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Generated: May 10, 2018 5:53 PM
Post last updated: May 10, 2018 5:53 PM
Graveyard Shift
necromancy
Permalink Eye

It is night, and the graveyard is quiet.

Quiet, except for the sound of a shovel striking dirt, the huffing breaths of a girl, not much older than twelve, for certain, heaving shovelsful of earth out of a grave on the south end, and the sound of the loads of soil showering on the pile of their predecessors, on the opposite side of the grave from the corpse of a grown man who bears silent witness. 

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And then the quiet is broken quite decisively, as a woman appears from nowhere, falls to the ground in an uncomfortable-looking heap, and after a brief stunned silence clutches at her head and lets out a string of what are unmistakably swear words.

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The girl jumps, shrieks, and says something unintelligible. 

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...what. Okay, don't yell at the kid, it's not her fault. Probably. Probably not her fault.

"I don't know that language," she says as calmly as can under the circumstances. "Do you speak English?"

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The girl doesn't appear to understand her, but at her calm tones relaxes fractionally from "frightened" to "wary".

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"I take it that's a no." She continues talking, hoping it'll reassure at least one of them. "Okay, I'm going to just assume you have nothing to do with the... mirror snake thing. If we're assuming snakes with mirrors in their mouths that chase you and then spit you out somewhere else I suppose I don't need to assume anyone's to blame for them." She finally notices the dead body, frowns. "Why're you digging a grave yourself? If you needed remains for a casting there are easier ways." She approaches the body, looking for diagrams or any obvious signs of a necromancer's rituals.

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The girl tenses slightly when Daria sees the body.

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"Hey, kid, it's okay." No marks, no diagram, nothing obvious... This would be so much easier if she hadn't dropped her bag running from the goddamn snake. Is she going to have to mime 'take me somewhere with English speakers and/or internet', she's really not looking forward to trying to convey that without words.

She looks around, trying to see if she can figure out where she is, other than far enough from New York that she can't feel Mariam. She tries not to think about the last time she felt a bond vanish in her head, because there are very few situations that can be improved by hiding somewhere and crying.

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The names on the gravestones aren't in a remotely familiar alphabet. And the girl's clothes look weird, as do those worn by the corpse.

The girl goes back to digging, keeping half an eye on her. 

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The inscriptions aren't using the Latin or Greek alphabets, and they don't look like Armenian, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, or any kind of characters, though that she's less confident of. Where is she?

She's growing more confused by what the girl is doing, too, digging a grave in the middle of the night, but it's not like she isn't as confusing at the moment. Kid shouldn't be burying someone alone, whatever's going on. "Daria," she says, pointing at herself, and then holds her hand out for the shovel with a questioning expression.

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The girl hesitates, then says "Ane," and gives her the shovel.

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"Ane," she repeats, smiling slightly in encouragement. She pockets her rings and starts digging.

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Eventually there is a thunk of shovel hitting wood instead of dirt. 

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...she's digging up a grave? Scared kid, dead body, buried coffin - what the fuck is going on?

She waves Ane over, pointing at the bit of wood showing under the dirt with a questioning expression.

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Ane takes the shovel back, and clears the rest of the dirt off the coffin, then pries it open. There is a skeleton inside. Ane climbs partway out of the grave, tugs the intact corpse down in--falls with the body on top of her when it turns out to be too heavy--then carefully drags it into the coffin and arranges it to be hugging the skeleton. With this complete, most of the tension eases from her shoulders, and she closes the coffin lid. 

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...this is simultaneously confusing and really depressing and she kind of wants to give the kid a hug. Is she not going to take a piece of bone, at least? That would be kind of weird but it'd make sense. Maybe she wants to keep the man's remains away from someone and is trying to hide them? But then why not just get a necromancer to cleanse the bones, it's not a complicated casting?

Just in case, she starts sketching a basic diagram in the dirt, trying to convey the offer. She points at herself, points at the coffin, points at the diagram. "Do you want me to cleanse them?"

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The kid gives her a confused look. 

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How do you express 'if you want a necromancer to clear the remains of anything that could be used to summon their spirits I can do that for you' in charades? If she had cleansed string with her she could summon a spirit to translate, it'd be messy but at least it would work. 

 

 

...she checks her jacket pockets. Pulls out some kind of stone, three crumpled sticky notes, the rings she'd put in earlier (which she slips back on to her left hand), 57 cents in coins, and a knotted piece of white string - and swears at herself. She twists a diamond off one of her rings, checks the knots in the the string and reties several around the diamond, and then plucks a strand of her own hair and weaves it into the entire set-up in complicated patterns. 

