrugs. “ - One thing I can tell you on the quick that may be most useful… I’m sure you considered moving this week, to take advantage of the lessened security at Dimante House, while the whole family is away? It may be a good idea. Because I can tell you that the only copies of the blackmail vid are stored on site. Tiana does not carry a copy with her, on comlog or otherwise. She was advised,” - Samantha fixes her glasses meaningly, “ - Not to take it along. There are malicious hackers out there, there are accidents, and unforeseen circumstances... If, for whatever reason, it came out that she was in possession of this vid…”

    “ - It would create a lot of inconvenient questions for her.” - nods Diego.

    “ - Exactly. So she left it all behind, to keep herself clean, just in case.”

    “ - That would indeed simplify matters for us.” - muses Roger.

    “ - Plus, there’s the fact that Tiana… Does not exactly enjoy the same level of personal familiarity and devotion from her own security detachment as Evangeline does from hers.” - Silva goes on. “ - They obviously know about Tiana’s grudge, and that she’s somehow leaning on Evangeline. But if they knew exactly what she had and was doing, they’d go straight to her parents, and things would get messy. So she went to some lengths to conceal the exact nature of our conflict and the vid. As far as her people are concerned, it’s just some straightforward schoolyard tiff…

    - Which means they are not guarding the objective with the vigilance due it’s true nature. I see. Highly fortuitous.” - Roger frowns down at Samantha. “ - One thing to consider, however, miss Silva. What are the chances that miss Dimante could be expecting the loss of your loyalty, and having prepared accordingly, setting some kind of trap for you, and us?”

    “ - As low as to be insignificant.” - Samantha declares with supreme assurance. “ - Tiana is not stupid, of course… But she does have her blind spots. Ones which I happen to know quite well. Especially one, the most glaring of them all. Which I know very intimately, because I have spent the last several years carefully cultivating it ...” - her glasses glint dramatically as she fixes them with a confident gesture. “ - And that is myself.”

    “ - ...Touché.” - murmurs Diego, somewhat impressed despite himself.

    “ - Though, this is definitely not the kind of situation I was ever thinking about when building Tiana’s trust in me…” - Samantha, confidence fleeing, shifts uneasily. “ - I may be quite high in the local social hierarchy… Certainly higher than all of Evangeline’s teammates… But I’m definitely not in the same league as Evangeline herself, or Tiana. And, well, for someone of my social position, it’s quite advantageous - advisable, even - to be able to… Attach and work oneself into the graces of a higher-placed companion.”

    “ - Chica does have a point.” - Diego admits. “ - And it’s certainly not a new idea.”

    “ - But lately it’s been becoming more and more clear, that I chose the wrong person to attach to…” - Samantha looks away, troubled.

    “ - So now you’d like to ‘attach’ to me instead?” - Evangeline finally speaks up again, face unreadable.

    “ - I’m afraid there’s no prettier way to put it, really...” - Samantha fidgets anxiously.

    “ - Alright. We’ll see about getting you protection from Tiana. But beyond that?” - Evangeline captures Samantha’s eyes with her own, “ - The kind of relation you had with Tiana does not interest me. I don’t need, nor do I want, no nice way to say it, a crony. But… I might want a friend. Do you remember, Sam?” - Eva smiles nostalgically. “ - The ‘ancient times’, back in elementary school, when we first met? We were friends then, real ones, I think. But we lost it, somewhere along the way. But we could maybe… Try again? If you want to?...” - she gives Samantha a hesitant, hopeful smile.

    - I…” - Samantha wavers, obviously honestly astonished and touched. “ - But what about your other friends on the team? I don’t expect them to welcome me with open arms…”

    “ - They are less than fond of you, true, and we can’t expect that to change anytime soon… But I don’t expect them to be your friends too, and I know they won’t turn on me for being friends with you. We’ll make it work, somehow. But I’d like to try.” - Eva sighs sadly. “ - In truth, I’d like it to be all three of us again… But I don’t think that’s in any way possible now. Nyree could reach out to Alex, even after all the ugly things that happened between them. One day, I hope I could be as noble a person as her, and reach out to Tiana… But that won’t be anyway soon.” - she finishes glumly.

    “ - Not that Tiana herself would accept it if you did, now...”

    “ - I figure. But we could try?” - Eva renews the smile.

    “ - I… I think I’d like that, yes…” - Samantha finally smiles back, shy and a bit shaky, but genuine.

    It looks like the girls might have a real moment here… But it’s quickly ruined.

    “ - Awww! That’s sooo sweet!” - a new voice declares with amusement, startling the girls. “ - So touching! Don’t you think, Diablo?”

    “ - Bell, don’t sit there in the draft, you’ll catch a cold.” - Diego grins.

    Belladonna Shelke hops down from her perch on the windowsill where she has just materialized out of thin air, grinning back.

    Evangeline manages to mostly keep her composure, with only a mild jump. She seems to have quickly adjusted to the idea of her guards possibly appearing out of nowhere any second.

    For Samantha, however, this seems to be a first, judging by her distressed little shriek and the way she spins towards the new voice violently enough to be left flailing to regain balance...

    “ - Hi-iii!” - Shelke chirps, waving a greeting. She then turns to Samantha, grin stretching too wide and too toothy. “ - And hello there, little missy. We didn’t have occasion to truly meet yet, but I had ample opportunity to observe and form an opinion on you…” - Shelke declares, voice amused, but with a clear note of menace. Pinned by Shelke’s unblinking gaze, Samantha slowly turns white as a sheet, her only answer a squeaky stammer. “ - So, Boss, a full debriefing, eh?”

    “ - Yes. Let’s pick miss Silva’s brain in detail, and see how she can help us.“ - Roger confirms.

    “ - Ah, brain-picking. Such fun! At least when you’re not the one on the receiving end…” - Shelke waggles her eyebrows. “ - Care if we borrow your office for a little longer, Diablo?”

    “ - Knock yourself out. Just don’t make a mess, please.” - replies Diego, amused.

    “ - Pshah! A mess? Of course not! Just tell me where you’re keeping the garbage bags…” - it shouldn’t be possible, but Bell’s grin seems to be getting wider and wider.

    “ - Just there, in the supply closet. But I’ve only got 40-liter ones, my trashcan is on the small side.”

    “ - We’ll make do, don’t you worry.”

    “ - Help yourself, then.” - Diego really shouldn’t be so amused by the whole conversation, and the terrifying effect it’s having on Silva, but he just can’t help himself.

    It’s obvious Shelke has not made a positive impression on the girl. But then, that’s not what she’s getting paid for, is it? And she certainly made an impression. One that should assure Samantha’s full, honest, unquestioning cooperation…

    “ - Um, Shelke?” - Eva decides to voice a bit of concern. “ - All joking aside, I still would like to be able to talk to Sam again, and try rebuild our friendship. I really mean that…”

    “ - Oh, Little Miss, no worries! I’m sure everything will be just fine. Once we’re done here, we’re all going to be the best of friends!” - Shelke assures pleasantly, throwing an arm around Samantha’s trembling shoulders. “ - Of course, I’m sure I don’t have to explain this by now,” - she looks down at Samantha again, voice lowering into a warm purr, “ - That, in the - highly unlikely and totally unbelievable - event of all this being some kind of elaborate setup or scheme, to try to get my Little Miss Eva into more trouble? We definitely won’t be friends then. I will, however, introduce you to some of my other friends. Like this one.” - Shelke grins her most toothy grin, indicating the combat knife holster, affixed, commando style, at her left collarbone. “ - My trusty, long-time companion, mr. mono-knife...”

    “ - Lucifer’s Beard, Shelke…” - Diego’s grimace mixes equal measures of amusement and despair, “ - You promised, no mess. Don’t tell me you don’t know what happens in a room when somebody uses a mono-blade…”

    “ - Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it! I do know, very well indeed. Kinda miss it, actually… If you do it right, you can imbue the scene with a certain artistry…” - Shelke sighs with a nostalgic, dreamy little grin. Rather disturbing…

    - Hm. Hexahedron?” - Diego, eyebrow cocked, takes a stab at Shelke’s possible past.

    “ - Oh, those guys are pretty good, too.” - she grins back, declining to reveal much of anything.

    “ - I think we should all get to work.” - puts in Roger seriously. “ - You two are getting sidetracked again…”

    “ - Yeah, any more of this, we’ll end up on culinary topics again.” - smirks Diego.

    “ - Well, I could go for a bite right about now…” - Shelke amuses herself by suggestively running her tongue over the tip of a-bit-too-pointy incisor and observing Samantha’s unnerved reaction.

    “ - Sorry, no snacks in the office. There’s tea, though. Help yourself.” - Diego indicates his kettle.

    “ - Don’t mind if we do.”

    “ - And all that talk of food, one of those days, I’m gonna have to invite you to dinner.” - declares Diego, smirking wider.

    “ - That a threat, or a promise?” - Shelke smirks back. “ - And I thought you were pretty serious with a girl already? Not that I mind! I’m open to all propositions - and geometric figures...” - she waggles her eyebrows at Diego.

    - Alright.” - Roger firmly puts his foot down. “ - Please stop trying to scandalize the young ladies. And trying to scare miss Silva, else you’ll end up having to clean up anyway, and it won’t be gore you’ll be mopping up…”

    Diego glances at Evangeline. She doesn’t seem all that scandalized. Maybe a little shocked, yes. But mostly, Diego thinks she’s trying not to giggle at their antics. That would surely constitute a serious breach of decorum for a young lady of her position.

    Samantha, on the other hand, does really look perilously close to losing control of her bowels at one more sufficiently scary look from Shelke...

    “ - Maybe we really should get going, Coach.” - Eva speaks up. “ - We don’t want to be late.”

    “ - Guess you’re right, chica.”

    - Have fun, Young Miss. Don’t worry about miss Silva. And we’re still keeping you covered, of course. Nemo remains on watch. Coach Ibarrez, thank you again for the use of your place.” - Roger nods.

    “ - My pleasure, senhor Smith. Though, Bell, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you to feel right at home.” - Diego gives Shelke one last grin.

    “ - It’ll be alright, Sam.” - Eva assures Samantha. “ - I’ll see you later. When we’re all done, let’s get together and talk?”

    “ - Alright…” - Samantha doesn’t look quite convinced she’ll survive her present company to hang out with Eva later, but tries on a hopeful smile. She does seem genuinely grateful for Evangeline giving her a chance.

    Their goodbyes made, Diego and Eva move out to rejoin the team.

    - Well! I can honestly say, I didn’t expect that.” - muses Eva. “ - Hoped, maybe, but not with much faith…”

    “ - I was pretty sure this was what was going on, the moment I saw Silva.” - admits Diego.

    “ - Really?”

    “ - Just a feeling I had.”

    “ - Huh. Well, expected or no, I really hope we can make it work. I do like my new friends, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to get one of the old ones back…”

    “ - Those kind of predictions are rather outside my ability, chica. But I wish you all the best with it.”

    When Diego and Evangeline return, alone, the rest of the girls of course beset them with questions. Eva gives them a quick overview of the new situation.

    “ - So Dimante’s slimy little crony grew a conscience?” - Patty scoffs.

    - I’d say more like she finally heard the voice of common sense.” - opines Diego.

    - And you want us to leave her alone now?” - Alex frowns.

    - Please do. I don’t expect you all to instantly be her best friends now,-

    (“ - Good.” - Octavia mutters under her breath.)

    - -But please, at least don’t attack her. She is helping me, and she’s going to be as much a target for Tiana now as any one of us. And I’d really like to try being friends with her again…” - Eva implores.

    - ...Okay.” - Minnie puts a hand on Eva’s shoulder. “ - If that’s what you wish for, as our friend, then that’s what we’ll do.” - she gives the others a determined look. They all nod in agreement, though some are obviously more unhappy about it than others. “ - And I for one am happy for you, for getting her back.” - Minnie declares with conviction, giving Eva a smile - though it’s still a slightly sad one.

    - Thank you. It means a lot.” - Eva returns the smile, relieved.

    “ - Alright, chicas. Now that’s done with, we should really get going. We’ll barely make it on time as it is. Hop onboard.” - orders Diego.

    Diego manages to pilot the Monster to their destination without incident. Autopilot or no, the monstrous truck certainly takes a bit more attention, just in case, than any other vehicle Diablo ever handled before, on account of the sheer power and size. He still manages it just fine.

    As they were previously distracted by the business with Silva, Alex uses their travel time to finally clue in the rest of the Angels on her new civil status and housing situation (in an abbreviated form, sparing them the details of her father’s “charming” personality...).

    Understandably, the news of her being disowned cause some concern (Minuette envelopes her in a teary hug). Alex, embarrassed (and annoyed, though in a rather fond way), waves them off, downplaying it as much as she can. As she assures, yes, things will be somewhat more difficult now - most importantly perhaps, she’ll have to watch out for her delinquent tendencies, there no longer being anyone to buy her way out of trouble - but she’ll manage on her own. She’s been practically doing that anyway, it’s now just been formalized. She has her college fund waiting, so she’ll be alright for money, if she’s thrifty. She’s even got a part-time job to help with that! And the Coach took her in, so it’s not like she’s homeless and has no one to look after her at all...

    The girls (though the emotional Minnie takes some cajoling) understand and respect Alex’s wish of not making a big deal out of it.

    The Angels of Stone just make it to their paintball appointment on time. The three other teams are already waiting.

    The Angels regular opponents, Bolo’s Barking Spiders, as always greet them enthusiastically. Then it’s time to meet the new people.

    The Angels already know Needle, the captain of the Heart Piercers. Now she introduces the rest of her team. They seem to have quite high expectations of the Angels, based on their captain’s observations.

    Last but not least, are the Horizon Watch, led by Whistler. One of the teams dubious, but at least not completely dismissive of the Angels’ worth, they are still ready to take Bolo and Needle at their word and give the “new girls” a chance.

    Time for some action! The four teams are going to have themselves a simple round-robin tournament. With everybody playing against everybody else once, that means six matches. The location they’re using (a different one to the field the Angels and Spiders make use of in their Saturday meetings, offering much more simulated urban terrain in addition to the forest) is spacious enough that two matches can be conducted in parallel, so that nobody has to sit on the sidelines getting bored. The grand prize is simply bragging rights - but hey, what’s the use of winning, if you can’t brag about it a bit, right?

    One thing to note, the commanders of all the opposing teams will be entering the field today, in a classic paintball setup, instead of commanding from behind the lines, TAG-Soft style, like Diablo. This gives all of them an initial numbers advantage over the Angels, but does expose their entire command structure to potential attack.

    After a quick randomizer use, it’s determined that the Angels’ first opponent of the day will be the Piercers, while the Spiders are going to fight the Watch.

    Diego did a bit of homework, and conducted some Maya research on the Heart Piercers. They seem a well-rounded team, with a good mix of long range and assault options, employing two snipers, a light grenade launcher, two forward observers, a spitfire, two shotguns, and a chain rifle. A couple of them have grenades, and one of the FOs also carries a set of mines.

    As the match begins, Diego decides to open up with hit and run tactics, to probe the unfamiliar opponent. As it turns out, Needle has the same idea. Several brief, mobile firefights result, leaving both teams with one casualty. Unfortunately for the Angels, Octavia is the first to fall.

    The Piercers attempt to set up an ambush next, but Diego anticipates their move, directing the girls into full defensive mode. Forced to attack well-prepared positions, the Piercers fumble their maneuver, with painful results, losing three of their number, including the LGL gunner.

    Scrambling to salvage the situation, they attempt to outflank the Angels next. Diablo anticipates them again, sending the Angels on a cautious push to meet the opponent face to face. Despite the Angels numerical advantage, this clash ends in a stalemate.

    The Angels then try to break contact and spring an ambush of their own. Needle sees through it, however, reversing the earlier situation, and luring the Angels out to attack a solidly dug-in defence. Morgan and Minnie fall to the Piercers’ guns and mines.

    Diego orders a switch back to hit and run harassment, but Needle gains the upper hand again, attempting to crush the Angels with an all-out assault. The girls offer a fierce resistance though, and the result is one casualty on each side, in a curious double elimination - Dominique gunning down an opponent just as he shoots her.

    Next, the Heart Piercers go for hit and run themselves. But Diego gains back initiative, having the Angels respond with a slow but relentless advance, beating back the Piercers’ blows and hounding their retreats. The opponent loses another fighter, with no casualties for the Angels.

    With only four Angels to three enemies remaining, Diego orders the team into another full defensive maneuver, hoping to force the other team to come to them in a predictable manner. The Heart Piercers oblige, but maintain the hit and run tactics. Well-executed, this is a serious danger to the Angels’ static defense, yet the girls manage it with brilliant aplomb, picking the enemy thrusts apart one by one. In short order, all three remaining Piercers fall, Needle going down last.

    Game over. Definitely not an easy opponent and match. The Heart Piercers are left suitably impressed with the Angels of Stone fighting abilities and spirit.

    When this was going on, the Horizon Watch defeated Bolo’s Spiders, just barely, after a hard-fought match.

    The Angels will be going against the Spiders next, while the Watch takes on the Heart Piercers.

    Despite being, league table-wise, the weakest of the Angels’ opponents today, Bolo and his Spiders do have one significant advantage over the others. After three months of weekly gaming, they know Diablo and his Angels, their strengths, weaknesses, fighting style and abilities, quite well. Though, of course, that goes both ways…

    Still, in this match the Barking Spiders use their knowledge to the utmost of their ability. Bolo certainly gives his all today, giving Diego a serious hard time with predicting his team’s maneuvers and tactics.

    The fighting is tooth and nail, many clashes ending in bitter stalemates. Initially, the Angels are slowly beaten into a disadvantage, losing three members one by one, including Octy again, while only inflicting one casualty in return. Finally, though, the Angels bounce back, slowly gaining the upper hand, and the Spiders start hemorrhaging fighting bodies by ones and twos.

    The match concludes after almost a full hour of hard-fought, highly mobile action, with the Spiders wiped out, the Angels not having suffered any more casualties beyond the initial three.

    At the same time, the Heart Piercers pretty handily won their match against the Horizon Watch.

    The last matches of the tournament will then be Angels vs Horizon Watch, and Heart Piercers vs Bolo’s Spiders.

    Diego, of course, red up a bit about the Watch, too. They look to be focused on mid- to long-range fighting, and preferring either a solid defence, or a decisive, committed attack, with little frills. Might seem a little basic, but a well executed straightforward tactic will still beat a clever, but poorly executed one any day… The Watch’s equipment has a lot of rifles, including three marksmen, two spitfires, and a heavy machine gun(!).

    This match turns out to be fairly short.

    Initially, both teams turtle, going full defensive, forming a miniature front line. The Watch, however, fumbles their deployment, some expert last-second scrambling from their lieutenant saving the team from disaster as the Angels concentrate fire to exploit their error. It still costs the Watch one casualty.

    Whistler decides to keep his team dug-in. Diego anticipates this, and sends the Angels into a flanking maneuver. The girls hit hard, putting down another two of the Watch.

    The Watch surge into a sudden all-out attack, trying to break the Angels’ momentum. But Diablo outplays Whistler once again, as the Angels shift into full defensive mode once more. It’s close, but the girls stand fast, shattering the enemy charge, inflicting another two casualties, still with no losses on their side. Even worse for the Watch, Whistler is one of the fallen.

    It’s 8 vs 3 in favour of the Anjos de Rocha now, and the enemy in loss of command, and Diego throws caution to the wind, ordering a full-on offensive. The remains of the Horizon Watch fight doggedly and valiantly, conducting hit and run actions, but it just isn’t enough. The Angels, feeling victory near, fight as if inspired, and quickly sweep the last three opponents aside.

    The Watch are left a little shell-shocked, and duly impressed.

    Meanwhile, the Heart Piercers beat the Spiders in good style, though Bolo’s team have certainly made the opponent work for it.

    So that’s the mini-tournament over. The win-loss scores being as follows:

    Angels of Stone: 3-0,

    Heart Piercers: 2-1,

    Horizon Watch: 1-2,

    Barking Spiders: 0-3.

    No tie-breakers needed.

    The Spiders lost all three of their matches, but they don’t seem too disheartened. All the opponents were stronger, and none of the fights were anything like one sided, Bolo and his team always making the enemy feel they’ve been in a fight.

    The Angels are hailed as the undisputed victors. And to the victor, the spoils. In this case, the occasion to mercilessly brag, which Diablo and his team take full advantage of, though in a very friendly, jocular fashion.

    The girls certainly made quite an impression on the two new opponents. Both the Heart Piercers and the Horizon Watch will have no problem whatsoever with playing the Angels of Stone again.

    The Angels continue their history of punching above their weight. As Eva relates, she studied the team’s collected stats from their matches, TAG and paintball, and found the Angels pretty consistently perform above what one might expect from their raw ability estimates and statistical analysis. Diego’s leadership plays a definite role here, of course, especially in paintball games - having a professional, experienced officer command the team certainly doesn’t hurt - but even the best commander can only compensate for so much if his soldiers are lacking in ability. The girls are definitely not lacking. They still have a ways to go, but considering how well they’re doing even now with Diablo’s guidance, they seem set to go far indeed.

