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Catgirl King

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  1. I've thought about trying to come back to it, but I'm not really sure what I'd want to do with it or where I'd want to take it. Just kind of missing that creative spark, y'know? When I get done with the current project I'll give it a reread, see if maybe my mind gets jogged and something for future closure comes to mind. No promises, sadly. Glad what's here was enjoyed, though!
  2. It's a plot thread I intend to tie up in the sequel - I know there's a lot that I opened up and haven't closed off properly yet, but I think I've kept track of them all for the next installment.
  3. Chapter XX – The Girls Are Going To War On a hunch, Naomi left early that morning for the city. People were abuzz with the news, buying supplies and groceries as if the apocalypse were coming for them. It wasn’t – even with the formation of a rapidly growing pact between the various nation-states of the continent, and the subsequent ‘collaborative military effort’ between the Holy See of Bleej and the King’s Nation, prospects for war to threaten the Nation’s safety was extremely light. From a military standpoint, the Nation was extremely advanced and dedicated, and Bleej boasted fanatical devotion to its religious doctrines. Most of the countries, by comparison, were inconsequentially armed, and some strategists had officially declared that the entire continent could sign the world’s largest peace treaty within a year. A military strategist, that was – someone that probably found their way through political means to a comfortable position of honor, one where their merits hadn’t paved the way to their success, but their connections. It was something largely absent in the Flowering Knights, an organization largely based on meritocracy. The difference in internal doctrine had driven a wedge between the classical armed forces and the elite Flowering Knights, the latter of which were above the law and suspicion of a militarized state. Only the King himself could admonish them, or another Flowering Knight. Naomi didn’t believe the televised propaganda. If her own mother had been working on this case there was something of grievous importance to it, but to what extent she didn’t know. Once more, it was all questions and no answers. But a cut-and-paste letter forwarded to her by ‘grandpa’ Mandla might have what she needed to get some answers for once. Supposedly, it was handed to the old snack stand peddler by a mysterious individual, and addressed to ‘one certain bushy-tailed firebrand in the Flowering Knights’. Surely it’s no crime for a citizen to stand in a back alley somewhere? was all it read. But Naomi knew better than to walk straight into that same alleyway where she’d met Unathi, the mysterious boy from all those years ago, the one that had been tailing Naomi’s Petal and curious about the Bleej’ian spies they had happened upon. That phrase was something he himself had uttered, back then, and she knew exactly what it meant now. She didn’t like the cloak and dagger, but now of age she appreciated the importance. So she took to the rooftops and zipped across them cautiously and graciously, listening closely for any signs of uninvited guests. Satisfied there were none, she dropped quietly to the alleyway below, easily spotting the cloaked man. Naomi stood up straight. “Do you still believe someone is betraying the King and Nation?” she asked bluntly, causing him to startle and spin around. He relaxed, seeing her familiar ears and tail. If anything, Unathi smiled. “I have proof of it now, actually – as of last night it played on every news outlet in the Nation. Not a single soul in this corrupt land failed to hear his words.” The implication was not lost on Naomi, but this time she did not react violently and with the preprogrammed training of her pedigree. “I could kill you for the crime of simply giving voice to such treasonous words, you know.” “I know – which is why I wanted to tell them to you.” The two of them stared evenly at one another, waiting for a reaction. Naomi could actually hear his heart flutter, fear and apprehension creeping in over what was being discussed. In the end, all she could do was sigh heavily. “And what do you want me to do about it?” Unathi blinked sadly. “Sometime in the next week, there will be a tragedy on the front lines of this ‘war’ that’s being waged. It will force an escalation almost immediately: martial law will be declared, the draft will double in severity and the Flowering Knights will be deployed to assist the military in its campaigns.” Naomi listened to this very carefully – it sounded like something Thembeka’s contact would have said, and her gut told her it was very much a possibility. It wouldn’t be hard to verify, either – seven days wasn’t long to see such an event realized. Unathi had grown quite a bit since that day: he was a man now, with broad shoulders and a chiseled physique. He looked quite capable, and it made Naomi wonder what he was doing with his life this whole time. More importantly, what he intended to do with it now. “If that’s true, then I’ll need to fight the war,” she answered him. “I serve.” He shook his head. “No, you have to stop this from happening.” “You idiot. You cannot trick an audience that isn’t watching the show.” He stopped, looking at her with some confusion. Naomi hoped he would understand what she meant – she really didn’t want to explain it out loud. After at least a minute, he hung his head, defeated. “Alright…we’ll wait and watch, then.” “It’s the only way. We’ll do everything in our power to pave the way: when the time is right, you can count on us.” He shook his head. “The people will suffer tremendous agony while this ‘game’ plays out. Doesn’t that bother you?” That spiked her blood pressure pretty badly, but Naomi was made of sterner stuff than to let it control her so easily. “Tremendously. But changing the world requires time, patience and sacrifice the likes of which man is not easily capable of paying. In your case, you must suffer your blood, sweat and tears. In my case, it may be my life, or the lives of my sister Knights.” Silence befell the two of them. His face looked grim, and he extended one hand to her. “I cannot remember your name, but I wish you only the best.” “Naomi,” she shook his hand. “I only give my best, Unathi. And, if it’s any consolation, you will hear from me again – soon.” At this the man chortled. “Sooner than last time you told me ‘soon’, one would hope?” She forced herself not to smile. “Only when my service to the King – and to his country – will be at its greatest, and not a moment before.” “Yes, yes, I’m sure you will. Very well then, I won’t keep you. Stay safe, Knight.” Naomi turned on her heel and walked away from him. She was pretty certain she understood the cryptic conversation they had had, and if her Samesmelting’s horrid whispers were anything to go by, her life was going to be one of the worst in history, or one of the greatest: there would be no alternative. Onwaar Blossom had remained in proximity ever since the news of the impromptu conflict first reached their collective ears. In a way, the potential for being deployed into combat had brought them together as a sisterhood in a way that they hadn’t really felt since they started training. Naturally, they were close to one another, even if they were sometimes dismissive or even abrasive with each other, but no different from any other family. Now that the days of truth were nearer than ever, they had set aside even the pettiest of disputes for the sake of coming together. It was heartwarming, a comfort that the eighteen of them sorely needed. Two days after the meeting with Unathi, veteran Knights Thembeka and Nolwandle entered their dorm with grim expressions. Dead silence befell the twenty women. Thembeka was the first to speak, powering up a screen and running a recording on it. “This was sent to us a few hours ago.” Upon playing, it showed various combat footage from Nation soldiers and vehicles, engaged in combat with light infantry. At least, that’s what Naomi thought at first – soon, it became apparent that these were not men. Machines, robots with no emotion, manufactured soldiers with utter disregard for life, engaged the King’s soldiers on the field of battle. They were void of the energy that marked a soldier’s frantic efforts to survive, simply advancing and firing and being cut down in droves. When the larger ones showed up, there were only brief moments before the footage cut off. Thembeka took a deep breath before continuing, “The Degan Sprachbund, as they are now calling themselves, deployed massive volumes of these automated warbots against both the Bleej’ians and our own forces. Our military saw success but was forced to fall back – the Bleej’ian brigade that made first contact lost contact, and we are to assume they are KIA.” Naomi’s ears flicked, the sound of trickling water. It sounded like Zanele again – yeah, that teeth chattering was definitely Zanele wetting herself once more. Naomi didn’t feel like she was far behind at this point: she almost felt ill, seeing those robots fighting the King’s forces like that. It was distressing to see, the lack of humanity present in this current war. Part of her wondered if that’s what her enemies would feel, facing down a BORS. Nolwandle nodded solemnly. “Tomorrow at 0530 hours, Onwaar Blossom will be officially deploying to the frontlines. Get yourselves ready.” There was a pause while she exchanged glances with Thembeka. “If there’s any questions you have, girls, now’s the time.” But no one had any to ask, or at the very least, no one had the strength to ask them. Thembeka finally nodded, “Shuttleport at 0500 tomorrow, then. Hangar 78E.” Naomi stood up. “I serve,” she forced herself to say. Her voice kind of cracked a little, but she kept a stern look of defiance about her. After a few moments, Palesa also stood up. “I serve,” she repeated, her own voice betraying her unease with the situation, but more and more the other women of Onwaar stood up and added their own defiance to the mix, before ever Knight in the Blossom proudly affirmed together, “We serve!” Thembeka’s eyes looked a bit watery, and she nodded with a smile on her face. “I’m very proud of you all – I know you’ll carry out your duties magnificently, and if the spirits will it you’ll be the key to restoring peace to our people, permanently.” And with that, the former instructors were gone. Many of the girls sat down shakily, some shedding tears with their sister Knights and embracing one another, making promises and sharing dreams they’d never previously stated. Life was about to be real, and the strain was obviously taking its toll. Naomi had the jitters, but was mostly fine. That was, until Imka and Mieke came blubbering over and spouting all sorts of emotional nonsense, and pretty soon the three of them were sharing tears and attempting to force laughter to reduce it. It wasn’t pretty to experience or watch, but at the same time it was a beautiful display of deep camaraderie between them all. The Blossom arrived at their designated location several minutes early, packed up and ready to go. Mieke had insisted on bringing Gepp along, and threatened one of the shuttleport guards when he insisted that no pets were allowed. Considering Gepp was currently with them, he had folded pretty easily. Naomi hoped that the men and women of the armed forces were not so easily dissuaded: a warrior needed a heart of iron and nerves of steel if they wanted to keep going in a duty like this. But they also needed their spirits to be lifted, and morale to be good. During her apparent attempts to fall asleep last night, Naomi had concluded it was her duty to set the best example she could for her sister Knights, and she had very rapidly found out how best to do it – being a sister, not just a Knight. She flipped up Zanele’s combat skirt and slapped her padded butt. The girl yelped with surprise and spun around, covering her skirted rear end with a look of betrayal and confusion on her face. “Just checking my battle buddy,” Naomi grinned. “Making sure there’s no incoming wet floor hazards for the shuttleport when we leave.” “But Epsilon Petal are my primary battle buddies-” Zanele started before her face turned red. She looked over at Lerato and Amahle, blushing crimson before looking back at Naomi. “Yeah, well, they weren’t doing a good job of it, so figured I’d show them how it’s done.” Naomi looked over at the other members of Epsilon Petal and gave them a thumbs-up. “Think you can keep her checked now?” Amahle took the bait, bending over seductively and staring at Zanele’s skirt. “I see now, so clearly, yes.” Zanele got really flustered at this, tiptoeing and turning in varying directions to avoid the increasingly severe stares she was getting, and Naomi found herself chuckling and pulling the woman into a one-armed hug. “See? You’ll be just fine, Zanele. We’ll take care of you, okay? So make sure you take care of us, too.” The girl slowly started to realize it was just an attempt at levity, and her face relaxed. “O-okay, Naomi. Thanks.” She fwipped the former’s fox tail up and slapped her butt. “You watch my backside and I’ll watch yours.” A few of the other women chuckled at this – mission accomplished, as far as Naomi was concerned. She settled back in with her own Petal sighing. The jitters were still there in her heart, butterflies in her stomach, but she was helping the others out. That had to count for something. As she sat down on the bench she found herself taking a few deep breaths, and then became dimly aware of Palesa standing next to her. “Hmm?” “Naomi,” the other girl started. “I know we’ve been on shaky ground since we started, but…well, I just wanted you to know that I appreciate everything you’ve done for the Blossom. Sure, you’ve been a pain in the neck at times, and I don’t always appreciate your obsession with chaos, but I want you to know that…you know what I mean.” She looked up at her longtime rival, feeling herself smiling. “I know. Thank you, Palesa.” She stood up and hugged the other woman. “We’ll be fine.” “I know, Naomi. I know.” Palesa had to spin around to hide her tears, but Naomi could easily hear them as she stormed away, trying not to let the others see. Various TVs displayed news outlets and updates on the evolving situation at the front, commentators offering their opinions and so-called experts proclaiming whatever it was that they thought was the case. For Naomi, most of it was clearly a half-lie, at best, or otherwise misinformed. She was surprised she had never seen it that way up until recently. Or rather, never heard it. But she did now, and the corruption and problems became clearer and clearer to her. It made sense that Unathi so badly wanted to change how things were, but the man foolishly didn’t yet understand the tremendous amount of energy and sacrifice such a change would require. It would take time, too – and that time would need a lot of effort to it. Naomi felt the familiar wetness and warmth start to flow around her crotch. Sighing, she didn’t bother trying to stop it, feeling it heating up all around her and rise up like a flood. It wasn’t anything new, and it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. But that wasn’t important: what was important was her efforts to protect and serve the King, and then his country, and then his people, in that order. That was the way of the Flowering Knights. “Ladies!” a familiar voice snapped her out of it. The Knights all looked over, jaws agape at the pair of combat-uniformed veteran Knights before them. “Instructor Thembeka? Instructor Nolwandle?” Thembeka chortled at this. “Veteran Knight, now, to all of you. Or perhaps ‘ma’am’, that will do just fine.” At the confused looks, her eyes narrowed. “…what, did you think we were sending you all to war without anyone to guide you?” “Well, yeah,” Arno blurted, leading Nolwandle to roar with laughter. “Oh, Arno, never change.” She walked over and ruffled the innocent girl’s hair, smiling warmly. “Fortunately, you are incorrect – Thembeka and I have been assigned to your Blossom as commander and vice-commander, respectively, and will handle strategic decisions as well as be your liaisons when dealing with the military. Should make it easier for you girls to do what you do best.” Thembeka cleared her throat rather loudly, leading Nolwandle’s tail to swish in irritation. “Sorry, what you women do best – you’re not children anymore, nor are you teenagers. You’re not schoolgirls, crying at the first hint of rejection and peeing your panties when darkness falls. You are women of the Nation, and the best of the best at that. You – all of you – are Flowering Knights! Every action you take will set an example for girls to look up to and be inspired by for ages after. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do, only that you do. So, relax, enjoy what comes next, and never stop fighting for what you believe in.” The mood had changed drastically for the Knights. This was becoming less of an insurmountable challenge to face and more of just a new and more-real training exercise with the instructors. Ironically, in some ways, it began to feel familiar to them. Some of the Knights began to look excited about joining the conflict, and by the time 0530 hours arrived and their transport craft was beginning pre-flight checks, Onwaar was delighted at the prospect of the harrowing adventures that awaited them. “Secure your stowage and seatbelts on, everyone!” Thembeka barked. The Knights complied with this simple of orders, the first of many to follow. “You can gossip plenty on the ride there. This isn’t going to be a normal fieldtrip, so take notes and learn quick.” “We serve!” came the synchronized response. Naomi settled in to her seat and restraints and started to relax. She might even take a nap on the way. Come what may, I’ll support you, the Voice asserted in her ears. She smiled, making a mental thank you in response. There were many threads in her life that had yet to be tied up, but Naomi was confident that she would find a way to do it, sooner or later. There were many questions to be answered, and many answers that begged some questions, but she would deal with that when the time was right. No, they would all do it, together. As the rear hatchway closed, Nolwandle started laughing again. “Statistically, around seventy-two percent of Flowering Knights pee their pants on their first real mission. You might be special, but you’re not that special – don’t worry too much about it, ladies: your instructors made sure to pack extra diapers, just for the occasion!” _________________________________________________________________________________________________ And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen - that is the final chapter of The Flowering Knights - Diapered Defenders of King and Country! This was honestly a blast to write, even if it took me an eternity to finish. I hope it brought you as much joy reading as it did for me writing, and I greatly appreciate the feedback and kind words. And if it feels like there should be more to the story...well, you never know if you might find a sequel, waiting in the wings~ But that's something for another day: technically, another year! Enjoy yourselves and I'll see you all in 2024!
  4. Chapter XIX – The Girls Are Waiting Calisthenics were a longtime favorite of the Flowering Knights, in the sense that the women of this elite group were incessantly subjected to them for long periods of time while they were young, and by the time they were mature they found such exercise to be almost nostalgic, meditative and comforting. Such was the case for Naomi, neither the first nor last Flowering Knight to carry such thoughts in her head. For the moment it was sit-ups, only because her arms were too physically exhausted to continue doing push-ups, and the moment they were not – or her core was unable to continue her crunches – she would switch back again. This cycle had been ongoing for a good hour or two by this point, and yet her anger still burned quite fiercely. Guglethu’s actions during the test yesterday had nearly resulted in the deaths of at least two Flowering Knights, and only by a mix of luck or divine intervention had there been nothing greater than injuries modern medicine couldn’t reliably fix. Imka was confined to a hospital bed for at least a week while she recovered, but Mieke had gotten off pretty lucky, and was expected to be fighting fit in three days’ time. This wasn’t what infuriated Naomi – it was the knowledge that there would be nothing more than a slap on the wrist for the offending party. When Nolwandle had found out that someone had taken live ordnance into a testing phase, it had required more than a dozen Flowering Knights to pull the orca-tailed veteran Knight – and her vice-grip – from Gugulethu’s throat and restrain her. For her part, Gugulethu and her Petal were reassigned to administrative assistance work for the next year, and stripped of any responsibilities that may place other Knights at risk. While demeaning and dishonorable, it was far from just, something that Naomi had yet to get over. She sighed, flopping onto her back. Her body couldn’t do any more sit-ups, refusing to rise up. The woman breathed heavy, closing her eyes and willing her mind to cease screaming at the injustice of what she’d experienced. The fury was intoxicating, seizing her bloodflow and muscles like barbed hooks and raking through her body as a violent sin. In her heart, Naomi knew that this would not serve her well, but purging it from her mind required purging it from her body. Easiest way to do that was to burn it out, manually. The woman pulled herself up, rolled over, and pushed against the ground until she was in position. Her breaths were fire and fierce, and she began to push up, then down, again and again. In her head, she kept seeing those horrible sights – the violent discharge of a GEPP, a streak of man-made lightning searing across the sands she’d known for years, burning them into glass and melting through her friend’s BORS, gutting it and tearing it to shreds, casting the slagged wreck behind the dunes. Under different circumstances, that may have been the last time she ever heard Imka’s voice. Mieke’s wiry and lethal frame, facing a giant of insurmountable power, the literal David and Goliath of metaphorical war. Watching her friend’s mech tossed like a chewtoy and crushed against a mountain…that may have been the last time she ever saw Mieke, had things been even slightly different. That was the truth behind Naomi’s wrath – not hatred, but fear. In combat, any one of those situations could very easily happen, to any one of her sister Knights. Nearby, she heard a can being tossed aside absentmindedly. Naomi had been keeping track of Nkazimulo’s drinking today, and she was currently eleven beers down the rabbit hole. When the woman had learned of what had happened she had taken it hard – not that she had ever needed an excuse to consume alcohol, but the Knight was clearly shaken by what had happened. Everyone in the Blossom was – their sister Knights had nearly been taken away from them, and by one of their own, nonetheless. That the Flowering Knights could contain women that would be willing to potentially kill their sisters was… Well, it had shaken the faith in many of Onwaar Blossom. Nay, it had shaken it in all of them: the only differences were in how they tried coping with it. The background noise of gweghhhh made Naomi’s ears flick. It was the triplets of Gamma Petal, fawning over Gepp – the Molligmond had grown into quite the ‘handsome man’, as Mieke would call her pet, an adult now that towered seven feet tall. Even so, he was quite genteel around the girls, probably viewing them like his own family: it didn’t help that they loved babying him, petting him and feeding him food in exchange for tricks or othersuch comforts. Ironically, the fearsome creature was one of the most relaxing things the Blossom had at its disposal. This was not to say that Gepp was just a mascot, or a pet: while he was too large to fit in Mieke’s cockpit – comfortably – now, the creature was still a hunter, and had even sortied with them all on various missions. His ability to track animals, humans and even machinery had given them an interesting advantage on several training exercises. Mieke hadn’t thought it was a problem until the beast had actually powered up her BORS one day and put the entire base on emergency alert, but she was able to pass this off as a simple misunderstanding. “He’s just looking for someplace warm and comfy to sleep, and it smells like mama!” she had told her instructors. The girl, at the time, had still paid a rather steep price for her transgressions, but that never dissuaded her from treating the Molligmond like a son. Naomi was brought back to reality when her arms buckled and she unceremoniously flopped onto the floor, wheezing and sore. Annika sighed heavily. “Give it a rest, Naomi. A few minutes of rest won’t kill you.” The fox-eared Knight sighed heavily, still drawing pained breaths. The older sister of the group was correct, but that didn’t really matter to Naomi. She was still coming to grips with her emotions, and no amount of self-torture seemed to be doing the trick. So she laid there, slowing her breathing – Annika’s words had an effect on her. If she hadn’t beaten the negativity out of her system yet, she wasn’t going to. It was an open wound that needed time now, not medicine. Show some patience and let things happen. The waiting was still terrible, though. She let her fluffy ears to the hard work for her, listening to the various sounds her sister Knights made – Khanyisile’s humming and melodic actions, Lerato’s sultry voice fussing over Zanele pissing herself unnecessarily once more, Palesa’s subsequent mocking of Zanele, Duduzile’s subsequent attempts to pick a fight with Palesa, and the list went on. Subtle sounds gave her a perfect picture of what was happening all around her, despite not being able to see any of it. Naomi closed her eyes, letting herself hear things even better. The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. Her ears flicked again – that was the telltale steps, albeit limpy, of a certain immature shark-tailed Knight Naomi had considered a dear friend for years. She sat bold upright, spinning to look at the door – sure enough, it squeaked open as Mieke hobbled in, still in a hospital gown and waving sheepishly. “I needed some fresh air. How-” Mieke never got a chance to finish as Naomi leapt to her feet and bolted over to her friend, skidding to a halt and embracing her with tears in her eyes. The younger woman made an eep sound, gasping for breath. “Owie! Naomi, not so rough, I’m not fully recovered yet!” At this, the fox-eared Knight chose to be gentler, but still not too much. Seeing her friend up and on her feet did wonders for her emotional state, in a way the knowledge that she was okay wasn’t able to fulfill. After some hemming and hawing Naomi finally let go of Mieke, and the latter gathered around to regale her sister Knights with the tale of her near-death-experience, explaining all the finer details from her point of view, what had come after, and so on and so forth. It was harrowing to hear, some of the women even brought to tears over it. They were oddly quiet, no infighting or sneering or sarcastic remarks – everyone took it dead seriously, and with solemn understanding that it could have been very, very different. More importantly, it could happen again. But, true to form, Mieke did her best to play it off by the end, cheering everyone up by cracking a few jokes and derping around with Gepp for a bit. Some brevity to the situation was welcome, and it helped put everyone in a better frame of mind. A better frame of mind raised some interesting questions in Naomi’s mind, about all the various things that had occurred throughout her life. There had been a lot of questions that had come up, and not all of them had answers. Her emotions had cooled in the hours since Mieke had come by to assure everyone she was alright, and Naomi found herself now seeking answers as a form of meditation. Her life typically moved at a pace that disallowed dwelling on matters for too long, but now that she was an official Flowering Knight it felt like she had more time to think for herself, and it felt odd to her at times. Sometimes, all Naomi wanted was for someone to tell her what to do and how to think. Orders were easier than trying to figure life out on your own. She sighed heavily, leaning back on her bunk. Her body felt like it could barely move, between her exploits in the FOPS and her hell-bent exercising earlier that day she was at a physical limit that demanded she rest. And so, Naomi did, but her brain needed no such relaxation. If anything, the increased bloodflow and oxygen had simply made it wander further and faster, and it made Naomi restless. “You have the answers to everything, it seems,” she sighed. “Why don’t you give me aught but more questions?” Mieke turned her head at this but, realizing it was a question directed at the fox spirit within her friend, she went back to reading her book and stroking Gepp’s snoozing face. The fox has many tricks. It would seem, so do you. At this Naomi frowned. She had picked up a couple ideas in her time, but the ability to think on her feet was not a substitute for knowledge. Naturally, the incessant penchant for riddles meant there was probably a deeper meaning to what the Samesmelting had said. It took what Naomi assumed was around forty-five minutes to figure out a possible interpretation: much as the spirit that guided her was a trickster – a fox – so too was her own life. It was her place to make questions to ask, not to answer them. Or, at the very least, she would be constantly surrounded by things that didn’t have an easy or obvious answer. Possibly neither of those were true, but that was the best Naomi could figure out for the day. That would have to be good enough. Naomi sighed – she really needed to go pee right now, but on the same token she really didn’t want to get up to go to the bathroom right now. Her body desperately needed to recover, and that’s exactly what she elected to do: just lay back and wet herself. Ironically, the warmth flowing around her diaper was comfortable, and it made her desire a hot bath. She felt herself dipping into sleep, and then realized she was dreaming. If your entire world were to be turned upside one day, what would happen to you? What would you do if everything you knew was taken from you? Naomi was instantly awake but she had no idea why. Her heart was racing, like she’d just tried running another marathon. Words she’d previously heard rang in her ears, and her response to them from years passed were freshly upon her tongue. I’d fight to bring it back. Her tail felt damp and she patted the matted fur, uncertain if it was sweat or if she’d pissed herself more while asleep. It was impossible for her to tell, despite several attempts to conclude. The woman’s eyes naturally focused, trying to get used to the dark. She could hear snoring nearby, and it took a few moments to figure out it was a mix of Mieke and Gepp. Sighing to herself, she made an attempt to get out of bed, promptly failed and flopped onto the floor. That put a good bit of pain through her system, enough to wake right up and groan. The door opened, making her look up. Adrenaline spiked and she was instantly on her feet and with all soreness forgotten. “Imka??” The woman was leaned against the doorframe, still sporting a hospital gown barely hanging on to the Knight’s body. Imka was drenched in sweat and heaving, with signs of contusions, incisions and all manner of other surgery and medical attention present on her body. Moreso than that, she had a look of fire on her face, one Naomi wasn’t certain she had ever seen before from the woman. One might think of it in a positive light, but Naomi knew Imka far too well for this – that was the look of someone haunted. “Checked the news, lately?” was all Imka answered them. The story was still developing, but what they knew for certain was that the Tiff’zhungiz had openly crossed the Nation’s borders and set fire to the Nhanganghanga plateau, burning the area and ousting any villagers in the vicinity. A local monument there had been desecrated and a monument of their own erected – there had been no declaration of war and no denouncement from the Tiff’zhung chieftain or governing authority had been made. The King’s response had broken aught but a handful of minutes ago – war was openly declared upon the Tiff’zhung people. Naomi’s eyes were wide and glued to the screen as she heard the King’s speech. In it, he called for an ‘appropriate’ response to the ‘historical sacrilege’ from a people that had been shamed into peace for five centuries at their own miserable failures. The rhetoric was quite vile, and she could hear the rising rage in both Imka and Mieke. “This is bologna!” the shark-tailed woman nearly screamed. “It might have been rebels or a terror cell – hell, the Tiff’zhung chieftain might not even be aware of it yet!” Imka looked suspicious at the same time. “That’s not all – Thembeka contacted me, said a source of hers warned that the Bleej’ian Holy See will be officially condemning this within the hour, and will be pledging materiel support and boots on the ground in dealing with this ‘affront to holy peace.’” Mieke looked more and more incredulous the longer this went on. “Are you fucking serious?? Why would the Bleej’ians ever want to work with us? They hate our guts!” The response from the squad leader was carefully measured over a painfully long inhalation. “Supposedly, this makeshift alliance will strengthen ties with the two greatest powers on the continent. Faced with no alternatives, Tiff’zhung will forge a defensive alliance with other minor states between the two. This will create a war that will spread like wildfire across the continent within a month, maybe even a week.” Naomi felt her jaw dropping at this information. It was a lot to take in. “Who is this source of Thembeka’s? How would so much data come to light?” Imka looked her friend dead and cold in the eyes. “Your mother, Naomi.” The fox-eared girl’s heart dropped, but Imka continued. “This information does not yet leave this room. Are we clear?” Mieke and Naomi affirmed a desynchronized and shaky pair of ‘I serve’ responses. On the screen, the King was declaring the first deployment of the military, and within scant minutes the Flowering Knights were put on priority alert, in the event the situation were to escalate any further. It only took two hours for the first waves of soldiers to set foot in the Nhanganghanga region, and just like that the war had begun. Imka looked grim as the impromptu gathering of girls slowly grew until the entire Blossom was present, pacing and nervously gazing about at their sister Knights. “This was planned,” she affirmed, spitting into the sink for the umpteenth time. “Someone somewhere knew this attack was coming – you can’t deploy the conventional military that quickly to a zone, never.” “Are you suggesting the King is complicit in the worst attack on his own Nation for five hundred years?” Palesa asked with a hint of threat to her voice. “Tread carefully, sister Knight – words like that can see court-martialed.” “Are you suggesting its impossibility?” Imka countered. Palesa didn’t respond, but her warning was taken all the same. Arno shuddered. “A lot of innocent people are going to die because of this…but why? What would anyone stand to gain from this?” It was a fair question – Tiff’zhung was an independent country that owed no allegiance to anyone, they were in no way subjugated by the Nation, they were not threatened and there were no border disputes anyone was aware of. Sure, rebels and terrorists of all kinds existed in all societies, but this surprise attack looked professional, military. It took training and equipment the likes of which you couldn’t easily access if you didn’t shake a CEO’s hand. It would be a long night for the Knights of Onwaar Blossom, and the women had a horrible suspicion that the days before them were going to be even longer.
