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Generated: May 29, 2019 12:48 AM
Post last updated: May 29, 2019 12:48 AM
oh, for fox's sake
Marena lands on Neuroi
Permalink Eye

Marena and her circle- Misho, Secret, Ten Winds and Karen-- are running away from the Sidereal hot on their heels, after the Keys. Misho casts Stormwind Rider, and they're widening the gap--

And then one of the Sidereals casts something.

Fate changes.

Marena loses all of her forward momentum, and lands flat on her face. She also loses her friends. If they're around, she can't see them.

The Essence here is different, unlike anywhere in Creation she's been. ...which implies that she might not be in Creation? That's not good.

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The Essence here is either very sparse or very passive or both. There's faint echoes of - something, it's not a total void, but nothing about it is usefully discernible.

She is at the edge of a forest, on a dirt road. It's slightly muddy where she fell. Must have been raining recently. There is one set of hoof prints in the road in one direction. There are some rolling hills sprinkled with more small patches of woods visible.

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With it this sparse, she's going to have to be careful about how she uses her Essense. Not convenient, but doable.

She is a lunar, blessed with nature's power-- but running around an unfamiliar forest is probably not the best idea. Getting to civilisation, finding the lay of the land-- is a better idea. She follows the hoof prints.

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She sees small woodland creatures, birds, and two deer that bolt into the brush when she comes into view.

It takes half an hour of walking but soon she comes over a hill and sees a drab little village with plain wooden houses, surrounded by pastures and crop fields. There are pigs and sheep and maybe two dozen people visible, even the children working by hand, and a well in the middle of the dirty place. The fanciest building there, made of stone, has a large wooden symbol hung up on the front - a vertical line with two horizontal lines near the top, one shorter than the other and slightly tilted. From the state of the crop fields it's summer here.

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A village-- technically civilisation. It'll do.

She wishes she was wearing her bandana-- most people wouldn't be able to notice her fox ears, they are supernaturally difficult to see-- but not impossible to see. She doesn't want to stick out too much. (Okay, she wants to stick out a little. But only a little!)

She heads towards the stone building. It's the place most likely to have an authority figure, or someone who knows where the rest of civilisation is.

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The people definitely mutter to each other about her! She looks rich. And probably magical - even without the ears.

The stone building has rows of simple benches and a sort of stage at the front. A middle-age man in nicer clothes is kneeling and praying towards another copy of the wooden symbol on the stage. He hears her footsteps and turns around and hesitates slightly before collecting himself, approaching, and saying, "I welcome you to my humble church, madam visitor. I am Father Cooperson, the priest. Is there some way I can help you today?"

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Priests. Fun. At least he's not part of the Immaculate Order, unless their symbols are very different here. But still. Organised Religion. Fun.

She puts on her brightest, friendliest smile. "I got a little lost in that forest. I was wondering where we are?"

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"This is the village of Clatworthy-on-Wellington, near to the town of Wellington, that being west of Taunton and south-west of Bridgwater. The coast is northerly, but the roads leading there are poor this time of year."

His mannerisms are - carefully respectful, unsure what to think of her.

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Carefully respectful is correct. She loves it when people are carefully respectful.

Her smile is still bright, still friendly. "Thank you so much! If I wanted to go to, say, the nearest city, which way should I go?" There's a lot of other questions she should ask: What is the currency? Who is the ruler? Who do you worship? How do you feel about people empowered by moon-trickster deities? Why am I here? But those are rather hard to ask without blowing her cover.

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"...If any city will do I suggest you could fly due north and cross the bay to Cardiff. Unless I am mistaken in my assumption that you are a witch, then you should perhaps go to Wellington and from there find passage along the old road to Bridgwater and on towards Bristol. I should be able to find you a guide and a horse to borrow, if you wish."

He is beginning to suspect something is off here, and wants her to leave - unantagonized - just to make sure any weirdness doesn't land on his people. But it wouldn't do to be unkind and not offer a guide. God impels all who follow him to help one another, after all. And she seems so nice.

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She's a what now.

Okay, another question to add to list of ones she can't ask: what is a witch?

She could probably laugh it off, claim she isn't a witch and what is a witch anyway? ...but that would leave her without a horse or guide. She is magic, so she can probably pretend to be a witch.

"A guide and horse to Wellington would be lovely, if it's no bother."

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He smiles and touches his palms together and it's only very slightly fake.

"Of course. I will ask everyone. You may rest here if you like, and take water and bread if you need them."

If she follows him out she'll make everyone more nervous than if he explains first and finds a guide for her, thus the subtle indicator that she maybe shouldn't.

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She is very happy to stay here and eat free food. The best kind of food is free. She takes a reasonable amount.

The smile has somehow become brighter. "Thank you so much!"

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"You are welcome in the house of Jesus Christ, as anyone, and I am glad I can help you find your way."

Out he goes.

He comes back after a few minutes with a man with better-than-local-average hair and a squashed looking nose.

"George here is taking goods to Wellington and said he will let you ride as he walks."

"Uh... Yes. Pleased to meetcha." (Wow, mystery magic lady is rather pretty.)

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Another question to the pile: Who is Jesus Christ? ...a deity, presumably. 'How do his worshippers feel about moon trickster deities and their followers?' is definitely another question.

Mystery magic lady is rather pretty! She should feel bad about making someone walk, but ehh. She's Exalted. She deserves to ride. "Pleased to meet you too!" she says to Mr Above-Average-Hair. "Thank you so much for the help!" she says to both of them.

Are handshakes a thing you do when you first meet someone? Bowing? She'll follow their lead. Hopefully her waiting will read as 'well of course you introduce yourself to your betters first.'

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He does something that could be... Charitably described as a bow and says, "George Baler, ma'am. It's no problem, seeing as I was going there anyway."

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Marena copies the bow-- more elegantly of course. "I'm Marena. Even so, I appreciate the loan of your horse. If there's anything I can do to help--" 'within reason, that you would ask your betters' being the first unspoken caveat. The second being 'that you would say with a priest in the room.' (Though who knows, maybe this Jesus Christ likes to party.)

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"Mayhap you can carry messages on to Bridgwater for me? If it's no trouble. I even know how to write so you won't need to trouble yourself to memorize anything, ma'am."

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"Of course! After all your help, it would be no trouble."

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"Thank you! Shall we start along then? Bessie's just outside."

There's a small but sturdy-looking horse towing a wooden cart out in front of the church.

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"Certainly!"

She follows him outside.

Ahh, carts. So much better when you don't have to pull them yourself.

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There's space in the cart to sit on a bale of hay, around the bags of apples and vegetables and grain. He starts walking, leading the horse gently.

"If I may ask, what brings you all the way out here? We're out of the way of anything important. Just farms and pastures."

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Hmm, how to answer without breaking cover.

"I got very lost in the woods, unfortunately."

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"Magically lost? I've heard stories about forests that'll keep you, but I don't really know what's real and what's not when it comes to magic."

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You would know more about magic here than me, she doesn't say.

"I wouldn't say it kept me, so much as put me in a very different place than I expected."

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"Ah. That's unfortunate. I hope you find your way."

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"Same here." 

Speaking of which, the rest of her Circle is missing. They probably didn't get thrown into the same woods, or even the same world, but there's no way she could know. Due diligence: a thing she should do.

"I know I'm asking a lot of favours here, but when I got lost in the woods, I got separated from my friends. If you see, hmm,  a blonde doctor, a black haired girl with a metal belt, a drunk monk, or someone who looks like my sister, would you be able to direct them Wellington-wards? I don't think they'll pass through here, but they might."

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"I can put the word out, but I also don't think they'll pass through here. Scattering friends to the four winds seems... More Wild Magic-y than taking them all to the same place?" He shakes his head. "I just know farm things. And not even so many of them. I mean, I know how to read 'cause books are interesting and stuff, but I'd probably just die somehow if I was picked up and put somewhere else by magic. You must have the most exciting adventures, you're... So calm and collected."

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"Still, I'd feel very silly if they ended up passing through here and they didn't know I had. I'm not even sure the rest of them got scattered--"

Calm and collected. He thinks she is calm and collected. ...score one for acting skill?

"I wouldn't say you get used to the adventures, but you learn how to deal with them."

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He stops the cart for a minute to write down her friends' descriptions, muttering the words as he writes.

Then, "I couldn't work up the nerve to run off to London and join the army or anything. I tried once. Got to Bristol and turned back for home."

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There's a war on? Well, thats another thing it would be nice to ask about directly. Here's hoping that indirectly works.

But first, some buttering up.

"It was brave of you to even start the journey. And I'm sure you had good reason to turn around."

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"Everything I heard about the demons sounded terrifying. And it's mostly only witches that can actually kill them apparently." He shivers.

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Demons. Okay. Demons are probably a thing she can deal with. She could deal with them better if they could be intimidated or manipulated, but she could deal with them physically. Probably.

She nods. "That's a good reason. No point picking a fight you can't win. And we can handle it."

She's going to have to find out more about witches if she's going to keep pretending to be one, but that's a problem for later.

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"I pray to the army, the witches, the King, and God all four that they will be defeated. Amen."

And what does praying even do? Everyone prays probably. I know I should trust in God but... I should try to join the army again. Try to do something. Fretting and not rising up is cowardly. The war has been going for years and the news is worse every season... Surely the witches need food, weapons, and housing. Perhaps I should ask if there's a less dangerous way to help.

He's in a more morose mood now and would be happy to just walk along quietly thinking if Marena doesn't have anything else to say.

Permalink Eye

Here's hoping repeating "Amen," is the correct response to praying!

Marena would like to cheer morose people-- but she doesn't have anything to say. Not anything sensible, anyway. She sits quietly.

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George has several questions but suspects it would be rude to ask questions constantly.

They can just go along the road quietly for a while, then.

They pass the outskirts of another village, receiving stares and whispers. One group of gossipers chuckles and asks, "No chaperone for the lady, George?"