    After the fighting, it’s time for the traditional bonfire and picnic, this time with a much bigger, but no less jovial crowd. Toasts are made (with non-alcoholic beverages... mostly), replays watched, particularly memorable actions and plays lauded (or playfully booed), and the bragging continues.

    Among the Angels, the one with most fuel for her personal bragging is Alex. This turned out to be a really good day for her, and she scored quite a few “kills”, usually multiple per game! She’s quite understandable pleased with herself.

    Everyone did quite good today, really, pretty much every one of the Angels having some memorable moment, and at least one downed opponent to their name.

    The one who had the worst day today is perhaps Octavia. In two of the three matches, she was taken out before she managed to score any “kills” herself. Octy does seem a little bit distracted, and Diego notices a little frown settling over her face when she thinks no one is looking…

    At least Nyree deftly distracts Alex from lording her awesome performance too much over the normally highly efficient and deadly Octy. Though admittedly not without a little help from Morgan, and her patented “slap Alex in the back of the head for acting like an asshole” maneuver. Which actually hasn’t happened in quite a while! Even Alex herself comments on it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia…

    The girls have come quite a long way already, haven’t they?

    Speaking of which, there’s another piece of big news today. Some time ago, Patty gave them all a heads-up that she’d likely be playing at least one gig after Christmas, possibly on New Year’s Eve. Now she has confirmation. It’s a bit last minute, but she will indeed play tomorrow night, helping usher in the new year in style… And it will be nowhere else, but at the Blue Moon again! This time, Patty will not be top-billing, but will actually share the evening with at least two other DJs, both of them quite famous… Still, the Blue Moon!

    The Celeste family will be holding their annual New Year Gala at their (spectacular beach mansion) summer residence near Avalon’s planetary capitol. But apparently the younger heiress decided to blow off that stiff party, and instead host her own, much more loud and fun gala, at her pet project club in Belo Horizonte. And she wants DJ Scratch to help with the entertainment. There’s no way Patty could ever resist agreeing!

    And, as previously, Patricia is provided with a whole slew of invitations to give out to whomever she pleases. It is rather last minute, but it turns out all of the Angels have kept their party options for New Year’s Eve cautiously open, anticipating a Patty-party to be incoming.

    Well, all of them except Evangeline. Aside even the blackmail situation (which, luckily looks set to get cleared up soon), the Neves, being valued business partners, were obviously invited to the Celeste gala. So Eva planned - was very much expected - to attend that with her parents. Now, however, she decides to change plans. What use is being heiress if one can’t misbehave a bit once in awhile, after all? And it’s not like she’ll be in any way slumming. It’s still a Celeste party they’ll be all attending. One can expect quite a slice of the jet-set to be present (plus all the attendant media attention and security presence of course). So Eva’s parents shouldn’t mind too much.

    That’s settled, then. Tomorrow, the Angels will be rubbing elbows with high society! The younger, more rebellious - and fun! - part of it, at least. And of course they are free to pass Patty’s invitations along and bring companions. Though, predictably, not all their friends will be able to attend, some having other plans already.

    Luna has ordained her party a semi-formal affair, so they don’t have to worry too much over their clothes. Still, at least some of the guests are quite likely to show up in some spectacular attire. Dressing down too much could well make an embarrassing spectacle out of someone. A school uniform probably won’t cut it. ‘Nique looks a bit worried...

    All this causes Diego to muse to himself, that the Anjos de Rocha seem to be well on their way to becoming minor celebrities in their own right. The first, and so far only, amateur TAG-Soft team on Avalon; with so far impressive performance; able to soundly trounce a professional team (with a handicap, but still); with increasing media coverage; one of them the heiress to one of the planet’s premier families; another an up-and-coming DJ that won the attention of the planet’s biggest media trend-setter; all now attending said trend-setter’s private New Year’s Eve gala… Yup, the girls may well be on their way to teen stardom. Here’s hoping it won’t go to their heads too much...

    Finally, it’s time to head home. Diego drives the Angels back to the Academy, from whence they scatter. He and Alex of course head home together.

    Before that, Diego checks his office. All of Bell’s cruel joking at Samantha’s expense aside, he doesn’t really expect anything drastic to have happened (though, if it did happen, he’s sure he wouldn’t be able to tell anyway, Shelke and Roger being far too professional to leave any evidence...). Diego finds the office in perfect order, as expected. Though some tea has definitely been consumed. He’s sure he’ll find out about the results of Silva’s debriefing soon enough, no use in concerning himself with it now.

    Late evening, it’s time for Diego to set out for the astroport, to meet Yuni. He rides out on his motorcycle, alone, Alex having declined coming with in the name of, as she smirkingly put it, “giving the two lovebirds some space”.

    Yuni debarks the shuttle, looking somewhat tired, both physically (thanks to the trip) and mentally (thanks to her dear family :) - which looks set to expand by a sister-in-law soon). Doesn’t stop her from giving Diego a big, happy grin.

    - Well, well. Been having fun in my absence, I hear. I leave you alone for a week, and you almost end up a father overnight.” - Yuni teases.

    “ - And with the daughter almost all grown up already.” - Diego grins back.

    “ - Highly convenient, eh, skipping diapers and all the other ‘joys’ of raising an offspring?” - Yuni turns a bit serious then. “ - I hope she didn’t take it too hard, you not going through with it?”

    “ - Well, she wasn’t exactly overjoyed, understandably. But I think she’ll be okay.”

    “ - You’re definitely not ready for a step like that?”

    “ - No, not at all, I’m afraid.” - Diego shakes his head ruefully.

    - I can understand that. Definitely not ready myself.” - Yuni smiles again. “ - Be that as it may, you have a housemate now. Guess we’ll have to change some of our habits, eh?” - she winks.

    “ - Or at least change the place we indulge them in.” - nods Diego. ” - Just to not embarrass the girl.” - Yuni snorts in amusement at that. “ - Yeah, yeah, I know - can you even embarrass today’s youth? Especially Alex?” - Diego laughs.

    - Yup. I remember all too well what I was like at that age…” - chuckles Yuni. She sighs. “ - It’s good to be back. Oh, and I got you a little something.”

    “ - Oh?”

    “ - Yeah... I suck at choosing gifts for people. And all the obvious things I could have got you, like motorcycle stuff, is already long taken care of… And you’re not the kind of person to be interested in fun but ultimately useless knick-knacks… So I finally raided my dad’s ‘collection’.”

    “ - Collection?” - Diego raises his eyebrows.

    - Yup. See, he’s kind of, how to call it, an alcohol snob. Likes to acquire only the best, and/or most expensive liquor he can afford… And then usually just sticks it in a cellar forever, instead of drinking it, like the good God intended.” - Yuni shakes her head in mock despair. “ - Totally nuts, I tell you. So, I took the opportunity of liberating this one from his wasteful clutches.” - she presents Diego with a bottle. “ - I thought it might meet with your approval.”

    Diego looks the bottle over. Apparently, it’s tequila, a fully authentic, traditional one, straight from Mexico on Earth.

    “ - Huh. Nice!” - he nods appreciatively.

    “ - Glad you like it. Enjoy in good health.”

    “ - I do hope you’ll join me in that.”

    “ - Oh, gladly!”

    “ - You know, I thought of getting one with some ‘insert’, but dad went on a huge rant, on how those are ‘untraditional’, ‘substandard’, and ‘low sort’... I’d hate to hear what he’d think about that shas infusion you mentioned once…” - Yuni giggles.

    “ - Well, to be completely fair, that one was a rather extreme case.”

    “ - So even among Nomads, some things are considered extreme, huh?” - she teases.

    - I’d shudder to imagine what Bakunin would sink in a booze bottle, except I know they wouldn't bother with such down-to-earth half-measures.” - Diego shakes his head.

    “ - It’s straight to the source with them, huh?”

    “ - You know it. Hard chemistry all the way.”

    “ - And no ‘middle-men’ methods of consumption, I assume, all straight intravenous?”

    “ - Oh, if just that. They have many fun methods of bypassing the liver.”

    “ - Sounds interesting.” - she muses jokingly.

    “ - You think so? Would you really like to sit your bare ass into a basin of contact drug solution?” - Diego smirks wickedly.

    This causes Yuni to dissolve into a fit a helpless giggles.

    “ - Woo, man.” - she’s finally able to catch her breath a few minutes later. “ - That doesn’t sound so bad, really.” - she opines with some residual chuckles. “ - I was expecting an enema or something…”

    “ - Oh, I’m sure you can get that done, too.” - Diego chuckles.

    “ - ...Damn, I missed you.” - Yuni puts one arm around Diego in an affectionate half-hug, leaning into his side with a content sigh.

    - Would you believe me if I said I missed you, too?” - replies Diego playfully, slipping an arm round her waist.

    “ - Shouldn’t I?” - Yuni chuckles, touching heads. “ - So… You think Alex would be very worried if you didn’t come home tonight?” - she purrs, a definite frisky spark in her eye.

    “ - I expect she’ll just wish us fun.” - Diego grins back.

    “ - Let’s go, then. A week was definitely too long…”

    “ - Let’s go, indeed.”

    And so they set out from the astroport in the direction of Yuni’s apartment. Diego does send a quick message to Alex (with a grinning Yuni leaning into the frame for a quick wave), giving her a heads up not to wait up. Exactly as predicted, Alex comes back with a saucily grinning “Have fun, guys!”.

    And so they do.

    Which concludes entry 18#.​
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  2. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #19

    “Not So Harsh Mistress”

    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “
    Gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s). Practising Christian, she sings in a church choir, too.
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).

    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:


    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and AR digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Run by a simple pseudo-intelligence, it’s aware of, and can react to its surroundings - usually with comedic effects.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Frederic “Fred” Ulani - #5 / #7 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]). Hardly anybody uses his name in full form - even on most school papers he’s listed as “Fred Ulani”. Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate - and his prediction comes true, likely somewhen around #9.
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17, Russian) Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses. In #18, she decides to switch sides, and comes to Eva for protection.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her, even if she, Tiana and Samantha were friends back in elementary school. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.

    Neve family security detail:

    Dorothy Smith - #9 (likely late 30s, might be Western European) Head maid of Neve House, and second-in-command to Roger in Evangeline's security detail. Peculiarly pale and deadpan. Quite motherly towards Evangeline. Roger's wife.
    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s, North American) Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard, and commander of Evangeline’s section of the detail. Very devoted to his charge. Dorothy's husband.
    Belladonna (Bell) Shelke - #12 (looks to be in her mid 30s, Eastern European) Tall, with a body like a gymnast, and a smile like a knife. There’s something uncanny and unsettling about her. Seems she fought in the EI War - the question being, on which side?...

    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Cyrus Blaine - #19 (heavily styled to appear in his 30s, Irish by way of North America). Reporter for the Oxyd channel of Maya, likely specialising in jet-set gossip & scandal news. Apparently has the right connections to show up where it counts, like parties thrown by Luna Celeste. Your typical culture vulture, in Diego’s opinion.
    Luna Celeste - #9 / #10 (mentioned / full appearance) (mid 20s, Latinoamerican) The younger of the two “Celeste Sisters”, scions of the Celeste family, the most powerful, wealthy corporate family of Avalon. Patron of the arts, with a considerable power-base in the local entertainment industry. Owns the Blue Moon, the most exclusive, high-class, “in” club in Belo Horizonte. Seems rather puckish. Has taken something of an interest in the Angels of Stone.
    Wakaru Rikoriko - #11 / #19 (mentioned / appearance) (21, Maori) Nyree’s and Koi’s older brother. Very close with and doting on his siblings. Currently attending the police academy.

    Tuesday, December 31

    After a pretty late (at least for them) morning, Diego and Yuni spend most of the day together, in their customary fashion. They take the motorcycles out for a leisurely cruise to their usual spot, and then run, climb, swim, bicycle, and exercise as the fancy strikes them.

    Early evening, it’s time to return home and get ready for the New Year party at the Blue Moon. Diego and Yuni head their separate ways for that.

    Diego returns home, to find it still standing, much to his (jokingly feigned) shock.

    - I’m really surprised, Alex!”

    “ - What, you didn’t believe in me?” - replies Alex in a mock wounded tone.

    - I did, that’s the thing.” - Diego smirks.

    - Yeah, yeah.” - Alex rolls her eyes in obviously fond annoyance. “ - If I burned the place down or something, I’d make myself and Felix homeless, and that just wouldn’t do.”

    “ - Felix?”

    “ - Oh, yeah. I finally named the plant. Felix is the best diminutive I could find for Mephistopheles.” - she declares brightly.

    “ - Felix it is then.” - Diego shakes his head in amusement. Well, the apartment should be able to take one more devil, right?

    As if on cue, the Devil enters the scene, using his pitchfork to push a flowerpot across the table. Doing it this way allows him to keep a safe distance from the pot’s occupant - a cartoonish flesh-eating plant that snaps and gnashes its teeth at him aggressively. Once the plant is where he wants it, the Devil exchanges the pitchfork for a chair and whip, and goes about trying to subdue it, liontamer style. The plant promptly eats the chair.

    Time to pick out an outfit. As the party is designated as a semi-formal affair, Diego doesn’t have to worry too much about his clothes. Still, his customary clubbing choice of attire - biking leathers - would probably be too casual (or at least a wrong, not high-fashion enough type of casual). In the end he goes with his Halloween fancy suit pants, shoes, and shirt, sans tie.

    Alex appears to be heading out early.

    - Yeah, I’ll see you there, Coach. Remember, some time ago, I negotiated a deal with Eva, ‘cause I needed her contacts for something?” - Diego nods. ” - She came through for me… And also apparently decided this is the perfect opportunity to call in her side of the bargain. I’m heading over now. And I already shudder to think what the Princess may have come up with…”

    “ - Still not ready to tell what the whole thing’s about?”

    “ - Since it’s ready, you’ll see tonight. No use explaining now.”

    “ - Alright, if you say so.”

    Soon enough, the time comes to head out. This time, it’s Diego picking Yuin up, for balance’s sake. Though they are taking the motorcycle still.

    The Blue Moon’s entrance is abuzz with activity already, guests arriving under the watchful gaze of security, with a throng of gawkers and media not fortunate enough to be invited in jostling for position outside. It’s not exactly a red carpet affair
    (not least because the carpet is a silver star-studded midnight-blue ;) ), but the proceedings do have a definite air of the high-life.

    Diego and Yuni get to walk the path (the motorcycle taken care of by the parking persona) under the eyes and cameras of the crowd, and are ushered inside the lobby and to the elevators with the same amount of pomp as any of the VIPs. Though there definitely are some curious looks following the two. Good thing neither of them is self-conscious enough to be bothered by feeling out of place.

    On top of the skyscraper, the club is filling up with Belo Horizonte’s and the wider Avalon’s (mostly) young jet-set.

    As expected, there are some quite extravagant pieces of “semi-formal” fashion on display. Including one young woman, some teen diva idol or another, who, Diego is quite sure, should all the AR effects she’s draped with be deactivated, would be left wearing nothing but a fancy comlog bracelet and a two-piece bikini skimpier than anything even Alex would go for. Here’s hoping Patty won’t give in to her subversive instincts, and decide to hack the celebrity’s “clothes” for a prank...

    Luckily, there are enough people wearing actual clothes
    (^_^) around that Diego, Yuni, and the girls can fit in without trouble.

    Yuni went for that wine-red sporty-chic ensemble she wore to the Academy Autumn Music Festival again, apparently with the addition of Diego’s Christmas present, her fingernails shifting through glowing patterns - quite mesmerizing, really.

    Minnie also chose her festival finery, all frilly and pink and cute, but spiced up with her customary clubbing cornucopia of neon-glow accessories.

    Patty’s concession to the semi-formal nature of the gathering is a blue and purple neon-glow tie loosely hung around her neck, as an addition to her typical “working” outfit (baggy cargoes, sleeveless crop-top, chunky kicks, some shiny accessories). Well, she has an image to uphold. And she’s one of the main attractions tonight, all of which are definitely on the casual side. It’s doubtful anybody will think of looking down on her for not enough “formal” in her attire.

    Octy went back to her clubbing stand-by black blouse and pants set, including shades. Relaxed but stylish, it serves the semi-formal occasion quite well.

    Nyree took mercy on the gathering, and chose an outfit that doesn’t include any eye-bending tribal patterns this time. It’s still primarily violet, of course. Also quite adorable, in a “girl tries to look rebellious, but is too cute (and a bit too prudish) to really pull it off“ style.

    Morgan and Dominique arrive together. ‘Nique was again concerned about not owning any clothes that would fit the required dress-code, her formal school uniform not being fashionable enough. She shouldn’t have worried, really, seeing Diego passes muster just fine in his decidedly non-extravagant shirtsleeves and slacks (though no doubt some pundit will look down their nose at Diablo in some fashion-focused media piece from the event), but then girls, by inclination or social construct, usually put more importance on this stuff…

    Well, looks like Morgan decided to help with that. Also, to jokingly reinforce the theme of both girls being the ones to “wear the pants in this team”. As such, Morgan and ‘Nique are wearing matching outfits - modern, relaxed but sharp cut dress suits; pants, jacket, vest, shirt, tie, the works. And it looks like the suits are fully bespoke, fitted perfectly to their figures. The tailoring leaves no doubt whatsoever, that, despite being decidedly male-fashion styled, the suits are being worn by women. The ensemble does wonders for ‘Nique especially, the often-androgynous-seeming girl actually looking probably the most feminine they ever saw her, in this ostensibly men's suit. Nobody will be mistaking her for a boy tonight!

    It also seems it could be seriously boosting ‘Nique’s self-confidence... As soon as she can stop being embarrassed about Morgan paying for her clothes.

    - Girl, you really must learn how to accept gifts.” - Morgan, not unkindly, cuts through Dominique’s renewed thanks and “you shouldn’t haves” with her even tone. “ - Ain’t no charity, doing a solid for a friend, right?” - she gives the other girl her tiny smile. ‘Nique smiles back, finally letting it go for tonight.

    Evangeline arrives finally, making a bit of a splash in the crowd - interacting with her only in the school setting, it’s easy to sometimes forget that she is indeed somewhat of a famous face on the planet at large. The Princess also came quite a long way in the partying department, learning to let loose quite a bit, both in attitude and clothing. Her ensemble today seemingly effortlessly combines a dazzling little white dress and elegantly arranged hair, held up with jeweled pins, with stylish wedge sneakers and color-coordinated neon jewelry in a style almost artistic, and not at all gaudy. Eva can’t resist striking a little pose. Patty, playing into what seems to have become a running joke between them, grades the Princess's party attire by giving a double thumbs-up, grinning.

    As it quickly turns out, Eva is not alone.

    The tall, dark, elegant form of Roger Smith, hanging back to give his charge space but always watchful, is not hard to spot, and no surprise.

    Alex, on the other hand, takes her time with revealing herself. Now, Alex having arrived with Evangeline is no big surprise either, at least to Diego, knowing they were going to meet up earlier. But the Alex that reluctantly steps out from behind Eva is a very different-looking one than what they are all used to...

    - What? What are you all staring at?” - Alex grumbles, crossing her arms and looking away, an embarrassed, shy blush flooding her face. “ - You’d think you never seen a girl wear a dress before…”

    This particular girl? No, never. Because that’s what Alex is wearing - a dress! A pretty white number, rather modest - with a reasonable neckline, half-length sleeves, and a loose, above the knee skirt - and quite elegant in it’s simplicity. Alex’s hair is left loose, out of it’s customary ponytail, combed neat and brushed to a shine, and there’s even a shade of makeup on her face. The only thing left of her old image, are the eternal, beat up combat boots. They do clash rather badly, but apparently Alex refused to give them up.

    “ - This is… Different.” - deadpans Morgan.

    - Trying out a new style, chica?” - Diego rises an eyebrow.

    - Awww! You look so cute!” - Minnie gushes, rushing in for a hug, making Alex blush and grumble even more, trying to fend her off.

    - What brought this on?” - wonders ‘Nique.

    - It’s the Princess’ idea of calling in a favour.” - grouses Alex.

    - I was just curious what you’d look like with a little makeover. I had a feeling with some time and effort, you could be made quite presentable. And I was right - you do clean up rather nicely.” - Eva smirks with mock-haughtiness.

    - Well, don’t get used to it...”

    “ - It… Looks kinda nice on you, actually…” - muses Nyree.

    - Erm… R-really?” - Alex’s blush goes a shade darker.

    - Sure!” - Nyree suddenly blushes herself. “ - I-I mean, if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t make yourself wear it…” - she backpedals awkwardly. “ - ...But it’s not a bad look for you, at all, is all I’m saying. You could, maybe, go for it sometimes, just to change things up? But only if you feel like it...” - Nyree finishes shyly.

    - Ah… T-thanks, I guess.” - Alex is obviously quite embarrassed, but also pleased. “ - Um… Yours is… Nice too...?” - she offers awkwardly.

    Octavia hides a giggle behind her hand. Minnie and Yuni don’t even try.

    - ‘Kay, enough with that, already.” - growls Alex, still blushing. “ - There’s something else I have to take care of…” - she steps towards Nyree.

    Now that they’d all absorbed enough of Alex’s new look not to be distracted anymore, they notice she’s carrying something. A flat, rectangular package, wrapped in glossy violet paper. This she extends to Nyree.