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???

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Daria's not easily distracted when she's working. She completes her sketch in the dirt, sharpening the lines, then drops her tangle in the central triangle. Out of habit, she reaches for Mariam's presence in her mind, then flinches at the emptiness. She ignores that, pushes energy into the diamond, and when she feels it catch twists. 

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The girl is staring at her like she's a crazy person. 

--And the connection goes, and there is a sense of confusion and alarm in the back of her head. 

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"Hello," says Daria, to all appearances addressing the air in front of her. "I know this is probably confusing. You don't have a body, this is a cast, we're in a graveyard at night.  I've called you up because I don't have a shared language with Ane, and I want to know what's going on. You'll be able to understand both of us, but we can't understand each other."

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Through the connection, Daria can feel that this one is pretty far gone - it barely remembers anything about its life, but it still understands her. At this stage, spirits latch onto almost any task given to them that they can still do. It sends a wordless sense of confusion-agreement-resolve, and then repeats her words, voice completely flat.

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Ane bites her lip.

"I--those were my parents. My mother died when I was born, and Father was a healer--he worked so hard to try to save her that he didn't notice when her life force inverted and then someone walked in on her corpse being visibly animate and they chased him out of town with baby me in his arms. He wanted to be buried with her. So when he died I snuck back to do it."

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Life force? Inverted? How would that animate anything? Is the translation going through strangely? Daria - does not interrogate the traumatized girl in front of her about what the hell she's talking about. 

"Are you in danger here? I - have no idea where we are, I was walking to work and then there was some kind of snake thing, I have no idea what that did - but I can at least get you somewhere else if you want. I was offering to cleanse the bones earlier, I thought you might have been trying to hide his remains, I can still do that if it'd help." She stops as if done talking, and then her curiosity finally wins over tact. "And - life force? Was your father a necromancer?"

 

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She hesitates, confused.

"You--you're saying that like it--like it wouldn't be a bad thing. If he was."

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"It's not? I know there are some people who're kind of leery of us and religious protests sometimes but there's nothing wrong with it."

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"It's dangerous, though. I mean, you can do it safely--he was always really careful, he taught me that, no one ever died or got hurt by accident from something we did, but it is dangerous."

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"I mean, everything's dangerous, but you'd have to be messing around with some pretty complicated stuff to get necromancy to be more dangerous than, I don't know, getting in your car every morning."

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"What's a car?"

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"- you don't know what a car is. That's - well, fuck. Where are we." And then, because it's against her nature to leave questions unanswered, she adds, "A car is a type of vehicle, moves - not by itself, but without any people or animals involved - lets you get places quickly." 

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"That sounds a lot less dangerous than necromancy."

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"They crash more often than people think, imagine a metal container going 60 miles an hour ramming into another metal container also going at the same speed - but I'm getting the impression we're talking about - very different things. I really do need to know where we are, that - might help make us less confused." At the expense of Daria abandoning all hope in her situation making sense, but she can deal with that. Probably.

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"...The town is named Cherryvale, the province is Silver Plains, and the country is Jazula."

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"Jazula. That... does not sound familiar." She looks skeptically at the space in the air where the spirit's translating voice is coming from, as if she can figure out by glaring at it if it's translating incorrectly. "Continent? Size of the country? Language? Name a couple other countries, some recent historical events?"

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"I don't know what a continent is, some other countries are, um, Assern and Ianava, language is Jazlin, not sure how big the country is, recent historical events...well, there was the Black Marsh Rising, five years ago?"

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When she says those words they sound like what the spirit is transmitting, so at least it's not a mistranslation. This is... wildly implausible on so many levels, but so are teleporting snake monsters.

"A continent is a large landmass separated by water or sometimes some other features. Name of the planet, do you know what you'd call the entire world? Can you describe how necromancy works?"

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"So it's an island? We're not on an island. Uh, we call it...the world? Necromancy is, uh, like regular magic, only with death energy instead of life energy."

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"Kind of a very huge island, except some of our continents are connected? That's - not actually important right now, you said "regular magic", what does that do?"

The inside of her head is mostly swearing, interspersed with commentary about how she should probably seriously consider the hypothesis that she's dreaming or Ane is lying or something that wasn't 'so a snake pulled me into some kind of alternate universe'. If she had the materials for it she'd try a pull for something a bit more coherent, try to corroborate the story, but she was lucky enough to have what she did and this would be a really weird circumstance to engineer. 