He blushes and urges his horse to go faster.

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Oh, this is a chaperone sort of place. She likes chaperone sort of places. Well, flouting the conventions of them.

She leans over towards George, and speaks softly. "I hope I'm not doing anything too terrible to your reputation."

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The blushing continues! Maybe even intensifies!

"Er- More your reputation than mine. Though, witches have it different anyway."

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"I'm not that worried about my reputation, I'm only passing through. And anyway. I am a witch." Whatever that is! Though it is nice to know that propriety is looser for witches. She's never been one for propriety, unless it is absolutely necessary.

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"They're only needling me, I'm sure." He clears his throat. "I'm not married and those fine people are well-known gabbers, so my reputation will survive."

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"No one has caught your eye?"

 

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"Oh, there's a girl I'm thinking of courting. Annabel. It's just - I was going to go off and join the army, and it'd be incredibly unfair to court and marry and then run off immediately, and even now I still might not stay in Clatworthy..."

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"That's one of the perils of war, isn't it? You delay and delay, and then you might come back home dead, or with someone else married to your sweetheart."

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"I suppose it is. But I wonder how much of a loss that would be? If I saw and did wonderful things while I was away, not pursuing marriage might be the lesser loss than not traveling."

His riotous blush is finally receding. "...And to be honest, my humility is not the best and I don't want to be a farmer. Herding and simple craft doesn't appeal either. It's just so - it's not stupid work, but it's simple work. Honestly, if you'll bear my complaining, ma'am, farming is boring. I want to find engineers. Schools. If I'm good enough for places like that."

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So, they have schools and engineers. That's a slightly higher tech level than she expected.

(If they've got First Age level tech, she is going to kick herself. And then Misho, when she finds him.)

"It's a trade off. I chose adventure- but I didn't get much of a choice. Still, it was worth it.

I don't mind complaining. 'Farming is boring' is a pretty reasonable complaint! Even if you don't get in, I imagine trying to get into a school would be far more entertaining than farming."

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"Hmph. Well, maybe I will go up to Bristol and beg someone to teach me science!"

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So, she's probably given this poor sod terrible advice. And he took it. But hey, many great heroes and scholar came from people who were given terrible advice and took it.

"It's going to be more of an adventure than farming, so why not?"

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"Why not? Bristol's not that far away. I can always come back here if there's no teachers and no work. M-Maybe I could even accompany you there, or find you there later."

(George, he tells himself, she's clearly a witch - or at least rich - and beautiful besides, and you're just a farm boy, do not get your hopes up.)

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"We're both going the same way. I don't see any need to split up."

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Oh that's, um, good. "Well, I didn't pack. But I have my coins, going to the market and all, it'll probably be fine."

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"We'll work out something."

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"Yes, we'll work something out. Maybe sell my horse and cart too, if we're heading to the city. I say we, uh, not that I'd presume anything..."

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"Won't we need transport to the city?"

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"Good point. I'm just worried about buyin' stable space and hay. A city is crowded, so will they even have stables?"

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A question she should know the answer to: oh no.

"Probably? Cities tend to have horses." Which could be a very wrong statement! Hopefully not.

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"I suppose they must. Yeah, I'm sure it'll be fine. It should only be another half hour or so to Wellington. I have to make some deliveries and then we can probably get to Taunton 'fore it's time to find an inn."

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"You know the way better than I do."

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"Suppose I do."

He goes silent for a few seconds, then, "What's your home like? If you don't mind the question."

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The best lies have an element of truth-- but still, answering will be tricky. She doesn't know if any part would be deeply implausible.

The mostly true answer should work. "It's far away. It was a beautiful place --that was what it wanted to be, aimed for, you know? It was a city that wanted to be excellent. ...It doesn't exist any more."

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"...Shame. War and destruction - I don't know why these things happen, if God is supposed to love us and want us to be happy. Maybe to make the good something to strive for and protect and not just the way things are. Maybe if we were all perfect saints, we wouldn't be people anymore. Wouldn't have proper souls. I don't know. I just talk to priests a lot."

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Things to file away for later: 'God' supposedly likes people, and there's supposedly only one.

And this is why she likes Luna. Their opinion on bad things is 'not really my fault, go fix it anyway' and that's refreshingly honest.

"It's not nothing. Some of the most powerful things, the most good, come from people striving."

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"I haven't seen much of that. Striving. Just trying to pull food out of dirt, which is hard enough work, but it doesn't feel like striving."

They come over the top of a hillock, and another village is visible. Well - it's many times the size of the other villages, with nicer buildings and another church with a stained-glass window, it has a windmill and what looks like a blacksmith and an inn and a few other shops and an outdoor market, but it's still essentially a low-tech village.

"Wellington!"

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"Sometimes survival is enough striving."

--she really shouldn't be giving this guy advice on how to Exalt. Especially considering that may not be a thing here.

"It looks nice. Bit smaller than I expected."

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"It's bigger now than it was when I was a child. Four hundred people or thereabouts. But yeah, it's small. Other towns have a few thousand people - Bristol has at least ten thousand. They make ships there, and probably a lot of other things."

George keeps walking towards the place.

A couple leading a horse passes them in the other direction. "Can't believe how cheap the almanac was, something about a press? I don't know how - oh, who's that? What clothes!"

The woman grips the man's hand tightly and bites out, "Don't point, dear. She's obviously someone important." She bows slightly at Marena. "My apologies for my husband's behavior, madam."

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"I'm used to bigger." ...yeah, she's just going to leave that double entendre there.

Presses? Not sure how pressing books would make them cheaper. Maybe they're easier to transport if they are flatter?

"Don't worry, I know I look strange. I'm not from around here."

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The double entendre appears to go completely over everyone's heads.

"Still," the wife comments, "It was rude. We're sorry. Right, Henry?"

"Yes, I'm sorry. Good day to you two."

 

The couple continues on and George shakes his head.

"...I just thought of something, though. Er. Do you have any money?" Or will you be expecting me to buy your meals and inn rooms?

Permalink Eye

Right. Money. Money is a thing people have. Jade is probably not going to work as money here. Though there may be someone interested in ~strange materials from foreign shores~ and willing to exchange that for money. Maybe not in a small village, but it's worth a shot.

Worst comes to worst, she can sleep in the wild; it doesn't bother her. ...may be hard to explain though.

"I've only got what I had before I was forest-ed. Don't think it's the same as your money, but what it's made of is valuable. I'm just going to go-- marketwards, and see if I can turn into money."

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"If it's gold or silver, won't be a problem. If it's not I'm less sure. Good luck. We should meet up at that crossroads on the far side of the place in an hour or two, 'cause I'm going somewhere else with my cart."

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"Yeah, it's...not that. I'll meet you back in an hour."

To the blacksmith! They seem the most likely to want weird materials.

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The townspeople give her space.

The blacksmith is smithing with the assistance of three apprentices, all teenage boys! They seem really busy. There's a sign with things like horse shoes: 8p ea - nails: 5p for a score.

One of the apprentices, soot-covered, comes out front with a box full of nails and puts them on a shelf after a minute. "Hello, ma'am! You need somethin' made?"

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"If only it were that simple.

Okay, short version of the story: I'm from far away, and got thrown here by a magical forest. I don't have any money from here, but I do have foreign money, which is made of an unusual metal. Would your boss be interested in exchanging an unusual metal for here-money?"

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"Magical forest? Cor, spooky. Well, you do look witchy. What's special about the metal? I'll tell him and let him decide."

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Oh, how convenient it would be to have Misho around. He knows like, 200% more about jade and making things and making things with jade.

She pulls the jade coins out her pocket to show him; there's about a knife's worth of metal. "It's unusually hard and durable, and can keep a very sharp edge. It's also somewhat magical. If you work it right, it's elementally attuned." Would it be usefully attuned if they aren't terrestrial exalted? No. Is she going to admit that? Also no.

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"...Don't think magic works that way. But I'll ask Mr. Smithson to have a look at them if you want."

(She's probably trying to scam us, he thinks, looking at the coins doubtfully, as if we didn't know how witches work at all. Magic items, bah!)

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Welp. She was going so well pretending she knew what she was talking about.

"Have you seen a metal that looks like this before? Even if magic 'didn't work that way' -- and you think you're more qualified than me because?-- it's durable, it holds an edge."

She should probably do something obviously magic. Preferably something plausible. No idea what that would be. Fuck it, she's going to use just enough Essence to make her caste mark glow, and hope that reads as 'witch' and not 'demon.'

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Uh oh, angry witch. "-Okay, okay. Maybe you can do something to metal I've never even heard of. Sure. Sure. Fine. I wouldn't know. I'll tell him." It's probably some fancy alloy and not actually magic metal, but this is above his rank now. He retreats expeditiously into the back room.

A few seconds later the smith, a grumpy-looking bearded man, comes out and says, "I don't appreciate you frightening my apprentice, young lady. Even if he is a bit of a scamp sometimes. Put that glow away, now, and I'll have a look at your foreign metal."

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Goddamnit caste marks-- "Hold on a second, I need to leave the room to get rid of it--" and she steps out the door, walks in a small circle, and the pattern spiders decide that a new scene has started.

This probably has helped her case like, zero percent.

"Behold, weird metal from foreign parts." She hands it to him.

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Witches have some license to be weird. Especially foreign ones.

The blacksmith investigates the weird metal from foreign parts with a few different tools. He scrapes at one coin with a blade, leaving no mark. He hits one with a hammer and totally fails to dent it.

...He's interested and impressed now. "Do you know how hot a forge has to be to work this? And are these all you have? Do you know how to make more?"

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Yes this is working out okay.

Though it'd be way easier if Misho was around, he actually knows how to makes stuff.

"I haven't worked with it myself. The forge has to be hot, but not impossibly hot. I have a few more. The material is mined, and I don't think there's likely to be deposits around here. I could be wrong though."

