Chapter 151: The Strength Of A Stare
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The Coreless were still making noises at each other, though some of the turmoil in their emotions had begun to settle, stilled by something that the-female-who-was-not-Needle had said. Despite that, there was still a hint of [doubt] and [worry] whirling and tumbling about, found in downturned lips and wrinkled brows.

“You might be right about selling the Guardian Statues in exchange for concessions and trade deals. It’s not something that I would think anybody would pass up; not if they’ve seen the effects for themselves, anyway,” Will said, making his own noises of [concern]. “Still, that doesn’t solve all of the issues at hand. They didn’t outright say this, but I got the feeling last we spoke that some members of the Council were very against the idea of making an Ascended any stronger than necessary. Even one that seems as friendly as our Little Guardian here.”

“That’s ridiculous!” not-Needle shouted, [indignance] running through her [Little Guardian’s Totem]. Her voice raised itself high enough that it drew the attention of a few nearby once-corrupted, causing them to glance sharply toward us in clear [alarm]. My scale-flesh scrunched together as the-female-who-was-not-Needle’s shoulders turned in with a long string of tangled emotions.

“Sorry, no need to worry!” she said, waving towards them and baring her teeth. “Everything’s okay, we’re just talking about something!”

Despite her bared teeth, which I had noticed normally went along with [joy] or [excitement], her [Little Guardian’s Totem] was filled with a smattering of [shame] that slowly faded along with the [alarm] of the once-corrupted. Upset that she had made them upset, maybe. I had noticed that, as one of the Great Core’s first disciples, the-female-who-was-not-Needle seemed to take great care with the newest of those who had found themselves under the Great Core’s light. More than the others, she could nearly always be found watching over one once-corrupted or another - at least when she wasn’t busy fighting against the plague that was this many-nest’s Lesser Core. I approved of her efforts.

Looking towards Will once more, she let out a - far more quiet this time - hiss. “That’s ridiculous, Erik! Monster or not, he has done more than enough to earn Orken’s trust. And then he did it again here! For once, I’m glad that the little cutie can’t understand what we’re talking about; it would probably hurt to be doubted by people that he’s worked so hard to help.”

“They do have a point,” The Unrepentant One said, making noises that earned him a sharp glare from the-female-who-was-not-Needle. His hands rose to block the invisible beams of [displeasure] that were radiating from her eyes. I didn’t know that she had an ability like that but, sure enough, he quickly blanched somewhat comically under the assault. It didn’t seem to cause any physical [pain], but there was definitely an emotional effect. If it was as effective as it seemed to be, I would have to make sure to learn it sometime. Maybe I could use it to mentally assault bad-things until they learned the error of their ways.

The Unrepentant One certainly seemed to be learning his, with how increasingly pale he was becoming. I let out a few quiet hisses in an attempt to mimic the Coreless’ expression of [amusement].

It felt weird and unnatural, though it did remind not-Needle to keep providing scratches to my scale-flesh - which was much more natural.

“L-look, I’m just saying that there’s always a bit of danger involved,” The Unrepentant One stammered out, desperate to save himself from the bite of her [Glare of Displeasure]. I really needed to learn that somehow. “As much as it’s done for us, it’s still a monster. One that can’t really speak. One that can’t really understand us. How easy do you think it would be to accidentally piss it off without meaning to and cause it to turn on us? If that happens, I’d rather face a weaker Ascended than a stronger one. Skies know that it’s already getting strong enough as it is.”

“Well, then maybe we shouldn’t piss him off by not giving him the Core if he decides he wants it,” not-Needle replied, keeping her [Glare of Displeasure] going just as fiercely as before. Curious, I lifted my still-sluggish tail upwards in front of the-female-who-was-not-Needle so that it would touch lightly against the [Glare of Displeasure]’s field of effect, but felt nothing from it. Despite that, The Unrepentant One was still faltering under its power. Interesting. How did it work, then?

The-female-who-was-not-Needle’s fingers ghosted down my scale-flesh, and even then her [Glare of Displeasure] had no effect on me - though that could have been due to the way that she shifted from [displeasure] to [amusement]. Was it that easy to break the ability’s effect? That was a glaring weakness, if so.

I let my length twist and coil around her outstretched arm as she reached across her body, peeling me off my customary perch of ore-flesh, and watched as the [amusement] spiked.

“See, Doran. He’s even trying to cheer me up because he can tell I’m annoyed,” she said, raising my form up so that the other Coreless could gaze upon it. I was uncomfortably high, but [Clinging Grasp] made falling unlikely. “Look how cute he is! Is that the tiny face of a monster bent on murdering us all over a random misunderstanding?”

I flicked out my tongue, and she made a few cooing noises to express her sheer [adoration].

“I don’t think cuteness has any sway on that happening or not,” The Unrepentant One said, somehow still full of [doubt] despite the display of my glorious form and not-Needle’s [Glare of Displeasure]. I wasn’t sure what he was doubting, but it likely wasn’t good. Probably.

The-female-who-was-not-Needle stuck out her tongue at The Unrepentant One, trying to mimic me and therefore erase his doubts. Probably.

I was a little lost.

“Of course it does. Besides, we won’t be able to sell any Guardian Statues if he’s not happy with us - it’s not like we can make them ourselves. What’s better: keeping a Core that has already caused the destruction of a city, or keeping a cute little noodle that can heal multiple cities? I know which one I’d prefer, and I’m not alone in that,” she said, gesturing towards The Grateful One as the smaller Coreless started nodding furiously along with the noises she was making.

“And, keeping in mind that I didn’t want to necessarily use this argument because I could very well be wrong about this, it’s possible that feeding him the Nature Core might enhance the Guardian Statues somehow,” not-Needle continued, raising me up a little further and peering carefully at my scale-flesh. “Everything that they can do is tied to an ability that this little guy has or is said to have. That might mean something. Maybe.”

“Well, she convinced me,” Needle said, stretching her arms upwards and letting out a small yawn. “I wasn’t very excited about the idea of bringing the Core back after seeing all of this,” she motioned at the many-nest around us, “and I’m too tired to put up much of a fight about it. It’s been a long day and I’d like to take a nap.”

One by one, the Coreless around me made their noises; each new one seemed to form a jolt of [excitement] in the-female-who-was-not-Needle, while The Unrepentant One only became more [worried].

“That’s five yeses,” not-Needle said, almost vibrating in place, which was an interesting sensation on my scale-flesh. She turned towards The Unrepentant One, speaking once more. “Just one more for a unanimous decision. Doran? What’ll it be?”

He didn’t answer, and her face morphed into something that might have been even more powerful than the [Glare of Displeasure] she had previously unveiled. Her lower lip jutted out slightly, her brows lifted, and her eyes went wide. The Unrepentant One staggered.

“Urgh, don’t look at me like that Valera. You know that’s not fair.”

“I’ll stop when you say yes,” she replied, still assaulting him with her eyes.

“Are we really sure about this, though?” The Unrepentant One finally said, looking around at the other Coreless. “There won’t be any coming back if it’s the wrong choice.”

The-female-who-was-not-Needle showed her teeth again, the mana-light given off by my ore-flesh skin gently bouncing off its surface. “I’m sure,” she said.

He sighed, letting out a long exhale. “Alright,” he said. “I give up. It’s unanimous; we’ll do it. Hopefully we don’t come to regret this.”

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