  5. Chapter XVIII – The Girls Are Watching Naomi’s NOE flight through the canyons and towering sand dunes that led to the testing zone were, by her metrics, ‘lazy’ in terms of speed. The FOPS in flight was capable of crossing a kilometer in less than two seconds, and she was nowhere near that. It was still insanely quick for a mech, and she was still enjoying every moment of it. Several weeks had passed since her maiden flight in the new war machine, and despite other Knights getting their chances to fly it Naomi had been chosen to test it out in a true combat simulation. That is to say, Naomi had adamantly demanded of her superiors and peers alike that she get the honor, and after some rather brutal hand-to-hand duels (all of which Naomi had won, despite several protestations of ‘cheating’ and ‘disrespectful stripping of an opponent’s uniform and dignity alike’) she had secured the coveted prize. It was a simple three-versus-three duel, wherein she and her FOPS would take two allied Knights in BORS mechs against a trio of BORS mechs. Naturally, she had selected Imka and Mieke to stand with her on this field of battle, although in an unfair decision by the higher ups neither of the women would know about the FOPS’ existence until just a few spare minutes before they began. This was justified as a ‘control’ group for a blind test, and Naomi had no choice but to agree to these terms. But she knew her enemy this day – the Knight that Nolwandle had shown such disdain for on the testing day, Gugulethu, would be leading the trio of hostile BORS units for this test. Simunition or no, there was certainly a personal grudge present, and that would make them dangerous. Hopefully, Naomi would be able to convey that to her friends before the best-of-three test began. Several minutes later she was near enough to pick them up on sensors, far outstripping the BORS’ computing capabilities. She waited until she was within two klicks, then rose up above the sands like a steel goddess, well within radar tracking. The radio crackled with Imka’s disbelief. “There’s- there’s a contact, right on top of us! Friendly IFF…identify yourself!” Naomi’s HUD screens zoomed in, showing excellent clarity at such a distance as she calmly circled around a bit. She was aware of her friends and foes alike staring up, curious about this mysterious new machine. Chuckling to herself, she waited until she was behind her allied team and facing her enemies, gunned the engine and launched forward with blistering speed, but slowed down gradually on her approach. The FOPS was good, but it placed a tremendous strain on the pilot’s body, even with the adjustments made since her last testing flight. Naomi knew she had to be careful with her actions if she wanted to last for potentially three duels. Firing her reverse-jets, she dropped the last fifty meters or so and slammed into the ground, skidding to a dusty halt beside her friends. Finally opening her radio, she chuckled. “Sorry to keep you girls waiting.” Mieke’s voice betrayed her disbelief. “Spirits that be, is that you, Naomi?” She turned her mech’s headpiece towards her longtime friend and nodded it before looking over to her opponents. Two Oefenbroek-class medium BORS and a Luier-class, a heavy: no doubt that was Gugulethu’s, and it sported a trio of 5cm GEPPs, as well as a snubnose OSH-30. “Interesting,” the fox-eared knight muttered. “You girls ready?” Imka and Mieke affirmed this. The three stared over at their opponents, and it was a few moments before Gugulethu dismissively spoke to them. “You took your sweet time, Naomi. What, couldn’t be punctual, on this most important of days?” Naomi didn’t respond. Her late arrival was intentional, as was her disrespectful lack of response. Gugulethu was easily flustered, and Naomi aimed to exploit that to the fullest. Even with the FOPS, Gugulethu was a Knight many years her superior, and a BORS was a formidable weapon – despite her prototype mech’s speed, Naomi would never be faster than a lightning bolt from one of those GEPPs. Gugulethu sneered. “Whatever. This test will prove the FOPS is a waste of the Nation’s resources and the King’s time – ready to begin.” Imka’s voice was calm, by comparison. “Ready to begin – all units, approach your assigned starting zone and await signal to begin.” The two Petals went their separate ways, calmly walking to areas outside of one another’s line of sight. When the code was broadcast, they’d all move in for the simulated kill. During this time, Naomi explained quickly what her new machine was capable of, as well as the dangers associated with their foes. Imka had a plan within half a minute, and the women were ready for the upcoming fight. Their Automated Spotting Systems simultaneously barked a response. “Begin simulation: phase one.” Naomi throttled up almost immediately, launching forward on wings of fire as she cleared the dunes within moments. She had eyes on the hostile Petal almost immediately, and rerouted that targeting data to her comrades. A tone sounded off, warning her that she was being targeted by hostiles, and Naomi reflexively banked to the side. This was a standard diversionary tactic, except she was at a range where her speed would make it easy to dodge. At least she thought. The first discharge from a GEPP nearly clipped her in the knee, and she pulled a few high-g turns to avoid the subsequent blasts. Autocannon fire chittered away in her wake, and she found herself accelerating more and more to keep ahead of it. Arrogance will be your downfall. Naomi’s eyes narrowed: she was well aware of this lesson by now, the Voice didn’t need to remind her of it. Advanced machine or no, a simpler weapon could still defeat her. After all, she’d taken on entire squads of armed soldiers in training throughout the years, armed with sticks and stones she’d found lying on the ground. The FOPS was not an all-powerful guarantee of victory, and if she treated it as such she would lose, as would her Petal. Alpha Petal – the first and foremost among all her sisters in the Blossom. That carried with it a meaning of pride and honor that Naomi owed a duty to serve: it would not do to just do her best here, she must give it all and more. Her eyes narrowed. Stick to the plan. Trust your sister Knights. “I know!” she snapped. Her eyes tracked across a HUD screen to the offending three BORS mechs. Naomi focused on piloting, dodging and weaving through incoming fire as her ASS kept updating targeting data for her allies. GPS points, radar lock, mean extrapolation of patterened movement: it was enough to form a targeting solution. Naomi kicked the FOPS’ legs out, rolling onto her back mid-air and torqueing along her mech’s vertical axis, firing her jets hard as she now screamed towards the enemy like a missile. They all immediately let loose with everything they had, pausing to form a firing line – they knew the FOPS was fast, much too fast to fight at close quarters. If Naomi got within two hundred meters she could very easily defeat all three of them without suffering so much as a scratch. And the Knights all knew that, such would be their downfall. Naomi was equipped with several GEPP-M launchers, a fusion of technologies that fired bolts of ionized lightning in sweeping arcs like a missile, capable of tracking targets and overwhelming their ability to dodge incoming fire. Ironically, it was designed to counter the possibility of other FOPS-like mechs with horrifying speed, attacking from multiple directions simultaneously – sure, some of the GEPP-Ms would miss, but others would hit, and the lack of ammunition meant a FOPS could maintain suppressive fire from multiple locations on the battlefield, using its mobility and speed to relocate constantly. In Naomi’s case, she was just trying to get everyone’s attention, and keep them focused at roughly one-hundred sixty degrees away from the real problem: Imka and Mieke. Additionally, she knew how the BORS worked – it would blare warning alarms when it was radar-locked, when it detected incoming fire and when something was tracking it, like a missile. It was a lifesaver in combat, but it was easy to get overwhelmed with the sounds at times, and it couldn’t differentiate multiple sources of incoming fire very easily. For example, if Naomi was flying at a downwards angle, like an eagle diving on prey, and firing a distressing barrage of brightly-lit energy, most Knights would focus entirely on this priority target and avoiding the dangerous attack, and not consider the possibility that indirect fire from slower, less dangerous targets like Imka’s Oefenbroek-class BORS with missile pods. She didn’t even need line-of-sight for her radar or laser targeting to work – Naomi could feed all of that information right to her comrade. Her FOPS’ ASS warned of incoming GEPP fire, but Naomi didn’t move. Just a few more seconds and this would all be over. She let the simulated attack smash into her head-on, leading her HUD to turn red. The training systems took over, causing the FOPS to immediately activate autopilot, slow down and begin a safe descent for landing. “Training system: catastrophic damage. Entering observer mode.” Naomi could still spectate everything through her automated systems, but she would no longer be a threat. Her radio received an open broadcast from Gugulethu. “And here I was worried you would-” Naomi had to bite her knuckles to avoid laughing – she could hear the warning alarms blaring in Gugulethu’s cockpit, despite the fact that her own GEPP-Ms had long since lost targeting info and dissipated harmlessly away from the intended targets. By now, Mieke had piloted her Broekie-class BORS to a position where she could keep radar lock for Imka, and all the remaining members of Alpha Petal had to do was watch the fireworks. The first wave of harmless missiles pelted the hostile Knights within a pair of seconds, falling like a storm of arrows. One Oefenbroek was rendered combat ineffective immediately, hunching down and locking up before it had a chance to fire its jump jets. The other had its leg clipped, desperately trying to limp away as the second volley approached. Mieke gunned her engines, leaping forward and firing away with dual OSH-30 autocannons. The damaged thing went down quickly. From there, it wasn’t hard for the two to take down the heavily-armored Luier. Mieke made clever use of her jump jets to narrowly avoid GEPP fire, fire that may have connected if the third barrage of missiles hadn’t collided into Gugulethu’s back moments before she discharged. It was over in seconds, and the ASS in Naomi’s mech droned its verdict. “Phase one ended: victory, Alpha Petal.” The fox-eared Knight allowed herself a smile as her war machine disengaged from observer mode. She fired up her jets, using its thrust to skate across the sands over to the rest of Alpha Petal. “Good call, Imka. How did you know they’d fall for it so easily?” “Educated guess,” the girl replied over the radio. “Knights have a habit of letting pride blind them to simple answers – ironically, your recent escapades inspired me on that one.” Naomi scowled at the lighthearted jab, but chose to ignore it. “You praise me too highly, squad leader.” Imka chuckled at this. “You serve, just not in the ways you always expect. We’ve got a quick bit of downtime, let’s figure this out while we got time. They won’t fall for the same trick twice.” With that, the women jogged their mechs back to the encampment and powered down for a quick break, giving the engineers time to check over their equipment and correct any issues picked up during the test. Simunition may not be fatal, but it could still damage the machines, and when dozens of tons of powered ProtoSteel was in the equation, even a simple mistake or failure could prove fatal to a Knight that had been trained her entire life a warrior. No chances were taken on these tests, and only the best data would suffice. It also allowed a chance to equip and rearm – Mieke was traditionally equipped with close-in weaponry, using her lighter mech’s speed and agility to bound in close and strike from point blank range. She made a habit of using an enhanced jump kit, more advanced sensors and several electronic countermeasures, typically ‘running rabbit’ – being a distraction for the enemy and getting their attention, before leading them into an ambush. Failing that, she was also a menace up close, her autocannons using their obscene rate of fire to chew through just about anything, at a distance where she wouldn’t be missing and even their limited armor penetration was no longer an issue. Conversely, Imka made a habit of using missiles – both direct fire and indirect fire – with her mech, a slightly heavier Oefenbroek-class. She claimed it was a point of tactical flexibility, but Naomi secretly believed that the woman legitimately didn’t like being in a position where she could have fire returned on her. Her mech was slow for its weight, running a below-average jump kit to make room for extra launchers. As the three Knights of Alpha Petal stepped out of their mechs, now secure in the mobile gantries of the encampment, Naomi felt the cool breeze on her face and took a deep breath, smiling to herself. That victory had been clean and smooth, and it felt nice to outwit a foe. One of her ears flicked at a subtle and telltale sound of damp padding, and she looked over to Mieke. “Did you seriously pee already? It’s only been one round!” The smaller woman gave Naomi a dirty look. “I was bored, and I didn’t wanna wait to get back to go. I’ll get it changed before the next test, relax.” Naomi shook her head. Mieke was simultaneously one of the most industrious and laziest people she’d ever met, and it never ceased to confuse her. The three of them didn’t have long to come up with a new plan, so they worked quickly to figure it out. This time, a straightforward shock tactic seemed optimal – attack quickly and mercilessly with maximum firepower at a designated weak point, overwhelming the enemy and breaking their cohesion. It wasn’t anything new, but with Mieke’s natural aptitude and Naomi’s quick wit, Imka was confident they could make it work, disallowing their foe to come up with a solid countermeasure. It felt like it was barely a handful of minutes before they were already climbing back into their cockpits, running diagnostics and then jogging out to the starting area. The soft sand dunes gently carried the heavy mechs atop itself, leaving small dust-ups where they tread. No sooner had they arrived than their ASSes prompted them to begin. “Begin simulation: phase two.” So soon? Naomi thought to herself. Her gut warned her that something off. “This isn’t right – someone’s plotting something, there’s no way those other Knights got to their starting zone ahead of us.” “Their mechs didn’t leave the encampment,” Mieke replied over the radio. Imka sounded incredulous. “Are you sure? They were in different gantries than we were, could easily have been missed.” “Nope – I could still smell them when we left.” That was something they couldn’t argue with: Mieke’s Samesmelting gave her an incredible sense of smell, to the point she could differentiate rifles at the firing range based on who was the last one to use it. Naomi considered this carefully, wondering at the possibilities. Imka’s voice broke her concentration. “It could be a different Petal we’re up against, and different machines…Naomi, how many FOPSs exist?” She blinked, thinking back. “As far as I’m aware, only this one.” It took a moment more to realize the implication. “You think we’re up against an entire squad of these things?!” Imka audibly shuddered. “Spirits, I hope not…but we cannot rule out the possibility. Flexible planning going forward, Alpha Petal, high alert.” Naomi immediately purged her brain of everything they’d planned: no shock tactics, no feints, nothing dangerous. Right now they were on recon duty, acquiring information and data and acting accordingly. The Petal spread out in a staggered formation, keeping low and using sand dunes for cover, scouting out visually with their mechs’ augmented vision. Mieke took point, bloodhounding with her additional sensor while Naomi and Imka kept their heads on a metaphorical swivel. Twenty minutes later, they still had nothing. Until the footprints showed up – it looked like two sets of footprints from Luier-class heavy BORS, something they hadn’t been expecting. It led them towards a mountain, and Imka was immediately suspicious that this would be a trap. Unfortunately, they had no choice but to follow it, and carefully. Mieke now took an extended distance ahead of them, not only as a scout but also as a sacrifice: in the event they were ambushed, there was a good possibility she would go down along, leaving Naomi and Imka to try and salvage the test. Naomi’s breathing was careful and measured, but her heart throbbed with anticipation. It was the not-knowing that gave her funny feelings, uncertainty about the coming conflict, knowing that the unknown could be anything. What if it was an entire Petal of FOPS? Could the three of them fight those off successfully? Were the other Knights cheating, or was this entirely legal, planned and acceptable? Alpha Petal had been left in the dark, likely intentionally, a means of testing the true capabilities of the FOPS Naomi now piloted. She sighed heavily, taking a deep breath to calm her nerves. She nearly jumped out of her seat and restraints when Mieke’s voice crackled over the system. “Visual contact, fourteen-hundred meters. NOE.” Radar and targeting systems typically required direct line of sight to function, meaning you could spoof them by staying low enough that the ground would disrupt or even block them. Naomi immediately killed power to her active sensors, following a trail from Mieke’s footprints to her position – she was carefully established in a sand dune, having dug her way through it and barely sticking her autocannons out from the sand: covered like so, she could use her mech’s optics to scout ahead without risking detection. Naomi and Imka patched through to visual feed from Mieke’s BORS, seeing what she saw: sure enough, it was a pair of Luier-class BORS, both on guard. “It’s a trap,” Imka concluded. “They want us to attack them.” But Naomi’s ears flicked again. Something was off, she just couldn’t tell what it was. “Imka, there’s something else there.” “…what do you mean, Naomi?” The fox-eared Knight shook her head, looking closer at Mieke’s feed. “Just past the two of them, do you see it?” “No.” Naomi sighed. “I think…I think there’s a cloaked BORS past them, or maybe a FOPS. I can’t tell, but it’s there.” “How can you tell? Mieke, do you see it?” “Nothing, Imka,” Mieke replied. “Just looks like a pair of dum-dums standing out in the open to me. But this feels wrong – Naomi has to be correct.” Traditional logic called for springing the trap, using the ensuing surprise to throw an enemy off, but as it stood the hostile Petal had them on tonnage, by far – a Luier was tough, and mounted significant firepower. At least one of them had a pair of 6cm GEPPs on it, maybe even 7cm – they didn’t get any bigger than that. At this distance they had a tremendous advantage, one there wasn’t enough cover to use to approach safely, and there weren’t enough countermeasures in the Petal to make up for it. Sure, Naomi could fly fast enough with her FOPS to make it there, but it’d be dangerous, and if she didn’t make it there would be no hope for Imka and Mieke to pull it off on their own. There weren’t a lot of good choices here, and that was by design. “It’s part of the test,” Imka spat. “They prepared for this ahead of time, wanted to see what the solution would be.” But Naomi was still focused on the hostile Petal, doing the math in her head. Just under a klick and a half away, outgunned, out-tonned, out-armored, no cover and no support. The trademark situation of a Flowering Knight – the only thing going for them was high morale, and that had to be enough. That, and a clever use of the tools available and the surrounding environment. “Imka, can you get a firing solution across a stretch leading up to the enemy?” “If you’ve got an idea, Naomi, let’s hear it.” The fox-eared Knight took a deep breath, her limbs shaking with nerves. “Mieke and I can move the fastest – the ground is loose enough, if you can keep missiles firing in a pattern we can use the resulting sand and dust it kicks up to cover our approach. If we can get in close I know we can slot the Luiers. After that, it’s whatever the third contact is – I don’t see another way of getting in close enough to take them down. You’ll have to play distraction and cover long enough for us to cross the distance.” Imka was silent for a distressingly long time. “Naomi, this is the worst idea I’ve ever heard from you.” The response was very simple: a press of a button. “I just sent you targeting data and the best available route to take. Can you do it?” The FOPS’ ASS could process data significantly faster than the BORS’ could, and coming up with a pattern to follow was little challenge to the computer system. Imka sounded like she was studying the route. “Spirits be with us, I guess. Updating firing solution, wait for my signal.” Naomi routed the course and information to Mieke. “You may never have a hunt as delicious as this one: you ready?” The resulting chortle was all she needed to hear. “Ready when you are, Imka.” The fox ears flicked one more time, and she was fairly certain she could hear Imka wetting her diaper through the radio. No, it wasn’t through the radio, it was through their mechs and across the sparse meters that separated them – Naomi wasn’t sure if it was imagined or not, and had to actively pat herself to make sure she was still dry. Apparently so, and she breathed a sigh of relief at this. Listen. Her eyes narrowed: listen to what? Imka bellowed, “Onwaar!” as she fired the first salvo, lobbing over four dozen missiles into the air as she crested the sand dune. The speedier mechs were moving immediately. Naomi easily outpaced Mieke, but took a more dangerous and less-direct route. The split was a simple plan – the enemy had to split their fire, choosing whether to attack the easier target with better cover or the harder target with less cover. That caused decisionmaking, decisionmaking caused hesitation and hesitation caused failure. Every little action at the hands of a Flowering Knight added up to their service record. A warning alarm bellowed in Naomi’s ears, and she felt her eyes bug out as adrenaline spiked in a way she hadn’t felt before. Everything slowed down, information in her HUD warning her as her ASS identified a threat she hadn’t seen before. Her eyes naturally tracked to the weapon readout of a target her FOPS had yet to analyze. GEPP: 10cm. They didn’t get any bigger than seven. But moreso than that, this was a different alarm: the machine’s ASS had changed its warning tone, indicating critical damage, but Naomi hadn’t taken anything. Her brain processed this in the only logical way she could. “Live rounds!” she screamed, but it was far too late. A massive beam of ionized lightning tore across the sand dunes, instantly glassing a line from the point of discharge to the intended target: Imka’s BORS. The woman tried to kick her jump jets away and to the side, but she wasn’t even close to fast enough. In the moment it struck the right leg and abdomen were instantly gutted, ProtoLek armor flash-melted and tore away in slagging puddles as the mech helplessly spun through the air like a weightless toy, slamming into the sands below and tumbling out of sight behind a dune. The FOPS’ ASS, in its monotonous voice, apprised the situation with a horrifying calmness. “Alpha-01 – signal lost.” Fear seized Naomi’s heart. That wasn’t a simulated blast from a GEPP, that was an actual discharge! She had no connection to her squad leader, watching the indicator for Imka disappear from her HUD. There was no way to know if the woman was okay or not. Her eyes tracked to one of her HUD screens again, watching as something between the Luiers slowly filtered into vision. There was indeed something cloaked between them, but against Naomi’s expectations, it actually eclipsed the two heavy BORS. It stood what must have been nearly thirty meters tall, heat belching from exhaust ports as its massive GEPPs cycled. Naomi had never seen a BORS this large, if it was even a BORS at all. Even the mighty Luiers that guarded it seemed almost pale in comparison. Her brain’s emotional processing felt like it shut off, and her body started running on autopilot. “Mieke, you still with me?” There was a nervous grunt of affirmation across the radio. Naomi’s hand rapidly punched in commands as she increased her engine output. Her ASS agreed with this. “Recalculating approach.” New instructions filled out, both for Naomi and for Mieke, subsequently. But Naomi fired – even on its low-power training mode, her 5cm GEPP could still hit hard. The blast landed near the hostile Petal, kicking up dust and sand all around them. Hopefully it would confuse their sensors long enough for her weapon to recycle – she was still out of range for everything else. The incoming fire alarm bellowed once more, and Naomi pulled a series of turns, decelerations and boost-assisted jumps that pitched her stomach in all the wrong ways. Lances of man-made lightning tore through the sky all around her, evaporating harmlessly in the sky or instantly flash-glassing the sands around her. These were real, and one hit could cripple her – if a joint was melted together she’d be a sitting duck the moment she tried to land, and she couldn’t fly forever, not like this. But retreat wasn’t an option – Mieke was still in the line of fire with no options of retreat. Attacking was the only solution. Listen. She blinked, feeling a moment of clarity hit her brain. That’s right, her Samesmelting…she could listen very, very well. The woman slapped off some of the warning systems for her ASS, running on manual in a way that any sane Knight would deem suicide. And yet, she instinctual heard the telltale sound of a GEPP on the verge of vomiting is ionized death ray at her, pulling away easily in time to dodge it. It wasn’t even close, that time. It was working! But she still needed the computer to figure out a targeting solution, just not where everyone expected. It took several seconds to calculate, and then the GEPP-Ms lanced out like strings of yarn, twirling about before slamming into the rockwall above the hostile Petal. Gugulethu’s voice immediately sneered. “Where the hell are you aiming, Naomi?” It wasn’t until the rockslide started that she must have figured it out. The collapsing dolomite was rapid, burying one of the Luiers and the mysterious superheavy BORS in a muckpile of earth and stone. The remaining Luier spun around, barely dodging the feat of nature as Naomi closed in for the kill. Her ASS updated her once more. “Beta-02, pilot ejected.” In one of her HUD screens she could see the telltale sign of an ejection pod launching into the sky: the Luier pilot must have gotten clear before being buried. But that meant the superheavy was still operational, or at the very least hadn’t given up yet. Tens of thousands of tons of debris or no, it was still very much a danger until the test was demanded to be ended. Hopefully Mieke knew all of that. …who was she kidding? Mieke was well aware, she had good instincts. Good enough, in fact, that she actually climbed the muckpile by foot, laying into the Luier from behind with her dual autocannons. The metal beast, weathered the storm, barely spinning about as they prepared to dance the dance of death, but Naomi wasn’t about all that. Her left arm raised and fired her own GEPP once more, slamming into the heavy BORS from behind, watching it power down. There was no response from her ASS, but the thing was very clearly offlined for this test. No response from the system indicated that they were still live. Naomi’s FOPS slammed into the ground next to her friend, and the two stared at the rubble before them. No words needed to be spoken – their only options were to wait it out, or dig in themselves. Within a few seconds they wouldn’t need to. Rocks began to tumble and shift as the massive thing rose up like a demon of the Earth itself, dirt flowing from its massive shoulders as the powered war machine made those deep, menacing roars that only a mech could. Mieke broke left as Naomi broke right, each laying into this thing with every amount of firepower they could muster. It was during this that the FOPS’ ASS identified the target: it was a prototype superheavy class of BORS, the Swakblass. True to form, it did indeed carry 10cm GEPPs, a weapon that didn’t technically exist yet, and its armor easily shrugged off the 30mm and 38mm attacks from Mieke and Naomi, respectively. Even her 5cm GEPP didn’t seem to do much to this thing: the training system still recognized it as a viable threat, which meant that it would react as realistically as possible to simunition. If that was anything to go by, this monster was, by traditional definitions, invincible. Mieke tossed her depleted weapons aside, jumping in close with her fists. To Naomi’s surprise, the Swakblass actually swung back, something Mieke barely ducked. The light mech was in close now with its first, hammering away at the superheavy’s thighs. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle to behold, even if it seemed to have little effect. That was, until Mieke tore off an armor plate around the knee and drove it into the joint like a blade. Sparks flew as the thing tumbled slightly, off-balance as the important structure was disrupted from supporting the beast’s weight. Mieke wasn’t nearly as smart as Imka was, but she was clever – in a fight, sometimes that was all you needed. But being clever wasn’t the only virtue of combat, especially not in an industrialized age, and it wasn’t long before the Swakblass had the Broekie-class in its grip like a vice, crushing its ProtoLek armor like a tin can. Naomi’s horrified hearing caught Mieke’s ASS droning like a broken record: “Eject! Eject! Eject!” “Mieke, punch out!” she screamed, firing the last of her magazine into the superheavy BORS’ back. It had little effect. According to her indicators, the overall armor of this mech wasn’t even below fifty-percent yet, adding both simulated and real damage. It defied reason. The Broekie BORS was tossed sideways, slamming into the rockwall with a sickening thud. There wasn’t time to recover as the superheavy’s fist smashed into the torso, crushing it against millions of tons of solid stone. “Alpha-03: down.” Naomi’s heart momentarily froze with that line, before Mieke’s voice sounded off in her radio. “I’m alright, I eighty-sixed just in time. Might need another change after this, though...” Despite herself, Naomi felt herself laughing. She didn’t hear it, though, only the powered machinery of her foe, now letting the wrecked BORS that had offended it – at least, what was left of it – flop lifelessly to the ground before it. Naomi moved with instinct and speed, flying into action and hammering away with everything she had. The first time she dodged the GEPP, but the second time she got clipped, and her left arm was torn away in a violent wreck. Her mech collapsed to one knee, momentarily off-balance. Indicators blared at her, warning her of the damage. Gugulethu’s voice over the radio was full of arrogance as her weapons powered up again. “Any last words, bitch?” Naomi frantically smashed buttons on her console, setting up an idea that she wasn’t sure would work. Then again, if she didn’t know that it would, she wouldn’t try it. ProtoPott fuel was rerouted to weapon systems and thrusters – she wouldn’t need it for the FOPS’ advanced passive defenses anymore. Her response was simple. “No.” There was an audible tch sound, and that was when Naomi fired her GEPP-Ms, directly at the massive lightning cannons bearing down on her. The heat in her FOPS skyrocketed and her HUD electrically scratched with interference as the two attacks collided, raw energy zapping out in a violent conflagration that canceled out the separate blasts. It was unbearably hot in the FOPS, and sweat poured down Naomi’s face. The FOPS had a significant advantage over the BORS – it could withstand significantly higher thermal load than its predecessor, something this superheavy machine hadn’t rectified. Heat billowed from its vents like a geyser, and it slowly entered a low-power mode while the emergency systems tried to salvage it. Those massive weapons kicked up a ridiculous amount of heat, and it had to go somewhere. In Gugulethu’s case, her mech, which was now in emergency shutdown. Naomi slowly rose to her feet. She tossed her remaining weapon aside and jettisoned her GEPP-M launchers – they didn’t have the power to take this thing down. Fuel flowed to her machine’s false muscles, and her engines gunned. Jets fired as she launched towards her foe, grabbing on with her one remaining hand and bulldogging around and onto its back. Her mech’s feet firmly planted, she reared back and plunged her fist into its back, grabbing onto the first useful thing she could feel and firing her jets once more, ripping out wires, machinery and bits of things she didn’t know what they were. Judging by the way the Swakblass locked up and started to tumble, it must have been important. Maybe a gyroscope, but it didn’t matter. The invincible monster was toppling. As she landed hard on the ground she tossed the useless component away, leaping up to grab at the thing’s collar and reverse-thrust, giving it a powered slam into the ground, on its back. “I serve,” she growled. The training system replied immediately. “Victory, Alpha Petal – all pilots successfully recovered. Salvage tracks en route to secure all hardware. Knights, power down and await pickup.” But Naomi wasn’t interested in waiting around. She reached down for her fallen foe, tapping on its chest as her voice boomed from her mech’s area speakers. “I know you can hear me in there.” There was no reply, naturally, so she grabbed on and started tearing it apart, until she could scoop up the cockpit core. Pulling it out and cracking it like an egg on the BORS’ shoulder, she set the two halves down and carefully plucked Gugulethu from its depths, unceremoniously dumping her into the sands. The fallen Knight coughed and sputtered in exhausted disbelief. “Where did Nolwandle find you? One…hell of Knight…” Naomi felt her anger growing, and felt her raising an armored fist at this person – this Flowering Knight, who should have been a sister to the others, that just tried to kill her and her friends! It would be easy to return the favor, here and now. Gugulethu screamed in fear, and through her HUD screens Naomi could see the woman’s white undergarments slowly creeping a tint of yellow that spread all throughout like a flooding river rising above its own banks. Forcing her breathing to steady, Naomi lowered her first. “The King still needs you, as does his Nation.” She took another deep breath, her body still jittering from nerves and adrenaline. “As do the Flowering Knights – do not deprive us of who we need to save both.” Tears were in the older woman’s eyes, and she looked at the towering FOPS, a metal god and queen of the battlefield. But to fight, such a machine needed a pilot, and if it wanted to be the best among the pantheon of metal deities then it needed a Flowering Knight. Naomi tracked her system’s gaze to the sand dunes, and the carnage that had befallen it during this test. It was her first taste of real combat, and the stakes involved. She meditated on that, and soon found herself listening – to nature, to the Knights that had survived this hellish trial, and to the approaching vehicles intent on bringing them all home. “Listen,” she mumbled to herself, where only she could hear.
  6. Most terminology in the story is named after something ABDL-related. The infantry rifles are abbreviated "OMU" (short for Omutsu), and BORS/FOPS are partial words in another language for ABDL-related terms. FOPS, for example, is short for Fopspeen, Dutch for "pacifier". Classes of BORS are actually an analogue for potty training - the lightest class are Broekie (panties), mediums are Oefenbroek (training pants/pull-ups), and the heaviest are Luier (diapers). The main weapon for a BORS is designated the 0-Shiri (which is an analogue for oshiri, Japanese for "butt"). The list goes on. It's a way to keep things humorous for me while writing, while also avoiding any complicated nomenclature for worldbuilding: I can just pull a term from the community, morph it a little and slap it in without too much effort. Also helps keep things lighthearted, since I realize the story can be a bit heavy at times, for a glorified diaper novel.
  7. Chapter XVII – The Girls Are Going Beyond Word traveled fast amongst the Flowering Knights whenever issues of the King’s safety were noted, and Naomi’s interrogation had caused quite the stir. Within hours, every Knight was aware of the possibility of invasion from the north, and all Blossoms had been put on high alert. So it came as quite the surprise that Naomi was summoned by veteran Knights to a relatively remote location, apart from her Petal, with zero information beyond ‘show up’. As she stepped out of the transport vehicle and took in the morning sun, three things stuck out to her. Firstly, this was a simple encampment set up by the Flowering Knights just recently, with some makeshift tents still being assembled and equipment in the process of activation. Secondly, there was an entire separate convoy of massive transports she’d never seen before, all parked within the borders of the encampment, with heavy tarps covering their cargo beds. Cargo beds, Naomi noticed, that must have been up to thirty meters long in some cases. Thirdly, amidst a group of veteran Knights standing at what seemed to be the intended command post, stood one of her former instructors, Nolwandle. At least, that’s what Naomi assumed, given the orca-like tail flopping up and down, the attached woman just out of sight beyond a couple people she didn’t recognize. But her Samesmelting knew before she’d even set foot on the still-warming sands. She’s expecting you. “Best not to disappoint, then,” Naomi muttered to herself, approaching. Nolwandle had always taken a special place in Naomi’s heart, for several reasons. She visually reminded her of Mieke, but was also a gentle and caring force in her life – a mother that had been there for Naomi when her own had rarely been around. Not that it was the woman’s fault: after all, Naomi’s mother was a Flowering Knight, and if the King needed her then that meant there was no room for Naomi: simple as that. It had never really bothered Naomi, at least not that she thought. Besides all that, Nolwandle had a severe side to her that had scared every girl in Onwaar straight for years now, and the fact the veteran Knight rarely had to show it was proof that her methods worked. The orca tail stopped its irritated flopping when Naomi got within ten paces of Nolwandle, and the woman looked over her shoulder. “There she is.” The older woman turned around to face Naomi, her tail absentmindedly swishing to the side and smacking someone in the knee, forcing them away. After a moment, Naomi realized it was intentional, and suppressed a smirk at the maneuver. “Reporting as ordered,” Naomi answered, not bothering to snap to attention. She was briefly aware of several judgmental glances from others nearby, and took pride in her gamble that Nolwandle wouldn’t care. She didn’t. “At ease, Naomi. I assume you don’t know why you’re here?” “Incorrect, sister Knight.” Naomi paused for effect, baiting a few suspicious glances. “I was ordered to arrive thirty minutes from now.” Nolwandle chortled. It wasn’t bragging on Naomi’s part, it was a test, seeing how everyone present reacted. Her supernatural senses picked up on body language and minor details that told her a great deal – many of those present seemed to either look up to Nolwandle, carefully observing how she reacted and acting accordingly, or must have known the veteran for a long time, given their skillful ignoring of the woman’s appreciative laughter. Most people seemed judgmental or dismissive of Naomi, the focus of their attention. Many would probably have found it embarrassing, but knowing she had so easily tricked those around her left some satisfaction on Naomi’s lips. But Nolwandle was the first to speak. “Incorrect, sister Knight,” she mirrored Naomi’s words. “You are here for a matter of national importance, and the utmost secrecy, a fact some-” her tail flicked sideways and caught the same woman on the knee again, pushing her a few steps away with a muffled yelp. “-could learn from.” The fox-eared Knight didn’t say anything. Nolwandle had more to say, and she would listen carefully to every word. She had nearly missed the latter half, hanging with pride on the ‘sister Knight’ with which the former Instructor had referred to her, but at the last second remembered to pay attention. “For those of you that didn’t hear me the first time, this is Naomi – she’s a recently ex-aspirant, but she has thus far proven herself to be a phenomenal Flowering Knight. This woman is responsible for the acquisition of intelligence that prompted this emergency test in the first place, and as such she is my chosen candidate for the first test flight.” That got some reactions: raised eyebrows, dropped jaws and even some physical shaking. Naomi was focused on what the veteran Knight had said – test flight? She looked back to the wheeled transports, and the mysterious cargo they carried. It was large enough, perhaps a new BORS model of some kind? Nolwandle continued barking at the assorted Knights. “Your understanding isn’t necessary: only your compliance. Naomi! Consider this your briefing: today you will be given the honor of guiding the maiden flight of a new combat machine – the FOPS!” So it was carrying a new mech…interesting. The Voice turned its attention towards the tarped cargo beds, but Naomi focused on her instructor. The BORS had been the premier battle mech of the Nation for countless years, something every Flowering Knight was trained to operate to the highest of standards. For a prototype to be released spoke to some very peculiar industrial politics afoot. Information was passed on to those present quickly and efficiently: while a mechanical beast in its own right, the BORS had several inefficiencies to its design, inefficiencies that a group of rather enterprising engineers had apparently concluded could be designed away. According to Nolwandle, they instead went batty and had designed something, ‘no normal soldier could pilot’, and the project was intended to be dropped. Until an unspecified Flowering Knight had come across the plans, immediately been offended, and demanded that they build it, declaring ‘the Flowering Knights are no ordinary soldiers’. That had led to the current scenario, where now it was time for the Knights to prove the machine was even capable of being used. Which got Naomi wondering – the BORS, despite all of its advanced systems, was rocky and jarring to pilot, constantly thudding and accelerating in a way humans weren’t meant to deal with. While technology could mitigate that, very few soldiers were capable of being certified to pilot one, with the exception of the Flowering Knights, where it was mandatory. According to reports, the FOPS was basically a BORS that had contracted methamphetamine-fueled psychosis, and subsequent anorexia as a result. Thinner but stated to be capable of velocity more than five times that of the BORS, Naomi felt her face making all manner of confused expressions throughout the readout. It sounded farfetched, to say the least. It wasn’t until the tarps were removed and the cargo beds hydraulically extended to a vertical position that she got to see the FOPS in all of its glory – it stood roughly ten meters tall, the height of a light or medium-weight BORS, with smooth and curvy armor and gangly limbs. It looked aerodynamic, a trait the BORS seemed to lack. There was a distinct increase in the number of jets, and Naomi began to wonder if her body could actually handle the g-forces this thing would surely incur. Nolwandle assured her that the engineers had assured her a Flowering Knight would most likely be fine. That was the best Naomi would get. So she settled into the cockpit, firmly established in the machine’s chest. It was less roomy than what she was used to, supposedly to make space for an absurd amount of graviton cancellers, technology that would literally keep her body from falling into cardiopulmonary arrest the moment she tried to accelerate. From a control standpoint, it wasn’t really that much different from what she was used to, and only a couple minor improvement and changes needed to be gone over. Instructions were simple: test the basics, give feedback, and don’t break it. As Naomi powered up the FOPS, the Automated Spotting System began monologuing to her in a soothing voice. “Machine systems activated – engaging pilot interface.” The HUD soon opened up all around her, and Naomi was astounded at the detail this thing could conjure up. It really was a massive feat of overengineering! Getting use to this could take days, easily. Naomi had about five minutes. She sighed, feeling the comfort of her Voice nearby. We can do this – listen to what you want to hear. The Knight hadn’t even realized she’d closed her eyes, but they opened now, narrowed and determined. She hit the controls to remotely disengage the locking clamps, feeling them clunk open and free her war machine from its restraints. The radio chittered in consternation. “Naomi, what are you doing? You weren’t cleared to begin yet!” It sounded like that woman Nolwandle had been giving hell earlier, so Naomi’s response was curt. “I have a duty to see what this machine is capable of: please stay out of the way.” There was no reply. In her HUD screens, she could see people indeed moving out of the way of her mech. That wasn’t much of a surprise, even an accidental bump could damage a battle tank, and years of practice had instilled a respect for what a mech could do. Naomi’s first few steps were shaky, but rapidly improved. The FOPS was horribly over-responsive, and just walking around was proving to be complex. She quickly learned that the controls also responded differently, having a habit of taking inputs and intentions and queueing them subsequently, essentially allowing her to pilot subconsciously when her brain inevitably lagged during high stress situations, like combat. Something like that would be crucial. She spent a few minutes testing the simple motions – moving her legs, crouching, hopping, stretching and the like, seeing how it handled and what it was capable of. It was surprisingly flexible, to the point Naomi was confident she could have done a handstand with the FOPS with little worry of failure. She planned on trying that later, if things went well. What was assuredly not going to go well was her choice of protection this day – Naomi had incorrectly assumed that training pants would be fine, as they were on most days. Given the amount of force her body would be resisting today, the woman knew it wasn’t going to be enough. She took a few moments to tuck her tail between her legs, hoping it would absorb the inevitable leakage: it’d be a shame to ruin a new seat on the metal beast’s maiden voyage. “This is Naomi, preparing to test the jump kit,” she informed everyone via radio. That got everyone’s attention, and Knights scattered all around her. Indicators on the mech’s HUD told her that her power supply was at full capacity and ready to go. She flicked the radio off. “Alright, let’s try a low-energy test to start-” Her words ended in a hghhh sound as the FOPS launched forward and into the air with dizzying speed. The physical force pushed her back into her seat like she’d just been hit by a truck, and in her HUD screens she could see the sky alone. Cutting her forward thrust, she slowly began to slow down, effortlessly twisting the mech – she was astonished at how mobile it was, despite its weight. Naomi’s eyes bugged out. She was easily half a kilometer in the sky, and her face rapidly switched over to one of ecstasy. The Knight excitedly reactivated her radio. “Naomi? What’s going on? Are you alright?” Her raucous cheers of joy surely peaked the microphone, but she didn’t care. The woman immediately ramped up her jets to maximum burn and let fly, launching forward in the air like a humanoid aircraft. The restraint’s slammed her back against her chair, and she felt the pee being forced out of her like she’d just been kicked in the kidneys, her training pants rapidly heating up as she wet herself uncontrollably. But the fox-eared woman didn’t give a damn. She was having the time of her life, zipping around like a caffeine-addled insect. The FOPS was incredible! It was not only fast, but agile, too, and could turn practically on a dime. It could stop, too, capable of changing directions nigh-instantaneously, and every time it did it slammed Naomi to one side or another. Her body was starting to ache from the incessant beating it was taking, but she didn’t care in the slightest. This…this was a glorious thing to behold for herself, and she wanted to savor every moment. Panting, she slowed down gradually, hovering for a bit in the air before looking far down at the Knight encampment below her. An idea began to form. “This is Naomi, returning to base.” Adjusting her jets, she fired at full burn, launching towards the Knights like a meteor. “…N-Naomi?” “Trust me,” was all she responded. She was accelerating, traveling faster and faster, watching the ground – and the people on it – approaching like lightning. In the past, this type of maneuver would have scared the pants off of Naomi. But today, she was inviting it. “Naomi!” At the last moment, Naomi veered to the side, pulling up and flying over the tents, dusting the Flowering Knights present and whipping up a storm of wind and sand. She chortled, watching their combat skirts go flying all over the place through her HUD screens, getting a good look at their assorted undergarments. For the first time in her life, she realized that Nolwandle wore garters – the former instructor was the calmest of the bunch, with a contented smile on her face. Many of the other Knights were, to say the least, shook, if not diving for cover. Some simple watched in terror as Naomi pulled some various maneuvers at low altitude, including some aerial somersaults, backflips and barrel rolls. But she was reaching the end of her rope, and soon she was lazily hovering her way back to the encampment. Finding a clear spot to land, she let the machine drop down the last few meters and slam its metal feet into the ground, its jets hissing air as they desperately tried to cool down. Naomi was drenched in sweat, and when she looked down her tail was all matted as well – she wasn’t sure what the culprit was, but she didn’t really care, either. Powering down critical systems, she disengaged herself from her seat, opened the cockpit and got out. Her body failed her, and she collapsed onto all fours, heaving as the sudden soreness and pain settled in. Nolwandle and some of the others came jogging up, worry over their faces. The fox-eared Knight took a deep breath, struggling to keep her voice steady, “Reporting to Instructor Nolwandle: mission complete.” The orca-tailed Knight stifled a chortle of her own. “Get this woman some medical attention, run analysis on the FOPS and prepare the next test pilot.” “We serve,” came a pair of replies as two Knights darted away in opposing directions. Nolwandle proffered a shoulder for Naomi to lean on, helping her stumble to the medical tent. “That was quite the spectacle, Naomi.” She chuckled, coughing when the pain got to be too much. “Just doing my best, Instructor.” The two women enjoyed a few paces of silence before Naomi continued. “Who was the girl with a stick up her butt?” Nolwandle’s tail flicked in irritation. “Oh, just someone that’s spent too long dealing with the political side of the Flowering Knights for my tastes, don’t worry about her. Truth be told, I was hoping today’s test would be a chance for me to prove her wrong, and you did just that.” Naomi bowed her head respectfully as they reached the tent, gladly taking a seat on a cot before laying down. “Instructor, that machine – the FOPS – is everything we need to win the next war. I’ll personally stake my honor as a Flowering Knight on it.” “After some of those maneuvers you just pulled, I don’t think you’ll have to. The engineering team will no doubt be satisfied, and I’m sure adjustments and improvements will be applied before the first model hits production.” She nodded. “It’s too much, though – it can’t replace the BORS.” “Oh really?” Nolwandle prodded her former student. “And why say you this, Naomi? Finally found a machine that can keep up with you?” Naomi didn’t respond, knowing sarcasm when she heard it. She nodded. “Ha! If I’m being honest, I was expecting it to be a supplement, not a replacement, but that decision is beyond mine to make. Get some rest, we’ll get your suggestions and feedback in a bit, when you’re feeling better.” “Thank you, Instructor.” “You’re welcome, Naomi. There’s a change of pants in the corner when you need it, and a shower if you want it.” Nolwandle bowed again, doing an about-face and departing. The Voice chuckled. She lets you get away with too much. “Perhaps, but she also puts me through hell when I need it. Let that balance be enough.” That mech…it is too powerful. “No – it’s exactly what I need.” That definitely got the curiosity of her Samesmelting piqued. Oh? What you need for what? Naomi stared at the ceiling, a feeling of melancholic resolve flowing through her. “To serve.”