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"Could you point it out on a map - this could actually be very important, see, one of the problems with the new weapons for the demon war is that they tend to explode a lot. If there were a steady stream of this metal it would be revolutionary. You should bring these to the Metallurgists Guild in London."

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Aaaah she just wanted to turn this into money and now she has to go all the way to London, and probably disappoint them because jade may not exist in this world.

"I don't know if I could point it out-- I think I'm from somewhere very far away, considering I've never heard of this place. Even where I'm from, it's somewhat rare and hard to mine. 

Is there a Metallurgist's Guild in Bristol? I'm headed that way. "

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"They won't be as advanced as London's, but yes. If it's rare - well, I suppose one handful of miracle metal won't win the war. I'll buy these five coins off you for eighteen shillings. Make something pretty out of them. Twelve pence in a shilling, twenty shillings in a pound. If you're not from around here - one penny will buy you bread and soup most places, two pence will get you an inn room."

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"Sounds reasonable to me!" And she exchanges the 5 coins for the 18 shillings.

She's probably got some time before she needs to meet back up with George, so she heads towards the Church to investigate the local religion (while pretending she knows about it, of course.)

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The Church stands in the center of the town with a small garden around it, made of grey stone, solidly built. It looks like it's even been washed some time in the last few months. There's a tower at one corner that holds a large brass bell. The stained glass window over the large oak door shows a man with golden light shining from around his head, holding a book and a copy of the cross symbol and smiling down at whoever looks at it. The door is closed.

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So, the building is important enough for the effort and water for washing it. The stained glass also has to be expensive: more evidence it's important. (More evidence that any screwing up might be bad. Very bad.) The cross symbol is widespread, and a book is involved. That's not nothing, but not a lot.

She knocks at the door.

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(Some of the townsfolk are wearing miniature cross symbols as necklaces and the like, too.)

Another priest opens the door slightly and edges out and closes it behind him after a little while. He looks tired. "Hello, stranger. My apologies that I cannot welcome you inside right now. What need have you from the House of God?"

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Welp, she didn't plan this far. Well, she did. Her plan was 'walk in, see if there is a book, read it, become more knowledgeable.' But no, she's going to have to pretend she knows what she's talking about and gently fish for info.

"I was planning to pray." Prayer is pretty universal, right? Not a weird thing to go to a church for.

Also God has a house? Is this a metaphor or what,

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"Oh, I see. I'm very sorry. We are rebuilding the church's interior to meet the greater spiritual needs of Wellington as the community grows. Unfortunately, we've had to close to the public for most of the week. I regret the necessity, but this allows construction to proceed much faster." Indeed, building sounds are coming from inside the church, faintly. "I would be glad to see you return for the regular service on Sunday, or I would be happy to pray with you here, if you wish."

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Okay, you know what, being foreign and confused has worked so far.

"Oh, I'm only passing through, I probably won't be here sunday. I was thinking more-- I'm from somewhere far away, and I wanted to see how churches were different around here. But I wouldn't want to interfere with the construction, or take up your time too much. I can always go to the church the next town along."

And here's hoping the pitchforks don't come out,

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The priest is actually really excited to explain Christianity to a foreigner! God in his infinite wisdom and mercy calls upon him to spread the Good Word, after all. Christianity is definitely a monotheistic religion! There's a lot of emphasis on helping others and having faith that things will be better in the end, and how you will get into a good afterlife if you are virtuous.

The chaperones-having norms come from the religion - according to this priest the only reason one should ahem ahem is if you want children, though he dances around actually saying this, limiting it to vague comments about possibly getting 'more sensible' clothes. God uses angels instead of exalted as instruments of his divine will. He doesn't explain how witches fit into the picture.

Jesus Christ is some kind of avatar of God, and sacrificed himself and suffered for everyone, even those nasty- er, misguided heathens on other continents. The important book is the Bible and she can almost certainly buy one cheap, they're one of the first books the printing presses started mass-copying!

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Yay, she can more effectively pretend to be Christian now! (Some gods would be bothered by their followers pretending to be part of another religion, but not Luna. She is the god of deception after all.)

And Jesus isn't a party god, that's a shame. She's going to make noises like she is going to follow the clothes advice, but she isn't actually.

...she's just going to mentally replace every instance of 'God' with 'the Unconquered Sun' and 'angel' with 'exalted.' That's probably not completely wrong.

And now, better equipped for Operation Lunar Operative Undercover, she's going to head George-wards.

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George has a mostly-empty cart now. A few bundles still sit in it but there's more than enough room for two this time.

"Hello again. I made good time on the deliveries. Glad I didn't keep you waiting. You find what you needed?"

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"Yep! I'm all set. And I can pay for my food and board."

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That's a relief. He probably would've paid for something cheap, you can't just leave someone to starve or sleep on the street, but it'd have been annoying.

"Well, hop in and off we go! I heard something interesting too. I asked about the presses - the book presses - turns out it's a clever new invention! Have you seen, say, nobles' seals before? Stick them in ink, press them onto paper and make a nice neat mark?"

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"I've seen them used occaisionally, yeah."

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"The idea is - you make letters of those and arrange them and now you have a stamp for a page in a book. Stamp it a thousand times and rearrange them and do it again and again, and you have a thousand books! Really fast compared to copying them by hand! How clever is that?"

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"I have a friend who'd love that." When they somehow meet up again, Misho is going to be so jealous. "Must be why the books are getting so much cheaper."

Permalink Eye

"Indeed so. I'm going to be buyin' books. I'll have a shelf of them before long! Like I was rich or something." He calms a bit.

"Your friend sounds smart. I don't know how you can find your friends, but I hear some witches can just know things. Pull facts from the ether and be right. Maybe you'll find one of them."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, Misho is going to be jealous of that. He had a shelf of books, but it got destroyed. Somewhere where replacing it would be no big deal? He'd love that."

And ohohoh, a lead!

"I'll have to keep an eye out for that sort of witch when I get to Bristol. Probably the best way to find my friends." And blow my cover, but whatever.

Permalink Eye

"Well, Bristol's fifty miles from the inn we're heading for now. That's a day and a half of travel, I figure. So you'll be there soon enough."

Permalink Eye

"That's good.

Have you been to Bristol before? What's it like?"

Permalink Eye

"Only once. It's along a river, and by the sea. Built into the hills and cliffs. More people than I could count, doing all kinds of work. Craftsmen of all kinds, musicians and painters, doctors and chemists, rich lords walking the same street as humble dockworkers, schools, shipyards. I didn't stay long and I can't compare it to other cities, but it seemed a busy and cheerful place."

Permalink Eye

"That's nice. I like coasts. And bunches of people all mixed together."

Permalink Eye

"It felt very - overwhelming to me at the time. And smelly. Though I hear that's gotten better, somehow. I could see what people mean when they say pastures are nice and peaceful."

He fidgets one arm nervously, tapping at the cart's edge. "I can go back home if it's too much, if I can't find a school to study at. Boring, or overwhelming? Peaceful, or exciting? Hmm."

Permalink Eye

"Some people get used to cities, some don't.

Have you ever heard the phrase 'may you live in interesting times?' A lot of people disagree about whether it's a blessing or a curse."

Permalink Eye

"Can't say I have. Makes sense, though. And I'm committing to this, I've tried the first path, time to try the other and see if I like it any better. There's different kinds of 'interesting', of course. Fighting rings for the bloody-minded, books for the scholars, pubs for the revelers."

Permalink Eye

"It's worthwhile trying things.

I think the different ideas of interesting are where half the arguments come from. Back home, there's a bunch of scholars shouting 'I wanted it to be interesting because of the printing press! Not a civil war! It should be interesting differently!'"

Permalink Eye

"Hmph. Well call me blind but I can't see why anyone would think war and pestilence is interesting. Books and debate, of course. Drink and gambling and debauchery, I see the appeal. Even fighting I get that some people want and need that kind of thing. But war's just bad for everyone. My great-grandfather told tales of the war against the Welsh and how it turned men to monsters."

Permalink Eye

Marena isn't sure how literal the 'turned into monsters' thing is, but she isn't going to ask.

"Some people just find war exhilarating. They're-- deeply weird, but I've met a few.

And some more don't find it interesting-- but they like the opportunity to do good, and there are few places that need good people as much as a war."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I understand that. Saving another's life surely must be a very fulfilling thing. We've had peace in our time, until the Neuroi invasion, thank God. I've never so much as seen a killing blade or an arrow not meant for deer."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, war's generally bad" 

Permalink Eye

"Truth, amen." With that George settles in for a quiet ride. The weather is clear and warm and bright.

 

They get to the next town in about an hour and a half. With a few rows of streets, several manor houses, and a grander church than the previous one, it's almost enough of a town to get lost in. George heads for the inn near the outskirts and pays to stable his horse and store his cart, then heads inside.

...There's something different about the lack-of-Essence here. It's not quite so lack-y in one direction. A faint whisper of energy and power coming from somewhere in the middle of town.

Permalink Eye

"Hey, George, do you mind if I quickly hop off and investigate something?"

Permalink Eye

"...I've no claim on you, of course, madam witch." He glances at the stableworkers, "Just mind to find me again tonight or early in the morning, or I may need to leave without you and you'll need another guide."

Permalink Eye

"This shouldn't take that long, I'll be able to meet up in the morning."

And she heads to the middle of town, towards the not-Essence weirdness.

Permalink Eye

It's coming from an old lady sitting in the front garden of one of the fancier houses, dressed in a fancy outfit in a strange fashion, smoking something out of a pipe. She fingers a jeweled ring, turning it over and over in her hand as she watches passers-by. She holds herself like someone who used to be alert and active, but is very, very tired now.

Permalink Eye

"Hello?"