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"Healing, mostly...but you can get it to do other stuff. Interacting with other living--or at least organic--stuff is still easiest, though."

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"But it can do non-organics?"

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"Yeah. If you're doing necromancy anyway it's easier to use necromancy, though, life energy needs to be attached to something alive but death energy doesn't."

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"That is - not how my necromancy works. My current theory," assuming I can actually trust you and my senses, "is that I am from a different world altogether."

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"Oh.

Please don't try to kill me for doing the dangerous kind."

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"Of course I'm not going to kill you. If it's dangerous enough I might want to persuade you not to, but you know more about it than me right now anyway, I assume you know the risks and have a good reason for it."

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She looks sadly down into the grave. 

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Daria - is totally not qualified to deal with this. Should she offer a hug? Some kind of sympathy? Reassurances? She shifts from one foot to another, trying not disturb Ane.

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After a while Ane says, "The reason why necromancy is so dangerous is because if you don't maintain a necromantic construct carefully enough it will eventually start trying to eat people."

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"And that's a reason for safety precautions, not murder. You don't restrict a field of study just because something might go wrong if you mess up, you teach people how to do it right!"

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"I know that. I'm not the one who murdered Da."

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"- right, sorry. You're not the one I should be angry at."

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Nod.

"And sometimes you get spontaneous necromantic occurrences, when there're too many bodies around and their death forces get tangled up."

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"And you still have graveyards? Really?" She shakes her head to clear the thought. "Anyway, that's besides the point. We should figure out what we're going to do while we still have a spirit to translate."

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"Bodies in graveyards get their death forces obliterated first, what's dangerous is when you've got people quietly disposing of bodies for years in a bog because they don't know bogs preserve dead bodies. And other stuff like that."

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"Oh, okay." It's... probably a bad idea to ask Ane to explain all the details of her magic, given everything. Although - "Your necromancy doesn't do transportation, does it?"

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"Not unless you want to be carried by a reanimated body, but I could do that if you did."

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"Nnnno, I was thinking more 'get me back home'."

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"That I wouldn't have the first idea how to start."

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"Yeah, me neither."

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"I'm sorry."

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"Don't apologize, not your fault. I'll figure it out somehow."

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"Okay. How does your magic work?"

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"Do you mean what does it do or how does it do it?"

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"Both."

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"I can communicate with the dead - they're not them, they're just an impression, I can't bring people back - animate bones, cleanse to prevent someone else from getting anything from the spirit, which is what I was offering, and... a lot of other things, really, but the limit seems to be that I can only affect living things, or what used to be living. It works by imbuing diagrams or other channels with energy which everyone has in varying amounts, though most people don't know how to manipulate it."

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"How would you use that to get back?"

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"If I knew I'd be doing it already, but we can do a lot with location, if we have the remains of someone we're oriented towards, and I don't know how it'll merge with your necromancy yet. I can at least try."

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Nod. "I don't know if your energy is like our energy, can I check?"

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"What does that involve?"

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"...Energy-sensing at you?"

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"Will that do anything other than check if I have your energy?"

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"...It would tell me things about your energy if you have it? Like if I look at you to see if you're naked or not I'm also going to see what you look like."

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"Sure, go ahead."

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She frowns.

"Nothing. That's eerie."

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"Does everyone here have some?"

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"Everything that's alive does. People, animals, plants..."

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"Huh. Some people where I'm from don't have mine, though it might be that they just have so little we can't tell." 

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"I think yours is really different, then."

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"Probably, it does really different things. - speaking of which, I'm not going to be able to maintain the spirit too much longer, I don't have a lot myself." 

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She considers this.

"Do you know who it is?"

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"The spirit? No."

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"What are spirits--like?"

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"At first, almost like the person they're patterned on. Later they lose memories, personality - everything, really. That one's been dead about a century - still has the ability to follow through on basic tasks, but no real remnants of who it was."

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"--Oh wow, that's really different."

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"What're yours like?"

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"I mean we don't really have spirits as such but any undead who wasn't complicated enough to be a person or designed practically from scratch can't do anything as complicated as language--and hundred-years-old bodies aren't going to be much use for anything, unless they were frozen or bogged or something."

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"They're not really doing language as such, it's - look, this is fascinating but I'm already getting a headache from holding the cast, I don't think this is a priority."

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"Sorry."

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"I'm not used to being energy limited like this, it's fine."