  8. How astute of you - yes, that was the point of initial inspiration. Obviously there's some pretty severe departures beyond appearance and, to an extent, personality, but I digress. In the end it filled out a really fun triangle of sorts - Naomi's a bit on the adrenaline-junkie side, Imka's a bookworm and Mieke's "street-smart", so I feel like they bounce off of one another pretty well. Sometimes I have trouble visualizing things on my own, so I'll take an existing concept or image and adjust it in my head until it makes sense, and then take that off on a tangent. For example, technically, Naomi (in my mind, at least) looks a lot like CR-21 from Girls' Frontline - obviously that's where the similarities end, but having something I can 'see' in my brain helps a lot when writing. Sorry for the monologuing: hope you're enjoying! New chapter should be dropping slightly after Christmas.
  9. Chapter XVI – The Girls Are Uncovering “I must confess, Naomi, your request is most unexpected.” “Forgive my selfishness, Instructor Thembeka. Just have a loose end I want to tie up.” The older knight chuckled. “No need for pleasantries. Just ‘Thembeka’ will do. You’re a Flowering Knight now, remember? Leave your Aspirant vernacular behind.” Naomi was silent for a few moments. “Understood, sister knight.” Thembeka cackled as the two of them reached the end of the hallway, entering a small elevator and tabbing the control. The doors shut behind them and they were descending at a rapid pace. Naomi’s face was etched stone, a flat mask of resolution. This was the secured facility where foreign subversive elements were held: namely, a certain group of Bleejian spies Naomi and her friends had encountered several years prior. Whatever interrogation had gone on in that time had been done by knights far her elders, but now Naomi was compelled to find an answer for herself. That, or for a feeling she couldn’t stop listening to. Pride is blinding you. You must lose it before you will see what you seek. That’s what the spirit had told her in her dream – the Voice, of her Samesmelting. Naomi was starting to believe she knew what that was, but that meant confronting not only her past, but her present. Best start with the past. Naomi was aware of Thembeka glancing over at her, if not outright staring, but she didn’t return the gaze. A smile definitely crept over her former instructor’s face before returning her gaze forward. “You’ve grown so much, Naomi.” A humble nod: forced, not genuine humility, but it was a start – so Naomi told herself. “You’re too kind, Thembeka.” The older woman made a noncommittal huff in response, and they were silent for the rest of the descent. When they started to slow the butterflies in Naomi’s stomach started to rise. Uncertainty about digging up something she’d buried in her subconscious years ago was starting to give her qualms. To a normal woman this would be normal – to a Flowering Knight, it was abhorrent. Naomi knew that this wasn’t something that should be giving her such pause. She was better than this, or she at least should be. Arrogance had corrupted her soul, mind and now body, and no amount of guilt was fixing the issue. Inhaling through her nose, she forced her body to start walking forward, fists clenched. Thembeka was no doubt keenly aware of Naomi’s reluctance, but instead of admonishing her she gently added, “The prisoner’s in cell twenty-two.” Naomi’s only response was a nod as she kept walking: if she stopped, she didn’t know if she had the strength to start walking again. The Voice whispered in her ears again. You take the first steps. Good. “If you cannot be of use, be at least silent,” she hissed. It chuckled, but spoke no more. She knew it was nearby, or at least paying attention. It felt like having someone hovering over your shoulder, constantly watching your every move. To call it embarrassing or self-conscious was an understatement, and Naomi had dreaded taking several showers since she’d become aware of its existence like so. That thought nearly stopped her dead in her tracks – she was never supposed to stop, especially not from the trivial fears of embarrassment. That had been beaten out of her years ago. Apparently, not. Narrowing her eyes, she approached the guard. “Open up.” The man swallowed hard. “I wasn’t aware of-” was all he managed to start before his eyes flicked down and he realized he was speaking to a Knight. This wasn’t an order, this was a demand, one that would carry a court martial at best, were it ignored. Naomi didn’t answer to the military chain of command – if she carried out an action, it was in the interests of the King, and the Nation. Trying to impede that only impeded a type of patriotism the common man couldn’t match, and it was a short trip from there to an accusation of treason. He opened the door almost immediately thereafter. “Protocol dictates no more than fifteen minutes-” “You don’t get to decide that,” Naomi replied flatly, with the hint of threat that ensured she wouldn’t have to concern herself. Time was of no concern – results were. “Of course, Knight,” he gulped. With that, Naomi was through and the door slid shut behind her. Calling this place a ‘cell’ was a bit generous – it looked more like a makeshift torture chamber. Sure, there was a bed and a toilet, but the ProtoCrete floors were greasy and unwashed, a thin film of moisture-borne grime on the walls and ceiling, and the drain at the center of the floor had traces of dried blood on it. The raggedy woman at the far edge lazily looked over from a military-approved book, something harmless to keep prisoners from going insane, losing their ability to communicate during interrogation. It was basic subsistence, at best, and judging by the prisoner’s response she’d become all too accustomed to her existence her over the last however-many-years it had been since she had been taken into National custody. …it had been so many years since Naomi and her friends had ambushed those Bleej’ian spies in that alleyway. It felt like a lifetime ago. She had probably grown up so much since then, too, and judging by the lack of immediate remembrance, prisoner Maye must not remember it that well, either. “Oh good,” the woman slapped her book shut after carefully inserting a thin piece of cloth as a makeshift bookmark between pages. Haphazardly flopping off her bed like a mangly spider, she sauntered towards Naomi with her hands submissively down, palms front. “Another impromptu session.” “Have a seat,” Naomi commanded, and the other woman stopped dead in her tracks, clearly not expecting this. When she hesitated, the fox-eared girl flicked her tail. “Now.” A suspicious glance crossed Maye’s face, and the Voice advised Naomi on how to proceed. She will react better to the truth. Acting on instinct, Naomi obliged. “I’m surprised. You don’t look like you’ve aged a day since I took you in.” Surprise, but not fear, entered Maye’s eyes. It was brief, but Naomi caught it, and then the Bleej’ian woman was back to her mask of flirtatious disregard. “Well now, that’s quite the surprise. You filled out pretty nicely: don’t even think you were out of training bras back then.” Naomi didn’t take the bait. “Can’t recall.” A derisive snort. “Enough, fox ears. We gonna beat something out of me again or not?” The Knight took a moment to survey the area. Interrogation of foreign spies had most certainly been a priority for the military, and the Knights had no doubt had a vicious hand in it over the years. Maye must have suffered tremendous physical and psychological torment at the hands of women trained from the youngest of ages to endure the same grueling struggle. Maye undoubtedly was never trained how to deal with it, and the Knights likely didn’t care much for her well-being. That was good for breaking someone’s will, getting them to speak, but the information wasn’t always accurate – hurt someone enough and they’ll say anything to make the pain stop, accuracy isn’t a priority at that point. Thembeka and Nolwandle had mercilessly brought that point upon Onwaar as a whole, back in the day – Kholwa had incorrectly suggested rather inhumane interrogation during a training exercise one day, and the entire cadre of then-trainees had paid the price. Naomi mentally shuddered: her stomach had cramps for days after that, and she’d vomited every night for a week. But it had worked. After all, she remembered the lesson now, and would act accordingly. “No,” she answered by rote, folding her arms under her breasts and pushing them up slightly, gently rocking her shoulders back and putting weight onto her back foot, letting her hip rock out and up as a result. That got an immediate reaction out of Maye, as expected, and a smug chuckle from the Voice gave her an immaculate feeling of satisfaction. Maye started to look suspicious, so Naomi continued. “If it hasn’t worked for years, it’s not going to work today.” The prisoner cackled with manic laughter. As expected, her personality had degraded quite a bit. “Oho! Is that right? Come to take pity on me, then? Maybe ask for forgiveness? What’s your game then, girly?” Naomi didn’t answer at first, explicitly to pique Maye’s curiosity. She wasn’t sure what guided her actions, at least not entirely, but clarity seemed to move her metaphorical hands right where they needed to be. Pivoting on her heel, she moved for the doorway. “I’ll be back.” It was several minutes later when she returned with a pair of cups and a pitcher of water. Setting them down on a dilapidated chair, Naomi poured them each a glass. “Drink up.” Maye looked suspicious. “It’s drugged.” That was preposterous, except maybe that had been tried, back in the day. Shrugging, Naomi kicked back her own cup and downed it in a singular gulp, setting it down challengingly and staring at Maye. Her ears flicked, and the other woman cautiously approached. “I’m not here to hurt you, Maye,” Naomi answered the unspoken question. At Maye, Maye jolted. It must have been a long time since she heard her own name. Taking a careful breath, the former spy sipped at her water. “Then why are you here?” “Thought you might be able to help me,” the Knight answered truthfully. She poured another glass of water, a bit on the thirsty side. That, and some ideas were forming that she hadn’t previously allowed to give rise to. “And how’s that?” “Simple. You’re from Bleej, everyone knows that. The Holy See sent you to spy on us.” “And that’s all!” Maye pleaded. “You have to believe me-” Naomi’s hands waved this off. “Relax, I believe you.” She rotated her shoulders and neck in opposing directions, instinctually aware that Maye’s eyes flicked to Naomi’s chest again. Good. “Like I said – if years of physical encouragement didn’t get you to admit it, then it’s not gonna happen now. You’re just a spy, that’s all.” Maye didn’t respond, as if this had been an accusation, so Naomi took a playfully-threatening tone to her words. “That’s not so bad, don’t you think? Countries spy on one another all the time – surely the Nation has spies in Bleej as well.” “Yeah…I guess so.” Naomi nodded. “Yeah, I guess so too.” She poured Maye another glass of water. “Don’t know for sure, though – not really my place.” She pulled up a chair and sat down, crossing one leg over the other but not before letting Maye sneak a glance. Finding patterns was normally Khanyisile’s strongpoint, but Naomi had learned a thing or two from her sister Knights over the years. It might just pay off now. Smalltalk ensued, the kind of stuff you’d use to get to know someone better. It was slow, deliberate and it didn’t always go where she expected. Maye and her sister, Midge, had been chosen for work as children under the Holy See of Bleej. Apparently, they had never really known their parents, instead being raised by the religious state. It led to an interesting comparison, Naomi admitting some small details of her personal life – nothing that would reveal the secrets of the Flowering Knights, but enough to realize that she and Maye were not in so-different circumstances, in the end. Maye even put one hand on Naomi’s, at one point. “I had no idea you were worked so hard. I feel bad for you.” “You get used to it,” Naomi’s guard went up, and she flicked her hand to keep Maye’s off of it. It got the type of curious reaction she wanted, and Maye looked interested now. Perhaps, a little too interested. “Oh? And what secrets does the fluffy-tailed knight hold, I wonder?” Naomi felt her eyes relaxing, guided by a hunch and praying that she wasn’t about to make a massive mistake. “Lots.” “Such as?” It only took a moment of hesitation for the Knight to make her decision. “Sometimes I wonder what life is like beyond my service as a warrior. What lies outside of duty? Can you…relate?” Maye’s hand reached out and rested on Naomi’s again. “Maybe we could find the answer together?” “I don’t see how. I have my duties as a Knight, and you’re a prisoner here.” The former spy rolled her eyes innocently. “Aren’t there diplomats? I’m sure our countries would find their relations much stronger to settle this…incident, maybe?” At this the Knight raised an eyebrow, and the Voice cautioned her. Tread carefully: you cannot swim against the storm forever without being consumed by it. She was fidgeting, against her will. All that water was starting to add up, and the distraction was getting to her as well. One of her ears was folded over and her tail flicked about of its own will. But as her eyes refocused she could tell that Maye was fit to bursting, but forcing herself to not tear away from the conversation. No, not the conversation: the moment! Things were really starting to connect between the two of them, and that was what Naomi wanted. “Is there something more that lies after it’s done?” Maye leaned in closer. “Think about it, cutie – a world where both of our countries are united and together. A time where the entire continent is together and shares in everything life has to offer, and where we can all be together without these thoughts of conflict and corruption and all the rest of it.” “Utopia, then.” The Bleej’ian woman nodded vigorously. “The Holy See changed my life. Don’t you think it could change the lives of so many people in the Nation, too?” Naomi leaned in closer, lowering her voice. “You’re asking me to forsake everything I’ve lived up to this point. It’s treason, then.” “I know, but…” Maye leaned in closer, and Naomi felt her heart fluttering. “Don’t you want something more out of life?” The answer was immediate. “Of course I do. I wouldn’t be here like this otherwise.” Clearing her throat, Naomi flicked her eyes away in embarrassment. “But change like that takes time, and people are slow to react. Don’t you think it will be hard?” Now Maye’s other hand found her way to Naomi’s. “They’ll learn quickly – everyone does, when suitably convinced!” “Like you, as a child trained by the Holy See?” The woman nodded yes. “It wasn’t that bad. Besides, what’s a little difficulty now compared to a lifetime of tranquility?” Naomi pursed her lips and nodded thoughtfully. “Ends justifying the means. You make it sound like the means won’t be gentle.” “Probably not. Your people are stubborn, but I know there’s good ones out there. Like you, to my surprise.” There was a pause and a hint of guilt in Maye’s voice. “No offense.” “None taken – stubbornness is what made us, and what keeps us now.” The Bleej’ian looked suspicious, but rapidly changed into derisiveness. “So I’ve seen.” Naomi shrugged. “I’m just saying, it won’t be as easy of a change as you think.” “Maybe. But after seeing how…revolting some of your customs are, I think many will be willing to forsake this hellhole of a country.” Maye’s eyes looked accusing. “I know what you Knights wear under your skirts. It’s disgusting.” Naomi slipped a hand down to her skirt and flipped it, letting Maye get a good long stare at her panties. “Maybe I’m ahead of the curve?” Maye’s eyes sparkled until the skirt came back down. She flicked her eyes up to Naomi, hesitating. “If you can help me get back in touch with the Holy See, I can make sure you’re exonerated and taken care of when our countries unite.” “I’d like that.” Naomi smiled warmly. “It’d be nice to use the potty like a big girl, once in a while. Y’know, and not be judged for it.” “I don’t know how you do it.” “Stubborn, remember?” It was a bit silly to say, and Maye looked uncomfortable talking about it like that. Truth be told, it wasn’t exactly comfortable for Naomi, either. …actually, that wasn’t true. She was perfectly relaxed and calm, without a concern or worry in the world. Part of that seemed odd, like she should be freaking out at the things she’d said here, the intrusive thoughts she’d given voice to in front of someone that actively wanted the removal of the Nation. But it was for a higher cause, after all. Maye started to stand up. “If you could look away, I need to go piss.” “I thought this was important,” Naomi challenged with a sly tone to her voice. “Can’t hold it? Y’know, like a big girl?” Confusion entered the Bleej’ian’s face, and Naomi smiled deeply. Go ahead, she thought. Tell me you’ve drunk too much water. “I’ve had a lot to drink since you came by!” she protested. “I’ve had just as much.” Using the years she’d spent staving off wetting herself, Naomi forced herself to remain calm. It was a game, now, of seeing who would break first. Pride demanded this childish act be carried out, and Maye was as arrogant as they came. Biting her lip, Maye sat back down. “I thought it was a trick at first – you know, when I saw some of the Knights wearing di-” she stopped, her face turning sunburnt red, as if saying the word was hard for her. “-diapers. You know, like it was some kind of psychological trick?” Naomi shook her head no, and Maye continued. “I didn’t get it, until I realized it was just…being a workaholic, I guess? I still don’t understand it, entirely, but it’s disgusting.” “We got used to it.” “And don’t you think that’s…weird? Creepy? Gross?” Naomi didn’t respond, clamping down on her bladder. If Maye noticed she didn’t react. “I think your Nation has a serious problem with it, and only the Holy See can help. You’re…you’re like children, and you need an adult to help you out.” “With what?” “With everything! In Bleej we share our burdens and responsibilities equally among all people, we all worship together, and we’re allowed to go to the toilet when we need to.” Naomi raised an eyebrow, slyly again. “Oh?” “Yes!” Maye was getting frustrated and flustered, out of her comfort zone, and it was showing. Apparently, she was not as used to ignoring the protestations of her bladder quite like a Knight was, her legs squirming and bouncing up and down in her seat a bit. “I never thought I’d say this, but when I first came to this Nation of yours I thought I’d be helping it find spiritual guidance. Instead, I found a crass menagerie of people that could hardly bring themselves to agree on anything, squabbling over basic things in life that you never see in Bleej.” “This was before you were captured?” Maye rolled her eyes. “Yeah – at the peak of my frustration, a group of young girls got lucky and ambushed us, and we’ve been locked up ever since. Then, I come to find out that the entirety of the most elite military force in the Nation – something every man, woman and child on the continent is taught to fear – are incontinent!” She leaned in closer to Naomi. “If I reported back to the Holy See that the Flowering Knights aren’t potty trained, they’d call me crazy. Crazy! Literally no one would believe me.” Naomi nodded solemnly. The lack of response seemed to push Maye over the edge. “Fox-ears, I want to be out of this hole, and this stupid Nation! I want to be back to my people and I want to be back to civilization! Please, help me bring some semblance of that to this archaic little squabblefest. We could be so much happier – you, me, everyone here!” “But only if they listen to the Holy See?” It took everything in Naomi to make the question sound genuine. Whether or not she succeeded, she would never know, but it didn’t matter: Maye took it as such. “We’d make you listen! We were so close to it, and because of you and your friends I don’t know when it can happen. Please, please get it through those foxy ears on your head that this is the best thing for everyone. For us!” She gently stroked Naomi’s hair. “Don’t you agree?” The silence that suddenly overtook the room was absolute. Not a gush of water through pipes, no sound of guards patrolling the hallways, nothing. Naomi’s face must not have betrayed any emotion, and in so doing it betrayed exactly what had been there all along. The fear that rapidly overtook Maye’s face was exhilarating, cathartic, and Naomi felt the weight of deception lifted from her shoulders. “You…you’ve been lying?” “From the very beginning.” Naomi slowly stood up, determination like a fire in her eyes. Maye quivered, standing up and quaking backwards, step by step. “B-hdsj-you tricked me! You lied!” “You’re a spy – you lied from the moment you set foot in my Nation, and you’ve lied every day since I tied you up with your own shoelaces. Or did you forget that part?” The Bleej’ian woman couldn’t form any coherent sentences, sputtering like a child. It was Naomi’s turn to speak. “I told you from the start, didn’t I? ‘If it hasn’t worked for years, it’s not going to work today.’ So I did what any adult would think to do – I did something different.” The gears began to turn. Naomi had never entertained any thoughts of betraying the Nation. No, she had just known that Maye wouldn’t react to physical force or mental strain, the things Knights had done to her for years in a vain attempt to get any information regarding the Holy See’s plans out of her. In this, Maye deserved credit – it took an exceptionally strong woman to withstand that. Where she had failed was in allowing herself to be emotionally compromised, something Naomi had picked up on the instant Maye started tracking her breasts. It was a trick normally reserved for taking down men, using their natural propensity for females against them. All Knights learned how to take advantage of their physical appearance and weaponized it, exploiting weaknesses in physically dangerous foes to make a mockery of their efforts. Naomi was proud of herself for applying that particular facet of her training her, and for realizing so quickly it was her best shot at success. And succeed she had – where many Knights before her had no doubt failed, she had just exposed the single greatest threat looming over the Nation. The Bleej’ians, and their Holy See, were planning for war. There was a telltale trickling sound, and Naomi’s ears flicked in glee. A splotch of dark wetness was spreading across Maye’s crotch, flowing asymmetrically down her legs and forming a yellow puddle at her feet. Naomi turned to leave, winking sardonically. “Don’t worry – the Knights aren’t potty trained, either.” The woman started crying hysterically, collapsing to her knees. “You monster! You backwater, caveman monster!” “You’re right, Maye. We aren’t so different, in the end: but there’s one takeaway from this I don’t think the Holy See ever taught you.” Naomi paused at the door, letting that sink in before finishing her thought. “Change doesn’t take hold when it’s quick – it took me years to become a Flowering Knight. During that time I trained like a monster, day in and day out, for years. Years! A few simple promises of a utopia that cannot exist would never lead me astray.” Maye didn’t respond, and Naomi felt a twinge of irritation, and she spat something extra she hadn’t planned. “But you? All it took was a glance at a nice rack, an upskirt and some handholding, and you gave up everything that your life was supposedly meant to protect. Tell me – does that sound like the type of woman worth the title?” There was only the sound of the former spy balling in shame. “No…no, I don’t think you are. You are the child here, Maye. Maybe you should figure that out before you get up on your feet again and insult my people – my sister knights – for having the courage to bear strife in the name of something better.” Sneering in disgust, Naomi opened the door and stormed past the guard without a word, making her way back towards the elevator. The Voice sounded pleased. You lie easily, Naomi. “Of course I do,” her own voice cooled greatly, filling with remorse. “I’ve been lying to my friends. I’ve been lying to my sisters…I’ve been lying to myself. For a long, long time.” The Voice sounded contrite to this. Have you thought about what I told you? “About what, pride blinding me?” She hesitated for what felt like a long time. “…yeah.” There was silence, save for her footfalls, growing calmer as she went along. She did feel bad for Maye – not for the woman’s actions, but for how Naomi had really twisted the verbal knife at the end there. That wasn’t necessary, just a transference of her own guilt and frustration onto the Bleej’ian spy. Naomi made a mental note to meditate on that later, try and clear her head. The only reason she wasn’t doing it now was the unbearable urge in her bladder, screaming at her that she needed to find someplace to pee. Realizing it was behind her, Naomi stopped but froze an instant before turning around – it was in the opposite direction of where she needed to go, and it would delay her