Permalink Eye

She sets down the pipe and puts the ring on and gives Marena a skeptical look. "Hello. Who are you?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm Marena, I'm just passing through.  I was just wondering what you were up to? " 

 

Permalink Eye

"Why, I am simply enjoying the time I have left in this world as best I can. And you, an inappropriately dressed foreigner, come to chat with an old witch in an out of the way town? I must admit I am curious what you want."

Permalink Eye


Aha, a witch! An actual witch! Who she can mine for information! Subtly!

(And now she knows what witches being around feels like.)

"I got lost in a magic forest. That's a bad description of what happened, but it'll do. I'm slowly working my way back towards civilisation, and I thought I might pop by to say hello to one of my people." 

Permalink Eye

"Your- Hah! Ahem. Miss hasn't-introduced-herself, I am British before I am a witch. I feel no kinship for you."

Permalink Eye

Oh, she's going to do this dance. Lovely.

"I'm Marena of the Red Cresent, from Thorns-as-it-was. Pleased to meet you. And you are?"

Permalink Eye

"I am Elizabeth Setters, from Taunton. Likewise. Would you like some tea?" (Emotional read: Smug, this is a small social victory.)

Permalink Eye

Sometimes you just got to let people feel like they've won.

"Only if it's no trouble."

Permalink Eye

"No trouble at all."

She clears her throat, and the essence stirs. "Mary, bring out two more cups of tea, please. And crumpets... Thank you."

And it settles again. "Tea will be out soon. Please, sit."

Permalink Eye

She sits down, and tries to not be obviously weirded out by what just happened.

"So, how have things been treating you?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm getting old, but you can tell that. I am content. Money makes many things more comfortable, does it not? And how has our quiet English countryside been treating you? No trouble, I hope."

Permalink Eye

"Everything's easier with money.

It's been nice and quiet, and the people have been very helpful, which I'm thankful for."

Permalink Eye

"That's good to hear. Our country is full of hardworking and kind people. Well, aside from the Welsh. Oh, a word of advice - I don't know how it is in your homeland, but while we are largely free here compared to our continental neighbors, the Crown is very keen on its taxes. Especially lately, with the Neuroi wrecking things in Karlsland and us sending so much over there to help."

Permalink Eye

"My homeland was pretty keen on tax too, I'll make sure to chip in. I'm assuming the Crown has collectors?" Who I can avoid?, Marena doesn't say.

Permalink Eye

"Yes. I'm sure you'll be able to recognize them. You can smell bureaucrats a mile away, metaphorically speaking."

A small girl dressed in a demure black and white dress exits the house, puts down a silver tray containing a plate of warm crumpets and two steaming fragrant cups of tea, bows, and leaves without a word. "Thank you, Mary," Elizabeth says as she leaves.

"The tea is a black, grown in the Americas. I prefer Indian but it's not really available lately. Cream and sugar?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure sneaky bureaucrats exist, but I've never met any."

Who has tea with sugar? Or cream?

"No, thank you. Has something happened in India?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, no, it's the trade routes, you see. Neuroi make the Suez, Turkey, and eastern Europa dangerous where they don't outright control it, so any goods from India must travel a lot farther. And tea from India is not really very urgent compared to weapons and food and so on for the soldiers."

She adds a bit of cream to her tea and sips it.

Permalink Eye

Yay, vague geographical knowledge!

"The prioritisation makes sense, but still, I imagine it's a little annoying."

Permalink Eye

"I don't harbor any illusions I'm suffering more than... Quite a lot of other people. Other witches, fighting witches, too, not just the magic-less people. But yes, it is, a bit."

Permalink Eye

"Just because other people have it worse, that's no reason not to grumble.

Have you heard any news from the front?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't really have military connections, you know. I just sell them a bit of mana now and then." She indicates the ring. "No more than a trickle really, but every bit counts, apparently."

Permalink Eye

Okay, so they have mana (instead of essence, presumably), you can sell it(?) and rings are involved. Somehow.  And the war effort really wants it.

...that's not nothing.

"I should probably donate some to the war effort, when I get a chance.

Did you specialise in anything before you retired, if you don't mind me asking?" (Hopefully she'll say what she did before she asks Marena, so she can come up with a plausible lie. Don't want to claim that she's a shapechanger, find out that's not a thing, then have to turn into a fox and have it be a whole malarky.)

Permalink Eye

"Messages. You saw me talk to Mary - That's my special magic. In my prime I could speak across the whole of the continent, and merchants and kings will pay a lot for fast secure communication. Not as flashy as some, but I liked it. Have you worked out yours? I would assume so, at your age, but it doesn't always work that way."

Permalink Eye

"That's very useful!"

And here's hoping that her powers aren't uber-weird: "I'm mostly a shapeshifter."

Permalink Eye

"Interesting! That sounds remarkably versatile. Mostly?"

Permalink Eye

"It is pretty versatile. I can do a few other things --a bit of defensive magic, that sort of thing-- but it's mostly applied shapeshifting."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, of course. Shields and brooms. I was just surprised - it sounded like your special wasn't limited to one category for a second."

Permalink Eye

Shields and brooms? Okay, quick, pretend you know what that means in this context.

"Yeah, it's more like-- Even if it is just one general power, shapeshifting lets me do a fairly wide variety of things. Like, I can become much stronger by turning into a bear, which on one level is shapeshifting, but could also be seen as strengthboosting magic."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. Well, it sounds like you're probably going to make out well for yourself, whatever you end up doing. I wish you luck in ceasing to be lost."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you, that's very kind of you to say."

And Marena  heads off, kills some time, and meets back up with George.

Permalink Eye

George is sitting at a table in the inn, having dinner and apparently a beer. He grins at her.

"Welcome back! All went well, wherever you went off to?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, worked out what was going on. Turned out to be nothing concerning."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that's good. If a witch finds something concerning it's bad news for the rest of us, eh?"

Permalink Eye

"Ehh, but some witches turn out to be a lil' prone to false alarms." She winks.

Permalink Eye

"Hah. Well, better to check and not find anything, than not check and miss something dangerous, I'd say." He raises the glass of beer and drains what remains of it.

Permalink Eye

"Hear-hear."

She goes off to acquire food and beer. She takes a sip of the beer, and fails not to make a face at it's taste.

Permalink Eye

The food at least is OK, if not spectacular.

A waiter comments, "We gots stronger stuff if you wanna pay for it. That's the one that everybody drinks, 'cause beer don't make you sick like water does sometimes."

Permalink Eye

"Nah, I'm good. Just found it surprising." She is a Lunar, she can deal with it. (She is a Lunar, she could also deal with the water, but she isn't letting that on.)

"So, George, how was your day?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, you've seen most of it, haven't you? Work and travel. It was good, though. You're more fun to talk to than my neighbors."

Permalink Eye

"I pride myself on being entertaining."

Permalink Eye

George makes a sound of suppressed amusement.

A table away, a relatively nicely dressed man comments not quite quietly enough, "Well, those clothes are certainly entertaining." He and his friends let out a loud laugh. A few other people make annoyed or irritated faces, including George.

Permalink Eye

The nice thing about being a Lunar on the road is you can fuck with people, and not have to worry about the consequences too much. So why not have a little fun.

"I'm sure you're very entertaining too--" she says in her best sugar-pie voice, before switching to more threatening tone "--when you're running." She shows enough fang to be subconsciously offputting, but not enough that it's obvious her teeth are actually sharp.

Permalink Eye

"Aheh, heh, heh... Heh."

"Uh... Clem, maybe you shouldn't have said that."

"Yeah, maybe not."

"Clem, maybe you should apologize."

"Nah, don't think I will."

Clem's friends glance at the probably-a-witch-given-current-social-context, and edge slightly away from him.

Permalink Eye

"You've got a good choice in friends. They're smart."

Permalink Eye

"I'm surprised you didn't hear something like that sooner, dressed like a French woman as you are."

"Clem..."

"No, shut up. I'll say what I wanna say, we got free speech 'ere, don't we? And if you're doing some kind of magic blathery to me, that's probably against some kind of law, innit? Can't scare me."

"Clem, if she turns you into a frog or sommat and gets tossed in jail you're still a frog."

This seems to get through his drunkenness. He twitches, looks around, and says, "...Sorry. 'M leaving now." And hurries, wobbling, out the door, leaving coins on his table.

Permalink Eye

She turns to George. "Sorry about that display.

And, uh, not meaning to show my foreign-ness too much, but what are the French like?"

Permalink Eye

"You seemed to teach him a lesson, just by talkin'. Best way to end a fight in my opinion - not having one. So it's fine. The French - er. I've never actually seen a Frenchman but when people compare you to one they're calling you a coward or weak or all fur and no meat or disloyal or, er, a, uh, whore." He rubs his head and looks away.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, better than him getting a table thrown at him.

Ah, that makes sense. Still kinda a weird insult, I imagine French women have other things they do with their time."

Permalink Eye

"One would presume so, yes. Farming and housework and weaving or whatever their trade is if nothing else... I'm not sure why, but everyone hates someone, it seems. I'm probably guilty of the same sin, and just can't tell."

Permalink Eye

"It's a thing. I think people need someone they can point at and say 'I'm better than them'. Can't say I've never done it myself."

Permalink Eye

"Pff. It's my neighbors for me, if it's anyone. Clint will go on and on and on about his pigs, and Marla keeps dumping trash in my mam's field, and so on. Now, I try to take things calmly and be kind and understanding. My father said that a man that's as steady as a rock is more of a man than a knight, or even a noble, whose temper is like a flag in the wind. I'd like to think I'm good at it."

George finishes his food. "I'll probably turn in soon. Shall we get going bright and early tomorrow, or rest up a little?"

Permalink Eye

"You've struck me as fairly steady.

As much as I'd like a lie in, I should probably get to Bristol sooner rather than later."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

George knits his brows together and frowns slightly. He says, quietly, "You can't just find a broom and fly there if you're truly in such a hurry?"