    - Here you go, Nerd.” - declares Alex softly. “ - It’s a little late for Christmas presents, but it took that long to get this, even with the Princess’ contacts… Hell, in this case, it’s actually very, very late, anyway…” - she fidgets awkwardly as Nyree, face puzzled, takes the package.

    Nyree quickly unwraps the present. Everyone leans in, curious. Alex hangs back, playing at nonchalance, but it’s obvious she’s anxious about how the gift will be received.

    What it turns out to be, is a book. A real, honest-to-goodness paper book, largish and thick, in faux-leather hardcover. Definitely not something you see everyday in this quantronic age.

    The title, in fancy, ornate script, reads “Scenes From the Lives of Dragons”.

    - No… No way…” - Nyree’s eyes go wide, mouth forming a little “o”, as she slowly, almost reverently, runs her hand over the cover, then opens the book to the title page. Her eyes go even wider. “ - I-it’s even signed and dedicated…” - Nyree turns a few pages, then looks up at Alex, face full of wonder.

    “ - Oooh, it’s so pretty! And funny! What is it?” - wonders Minnie, staring in delighted fascination at the full page illustration of a rather cartoonish, lovably goofy dragon, apparently busy pouring soup from a thermos.* The rest crowd in to get a look, the picture causing giggles and appreciative sounds.

    - It’s an old book I once owned.” - Nyree explains, still looking at Alex. “ - It’s a kids story, about dragons and their daily lives. It was my absolute favorite for a long time. I was lucky enough to get a physical copy, signed with a dedication by the author. I loved that book. A little too much… It always cheered me up. So once, I couldn’t resist taking it to school with me…” - she sighs, a little sadly.

    - I destroyed it.” - finishes Alex glumly, confirming what Diego, and probably the rest were already suspecting. “ - Fed the ‘pathetic, childish, nerdy’ thing to the recycling disassembler.” - she looks away in shame. “ - I realize it’s years too late… You probably had it replaced long ago… And I couldn’t remember the dedication, so I had Eva go for a generic one… But I just felt… I owed it to you, you know?” - Alex shrugs helplessly. “ - I know, it probably looks like a pathetic attempt at bribery…” - she shifts awkwardly. ” - Just replacing this one thing? No way can it magically make everything better, take back all that stuff I did before…But- ! ” - Alex swallows whatever she tried to say in surprise and shock, as Nyree steps forward and envelops her in an awkward but sincere hug.

    - Thank you.” - Nyree looks up at Alex, a somewhat silly grin on her face, eyes a bit wet. “ - Yeah, you are right - it’s a transparent attempt at bribery. Thing is? It seems to be working.” - she giggles. “ - I never got another paper copy. Even if I did, I never had another opportunity to have it signed. And I didn’t realize how much I missed the thing. So, thank you, Alex. It means a lot.” - Nyree declares with utter sincerity, smiling at Alex.

    “ - W-well then, you’re welcome, Nyree.” - Alex, sporting the darkest blush yet, smiles back, and dares to return the awkward hug, just for a moment.

    The others are somehow able to restrain themselves from ruining the moment by embarrassing the two further with excessive cooing (though it seems to involve Octy physically restraining Patty, and Morgan distracting Minnie with sweets...).

    - Sooo…” - Minnie puts in after Nyree and Alex are done. “ - We have a few minutes left before the party really starts… Show us the cute dragons!” - she grins.

    And it does look like she isn’t the only one interested in going through Nyree’s book.

    “ - Alright.” - laughs Nyree.

    • GM note: This book and it’s contents are actually based on a real storybook that used to be one of my favorites as a child.
    - Erm… Before you do? Could I maybe… Talk to you for a second?...” - speaks up a hesitant voice.

    It’s Samantha Silva. Diego was wondering if she was going to come with Eva. The girl is obviously nervous and uncomfortable as all eyes turn to her, but she stands her ground. Evangeline gives her an encouraging smile. The other Angels are not exactly enthused at Samantha’s presence still, but at least none are openly hostile anymore… Except for Octavia, whose sudden dark aura of enmity takes Patty, who’s standing next to her, by surprise, causing the DJ to do a double-take at her normally mild friend. Luckily, her reserved nature wins out, and Octy is for now content to glare from the back row.

    “ - Coach Ibarrez, Miss Iskandar, everyone...” - Silva nods a polite greeting, trying to project confidence she doesn’t quite feel. “ - I’ll try not to get in your way tonight… But there’s one thing I need to say.” - she turns to Minuette. “ - Chryse?”

    “ - Me?”

    “ - Yes. I… I want to apologize.” - there are quite a few raised eyebrows. “ - I think I should be completely honest with you. I… Can’t say that I really like you.” - Samantha declares seriously, looking Minnie in the eye. “ - I find you… Annoying. Too loud, uncouth, and rather inane.” - Silva shifts uncomfortably, as some of the others bristle at this unflattering description of Minnie, delivered with such candidness. Minuette herself stays silent, face neutral, look inviting Silva to continue. Which she does, after adjusting her glasses in a nervous gesture, “ - But, all that said… I owe you an apology. What we did to you, what I let myself do? Pretending to become your friend, just so we could more effectively hurt you? That was just beyond the pale. And I’m… Really sorry, Chryse. I don’t expect you to believe me… But I wanted you to know. I’m sorry...” - Samantha repeats, then trails off uncertainly, eyes lowered. Eva places a supportive hand on Silva’s shoulder, giving her a small, proud smile.

    There’s a moment of silence as Minnie gives Samantha a long look, face unreadable. The others wait in silence, obviously feeling it should be her to respond first, though some, most notably Octy, obviously don’t feel like that apology was worth all that much, especially with the preface.

    Then Minnie breaks out into a big, sunny smile and steps up to Samantha, enveloping her in her patented huge friendly hug.

    - Apology accepted! I forgive you, Sam!” - declares Minnie brightly and sincerely, smooshing their cheeks together.

    “ - Ah…” - Samantha squirms. “ - Did- did you miss the part about how I don’t really like you?...”

    “ - That’s okay! I still like you!” - decides Minnie, beaming.

    - If everyone was like our Minnie, we’d have world peace.” - muses Diego jokingly.

    “ - Yeah, or at least a lot more candy!” - chuckles Yuni.

    Most everyone else shares a laugh at that. Well, if Minuette herself is okay with Samantha, who are they to blow against the wind, at least for tonight? The one exception is still Octavia, her little cloud of hostility unrelenting. Luckily, she soon gets distracted by Fred (both Octy and Minnie are here with their boyfriends tonight; both boys hung back for a bit, letting the girls have their team-bonding time).

    Finally, a somewhat disconcerted and bewildered Samantha is dragged along to look through Nyree’s dragon book.

    With still a few minutes before the event starts properly, Patricia becomes more and more visibly nervous. It’s stage fright again. But it’s not the audience tonight, though, even being much higher class than last time. What seems to be intimidating her now (in a rather comical reversal, having Patty actually try to hide behind Octy at one time) are the people she’ll be sharing the stage with.

    - Ohmygosh! Look, there’s NeonKatt!” - Patty squeals, pointing out a peppy, young, 20-something looking woman, with glowing pastel-red hair in two high, puffy ponytails, and enough neon jewelry to rival even Minnie, “ - She’s awesome! Ohmygosh-ohmygosh! And that there is N-Blook!” - a similarly young man, kind of melancholic looking, very pale, head shaved bald, with a set of huge headphones, dressed all in white, “ - He’s sooo cool! Ohmygosh, I’m going on stage with them!” - Patty is practically vibrating with excitement and nerves in equal measure. “ - How am I supposed to do that?! They’re huge, and I’m just a nobody!“

    “ - Please, none of that defeatist talk, Miss Summers! You’re absolutely somebody! You’ll fit right in, and rock the house, I’m totally sure.”

    “ - Luna!” - Diego grins at the lady of the house. “ - Good to see you!”

    “ - Diego! How’s it going, Space Cowboy? Looking good!” - Miss Celeste grins right back.

    It sure looks like Luna has pulled out all the stops for this occasion. Last time, she was an elfin, tomboyish girl in torn jeans and tiny biker jacket. Today, she’s a graceful, ethereal, dark queen of the night! Quite similar to Alex, she is wearing a dress and combat boots. Unlike Alex, all embarrassed, awkward, and mis-matched, Luna totally owns the look. Her living-night-sky hair is even more awesome today, and the midnight blue, slim, sleeveless dress is spruced up with some matching AR magic. Stronger and darker than last time, but still subtle makeup completes the look. Part thick soles and elevated heels on the boots, part the AR effects, and part bearing, she seems taller, larger, bolder. More powerful. And there’s an edge of danger and darkness to her persona now, spiced up with more than a bit of sensual allure. Miss Celeste could easily be an evil sorceress-queen from a fantasy vid! Or maybe a vampire seductress… All together quite stunning.

    - See you’ve brought the girls. All of them. Entire fanclub worth.” - she winks. She exchanges a round of greetings with the Angels, many of them rather awe-struck.

    - I wouldn’t really call them a fanclub…”

    “ - What would you call them, then? ...Harem?” - Luna waggles her eyebrows suggestively. A darker, nobler persona or not, her impishness is quite well in place, it seems.

    - Most of them are way too young for that.” - Diego shakes his head in mock disapproval at her antics. “ - Usually, I just call them my Team*.”

    • * The actual term Diego used here could be translated either as “sport team”, or “military squad”...
    - Well, it is good to finally meet you all in person. Been following your exploits for a while. And I must say I’m impressed.” - Miss Celeste nods seriously at the girls. “ - The Angels of Stone are going places, I can tell. Keep on rocking! Speaking of which, I guess we should properly kick this party off!”

    “ - Need someone to help with the boot application*?” - Diego grins.

    “ - I should be fine, but thanks for offering.” - Luna smirks. “ - I seem to be better equipped tonight, anyway.” - she adds looking at Diego’s dress shoes and her own boots.

    • * The original joke used here, with Luna going to “set things in motion” - which can be the same expression used for “undoing screws” - and Diego offering a screwdriver, is sadly untranslatable.
    - Host duty calls, but we’ll probably get a chance to mingle again. Have fun, everybody. Just be careful of the media. Place’s crawling with them.” - Luna’s eye roll is one of mostly fond annoyance.

    “ - I’ve noticed.”

    “ - Yeah, most of them are alright, but you never know what’ll get into their head. At least some of them are liable to twist anything you say if it’ll get them a juicy story to generate views...”

    “ - They’re liable to do that even if you don’t say anything.” - Diego points out, shrugging.

    - There is that, true!” - Luna laughs. “ - Gotta go. See you all later. And I’m looking forward to DJ Scratch with great anticipation!” - she gives Patty a last encouraging grin, before disappearing into the crowd with a wave.

    - Well, well, Mr. Coach!” - teases Yuni, ” - First name basis with such a celebrity?”

    “ - What can I say, I get around.” - chuckles Diego.

    “ - An interesting woman…” - Yuni muses.

    - Certainly likes to make an impression.” - nods Diego.

    “ - And she likes us!” - cheers Minnie. “ - You heard her, she thinks we rock!”

    “ - Maybe we could get her to sponsor us, then?” - wonders Morgan.

    “ - That is a thought.” - nods Diego thoughtfully. “ - We could look into negotiating something…”

    “ - Wonder what we could offer her in return?...”

    “ - The Coach.” - declares Minnie confidently. “ - What?” - she giggles at the looks the others give her, a good mixture of baffled, scandalized, and amused, “ - Way she looks at him? Believe me, as I know anything, I know those type of looks…” - she grins with sly assurance.

    - That… Would be a rather too steep a price for a sponsorship, I’d think.” - Yuni frowns a bit. “ - Certainly, can’t say I blame her…” - she smirks, demonstratively looking Diego up and down, “ - Still, I’d much prefer to not have to share.” - Yuni declares, turning serious again.

    “ - I promise, you won’t have to.” - Diego nods firmly, giving her a tender smile (Minnie coos in the background).

    A few moments later, Luna takes the stage and officially starts the party with a short welcoming speech.

    And they’re off! Soon the revelry is in full swing, all present determined to ring in the New Year in style.

    All through the night, the DJs are on rotating duty, so each can have time to recharge and do a good amount of partying of their own. They mostly perform solo, but occasionally team up in duets or trios for improvised “duels” or jam sessions. And it’s obvious they’re all having a great time!

    Patty’s fears of the others seeing her as an upstart nobody prove to have been completely unfounded, as she’s enthusiastically welcomed to the small coven of “Celeste’s Chosen Bards”. Patricia is left equal parts amazed, gratified, and abashed, when it turns out the others, her idols and role-models all, have not only actually heard of her, but have praise for DJ Scratch’s work! It looks like she’s near fainting when the neon-bedecked girl, Katt, asks for an autograph!

    Soon, they’re hanging out, having fun together, both onstage and off. Patty also takes great delight in introducing the DJs to the team.

    Luna’s prediction comes true, and DJ Scratch does indeed rock the house! Not that any of the others are in any way slouches themselves. Miss Celeste definitely has an eye - or ear in this case! - for finding true talent!

    The Angels let loose, on their own or in groups, drifting from one to another as the mood strikes them. And Diego and Yuni are definitely doing their share of the partying.

    Their relative social obscurity, at least in the circles most of the other guests belong to, does lead to some puzzled looks and curious whispers, and hurried comlog searches!

    - Who’s that?”

    “ - No idea! But I’ve seen them talk to Celeste...”

    “ - I’m told they’re on first name basis!”

    “ - No way! Must be someone important! How come I haven’t heard of them?”

    “ - Well, they’re together with the Neve girl…”

    “ - And now Luna took the guy dancing, look!”

    Indeed, somewhat later in the night, Luna does emerge from the Moonlit darkness once again, to spirit Diablo away for a bit of dancing. Quite lively dancing.

    Yeah, Minnie is definitely right about this one... Still, consummate social animal she is, and simply a considerate, gentle woman besides, Luna respects Diego and Yuni’s relationship, and does not seem to intend to truly try seducing him away. At the same time, however, impish rogue she also is, she doesn’t seem to intend to stop showing her interest at all! Subtly and wittily, but still. At least as long as Diego himself isn’t bothered by it and asks her to stop - which he isn’t and doesn’t.

    Of course, Yuni may also have something to say about this… And Luna, being herself, gives her the opportunity - by sweeping miss Iskandar into a dance in turn! It’s a rather shell-shocked Yuni that reunites with Diego a while later.

    - A very interesting woman…” - Yuni mumbles, blushing a bit.

    - Anything I should know?” - Diego’s smile is gentle and teasing at once. Though he manages to resist the temptation of asking, whether he should be the one to start being jealous now.

    - No, it’s fine. I just have to… Digest it, is all.” - Yuni assures, shaking her head with a somewhat bemused smile.

    Well, at least it doesn’t look like Yuni will be attempting to cut short any perceived competition, by, say, snapping Luna in half like a dry stick! Which she totally could - and, knowing her straightforward approach to life, most likely would! - do…

    Sometime later, Diego finds himself alone again, Yuni having headed for the bathroom. And as he’s perusing the buffet (because of course there’s is one, and a very high class one at that; a bar is fine for a typical clubbing night, but nobody’s going to literally party all night on an empty stomach!) somebody comes striding up to him with a bold gait.

    - Ah, coach Ibarrez! I was hoping to run into you tonight! ” - the man favors Diego with a winning grin. Early thirties (or at least a good stylization) and vaguely hinting at Irish ancestry, tall and slender, two-tone blonde hair slicked back, dressed in a gold and black slacks, shirt, and vest ensemble. Playing at rakishly handsome. A media type, as immediately betrayed by the small recording drone - a golden pyramid with a single white optic eye and a black antenna that looks a bit like a comically thin top hat - floating above his right shoulder. “ - Allow me: Cyrus Blaine, Belo Horizonte’s resident for people interests and entertainment on the channel Oxyd. May I take up a bit of your time?” - he offer his hand, grin never faltering. AR tags dutifully confirm his identity. Oxyd, huh?

    - By all means!” - Diego shakes his hand heartily, putting on his best friendly grin in return. “ - And ‘Diego’ is quite fine, mister Blaine.”

    “ - Please then, Diego, Cyrus is more than enough! So happy to meet you!”

    “ - Pleasure’s all mine. What can I do for you, Cyrus? An interview? With insignificant ‘ol me?“

    “ - Not so insignificant, my good man! Sure, most of those high and mighty,“ - Blaine indicates the general company, “ - May not know you - yet! But you, and your team, are an up-and-coming sensation on our little planet, I assure you!”

    “ - If you say so. Still, working on New Year’s Eve? Must be a hassle!”

    “ - Somebody has to! And I wouldn’t exactly call it a hassle, seeing as I get to attend miss Celeste’s party. This is the place to be tonight!“ - Blaine nods sincerely. “ - Especially as I get to meet such interesting people…” - he grins at Diego.

    “ - Well then, what would you like to talk about?”

    “ - Let’s start at the beginning, so to say! Some may be wondering, why would a retired Nomad veteran officer - a war hero, no less! The Lazarus Rescue, very impressive! - choose to leave the Motherships for PanOceania? They do say, if you can’t see what’s it about, it’s usually about money... So, is it?“ - ah, yes, here we go. Diego believes he has got the measure of this guy.

    “ - Well, I’m tempted to use the tired joke, and say that if I told you, I’d have to kill you…” - Diego’s grin is nothing if friendly, “ - But the truth is rather pedestrian and undramatic, and no secret at all. What it is, is really pretty boring. But if you like, I can tell you all about it. See, the main reason I’m here? I was bored at home!”

    “ - Oh?”

    “ - Yeah. See, it’s no secret why I retired: there was nothing more for me to do. Once even the Nomad Jurisdictional Forces switched to remote presence-operated TAGs? No more work for me, war hero or not.” - Diego shrugs.

    “ - So the job offer from an Avalon high school?...”

    “ - Close enough to my qualifications, and sure as Hell beats twirling my thumbs on Corregidor.”

    “ - So, still chasing the chance for that adrenaline surge? The excitement of combat? Trying to recapture some of that glory gone by?” - Cyrus waggles his eyebrows.

    “ - Eh, tell you the truth, I had really enough of that in my service life. Nowadays? It’s mostly chasing a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” - Diablo smirks.

    And so it goes round for several minutes. See, Diego has had his fair share of experience with media people - most when he had his “five minutes of fame” after his resurrection, as one of the heroes of the Lazarus. And he thinks he knows Blain’s type: the consummate vulture, hunting for the smallest scrap of scandal, real or imagined, to spin into sensational drivel. Not like the Nomads don’t have their fair share of those... Simply put, Blaine is exactly the type Luna warned them about. Luckily, Diablo knows how to handle him.

    Though Cyrus’ effusive, genial demeanor never falters, Diego can tell the guy is slowly getting more and more frustrated. Tough luck, as Diego has no intention of feeding the scavenger, smoothly evading all his fishing, pokes, and baited probes (like ones about the bullying trouble the Angels had and Diego’s own, probation-resulting intervention in it, or Diego’s relationship with Yuni, who is after all technically his subordinate) with cheerful, elaborate blandness.

    Blaine definitely didn’t find himself a Nomad savage here, wetting himself in joy at Oxyd wanting to talk to him. Especially as, let’s be honest, Go-Go Marlene he ain't...

    Of course, Diego’s evasions remain immaculately polite all the way through. No sense in making enemies needlessly. Even if he would prefer to kick the vulture down the stairs...

    Finally, Blaine has had enough, and, after pumping Diego’s hand with a winning grin and offering hearty thanks for his time, makes himself scarce, remote dutifully following.

    “ - I see you’ve met mr. Blaine.” - Roger Smith steps up, giving Diego a respectful nod. ” - And sent him packing. Expertly done, Coach Ibarrez.”

    “ - Had his number from word one. Won’t let myself be licked by a media vulture. Learned that lesson while he was still in elementary school, I suspect.” - Diego smirks. “ - I find specimens like that are best handled like a champignon mushroom: keep in the dark, and feed lots of bullshit.”

    “ - Indeed.” - Roger allows himself a ghost of a smirk. “ - Mr. Blaine has a special place on our watch list.”

    “ - Oh?”

    “ - When he first took his resident position, some three years ago, he attended a party at the Neve House, and sweet-talked the Young Miss into an interview…

    “ - Uh-oh…”

    “ - Quite. What he made with this material wasn’t really all that harmful, and it did get him lots of attention… But it also did manage to reduce Miss Eva to tears. It was a valuable lesson to her in dealing with the media… Still, he knows better than try approaching her again. To this day, some of the boys have a standing bet, over which would happen first in such a case - Shelke feeding him his own tongue, or Dorothy giving him several compound fractures.” - Roger gives a little shake of his head in mock disapproval.

    - Lucky for him, neither of the ladies is present tonight…”

    “ - Yes. Dorothy attends to Mr. and Mrs. Neve at the other Celeste party... And Shelke is... Otherwise occupied.” - Roger stresses the last part meaningfully.

    Diego nods in comprehension.

    - Hey, guys! Anything happen while I was away?” - inquires Yuni jokingly as she rejoins Diego.

    “ - Coach Ibarrez made a new friend.” - reports Roger.

    - Oh? Anyone interesting?”

    “ - Someone interested, rather.” - Diego smirks.

    “ - Another one?” - Yuni doesn’t quite seem to know wether to laugh or scowl.