by a good bit. While that wasn’t the end of the world on its own, she had information that was of dire importance. The Bleej’ians were planning on war! The military and the King had to be warned immediately, preparations had to be made, and the Knights needed to be put on high alert. Naomi had a duty to warn Thembeka immediately. But she knew in her heart, she wasn’t going to be able to hold it that long. The ploy of forcing a drinking game with Maye had indeed succeeded in prying information from the spy’s lips, but it was a double-edged sword that was now returning on Naomi herself. If she continued, she would bring down her bladder’s wrath. There was only two ways this could end. “Just go to the bathroom,” Naomi thought. “Maye was right, it’s not a big deal. It’s normal, even, that’s just what people do. Don’t make such a weird point about this.” But, in her heart, Naomi knew that she had taken an oath of the utmost important – above all else, she served the King, and the people of his country. She didn’t serve her own interests, certainly not in the interests of avoiding her own embarrassment, and everything in her life not for that pledge came second. That. Included. Potty. Training. Naomi sighed, resigning herself to her fate. The Voice had been right – pride had been blinding her, and to find what she sought she had to lose it. The pride that had been her somewhat brief attempt to wear dry panties day in and out like a ‘normal’ woman had taken away her ability to focus on her knightly duties, and in a bizarre way it had driven a wedge between her and her sister knights, and moreso her life. Was this…was this what was causing her so much grief? Lying to herself, trying to be someone she wasn’t meant to be? The thoughts wouldn’t connect or make sense, and by the time she made it to Thembeka she was more confused than when she had started. The instructor – no, Naomi’s former instructor – raised an eyebrow. “And?” Naomi took a deep breath. “I have succeeded.” She proceeded to tell the whole story to Thembeka, from start to finish. Around the middle portion she dribbled a little, and within seconds she was peeing uncontrollably. It took a tremendous amount of effort to keep her eyes staring deep into Thembeka’s, never removing her gaze from her superior’s, despite what was going on from her waist down. It occurred to Naomi that Thembeka’s gaze also remained locked on Naomi’s throughout the exchange, barely taking the time to blink. By the time they were down Naomi’s eyes were a bit watery, and her throat felt dry. But Thembeka only nodded. “I see.” Mulling this over for a few moments she turned to the elevator and motioned for Naomi to follow. “I’ll pull the cell recording and have the information taken up the chain immediately. The Knights will put together a brief and have it to the King with full haste.” Naomi nodded to this as the door shut behind them and the elevator began to rise. “I serve.” She stared deadpan ahead of her, still confused by all the chaotic thoughts swirling in her head, and the feeling of her panties cooling rapidly wasn’t helping. Actually…it was. It was oddly comforting, like a meeting with an old feeling from your childhood. Part of Naomi felt like she’d been missing this feeling, like the comfort of something familiar had been missing from her life up until now. Had she had this before, and was repeating the same mistake of trying to put her own comfort and fear of embarrassment above her sworn duties? “Naomi,” Thembeka started. “Do you remember earlier today, when I complimented you? Told you that you’d grown so much?” The fox-eared girl slowly nodded, but didn’t say anything. “I didn’t say that with emptiness, sister Knight. I said that because it’s true.” Naomi started blinking, looking over at the older woman. Thembeka was already looking her way softly, smiling. “You’re not the fastest Knight in Onwaar, nor are you the smartest, or the most learned, or the strongest. Doubtedly, you are also not the most skilled.” There was a pause while Naomi nodded to this in agreement. “However…you may be the most stubborn, and you’ve got a good heart to you. You will never hear this from me again, but I think that is why you are the best.” That last word didn’t quite make sense. Naomi…the best? In Onwaar? She blinked rapidly, and Thembeka chuckled. “Don’t overthink it, Naomi. Just keep doing what you can.” “I serve.” The two shared a brief giggle over this before a sense of seriousness returned. “Naomi, go get some rest. I don’t know what will come of this information you’ve given to us today, but I don’t expect it to be calm.” She nodded. “I will. Thank you, Thembeka.” The older woman nodded back. “Oh, and while we’re at it-” she leaned in close, close enough that it almost tickled Naomi’s ears. “You should wear something thicker next time.” The sound of Imka and Mieke trying to cautiously approach and stealthily figure out what was going on annoyed Naomi’s ears. “You know I can hear both of you from several floors away, right?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of her work. The scissors snipped away, piece by piece, like clockwork – it wasn’t necessary, and perhaps a waste, but it was a symbolic gesture and it would serve as a reminder to Naomi every morning of the struggle she had not only overcome, but had in the first place. Imka was the first to speak. “Naomi? Are you…alright?” “I am, Imka,” she replied cheerily. “In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been better.” Snip. Snip. Snip. Mieke sniffed the air, looking down curiously. “Naomi?” “Yes?” “Uhm, why are you, uh…why are you cutting up your panties?” The ridiculousness of that question caught Naomi for a moment before she let it slide off of her. It wasn’t a ridiculous question, actually. Naomi had been the ridiculous one, and it only stood to reason that she answer it. “I’m sorry, you two. I’ve been…silly, lately.” She looked over, just in time to catch her closest friends exchanging a confused glance. “Come on, don’t make me say it.” “I want you to say it.” Mieke sounded serious, flat in a way she never typically did. It was all the motivation Naomi needed. “I’ve been scared of what being a Knight truly means, and I tried to fight it by convincing myself I needed to be different – ‘better’ – than everyone else. It’s why I put so much time and effort into these, and not into being a better person, a better sister Knight…a better friend.” Her ears drooped, and she looked down. It was taking every ounce of her will to not start crying in front of them, and she wiped her eyes and took a shaky breath, just to keep going. “But I know that now, and I’m going to be better. For you, for me, for everyone. And to make sure I don’t forget, I’m destroying my mistake.” “But…isn’t that a waste?” “Not really – I’ll sew it into a blanket, so I’m reminded every morning I wake up and every night I go to sleep.” There was an awkward silence, and as Naomi’s face started to look confused Mieke bust out laughing, flopping onto her back and rolling with laughter. Imka, on the other hand, started tearing up and flopped onto Naomi, hugging her tight just as she started crying without control. To her surprise, Naomi didn’t start crying in response. But she did feel…content, and without guilt for the first time in what felt like years. She patted Imka on the back and stroked her hair. “It’s alright, you two – Naomi is back.” The feeling of something pulling back her skirt and waistband made her help, and when her head snapped around Mieke was wearing a gremlin grin on her face. “Ohho, is the mighty Naomi back in training pants? My my my, I thought-” Needless to say, Naomi’s revenge was suitably swift and decisive, but by the end of the impromptu shenanigans the three women were on their backs, staring at the ceiling and laughing the way they used to, when younger. It didn’t need saying, but that was the power of being sister Knights – no matter the trouble, the mistakes, the issues that tried them, their bond would remain strong, and they would remain together not only with one another, but for one another. They would need that strength.
  10. Just saw the FNAF movie, and goodness gracious me, what a satisfying piece of fanservice! Pretty good overall, and definitely put some new ideas for this on the drawing board, or rather, visualized some ideas that should make it a bit easier to get some things done. Hopefully I'll do it justice! IDK, not really necessary to share here, but after being a fan from basically day one, it was nice to see nine years of something grow so big.
  11. Absolutely will be continuing! I have family visiting earlier than expected, so I'll be quiet for the next week or three. Should be resuming normal schedule after that!
  12. CHAPTER 7 – The Frogs Who Desired a King Second Night The animatronic looked like…a frog? It had eyelashes that made it seem like a girl animatronic, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. What was that one Foxy thing that had been a thing back in the day, the one that was all white and pink and girly- -well, they were all animatronics in the end, so they weren’t really he’s and she’s, but it still felt natural to think of them like that, right? Sarah didn’t really know, but she didn’t think she had ever seen this one before. Was it a backup, a prototype, an upcoming release? Questions came rapidly, but she still tried to move for the door to leave. The answer could wait, their safety was currently on the line and getting to the safety of the atrium was the main thing on her mind right now. The door wouldn’t budge. “What? No, no no no no nononono-” A bubbly – too bubbly – voice cracked behind them. “Yes! I don’t get to talk to people as often as I’d like.” Sarah turned, still supporting Rick’s shoulder. The experience with the endo had left her hesitant and cautious with anything she didn’t recognize, and not having an escape route wasn’t helping. “Who…are you?” The animatronic clapped her hands together, doing a little skippy-hop dance of some kind in a painfully slow approach. “I’m Happy Frog, of course! Couldn’t you tell?” Rick inhaled painfully. “Right, you’re a frog, and you’re happy.” He coughed a few times. “That’s right!” Frog’s voice cracked pretty consistently, bordering on annoyingly so. “Oh I’m so glad to finally meet some people! It’s been so long-” Rick coughed again as his head drooped down, avoiding eye contact. “Can you help us get to the first aid station? It’s up in the atrium, by the stage.” Frog waited a moment, mulling this over before making a sound of affirmation. “Yeah! Absolutely, let’s go there together!” Before Sarah could get in an edgewise word about how there wasn’t a first aid station there, Rick spoke again. “This door’s the shortest way, but it’s locked. Can you help us out?” He must be getting delirious from the pain, right? Rick wasn’t making much sense, not in the way he usually did. “Hold on, Rick,” Sarah’s voice was full of concern, despite her attempts to keep her fears to herself. “We’ll be out of here soon.” He wheezed forcefully. “Just gotta make it to the atrium’s-” “Rick, there isn’t a first aid station in the atrium!” she blurted, and Happy Frog stopped dead in her tracks, processing this new information. She felt Rick suddenly tense up in her arms. He was much stronger than he had been just a second ago, but she also felt something else in him. It was…anticipation? “I know,” he whispered, defeated. “But she should have.” Too late, Sarah realized he had been intentionally lying and putting on a show. He hadn’t made a mistake, he had deliberately hoped to mislead the new animatronic, and Sarah had just ruined it! A wave of guilt washed over her, realizing that she had just torpedoed their limited safety. Happy Frog looked anything but, and her voice became rather cross. “You…lied to me? You don’t trust me?” “Why should we?” Rick asked, standing up. His voice still betrayed the soreness, if not agony, he still felt, but he was fighting through it with everything he had! “The last animatronic we ran across down here almost killed me. I can’t be repaired.” She sounded like she was seething with fury. “You…you’re-” but Happy Frog couldn’t finish her sentence, sputtering and making glitch noises, occasionally twitching with mechanical disbelief. Something about the exchange had pushed her buttons, and Sarah lamented that she hadn’t seen the obvious signs of danger earlier. Rick exhaled, like a bull warning it was about to charge. “You’re the one that locked the door. We’re trapped down here because of you, aren’t we?” He drug out the last two words, a venomous insult, the cherry on top of a vile cake. There was a pause before the machine answered. “It was me. We’ve only just begun, you see? I will never let you return to the others. You can never rest again.” There was one menacing step forward. “Or rather, you’ll never do anything but rest, soon.” With that she began to walk towards them, slowly, knowing they were trapped between an impenetrable door and her servomotors. Sarah’s life would have flashed before her eyes under any other circumstance, but she was still shell-shocked that this was, to some degree, her doing. If she had just done something differently, followed Rick’s lead instead of trying to take control- She had screwed up, and they were both going to pay for it. “Rick,” she fought to hold back the tears in her last moments. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” “Don’t be,” he winced, shuffling to get in front of her, placing himself first on the evil machine’s chopping block. “Close your eyes.” Her eyes widened all the way, realizing what he meant. Before she could say anything there was a heavy metal clunk-chink sound behind them, and the advancing stopped. “What?!” Happy Frog screamed incredulously, and the humans turned around to look at what was happening. The door was lifting! Someone had unlocked it, and was opening it, but who had the authority to- “Freddy Fazbear?” Sarah couldn’t stop herself from asking the question as the iconic bear came into view, looking a bit baffled at the situation unfolding. Part of her wondered if it was a mistake, that Freddy might be in cahoots with all of this, but if that was the case then if didn’t matter: she and Rick were just as screwed as they were a moment before. “Sarah? Rick?” Freddy asked, his adorable eyes flicking back and forth between them. “You are hurt!” A menacing voice came from down the hall. “Freddy Fazbear…” Freddy looked over at the froglike animatronic. “…I do not recognize you. Who are you?” She looked up at the bear, simultaneously appearing dejected and excited. “You shouldn’t have been able to come down here, especially not for them.” “I am registered with level ten security clearance in the system,” Freddy admitted sheepishly. “I believe it is a glitch. When I mentioned it to the security guard she didn’t have time to fix-” Frog screeched, a dissonant and sonorous war cry as her arms went up and she charged like a locomotive. There was no time for Sarah and Rick to get out of the way getting bowled to the side as a blur of brown casing rushed before them, clashing with the green and yellow monster in a horrific grinding of metal and polymer, twisting and sliding to the side as they crashed into the concrete wall. He couldn’t stop everything, but the bear had taken the brunt of it all. “Go!” Freddy ordered, still locked in a deathgrip with Frog. “Get out of here!” Sarah was winded, coughing and rolling over. She hadn’t even realized she was on her back at first, but the pain up her back quickly made her aware. Rick! Looking around, she found him nearby, clutching his abdomen and left arm, groaning in a pain she hadn’t heard before. “Come on Rick! We’ve gotta go!” Supporting the majority of his weight once more, Sarah desperately tried to keep the two of them moving, but it was a losing battle. Nearby, the sounds of servomotors spinning up and slamming synthetic limbs into one another or the surrounding area sent hammering echoes throughout the enclosed space, machine gods fighting to the death. If she wasn’t so concerned with the safety of her friend, she may have tried to get a good look at it. Rick sounded like he was choking, hacking up spit onto the floor. “Leave me. I can’t make it,” he wheezed.” Sarah didn’t reply, tightening her grip and putting everything she had into it. No. Rick had risked himself for her sake over and over again, willing to put himself in harm’s way at a moment’s notice, so the least she could do was get him out of here. The sounds of the animatronics fighting got closer, and a football tackle slammed down right next to them, Freddy below as Happy Frog attacked him wildly, limbs flailing in a desperate attempt to hurt the bear. She was screaming at him, words and obscenities Sarah couldn’t really process in the moment, just knowing that Frog hated Freddy with a burning passion. She felt a light dribble in her pull-up, more from physical exertion than fear. Nothing serious, nothing it couldn’t handle, and in the moment it was very low on her list of priorities, but it was still there. Sarah pushed harder, stumbling and struggling to the very limit of what she believed possible. This was such a short, hallway, how in the hell was it taking this long now? The elevator! There it was, just a short walk down and up and they’d be out of here. “Come on, Rick, we’re right here!” she begged, suddenly realizing just how hoarse her voice sounded. They picked up the pace, ever so slightly, huffing and puffing as they made it. Sarah weakly slapped at the button to send them up to safety, but nothing happened. Confused, she slapped it again, harder this time. It clicked and made a ding sound, and yet no movement was to be had. “Come on!” Sarah screamed, repeatedly banging her fist against the controls. What the hell was the holdup? They were so close to safety, why the fuck was it not moving?! That animatronic back there…Happy Frog. She could hack into the door controls and lock them: what if she could do the same to the rest of the Pizzaplex? What if the elevator was locked down as well? Without Freddy – or someone else to help – they had no way out. Parts and Services! Sarah felt like such an idiot, bumbling from one mistake to another. Surely that was a way out? She was about to tell Rick to follow when she heard it: the unmistakable and heavy footsteps of an animatronic, moving slowly. She turned to look, braced with Rick. If it was Happy Frog, well, they were cornered and that would be the end of it. The anticipation mounted with each clod, the sound growing louder and heavier consecutively until a clawed hand gripped the corner and the machine rounded it and into view. Sarah felt all of the oxygen in her lungs leave her body in one explosive exhale. “Freddy.” The animatronic bear looked beat up, dents and scratches marring his once pristine casing, but he still carried himself with that boyscout stride, a little thing that let the humans know everything was okay. “It is safe now,” he started. “I will unlock the elevator.” Once he made his way up to them, the platform almost immediately started the slow ascent up to the holographically-lit stage. “Freddy,” Sarah was horrified. She’d never seen an animatronic this badly damaged before: was Freddy in danger of shutting down? Could he be rebooted? What would they do without him and his apparently limitless security access? “Are you…alright?” The bear animatronic made a thoughtful noise. “Hmm. Diagnostics reveal I am functional. Most of the damage was superficial: my casing can be repaired or replaced quite easily, in fact! I am designed this way in the event of an overeager fan, or a run-in with a staffbot. I am also programmed to react defensively only, in event of an emergency: apparently, the company does not want to replace my parts any more than necessary, due to operating costs.” She teared up a little, listening to the machine talk about himself in such a detached way, so diplomatic and by-the-book. It was a little sad, and she felt bad for the animatronic, but she was also beyond elated that he had made it out okay. Looking over to Rick, she sighed. “It’s okay, Rick. We’ll get you to first aid in no time.” He took a deep, careful breath. “Not yet.” When Sarah started to ask what he meant, he continued. “That thing down there – Happy Frog – was able to hack systems. If she can control parts of the Pizzaplex we’re not out of danger just yet.” It was so obvious. How could Sarah be so blind to this stuff, over and over again? It was like she couldn’t do anything right around here! She felt so foolish and ashamed as they reached the top of the ride, entering the nigh-empty atrium. “I-” “We need to meet with the others,” Rick made an effort to put more weight on his own legs, freeing up room for her to move. “Connor, Tess, anyone and everyone that can put in a helping hand: none of us are safe if she’s down there.” Freddy walked with them, a synthetic bodyguard of sorts. “I was able to push her back into the warehouse at the last moment and lock the door. She didn’t have the strength to force it open, and her security access is far below mine. She cannot leave it for now.” That was true, but WAIT NO IT WASN’T! “Freddy, there’s another way up!” Sarah gasped. She explained how they had left the area previously, when this whole mess had started. The animatronic bear mulled this over patiently. “I believe there are some heavy objects I can use to block off the entrance. I will get right on that. Please, get some medical attention for Rick, and I will meet with you shortly.” As he departed, Rick whispered to Sarah, “I’m okay for now: we gotta get this on lockdown ASAP, I can wait.” He looked her in the eyes. “Trust me.” She nodded meekly. “Okay.” As they continued to find the others, Rick sighed contentedly. “And Sarah? Thank you.” “What for?” “For saving my life down there.” Sarah’s eyes were once more overflowing with tears, but now it was purely from cathartic joy. It was a good feeling, and she was willing to let it be that way, even if only for a little while. Dylan stumbled through the Pizzaplex, still sobbing and sniffling as he went. He was safe now, he’d come back the way he’d come but the experience with the endo was still fresh in his mind, a bought of terror he’d not dreamed possible. He rubbed at his eyes, trying to find his way around to the only comforting thought that would stay in his mind. His pull-up sagged, a soggy and dirty mess that only served to enhance his misery. It made walking an awkward feeling, a sort of toddle that instantly gave away what was wrong, not that there was anything he could do to hide it. Not that there was any point, or if there was he didn’t care anymore. Dylan just needed comfort and reassurance that things were okay, he couldn’t take it any longer. Someone needed to help him through this, and hopefully out of this, as well. Aggressive animatronic skeletons, like some horror movie villain? He wasn’t prepared to deal with that, not in any way. He’d passed Kayla in the atrium at some point, somewhere. She looked pale, and was sitting down breathing heavy, like she might pass out. Dylan was glad she had made it out safely, so much so he hadn’t even noticed if she’d wet herself. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t: it was so far from his mind it didn’t really matter. They were alive. Plenty of stares came his way, people wondering what was wrong or wearing shocked expressions once they saw the cause of his crying, or at least the effect of his experience. He couldn’t really explain it to them and he didn’t want to, just stumbling by and bawling harder with each look of concern that came his way. It was about all he could do now. Finally, the familiar look of the daycare area. She would be here, she would know what to do, she would comfort him. Dylan approached, barely aware of who was around or where, only knowing that he had to get here and find her. In that little lobby area nearby, where everyone had met up on the first night, there she was, sitting at a table and talking with some other people, or something. He attracted a few glances, then a few stares, and soon it seemed like just about everyone was looking at him or whispering to one another about him. Miss Tess’s eyes widened once she saw who was making all the fuss. “Dylan!” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet and approaching rapidly. “What happened?” It all came pouring out, Dylan blubbering and struggling to form a coherent sentence, much less the steady sound and rhythm of one. “Miss Tess I- we were downstairs, and there was the thing- and it came and it attacked me and I hid and I-” She looked genuinely concerned, focused on his face, trying to decipher what he was going on and on about as he simply reverted back to the childish instinct of barfing words at the older woman, hoping she’d make it all better. “It attackeded me and I was scared and I ran and-” Miss Tess motioned for him to calm down. “It’s okay now, Dylan-” It wasn’t okay, though, and his crying intensified. “Miss Tess I’m sorry I was scared and I peed my pants again and I was scared I didn’t want to I’m sorry Miss Tess I’m so sorry I-” “Dylan, it’s okay, that’s why you have pull-ups.” She sighed. “We’ll get you changed into a new one here, just come with me-” the woman started feeling around the front of his FazTrainer, inspecting the damage with the palm of her hand. As she began to scratch at the thigh cuff she frowned, beginning to understand how much he had leaked. The woman began to say something when Dylan cut her off with a final wail of guilt. “I went potty in my pull-up!” She raised an eyebrow, as if he’d just said something painfully obvious. After a second or two of his nigh-screaming, a knowing – and menacing – look crossed her face. Unexpectedly, she shoved her hand between his thighs, cupping up and feeling between and behind, pressing up as she felt exactly what he meant. Undeterred, she squished the outside of the pull-up, finally getting the full picture of what Dylan had done. There was an explosive exhale from her nostrils, the fury of a vexed mother, and her eyes glowered in disappointed anger. Dylan was only partially aware of it, crying his eyes and heart out both, ashamed and now afraid once more. “Come here,” she hissed, seizing him viciously by the wrist and storming off, nearly dragging him along as she did. Her pace was fast, much more than he was expecting, and trying to walk in his predicament made it all the more difficult. Dylan cried and screamed an incoherent mess again as Miss Tess led him through the gate and along the rail. It was a long walk, and even at her speed with pulling him along it seemed to go on forever, his pull-up’s state constantly impeding his ability to keep a straight mind. “Miss Tess I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry-” he tried to get a single good sentence out. “I didn’t mean to go potty in my pull-up I didn’t-” but she wouldn’t answer, only guiding him forcefully along to an unknown destination. Dylan began to want to be back downstairs again – at least the Endo he kind of understood. Miss Tess? She scared him on a spiritual level. Down the stairs they went, hanging a left towards the Lucky Stars gift shop. Dylan didn’t know why they were going there but they were, not that he had much of a choice – Miss Tess’s grip on his wrist was starting to hurt really bad, and his arm was sore from her being so pushy – or perhaps pull-y was the right word – about getting there. She took him inside and past the counter, a small back area barely secluded from the rest of the shop. Once there she pushed him in front of her, turning him around and putting a single finger on his mouth. “Don’t. Move.” Dylan immediately complied, not like he had much choice. “I’ll be right back.” And with that she was gone, leaving him standing there in his dirty pull-up, barely able to cry anymore. The tears had about all dried up, but his body still tried bawling a bit. He wanted Miss Tess to come back but she wasn’t here, he was all alone in this little place and his FazTrainer was icky and he just wanted comfort, beyond that of the carpet on his feet. Within a minute or two Miss Tess was back, that large purse thingy over her shoulder again. She still looked…furious, a look that could kill written on her face. It made him start to tear up again, just thinking about it. “Miss Tess I’m-” Something was forced into his mouth, something soft and flexible, and it covered his lips. Plastic, rubber? Dylan wasn’t sure, but he almost immediately stopped crying and looked down at what was going on. Miss Tess was pushing something into his mouth: it was a little white thing with some pink flair to it, and with a design resembling Chica. Slowly, he realized it was a pacifier. “Suckle,” she commanded, her voice low and intimidating. Dylan hesitated, but complied, slowly starting to suck on the pacifier as bid. In a night full of terror and unpleasantness, it was soothing, one of the only calming things he’d done all day. His emotions began to come back down to Earth for the first time in what felt like forever. Miss Tess worked quickly, with a practice efficiency that perplexed Dylan. First thing that came out of the oversized back was a folded up mat, one with all four Glamrocks plastered all over it. Unfolding it to a surprising size, she whipped it out and set it on the ground. “Sit,” she told him, but when he didn’t she gently pushed him. Dylan went down on his butt with a single move from her, landing hard on the mat. His mess squished in a discomforting way, and he suckled harder on the pacifier to compensate. “You had a chance to go earlier,” Miss Tess still sounded beyond pissed. “I even took you there myself. And what do you do? Come back to me, screaming and crying, in a poopy pull-up.” Dylan cried. Miss Tess rolled her eyes and effortlessly pushed him onto his back. He didn’t have the will to fight it or sit up, just laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. She was down on her knees, now, pulling his legs up slightly and lifting his butt up off the ground. Dylan went limp, not wanting to fight her on this lest he make her even madder. She took the FazTrainer by each side and pulled it off of him. Dylan was pretty glad to be rid of it, even if the circumstances were unpleasant. The cold air wasn’t much of an improvement, though. He realized his legs and rear end were still being held aloft, then they were pushed back until his legs were basically straight up in the air. He wasn’t sure what was going on until something cold and soft started making passes over his glutes. Was it baby wipes? It felt like it, damp and gentle, cleaning him like the world’s most cautious bath. Miss Tess was an expert, wiping him in a pattern that was both practiced and efficient, until he felt like he’d just taken a nice, long shower, or something. Dylan continued sucking on the pacifier. It felt weird in his mouth, but he didn’t want to take it out, either. It felt so nice after the day he’d had, something he didn’t understand but didn’t want to, either. That…thing was terrifying, and the slightest bit of security was welcome, even if it was unusual. There was a crinkling sound as Miss Tess unfolded something. He risked a look, seeing something he dreaded: it was a diaper, larger than his pull-up and fluffy. The padding was much heavier and thicker, the design far more cutesy and babyish, a pastel pastiche of Chica’s merch that opened up like it was going to swallow him whole. The woman spent a few seconds stretching it out and frilling open the sides before sliding it under him and setting him down on it. It was a weird feeling, something he didn’t know how to describe: simultaneously it was soft and comfy, but also made him sick to his stomach, an embarrassment rising up as the words started forming in his head. Miss Tess is putting you back in diapers. There really wasn’t anywhere else to go below this – there was no more bathroom, there was no more potty time, something he never would have expected preferring: she had given up on him, and he didn’t know if he had the courage to even try fighting her on it. He couldn’t fight her on it if he wanted to, Miss Tess effortlessly overpowered him at every turn. She had to force his legs apart, shaking a bottle of something that sounded dry before a cold, powdery feeling was felt. Miss Tess lifted his legs and butt again to get it under and behind, then worked her way up, applying to both him and his diaper. His diaper – how shameful… Tears overflowed down the sides of his face as he continued suckling. How had it come to this? But, also, didn’t he deserve this? Maybe this was justice, after how he’d acted in front of Miss Tess. After all, it was all but unthinkable that she’d do this unnecessarily, or without reason. No, this was only right and fair, because Miss Tess was doing it. The woman folded the front of his diaper up and over him, stretching it tight as it wrapped around Dylan. It was much more different than the pull-up was, and he immediately found himself wanting to go back. The padding on this was heavier, far more prevalent, the feeling different and more constrained. It rested higher up over his waist, and it was tight, too, something he wouldn’t be able to just remove whenever he wanted. It was a padded prison, and Miss Tess was the only one that would have the key. Satisfied it was properly positioned and tight, Miss Tess started taping it, first from one side on the lower tape, snug as could safely be, before doing the lower tape on the other side, then the one above it, and finally the top tape from the first side. Patting the sides and then the front, she finally started to look satisfied at her handiwork. “Phew. I’ve still got it.” Dylan looked down, seeing Chica’s happy face and the babyish patterns of his diaper. His legs were kind of forced apart by all the padded bulk, and he felt really awkward, lacking any dexterity. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to walk like this, and the slightest movements made embarrassingly loud crinkles that everyone would always hear. Dylan began to realize the pull-up had been somewhat discrete, meant to be concealed by clothes – if he had just had the courage to swallow his pride and put on a skirt – in public use. Low-profile, he had even forgotten Sarah had one on, at times. That could have been him. But, it wasn’t. Now everyone would know, everyone would see and hear and be made aware. There was no getting around it or finding someplace quiet: he was stuck like this, and sooner or later he would end up going potty in his diaper, and he would have to find Miss Tess to change it for him. Despite himself…this was a skill he hadn’t even been aware existed. She was a natural, able to do seemingly anything she wanted, and for that Dylan madly respected her. His words were obscured as he tried to talk around his pacifier, “You’re rhearry ghood at dhis, Mhiss Tessh.” She gave him a nod of supremacy. “A human being,” she quoted. “Should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.” The woman paused, letting these words sink in. “Specialization is for insects.” A knowing look crossed her face, that sassy, challenging expression only women could pull off. For the first time in a while, Dylan started to see her as a woman again, the peak of attractiveness and femininity. Her form, her thighs, her breasts, her eyes…everything about her was dazzling to behold. And her voice… “And you know what happens to insects?” Miss Tess was down on all fours, crawling towards him, like a hungry lioness cornering its next meal. Fear seized his heart, but he couldn’t go anywhere, transfixed by her beauty and deadliness. The only thing Dylan could do was suckle his pacifier like mad and stare. She pressed herself against the front of his diaper, her hotpants meeting his soft padding as she leaned in, her face close and assured, lecturing him in the most intimate of ways, her voice almost a whisper. “They get trampled beneath those above them.” Dylan couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She was absolutely more terrifying than the endo down there, an all-powerful deity that had him in her thrall. Her eyes challenged his every thought, reading his soul like a bedtime book. H-her boobs were right there, he could- she was pushing against his diaper, he couldn’t- Helplessly, he started peeing, a warm flood that soaked into his diaper. He couldn’t stop! He could barely feel it, couldn’t move away from her as she asserted dominance over him. And he submitted in the only way he could – pissing himself right under her. The tears intensified, and he struggled to hold back the crying once more. Her eyes looked victorious, and disappointed that he’d buckled so easily. Sighing, she pulled away from him as he continued to pee in his diaper. Dylan was barely aware he was doing it, not quite certain where he was and wasn’t wet: he just knew he was going and it was holding it. But she’d just changed him! He already needed a new diaper… But that wasn’t her intention. Getting up on her haunches, she spread his legs at the thighs, grabbed him by the wrists and pulled him up to his feet as she herself stood up. He was pretty sure he was still going pee-pee as they stood there, looking away in shame as she tried peering into his soul again. Miss Tess laughed sadistically, slapping him on the butt with a soft pampf as he stumbled forward. “Grow up, diaper boy.” Her words stuck with him. Standing there, he realized this was going to be his future. Until he survived five nights, that’s what he was: Miss Tess’s little diaper boy, and there was nothing he could do about it. The woman sauntered past him, her diaper bag safely over her shoulder as her hips shifted perfectly as she walked past, showing off her butt in all the right ways. “Mommy will change your diaper tomorrow morning. Sweet dreams, little baby.”
  13. CHAPTER 6 – The Ant and the Dove: Part 2 Second Night Kayla had commandeered a technician’s flashlight somewhere along the way, and that was the only thing keeping the two of them moving in the right direction. It was surprisingly dark, and even though they had been down here just the other night it felt completely different. Dylan barely remembered any of it, instead having some weird feelings of déjà vu when stuff looked just right enough, or something. Other than that, he may as well have been down here for the first time. Kayla didn’t seem any better. If anything she was worse, no clue of where to go but also constantly jumping at nothing and skitzing up to him to squeeze his arm at the slightest provocation: a drop of water, a rat chitter, anything and everything got her gasping and swinging the light around frantically. Only the worry that she’d flip out if he took the flashlight away kept it in her incapable hands instead of his. Easier to just let her be like that rather than try and convince her to chill out. The two found themselves walking into what he could only describe as something of a warehouse, or something. Sound echoed throughout the halls in really weird patterns, odd reverbs that kept him chilled to the bone. Dylan had never wanted pants more in his life, his thighs occasionally shivering from a mix of cold and fear. Once in a blue moon he’d feel comforted by his FazTrainers, before remembering it was a pull-up and then he’d be back in a sour mood, which soon went away as the fear crept in again. It was a vicious cycle. On a brighter note, seemingly no one came down here, so if he needed to use the bathroom he could just find a corner. For future reference that might be a good tool: wouldn’t need to deal with mo- err, Miss Tess anymore, and her weird actions. “I wonder where all these conveyors lead?” Kayla wondered aloud. Her voice was hushed, like there was something out there in the dark to be scared of, worried about. Dylan was on the verge of making fun of her, but recalled his harrowing experience with mapbot, and wisely decided to bite his lip on it. “Probably just because they’re lazy,” he answered, not bothering to lower his voice. “Makes it easy to move these boxes of spare parts around, or something.” Kayla shuddered, scanning the light around over parts and boxes, things neither of them knew anything about. “Are these endo parts, for like the skeletons they have?” Looking it over that did seem to be the case. It made sense, Parts and Services was down here somewhere, so maybe this was storage for it. But then why was the layout so odd? Dylan had no experience with jobs like this, not even remotely close, but having seen enough movies with sets like this it didn’t make a lot of sense. Was there more to this place, or was this just how they built it? If there were secrets to locate, this would be the place to find them, so on they pressed. Without warning Kayla screamed, a pipe in front of them bursting out some steam harmlessly before settling down. She nearly crushed his arm in the process, shimmying up to him for protection. Dylan’s heartrate jumped for the moment, surprised more from her than the actual event. “Bro I don’t think my heart can take this!” she got even closer, which didn’t seem possible. “I wanna go home.” He rolled his eyes. “If we figure this out, we might go home early. Remember? Come on, let’s keep going.” She gulped hard and nodded, shoving the flashlight at him. Apparently she’d rather keep both her arms on him for safety, like that would do anything, but it meant he could set the pace. It was…nice, the way Kayla treated him. She looked up to him, respected him and depended on him. A good change of pace, and for a few minutes he almost regretted not hooking up with her instead of Sarah. But he pushed the thoughts away. He was just having a rough time with Sarah right now, it wasn’t the end of the world and they’d get over it. Well, he mostly was, but she needed to forgive and forget. Or something. Whatever, he just needed to get to the bottom of the mystery and call it good, then worry about whatever. It seemed like the hallway opened up slightly, more machinery and belts giving him the feeling of like a factory, or something. Were they building stuff down here, like their own parts? Or maybe it was an assembly line for stuff they shipped in. It was new information, but hardly the groundbreaking reveal he had been hoping for. “I don’t like this,” Kayla whispered. “This doesn’t feel right.” Dylan looked over, half expecting her to have pissed her pants, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. “What would even be down here? Staffbots? Good, we can bring them back with us, that’d be a net-positive, wouldn’t it?” Around the corner was a wire gate protecting an electrical box of some kind, a danger: high voltage keep out sign ensuring everyone knew not to lick it. Duh. But, more importantly, there was an animatronic further down the hallway, facing away from the humans. The two of them stopped, staring at it – an endoskeleton, a hideous and utilitarian metal thing that just kind of stood there, back towards them. “They’re so creepy without the plastic shell,” Kayla mumbled, and Dylan had to agree. Interestingly, it looked powered, and that meant it might be able to help them. “Hey, who are you?” Dylan asked. The wires sticking around its body looked pretty basic, like this thing was just mass-produced in the cheapest way possible. Maybe the animatronics weren’t as advanced as he thought? It barely moved, and Dylan frowned. Kayla tried, “Hey there! Can you help us out?” The endo stood up a bit straighter, turning its torso almost completely around to face them. It looked kind of spooky, great big eyes and next to no facial features, a steel skeleton and servomotors with no identifiable personality or appearance of its own. Kayla was right, these things looked so creepy without the fun and full colors that everyone was used to. Were all the animatronics this hideous on the inside? Kayla looked at him, then back to the endo. “Well, it’s working. Maybe it doesn’t work as well as the Glamrocks do?” That was when its eyes seemed to glow red behind their googly plastic spheres, and the endo made a low-powered screech as its lower body rotated awkwardly to get in-line with its torso. The things hands went up in a creepy walk as it approached. Something felt wrong, really wrong. “Um, Mr. Endo?” Kayla asked, letting go of Dylan’s arm. That made him more concerned, and with each step the Endo took he got more and more frightened. Wait, was this thing malfunctioning, or just trying to say hello? Maybe it didn’t have a voicebox? Weren’t the animatronics explicitly programmed to be incapable of harming a guest? But instinct kicked in, and when it was just a couple yards away he and Kayla reached the same conclusion. “Run!” they both screamed, tearing off back the way they had come. The endo screeched in a horrifying wail, clomping after them in a deliberate, if slow, chase. Dylan almost immediately lost track of Kayla, not sure if she was behind him or ahead of him, or if she’d taken a different turn. His breathing was erratic and forced, and his throat burned as he sprinted as fast as his panic-induced body would allow. In the cramped space of this basement he wasn’t really sure where anything was, and he didn’t care. Directions be damned, it couldn’t be that big here, the exit had to be close! But the thing sounded close, too, and he had to lose it. There! A side room! He could hide and wait for it to pass, then make his escape. Making sure it couldn’t see him with a risky look behind – and thankfully not seeing it down the hallway just yet – he darted into the room. There wasn’t much, mostly some shelves and a bin, but then there it was! A locker, the kind like in a highschool where you’d see a nerd shoved in once in a while. Good enough and big enough, he opened it up to find it empty and stepped inside, closing it as quietly as possible. It was cramped and tight, but he fit, and could see out the little slits in the top. Dylan tried to slow his breathing down to be as quiet as possible, but his heart sounded like a drum, slamming away like a beacon for anyone to find. The man pressed his lips together and tried breathing through his nose, but he couldn’t slow it down in the slightest. The best he could do was short and shallow, starting to get a bit lightheaded. The sound of heavy, mechanical footsteps grew closer, and in the adjacent hall just a handful of yards away the endo crept forward, walking past with horrifying doggedness. It was a machine, void of emotion and reason, just stalking after him with an unquenchable motivation behind it. Dylan was unbelievably lucky that it hadn’t seen him hide in here. But seeing it so close, realizing that it wanted to catch him, made him suddenly more afraid than he had possibly ever been in his life. Dylan was actually fearing for his life – the stories of Fazbear Entertainment’s sketchy past throughout the decades, the knowledge that these machines and their servomotors made them stronger than any human, knowing it was out there, looking for him, like a hunter-killer just waiting for the right moment to strike… What if it came back and looked for him? There was no one here to help, no one to save him, no one to even know he was down here. If the endo found him it was game over, no reloading and he may never even be found again. That was just the end of it. Tears welled up in Dylan’s eyes as the fear became intense, constricting in his chest, and he had to force himself not to cry and whimper out loud. Short inhalations through his nose were all between him and bawling his eyes out. He didn’t want to have to face that monster alone, not like this! Please don’t hear me down here please don’t find me- His eyes glanced down, a feeling of pee moving through his bladder. It still ached from earlier that day, and he was only barely aware of it happening as that familiar warmth started to soak into his pull-up. It was different this time – instead of zipping down his legs it changed direction, a rising tide of warm wetness that crept up his crotch, a contained accident that quite literally stuck with him. The sight of a wet patch going up the front of his FazTrainers, ever so slowly, burned into his vision like a crumbling point of fear. It began to reach the star pattern, the heavenly bodies getting muddied and starting to fade away as his pee overtook them, melding with the rest of the pull-up until they would, eventually, completely disappear. That sight of them, slowly smearing and getting dimmer, much like his hopes, put quiet tears streaming down his face, as too did his own pee start leaking out his thigh-guards, dribbling down the inside of his bare legs. A hot pool started accumulating in his FazTrainer, sloshing around with each shudder of barely-contained crying, then slowly working its way up the backside of his padded humiliation. Instead of just leaving a puddle on the floor, his puddle now followed him around, and it stuck out in his mind all the more for it. Dylan looked up and right into the endo’s eyes, finding it staring inside at him through the slits in the locker. He immediately started screaming bloody murder – there was nowhere to go now, and it knew right where he was – as it screeched back at him, slamming its hands into the side of the metal coffin and trying to pull it open to get at the wailing person within. The locker made horrible sounds as steel ground against steel, rattling and denting as his own terror echoed everywhere with headache-inducing loudness. The seat of his pull-up began to extend downwards as Dylan started to make a mess, expanding away from him and stretching the padded garment in a feeling he’d not experienced since he was a young boy. The front of his padding tightened towards him to compensate, squishing the pee-soaked padding against his body as a reminder of what he’d done, as the back began to push both inwards and downwards, making room for a bigger and bigger mass inside his FazTrainer that it struggled to contain. Dylan had never been more terrified than in that moment, and he didn’t care about what he was doing. He just wanted to be away from here and safe again, not having to worry about this evil metal thing trying to grab him. He was pleading now, babbling screeches of something he wasn’t quite sure of, too scared to even hear his own wailings. Was he begging it to let him live? Was he crying for someone to come save him? He almost passed out, just as the door was ripped off of its hinges and the endo prepared to seize him. Dylan collapsed to his knees, right between the endo’s legs as it swished with both