Permalink Eye

Brooms can fly? WHAT

"I've, uh, lost mine. And where I'm from, it's very rude to just borrow someone else's. I'm not in that much of a hurry, I just don't want to lose too much time."

Permalink Eye

...Maybe she's not a witch. 

Has she actually done anything definitely magical as far as he can see? She's obviously a witch, bold and foreign and the way she carries herself, and yet...

Well, it's not his business, really, if she's pretending. Nothing he's done really changes based on this, except perhaps how trustworthy she is.

He thinks about it for a few moments, then shrugs. "Well, I'll see you bright and early tomorrow, then." And goes to talk to the innkeeper about a room.

Permalink Eye

"See you tomorrow!"

And once George has finished his transaction, she goes and pays for a room for herself, and falls into bed.

Permalink Eye

The room is tolerable, if a bit cramped and very plain. It's also cheap.

The next morning George gets up at sunrise and goes to feed and water his horse, then sits out in front of the inn, snacking on bread from the nearby bakery and another mug of the weak but safe beer.

Permalink Eye

Marena also wakes up at dawn, and meets him outside the inn. "Did you sleep well?"

Permalink Eye

"Well enough. It's a bit odd to get up and not have to go to the field. Feels like Sunday. Shall we set off right away, then, since you're in a hurry?"

Permalink Eye

"That would be lovely, thanks."

Permalink Eye

They set off. The weather is overcast and damp today, not pleasant and sunny like it was yesterday. Still, the roads here are good quality, and they make good time. Though George does ask Marena to pay half the toll, when they encounter bridge tolls and toll roads.

By late afternoon the city of Bristol is visible in the distance. It stretches along the river from a port to at least two dozen miles inland, into some hills. Sailing ships are heading in and out of port, as well as a few ships with iron constructions of some kind, trailing smoke. George goggles at them and tries to guess why - presumably they're some kind of motive engine, to replace wind? The sails are furled, on that one, and yet it moves...

Even from here you can hear the low noise of a city. The character of this city's din is a bit - clunkier - than usual. Lots of construction going on? And there are clearly a lot of witches in the city. A few dozen, perhaps, though it's hard to make out individual ones from the essence impressions at this distance.

Permalink Eye

"I've heard of boats like that. Usually magically powered, but your tech is likely different."

Yeah those boats are super weird. She's heard of First Age tech like that... but that was First Age.

And the nice thing about Essense impressions is it's going to make it easy to find where all the witches are.

Permalink Eye

There's a fair bit of traffic on the way into the city. George continues speculating and gawking as they proceed inward.

The noise of construction is, apparently, half the city being torn up and built back down again with a sewer system underneath it. There are signs everywhere shouting that not using the sewer system in places where it exists is now illegal - it causes plagues, you know! It seems like kind of a monumental project - there are thousands and thousands of people working on it. Though there are also plenty of factories and workshops and shipyards.

It turns out that there are stables in the city. Though now that they're here, he'll probably sell his horse.

"I suppose this is where we part ways for now? I'm going to go looking for schools, and you're going to do whatever it is you came here for. Looking for a way home? I'd try the ports, I suppose, for that."

Permalink Eye

Indoor plumbing. Sweet.

"Yeah, I'll see you again, if I see you. Good luck with schooling!" And then she heads off in the direction of the greatest amount of Essense disturbances.

Permalink Eye

There are two roughly equally strong greatest-essence-disturbances. One close to the shore, and one towards the east end of the city. There are more witches scattered throughout, but those two feel like groups of about a dozen. The shore is closer.

Permalink Eye

To the shore! To pretend to be a witch!

Permalink Eye

The collection of witches near the shore, it turns out, is a few blocks inland from the docks.

It's a rather luxurious-looking three story building in the richer parts of town. There's a doorbell. A collection of sparks are inside, mostly on the second story of the building. The sign says St. Lucille Preparatory School for Young Witches.

Permalink Eye

Hmm... On the one hand, she is young, but not that young, as much as she hates to admit it. Probably not going to fit in in a school.

...And she can always head back here if it turns out to be her best option.

She heads towards the other concentration of witches.

Permalink Eye

At least one of the other random witches in the city is flying! She can see them sitting side-saddle on a broomstick, floating almost leisurely over the city, though far from where she is at that moment. The essence-feeling is muddled from this far away. And the smoke and soot from all the factories and workshops, and the dust of construction, makes it a bit hard to see.

The other collection of witches is a post office. Actually, the post office is just the closest entrance of what looks like a decently sized complex. Storage areas, some kind of training ground, living quarters, offices. Uniformed and armed men stand at the other entrances to the place, carrying - obviously weapons of some kind - a metal tube and a wooden frame and a short blade attached to the end. They look bored. Most of the witches are inside the complex, in the housing buildings or offices. One is walking towards the post office from inside the complex.

The post office itself is inviting and fairly busy. There are lists of prices to carry mail and packages to various places. (Apparently there's also a new tax on mail, according to the signs.) There are orderly queues, scales, carts loaded down with stacks of letters and boxes, busy clerks who occasionally shout 'NEXT!'. There is also a sign that says - 'REFUND NOT AVAILABLE if any witch-carried mail is delayed due to military priority'.

Permalink Eye

Okay, trial by fire time. Lets see if she can successfully pretend to be a witch.

(...and why are the broomsticks flying? Why.)

She looks for someone who looks in-charge-ish and not-busy-ish.

Permalink Eye

There's probably a manager or something around here somewhere? Most of the clerks seem-

Wait, yeah, that guy right there who just came out of a side office and got called 'sir' and started issuing instructions, he looks in charge. And he looks and smells bureaucrat-y.

Permalink Eye

Yes! A bureaucrat!

She walks over to him purposefully. "So sorry to bother you, I was just wondering if there was a way a somewhat lost and foreign witch could help with the war effort?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, how unusual. That's not really my department, I'm in the Royal Mail Service. I organize the mail, sorting and dealing with companies and coordinating it all and so on. I don't usually talk to the couriers. There's always demand for witches, though. Hmm, maybe logistics? You won't have the training for... Hmm... What's your special ability? Do you have any specialized skills or knowledge? We could always use more couriers, but there are other magical needs and there may be somewhere else I should send you than the logistics service recruiting office."

Permalink Eye

"I'm a shapeshifter, with wilderness survival skills-- though for a different kind of wilderness, unforturnately. If you tell me where logistics is, I should be able to find my way there."

Permalink Eye

"Wilderness survival might be helpful, actually. I wouldn't know. There's a logistics office in the compound out back but you probably shouldn't just walk up there. I can send a runner to ask for an appointment and get back to you. As long as it's not a total waste of time and you are, in fact, a witch."

Permalink Eye

Ehh, she can spare the Essence for dramatics. She turns into a small bird, perches on the nearest perch like thing, cocks her head, and does her best to look expectant.

Permalink Eye

He blinks once. He writes something down on his clipboard. He turns to one of the clerks and commands, "Jeffrey! Go tell Lieutenant Reynolds I have a witch who wants to chat, please. As soon as possible, I presume?"

Permalink Eye

She turns back into a human. She now also has a silver glow around her, and a crescent moon in the middle of her forehead.

"That sounds lovely, thank you."

Permalink Eye

The bureaucrat asks, "...Is that a side-effect of the transformation?"

Jeffrey the clerk goes off at a fast walk, nearly bumping into the witch who has been walking towards the post office on his way out. The witch dodges around him. "Well, excuse you. Oh, hey, Sims! Turns out I'm free for the afternoon if you need an extra broom. Oh, and who's this?"

The bureaucrat shrugs. "I haven't actually caught your name, miss...?"

Permalink Eye

"Yep. And I won't be able to transform again until I stop glowing. It should only last a few minutes though.

I'm Marena."

Permalink Eye

"Weird. I can do my thing whenever, however as long as I got the mana. I'm Sandra."

(The bureaucrat excuses himself to go over to a desk and starts investigating some paperwork.)

"You're new in town, huh? Noisy, isn't it?"

Permalink Eye

"Nice to meet you.

I am, but I've been in louder places."

Permalink Eye

"Likewise, probably. Well, now I'm curious. No offense, but you kind of seem like the 'wandering the middle of nowhere' type to me. You going to sign on with the military? Fight the good fight, it's all for the good of the world, be happy for the opportunity, all that junk?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, not normally a middle of nowhere type. I don't know the details, it happened, but I ended going from being in a forest with my friends to being in a very different forest sans friends.

Probably. As much as I'd like to reunite with my friends, there's not really a clear path to that. Clearer path to helping people, by joining the military. Also 'with great power comes great responsibility' and all that junk."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. Well, my advice... Read your contract. That was my mistake. Couldn't read at the time."

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

"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?"

Permalink Eye

"I always appreciate dire warnings.

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

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

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."

Permalink Eye

"...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."

Permalink Eye

"Neat.

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

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

"A keen eye is good for scouting." 

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

And she waves goodbye to Sandra.

Permalink Eye

"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.

Permalink Eye

She follows the clerk.

Permalink Eye

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?"

Permalink Eye

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

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

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?"

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

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.

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

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."

Permalink Eye

"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?"

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

"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."

Permalink Eye

"That is... quite impressive."

Permalink Eye

"Technology and magic together really can be. We're only just starting to explore the possibilities there. I wish I could be closer to it, honestly, but the powers that be need me here, so here I am."

Permalink Eye

"If you don't mind me asking, but do the powers that be have a reason? Particular talent for logistics, that sort of thing?"

Permalink Eye

"Precisely. That, and experience managing other witches, and the combination of familiarity with the needs of the UDF and familiarity with the area and the people we source from here."

Permalink Eye

"It's a shame when your talents keep you away from the exciting stuff. But worth it, usually."

Permalink Eye

"These idiots would hardly get anything done without me, to be honest. Well, maybe not, but I'm usually busy and I usually don't feel like my work is useless. And I do get to talk ship-building with some of the locals."