    “ - A media type.” - explains Diego calmingly. “ - Let me tell you all about that charming fellow…”

    The party continues. Finally, the big moment arrives. Luna leads everyone into the countdown, and as the clock strikes midnight, it is officially...

    Wednesday, January 1

    ...The new year on Avalon! Bring out the champagne!

    Fireworks go off all over the city, not least the splendid display put on by the Blue Moon itself. And the view of that from up here is truly spectacular!

    - Here’s to the new year.” - toasts Yuni. ” - Not that this past one was at all bad! Especially the last three months.”

    “ - Can’t complain, true.” - nods Diego.

    “ - And look how far we’ve come in such short time.”

    “ - Here’s hoping we’ll go even further this year.”

    “ - So, any New Year Resolutions?”

    “ - Not really. Prefer to take things as they come instead of chaining myself to a plan.”

    “ - Hm, let’s do that, then.”

    The night is still young, there’s more partying to be done, and everybody is eager to get to it.

    The girls certainly have a lot of party left in them! There’s dancing (at least a few drag their Coach off to the dance floor - not that he really resists), mingling, food, some games, and lots of general fun.

    With some gentle nudging of both sides from Evangeline, Samantha manages to hold perfectly civil, and even pleasant, conversations and hang out a bit with at least some of the Angels, like Nyree and Morgan.

    And this time, instead of dragging Nyree away from the excellent, light pollution-filtered view offered by the club’s windows, some of the girls actually join her for a small, quiet spot of stargazing.

    Finally though, well into the wee hours of the morning, all their energy levels start to flag, and the party starts to wind down. Time to go home. The guests start slowly departing, and the Angels are no exception, drifting off in ones and twos.

    Minuette is carried out by Illya, wrapped around his front, koala-style, snoring and drooling into his shoulder. Looks like this party completely drained even her seemingly-bottomless reserves of energy, even with the Moon’s lowered gravity. No wonder, she was really going wild out there. Illya’s expression is his default scowl, but having since met him more up close, they can all now detect traces of a patient, tender smile around it’s edges.

    Patty, in a happy, sleepy glow of success, says goodnight to all her friends, old and new, and heads out alone. But not without sending a last teasingly encouraging wink at Octy, who’ll be going home (probably…) escorted by Fred...

    Diego and Yuni make sure all the, by now quite tired, Angels are safely on their way home... Which hits a little snag, as it turns out that, when nobody was looking for a moment, Nyree, the last one left now beside Alex, has also already fallen asleep! Curled up on a seat in their bar booth, little Rikoriko turns out quite resistant to attempts to rouse her.

    - We should call her home. Someone has to come pick her up.” - muses Yuni.

    - Her older brother is supposed to do it anyway.” - reports Alex. “ - Just let them know he should be on his way.

    Once that is done, all that remains is to wait a bit… And get Nyree downstairs. Diego considers simply picking up and carrying her, but Alex beats him to it. Not without some difficulty, but working with surprising patience and care, Alex manages to get Nyree situated and pick her up, piggy-back style. Carrying the smaller girl to the elevator, through the ride, and then outside to the car provides no further problem.

    Behind Alex’s back, Yuni, observing the goings on, gives Diego an equal parts bemused, amused, and touched grin.

    As promised, Nyree’s older brother, Wakaru, arrived to drive his sister home. It’s Diego’s first occasion to see this particular Rikoriko sibling in person, though they don’t really have time to interact outside a short greeting. A tall, well-built, and quite handsome fellow, Wakaru cuts an impressive figure. More importantly, he carries the air of an upstanding, trustworthy person. And the affection and care he has for his little sister is instantly obvious to see from a single look.

    Alex, under Wakaru’s gimlet eye, manages to gently deposit Nyree on the back seat (which proves a bit more difficult than anticipated, as the sleeping girl apparently got quite comfortable on Alex’s back, and for a moment doesn’t want to let go!), and strap her in. Reminded by Diego, she also makes sure Rikoriko’s got her dragon book.

    Nyree chooses this exact moment to rouse to semi-consciousness and take bleary stock of her situation.

    “ - Oh, did you carry me here?... Thank you, Alex…” - mumbles Nyree, then leans forward and places a small, affectionate peck on Alex’s cheek. “ - For the book, and everything… Goodnight…” - she proceeds to drift off again with a tiny, guileless smile.

    - ...Y-you’re welcome, Nyree… G-goodnight…” - whispers Alex shakily, cheeks burning, very deliberately avoiding looking at Wakaru.

    After the Rikorikos drive off, Alex stays staring off into space after the car, expression rather comically dazed, hand resting on her still flushed cheek,

    “ - You okay, chica?” - asks Diego.” - Need a ride home?”

    “ - ...No, thanks, Coach. I’m fine. You go on ahead. I’m guessing you won’t be heading home anyway…” - she gives Diego and Yuni a little teasing smirk, though it’s obviously distracted. “ - I’ll make my own way back. A bit of a walk to cool down will do me good…”

    “ - As you wish, chica. You’re a big girl. But if you need anything, call.”

    “ - Sure. Thanks. Goodnight!”

    And so Diego and Yuni take his motorcycle to Yuni’s apartment, while Alex, a little longing, hopeful smile on her face, walks off into the fading night...

    Well, good thing there’s nothing important to do today, as it’s mighty doubtful any of the Angels will be getting out of bed before at least noon! Probably much later.

    After they wake up, Diego and Yuni again spend what’s left of the day together, though they take it much more easy today.

    Also, when Diego finally sees Alex again later that day, it’s obvious she has indulged in some “fun” substance or another, but at least she hasn’t gotten into any brawl or other trouble, and she’s seems in high spirits, so the hangover can’t be that bad.

    Later in the day, Diego gets a call from Evangeline. She wants to inform him, that the blackmail (though she doesn’t use that word over comlog) situation has been taken care of. Shelke’s run yesterday night has been successful, not least because of some of the information Silva provided.

    - That’s great news, indeed. Though, that’s probably as much as we should discuss it right now, chica.”

    - You’re probably right, Coach.”

    Well, we’ll see how Diamante will react once she finds out what happened in her absence. She’ll be back on Saturday, though it’s highly probable she won’t know anything is amiss until Monday - knowing her, Eva says she’s unlikely to try “summoning” Samantha before then, and she feels secure enough not to immediately rush to check on her hidden files upon her return…

    “ - Still, there’s another thing I wanted to ask you about, Eva.”

    “ - Yes?”

    “ - I was thinking about Samantha. Were you planning on bringing her into the team?”

    “ - You mean, recruiting her, Coach?” - Eva blinks in surprise. “ - You would allow that?”

    “ - I may not be fond of her - why would I be? - but she does genuinely seem to have come over to our side. I’m cautiously open to giving her a chance.” - he doesn’t feel like mentioning, it would be rather hypocritical of him, denying Silva, after he spent so much time on Narahari. “ - If nothing else, this would be probably the best way of getting the chica some of that protection from Dimante we owe her.”

    “ - Maybe… This would depend mostly on the other girls being okay with it.”

    “ - Well, I think she’d have at least Minnie on her side, right off the bat.” - they share a fond smile. ” - The rest? Remains to be seen. She hasn’t as of yet given the girls many reasons to like her, but neither has Alex, when we were starting out.”

    “ - Well, we all managed to get along with Narahari… It would be great, not having to segregate my friends…” - she sighs wistfully. ” - At least all of them are true friends, and haven’t all bucked and ordered me to choose, Sam or the Angels, which I’m immensely grateful for… Alright, let’s ask the girls about this next time we’re together.” - Eva nods decisively. ” - And speaking of that, any plans on that front, before the next semester starts?”

    “ - I’ll have to check in with them, but we could most likely get together with the Spiders, for our normal paintball Saturday. They should all be sober after the New Year celebrations by then.” - Diego smirks.

    - I’ll call around to ask the girls, then. Well, except Alex, I guess, you can do that directly. I’ll send you a confirmation. Goodbye, Coach.”

    “ - See you, Eva.”

    Thursday, January 2 - Friday, January 3

    The rest of the week is spent mostly just relaxing, taking advantage of the last few days of freedom, before school and work picks back up on Monday.

    Diego in Yuni spend a lot of time together, in their usual manner.

    Alex continues to be an unproblematic house-mate. She works morning shifts at Silva’s, and is usually off doing her own thing in the evenings, miraculously (or not so much, really, nowadays) staying out of trouble.

    Diego does get in touch with Bolo, and they set up for the customary Angels-Spiders paintball Saturday.

    Diego also keeps up with the news. For some time now, he had his comlog monitoring the news for any mentions of the Angels in particular, and also subscribed to TAG-Soft feeds in general, to stay abreast of developments in the trade.

    What’s making the news this time, is Minuette’s sexual harassment case. And it looks like things are going forward. A suspect, one Ciro, last initial R, a student at the Academy and apparently a hacker of some note, has, after being previously detained for investigation, been just officially put under arrest and charged. And things do not look good for him. Apparently, just like Alex, he’s only several months away from his majority. And the charges levied against him are serious enough that the court decided to persecute him as an adult. He is possibly looking at quite a heavy sentence here. His family is wealthy enough to afford an excellent defense attorney, but there’s only so much that can be done, as the evidence already secured against Ciro seems quite conclusive. Notably, such solid foundation for the charges could be assembled, reportedly, thanks to an anonymous tip-off - two separate ones, in fact! - that the investigators received, letting them get to him and his files quickly, before he had a chance to erase too much of the evidence. The media speculates those tips most probably came from Ciro’s fellow hackers, wishing to remain unnamed to avoid being stigmatized by the rest of their community for being snitches.

    Diego files away this curiosity. One of the tips was from Patricia, he knows, but who provided the other one? Could it be the investigators setting up false leaks, to further protect their source, just in case? Or someone else in the know also having an attack of conscience?

    Anyway, excellent news. This should save Diablo the trouble of needing to pull off the punk’s head, lungs included, himself. Sure, they’re in PanOceania, the trash is going to get PanOceanian justice (with ALEPH slimy quantronic paws all over the court system) and jail, instead of an expedient and conclusive walk out of an airlock he’d likely receive from the victim’s family and friends, were they back on Corregidor… Still, their turf, their perp, their rules. And for a spoiled upper-middle class prat, what he’s in for likely won’t come off as a vacation at all. Diego will just have to call this good enough.

    Looks like Diego should expect official court summons to testify soon. Some of the girls and other students already did their part.

    Good. This looks to be well on it’s way to a happy (well, as happy as things can be after the disgusting deed already transpired) conclusion.

    In less dramatic, a bit more fun news, there is of course the media coverage from Luna’s New Year Gala. Looks like the Anjos de Rocha got some nice exposure from it. The lion’s share of that being focused on Patty and Eva, being the most high-profile and visible, but the others, and the team as a whole, also got some good highlight, as a novelty if nothing else. And the more tabloid of the Maya channels are already rife with speculation as to Diego’s - and Yuni’s
    (^_^) - possible triangle affair with Luna! Not as if nobody saw that coming...

    And there’s of course Diego’s new “friend”, Cyrus Blaine. He’s definitely trying, milking his interview with Diablo for all the cheap thrills he can get away with, but the Coach did well in not giving the media vulture much to work with. Blaine could probably spin things a bit more aggressively, and still get some good trashy sensation out of it anyway, but he probably doesn’t want to burn his bridges yet, hoping to manage to get something more juicy out of the Angels in the future.

    The future of the Angels is definitely also on Diego’s mind. It’s time to start really looking for the next official match, especially as it most likely won’t be possible to play it immediately. Fortunately, Minuette did pass on news from her older sister, that the Bourak Institute of Planetology team may be contacting him very soon.

    There’s also recruiting Samantha Silva to consider. They can’t really make her a full active roster member, for the simple reason of not having a machine available for her. Their budget, good as it is now, would be completely unable to support them buying and operating another TAG. So Silva would be relegated to reserve status. She can do simulator and paintball training just fine, and through the magic of AR would even be able to participate in TAG exercises remotely, but to be of any serious use as a reservist, she will need some practical experience in piloting. For that, one of the other girls will have to give up her machine from time to time. Not ideal, but unavoidable if they want Silva on the team as anything but legal fiction - and Diego does not intend to let her off that easy… Well, once the break is over, he’ll talk with Eric. Maybe there’s something they could do to remedy this problem that could be squeezed in even with their limited funds...

    Saturday, January 4

    The Angels of Stone meet at the hangar, as usual before a paintball game.

    Nyree is quite embarrassed about Wednesday morning.

    - Wakaru told me you had to carry me down from the club. Sorry about that…”

    “ - It’s okay, really.” - Alex dismisses, awkward. “ - No problem…”

    (The other girls profess some joking disappointment at not having seen this happen, here.)

    - I was so sleepy, I don’t remember anything!” - Nyree confesses with some distress. “ - I… I didn’t say or do anything stupid while semi-conscious, did I?”

    “ - N-no, not at all!” - Alex assures quickly, blushing. “ - You were perfectly behaved…”

    “ - Oh, that’s good, then.” - Nyree breaths a sigh of relief.

    Alex turns away, still with a bit of a blush... And perhaps a bit of disappointment on her face?

    And there’s another person who’s blushing. Dominique hesitantly steps towards Diego, a shy look on her face, cheeks glowing. She’s cradling a largish box wrapped in red and black patterned gift paper, tied with a silver bow.

    - I know it’s really late… But I only managed to finish it yesterday… And some would say it’s kinda inappropriate… A student getting a gift for a teacher, I mean…” - she fidgets awkwardly. “ - But without you, Coach… I wouldn’t be here. So I really want you to have this!” - ‘Nique presents Diablo with the box. “ - It’s nothing, really… But it’s all I can do to thank you.”

    - You are entirely welcome, ‘Nique.” - Diego nods smilingly, taking the gift. “ - You deserve to be here, chica, and I’m happy to have you as part of the team. I’m sure the others think so too.” - there is a chorus of agreement. “ - And thank you. Should I open it now?”

    “ - Well, there’s nothing embarrassing inside…” - ‘Nique gives a tiny grin.

    “ - Okay then.”

    Diego unwraps the package. The others cluster around in interest. Not that what’s inside is any real surprise to any of them, starting with Diego, of course.

    The box is a display type, securing and showing off the contents through a window of clear plastic. And said contents are a completed model kit, one of the Gunpla-style toy TAGs Dominique builds as a hobby (some would say obsession), fully assembled, painted, and finished with weathering effects and decal details.

    The model is that of a Gecko TAG*. A very specific one. Painted in fully accurate Corregidor Jurisdictional Command Gecko Squadron campaign colors for Paradiso**, and with perfectly correct unit and personal markings, including the smiling cartoon devil face, this is clearly Diablo’s own Gecko, recreated as close to perfection as was possible in this scale and material.

    • * It’s about 13cm (5in) tall, or about 1:20 scale.
    • ** 2nd. Squadron (“Grey’s Deaths”), Second Offensive, Intermediate Blockade - a variant of the Deep Red scheme for boarding actions.

    There are a lot of appreciative noises all around at the sight.

    - If you’ll open the box for a moment…” - ‘Nique proceeds to quickly demonstrate the model’s close to perfect articulation (down to individually posable fingers on the hands), exchangeable weapons accessories (to portray all equipment variants in service), and light-up features (operated by a cleverly disguised switch). And finally the piece de resistance, the fully opening cockpit with a pilot figure inside…

    - Welp, now you can really play with yourself, Coach!” - sniggers Alex wickedly, which earns her a (mild) punch in the shoulder from Morgan.

    Diego has to admit, the little figure is not a bad likeness at all.

    - The pilot is kinda cheating… He’s actually foam on a wire-frame, with a hard-plastic head, hands, and feet, and a plastic skin-suit.” - ‘Nique explains. “ - So while he’s posable, he’s kinda noodly and will bend anywhere, and may have trouble balancing unsupported, sadly. Impossible to make the TAG fully posable otherwise at this scale - a solid action-figure pilot wouldn’t align with the joints properly…” - she blushes suddenly, noticing that Alex has been grinning at her in a very suggestive manner for a moment. “ - And no, he’s not real-life detailed outside the face, and the suit is not removable!” - she quickly asserts, to a lot of giggles.

    - Hmm, shame, that…” - muses Yuni with a teasing grin.

    “ - It’s amazing, Dominique. Thank you. I won’t even try to think about how many hours this took you to make…” - Diego shakes his head a bit in awe.

    - Yeah, well, it was a lot of work, true, but you know me, it’s the kind of work I love! So it was no trouble at all, really…” - ‘Nique rubs the back of her head in an awkward gesture.

    This is actually the first time the other Angels get to see Dominiques modeler handiwork in the flesh (well, plastic) and so up-close, and they are all duly impressed.

    - Not gonna lie, even as I’m not really into toys and stuff, this is totally wicked!” - praises Patty.

    “ - It’s beautifully done. You’re amazingly talented.” - nods Octavia. The others make various declarations of agreement, making ‘Nique grin bashfully.

    - And the tiny Coach is so adorable!” - coos Minuette.

    - You know… However our lives go after all this…” - muses Morgan, “ - Something like that could be a wonderful memento. Dominique, would you be open to doing commissioned work?” - the others share a round of nods.

    “ - Well, no. No commissions.” - ‘Nique refuses, then goes on before their faces can really start to fall, “ - I do, however, fully intend to make one for each of you! As a gift.”

    “ - But-... Seven of those?” - wonders Nyree. “ - That’s a lot of work!”

    “ - And aren’t they expensive for you?...” - Morgan asks worriedly. The others also express some distress over this.

    “ - It is, and they are.” - confirms ‘Nique. “ - Doesn’t matter. I won’t take my friends’ money for doing something I love.”

    “ - But-” - Morgan tries again.

    “ - No butts!” - giggles ‘Nique. “ - Learn to accept gifts from friends, right?” - she winks at Morgan, who subsides, admitting defeat with a tiny smile.

    - Well, if you’re sure about this... Thank you. They will be truly splendid gifts.” - Eva looks to be genuinely touched. Not only her, really.

    “ - Though, it will take time. Quite a bit of it, I’m afraid.” - warns ‘Nique. “ - I hope I’ll be able to have them all done by the end of the year…”

    “ - Eh, there’s no hurry.” - Alex shrugs. “ - And you can’t rush art, right?”

    “ - I wouldn’t call them art, really…” - protests ‘Nique weakly, abashed again.

    - I would.” - asserts Evangeline, nodding at Alex with some genuine respect.

    - Right, let’s stop embarrassing her before she combusts.” - orders Morgan. “ - Should we be on our way? Or is there anything else we should take care of?” - she looks to Diego and Eva as the Coach and Captain.

    Indeed, there is. The matter of admitting Samantha Silva into the team.

    This proposition goes down about as well as could be expected. As predicted Minnie is all for it, while Octy silently radiates hostility. The rest are less than enthused, to be sure, but ultimately they seem open to giving Samantha a chance.

    - Let’s be honest here,” - Morgan declares evenly, “ - When we were starting out, most of us didn’t think too highly of at least several of the others.”

    “ - Yes, and look where we are now.” - nods Nyree, sending a smile Alex’s way.

    “ - Yup! I’m sure, once we get to know her, we’ll be friends with Sam in no time!” - enthuses Minnie.

    “ - Well, she is Eva’s friend, even if I don’t personally know what the Princess sees in her... ” - Patty shrugs.

    “ - Yeah, we can handle her.” - Alex grins, popping her knuckles. “ - If she turns out to be trouble, we can always kick her ass later.” - she winks at Nyree.

    - And she did the right thing in the end. She can’t be that bad, right?” - muses ‘Nique.

    - Well, Octy?” - inquires Diego, when it’s clear she doesn’t intend to speak on her own, stewing in her little dark cloud. “ - It’s down to you.”

    “ - Alright, I guess. Everyone else seems ready to give Silva a chance…” - Octavia sighs, trying to conceal her annoyance.

    “ - Not what I’m asking, chica.” - Diego shakes his head. “ - Are you ready to do that? I won’t force Silva on the Angels, if it’ll mean truly antagonizing any of you. Having a reservist would be useful. Having to replace you with her, because you turn out unable to stomach working with her would be a heavy blow to the team. Not acceptable. So, do you think you could work with her?”

    “ - I… Fine.” - Octy gives another, heavier sigh. “ - Honestly, I sorely doubt I’ll ever see Silva as a friend, but I definitely don’t intend to quit over it. I promise to give her a chance, and to try to at least restrain my hostility, Coach.” - she’s still rather obviously unhappy about the situation, but also seems genuine in her determination to be professional about it.

    “ - That’s all I can ask for, chica.”

    “ - Wonderful! Thank you so much, everyone.” - Eva beams. “ - I’ll let Samantha know, and… We’ll meet on Monday in a larger group?”

    “ - That’s the plan.”

    “ - Right. And now, let’s go shoot something!” - cheers Alex.

    Which is met with universal agreement.

    Later, when they’re at the paintball field, and Yuni is leading the girls through their warm-ups, Shelke pops up for a little visit with Diego.

    “ - Hey! How did the party go?”

    “ - Pretty good. Just had to deal with one media vulture.”

    “ - Yeah, the Boss Man mentioned you got to meet Blaine. Shame I couldn’t be there. Always wanted to get to know him closer… Introduce him to some friends...” - Shelke strokes her knife’s hilt with a meaningful smile.