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"What do you normally use for energy?"

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" - Mariam. Friend of mine. We have a link so I can draw from her, she's practically drowning in it."

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"Oh."

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"I'll get back," says Daria half to herself. Then, more clearly, "do you know where you were going to go next? Would I be in your way if I came with you?"

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Shrug. "Not here. Besides that, no, not really."

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"I would be trying to come up with ideas but -" on a fucking pre-industrial planet where I don't speak the language "- in this setting I don't think I'd be much use, unless an adult to point at to assure people that you're fine would be helpful. I know a native to point out things like 'don't say you're a necromancer or they'll kill you' would be helpful to me, but you're not obligated to play tour guide just because I accidentally landed on top of you."

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Shrug.

"I don't have anything else to do," she says softly.

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Oh god, she's figured out how she'll get home, Mariam is going to find her and laugh about her habit of taking in strays from another goddamn dimension. The poor kid.

"It is, in fact, relatively easy for me to defend myself, if I need to. Give me two, three weeks and nothing I can see coming will be able to hurt us."

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"--Really?"

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"I've made death-charges before, they're complicated but don't require anything I expect not to be able to find. You take something of a dead person's and charge it, and when you snap it the person you're centered on at the moment suffers injuries that mimic the source's death. They're - taboo. For good reason."

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"Oh."

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"Yes. I can't do much non-lethally, not with what I have. But - if I need to."

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Nod.

"--I can--eat someone. If I get close enough to touch them. Um--not their body, their life energy, and I don't have to take it all, so if I stop before they get permanently hurt--it's a necromancy thing, but it's--weird. If you meet another necromancer they probably won't be able to."

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"It seems like we're well defended, at least. Any plans for food, water, shelter? Since all my marketable skills are apparently illegal, I - actually, would people be able to recognize my necromancy as necromancy if I don't call it that? I can also do locations, basic information about the living, translations like this, animation, finding living matter -"

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"--Don't admit your translation runs on the spirits of dead people, and don't visibly use any bits of dead anything if you can help it. Uh, except plants, obviously."

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"Oh, that's it, really? That's easy."

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"If there's anything else death-related I've forgotten don't do that where anyone can see either but yeah."

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"Nah, most of it is diagrams and shiny rocks and bits of string and stuff. The whole thing's not very death-themed except for, uh, the obvious."

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Little smile. "Yeah."

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"You think that's enough to pay our way?"

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"Probably."

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"So... I guess the question is where are we sleeping for the night, and then we figure out how to use necr - I guess I should get out of the habit of calling it that - my magic for this." She rubs at her temples. It used to be that she knew exactly how long she had based on how badly her head hurt and the dizziness, but she hasn't cast anything major alone for years. She remembers the black spots in her field of vision that mean she only has a minute or two to drop the cast before she passes out, though, and until she reaches that she's safe.

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"I can find somewhere to camp."

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"All right. I should use the translation to get at least a few words of your language, but I'm not really sure what'd be important. Yes no I can get by nodding and shaking my head - you do have those, right, with the same meaning?"

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"Yeah. Uh--life magic" andavesh "and death magic?" angrvesh

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"Andavesh," she repeats, listening to Ane rather than the spirit. "angrvesh." Her pronunciation is passable, obviously not native but entirely understandable. "With that last one I should probably have 'not', just in case, 'I don't speak this language' and 'I have a translation spell', and something to indicate that I'm letting you speak for me."

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"Das," she supplies for "not," and then repeats the sentences. 

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She repeats the words a few times, fixing them in her memory. "Oh, and I'll need some string, as soon as possible, so I can do more calls for translation. I think that's everything?"

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"I think so."

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"Then I'll drop the cast. It was," she smiles wryly, "good to talk to you."

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Little smile. 

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She releases the thread connecting her and the spirit, then untangles the diamond from the string and hair, putting the diamond back onto her ring and the tangle in her pocket. The diagram is easy enough to obscure by throwing some dirt on it, and once there's as little trace of her presence as she can leave, she tilts her head questioningly at Ane.

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Ane makes a beckoning gesture and leads her into the woods. 

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She follows, unused to anything less urban than a city park.

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There is a small campsite with a tent made from waxed cloth and a small, unlit campfire.

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She looks around, picking bits of leaf out of her hair.

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The campsite is...made of decidedly less modern materials and techniques than any she's familiar with, even indirectly. 

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She's a New Yorker, she's not very familiar with any kind of campsites, but the low tech level doesn't surprise her.