She lands the 'wing and pulls the tarp back over. The weird pattern of essence she made while using it disappears slowly. "Honestly, there's not much else to give you a tour of. This area is mostly for storage. Quarters, mess hall and lounge?"

Permalink Eye

"I should probably be able to find those myself. How 'bout I meet you tomorrow, and we can discuss under-the-table stuff?"

Permalink Eye

"It's not under the table, it's just not as a member of the UDF. I'll see if I can find the time. We're handling a large prototype headed for Manchester tomorrow, so it'll be busy. Probably best to plan for some time in the afternoon. Okay. I'll start on the paperwork if I get the chance. Good evening, and I look forward to working with you."

Permalink Eye

"Ehh, it doesn't matter to me what level of official it's on. Though it not being under the table is, like, nice. Good evening to you too, and I'll catch up with you tomorrow afternoon."

She heads off to find Sandra.

Permalink Eye

Sandra is leaning against a wall inside the post office, reading a letter. She folds it up carelessly and sticks it into one of the big pockets on her jacket. "Hey, welcome back. Ready to take off? What kinda places you want to see?"

Permalink Eye

"Hi! You've probably got a better idea of what's interesting in this city than me, so you should probably lead."

Permalink Eye

"Music? Good food? Shows? Shopping? Gambling? Fights? Parks? Library? Heh. Library. I'll cover you for the day if you pay me back later."

Permalink Eye

"On the one hand, I feel like I should be the responsible adult here-- but watching fights is just so fun!"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know how exciting it'll be as a display of martial skill, but watching shirtless guys hit each other is usually exciting in at least one other way. Let's go." She starts heading for the door.

Permalink Eye

"People who know what they're doing are fun to watch-- but people who don't are ten times more entertaining."

Marena follows.

Permalink Eye

Sandra comments on this or that store or park as they make their way to a fighting arena she knows.

They walk up in the middle of a bout between a beefy blonde guy and an older, wiry man. The old guy almost casually picks apart the young guy's defense and batters him with punches that get past the defense. The young guy manages a heavy hit, but the old-timer ducks away casually, turning it into a glancing blow.

"Farm muscles don't make you a boxer, sonny!"

"Yeah," Sandra comments, "My money's on the old guy. That's Slim. I don't recognize the slab of muscle, he must be new."

Permalink Eye

"I'm assuming Slim is a regular? He definitely looks like he has a better idea what he's doing."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, Slim's a regular. The army wouldn't take him, too old. But he says he won't quit until someone manages to break him. I guess it's his prerogative. Teach this kid a lesson, Slim!" She shouts the last bit.

The fight continues. The big blonde guy focuses on defense as people jeer and make bets. Most of the money is on Slim to win. Big Guy barely seems fazed by Slim's attacks, though he still doesn't manage to land more than a glancing hit in return.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, go Slim! ...Didn't know the army had an age limit. Hopefully I'm not over it."

Permalink Eye

"I think they figured he'd be more trouble than he was worth."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, yeah, streetfight guy would probably cause problems.

...probably wouldn't do anything too bad for morale though, if he picked the right fights."

Permalink Eye

"These rinks are legal, you know. Just frowned upon by the hoity-toities. They'd rather experience more refined and sensible violence, like hawking, horseback duels, or hunting foxes."

Permalink Eye

"Ah, so this is the sport of the common people got it. All the best sports are. Once the nobles get in, everything becomes stodgy and gets a multisyllabic name."

Permalink Eye

"Some people say witches are a little bit noble-y. Forget 'em. Ooh!" She winces as the big guy manages to feint and jab Slim hard. "I think Slim got overconfident. Maybe I should bet on the new guy just in case. That hit was nasty."

Slim laughs and just steps up the taunting more, trying to get his opponent angry and off-balance.

"...Nah, nevermind, he's still got this."

Permalink Eye

"Ehh, I was a noble. So not worth it.

Big Guy isn't bad, but Slim knows more of what he's doing. Yeah, Slim's got this."

Permalink Eye

"Plenty of people would've rather grown up noble than poor. Crazy social rules, heavy obligations and responsibility, no real choices... But cake twice a week, meat every day, warm every day." She shrugs. "Plenty of girls would've rather been witches for that matter, and we're the lucky few. Life ain't fair."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, can't really complain when people have nothing. But having managed to escape the concept of social class: 10/10, would reccommend. But I have weird circumstances, so. Life ain't fair."

Permalink Eye

"Indeed not. Especially when even as a witch you can still get thrown to the wolves. So I'm just gonna enjoy-" 

WHAM. The crowd goes wild as Slim lands a devastating punch square on the new guy's chin. He follows it up with more, mercilessly.

"Yep, Slim wins."

A couple of referees-or-something are dragging the buff new guy to the edge of the rink. Slim is mostly shouting to the sky. An announcer starts yelling about the next match: A grudge fight between two rivals with stage names of 'Snarl' and 'The Butcher'.

"Want to try and get a better spot?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure! ...I love how the names have just become, like, ten times more dramatic."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I don't care about New Meat's stage name, and Slim is kind of a phenomenon all by himself. But yeah. Dramatic names are the norm. It's a bit cheesy, but also fun."

She pushes her way through people. They get a better spot.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, if you get to pick a name, may as well pick a flashy one.

What'd your stage name be? Like, hypothetically, if you did these fights. I think I'm legally obligated to be 'Foxy.'"

Permalink Eye

"Maybe 'ghost'? 'Specter'? Because of my thing. Oh, so you can be a fox as well as a bird? Neat. Bet foxes have good senses of smell. What else?"

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, that'd be a good name.

Hmm, I can do a few other things. Horse, man, really big fox, really big bipedal fox-- that's pretty much it. I could learn to do other things though."

Permalink Eye

"You can turn into a guy? Hmm..."

Sandra is distracted from whatever thought that prompted by the start of the next fight. Snarl and The Butcher both seem to know what they're doing, and to a practiced eye, seem to be putting on a little bit of a show. They're still fighting each other mostly seriously, just going out of the way a bit to emote and exaggerate the hits.

"Ooh. I usually favor Snarl, but he's a bit slow today."

Permalink Eye

"Yep! I still look more or less the same though, other than being a guy.

Ahh, fighting as performance art. Such a wonderful thing."

Permalink Eye

"-Ooh, nice hit. Yeah. All that's missing is a snack. Too bad they don't let women complete, at least in this one. I bet I'd kick butt."

Permalink Eye

"Huh? Why ever not?"

Permalink Eye

"Because even the lower classes seem to agree with the nobles that we're too gentle and pure to punch each other in the face? Not saying it never happens, but it's not normal. Also, fighting tends to involve baring some skin, another no-no."

Permalink Eye

"...have these people even met women? Ever?

Ehh, and this place could really do with some more skin."  

Permalink Eye

"Hey, I'm not defending it, just explaining it. Plenty of women think the same thing, heaven knows why. As for skin... You seem to have that covered. Or not, rather. Notice how nobody says anything about my scandalously bare knees and visible neckline?" She gestures at herself. "Well, we're witches, the rules are different. Hypocrites."

Permalink Eye

"The breeze is nice. They should feel it some time.

I've been given the 'you must be French' talk, and the 'cover yourself in the sight of the Lord, lest he be scandalised.' I think I've only got away with it because I'm scary. Which like, yes I am. But that shouldn't be why I'm getting away with it."

Permalink Eye

"The French aren't that bad, you know. But yeah, it's stupid. Society has an annoying and stupid rule, what else is new? The world would probably be better if guys and girls both showed a bit more off. Less stifling, anyway."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I assumed as much about the French. People are people are people.

Meanwhile, I'm showing off behalf of all the poor people who can't." 

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure they appreciate it."

 

 

They watch the fights for a while. Snarl beats The Butcher, and goes on to beat someone called Ox-Man, and then the rotation of fighters changes. There's lots of betting.

Eventually, it winds up for the day.

"You tired of me yet?"

Permalink Eye

"Not if you aren't tired of me. If there's something else you'd like to sure me around, that'd be great."

Permalink Eye

"The fights were my big thing. I guess I know some good restaurants and bars."

Permalink Eye

"Well, if you wanna go get sloshed--"

Permalink Eye

"Absolutely."

 

This bar has much better beer than the last place. They proceed to get sloshed.

Permalink Eye

Marena is difficult to slosh, but not impossible!

This has done bad things for diplomatic skills. "So, like, the thing with the contract? What, like, was it?"

Permalink Eye

"It's - y'know - money. It's aaaaall money. Folks were - some damn fool loaned 'em half a house and they bet it all and lost, so now I'm on the hook to pay or my whole fam goes to debtor's prisons. That shit's noooot fun."

Permalink Eye

"Shiiit. That-- that sucks, man."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. The rich spit on th' poor. The powerful on the meek. Witches on everyone else's stupid rules. Is the way it works. I hate 'em. I'm workin' for 'em. Some days I feel like I should set all their stuff on fire and hide an' watch... I dunno, thas' a bit much."

Permalink Eye

"But, like, you're a witch. You could spit on the rules about-- spitting on the rules. Like."

Permalink Eye

"They got witches too. Witch police. And, like, I don't wanna kill people or wreck shit or anything. Is just so - bleagh."

Permalink Eye

"They've got, like, witches in case you witch too hard?

Like, there's gotta be away to like, mess with the rules with no one getting hurt."

Permalink Eye

"Witch police don't care unless you, like, kill people or blow up buildings or do nasty curse stuff. I think."

Permalink Eye

"Yay witch police: not total killjoys."

Permalink Eye

"Yaaaay... I should. Go home before I get any more drunker. Back to work t'morrow. Gotta get paid."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, work is, like, a thing you gotta do. G'night."

Yay, Lunar metabolism! Marena is not going to be hungover tomorrow.

Permalink Eye

"Come see me 'gain. Today was fun. Byeeeeee."