    “ - His loss, really.” - Diablo smirks. ” - Still, I heard you had a pretty good night too.”

    “ - Yup! I won’t toot my own horn too much, and claim it was easy, but that’s one problem taken care of. And little Silva’s info turned out quite useful. The brat has some brains on her, and a good eye for detail. Anyway, Diamante is in for quite a surprise, once she actually checks those files. Left her a nice parting gift…” - Shelke grins nastily.

    “ - What did you put in there?”

    “ - Oh, just a little movie… The same one they used for little Chryse - only this one’s edited to star our dear Tiana herself.” - she sniggers in malicious glee. “ - Welp, gotta run. I cleared my name a bit here, but I’m still in pretty hot water with the Bosses. But at least they decided not to ship me back to Satori… Yet.” - Shelke winks. “ - But I will be holding you to that promise of a dinner invitation sometimes.”

    “ - Will be my pleasure. Just don’t scare the other tenants to death…”

    “ - Scare people? Me? Perish the thought!” - she laughs, fading away in a TOC distortion. “ - Later, Diablo!”

    Sunday, January 5

    The last day of the break is spent on more fun and relaxation for everyone. Because tomorrow, it’s back to the grind, as work and school resume. New semester, and a new year. Let’s see what it’ll bring…

    Which concludes entry 19#.
  3. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    And, well, that's it for now - The Avalon Chronicles have been successfully transferred to the new forum.

    Entry #20 is in the works, but I have no clue on the publication date.

    Also, if someone would like to comment in the topic, please do not hesitate to :)
    Danger Rose and Golem2God like this.
  4. Section9

    Section9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 24, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Had to give a like-storm and re-read the tales. (My preferred style on Datasphere didn't have a "like this post" button, oddly enough)
    Danger Rose and Golem2God like this.
  5. Golem2God

    Golem2God Just a Kooky Kumotail serving others.

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Same here. I was surprised by how well I enjoyed the story and came to care about a few of the characters. Job well done @Errhile . Job well done.
    Danger Rose likes this.
  6. jherazob

    jherazob Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Dammit, the forum was supposed to let me know when something was posted here, i only accidentally noticed there was new stuff on this thread.
    Okay, reread and likely yet another like storm coming this weekend :smiley:
    Danger Rose and Golem2God like this.
  7. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    FINALLY managed to register here!

    He's not the only one working on this, you know... :disrelieved: (:wink:)
    Happy to hear you like our little tale! So, who's your favorite?
    Danger Rose, Golem2God and jherazob like this.
  8. Golem2God

    Golem2God Just a Kooky Kumotail serving others.

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Don't worry Kathara Khan, I recognize and know that you are a major part of this story.
    The ones that have stood out to me the most so far are Alexa & Eva (Schnee Queen). I do like a few others as well but they are the top two to me right now.
    Danger Rose likes this.
  9. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #20 (abridged)

    “No Good Deed”

    Note #1 - A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s DeviantART Page.

    Monday, January 6

    Well, time to get back into the grind.

    After their traditional morning run and exercise with Yuni, Diego goes about his typical routine alone (Alex of course had to head out to school much earlier than him). He does receive two important communications today.

    One, the trial in Minuette’s case is going forward apace. As such, Diego is summoned to give his official, sworn in testimony, and be questioned as needed by the sides. To this end, he must appear in court this Thursday. Good. Time to put this thing to bed, and the scum behind bars.

    Two, much less dramatic, principal Chennault would like to have a quick word with Coach Ibarrez today, concerning the recent change in miss Narahari’s familial status and place of residence. Well. Looks like it’s time for his first “parent-teacher conference”?

    Said conference turns out to be more urgent and less casual than anticipated. Just as Diego arrives at the Academy in the afternoon, DeeDee calls in to summon him to the principal’s office post-haste. Looks like Alex wasted no time in getting herself in trouble on the very first day back to school, starting a brawl with another student! On his hurried way there, Diego calls Alex to get some details. She tries playing nonchalant, but it’s obvious she’s nervous about what the consequences - and Diego’s reaction - will be...

    Okay, turns out it wasn’t really much of a brawl - as Alex informs Diego with some pride - she slugged the guy in the face once, he went down, and others stopped Alex before she could pound him into the ground.

    Right, fine, but why did she feel the need to bust a fellow student’s head? Well, Alex caught the guy watching that disgusting fake Minnie sex-vid, and making some truly vile, perverted comments and declarations!

    Diego arrives just in time to pass Alex’s “victim” coming out of the principal’s office, most likely heading for doctor Talho’s, to get treatment for his truly impressive shiner. Alex and Diego go in together, Alex defiant but visibly apprehensive.

    Principal Chennault is not happy. Alex has put the principal - and herself - in quite a difficult situation. No matter how noble Alex’s motives for kicking the guy’s ass were - and DeeDee’s surveillance records and witness accounts confirm Alex’s story, meaning he will receive his own disciplinary punishment in addition to Alex’s punch (informing him - and his parents! - of which gave the principal some pleasure) - this kind of violent vigilante justice can’t be tolerated. Which means Alex must too receive punishment… And herein lies the problem. A standard disciplinary citation and suspension would once be rendered pretty much meaningless by her father’s money and influence. But now, with Alex stripped of that protective umbrella, a new administrative penalty would, when taken together with all the previous ones, be grounds enough for expulsion from the Academy! And one can bet there would be some very pointed questions raised by the administration, not to mention the parents of at least some of Alex’s former victims, if the principal neglected to enact said expulsion, now that she is finally free to do so... Ginevra is truly sympathetic (in her typical gruff fashion), she doesn’t want to lose Alex now that the girl seems to be slowly turning over a new leaf, especially with her recent familial upset… Luckily there is yet one other option now open that wasn’t there before. The incident will go on Alex’s official record, of course, no way around it... But instead making it a full administrative case, the principal goes extemporary, and instead hands Alex a week-long suspension from the TAG-Soft team!

    On the one hand, Alex is very relieved she won’t be thrown out, which would probably now completely ruin her chances at a good college and further TAG-Soft career. On the other, and completely unsurprisingly, she’s made deeply miserable by the suspension, handily demonstrating the effectiveness of the punishment. Well, Diablo did warn her to tread carefully, now that she has lost her former immunity...

    Oh joy, after all those years, principal Chennault finally has an effective threat to hold over Alex’s head to help curb her delinquent tendencies! ^_^

    Though the principal has one last thing for Alex - a piece of advice. Before sharing which she asks DeeDee to please give them a few moments in private… The AI-aspect looks dubious but - apparently - complies, ceasing her customarily ubiquitous monitoring.

    “ - I can’t believe I have to give you of all people this advice, miss Narahari… But in the future, if you really, truly feel the need to punch a scumbag’s face in? Do make sure they’re the ones to throw the first punch!”

    Alex can only gape in astonishment.

    - Yup, chica. Listen to the principal, she’s a wise woman. You shouldn’t start fights… But nobody’ll look too askance on you for ending them. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of many things to say to secure such an outcome...

    Alex is sent on her way, while Diego stays behind for a few more words with the principal. Mostly, she wants to sound out how Diablo feels about his new responsibility. Talk about taking the work home! Still, Diego assures Ginevra both he and Alex will be fine.

    Afterwards, Diablo finally heads for the hangar. Chief engineer Wana and his crew are, unsurprisingly, already hard at work. A short holiday now and then is nice, but Eric is absolutely overjoyed to be back!

    The promised schedule for the upgrades is well on track, with all the team’s TAGs to be done two weeks after term start. Two (Morgan’s Lizard and Eva’s Iguana) are ready, and another one (Octavia’s Lizard) is being worked over right now.

    That’s good, but it does present the Angels with a bit of a logistics problem, as it’ll leave them always one machine short for practice for those two weeks. Two really, with the new recruit coming in…

    And even when the current batch of upgrades is done, being one TAG short will be a constant problem. Simulations can cover for a lot, but if Silva is to be of any real use to the team as a reserve player, she will need real, hands on experience in piloting. Which will mean constantly leaving one of the others out of non-simulated training to borrow their machine for Silva to use. Not ideal. But the team’s budget is currently nowhere near high enough to afford purchasing and operating another TAG.

    Eric however does suggest a possible solution. They could get Silva a Gunhead Training Gear.* It would be useless for League matches, where everything except the ammo in the guns must be WYSIWYG, so the team would still stay eight players plus one reservist instead of upgrading to nine. But for training, where they can freely control the simulated parameters of the machines, it should serve quite well, if crudely. Over time they could even probably slowly upgrade the GTG, to finally bring it up to a level of performance that would allow sensibly fielding it as a real ninth unit for the team. Sure, the final result wouldn’t be much better than a stock Lizard, and, all refit expenses totalled, would end up costing them noticeably more than said Lizard… But paying that cost over time instead of the all at once price of a real TAG would be far gentler on their budget. And it would give them a usable trainer machine all through the mean time, which is their main problem, not solved by waiting to save up for a real TAG instead…

    Provided they can even get a Gunhead - they’re definitely not in high demand nowadays, which makes them rare, if also fortunately inexpensive (it would still strain their budget somewhat, but at least not break it outright). But it’s definitely something to look into.

    • The Gunhead Training Gear is an Ariadnan project, with a bit of helpful Nomad expertease thrown in. Basically what it says on the tin, a training machine for TAG pilots, allowing for more flexibility and operational realism compared even to full-cockpit-facsimile simulators. Created when Ariadna was seriously gearing up their TAG forces in the late stages of the EI War, to allow for training crews without wasting real TAGs, of which there was still a shortage, on trainer duty. A fully functional TAG chassis, but a cheap one, sluggish and clumsy when compared to even stock Reptiles, with little power and strength, only basic life-support and sensors, and no real armor installed whatsoever. Gunheads were an abysmal joke as actual combat units… Which didn’t stop the Ariadnans from trying to field them as such at least once (admittedly in a pretty desperate situation)!...
    The girls start arriving for their first practice of the term.

    Dominique (for once not being the first there), Evangeline, and Samantha come in together. The latter two are rather agitated, and the reason is quickly obvious - ‘Nique face is clearly marked with the trace of someone having recently slapped her, hard.

    It’s Dimante’s handiwork. As expected, first day back Tiana tried “summoning” her crony Silva to her side, and did not take it well when Samantha revealed her change of allegiance. Then, after stewing in her anger for most of the day, she finally decided on a last bid for dominance and intimidation, getting physical with Silva when told in no uncertain terms that it would not work. It seems at least a tiny bit of Sam believed she deserved it… Dominique, being near enough to witness the confrontation, disagreed. Which is how ‘Nique ended up getting in the way to defend Silva, and got slapped in her place. Both Eva and Sam are rather appalled and pained by the whole thing. Silva especially keeps trying to apologize. ‘Nique, embarrassed at all the attention over what she’s adamant was just the decent thing to do, just waves her off, making light of the whole thing.

    Well, the incident is on record, and Diamante can expect... A slap on the wrist, really. Even if she wanted to sue privately, what Dominique could offer to pay a lawyer wouldn’t cover a good tie for the court date, let alone the lawyer’s actual fee...

    They finally agree to follow ‘Nique’s wishes and drop the whole matter. Still, it’s another mark against Dimante in their little conflict (as if she needed any more of those...). And now it’s certain that Tiana, furious, will go straight for her secret cache with the intention of releasing her blackmail vid of Eva and Sam… And find it’s been nuked and replaced, which will, no doubt, piss her off even more. It’s quite possible the whole thing will end in some kind of explosion....

    In general, as has lately become customary for their interactions, Samantha is welcomed with some reserve still, but no overt hostility. Minuette is, of course, effusive and friendly (continually completely ignoring Sam’s own dislike), and Octavia coldly aloof, if obviously making an effort not to be outright venomous.

    Alex’s absence is quickly noted, and Coach Diablo gives the team the bad news. The girls are obviously saddened, but agree it’s loads better than having Alex kicked out of school altogether (well, Silva seems relieved; Alex is obviously the one Sam’s most apprehensive of… the fact it’s not Octy is an understandable mistake...).

    Minnie, as much as she disapproves of the way Alex has chosen to do it, is nevertheless touched by the defense of her honor, and promises to give Alex some extra good thank-you-and-cheer-up hugs tomorrow.

    But the one most visibly disappointed at not having Alex there is Nyree... How things can change.

    Diego requests for DeeDee to make an appropriate post on the Angels’ (still sadly neglected) Maya page in the Academy’s sports section, to note the team’s - and especially Alex’s - regret at the development. Mostly, it’s a PR move, calculated at covering Narahari’s ass - if they make it obvious enough how severely she’s taking her punishment, hopefully nobody should get into their head to demand harsher disciplinary action, which would most likely end up meaning expulsion.

    Time to get down to business. Alex’s absence gives them one free TAG, and Diego decides to use the Anaconda to get in Silva’s basic orientation and acclimatation right away. Which leaves Octavia, her TAG worked on by Eric, with no machine today. She could join the others through simulation… But Octy herself has a different idea, and requests to take over the brunt of Samantha’s first piloting lesson!

    Diego expects this to be interesting, and is not disappointed. As the others run their 3-on-3 practice engagements, Octy puts Sam through her paces. Little Moina rolls out her steely-eyed badass combat-persona, turning into quite an effective impression of a high-class drill sergeant: not outright cruel or vulgar, but exacting, merciless, and not at all gentle.

    - Am I overdoing it, Coach?”

    “ - I’ll be sure to tell you if you go too far. So far you’re fine,

    If this is what it takes for Octavia to overcome, or at least constructively channel, her distaste for Samantha, Diego doesn’t see a reason to stop her, at least not until she does cross the line. She could do worse for sure.

    Silva herself is obviously - and unsurprisingly - not enthused about such treatment, but, to her credit, takes it as her due without complaint. So not quite the soft, whiny, spoiled brat one could reasonably expect. Good. And, after some initial difficulties that are really par for the course for a first-time TAG pilot, Silva actually does show some promise. She’s certainly no more clumsy than the other girls were in the beginning. And once she’s passably sure on her feet and with her hands, and they move to some basic weapons handling, Samantha proves herself to be quite a good shot! A real natural, not quite as good as Octavia or Nyree, but with a bit of training Sam could probably soon rival Patty and Alex, the team’s current second-best shots (by pure on-range accuracy at least).

    - Huh. Not bad for someone who’s only shooting experience to date is launching birds out of a slingshot at green pigs…” - wonders Sam.

    Fully judging and quantifying all her abilities will require quite a bit more work, but Silva certainly looks like at least a decent prospect. Not an unwelcome development at all!

    Tuesday, January 7

    With Alex gone most of the time, first at school (she’ll later confirm that Minnie did indeed hunt her down for hugs!), then working her shift at Silva’s, Diego spends the day on paperwork, organisational work, and correspondence.

    It’s past New Year, so as promised, it’s time to slowly start moving forward on the staff paintball team. With six volunteers beside himself (Yuni, Ken, Isabell, Gerhard, Maximilian, Felipe) they have enough players for a sensibly-sized team.

    Diego contacts Bolo, to ask about the availability of playing fields on Sunday, and weather the Spiders could be roped into an additional match this week. Both turn out not to be a big problem.

    That being arranged, Diego sends out notifications to all his new team members.

    There’s a message from Merlin. Seems he has found a promising lead for the remotes the Angels are interested in acquiring. He’ll get back to Diablo after confirming the details. Okay, good news.

    Most importantly, however, Diego finally gets a call from Bourak! Sabri bin Basara, the coach of “Rahat al-Hulqum”, the Bourak Institute of Planetology TAG-Soft team, is interested in arranging a match with the “Anjos de Rocha”. They spend some time chatting (Diablo and The Turtle never met personally, but their units did fight together at least once, and they can share some memories of the Paradiso Campaign), then move to negotiating a date for their match that would be convenient for everyone.

    Visiting Bourak will be quite a trip for the Angels - it’s about as far away as one can get in the Human Sphere, where, thanks to the web of wormholes and the Circular system, no planet is more than two jumps from another. The logistics of traveling with a TAG-Soft team’s baggage, especially for the many amateur teams that, like the Angels, lack their own transport shuttle are still a bit daunting. For the Angels, the financial part of the exercise is the one most in need of careful consideration. The least draining option would be to make use of Avalon’s and Bourak’s orbital elevators instead of renting direct planet-Circular shuttles… But that would mean adding at least a good 24 hours more to the round trip time in exchange. In the quantronic age, missing school for a few days isn’t as problematic as in the past (especially as they’ll have Nyree along, who’s guaranteed to insist on not letting the girls slip too much in their studies!). Still, probably better to avoid it as best they can…

    Just as they are in the middle of discussing that, Diego receives another call. After taking a look at the caller ID, Diablo, with bin Basara’s approval, connects all three of them in a conference together.

    The new caller is one miss Linna Yamazaki, the coach of “Shinkōshoku no kaze” - the Crimson Gale, a Yu Jing-Japanese high-school TAG-Soft team out of Paradiso (and a pretty high-scoring one, higher on the amateur league table than Rahat or the Human Revolution). And she’s calling to challenge the Angels for a match!

    Crimson Gale were supposed to be playing a match soon, but their opponent had to cancel, so that leaves them with a free date. And seeing as the neighbouring planet just recently acquired a new team, which, if the news is to be believed, is shaping up to be quite interesting...

    Well! That’s a lucky coincidence, and a welcome proposition. With a bit of wrangling of dates, they all soon come to a satisfying arrangement for their matches.

    So, for the 31st of January the Angels will make a little hop over to Paradiso and fight the Crimson Gale. Then, they will wait for the week-long semester break in the middle of March, and use it for a leisurely, economy-option trip to Bourak to play against the Delights. (And then, in April, they’ll be back to Paradiso again for the Nomad Krug and a rematch game with the Revolution, and anyone else that they can arrange.) Looks like the Angels of Stone are well supplied for matches for the foreseeable future. Perfect.

    After they say their goodbyes, Diego proceeds to proper research on the Angels’ next opponent.

    Linna Yamazaki is a resurectee, one of the limited number of Japanese granted such in Yu Jing. A former O-Yoroi Corps ace, with 21 confirmed Combined Army TAGs killed in single combat to her name (including two EI Avatars!), at least as much again in assists, and an almost preternaturally fluid and graceful, highly mobile and aggressive combat style that earned her the callsign of “Dancer” (sometimes “Blade Dancer”, or even “Dances with Blades”, but she herself humbly insists that’s way too pretentious).

    Just a few short years ago, the Crimson Gale were an unpopular, severy under-funded, under-strength, poorly trained team constantly struggling to not drop off of the bottom of the league table and be disbanded. After taking over what many believed to be a lost cause, coach Yamazaki used her personal contacts, surprisingly shrewd business sense, combat and command experience, and boundless energy and enthusiasm to quickly transform the ailing Gale into a surprisingly well-equipped, proud, highly-motivated, and, above all, very dangerous contender. Currently, the Gale are ruthlessly climbing through the mid-leagues and into minor, but rising stardom.

    The Gale kids (3 boys and 5 girls) are, as expected, mostly Japanese, with one Han Chinese and one Korean.

    The team TAG loadout consists of 4 O-Yoroi, a Guijia, a Tachikoma, a Ramhorn, and a Szalamadra. And they are packing some esoteric equipment and weaponry.

    The Szaly understandably catches Diablo’s eye first. It’s a full Praxis refit, including the HRMC! And it’s pilot, a Korean girl nicknamed “Fastball” (a transplant form, of all things, a tennis club!), is reportedly a deadly accurate shot.

    The team’s captain, one miss Satsuki “Shogun” Kiryuin, rides an O-Yoroi carrying “only” an AP-loaded pistol and a mono-blade... And, at least if one believes tabloid rumors (and who would do that? -_^), is some kind of secret Japanese cyborg or g-mod super-soldier prototype. The girl is just perfect at everything! Straight A+ student, member and president of three other school clubs - including Kendo where she competes at the national level! - and a razor sharp commander with a peculiar kind of ice-cold charisma.

    Her sister, the one called “Scissors”, is the team’s premiere assault element, in an O-Yoroi with a boarding shotgun and two EXP blades. A hot-headed, reckless, and foul-mouthed thing, she doesn’t have much resemblance to her older sibling in attitude, nor skill - though she’s nowhere near a slouch and not to be taken lightly!

    The Tachikoma is geared as a scout and harasser, with a light shotgun and a camo system. It’s pilot, “Black Cat”, certainly earns his callsign, by being an aggravating source of bad - usually fatally so - luck to any opponent whose path he crosses.

    Another O-Yoroi, lightly armed with an SMG, is driven by “Bear Momma”, and again the callsign is fitting - the TAG is accompanied into battle by a little maul of 4 CrazyKoalas! (well, technically MadTraps, as their warheads were exchanged for adhesive loads, but the chassis used are original CKs).

    The Ramhorn piloted by “Maker”, in addition to its Combi rifle+shotgun, is hauling two suspicious pods around. A more recent addition to the Gale loadout and only used in two matches, the exact capabilities of their contents aren’t fully known yet, but they appear to be some kind of limited-use decoy or dummy system…

    The last O-Yoroi and the Guijia are pretty standard loadouts, though the media do make notes about the pilots of both being very competent but a bit of divas. “Red Prince” is a self-styled duelist ace with a penchant for self-aggrandization. And “Tinkerbell” (the Chinese girl), the team’s second-in-command, is on record (quite loudly) for maintaining she should have been chosen captain all along…

    The Crimson Gale, as could be expected with their coach, specialise in flowing mobility and focused aggression, coming in fast and hitting hard, often from unexpected angles.