arms. Surprised at the suddenly empty space, the thing froze, struggling to process an event it had not seemingly considered possible. Entirely functioning on fight-or-flight, Dylan crawled on all fours, still sniffling and blathering an incoherent jumble as he toddled to his feet, suddenly realizing that there was still a chance! He ran for whatever was left, eyes blurry and hiccupping the whole way, begging someone to be there for him, a tiny trail of dribbles occasionally marking his path. Sarah didn’t like being down here again, but she had to find Dylan and Matt. It was probably her fault they were like this, anyways, and she wanted to make it right. Her biggest fear now was that Dylan would get the wrong idea: she asked Rick to help ‘cuz she didn’t know who else to turn to, especially not at this hour, and in the event something went really embarrassing – or wrong – Rick would at least have the sensibility to keep quiet and not make an issue of things. He could get the job done, and that’s all she really wanted for the moment. Make sure everyone was okay and call it a night. She cradled the Fazerblaster in one hand, the other gently sweeping with a flashlight. It was the first thing she had picked up once in Parts and Service, thankful it had a charge. Before she’d had a chance to mention it to Rick he was hefting a rather large pipe wrench. “What’s that for?” she asked hesitantly. His reply was quick. “Just in case.” That immediately rubbed her the wrong way. Sarah didn’t want to think about anything unknown being down here: she didn’t deal with horror movies very well and this was like a textbook scene from one. Rick deciding to treat it like that wasn’t helping, either. He must have noticed her look of disapproval, because he flicked a pointed glance at the laser tag toy in her hand, then at her face. “Maybe there’s nothing down here, and maybe there is. I don’t deal in ‘maybes’. That’s all.” Twirling the wrench, he nodded his head over towards the door. “Now let’s go find ‘em and get out of here.” Parts and Service was a bizarre room, and while Sarah would have liked to look it over more thoroughly she knew there wasn’t remotely the time. Maybe they’d get a chance to check it out again later? Probably not: after all, they weren’t even supposed to be here in the first place. If Monty hadn’t been kind enough to help them take care of Dylan and his dumb ass they’d be taking the long way. It was just as dark as she had remembered, but this time instead of having a massive group of people to rely on it was just her and Rick. Her body trembled with apprehension, realizing that she had to pull a lot of weight now if she wanted to succeed, something she didn’t think she’d have the courage nor skill to do. “Sarah,” Rick’s voice interrupted her internal monologue, so much so she swung to face him, pointing the flashlight directly in his eyes. He squinted and covered them, waiting for her to realize her mistake. “Keep the flashlight steady: when you zip it all over the place I can’t see anything.” “O-oh, sorry…” she sighed explosively. “Rick I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” “Wrong,” he stepped forward, peering around in the dimly lit hallway. “You can and you will. There, I think this was the way, same marking: just gotta remember the signs that we take and we won’t get lost.” “Rick, I’m getting really really scared. We should get more people around and wait for them to come help us out with this.” He didn’t answer for a few seconds. “Rick?” Finally he took a deep breath. “Me too, Sarah. But that isn’t a good reason to stop, so I’m going to keep trying. The longer we take, the longer things could go wrong: they could get lost further in or end up with a sprained ankle if they tripped on loose stuff, like…we gotta keep moving.” There was a really long pause, broken by her gulping hard. “Okay. I’ll…try.” Rick sounded relieved. “Phew. Thanks, Sarah.” The two of them continued carefully, looking for any signs of Dylan: there wasn’t much dust down here, and a couple of callouts didn’t really seem to do the trick either. This place was really creepy: storage tubs filled with endoskeleton parts, some partially assembled while others were just kind of laying all over the place, scattered everywhere. It was so messy, like no one bothered to properly take care of things or organize, just did whatever and clocked out the minute their shift was over. It actually kind of irritated Sarah, something that had the unexpected benefit of helping curb her fears. In another unexpected twist there was an open room that didn’t quite look like it fit: there was soft rubber flooring in the four ‘basic’ colors you’d get in like kindergarten, and kiddy-playground stuff and beach balls and all the rest of it scattered about. It looked like a daycare playroom, but there was a single desk and chair with a monitor in the center. The two of them approached cautiously. It was all powered on, but looked unattended, with the seat pushed in to the point it wouldn’t have been recently used. Rick felt it for a few seconds, and it took Sarah a few more to realize he was checking the temperature of it. “Cold: hasn’t been used in a bit,” he stated, observing the area. “Is this…a security office?” Sarah couldn’t wrap her head around that at all. Unless it was a take-your-kids-to-work kind of job, which sounded like the plot of a B-Rated horror movie. This place wasn’t exactly picturesque when it came to health and safety, especially not this warehouse or whatever, with conveyors everywhere, tight corners and heavy boxes. Maybe they ran out of room and set up things down here, or it was a testing zone? Oh, that was it! “Maybe they film commercials in this room, or test the endos here?” She looked over at Rick, careful to not shine the light in his face this time. He shrugged. “Could be.” There were a few clicks as he tapped at the console, causing the screen to shift. “Rick, don’t mess with that!” she hissed, striding up to him. “What are you doing?” “It’s just local security cameras, relax.” He kept going. “Just tabbing through, seeing if they’re around here. Beats having to walk in circles and call.” Sarah relented, staring at the screen. The cameras were all listed as ‘warehouse’ with a corresponding number, but the map wasn’t that good at describing where they were listed. Sarah was about to give up when there sounded like something echoing through the halls. She exchanged a glance with Rick. Was it…someone screaming? There, someone zipped by on the monitor. It was a woman, possibly Kayla? She was sprinting, fast, in the way only someone fearing for their life could. Sarah’s heart started beating faster, wondering what was going on. But that scream…it kind of sounded like a man. Dylan? “Where was that?” she asked, but Rick kept shaking his head. “I can’t tell, the map’s all screwed up.” He pushed off from the table, snatching up his tool once more. “Come on! Let’s go find out.” They just started for the doorway when it rounded the corner. It was metal and barebones (literally), but with googly plastic eyes and animalistic movements. Sarah recognized it instantly: it was an endoskeleton for the animatronics, but it looked…hostile. She stared, hoping she was just freaking out and misunderstanding it. The thing made a garbled noise, like a feedback loop from a microphone. Rick was suddenly between her and it, forcing her back with one hand as he cautiously stood, poised like in a battle stance, his pipe wrench at the ready. Sarah barely registered how quick and shallow her breaths were as she tiptoed backwards, shivering uncontrollably. Something in her core told her that this thing wasn’t friendly, and it didn’t take an engineer to know that endoskeletons were not only fast, but strong, too: they could easily overpower any human being. It was like that one movie her parents thought was so freaky, with the time traveling robot, except it was now real, and approaching her. Rick! Was he planning on fighting it? “Sarah, stay back!” he growled, slowly backpedaling one foot at a time, still bidding her stay behind him. Her eyes darted from him to the machine and back again, cycling endlessly as the endo did a creepy slow-walk towards him. It was taller than he was, and its servomotors whirred with mechanical power that Rick could never hope to face. “Rick-” The man pushed her away with his free hand, setting both upon his pipe wrench. His breaths were measured and forced, and Sarah began to realize how terrified he must be. They couldn’t get around it, it was blocking the exit, and if they tried to run in a confined space like this it’d catch them. There wasn’t anyone else down here to help, what could they do? What could she do? She was helpless, there’s wasn’t anything she could do but watch Rick face down this monster alone. Rick lunged and struck first, a heavy metal impact clanging in the confined space right on the endo’s head. It staggered, if barely, to the side, and Rick swung the other way, driving the steel tool across the contraption’s head and neck over and over again. The motions were wild, as hard as he could, trying to break something just enough to stun it. He had no hope of breaking it – the older animatronics from prior decades may have been cracked, disconnected or bent from impacts like this, but the new ones were sturdier, much more resilient. At least, that’s what Fazbear Entertainment always said, and judging by what she was seeing Sarah believed it. She prayed so hard to the powers that be for Rick’s safety. But he was slowing down, getting tired. The endo didn’t have such mortal limits, and it kept advancing, pushing him back until finally it caught the wrench in one hand, using its other to slap Rick to the side. He bowled over with a howl of pain, tumbling unceremoniously for several yards until he came to a stop, rocking around and clutching his abdomen. The animatronic skeleton looked curiously at the wrench before tossing it aside lazily. It stared directly at Sarah and her heart stopped for a brief moment. That was all the time it needed to decide to turn for Rick to finish what it had started. Sarah’s heart began beating again. She watched in horror as the endo approached Rick. Come on, get up! she silently pleaded, but the man couldn’t get up. His arms trembled, struggling just to keep him up off the floor as he winced, looking up at his impending doom. He looked…resigned, like he’d given up. Maybe he had, maybe he just knew there wasn’t anything else he could do. Rick had tried the only thing he could and fought until he couldn’t fight any more. He looked like he was at peace with that. But Sarah wasn’t. She briefly considered running for the wrench to try and attack it from behind! She knew that…she wasn’t strong enough to do it. Even if she struck as hard as she could, if Rick couldn’t break the Endo, she wasn’t going to. Could she even really strike with it? That wrench was big, and heavy, and just moving it in time would be an effort for her. Rick’s gaze flicked at the wide-open exit. Maybe he wanted her to run, save herself? Some man-thing, where you went down fighting so someone else could make it out alive? A fairy tale, some noble act of heroism? Ego? Sarah would never forgive herself for it. She’d rather meet the same fate as her friend. The flashlight! Maybe she could distract the Endo long enough for Rick to do something. If they could just keep it occupied enough to leave they could- That was the moment everything clicked in Sarah’s head, and all the experiences of the day came together. She looked down at the Fazerblaster, tied neatly around her wrist with a spare shoelace. The staffbot in Fazerblast hadn’t taken the shot to its eyes very well, and this endo looked pretty damned similar up there. All she had to do was bullseye. She got up and sprinted, or at least tried to, over and around to put herself in a perfect firing position, Rick on the ground in front of her, still down for the count, and the Endo only a couple yards away and closing, like a lazy predator about to enjoy its prey. She raised the toy laser and extended her right arm, gripping it with her left and pulling lightly. The woman forced her breathing to stabilize, just like Rick had taught her, and her heart immediately complied, slowing down to a rhythm she could expect. Her sight rested right over the thing’s plastic eyeballs, and she gently squeezed the trigger. There was a bchoo sound as a red beam momentarily connected the Fazerblaster and the endo’s optics. The reaction was immediate: it seized up, jittering and shaking erratically as its eyes darted about asynchronously, and electric feedback buzzed incoherently as whatever systems in it that passed for vocal communication went haywire, spewing a string of garbage sounds that made no sense. But it didn’t need to: the endo was stopped dead in its tracks, and even if it was only for a few seconds it would be enough. Sarah was immediately down on her knees, helping prop up Rick, just like she’d seen in all those dumb war movies her dad always loved watching. “Up, come on!” she yelled. With a grunt of effort and pain Rick did his best to stand, hobbling along with her as they did a three-legged sprint for the door, panting and huffing as they did. She couldn’t hear if the endo had recovered and was giving chase, and she couldn’t turn to look. Right now they just had to run like hell until they got out of this labyrinth! For a moment, Sarah realized that she was no longer afraid: she could barely think, her brain only with tunnel vision on the sole objective of leaving with Rick. Everything else melted away in those few moments, leaving a very primitive woman in the middle of an action. It wasn’t long before there it was – the door, the one that led back the way they had come! This was their chance to leave. “Come on, Rick, we’re almost there!” Before they could get through, they saw it in the dark. It was another animatronic, obscured by shadows. Something about it caused the two of them to slow down, struggling to catch their breaths. It looked like…was it Freddy, standing maybe thirty yards down the hall? Had he come to look for them? It slowly stepped towards them. Ava giggled, flopping onto her back, breathing heavily in contentment. She’d just sung her heart out to make that song really shine. Monty slowly put the guitar back where he’d picked it up, adjusting his sunglasses once he had. “I’ve probably taken enough of your time tonight,” he said, turning to face her. “Hope you enjoyed the lil’ music lesson from yours truly.” “MmHm!” she bobbed her head up and down excitedly, suddenly remembering what her older brother always said about expressing gratitude. “Thank you so very much for taking the time. I really appreciate it!” Monty looked flattered, trying to dismiss it with a wave. “Aw, you ain’t gotta be like that. Least I could do for-” his voice trailed off, and the animatronic paused for a few seconds. “Well, yeah. Just, thanks.” Ava beamed. Monty Gator, thanking her? She couldn’t wait to brag about that to Rick! But, she also took the hint that she should probably get going. It wasn’t far to the atrium, and she was a bit on the thirsty side. Some water after all that strumming and singing would do her nicely, and Rick was probably already there by now. She was pretty sure she remembered where to go, and there were plenty of signs to guide her. It wasn’t really that heavy on her mind: she was top of the world after that little musical with an animatronic, and the fear of getting lost in the Pizzaplex was the last thing she was thinking about. Bidding a wave to Monty, she departed his room. “If big brother comes by, tell him I went to the atrium.” He nodded, waving a couple times to see her off. After that, she was alone, but not in spirit: humming and skipping along, off she went. The Pizzaplex was massive, a huge place to be! Ava was never really that good with directions, but even she could follow signs and move in a relatively straight line. All she had to do was make it there and wait around for Rick, right? Worst came to worst, someone could direct her to where the lobby was instead – just one of those elevators, right? “Hey kid!” someone shouted at her, causing her to startle and freeze up, looking over. It was a trio of people, older than her. How much she couldn’t tell, but maybe they were lost? “Um, hello,” she waved cautiously. “I’m Ava.” “Ava, huh?” The people came up to her, looking around and then back to her. “Are you lost?” She shook her head no. “I don’t think so. Just going to get a drink.” Stranger danger had been drilled into her, but…this was the Pizzaplex. Security was tight and everyone was stuck in here in a staycation of some kind. It wasn’t like she could be kidnapped out of here, right? But a sinking feeling started taking hold. She should have paid more attention, avoided these people and left the conversation earlier. Now Ava was kind of stuck talking to them. The woman of the group shook her head. “Not even with your parents? Come on, kid, it’s not safe around here at night: especially not with that croc mulling around.” Croc? Did they mean Monty? Curiosity got the better of her. “Um, do you mean Monty? He’s actually really nice-” They all started laughing, and Ava suddenly felt really embarrassed. That was really mean of them! What gives? “You hear this little twerp? Monty? Nice? Ha!” one of the men stooped down condescendingly. “He’s a killing machine, a metal bully: scrapped Bonnie so he could take over the band, don’t you know?” That was dumb, and Ava folded her arms and pouted. “You shouldn’t say mean lies like that!” As per usual, older people didn’t take anything younger people said seriously. The man sneered. “You’ll thank us when you grow up.” “He’s nice! You’re wrong, he wouldn’t hurt anybody and he’s not a bully. Why are you saying such- such slander?” Ava hoped that was the right word: she’d heard Rick use it before, but wasn’t really sure what it meant. The woman rolled her eyes. “Kid’s hopeless. Listen, why don’t you run back to the daycare where you belong? Shouldn’t be hanging out with all the big kid toys anyways.” She gave Ava a light shove, forcing her a few steps back before the girl tripped over her shoes and landed hard. “Owie!” Ava yelped. Judging from the surprise on the faces of the people standing above her this hadn’t been intentional, but to Ava it was still a surprise, and her defenses immediately went up. “Big brother, help!” There was no response. “It was just an accident, kid!” Another one scoffed. “Relax, her bro’s not around. No witnesses, and it’s her word against ours. Let’s split before someone shows up, we’re wasting our time here.” The woman pointed accusingly at Ava. “You don’t talk about this to anyone, or else, got it?” Fearful tears welled up in the little girl’s eyes. An electromechanical bellow echoed throughout the room. “Hey!” Everyone turned to look at the cause, finding it to be Montgomery Gator, standing some thirty yards away. The animatronic looked…very angry. All at once, the bravado of the trio of bullies was gone. It wasn’t long ago they had dealt with the mecha-gator quite rudely, but now that the allure of safety wasn’t so certain they were no longer keen on testing their limits. They huddled and stumbled uncertainly. One of them tried to speak up, “I-it was an accident, we didn’t mean to-” Ava couldn’t really make out what they were saying. Her eyes were on Monty. For the first time, she saw him like an apex predator, a steel and polymer king that was about to give the people what-for. Angry growls rumbled deep in his voice box, carrying all the way over with surprising clarity, barely contained savagery and fury that the animatronic could no longer contain. He was…so freaking cool! Ava’s jaw dropped as her eyes widened in amazement. “You’re in trouble now,” Monty growled as he started walking forward, the heavy clanking of his footfalls interspersed with the whirring of servomotors, the mere sound of which instilled the fear of knowledge that this thing right here was power, and an overwhelming volume of it. Monty was stronger than all three of these people put together by far, and they had just offended him greatly. There was a cardinal sin that had just been committed in his sight. Threatening the safety of a guest, and a fan of his. Someone said one word and Monty roared, a deafening war cry that echoed around the room like an amp, splitting the normally tranquil ambience with a primal terror every living being knew instinctually. He accelerated, stomping forward with sudden speed, enough that the three would-be’s, recently so assured of their actions, now bolted as well, screaming and hollering and carrying on the whole way. If Ava had watched, she would have noticed wet pants on one or two of them, or maybe even all three, but her gaze was transfixed on the approaching juggernaut, his arms outstretched and his toothy jaw agape, still snarling and carrying on wildly as he approached. But as he got closer he started to slow down, get quieter, and by the time he reached Ava’s position he had slowed to a crawl. The gator watched, making sure those three goons had left before making what sounded like a heavy sigh. He looked down at Ava, who was staring up at the towering machine with a look of…awe and wonder, or fear and respect? It was hard to read. “Hey, kid,” Monty mumbled. “I’m…sorry, if that scared-” “That,” Ava drew each word out. “Was awesome!” A smile overtook her face, despite herself, and the animatronic looked a bit confused. Ava jumped up to her feet with excitement, unable to contain it. “You were so cool right there, when you raised your hands and went raawwwrrrr! It’s just like those movies my big brother likes to watch!” Monty didn’t look like he knew how to take that. He had, obviously, been expecting to scare off Ava, too, and the fact she was instead giddy with excitement had temporarily rendered him speechless. The little girl fell forward against him and wrapped her arms around him in a great big hug, big as she could manage. “Thank you, Monty.” The mecha-gator didn’t immediately respond. “I’m…uh, I mean, you’re welcome, Ava. Hope they didn’t hurt you back there.” “I’m okay,” she said, partially lying. In truth the experience had left her a bit shaken, and she no longer wanted to wander around anywhere alone if it could be helped. Now she just had to work up the courage to tell Monty that, have him take her to the atrium. Once a trustworthy adult was located, she’d be fine, but until then- There was the mechanical sound of an approaching animatronic, and the two turned around to see Freddy Fazbear approaching. “Monty!” his said, his eyes glowing for a brief moment. “Ava. Are you two…alright? I heard you roaring just now…” Monty’s jaw went agape, and he looked down at Ava, as if for permission, then back to Freddy. “Oh! Uh, well, you see here-” “Monty was just saving me from the bullies!” Ava blurted. Monty sighed again, scratching the back of his head. Freddy, looking baffled, gave a confused look to each person present before turning to face Ava again. “Are you, alright, then?” “Yup! I’m okay, just gonna go to the atrium and get a drink and wait for my big brother to come back.” Freddy nodded, but then a look crossed his face, like his instincts had just kicked in. “And where is your big brother now? If you don’t mind me asking, of course.” “Yup yup! He went-” Ava hesitated, not sure if she was sharing too much information. Big brother tried to impress upon her the importance of being quiet about things, sometimes, but this was…maybe it was important. And it was Freddy Fazbear, he was trustworthy, right? In the end, she decided to tell him, about her brother dipping out with Sarah to go check out the basement again, looking for Dylan. Freddy listened carefully to every word. “I see. Do you know if they took the main stage again? Like last night?” Monty stepped forward. “I…let them take Rockstar Row down through Parts and Service. It was faster, hoped they’d get out sooner.” Now it was Freddy’s turn to have a slightly agape jaw. “Oh. I suppose that makes sense.” “I also told them I’d go check if they weren’t back in thirty minutes.” “Hmm. How long ago was that?” Monty paused. “Twenty.” Freddy looked deep in thought. “Monty, could I have you take Ava to the atrium, make sure she gets a nice drink if she wants one?” A hearty thumbs-up was response. “Sure thing. Come on, kid, you’ll be safe with me.” “Thank you, Monty. I’ll be back with your big brother soon, Ava. I promise.” With that, Freddy Fazbear turned towards his room and started jogging, something Ava had never seen him do before. If anything, he looked like he was running a bit frantically, like he really really needed to get downstairs as fast as possible. “I hope big brother’s okay…” she mumbled. A large metal hand whirred down to meet hers, covered in a sturdy plastic. Monty held her hand as they started walking, soft footsteps and heavy footfalls together in a bizarre picture of child and her gentle giant guardian, walking through the empty streets of a quiet metropolis. “Don’t worry. If he’s half as brave as you, he’ll be alright. Besides: nothing down there to be scared of anyhow.”
  14. Just taking a moment to stop by and give ye a thumbs-up for an unexpectedly wholesome post. Congrats and best of luck!