This bar doesn't have an inn in it, but there are plenty of places like that nearby.

Permalink Eye

She finds the nearest inn, and crashes for the night.

Permalink Eye

(She could probably have found someone to sleep with easy enough. Not everyone is a prude, and the city folk seem to care about that a bit less than those in the countryside. There were some attractive guys at the bar.)

But in any case, the city goes to sleep around her.

The heavy background roar of construction starts back up the next morning, just after sunrise.

Permalink Eye

The attractive guys will just have to wait another night. Duty calls! To Reynolds! To do the not-under-the-table-jobs!

Permalink Eye

She has to wait outside for a bit while this random guard who is definitely not ogling no sir waits for someone to get Reynolds to confirm she should be let in.

And then she can go back to Reynolds' office.

"Marena, welcome back! I've got a couple options for you if you're still looking for work. A short hop to Cardiff that is a bit too bulky for one broom, or if you'd rather, we can pay you to store up mana for other witches. A friend of mine in one of the other divisions told me about that program."

Permalink Eye

And Marena is definitely not standing in a way to show off her best features for ogling, oh no sir.

...okay, she has no idea if she can store mana, so let's not try that one. "I'd be happy to head over to Cardiff."

Permalink Eye

"Grand. It's a round trip. About a hundred miles. The pay for freelancers on this flight is-" Easily two weeks' worth of inn rooms and food, with some left over. "I'll just need you to read and sign this... You can read, yes? I've been learning not to assume that."

It's a document saying - basically - that if she screws up and crashes there will be an investigation, if she deliberately tampers with or steals it there will be Witch Police after her. Less than one page.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I can read. This sounds reasonable."

And, after a bit of thought, signs her name 'Ragara Marena.'

Permalink Eye

"And that's all the paperwork you need to do! For this sort of job, at least. I'll take care of the rest later. But first, let's show you to the yard and the delivery you'll be making, yeah? Follow me, please."

And out to the yard and across it to where two of those big steel machines are sitting, being loaded up with packages. "Helas, I found you a freelancer for the other 'wing. You won't have to make two trips after all."

Helas, who looks almost startlingly young and is only slightly less fair-skinned than most people in this city, replies in a heavy accent, "Ah, thank you! I do not mind work but two times the same fly in one day is enochlitikós."

"Glad to be of help. Marena, she'll show you the ropes. Sorry to pass you off like this, I always have more work to do. Unless you have any questions for me...?"

Permalink Eye

"Nope! I'm good!" She says, desperately pretending that she can definitely fly that thing.

"Hi Helas!"

Permalink Eye

"Hello! A new face. Good." Helas looks about fifteen, from a little closer. Small-framed, short. She looks Marena up and down a bit jealously. "You might get cold up there. Have you ever flown big-box brooms before?"

Permalink Eye

"Ehh, the cold's never bothered me. And no," she says, not mentioning that she's never flown a broom before, how the heck is she going to fly this?

Permalink Eye

Helas shrugs. "You northerners and your cold. I saw snow first time earlier this year! Bah. Hokay. I tell you, Marena. It is not like small broom. Small broom, you just want, go, magic in broom, you fly. Easy. Big wing-broom, you must push magic. Fill whole thing with magic. Only then you fly. Be careful and slow. Do not get distracted in the air. Watch."

She hops onto the large metal 'broom' and closes her eyes. The incredibly weird thing with the Essence is slightly less weird, seeing it a second time. It rushes along the metal struts and spiky bits, down, out.

She grips the handlebars at the front of the thing and lifts gently into the air, breathing deeply. She rises a couple of feet, and then just as gently sets down.

"You must stay balanced and focused, like riding a horse. And like riding a horse, maybe you fall first time. We should both sit on one so I catch you if you are going to crash."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good. Don't want to splatter myself"

Marena sits in the broom and tries to do the pushing thing?

Permalink Eye

It takes a moment to click but then the essence, or mana, flows. It's surprisingly - natural? But not in the same way as using her other powers.

The broom-thing jerks a bit but does not leave the ground.

Permalink Eye

Why is this working this should not be working.

Let's up the Essensce flow-- a little. Let's see if getting air borne will be a thing, with a minimal risk of zooming away down the field.

Permalink Eye

And the 'wing wobbles and shifts forward slightly, scraping along the ground...

"Steady, steady," Helas comments. "You are trying to go forward, not up, right now. Try to go up if you can."

Permalink Eye

Okay let's see if 'up' is going to happen.

...let's see if visualisation will help.

She's transformed from feet-on-ground-lunar to flying-bird before. She pictures that shift in centre of gravity, that shift upwards in space. Does that help?

(how the heck is this working at all)

Permalink Eye

That does help. It's accompanied by a distinct shift in the pattern of Essence-flowing-through-metal beneath her. The sliding stops and the Lunar, the witch, and the big metal thing go up a couple of feet.

However it works, it's not working like Lunar powers usually do, but it is working. It's almost a sort of constant draw, like a taut muscle. If her concentration slips, they'll fall towards the ground again.

Permalink Eye

Well she's going to keep concentrating then, isn't she.

WHY IS THIS WORKING

Permalink Eye

It's certainly not like using a charm! Up and up and up... "Good, good, steady. You are okay?"

Permalink Eye

"This is deeply weird but I think I am fine," she says, lying through her teeth.

Permalink Eye

"It's much like flying a regular broom, like usual. Just... Easier to go in the wrong direction. You are doing fine."

Permalink Eye

Ahahaha yep she's definitely flown a regular broom, yep for realsies.

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"Well, go forward now. Practice. Unless you do not want to learn and work?"

Permalink Eye

"No, I can do this."

Okay, let's see about going forward --gently-- while still staying up.

Permalink Eye

They go forward, but dip and wobble slightly. Behind her, Helas pushes a trickle of magic into the 'wing, stabilizing it.

It's like the first time riding a horse. 

...This essence-pushing feels a lot like doing something complicated with muscles you've never used this way before, actually.

"Steady, steady. Okay. When you feel okay, slightly turn right."

Permalink Eye

Yeah, still feels weird, but it's getting less actively freaky.

--Here's hoping she doesn't run out of Essence mid-flight. That would be bad.

Let's see about this whole 'turning right' thing.

Permalink Eye

She can successfully turn right! She can even successfully make two big circuits of the yard! And then Helas says, "Okay, try to land now. I will catch us if you can not."

Permalink Eye

Okay, gently does it. Like a teensy songbird landing on a teensy twig without disturbing it.

She tries to land.

Permalink Eye

It's a little wobbly, and it's kind of a hard landing. But it's a landing!

"Not so bad, yes?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah! We didn't die!"

Permalink Eye

"Hmph. I would have caught you if you were going to kill us. Can you do that for one hundred miles, though?"

 

Permalink Eye

It definitely used Essense, but not that much?

"I should be able to?"

Permalink Eye

Not that much on the grand scale.

...On that note, her Essence is filling right back up almost as fast as the flying around drained it.

"Is your head. You want the money, I want to not make two trips, good deal all around, hokay. I go grab my canteen and then we go."

Permalink Eye

Hey, sweet, more Essense! If she doesn't quite have enough in her tank, she can always make an emergency landing, sit around for a minute to get more Essence, and then go back up. --That's maybe not the most sensible plan, but it is a plan.

"Sounds good to me."

Permalink Eye

"If you want snack, get now. Once we fly, follow me, okay? Okay."

And Helas slouches off into one of the side buildings for a minute, then comes back.

Permalink Eye

Food can wait till money.

Permalink Eye

Postal workers load up the two 'wings with various boxes and bundles. And then it's time to go. Helas waves jauntily as she rises over the city and banks left, towards the sea. She keeps relatively slow, which about matches a horse going very quickly. They can shout at each other over the wind still.

Permalink Eye

Marena is going to try and keep steady and not wobble about everywhere.

And memorise the route. That seems like a good idea.

Permalink Eye

The route is west-northwest. It's apparently not that hard to fly these things (in a straight line) once you get used to it. It wants to keep moving in the same direction.

The route takes them over the ocean, though. That might be a bit of an issue for the 'land for a bit' plan.

Permalink Eye

Not needing to steer much is nice.

Okay, Emergency Plan B: pray you're not over water. By the time she's nearly out of essence, her anima banner is definitely going to be showing, and then she can't escape into a bird.

Permalink Eye

They pass over the smoky city, out the busy harbor, over ships under sail and steam alike. "I hate smoke ships," Helas complains. "Ugly. Smelly. Awful. I hope they do not come to my home."

Permalink Eye

"You're not from here?"

Yeah, yeah, different accent, but there are too many accents here.

Permalink Eye

"I am not. I am from a place with islands, long shorelines, warm always. White stone, sea air, olive trees... I do not know much of history but even I have heard that Athens was an important place for a long time. A city that has stood for more than two thousand years."

Permalink Eye

"Two thousand years? That's impressive."

It isn't, but hey, no reason to contradict her.

Permalink Eye

"But it is going to be destroyed by the demons. Like everything else. I will go to combat school when I am old enough, and fight them."

Permalink Eye

Okay, how is someone old enough to pilot one of these ridiculous things, but not old enough to fight? What.

"Are the demons imminently near it?"

Permalink Eye

"Last I heard, the line of defense was from Tirana to Thessaloniki, two hundred miles from Athens. But I know that will not hold forever. My home will be destroyed. Is it not better to accept that now and mourn in advance than to hope and hope and have that hope crushed? Besides, my mater and pater and sister are safe, so perhaps I have brought my home with me."

Permalink Eye

"There's something to be said about mourning before hand. Less gut wrenching when it finally happens." ...and nope, not going to get maudlin about Thorns at someone who isn't even old enough to fight, even if it's really tempting.

"Though it's always better when you're family manges to get out too."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. They are safe. I made sure of it. Everyone says I am too young to do these things. What am I supposed to do, weave baskets and fret about the demons? Bah."