    All in all, looks like a potentially difficult and interesting match in store for the Angels.

    Which concludes entry 20#.​
  10. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #21 (abridged)

    “Step by Step”

    Note #1 - A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.

    Note #2 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s DeviantART Page.

    • GM Note: Before we get into things, a word on “standard operating procedures”. It happened before, but will become even more pronounced with the switch to a more abridged style of reports, that some things just aren’t mentioned anymore. That doesn’t mean they’re not happening! Diego still goes on early-morning, before-work exercise runs with Yuni almost everyday, they still go riding out of town on most Sundays, he still gets a shift or two a week in at Silva’s, and spends a night with Yuni at least once a week as the mood strikes them, ‘Nique is still almost always the first to the hangar on training days, to get some work in with Eric and his crew. Yuni is there to help out at every practice, running the girls through their warmups and usually serving as the OpFor commander. And now Alex does an afternoon shift at Silva’s as often as able. Etc. It’s just that those things became well enough established in the reality of the story, there should be no need to constantly mention them anymore. Especially now that I’m trying to save on word-count.

    Wednesday, January 8

    On his way to the hangar today, Diego chances upon perhaps his least favorite member of the Academy staff - a dislike which seems fully mutual - Father Alfredo Loyola. They haven’t really had much occasion to meet after Diego’s initial introduction, a state of affairs that doesn’t bother him any. Now however, he encounters Loyola in the middle of what is apparently impassioned and disapproving sermonizing at a pair of students on their break - the inseparable couple of senhoritas Vidal and Rose. In something of a curious reversal of expectations, the irreverent, punky Lyra looks sheepishly chastised, while the rather more straight laced Bonnie seems to be barely restraining some rather aggressive, angry comebacks.

    Diablo feels compelled to come to the girls’ rescue. They did cheer for the Angels at the matches, and they’re friends with Minnie (though that’s no feat at all ^_^ ), plus he just can’t resist needling the uptight, humorless priest a bit.

    To that end, Diego butts in politely but firmly, interrupting the father’s harangue to point out that the girls should be off if they’re to be on time to their next class - as it happens, Literature with Principal Chennault! Lyra and Bonnie eagerly take the excuse to escape, with some grateful looks Diego’s way.

    Father Loyola, however, does not seem particularly put out by the interruption. In fact, he’s downright pleased to see Diablo today! He shakes Diego’s hand heartily, expressing his praise of the “firm hand”* the couch’s took in dealing with miss Larasati’s bully gang! Well, perhaps just a bit too firm, but he approves of the principle all the same. Some delinquents just need the fear of law shaken into them, and it’s good that the Academy has some people willing to do it!

    Well. Diablo certainly didn’t set out to gain the priest’s approval, but he’ll take it anyway!

    • For a moment Diego wonders what the padre’s order might be (Jesuit, perhaps…?), the problem being he can tell apart just a few of these (Hospitaliers, Teutons, Sepulchrites, Santiagos, Montessas and Dominican Black Friars, namely, with their respective sub-orders) From target recognition courses, y’know… Of course he could easily check, Loyola’s denomination being a matter of public record, but Diego doesn’t really care all that much.

    In the hangar, work on the refits is proceeding apace. Octy’s Lizard is ready now, and Eric, having consulted Diego on his preferences earlier (he has none, it really doesn’t matter much for practice), has started on the next TAG, the third Lizard being used by Nyree. That should be ready tomorrow, and then, to finish off the week, the tech crew will go after the Szalamandra. This will leave them with the last three TAGs for next week, fully on schedule.

    Also today the team’s latest equipment order arrives. A cargo drone, led by DeeDee in a whimsical mailgirl uniform, trudges over with crates containing smoke ammo for the grenade launcher and a TAG-scale Spitfire equivalent (basically a MULTI HMG). This should widen the Angels’ tactical options nicely… And cheer up Alex, the designated recipient of the more dakka gun, when she returns from her exile.

    DeeDee tries to approach Diego, but his little AR pet Devil chooses to be difficult today, continuing with its mistrust towards the Aspect. It snarls and stabs its pitchfork at miss Alephsdottir from the perch of Diego’s shoulder, clearly intent on driving her away. DeeDee tries to placate it and finally make friends, but gets her finger pricked for her trouble. Saddened, she looks close to giving up, until, with a look of sudden inspiration, she rummages through her pockets to finally reveal, standing in her palm... A second, miniature DeeDee, in super-cute super-deformed style! The tiny girl starts making her own overtures towards the flabbergasted Devil, distracting him enough that Diego and DeeDee can converse uninterrupted.

    Surprisingly, DeeDee is curious about Diego’s staff paintball team that’s supposed to go forward this Sunday. Diego doesn’t beat around the bush, asking straight up if she’d like to join in. Why not, really? She’s surprised, and obviously at least a little touched at his offer, but with some sadness concludes that the technical difficulties associated with her state of being - her being immaterial and all - preclude her from joining the fun, even if her “three laws” equivalents and other directives don’t seem to. She could use a drone for a body of course, but none of the Academy’s varied complement seem fit to become a passable combat unit…

    ...At which point they are interrupted by a tiny distressed squeal. Chibi-DeeDee’s attempts at making peace with the Devil seem to not have gone exactly to plan. The Devil has bound the girl in a cocoon of rope and gleefully plunged her into his big cauldron. Her distraught squeaks are swiftly silenced with an apple stuffed into her mouth as a gag. With a wicked grin, the Devil proceeds to lighting a fire under the DeeDee soup, striking flint with iron vigorously.

    Diego can’t help but laugh at the little drama. Big DeeDee rescues Little DeeDee, comforts the crying miniature, and tucks her away back in her pocket. The foiled Devil makes angry noises and shakes its fist at her, then stomps away, angrily chomping on the discarded apple.

    DeeDee departs, and it’s time to get to work.

    Diego informs the girls about the upcoming match dates and new opponents. The Angels seem quite enthusiastic about hitting the field for real again. Though some of the girls, most notably Samantha, turn a little green when shown a clip of the Delights in action, featuring Titan and her predisposition towards using her custom Maghariba’s terrible pincer-claws to messily dismember enemy TAGs, sometimes including the pilot! This seems a bit more real than even the few instances of melee damage the girls encountered before - most notably Eva impaling Gawain - and Sam needs some quick reassurance about it all being just superb special effects*.

    • All melee weapons in TAG-Soft rely on a combination of Augmented Reality / Holographic projections and rapid-morph shape-memory materials to provide both realism and safety. Further safeguards are in place to limit the striking strength of the TAGs when they engage in melee and hand to hand combat. For maximum safety, it’s still recommended that at least the attacker in every blow know what they’re doing and are able to pull their punches, which is why close combat is typically even rarer in TAG-Soft than on a real modern battlefield.
    Then it’s live practice today, though of course one of the girls must participate through a simulated unit, them being one TAG short. Octavia would be fine with doing it again, to once more serve more as an assistant coach for Samantha, but Diego asks for volunteers to change things up. Minuette enthusiastically jumps at the chance (prompting a long-suffering sigh from Sam). So finally, Octy goes out in her newly-upgraded machine, Nyree takes Alex’ vacant Anaconda, Minnie runs the sim of her Gecko, and Sam gets Minnie’s real one.

    They’ve already seen Silva in a Lizard with a rifle, if only in basic movement training and range shooting, let’s see how Silva deals with a lighter, more mobile machine and an SMG. The answer is: not too bad overall in the mobility department, but Sam’s definitely isn’t Minnie’s level and probably never will be, and as for weapons, a longarm looks like a much better fit for her after all.

    Her full potential will take some more time to evaluate, and her teamwork must be brought up to spec, but still, she looks promising.

    Samantha also shows herself rather reluctant and overly cautious when asked to perform rough maneuvers, especially throwing herself on the ground and crawling. A bit of it is aversion to getting dirty and undignified, just as Eva was in the beginning (a hangup Evangeline seems to have left far behind, nowadays getting rough and tumble with gusto). But most of it turns out to stem from the fear of… Damaging the TAG! It’s rather expensive after all, isn’t it? Sam obviously doesn’t have a very accurate idea of just how rugged the machines are. Sure, the paint-job can get a bit scratched occasionally (which does make chief Wana grumpy), but other than that, she needn’t worry. Yes, full-speed collisions with other TAGs, big trees, or reinforced walls, or accidental falls from a few stories up - or intentional jumps from even higher up! - can be dangerous (which is the main reason TAG-Soft arenas don’t feature buildings higher than two above-ground levels). Diving prone into cover, even on rocky ground? No problem at all.

    Diego and the girls quickly set her straight (Patricia gets a little carried away - or at least so she claims - with her demonstration, and sends Sam crashing to face-plant into the ground with a hearty slap to the back… But then, it’s hard to expect a different result from a Szalamandra slapping an unprepared Gecko, even playfully).

    “ - Chica, I did manage to really break my Gecko once. I needed the help of an ape with a shaped-charge warhead to do it.” - chuckles Diego.

    After practice, on his way back to the parking lot, Diego runs into Lyra and Bonnie again. Senhorita Rose has just got out of her own extracurricular activities with the Cooking Club, and of course Senhorita Vidal waited for her sweetheart.

    They have a little chat, the girls giving Diablo their thanks for the rescue earlier. Turns out Father Loyola sermonizing at the two of them is something of a common occurrence.

    - It would probably help if he didn’t catch us every time with your tongue down my throat…” - smirks Bonnie.

    Yes, the pair are not at all coy - nor very subtle! - about their affections and indulging them in public, and the padre, definitely old-fashioned and orthodox, just can’t abide that. So it is that he fervently tries to save the girls’ souls by extolling the virtues of restraint and abstinence, and condemning the evils of premarital sex… (How Minuette and Ilya, who are if anything even less subtle, manage to avoid the same fate is anyone’s guess....)

    - Good thing he never saw us in the bedroom… Or that time in the gym equipment locker!...” - reminiscences Lyra with a dreamily lewd grin.

    “ - Chica, that’s really not something I need to know about, eh?” - Diego chides gently, as Bonnie, blushing hard, elbows Lyra in the gut.

    Well, one thing is clear, Lyra and Bonnie (or BonBon, as her lover affectionately dubs her), are very much into each other. They do fully intend to tie the knot one day, which should finally appease Father Loyola some… Who knows, maybe he’ll be the one to wed them himself, Diego playfully muses, to the girls’ pale-faced horror.

    Before they part ways, Lyra asks if any new match is coming up for the Anjos, and is happy to hear it is indeed so, even if it’s an away game that she’ll have to watch through Maya. TAG-Soft isn’t her favorite of Dog Bowl, but still the team definitely have a fan in Lyra, and Bonnie at least doesn’t mind tagging along.

    In the evening, Alex comes back home from a shift at Silva’s. Once again nothing blew up, and nobody got punched! (Good. Manhandling assholes at Silva’s is Diego’s job!)

    Her sentence is two-thirds done now, but Alex obviously misses being able to participate, a lot. She asks Diego about smuggling her into the Saturday paintball practice, it being outside school and not strictly monitored, though not with much hope. Yeah, they better not risk getting Alex (and Diego) in further trouble with the Principal. So she resigns herself to wait for next week, noting she never imagined, those three months ago, that she’ll ever be so eager and miss the game - and the team! - so much.

    Alex is definitely in a reflective, pensive mood today...

    - What’s on your mind, Chica?”

    - Coach… Do you think it’s any use to... Apologize?”

    Well. It kinda depends on who you’re apologizing to - and for what - but in general? Diego expresses the opinion that it does have a use, if even for oneself. The other side may not accept the apology or forgive, as is their prerogative, but it’s still “good for the soul”, as it were, to say sorry if you really mean it.

    - Yeah, we kinda made up with Nyree, incredible as it seems, but I realized I never truly said ‘sorry’ to her… And she’s not the only person that deserves it from me…

    Nyree is sure to appreciate the sentiment. The others? Hard to say. Still, Diego considers it a good sign for Alex to be thinking about this.

    The girl notes, half in jest, that all this “turning over a new leaf” business is seriously hard. And in general, things suddenly got so serious and complicated lately… Is this what growing up is like? ‘Cause if so, she’d like to opt out!

    Thursday, January 9

    Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent on what will hopefully be Diego’s first and final full court date in Minuette’s harassment case (luckily, all he had to do with this case was in the broad daylight and well-documented, making the hearing more a matter of formalities being satisfied). The entire thing isn’t quite over yet today, but it does look to be heading for a speedy and hard-hitting resolution.

    Diego gets to meet Minnie and her parents and exchange a few words. They are grateful for his support, and though the occasion is somber, Minnie doesn’t miss a chance for a hug.

    Later today, Diego receives a comlog call from Gerhard Oobleck, the hyper, mildly coffee-addicted historian. He’s the last to (enthusiastically!) confirm his participation in their new paintball team’s first engagement on Sunday. A bit of exercise will do their collective old bones good! Not that he feels all that old himself, really, but he’s definitely not as fast on his legs as he was in his 20s and 30s.

    Gerhard also has a new candidate team member for Diego! Turns out Gerhard’s own wife, one Helga Oobleck expresses interest in joining the activities.

    Helga is also employed at the Academy, teaching biology. Diego did meet her during his introduction, and not really ever since. Unlike padre Loyola, she wasn’t exactly antipathic towards Diablo, but, in contrast to her husband, Helga was obviously coolly unimpressed with Diego’s Nomad war hero “pedigree”. From what Diego can tell, the woman is rather sarcastic, snarky, and somewhat superior, though not to a degree that he would find grating.

    Sure, why not? The more the merrier! And this will bring the team up to eight people, which will mean they’ll be outnumbered less often.

    Friday, January 10

    Of the important things that happen today, first is another call, this time from Merlin. He finally found a promising proposition for Diablo in regards to the recon drones the Angels are planning to acquire. Good news, right? Well…

    Ernest doesn’t seem exactly jumpy or worried, but definitely cautious, and asks about Diego’s comlog firewalls, just in case (those are still pretty good - old but military-issue). He then switches the connection settings to a slightly higher level of security. Okay, interesting.

    So what’s the deal? Well, Merlin found a potential seller; a mercenary company that wouldn’t mind parting ways with two machines that would meet the Angels’ needs. Specifically, it’s two “Chickens” - Haqqislamite Murafeq remotes in the Rafiq recon and light support configuration, old but well kept and refitted. Also with some aftermarket modifications, he adds. The owners seem to have a bit of the homegrown inventor streak. But no, those are nothing illegal. The whole deal, the sellers, and their motives looks to Merlin’s trained eye (and some investigative resources he could bring to bear) to be clean and above board, far as legality is concerned… But the mercenaries seem a bit too happy to sell for what seems a too reasonable price. The entire thing smells a bit too sweet. Just a little too convenient.

    What seems to be happening here, far as Merlin is able to tell, is somebody, a somebody with some not-inconsiderable money and influence, pulling strings to do Diablo and the Angels a quiet favor.

    Who could that mysterious benefactor be? Diego didn’t exactly make his equipment purchasing plans a secret, but he didn’t really spread them far and wide either. Something about the remotes could have appeared in the Angels’ limited “press releases” in the Academy Maya bulletin (mostly drawn up by DeeDee in the continuing apathy of the school’s media club; Eva had some plans for building the Angels’ media presence, Diego recalls, though with everything happening lately, it’s no wonder they both had other things on their minds). Even so, it’s not like Diego has many friends in high places…

    But if the entire thing is legal and not likely to cause trouble for the team, then it would be a shame to pass up such a good offer. Diego thanks Ernest for all his help, and asks him to confirm their interest to the sellers. Diego just has to consult the purchase with his boss, and if the Principal has no objections, they will be closing the deal.

    So Diego calls Principal Chennault next. ...Only to find out she was just about to call him. About Alex. Uh-oh.

    Well, good news is, miss Narahari is not in trouble again. She did nothing wrong. In fact, she attempted doing something right... And got punched in the face for her efforts.

    Turns out Alex, following her ponderings on Wednesday, tried offering an apology to one of her former bullying victims. Said apology was apparently not so well received. A punch was thrown, and Alex took it as her due, turning the proverbial other cheek and not retaliating.

    The attacker will of course suffer disciplinary consequences, but taking into account their previous clean record, their past history with Alex, and Alex’ own refusal to pursue the matter, those will be relatively mild. Miss Narahari would probably prefer the Principal to keep the thing quiet and not inform Diego, but Miss Chennault is duty-bound to do so anyway. Plus, even though the damage was minimal and is mostly healed already, thanks to modern medical tech, someone with Diablo’s experience would probably notice the marks on Alex’ face anyway. So better not make him worry more than needed…

    Well, crap. Hopefully, this won’t prove too discouraging to the girl, just as she’s starting to really try turning herself around…

    Miss Chennault does note, again, that Diablo’s arrival sure shook things up at the Academy, leading to developments like miss Narahari trying to reform, which nobody dared even imagine those three-odd months ago.

    Diego then rises the matter he originally called with, that of buying the drones and the peculiar, too convenient offer he got.

    Well, running the team, including making decisions about the equipment, is his job. If he thinks he’ll get good results, and the budget can take it, this isn’t the kind of thing the Principal feel the need to micromanage him on.

    As to the “suspicious” nature of the seller and their offer, as long as it doesn’t look like it’ll involve the team and school into anything illegal… Principal Chennault does have one guess as to their mysterious benefactor, one Diego is surprised he didn’t immediately think of himself - Luna Celeste! The corporate heiress did take a shine to the Angels (and Diablo personally!; which, thanks to the media coverage of that New Year party, is now a matter of public record), and she does seem the type to enjoy this kind of “cloak and dagger philanthropy”... Diego makes a note to ask Luna about it when he next has the chance.

    Alright then, all that’s left now is to let Merlin know.

    Late afternoon, Alex is back. And indeed, now that he knows to look for them, Diego can see the telltale signs of her having been punched in the mouth.

    The girl is rather depressed by the turn of events, quiet and deflated.

    - Sure, nobody said it’d be easy… But why does it have to be so damn hard, Coach?...

    Alex elects to skip dinner for now, and just go and sulk for a bit in her room, though, encouragingly, she doesn’t close the door completely*. Diego does what works best for both of them, being a supportive presence outside that Alex knows she can come out to any time.

    Eventually, Alex beats her funk enough to at least come out to eat something. And also remembers to feed Felix.

    • She usually doesn’t, even when she ostensibly wants to be alone. When she moved in, they put a lock on her door as well, but Alex has never yet used it either. She obviously enjoys and appreciates having someone around she can really talk to anytime she wants, even when not actively making use of that possibility, and avoids isolating herself as much as possible. No wonder, really.

    Saturday, January 11

    The day dawns cloudy, and the weather forecast announces heavy rain early afternoon. Still, battle doesn’t wait for sunny skies. The Angels could use some bad weather training. One never knows what conditions will be like during an official match either. Most TAG-Soft fields are open to the elements, and some places the unpredictable, violent weather is a big part of the show.

    The Angels gather for their last (for now...) training without Alex, which will also be the first paintball outing for Samantha. Evangeline has, per tradition, taken Sam out shopping for gear. So Silva is properly attired and armed - she went for a pretty practical jacket and cargo-pants set, and, not having any preference or much experience so far, chose a basic Combi Rifle for a weapon. She’s handling the rifle with a bit of unease, but her grip is good, and she’s observing all safety procedures.

    The conversation comes to the topic of Dimante. Apparently, as Eva, ‘Nique, and Sam can attest, the little vibora spends her recent days in a state of permanent low-boiling anger. No doubt that she already found out her blackmail material has been nuked (and replaced with a very unflattering vid of herself), on top of her closest ally turning sides, and her dirt work squad having been defeated and neutralized for a long time...

    About that last one, a smirking Patty mentions offhandedly, that “a little quantronic birdie” tweeted to her, that Tiana did try to contact Larasati about resuming the gang’s “employment” once their suspension ends, maybe even taking some action now, outside school… And has been told, in no uncertain terms and in pretty foul language, where to go and what to do with her “business propositions”.

    All in all, looks like a solid defeat for Dimante. For now, she’s stewing in her fury and resentment. They can only hope that if - when - she finally boils over, she’ll do more damage to herself than anybody else…

    Evangeline, on the other hand, seems positively giddy today. If Diego didn’t know for certain that Minuette is the way she is on thin air alone, without the need of any mood-altering substances (except perhaps copious amounts of sugar), he’d suspect Minnie shared some of her joy-juice with Eva!

    The Princess is almost vibrating with excitement, and it’s obvious she’s just bursting to share something with everyone - something good this time. And it seems connected to a packing case she brought with her today, a long, flat, glossy thing of obvious high quality, similar in style and shape to a musical instrument carrying case, like that for an oboe, maybe? Or, to Diego’s experienced eye, a weapon case…

    And that’s exactly what it is. The normally dignified Evangeline almost prances along as she retrieves it and shows off its contents with a dramatic flourish - a finely crafted broadsword!

