Jun 27, 2019 2:59 AM
Marena lands on Neuroi
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"Hmm. Well, my advice... Read your contract. That was my mistake. Couldn't read at the time."

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"Yeah, contracts are nasty business. I'll check there isn't anything too terrible, and I'm not signing away my first born child or anything."

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"Well, dire warning delivered. I've got a free afternoon and it doesn't look like Sims has a side-job for me today. Wanna hang out after you talk to the big brass, or something? Show you around?"

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"I always appreciate dire warnings.

Being shown round would be lovely, if it isn't a bother or anything."

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"Nah. Meet a cool-looking new witch, who doesn't have to report me to the commander if I relax a bit and isn't all discipline-discipline-duty every day? And won't silently hate me for not being a Catholic? Chat about magic, adventures, whatever? Sounds like great fun. The ears are pretty swanky, by the way, wish I could do that."

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Oh Luna-damnit she can see the ears. Damnit.

"Well, you're in luck, I don't even know what Catholic is. Pretty hard to silently hate somewhere for that. Oh, and I'm definitely Captain Duty, so.

The ears kinda come with the whole transformation package. They're not... super intentional."

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"...That's. Actually very strange. I mean, stranger things have happened, but still. Most specials are just-"

She snaps her fingers and - disappears. One moment there, the next nothing, not even any lingering scent or essence signature.

And then she exists again, on Marena's other side. "Like so. I just do, no light show required."

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"Neat.

If anyone was going to get unnecessarily flashy special powers, I'm not surprised it's me."

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"You'll certainly dazzle the regular old humans like that. Some witches might not take you as seriously, smells like showboating. Like, if you're really that good, you're not supposed to need to show off? But whatever, I can't stand that kind of posing and posturing. You do much flying? I like it. Peaceful up there."

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"I'm not doing the flashy-ness deliberately, it just sorta how my thing works. Though I'd probably would be the sorta person who'd do it deliberately. Flashy-ness is fun.

I fly a fair bit. Mostly scouting though. Bird form is useful for that."

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"Yeah, I can see that. They tell me I'd make a good scout. 'Cause of the invisibility, and apparently I notice details? They had me do some kind of test. Flash and noise is fun as long as you don't do it constantly, I think it'd get old eventually." She shrugs.

The bureaucrat's runner comes back. The bureaucrat walks towards them. "Miss Marena, Lieutenant Reynolds will see you now if that is convenient for you. Rogers can show you to his office and back."

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"A keen eye is good for scouting." 

She turns towards the bureacrat. "Now's a great time."

And she waves goodbye to Sandra.

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"See ya in a bit. Don't let Rey steamroll you or anything."

The clerk says, "Right this way, ma'am."

The compound out back doesn't look particularly different from this angle. Stacks of crates, a running track and open field, low, utilitarian buildings here and there.

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The clerk takes her into one of the buildings and into an office stacked high with paperwork and a giant map of Great Britain and northern Europa. This place is an island, apparently. A big one, but an island.

The logistics officer is a sharply dressed witch about forty years old, with short hair tied back into a ponytail.

"Welcome, Marena. All I've heard is that you want to help with the war effort, but that's good enough for me. I'm Lieutenant Alyssa Reynolds, United Defense Force Logistics Group. Have you heard much about the UDF yet?"

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"Pleased to meet you. Most of what I've heard is that you're fighting demons,"

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"Yes. Well. Whether or not the Neuroi qualify as demons, strictly speaking, I don't know. But they are incredibly dangerous. They burn whole regions to the ground, left unchecked. They don't speak or even think in ways we recognize, though there is clearly some kind of intelligence at work, they fight well enough. And they emerge from a giant eternal storm hovering over what used to be the nation of Ostmark. Neuroi are made of black flat panels that somehow move without sinew or muscle or gear or piston. They can be hurt easily enough. Bludgeons, arrows, mana-blasts, fire. But they quickly regenerate unless one destroys the crystal within, the core. Witches are the most promising combatants - and the only combatants possible against the ones that fly.

As for the UDF itself, we are an international military organization. Our mandate is to coordinate and collect forces from all around the world to more effectively oppose the Neuroi. By taking the ultimate decision power out of any one nation's hands, we can be trusted to defend all nations equally, and not reserve as much for internal defense or petty squabbles over territory, which, sadly, is still happening even with a world-class threat in the field. We're still getting our feet under ourselves in some ways, but we have come a long way in a short time in many ways, thanks to the hard work and dedication of tens of thousands of witches and hundreds of thousands of non-magical soldiers and other staff."

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Oh wow this is sounding very Scarlet Empire. So very, very Scarlet Empire.

"Okay, so a few questions: How vulnerable is this core, generally speaking? Is there a reason normal ranged weapons don't work on the fliers, and only witches can do it?

And do you have any safeguards against countries, or charismatic people, taking you over from within?"

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"I never saw combat, this is just what I heard, but our ranged weapons are... Not particularly accurate. And massed ground forces with arbalests and mortars are not nearly as mobile as a flying witch. There are checks and balances against magical mental influence. I don't know the details, by design. Though I would say the Unity Mother, the founder, is very charismatic - and as far as anyone can tell, sincerely devoted to saving the world."

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Single charismatic founder? Oh hiya, Scarlet Empress-alike!

"Those answers make sense.

Though fair warning before I join, most of my shapeshift forms are small. And while they're useful, I'm not sure a fox can really take down a whole panel-monster-thing." Okay, so she has her warform, but that's really only an emergency back up.

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"We wouldn't ask you to go into combat without plenty of training. Shapeshifting doesn't have any immediately obvious applications, as far as I can see, but the usual witch abilities - brooms, shields, mana-blasts - tend to suffice. Having a useful special ability is not necessary, especially if you want to be a courier and not part of a strike wing. Witches are as yet unmatched in speed and flexibility as couriers. Steam engines are advancing quickly, but they can't hope to hold a candle to witch-power yet. We're developing advanced devices that can be flown just like brooms, but allow carrying heavy loads, or moving extremely quickly. One witch can do more to bring weapons to the front than a hundred logistics workers, who must themselves be fed and housed and supported."

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Mana blasts. She's meant to be able to do mana blasts. How on Creation is she going to pretend to be able to do that.

"I could definitely courier. I've got a bird form that can fly a reasonable distance, if you wanted something less obvious than someone on a broom."

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"Stealthy deliveries, hmm, there's something interesting... There might be a need for that somewhere. You can carry things in that form? Well, either way, I won't be able to sign you up right now even if you decide you're interested in joining. There are procedures and paperwork. It would take a week or so. Though I could pay you to make individual runs at a reduced rate by tomorrow, possibly. Why don't I give you a quick tour as long as you're here?"

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"I can carry a bit more than a small bird could carry. Small piece of paper: yes. Heavy book: no. Small book: maybe.

I'd be happy to take a tour."

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"Tour it is. I can show off the heavy-lifting 'wings. You can carry literal tons of stuff, flying one of these. Burns through mana faster, so you have to watch yourself, but they're useful."

She heads out into the yard and turns for one of the storage areas.

She flips the tarp off of a bulky metal construction with a seat and spiky, angled protrusions at the back. "Heavy lifting wing mark two."

She does --- Something, something indescribably weird, with the essence. Pushes it into the 'wing', shapes it, molds it, and then pushes it out. And despite the turbulence of essence, the mass of metal gently lifts off the ground without so much as a ripple of air. Then it scoots forward, and the lieutenant flies a lazy circle around the yard before landing again.

"Not too impressive to look at, but I could do the same carrying a half-dozen crates. They're considering making a variant to carry bombs and drop them on Neuroi, too."

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