  15. CHAPTER 5 – The Ant and the Dove: Part 1 Second Night Tuesday passed without much ado. The mass of people slowly started to form into a a community, roles and responsibilities beginning to develop as they learned more about who was good at what. There were quarrels, sure, and even a few arguments that threatened to spill over into outright fighting, but for the most part they were all making it work. Surprisingly, it was pretty natural – if everyone put in some work, no one had to put in a lot of work, and that left excess time to enjoy the Pizzaplex and, of course, the animatronics! Freddy Fazbear was on patrol bright and early, touring the varying sections and saying hello with that great big happy look on his face and a hearty wave. He was a charisma magnet, sharing a good mood wherever he went and improving the sometimes questionable morale of the new denizens of the Pizzaplex. And, of course, when asked, he was all too happy to put on some impromptu performances for the guests. It didn’t take long for that to develop a Glamrock band practice, letting people come and go as they pleased while the machines strummed away at their craft. It was fascinating to Rick, watching them interact, a side of the machines no one had ever really seen before. They acted so human at times, making mistakes and throwing snarky remarks at one another, even laughing at the expense of their bandmates, but they all seemed to be happy when they were together. When someone got really interested, it was great seeing them realize a chance to show off. Most fans, especially the younger they got, loved watching Chica go absolutely wild on her guitar, shredding it like a superstar with magnificent applause every time. Personally, Rick loved the dynamic, figuring out who was playing what part of each song, trying to decipher how it was all put together. It gave him an appreciation for all the animatronics, the way they had conventionally learned to play music together, instead of just synchronizing processors or something more technologically feasible. Whether that was an intentional decision on the part of Fazbear Entertainment or not, he personally loved it. The Glamrocks felt so much more human because of it, and he was all for it. Anyone could program four systems to sync up, but programming them to learn how to synchronize was beyond awesome. It was the glitches that caught him off guard. Once in a while one of them would just…hard derp, spazz out or completely lose track of what they were doing. It wasn’t anything people didn’t do themselves, but it made him remember and forget they weren’t human, every time. Juxtaposition of the highest order, suspension of belief, whatever you wanted to call it. There weren’t too many people that were interested in the Fazerblast tournament they tried setting up, but they still managed to corral a decent gathering over the afternoon. To everyone’s surprise, Sarah actually ended up the champion, winning the grand prize – a take-home Fazerblaster! Surprising still was the fact she was eager to have it, crowing with pride at her accomplishment, and much to the joy of Mary. Rick imagined the little girl would have her hands on it all the time after this was all over, and it put a genuine smile on his face. He really couldn’t have imagined a much better outcome. But he was still a troubled man. He could tell Sarah and Dylan were rapidly getting divided, and while it wasn’t his fault he also couldn’t do anything to help. She didn’t look like it was bothering her too awful much, but that didn’t mean anything, either. Women were emotionally complicated, and it took a fool of a man to believe he could figure them out. If she wanted to talk about it, she’d mention it, and otherwise it wasn’t his business. Dylan, however…Dylan was a basket case, ever since they’d gotten stuck in the Pizzaplex he’d been devolving, losing his grip on things and changing at an alarming rate. It was like the man was just giving up and letting the current of life take him wherever, and while that may have been the simpler option, and perhaps the more fun one, in most cases, here it was like everything else: bizarre. Maybe the embarrassment was too much and he was just all over the place about it, and a night or two would give him the rebound he needed. Rick didn’t want to see him fail, but if these were his true colors under pressure, then he was worried for Sarah’s sake, more than anything. Dylan had apologized to her for not being able to find anyone for the Fazerblast competition, and he seemed genuinely sorry about it. Rick had tried to not eavesdrop, but it still rested heavily on his mind. What had happened between the morning, when Dylan had been at the Faz-Pad, and when he’d been deliriously wandering around the atrium? Best not to think about it too hard. Let things happen and deal with it as they did. “So who was your favorite?” Rick asked his little sister. She was busy waving as the animatronics rode the stage down. “Monty!” she squealed with delight. That took him by surprise, and he felt an eyebrow raise as he did. “Really? Why’s that” “He’s really happy when he plays,” she smiled up at him. “The way he bounces and hops, it makes him super glad to hang out with everyone else.” Did it? Rick hadn’t noticed the gator-animatronic getting into the rhythm any deeper than anyone else. Sure, they all had their own little gimmicks about taking the spotlight, as any good musicians would, but he didn’t see anything emotional about it like she apparently had. It left him questioning if she was just reading into it too much, or if he had completely missed something as obvious as the feelings of a performer. That was all a couple hours ago. Rick had promised to run another shift at the Faz-Pad with Tess for the evening, and made sure he was there fifteen minutes earlier, just to be sure. “Hey there, part-timer,” she quipped. “Ready to rock and roll?” He gave her a metalhead hand gesture. “Rumble and tumble.” Tess cackled with laughter. “Good man. Same plan as this morning, just do what you can and don’t worry if we fall behind.” He nodded back to her. This wasn’t a job, it was basically a necessity they were volunteering for, and if a customer had to wait a couple minutes more for something than usual, oh well. They’d survive. The ‘rush’ wasn’t actually that bad, with most people probably visiting one of the other food stalls or mini-restaurants scattered about the Pizzaplex. That was fine – Rick had gotten plenty of exercise in Fazerblast, he wasn’t going to complain about having an easy night. He even held down the fort for a bit so Tess could go hit up a restroom: it was pretty dead. With so much on his mind, he barely noticed the time flying, and would have completely missed an interaction down in the lobby if someone’s voice hadn’t carried just right. It was Monty, giving a thumbs-up to a trio of passers-by. One of them, a girl in her late teens or early twenties, Rick couldn’t tell, zipped to the side, as if to avoid him. At this, the animatronic seemed to startle: there was far too much room between them for any danger of being bumped in to, and it seemed like a deliberate move. Monty was immediately apologetic, “Whoa there. Sorry! Didn’t mean to get in the way.” She made what kind of sounded like a revolted noise, hard to tell from this distance. “No offense, but you’re like the least cool one here.” Monty didn’t react to that. A male colleague stepped forward, chewing gum or something. “Pizzaplex has been pretty lame ever since Bonnie got axed. Got even lamer when you replaced him.” The three hooligans shared an annoying guffaw, like they’d just struck comedic gold. “Seriously, champion bunny-boy Bonnie, or some hillbilly gator they drug out of a swamp?” The animatronic scratched at the back of his head, like he was puzzled. “Sorry you feel that way.” There was something in his voice that sounded like…he was hurt? Emotionally, like the machine was distraught something would be spat in his face like that. Then one of them actually spat on his face. Or, they at least tried, but failed spectacularly, and it landed instead on Monty’s leg instead. “Stupid lizard. Get out of the way.” Like some B-movie band of bullies, they just waltzed away, gossiping loudly like some pastiche of how-to-be-a-douchebag training guide, and Rick wondered at first if it was some superironic prank that was about to be revealed. But the punchline and reveal never came. Monty stood there for a long while, looking down his leg, still bearing spittle. He stared into his open, purple palms, as if looking for a sign. Then, with an angry swipe of his tail and a frustrated grumble, he stomped off in the other direction. Rick felt really bad for the animatronic. If he wasn’t stuck with a customer coming by he would have asked Tess for permission to run off and say something nice, try to cheer him up. Sadly, duty called, and he had to answer. It still made him feel guilty, like he should have done something instead of just be aware of it. It stuck on his mind for the rest of his shift, all the way through the part where he cleaned up the tables and reset everything for the morning. He sighed loudly, wondering what he should do about it all, when he heard Tess come up to him. “Thanks again for all the help, Rick.” He started to say no problem, but she cut him off. “No, I mean it. It’s nice to see someone actually give one-hundred percent. I wasn’t sold on you originally, thought you’d be just like that one kid, loafing around instead of doing what you’re told, but you proved me wrong, and I’ll admit it. So, good on you.” He beamed. “My pleasure, then! Same time tomorrow?” She laughed. “Bright and early.” “Well…I might have a helping hand or two for us then.” When she raised an eyebrow he waved jovially. “Have a good night, Ma’am.” “If you don’t call me Tess I’m gonna feel old!” she called out after him, half-jokingly. Rick made his way to the elevator, seeking out the atrium so he could go fetch Ava. She probably wanted to tour the Pizzaplex a bit before calling it a night – it was only eight o’clock, after all. She was hanging out with Sarah and Mary and Matt. Rick waved as he approached, and Ava came running up to say hi, so he ruffled her hair playfully. “I’m back. Thanks for keeping an eye on her for me, Sarah.” Sarah looked distracted. “…Dylan was supposed to help me.” Biting his lip, Rick was about to change the topic but decided to let Sarah vent, something she obviously wanted to do. “Oh.” “He started arguing with me again about this morning and the alarm, and the day and all sorts of other dumb stuff, trying to stir up a pity party, like everything went terribly wrong and none of it was his fault.” “I see-” “He wouldn’t even tell me what happened to him, why he was in FazTrainers now! Any time I tried to comfort him or calm him down he just started getting snippy and snappy, like it was my fault. I wasn’t even there! And he never even got anyone for Fazerblast like he said, we had to do it ourselves.” “And you won!” Mary reminded her older sister with a cheer. Sarah forced a smile, but it was obviously not genuine. “And then he complained about having to keep an eye on the kids, and I finally told him to just go do whatever.” Rick waited a few seconds to make sure that was the end of it. “I’m, uh, sorry to hear that, Sarah. There’s room in the café if that’s easier for the kids-” “You’re doing something important,” she cut him off. “…you’re helping people out, the least I can do is help back.” She looked over at him, guilt all over her face. “And I feel bad for not doing it too, so I’ve made up my mind. I’m helping out with the Faz-Pad, and that Tess lady you mentioned. That’s final.” “Just Tess,” he nodded. “If you call her something else she’ll yell at you.” “She will?? Why?” He smiled. “Makes her feel old.” It took Sarah a couple seconds to realize he was joking, and she nervously chuckled. “Alright, we’ve taken up enough of Sarah’s time,” he ruffled Ava’s hair again. “Wanna go for a walk?” “Yup yup!” she waved. “Bye Mary, bye Sarah!” Rick had to nudge her surreptitiously at that. “Oh! Bye Matt!” Everyone wished them a goodbye, and off they went. Once they were a safe distance away, Ava looked up to him. “I wasn’t tryna be rude to him, big brother.” “I know. Just don’t forget him, he doesn’t have a lot of friends.” “He has Mary and me!” Rick laughed again. “Yeah, but- well, you’re girls, and he’s a boy. It’s weird for him without many other guys for friends in his life, don’t you think?” He didn’t really know how to explain it without it sounding dumb, but thankfully kids just accepted anything you told them, if you made it sound certain enough. She took the bait. “Yeah, boys are weird and gross like that.” He smirked. A thought crossed his mind. And he has Dylan for a role model. Rick had to shake his head to get it out: it absolutely wasn’t his place to judge others: doing that was a good way to get yourself in a heap of trouble you didn’t want. Objectively speaking, however, Dylan did not make for a great older brother, and it showed. Matt was alright, though, and hopefully would straighten out one day. The thought of misbehaving people made him think about Monty, and how he was being treated in the lobby. It put Rick in a sour mood, and he reprimanded himself for letting it happen. Would have been so easy to shout at them from up there, and getting in trouble for the workflow – maybe even from Tess, for causing a scene when they were ‘on the clock’ – was probably worth the moral victory. “Big brother?” Ava asked. “What’s wrong?” His face must have had it written all over: Ava was good at picking up on how people were feeling, especially for her age, and there was no point lying to her about it. “Oh, just a bit irritated, that’s all.” He explained to her about what he’d seen in the lobby, people being people and abusing the safety of talking smack to someone – or rather, a machine – with impunity. Ava looked cross. “Those meanieheads! If they do it again I’ll tell ‘em what-for!” “Just remember, make sure someone’s there to protect you: what happens when you yell at people for too long?” “You get punched in the face!” she responded dutifully. “Maybe Monty shoulda punched their lights out. Hiyah!” she made a boxing motion. The siblings walked around for a bit, enjoying some of the attractions and cutouts, the sights and people milling all about, saying hi to Freddy as he passed by, the works. Barring the jail-like circumstances of their stay it was really what the Pizzaplex was all about, but better – there weren’t many places on Earth like it. At some point they ended up near the daycare and, sitting off to the side, on the other edge of the fountain, was Montgomery Gator. “Monty!” Ava cheered, running up to the animatronic before Rick could so much as raise his hand. Something in him decided to wait, seeing how things unfolded. The animatronic was sitting on the side, a bit dejectedly, looking down at the floor. He lazily turned his head to track the incoming fan. “Hey, kid.” His voice was without motivation, surprisingly depressed and monochrome. Ava looked super happy to see him, walking up nice and close. “Aww, you’ve got a mess on you.” She pulled out a napkin from her pocket, wiping up his leg, polishing it like one would spiff up a shoe. The animatronic watched with curiosity at this, until the signs it had been spit on were completely gone, revealing the shiny pattern normally displayed. Monty’s eyes shifted behind his sunglasses, as if processing things. He looked over and down, right at Ava, speechless. One of his hands brushed over his leg, inspecting it. “I hope those people didn’t make you too sad,” she mumbled. “I really like seeing you happy. It makes me happy, too!” “Happy?” Monty looked at her again, saying the word like he didn’t know what it meant. “Yeah! When you play the guitar, and you jam out and tap your feet and do that little hippity-hoppity dance you do at the really cool parts, I can tell you’re really happy!” The little girl looked down, as if suddenly embarrassed she was talking to a machine rockstar. “And when you’re not…you look kind of sad, and I hope you’re okay.” The animatronic stared at her, a resentful tone in his voice. “Aren’t you scared of me, little girl?” “No, of course not. Why would I be?” She sounded confused. “You’re really nice, Monty.” Suddenly, Rick began to get worried she had said something wrong to him, tripped a nerve she shouldn’t have tripped. He had taken no more than one step when one of Monty’s giant, clawed hands reached out for his kid sister. His heart stopped. The claw moved to gently rest on the child’s head, patting it a few times. Rick stopped holding his breath, something he hadn’t even realized he was doing. It wasn’t a logical fear, just that sibling fear of something that might happen. A protective instinct. “What’s your name, kid?” She answered dutifully, as always. “Ava. My name’s Ava.” “Ava,” Monty said, nodding up and down a bit. There was a really long pause before the gator made a sound like heh. “Thanks, Ava.” Her face lit up with a joy she hadn’t displayed all day. She turned to look at Rick, grinning from ear to ear. A proud nod was all he could manage, still processing what he was feeling. Monty looked over. “You. You her brother?” “Yeah. I’m Rick.” “Rick.” Monty looked back at Ava. “You’re a sharp one, ain’tcha? Come on, let’s go hit up Rockstar Row. I wanna show you a trick or two. Call it a little thanks for cheering this ol’ gator up.” Ava gasped, looking back to Rick again. “Can we? Can we?” Rick looked over to Monty. “It’s up to Monty. If he offered, we can.” The animatronic stood up to full height, a hulking and beastly machine whirring with servomotor power, and yet Ava was unafraid. He shifted his signature starry sunglasses up over his eyes a bit more smoothly, bellowing his catchphrase, “Rock and roll!” Dylan was completely uncertain of what was going on anymore. He was expecting a massive onslaught of random people jeering at him for needing di- pull-ups, and not needing! Being forced to wear them because of one mistake. Miss Tess. The thought of her made him gulp, and the last thing she’d told him. And, when you need a new one, you come back and find mommy Tess, got it? I better not catch you trying to change yourself, or else. He looked down at the dumb underwear. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it still felt weird and wrong: it was tight, not flexible like his boxers were, and pressed against him in a way that constantly reminded him he was wearing it. The padding felt odd, like just underwear-like enough he could kind of deceive himself into thinking it wasn’t anything else but also permanently reminding him it wasn’t. It grabbed his hips and waist too much, and sat higher up than what he was used to. Plus, it crinkled in the most embarrassing way when he walked or moved in any way, to the point he couldn’t help but draw attention to himself at all times. Not like there was a choice – he refused to wear girly clothes, and nothing otherwise acceptable in the gift shops seemed to fit him. The shorts and pants were for kids too small, and the skirts were for girls, so he was relegated to walking around with his FazTrainers on full display. He should have been grateful that people didn’t point and laugh and make fun of it, at least not that he had noticed, but the way it was treated almost normally made him furious. It was dumb, or something! If they were stupid little bullies about it at least he could make fun of them back, or tell them they were next: he had prepared all sorts of one-liners to respond with, and none of them would see the light of day like this. Infuriating! Dylan’s thoughts returned to earlier, a horrible memory when he’d found a bathroom to go use. It was around a quarter to seven, giving him a good fifteen minutes to go. No one was around, and there was no line, something awesome to witness! Granted, he’d only found it because Sarah had wanted to take the kids to the nearest one, one with a line, because she was worried one of them might not make it. Dylan argued that it would be better to find one without a line, and that they were big enough to hold it for a couple minutes extra. He saw she was about to say something about his own unfortunate accident, completely ignoring the fact she had had one first, and that was pretty much the final straw. He wasn’t going to sit in line and be forced to do a potty dance again, especially not in front of his girlfriend, wearing a freaking pull-up underwear thing on full display! His bladder still hurt from the ordeal earlier, and he was worried something might happen. Earlier… As he was approaching the latent bathroom, however, Miss Tess came out of the pink-doored one, the women’s. She saw him instantly, and he froze. The woman smiled and turned to come over to him. “Hi there, sweetie,” she greeted him. “Going to try going potty like a big kid now?” He stammered, completely at a loss, unprepared for this. “Uh, um, uh hi-” he lost focus, and she put her arms on her hips. “Hi Miss Tess.” “Good! You remembered.” She daintily took his hands and held them aloft. “Yay!” The kiddietalk, ugh. And in front of people, too! Dylan was mortified, but the onlookers just looked on, watching the exchange with either confused interest or bored ignorance. He couldn’t tell, but it was the most humiliating thing that had ever happened since the humiliating thing that had happened earlier today. “Come on, let’s go use the big boy potty.” She gently took his hand again and walked him towards the restroom. It was the mens’, at least, but she was a woman! Oh please don’t let anyone be in there! The door swung open and she led him inside, helpless at her fingertips. Thankfully it was empty, and just the two of them were here. He breathed a sigh of relief – it had been so long he’d almost forgotten what a bathroom even looked like. It was the feeling of his waistband being pulled back behind his butt that made him startle, yelping in surprise and putting his hands on his backside, pumping his legs to rotate in place. “What was that for?” he started, but then she was leaning in towards his front, poking the front of his FazTrainer and scratching at the thigh cuff. Dylan was so confused, and horrified! She made a hmmm sound as she looked at the little star pattern on the front. “…looks like you haven’t gone pee-pee since your accident, earlier. Good on you for holding it all day.” His hands covered the front of his FazTrainer. “It was an accident, I’m okay.” Wait why was he talking to her like this?! She spun him around and pushed him towards a stall. “Come on, little boy, let’s try and go potty.” Once inside she turned him around again and held him in place. He was expecting her to shut the door and stand outside, but she didn’t. What? Why? Without warning Miss Tess pulled down his FazTrainer, then pushed him onto the toilet. Dylan nearly screamed in confusion, half-expecting to be shouted at or something, but he didn’t know why. As the seconds ticked down, he began to realize…she was waiting for him to- to- “Go potty.” She nodded, looking expectantly. He tried – he really tried, squinting and grunting and doing whatever he could, anything to make this end. But try as he might, nothing happened, and as the minutes ticked down Miss Tess looked more and more impatient. “Well, you tried,” she sighed. “Come on, get up.” “Wait no I-” he couldn’t finish, she wasn’t having it, pulling him up by his shoulders. “The bathrooms are closing soon, and mommy Tess has to get back to work. You can try again at midnight, okay sweetie?” She knelt down and hiked up his pull-ups once more, the dry prison handcuffing his waist with its appallingly cutesy design, a happy Chica picture stealing any joy that Dylan might otherwise have had. He mumbled the only thing that came to mind. “You’re not my mommy…” Miss Tess gave him ‘the look’, the special attack of any woman, an expression that immediately defeated any man it was cast upon. “Bet it doesn’t look that way, sweetie. See you at midnight” Present-Dylan was on the verge of deciding he should maybe try and slap her next time he saw her. The nerve, to try and treat him like this! He would have used the bathroom if she hadn’t meddled and confused him like so, with such a stupid and weird maneuver. How was he expected to ‘go’ when an up-front woman was staring you down the whole time? Someone’s chatty voice distracted him. When he looked over it was Kayla, recording something on her phone again. He decided to ignore her, not in the mood for talking to anyone. “Oh hey, Dolan!” “It’s Dylan,” he grumbled. To his annoyance she was running over. “Right, I’m so sorry about that, bad with names. Anywhooo, howzit going, Dylan?” He looked her dead in the eyes, realizing she was being completely serious. “How does it look like it’s going?” “Well you look kinda pissed off,” she shrugged. “Had a bad day?” Dylan sighed explosively. Either she was more oblivious than Sarah or she was lying through her teeth, pretending not to notice. “Yeah, it’s been pretty terrible.” She adjusted her hair. “Hasn’t been super great for me, either. That’s too bad. Maybe we can have a good night together to make up for it!” He shook his head. “Yeah, I’m good, I’ll pass. Thanks, I guess.” “Oh it’s not like a date or anything, gosh. Silly man.” She laughed. “Let’s go explore the Pizzaplex!” Because that had worked out so great last time. Not. “Kayla, last time we all did that we got stuck, and then stuck in here for the week. Why would we go exploring again?” She shrugged again, as if that had never occurred to her. “I dunno? But don’t you wanna know what secrets it holds?” “Secrets?” “Yeah! Did you have any idea they had all this baby stuff here before now?” It was the first good question she had ever asked, and it made him legitimately stop and wonder. “Well…I mean, I guess I assumed they had some stuff for like the babies and stuff ‘cuz of the daycare, or something. And like the strollers you can rent, but outside of that, well-” She leaned in. “Did you know they have full-size baby supplies for adults, too?” “Huh?!” “Yeah, I know, right?” Kayla looked proud of her accomplishment. “Like, I saw it in one of the backrooms, and I bet there’s more. What if they were gonna open a big like adult/baby playground thingy? Wouldn’t that be crazy?” Dylan rolled his eyes. “Why would they do that?” “Why not? They’d make tons of money off of it, you know how corporations are. It’s probably like an enter-pre-nurial business thing, or whatever they say.” He couldn’t think of the word. Sarah would probably know, the know-it-all she could be sometimes. “I mean…I guess that makes sense. Like a first-of-its-kind playground, or attraction, or something?” “Yah exactly, dude! The anime-tronicks are all sorts of parental with how they treat us – the whole accidents thing and that jazz, y’know? – maybe it’s like a porter-type for the new robot thing they program. This whole thing could be a test! What if we uncover it, like some secret plot? We could be famous, and save the day! Or the week, y’know?” The more she talked the more sense she made…it started to go through Dylan’s head, and he began to like the idea more and more. Cracking this case wide open would end the torment of Miss Tess, it could make him look good again so he and Sarah wouldn’t have more relationship issues over this stupid mess and misunderstandings, and it’d give him leverage to make sure the Pizzaplex and animatronics and Fazbear never let anyone leak that he’d had such an embarrassing time here through this whole ordeal, without risking getting sued. It was the best way to save himself and his relationship with Sarah, all in one go, and be done with this ridiculousness. “Y’know what? I’m in.” Dylan nodded. “Let’s figure this place out!” Monty had taken them all the way to Rockstar Row. It was a really cool place, a glass-panel for each of the four rooms for each animatronic, themed and colored appropriately. The place was a hall of fame for the Glamrocks, and it was an honor to come here. Or just a payment away. But thinking about it like that was lame. Monty dutifully walked towards his room. None of the other members of the band were present, something Rick found a little odd at first, assuming they were just out and about right now. The gator’s room was colored green, with neon lights shaped like stars and various posters and artwork of the iconic rockstar all over. It was a simple design, but had a cool feel to it. “Wow,” Ava’s jaw dropped. “I’ve never been here before!” Monty walked over to the desk in the corner, gently picking up a bass guitar. It was different from the one he carried on-stage, probably something for photo-ops and stuff, a cheap replacement in case a fan got carried away and damaged it. “Is that your guitar?” Ava asked, and Rick decided to let things happen. This wasn’t his place to explain, especially not when she was having the time of her life. Monty chuckled. “One of ‘em.” He strummed a couple notes, and Ava bobbed her head side-to-side with it. “You play anything?” “I wanna learn the flute, or the harp,” she answered. “But lessons are expensive, so I can’t do it yet.” That was a little on-the-nose, and Rick winced. Monty didn’t seem to mind, though. “Nice, nice.” He strummed a few more notes, and she looked him over. “I have a question, Monty.” “Sure, go ahead!” “Do you play something different on stage?” It took the animatronic a couple seconds to get what she meant. His mouth made an attempt at an excited look. “Do you know what kind of guitar this is?” She shook her head no. “It’s a bass guitar. It’s not like the one Chica uses: only four strings, and the pitch is lower.” The animatronic’s massive claws nimbly hit some notes. “Low and groovy. That’s what this baby does.” Ava nodded up and down, listening to his every word. “Okay. But why, Monty?” “Well, it’s complicated. You sure you wanna know?” “Yes please!” The machine roared with electromechanical laughter. “Okay, little girl: you asked, and let no one say that Monty doesn’t deliver! A band like ours needs different things happening: that’s why everyone does a different part. Chica plays the lead guitar, doing all the fancy solos and stuff that gets people excited, and Freddy’s got the lyrics, giving some life to the music and something for people to connect with, and sing along, too. Roxanne, well, she has the melody – supporting everyone else, never overpowering them but always being strong enough to give a flow to the rest of us! Whole song can fall apart if it ain’t there just right.” Rick recalled a few hiccups during the rockband’s practice: if someone got off tempo it could throw the others out of whack, or a certain part might be too loud or quiet to really hit properly. Quite literally, the most noticeable parts – the vocals and solos – needed a literal base to build upon. “And ol’ Monty Gator? Well, I play the bass. I keep the pace and give the root of our chords, putting a floor for everyone else to walk on. If I ain’t doin’ it right, no one else is. Simple as that.” Ava gasped. “So everyone else needs you! But, you don’t get noticed as much then…” “Heh. Well, maybe. But every band needs it, and it’s my part to make sure everything works. It’s just as important as anyone else, even if it’s not as flashy. Might not get as many cheers, but hey, we still get to rock and roll and put on a great show, and they couldn’t do it without me.” He started tapping his foot, the sound of servomotors whirring and heavy polymer and metal clunking against the floor to a beat. The little girl started moving her head in time with it. Monty nodded at this. “There you go. Here, see if you recognize this one.” He started playing a beat, two notes per foot tap, matching up perfectly with his foot going up and down. It was a basic rhythm to play, but the steadiness of it was magnificent. Ava tried humming it, looking confused as she tried to figure out what it was. “I don’t know if I’ve heard it before, Monty. Is this a new song?” “Nope, you’re heard it before. Try now,” he replied, starting to hum a tune over top of what heplayed. All at once, Ava’s eyes sparkled and she bounced with joy. “It’s your theme song!” She immediately made the sign of holding an air guitar, vocalizing the song and pretending to jam out to the iconic opening song of a good Pizzaplex concert. Monty started ramping up his own efforts, really getting into the groove. “Yeah, there you go!” The two started hammering away at their impromptu concert, totally engrossed in the music. The more and more they did, the more and more Ava started to ‘pass off’ the song’s points into Monty, where he’d jam a line or two that dropped into a melody she’d sing and pretend to play on her imaginary guitar. Granted, she was quite badly out of tune, and the animatronic had to constantly adjust to keep in time with her, but that didn’t seem to bother either of them. Rick couldn’t get the smile off of his face. Ava had been right: Monty was happy like this, and she had helped him find it again, especially after that rude moment earlier. He promised himself he would take every measure to protect that joy – Monty didn’t deserve the hate, if he could be this gentle of a giant, helping a little girl learn more about music and appreciate the importance of his role, even if it didn’t get the credit it deserved. A life lesson from an alligator animatronic playing the bass guitar – not the strangest thing that had happened this week, but possibly the most wholesome. His eyes flicked over, noticing someone strolling up. It was Sarah, powerwalking his way. She saw where he was, waving with one hand. He looked back at Monty, waving one hand to let him know he was on his way out. The animatronic gave him a nod, letting him know it would be alright, continuing his little jam with Ava. Rick saw himself out the door, trying to be quiet. “Hey, Sarah: what’s going on?” “Have you seen Dylan anywhere? Or Matt?” she asked. “Matt said he thought he saw his older brother and was going to go to him, but next time I looked over I couldn’t see either of them. I’ve looked around but they’re nowhere, and I’m starting to get really worried.” That was a tad suspicious. “Have you asked around? Maybe someone else-” “Yeah, of course! A couple people mentioned seeing Dylan – he sticks out like a sore thumb – walking around. He might have had someone with him, they don’t remember, but I think he was last seen in the atrium. Around where we exited the underground area that first night, remember?” “Yeah, I remember.” What was this all about? Was Dylan trying to retrace their steps? If so, why? Was Matt involved? Lost again? He sighed explosively. “Alright, let’s go look for him.” “A-are you sure?” “Well of course. You’re worried about him, and I don’t blame you. I don’t want anyone getting lost or hurt, and he can’t have gone far. Well…that might not be true, but you know-” he got a bit flustered, Sarah was staring right at him. Didn’t she know how he felt? It was awkward! She bobbed her head. “Alright, let’s motor.” Her gaze flicked into Monty’s room for a moment. “Is Ava okay alone?” “She’s not alone. Come on, it’s getting late.” As Rick nodded and the two started to head out the music stopped, and a couple seconds later the door opened and the sound of Monty approaching stopped them in their tracks. “Hey, uh…I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” Monty started. “But your friend – you think he went below?” Rick and Sarah exchanged a look. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re uh…gonna try to find him. Them.” Monty nodded a couple times, then jerked a thumb back at his room. “You can take my elevator down to Parts and Service. You know your way around, right?” Sarah started to say no but Rick knew. “Yeah, it’s right next to the hallway connecting to the showtime stage, isn’t it? We went by that way before this all started.” “Yeah, I know.” Monty sighed. “Only reason I’m trusting you with it now. Don’t wander and don’t take too long. If you aren’t back in thirty, I’m comin’ to find you.” “Deal. Thanks, Monty.”
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