    Her big announcement? Eva was finally able to persuade her parents, and so will be dropping her piano lessons* in favor of fencing! HEMA/reconstruction-type fencing at that, rather than the Olympic variety. Apparently, she’s been discussing the matter with her Knight friend, Percival, for some time now.

    • GM note: As far as I recall, Evangeline taking piano lessons was only ever mentioned once in the narrative, and the offhand mention never actually made it into the reports.
    Well now. If it makes her happy, why not? Evangeline muses that, though she certainly didn’t hate it, she never felt much passion for the piano. Having started rather late, and not really possessing “a pianist’s hands”, she’d probably never advance all that far in that skill. And after their match with the Knights and her narrow defeat of Gawain, Arthur had good things to say about Eva’s sword-fighting reflexes and instincts. So why not try that? Seems much more fun that the piano.

    Octavia agrees, that if she really didn’t “feel” the piano, it would be a shame for Evangeline to waste another potential talent by sticking with it. Music requires passion and isn’t worth pursuing if it doesn’t give you joy. (Patty teases Octy a bit here, that she also doesn’t want Eva to taint and torture some poor piano with her lack of musical soul). Octy herself would never want to give up on her music, but combat definitely scratches a different itch.

    So, Eva would probably like a CCW for her Iguana now, right? Her eyes definitely light up at Diego’s question. Still, she doesn’t want to rush things too much. Eva is fine with waiting until she took some lessons and has a better idea of what she’s doing before she goes swinging a TAG-scale sword around! Not that she’ll probably have all that many occasions to use it in combat anyway. Even the Knights carry their blades and shields more for style (and promo shots!) than real utility. But, as Minnie points out, if she does, like with Gawain, it’ll probably be awesome! And a bit of showiness won’t hurt the Maya ratings… Hmm, an Angel with a sword? Should probably be a flaming one then…

    Anyway, time to head out to meet the Spiders at their usual field. Especially as it’s getting progressively more cloudy. Samantha is a bit dismayed when told they very much don’t intend to stop if it starts raining…

    And rain it does. It starts with a drizzle, but by the time the Angels and Spiders play their second engagement of the day, the rain is coming down hard.

    Not that it really seems to bother anyone much, at least initially. Combat does sometimes give way to slapstick comedy, with people slipping and sliding on mud and wet vegetation, but though there are many falls, no one gets hurt, and everyone seems to be having fun. Minuette especially seems to relish the weather, jumping in and splashing her way through every puddle she can find with childish glee. Patricia takes the biggest fall today, losing her footing and half tumbling, half sliding down a hill and landing nose-deep in a mud-filled ditch. She proceeds to cheerfully use said ditch as a concealed sniping position. And is momentarily joined by Minnie, who slides down on purpose, whooping and giggling all the way.

    The girls do really good today, even if their mobility is seriously impeded by the weather and it’s effects on the terrain. Evangeline especially is quite a terror today, her great mood from earlier not at all dampened (heh ^_^) by the conditions. Morgan is not far behind, even though she spends most of one match stuck thigh-deep in a particularly insidious patch of muddy ground and requires some help to get out afterwards and rescue her boots (still “alive” at the end of the fight, despite being trapped immobile, and having taken down two Spiders who tried to take advantage of her predicament!). Nyree is another standout, the difficult weather conditions seemingly bothering the accuracy of her indirect fire none. Though she doesn’t get much opportunity to train her secondary command duties (by now, Diego has fully decided to train her in Chain of Command skills), with Eva so sharp today.

    The rest don’t do half bad either. Samantha, though decidedly rough around the edges, especially in the teamwork department, certainly does all she can to pull her weight. A fuller picture of her capabilities is slowly forming, and it continues to look good.

    The worst off today is Octavia. Though definitely not terrible, her usually high performance lags behind today, the girl seemingly bothered by the weather the worst of them all. Not that she’s complaining, far from it! Octy gives her all, but is just off today… Especially after, somewhere during their first engagement of the day, she develops a bit of a sniffle. She insists it’s nothing, really, but Diego keeps an eye on her, and can see, as the matches and rain continue, that the girl is clearly more and more miserable. Finally, after the fourth round of fighting (third victory for the Angels! - in which Octy is the only casualty, at the very start of the engagement), when Octavia is left huddled under a blanket in the Monster’s cab, heating set to full, sniffling, sneezing, and coughing, nose runny and forehead burning, all the while putting on a brave face and insisting she’s fine, Diablo decides enough is enough.

    They cut the day short, but with the weather, they wouldn’t be able to do the traditional after-battle bonfire picnic anyway. The girls did get a good foul-weather workout, no use endangering everybody’s health further. Also, Bolo and his team didn’t seem to mind too terribly, but they definitely enjoyed the rain and mud less than the Angels (who seem to mostly have really gotten in touch with their inner child today), so that’s a win for them too. They’ll be seeing Diego and Yuni again tomorrow, anyway. Luckily the weather forecast is much better for Sunday.

    With the rain not abating, instead of going back to the Academy for the usual disbanding, Yuni takes the Monster around, giving all the girls a ride directly home (except Eva, who has Roger waiting with the limousine at the school, and Sam, who Eva gives a ride to). Patty goes with Octy, vowing to make sure her bestie gets a hot shower, a hot meal, proper medicine, and a warm bed. All the girls are instructed to have the same, just in case. Not that a simple cold is much of a problem, Octavia should be right as rain by Monday.

    Having taken care of the team, Yuni and Diego decide the continuing bad weather makes the day perfect for wasting the rest of it cozily bundled up in bed - though not necessarily for sleeping…

    Alex’ reply when Diego notifies her not to expect him back today, is the by now expected and characteristic: “ - Have fun! ;D ”.

    Sunday, January 12

    The rain kept pouring down all night. It’s still pretty cloudy today, but outside of a light, short drizzle happening a couple times, it’s much drier and more pleasant than yesterday.

    The new staff paintball team gathers for the first time (at the Academy hangar, just like the Angels): Diego, Yuni, the head bedel Ken Kamehameha, the music department and orchestra head Felipe Ramoz, english teacher and shooting club advisor Maximilian Largo, history teacher Gerhard Oobleck, biology teacher Helga Oobleck, and Academy head of medical Isabell “Pills” Talho.

    As per earlier agreement, everyone was responsible for providing their own gear. Diego and Yuni already had their equipment of course, he a Combi Rifle, and she a Boarding Shotgun (Yuni also determinedly stuck with cargo shorts as part of her uniform since the beginning - not that Diablo is complaining, she does have a lot of powerful leg to show off… ^_^). Max goes for a simple Combi himself, though he does possess a small but varied collection of other guns he’ll be happy to lend out, should anybody feel like experimenting later (including a Spitfire from his “more dakka!” phase; nowadays he finds it too cumbersome to deal with). Helga went with a Boarding Shotgun, aiming for close assault. Well, if that doesn’t get the enemy, her attitude should! Gerhard, the self professed skirmisher, totes an SMG. Ken and Felipe, not having an idea for a preference yet, both opted for the vanilla option of Combi Rifles. And Isabell, not fond of being close and personal at all, will be attempting a sniper role, with a standard Sniper Rifle.

    They’re about ready to set out, when DeeDee shyly makes an appearance. Did she have an idea to solve her “incorporeality” problem? In fact she did! It took some searching of her memory, because this particular piece of equipment hadn’t actually been in use since the founding of the Academy. But the remote park, among all the cargo, housekeeping, and surveillance machines, does in fact include something that should be suitable...

    Well than, let’s see it!

    DeeDee de-rezzes, and a few moments later she jogs up in her new drone body (almost tripping over her own feet in her hurry). It’s a humanoid model, apparently a medical assistance unit for people with serious mobility disabilities. It looks a bit goofy, all flowing lines and rounded corners, gangly, wasp-waisted, big handed, and with a large head with a screen for a face (which DeeDee uses to display her own)*. DeeDee strikes a “taa-daa” pose, at once shy and eager. Will this do?

    • GM note: For those interested, I based its appearance on Canti from FLCL.
    This should work. The machine isn’t a combat unit. It’s reflexes, speed, and agility are no better than an average, untrained human’s, and neither it nor DeeDee have any tactical, gun-handling, or other combat assist software. And Miss Alephsdottir is definitely not a soldier AI herself. So nobody should feel using a remote piloted by an Aspect is offering the team an unfair advantage. The only thing she has going for her, is the remote’s strength - it is built to be capable of easily lifting and carrying an adult human if necessary. Well, she also won’t get tired... But since the machine is not built for combat, mechanical heat and strain on the mobility servos and myomeres is a serious consideration with continuous exertion. So even though untiring in the typical sense, she’ll have to watch herself for over-exerting and rest anyway. But the machine is sturdy enough that it shouldn’t get damaged in the simulated combat. They’re going to be borrowing it to use for a very much unintended purpose, but it should be okay. Luckily, with modern medicine, it’s hardly ever needed for its intended one.

    Alright, she’s in! DeeDee is overjoyed, happily snapping to attention and offering a brisk salute… With the wrong hand. “ - Recruit Alephsdottir ready for duty, Sir!”

    They should see about re-painting the body in a camo pattern (removing the paint if necessary won’t be a problem), but they don’t have any paint on hand, and Diego doesn’t want to search through the hangar and possibly make a mess (like displacing some tool a few centimeters!) in Eric’s supremely ordered domain.

    For now, Maximilian offers DeeDee a camo jacket, which fits passably well over her new body.

    And as for weaponry... She’s strong, right? Looks like the team found it’s Spitfire gunner! DeeDee’s eyes go wide on the screen, and she almost drops the weapon in amazement.

    Let’s go. Here’s to hoping the Spiders won’t kick their old-timer butts too hard! ( :P )

    Which concludes entry #21.​
  11. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
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    Alex is the one with the most extensive and emotional character arc, not surprised she's many people's fave. :kissingheart:
    And yeah, with the character art, it's rather easy to recognize who Eva's modeled after, eh? :wink: Here's a fun fact for you all: Evangeline's family name, Neve? Just happens to be the Portugal word for "snow". But wait, isn't she supposed to be Italian?... Eh, whatever. :sunglasses:
    Danger Rose, jherazob and Golem2God like this.
  12. Golem2God

    Golem2God Just a Kooky Kumotail serving others.

    Nov 25, 2017
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    Well, well, well, nice job giving her that name. I always liked etymology and the meanings behind words. It is an interesting subject and great for coming up with personalities/background/traits for characters
    Danger Rose likes this.
  13. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
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    Oh, she's not the only one with a meaningful name... I'm worried my attempts at such are rather clumsy, but to the best of my meager, Google Translate-backed ability, I've indulged in such with several characters.
    Like, according to at least one online Maori dictionary I found, Nyree's family name, Rikoriko, can mean BOTH "dusk/sunset/twilight" AND "shimmer/glow/sparkle". :smiley: Of course, there's also the one that says it means "intercourse"... :sweatsmile:
    Danger Rose, Golem2God and jherazob like this.
  14. Golem2God

    Golem2God Just a Kooky Kumotail serving others.

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    I could see Alexa blushing over finding that out or playfully teasing Nyree about it.
    Don't be. It doesn't show up as clumsy. To me it shows how much effort you are putting into this project.
    Danger Rose and jherazob like this.
  15. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    My guess is she'd blush. Blush like Alex has never blushed before. She seems to have a serious crush on Nyree, though I'm not sure she is aware of that herself.
    Playing a tough girl is one thing, finding that kind of detail (especially I don't expect her to go fishing after what does "Rikoriko" exactly mean! But Nyree could try and explain her that...) about one's crush, well, that's another kettle of fish :flushed:
  16. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #22


    Note #1 - A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in to the series late!

    Note #2 - We have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s DeviantART Page.

    Sunday, January 12

    The staff team travel to the playing field by Monster - the girls won’t mind. It’s a bit of a tighter squeeze in the cabin, with eight grownups and a robot, but they manage.

    As expected, DeeDee in her drone body causes a bit of a stir. Not that any of the Spiders are particularly opposed to the idea of letting her play. As mentioned, neither her chassis nor software are a particularly good fit for combat, so she won’t really have any unfair advantage. But her interest in the whole affair is certainly surprising.

    And there’s definitely one advantage to having her there: if - knock on wood! - anybody would happen to be injured somehow, getting them off of the field and evacuated will certainly be very easy with a medical assistance unit on hand!

    It’s time to begin, and there are some eager looks from some of the Spiders. Seems they remember a few of the staff from their own years at the Rocha Academy… Not that the teachers, Helga especially, are much less eager…

    They’re going at it the classic paintball way, with no TAG-Soft style off-field battle controler.

    Bolo’s crew definitely have an advantage today - unlike the Angels, who, before trying paintball, had that afternoon of lazer-tag drills to their names, the Academy staff other than Diego and Yuni don’t really have any experience in small-units teamwork, let alone combat. And it definitely shows.

    The battle’s not a walkover, but the staff are struggling. At least in the first clashes (Diego directing his people to dig in and wait out Bolo’s ambush attempt, and Bolo attempting a flanking maneuver with Diego reacting with hit-&-run tactics) they give out as good as they get, the casualties on both sides equal (Yuni and DeeDee going down early, unfortunately). After that however, Diego’s team starts slowly bleeding bodies with almost nothing to show for it. Despite holding the tactical advantage through most of the match, and some last ditch brilliant maneuvers, all thanks to Diablo’s experience, the staff team just can’t effectively capitalize on it, and are picked off one by one. Isabell and Diego are the last ones eliminated, the match ending with a 9 to 4 kill count for Bolo’s Spiders.

    The day continues in a similar fashion, the Spiders winning all of their matches. Still, Diego’s new team at least shows promise. By the end of the day they’re definitely broken in on the teamwork front, and their combat performance shows promise throughout. Progress will certainly be slow - let’s be honest, they’re not as young as the girls! Nor are they going to train with the same intensity, being somewhat more busy (though some simulation “homework” in the same vein Diablo assigns the Angels won’t go amiss).

    Bolo jokes that it’s nice to be able to beat Diego again - with the Angels improving by leaps and bounds, it’s a rare occasion nowadays the Spiders can enjoy a decisive victory, let alone so many times in a row. So they better get their wins while the getting is good!

    DeeDee is a bit disappointed in herself - poor dear is somewhat clumsy with the drone, and not able to contribute as much as she feels she should… But she does her best, and her efforts are appreciated.

    Senhor Ramoz is still a bit iffy on the whole experience, but he appears to be warming to it.

    And Gerhard seems to live up quite nicely to his promises of being quick on his feet!

    They end the day with the traditional campfire picnic. And this time, all the participants being of legal age, they can break out some real beer to accompany the sausages! Though Diablo makes a note to next time bring along some battery, or maybe download some tasty file, for DeeDee…

    In general, all the participants enjoyed themselves, and part ways in high spirits.

    They probably won’t manage to play every Sunday, both the staff and Spiders won’t always be available (like Diego and Yuni doing their, by this point pretty traditional, out-of-town excercise trip). Though in the opponent department, finding other teams willing to take on the Academy staff should be less difficult than doing so for the Angels still. The Spiders won’t be the only ones to relish the idea of kicking the butts of their former teachers for sure!...

    - Well, how did it go?” Alex inquires of Diego once he’s back home. “ - The old farts any good? You trading us girls in for the new team?” she teases.

    - Yup, starting tomorrow.” Diego smirks. “ - Seriously, though, I think I can whip them into shape...

    - We should set up a match between your old guys and the Angels one day!

    - Not a bad idea… But which team would I be on?”

    “ - Well, it’s illegal and stuff, but you’re a Nomad so you probably don’t care,” Alex smirks ” - So we could initiate a Cube copy of you to lead one!”

    - Heh. That’s way too expensive. And boring - either way, I would always win...

    Alex herself doesn’t even try to hide her excitement. Tomorrow, her “exile” ends, and she’ll be able to rejoin the Angels. She’s definitely looking forward to it, something she’ll readily admit she didn’t expect to ever say not so long ago!

    Monday, January 13

    No outstanding business or urgent things to take care of today. Diego comes in to
    the Academy at his usual time.

    As predicted, Octavia has fully recovered from the spot of cold she caught at the Saturday, rain-soaked paintball session, and is quite eager to hit the field again.

    Of course, the biggest event today is Alex’ triumphant return to the fold.

    Minnie greets Alex with a gleeful tackle-glomp and a bubbling stream of cheer, and Alex doesn’t even defend herself too much this time. At least for a couple minutes, when she finally has enough and shoos Chryse off.

    The others are more restrained, but quite enthusiastic still.

    Morgan and Alex share small nods, smaller (at least for Lai) smiles, and one word greetings. Alex teasingly congratulates Eva on not letting the team fall apart in her absence, and exchanges shyly awkward but warm smiles with Nyree…

    Senhorita Silva on the other hand is, understandably, rather apprehensive at Alex’ return… For her part, Narahari limits herself to a predatory grin and a few lightly needling comments Sam’s way. For now, anyway...

    It’s TAG exercise time… And with Alex back, the logistical problem from last week gets bigger. With Eric and his team working on the last batch of TAG upgrades, there are now two people left without machines and needing to join the training through VR sim.

    The TAG being worked on today is Patty’s Szalamandra. It was supposed to be the last one last week, but since Diego didn’t have a preference, ‘Nique suggested to Eric redying Alex’ Anaconda instead, so the returning trigger-happy teen could get right back into action. Alex definitely appreciates the gesture!

    She also appreciates the new gun that’s waiting for her, her eyes shining and grin eager as she takes in the TAG-scale Spitfire.

    - Awww, Coach, you shouldn’t have!”

    “ - Oh? Okay, we’ll send it right back...”

    “ - NO! I was joking! Gimme!

    Patty is fully okay with doing the sim with her machine unavailable, and ‘Nique graciously volunteers her Anaconda for Samantha, who’ll at this stage definitely benefit more from as much real piloting training as possible.

    Yuni will also join in through the VR, to make for even 5-on-5 teams (with Eva and Nyree each commanding one and membership otherwise fluid from drill to drill). Which leaves Eric, with his usual protestations of little talent, to serve as the other combat controller.

    The Angels of Stone proceed to have a good training session.

    Alex is really happy with her new lead-belcher, especially when she can point it at Silva! Though her high morale today makes her rather open to orders and direction, including giving Sam a break when asked to do so.

    Silva herself continues to put in a promising performance. By now, Diego has her general ability level pretty well pegged. Despite starting late, she looks to be about team average except in accuracy and lateral thinking, where she’s quite talented.

    Nyree gets some more work in with the smoke grenades for her launcher.

    Octy of course continues to be the most dangerous thing on the field, though the training is by now seriously paying off, and several of the others are slowly but surely starting to nip at the cellist’s heels...

    After the training, Evangeline brings back the topic of the Angels’ media presence. The recent weeks were full of distractions, so that issue was pushed into the background. But now that all more pressing troubles seem to be happily dealt with, it’s high time to get back on it! Diego remember Eva seemed to have some idea for dealing with that matter. Indeed, the Neve heir promises to introduce the Coach to someone she believes will be a good junior media contact for the team as soon as she can arrange it.

    Alex also has an issue she thinks should be brought up…

    - I knew I couldn’t count on you lot to deal with it when I was gone.” Narahari shakes her head in mock sadness. “ - Silva’s our first ever non-founding member, isn’t she? So, isn’t there some tradition usually associated with such occasions?...” she smirks at Samantha.

    - That eager to haze the new girl, are you Alex?” Diablo’s voice is light, but carries a warning undertone.

    “ - Oooh, like an initiation prank? We had that in the cheer team!” Minnie perks up. “ - It was fun!”

    And now Octavia also seems to be glancing at Samantha with a calculating expression!...

    - Well…” Nyree hesitates, “ - In many military units, those ‘pranks’ tend to be…” she cringes.

    - ...Rather less fun and more brutal.” finishes Diego.

    - As I recall, you already got to, ehm, ‘prank’ Sam when she first came to us.” Eva raises a prim eyebrow at Alex, recalling the rather vicious underwear pulling Narahari delivered to Silva. “ - That should be enough, don’t you think?” she declares firmly.

    “ - She wasn’t on the team yet, so that doesn’t count!” Alex protests. “ - Aw, c’mon, it’s not like it has to be anything really bad!...”

    “ - I’d still prefer not to cultivate any such ‘traditions’.” Diablo shakes his head.

    - So, you were always the well-behaved one, were you, Coach?” Patty asks teasingly. “ - Fully professional behaviour, tight discipline, and irreprochable manners, huh?” the DJ grins.

    - Manners, my ass!” Diego laughs. “ - Did I ever say I was never young and dumb? If so, I was lying.”

    “ - So you did pull your squadmates’ tails* after all?” Minnie giggles.

    - Well, not really…”

    - What, they didn’t have any tails either?!” the hyper teen seems scandalized.

    - Minnie, the Coach is Corregidorran.” Morgan gently reminds. “ - Tails are more a Bakunin thing…”

    - Not that we never did mixed operations.” Diablo clarifies. “ - But not with rookies, on the ones I was on anyway. Still… No, you chicas really don’t want to know what kind of ‘pranks’ grunts pull on fresh meat. And you’re all underage anyway…”

    • Linguistic Note: There’s a double meaning lost in translation here, as in Polish, in both military and academic settings, un-initiated rookies are usually called “cats” as a derogatory term...
    - Hell, now we REALLY want to know!” Patty exclaimes, laughing. “ - C’mon, Coach, you can’t tease us like that!...”

    All the girl really seem to be eager to hear some dreadful tales, even Eva, much as she tries to hide it behind a disapproving, proper expression, and Sam, with morbid curiosity…

    “ - Well, to chose something from the milder end of the repartee…” a few disappointed groans, ” - Rubbing pure capsaicin-derived contact agent on toilet seats seemed to happen with some regularity… And there was that TAG plumbing backwash incident… Anyway, I’m sure Nyree could tell you some stories too...” Diablo deflects.

    - Yeah,” the Maori girl chuckles awkwardly, “ - I did hear quite a bit of such tales…”

    “ - Let me guess, from your granddad?”

    “ - If only him! Mom and dad had their fair share. Let no-one be under the illusion that such things are the domain of ‘unruly’ Nomads, and don’t happen in the ‘straight-laced’ Pan-O military!...

    The topic is closed for now, to Samantha’s visible relief - the others won’t be getting any (more) ideas...

    Still, as they’re departing, a little group forms around Nyree, most prominently including Alex and Octy…

    Diego feels the need to caution the girls firmly - having a laugh is fine, but he won’t tolerate anything beyond that!

    - Let me be clear. If anybody ever messes with the TAG plumbing? I’m not sure yet what I’ll do to them, but I’ll make sure to be creative! Will have to be, really, with how little will be left of the perpetrator after chief Wana gets to them…

    Evangeline tries to be supportive, assuring Sam that nothing bad will happen to her. Weather Silva believes that is an open question.

    Tuesday, January 14

    As promised, Evangeline wastes no time. Diego receives a comlog call from her today, in conference with another person - their prospective school media contact.

    A first year high school student with an unassuming face, Eva introduces the boy as one Vaughn Gross, an acquaintance from the Academy’s business club. More importantly of course, he’s one of the main editors and reporters for the Academy Maya periodical.

    Vaughn greets Diablo politely, expressing some regret at not taking any interest in the TAG-Soft team himself, apparently taken in by the lingering legacy of ill repute from the previous iteration, even with the recent success, until miss Neve appeared to give him a push… Especially since one of the local professional reporters, one miss Vanette, got there first!

    Still, for the Rocha Academy’s own contribution to the datasphere, the Angels media presence is still restricted to dry, expert-system generated press releases. And - taking nothing away from her lovable nature and helpfulness, of course! - it has to be said that miss Alephsdottir is not a PR professional, or even a very good writer, alas…

    Well, time to change all that!

    As their new official media contact with first access, Vaughn plans to start with finally giving the team a real “human face” - meaning a series of light interviews with all members. And what better place to start then the team’s coach and captain, since he has them both here today?

    Well, the last culture vulture that tried interviewing Diablo was insistently digging for some cheap scandal, and barely avoided being thrown down the stairs, even if he didn’t know it… But let’s give this kid a chance to prove himself the better, less slimy media worker.

    Vaughn does indeed do so, conducting the interviews with considerable professionalism and aplomb for such a young, relatively inexperienced reporter.

    They stick to mostly safe topics, touching a bit on the cultural differences Diego experiences on Avalon (not quite as big as could be maybe expected, seeing as the planet’s main cultural component is Latin-American, similar to Corregidor), his general impressions of the place, and Diablo’s opinions on the team, collectively and as individuals.

    Diego does play it safe still (for example, he chooses not to mention his first encounter with Yuni, when asked about his first impressions of Avalon, instead going forward to the surprise of being presented with an all-female volunteer roster). He makes sure to mention the positive surprise of Alex’ personal progress - some officially endorsed good press for the girl won’t hurt. They also touch upon the Angels’ near future game plans. No, Diablo prefers to be a firm realist, and not dream about any serious tournaments or titles, instead focusing on the present. Still, the team definitely has promise…

    Once done, Vaughn also asks about the possibility of visiting on of the Angels’ training sessions, to get a first-hand, inside look at the team at work, which Diego has no objections to. In fact, they arrange for the young reporter to come by tomorrow.

    Wednesday, January 15

    It’s time for a VR training session today for the Anjos de Rocha. That’s actually not inconvenient at all - they can include the visiting student reporter in the simulation, letting him experience as close to a “day in the life of an Angel” as possible!

    The girls are slowly arriving at their usual paces, meaning ‘Nique is there even earlier than Diablo, to get some work in at the hangar first. The second to arrive is Samantha, alone today - Evangeline will be along later, bringing Vaughn. Octavia will probably be last, as usual for Wednesdays - staying behind after band practice for some time with Fred…

    Nyree, Alex, Eva and Octy are still missing (well, ‘Nique is still waist deep head-first in a TAG, so she doesn’t quite count as present), the group waiting with Diego in their “classroom”, when “the shit hits the fan”. Almost literally even…

    Alex and Nyree arrive - together. Alex is very obviously gleeful, while Nyree looks unsure, looking amused, but also guilty about it. Alex very deliberately walks up to Samantha, the bespectacled blonde becoming fidgety and worried. The others turn to look, and Patty’s grin indicates that at least she probably knows a bit more of what is about to go down.

    Diablo sighs internally. Welp, here it comes!...

    Grinning widely, Alex moves her hands from where she was carrying something behind her back, and with a flourish plops a disposable dessert plate on the desk in front of Samantha. A plate with something on it...

    Silva’s eyes grow wide in shock and disgust. “ - W-what’s t-that supposed t-to be?!” she chokes out, leaning back distressedly.

    - Well, I’m no expert,” Alex’ grin only gets wider, “ - Buuut... It looks like a turd to me!” she declares happily.

    It does in fact look just like that. A big, fresh, “juicy”, light brown lump of fecal matter!

    - Still, if you want, I can make sure for you?” Alex offers magnanimously, her grin now only describable as “shit-eating”... Quite fittingly, as she proceeds to blithely stick her finger into the obvious excrement, scooping up a small dose… Then happily sticks it in her mouth, licking the finger clean! “ - Yup! DEFINITELY scat! So, spoon?” she presents Sam with a plastic spoon, suggestion clear…

    Silva makes a little inarticulate, choked sound. In rapid succession she goes very pale, then very green, then jumps out of her seat knocking the chair over and streaks out of the room, holding her mouth in huge distress. Everyone can hear the door of the nearby bathroom slam open, then the toilet stall… And then the unmistakable sound of Sam being violently sick in there.

    Alex and Patty both dissolve into gales of laughter. Morgan shakes her head with her tiny smile, more resigned then approving. Minnie giggles in disbelief. And Nyree looks even more amused and guilty.

    - Baalzebub's hairy balls!...” Diablo sighs again, mostly managing to restrain his grin.

    “ - Coach. Language.” Morgan chides gently, tiny smile teasing, while the others giggle.

    - Well, my usual ‘Lucifer’s beard’ just doesn’t cover it this time…” he defends, smirking wider. “ - Ok, I guess I should put on some tea…

    - So, I suspect that’s not a real, um…” Morgan inquires.

    Alex doesn’t have breath to spare, slumped in a chair now, still chortling. She just weakly points at Nyree.

    - No, not at all.” the dark girl hurries to assure.

    - I think I know that one,” Diego offers, “ - Cornflakes, powdered milk, and peanut butter, right?”

    “ - And some sculpting, yes.”

    “ - Ingenious.” Morgan quips dryly.

    - That was funny, but also kinda mean…” Minnie pokes Alex with gentle chastisement… Then she eyes the plate. “ - That’s a lot of peanut butter… What are you gonna do with it now?”

    Alex is finally able to slowly catch her breath. “ - It served its purpose… I guess we throw it away…”

    “ - What?!” Minuette is scandalized. “ - All that sweetness, and you want to waste it?! Give me that spoon!” she demands with determination.

    - You serious, Chryse?” Alex raises an eyebrow.

    “ - Dead serious!” declares Minuette. She picks up the spoon and plate. “ - So much peanut butter, going in the trash? I won’t allow such travesty!”

    “ - So, should I get spoons for the rest of you? I have all fate that Minnie could put it all away by herself, but I’m sure she’ll share if you ask…” Diablo teases.

    And this is when Evangeline enters, Vaughn in tow...

    - Could SOMEONE please explain,” Eva demands with aristocratic indignation, standing in the door, fists on hips, prim eyebrow raised dangerously, “ - Why Samantha is, pardon the crude expression, puking her guts out in the bathroom?!

    ...Just in time to witness Minnie taking a big spoonful of the disgustingly (and very skillfully, one must admit) sculpted sweet mass and jam it in her mouth!

    - Mmm-mmm, delish!” the curly-haired girl mumbles around her treat, smiling in bliss.

    Evangeline is pretty pale-skinned anyway, but now goes stark white.

    Vaughn does not stop at white, following Samantha’s footsteps, first figuratively, by turning green, then literally, throwing himself in the direction of the bathroom. In a moment, a second voice joins Silva’s in a vomit duet.

    Well, that’s certainly one way to start his “inside look” at the team!...

    - Good thing I started brewing an entire kettle.” quips Diablo, as Alex and Patty break down laughing again. Morgan hides her smile behind a facepalm, while Minnie gives an “ooops!” grin. “ - Don’t worry, Eva, it’s mostly just peanut butter.” he hastens to explain at her desperately demanding look.

    - I’m so sorry!” Nyree is now definitely miserable, if still a bit perversely amused. “ - I let Alex and the others talk me into sharing some techniques I heard about from my family…

    - Looks like I should have a serious talk with your grandfather… Some twenty years ago!” Diablo mock-chides.

    Alex still can’t stop chuckling, so Morgan, as per tradition, slaps her over the head. Which doesn’t really help, with how ceremonial the gesture has by now become, only promoting further giggling.

    - Is she really going to eat all of it?” Eva indicates Minnie, who continues to chow down, with some despair. “ - I don’t think I can watch…”

    “ - Just as well, maybe check on Sam then?” Diego gently suggests.

    “ - Yes. Yes, and Vaughn. Good idea.” Eva gathers her mental balance and quickly retreats.

    ‘Nique and Octavia finally come in (or “crawl out”, in Dominique’s case…).

    - What’s with all the laughing? And the throwing up?” ‘Nique points towards the toilets, puzzled. “ - Did we miss something?...

    “ - You can say you did.” confirms Diego. “ - Not to worry though, I’m sure someone has the whole thing recorded…” he raises an eyebrow at Patty, who tries to look innocent and fails.

    Octy for her part says nothing, just wears a curious little smile…

    By now, Minnie has at least mercifully mangled the mass on the plate to unrecognizable slop.

    - I trust,” Eva grates out as she finally comes back with Sam and Vaughn, both cleaned up but still a bit pale-green (they gratefully accept cups of tea from Diego), “ - That this takes care of any initiation traditions we’re expected to observe?” she gives Alex a cool look. Alex grins back guilelessly.

    - It better.” Diablo warns mildly. “ - Or else I just might borrow Minnie’s pet for a surprise cuddle for you…

    - No more pranks, I promise!” Alex shudders at the thought of Gummy the spider.

    - I’ll believe it when I see it…

    - Minnie, got any mint candy?” Diablo asks, indicating Sam and Vaughn. “ - Those two will appreciate it, I bet…”

    “ - Suhe! Onhy… Anhbodh’s goh mylkh?...” Minnie mumbles hopefully through a mouth thoroughly gummed up with peanut butter.

    - At least this way she’ll stay mostly silent...” Diablo teases. “ - Minnie is hyper enough with her normal intake of sweets… Can you imagine what she’ll be like after THIS much sugar?”

    The girls exchange some mock-horrified looks and giggles.

    Vaughn gives Evangeline a bemused, slightly helpless look, encompassing all he has witnessed and experienced here so far. Eva just rolls her eyes good naturedly.

    - Yeah, the social dynamics of the Anjos de Rocha are rather interesting, aren’t they?” Diablo smiles at the young reporter. “ - And yes, that’s usually ‘interesting’ in the meaning of that old Yu Jing curse…” he chuckles.

    “ - Alright, let’s maybe start again, from the very beginning…” Evangeline proposes resolutely.

    She introduces Vaughn Gross to the rest of the Angels. (Diego notes that in person, the kid is really quite tall, but also very thin and lanky.) The girls greet their new media contact with interest. Minnie of course does her usual welcoming routine, of a huge, enthusiastic hug. Which doesn’t throw the boy as much as it could - he’s obviously somewhat aware of senhorita’s Chryse reputation for effusiveness, though he is surprised at the strength of the squeeze!

    Before they begin the training session though, it’s Minnie, who, after using her amazing sweets-devouring powers to clean the plate and unstick her mouth, has something more to discuss. As she says, it’s a late Christmas / New Year present she has for the team, one she had worked on for quite some time, in her role as the Angels’ self-appointed “morale officer” even!...

    - And how nice that we have our new reporter on hand for this! It’s gonna be a historical moment for the team! Only proper to have it reported on!” she cheers.

    Okay? This ought to be good!...

    What it turns out to be, as Minnie gleefully explains, hopping in place in excitement, is callsigns for everybody! All the other teams seem to have them, and, according to miss Chryse at least, it’s high time all the Angels got some too, not only the Coach!

    - Oooh, I hope you like them! I worked so hard to find something fitting!”

    In Diablo’s opinion, the best callsigns are rarely officially created, rather they appear organically, so he’s honestly lukewarm to the idea… But it’s hard to argue with Minnie’s earnest enthusiasm, and if the others are into it too, who’s he to piss against the wind and spoil their fun?

    And so it is that Minuette pronounces the Angels’ new “stage names”:

    - Eva was easy - she’s the Princess!”

    “ - What else?” Evangeline sighs and rolls her eyes in a put upon manner, but she can’t hide a small smile.

    - Octy is definitely our Virtuoso, both in music and in mayhem!”

    “ - That’s, um, that’s a bit much, don’t you think?...” Octavia mumbles, blushing shyly.

    - Nah, it’s perfect!” Patty grins at her bestie.

    - Patty’s another easy one, she basically has one already! She’s Scr4tch!” Quite how Minnie is able to audibly pronounce 1447 without just saying the numbers is a mystery, but she does. Must be her linguistic talent... Patricia is pleased either way.

    - Morgan! You’ll be Lullaby!”

    “ - Of course.” Lai deadpans, but with their experience reading her, the tiny, tiny smile is as obvious as it can be.

    - Nyree is our Rainmaker!”

    “ - More thunder than water in that rainstorm, but it’s definitely accurate!” Alex grins, punching ‘Ree in the shoulder companionably, making her blush.

    - And Alex! You were tricky… But that new delivery gave me an idea! Spitfire!”

    “ - You naming me after the gun?” Alex furrows her brow in surprise, then grins again. “ - I like it!”

    “ - Not just the gun.” Nyree puts in, slipping into her “encyclopedia” mode. “ - It was also a fighter airplane in the 20th century World War Two… A pretty famous one…” she calls up some photos on her comlog for Alex to examine. “ - Heh. That’s ancient!… But kinda neat! I like it even more now! Can I get teeth like those painted on my TAG?...”

    “ - ‘Nique, for you… Chispita!” which comlogs helpfully translate for those who don’t speak Spanish, as “(little) spark”.

    “ - Um…” Dominique blushes rather heavily at that for some reason, but looks happy anyway.

    “ - And, well, I’m pretty obvious too! Cupcake!”

    “ - Your parents’ nickname for you?” Patty chuckles.

    “ - Sure! I love it, and it fits, right?” Minnie beams.

    “ - Can’t really argue with that…” Summers shrugs equably.

    “ - Oh, and can’t forget Mako! She’s still our honorary member!” Minnie declares next. “ - She’s our Wasp, of course!”

    “ - Fast and stingy, sure.” Alex is convinced.

    - And that leaves Samantha…” Minnie smiles at their newest member. “ - I had a toughie of a time with you, appearing last minute like that!… But I think I have a solution! You’re gonna be... Sour-Sweet!” she pronounces grandly, grinning.

    Sam blinks. “ - Hum… I… Guess I can see what you did there?...” she muses.

    “ - Overdramatic, and sweets-based, as expected of Minuette,” Eva smirks, “ - But yes, nicely symbolic.”

    “ - I... Don’t really have a choice anyway, do I?” Sam makes an amused grimace.

    “ - Nope!” Minnie declares brightly, jumping in with a hug for the bespectacled girl. “ - You’re one of us now!”

    “ - I… Think I can live with that.” Samantha can’t help a smile.

    “ - Umm…” Octavia raises a point, “ - Shouldn’t miss Yuni get one too?”

    “ - Yeah, she definitely should!” agrees ‘Nique. The others nod.

    “ - Well, I would…” Minnie grins mischievously. “ - But I think it will be most fair to leave coming up with that for the Coach!...” she giggles, giving Diego a suggestive look. The others join her in both, catching on quickly.

    - Welp, I’ll be looking forward to it!...” Yuni laughs, clapping Diego on the shoulder, winking.

    Evangeline discreetly directs Vaughn the edit the last bit out of his report…

    As usual, Patty is entrusted with the team’s art direction, incorporating their new callsigns into their insignia (and adding the “tiger teeth” decal to Alex’ machine).

    That done, the newly christened Angels finally begin their VR training for the day, joined by senhor Gross. The boy makes for an eager if rather bumbling “combat reporter”. At least, compared to some warcors Diablo’s had the “luck” to work with, he can take instruction, not to stick his head out under fire, pretty well. And in a few drills, Diablo actually makes Vaughn the objective, a VIP to be protected… Or eliminated.

    They end the day with ‘Nique staying a bit longer to give Vaughn a quick tour of the base hangar, and letting him see the real TAGs up-close.

    By the end of the day, even without any more interviews (he’ll be doing them over the rest of the week), Vaughn has plenty of material for some fluff pieces on the Anjos.

    Thursday, July 16 - Sunday, July 19

    The rest of the week passes with no real excitement or accidents.

    Diego’s caches a shift at Silva’s on Thursday, while Alex continues her part-time shifts almost everyday. Alex also continues her involvement with the study group led by Nyree, with Eva, ‘Nique, and now also Sam. It seems, as the last three put it, that Tiana Dimante is still stewing in her resentment, but still not boiling over…

    Diego’s comlog makes him aware that the first birthday among the Angels since the team’s formation is coming up soon. In fact, it’s gonna be July 22, next Wednesday, that Nyree will be celebrating her 15th! Hm. Just fifteen. With the studious girl having skipped two grades on the way, and how mature she usually acts, all of them often forget she’s younger than the rest...

    Alex also gets that notification, and is fretting over what to get Nyree for a gift.

    - A dragon.” Diego suggests, half in jest. Little Rikoriko did have that book…

    - Well, where the hell would I get one of those?” grumbles Alex. “ - Hmm… You did mention dracomons once or twice, Coach?...” she looks to Diablo hopefully.

    - NO!” is his slightly panicked answer. “ - Usually illegal, and hard to import even if not. But even above that? Those little beasts are like cats, only worse. I’m not sure how captain Rikoriko would react to you introducing into her home a bloody-minded critter that would chew on the shoes, scratch the furniture, raid the fridge, refuse to vacate the middle of the table while licking its balls, and resist any attempts at discipline worse than a feral Antipode, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be pretty or earn you any favor!…

    - Yeah, pissing off Nyree’s mom any more is definitely not a good idea...” Alex agrees. “ - Some plush toy, then? My first thought was a book, but I’m not sure I could get her anything she doesn’t already own...” She sighs.

    “ - You have a bit of time yet. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

    “ - I hope so…

    Vaughn is hard at work, interviewing the Angels one by one, releasing his first batch of color articles on the team. And things are finally starting to seriously move in the datasphere. DeeDee provides Diego with the statistics, and the number of “clicks” the Angels are getting in the Maya is steadily going up. Cinderblock and his team’s mention of them in their earlier interview, the publicity appearance at the St. Florence Rorke Children's Hospital, and the charity match with the Knights of the Round Table, with attendant media coverage, got them some nice name recognition already. And now when they’re finally getting some dedicated PR support, it looks like their star may be finally well and truly on the rise… Let’s see how things go from there.

    They have another productive Saturday paintball practice with Bolo’s Spiders, again taking Gross along and showing him some action. He doesn’t neglect to gather some opinions on the Angels from the Spiders to include in his coverage.

    Diego also manages to organize another Sunday outing against the Spiders for the staff team, though one shorter this time. The “old-timers” seem to be getting along pretty well - them manage to win a match this time!

    Finishing earlier lets Diego and Yuni still get in a motorcycle ride out of town.

    And now it’s less than two weeks until their match with the Crimson Gale…

    This concludes entry #22.

    #36 Errhile, Jan 3, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2018
    RedRook, Section9 and Danger Rose like this.
  17. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Well, here it is, finally. :sweatsmile: Took me almost two months to write it down...

    We had a laugh with that one. :smile:
  18. jherazob

    jherazob Well-Known Member

    Nov 23, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Oh crap, i haven't started the reread and there's new stuff! I must hurry! :sweatsmile:
    Golem2God likes this.
  19. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    And I have two ideas I hope not to forget before we get to the next one!
    Danger Rose likes this.
  20. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    I'd suggest writing them down, then... :tonguewink:
    Danger Rose likes this.
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