Permalink Eye

"'Oh, howabout I just sit here and wait for someone else to do it! That's a perfect plan," she says in a sing song voice.

Permalink Eye

"Right! Oh, how about I just pray and burn a sacrifice to the gods, I'm sure they'll solve all my problems! My fate is already decided! Not!" Helas is speeding up steadily as she works herself up.

Permalink Eye

Marena is going to try and... not to do that. And maybe chill Helas a bit? That seems like a non terrible idea.

"I know some people who think that spiders enforce fate. Special ones. But still. Spiders. Spiders of Fate."

...and here's hoping she won't be struck down by some narky pattern spiders. Sorry spiders, no mid air sacrifices for you.

Permalink Eye

Nothing reaches down from the heavens and smites them into the sea.

Helas slows down again. "Who controls the world? Spiders. Ghostly animals. Petty godlings living on a mountain. Giant winged lizards. One all-powerful vain man who we must venerate, as is the fashion here. Or humans?"

Permalink Eye

"Wait there's only one vain man, I thought they were three? ...though that just bolsters your point.

Humans have a lot more power than most give them credit for."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. Even those of us without magic to call their own have more power than they think they do."

She sighs loudly and closes her eyes, maintaining perfectly level flight despite this.

"We are here. It is now. We have a job to finish, yes?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, let's get this over with.

Thanks for the lessons. And making sure I didn't splatter myself."

Permalink Eye

"No problem. Maybe you stop me from splatter myself some day."

 

Helas goes quiet for the rest of the trip. They pass a few more ships in the sea, and eventually come to the shore again, on another, slightly smaller city's port. Helas goes in on a smooth, slow descent to land.

They spend about two hours in the air in total. And when Marena stops flying this thing, there's a strange sense of soreness that doesn't seem to have a particular location. Probably from all that flying.

Permalink Eye

That is... hella weird. Essence expenditure doesn't usually make you sore. ...and there's no good way to ask if she's pretending she's a normal witch.

Probably a bad idea to go straight back in the air while mysteriously sore and Essence depleted. Unless they want her to turn straight around, she's going to find a pub, and regain some Essense (or "regain" some "Essense"), then head back.

Permalink Eye

It'll be a couple hours, that's standard. They need to sort and unload and stuff. Helas finds a friend of hers and disappears somewhere.

There are plenty of pubs! Some with live music and everything! They're not as busy as they could be since it's still early afternoon, though. This city has less constant noise and construction than Bristol, and the buildings are a different style and on average cruder, but it's still a city. And the Christian code seems to be less strict here - there aren't nearly as many random crosses on things, and people are dressed more relaxedly.

Permalink Eye

Two hours might be a little short to do anything in quotation marks, but it's totally enough time to get a drink and some food. It's a shame though, considering the levels of relaxedness.

She heads towards the grimiest and cheapest looking pub nearby.

Permalink Eye

The most promising candidate, the Stubborn Donkey, has a few scruffy men and a couple of women sitting at tables or the bar, one bored-looking bartender, and two musicians arguing about what to play next.

"A fairy! Beauty of the forest put in flesh!" Proclaims one of the drunks.

"That's no fairy, ya idiot. Just another girl from the colonies or somethin'. Come on, I think that's enough. Your wife'll kill me if I let you drink yourself asleep again."

 

"Don't mind them," the bartender tells her. "What'll you have? I got ales, beers, brandy, wines, and a little of this vod-ka stuff I got from a friend if you want something exotic."

Permalink Eye

She probably find it funny that the drunks are not entirely wrong. She's definitely on some level forest-y.

"Hey, at least they were complimentary about it. I'm feeling a little exotic--" she sticks out her tongue "--so I'll try the vodka."

Permalink Eye

The bartender blinks at the tongue, then breaks into a grin. "Hah! Well, most of my usual b- er, my fine and kindly patrons have never seen anything more exotic than a particularly fat sheep! I don't know your story but whatever it is I'm sure it'll be entertaining. I'll get the vodka. Mind, it's strong stuff, and exotic doesn't necessarily mean good..."

With that caveat he pours her a shot glass of clear, strong vodka from a tall bottle labeled in Cyrillic.

Permalink Eye

"No one has ever accused me of having good taste in alcohol. Or anything.

My story's interesting-- but hard to tell in a way that sounds true. As soon as you say 'magic forest' people start going 'uh-huh, and I bet the fat sheep flying were flying too.' Not unreasonably."

She takes a sip from the glass. Fuck that's strong. She just about manages to not make a face, and downs it all.

Permalink Eye

"There's room in the world for all kinds of crazy nonsense. I was a sailor half a lifetime ago, saw some crazy stuff. Magic forest? Maybe I'll reserve judgement until I see it, but I won't go 'yeah, right'."

At the vodka-downing, "Impressive. This brew is from Orussia. The Rus take their drinking seriously, that's for sure."

Permalink Eye

"The magic forest story would probably be more plausible if I knew how it worked. All I know is that I was in a forest with friends, in a country where I don't look odd--" Okay so the moonsilver tattoos look strange everywhere, but leaving that aside-- "and then I ended up in a different forest sans friends. So.

I might have to see if I can work my way over to Orussia at some point. Sounds like a fun place."

Permalink Eye

"Some people don't believe in Wild Magic. I know it's rare, but it does exist, and it does things like that. Sorry for your, er, displacement. As for Orussia, they have a dour sort of culture - perhaps not as fun as you're thinking. I'd advise talking to a Rus before going through the trouble to get all the way there, at any rate. You could stop over in Suomus or something maybe, halfway between here and there."

One of the bar patrons says, "You kinda remind me of the, what's the name, the Maya? Tattoos. You from somewhere with a lot of steep mountains and ocean on either side?"

Permalink Eye

She waves a hand. "Ehh, don't worry. I'll work my way back. I'm probably gonna stay round these parts for awhile before heading off somewhere else, and who knows, may be I'll find a way to get back by then."

"Nah, I'm from a forest-y place with pretensions of irrigation. Only got ocean on one side too."

Permalink Eye

They both scratch their heads. "Never heard of somewhere like that where they look like you do. Big world, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"I've never heard of anywhere like this until I fell here, so-- yeah, big world."

Permalink Eye

"Aye. Not quite so big for witches, what with the flying. I've been assuming you are one, lass, but come to think of it, it ain't necessarily so."

Permalink Eye

"You assume right! Looking like what you are: so convenient," she says with enthusiasm and barely detectable sarcasm. "Though today was the first time I flew, so that was... fun."

Permalink Eye

They look a bit confused at this. One guy from one of the tables (most of the bar is paying attention to her, now) pipes up, "What, is flyin' a sin where you're from? My aunt's cousin is a witch and she says everyone starts flying when they're like twelve!"

Permalink Eye

...damnit. Time to come up with a plausible lie about Creation! "They don't think anything is wrong with flying, it's more-- I don't think we have as many witches? There seem to be more witches round these parts. So even if someone came up with a flying contraption, the know-how didn't travel far."

Permalink Eye

That's strange, but who really understands how witches work, anyway? The bar crowd seems to accept this explanation.

"Another shot of vodka, miss? I don't think I have your name yet."

Permalink Eye

Yay, her answer was non suspicious!

"Ehh, I've sated my curiosity. And I should probably stick to weaker stuff, seeing as I'm flying back out later today.

My name's Marena. And yours?"

Permalink Eye

"The name's Arwen."

The bar patrons all want to introduce themselves to the exotic witch, too! "Brynmor." "Lloyd." "Harold." "Maddox!" "Garreth."

Permalink Eye

Yay, attention! (Love of attention is gonna shorten her lifespan, but still. Attention: it's great.)

"Hi all!"

Permalink Eye

The bar crowd wants to know: What kind of adventures does a witch get into? Has she ever seen a Neuroi? Does she want a tour of Cardiff? What's her home like, was she someone important there?

(The musicians at the side of the place have finally decided what to play next, apparently. Something cheerful but slow on a stringed instrument and some kind of woodwind. Someone flips them a coin - buskers with permission to play here, apparently.)

Permalink Eye

"Apparently, getting very lost. Back in my home country, I worked as a wandering helping person; protecting places from bandits, giving advice, checking things were all going okay." ( She guesses 'Beating up gods and retrieving magic keys' is probably the wrong answer.)

"I might have? I've seen some dangerous supernatural critters, but I'm not sure they're the same as what you call Neuroi."

"I might have to pass, I'll be back up in the air pretty soon."

"I came from a city. Beautiful place. That was our main export: fancy shit. Got, uh, unfortunately conquered some years back. That's when the itinerant helper thing started."

Permalink Eye

Paris over in Gallia is famous for that. London, to a lesser extent, London's fancy shit is more like, high-tech shit? Sort of.

Someone has a sketch of a Neuroi.

Being an itinerant adventurer sort sounds risky. Is it sort of like being part of a wandering knightly order?

Permalink Eye

"I'm... pretty sure I haven't seen one of those.

It was risky, but eh, it was worth it. It's not quite like being in a knightly order? My group was a little more vigilante. They were wandering monastic orders, but they didn't go out as far into the wilderness as we did."

Permalink Eye

Monks!

The bar's opinion varies wildly on monks. Eventually the argument concludes and they come to an agreement that they're best left alone on their hills singing or copying books, or whatever it is monks do.

Permalink Eye

She makes a note that apparently these guys' monks don't seem to have sweet martial arts moves or elemental powers. Weird.

"So, any local happenings? We're pretty far from the front, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Local happenings? Not much. Business is fast and workers are scarce, because of the army. And aye, the front is all the way east in Karlsland and Orussia and the Balkans. The Neuroi will have to chew through all of Europa to get to us. Not that it's good to let that happen - that's why they're always recruiting to fight them."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, and you wouldn't want to leave the people over their stuck on their own with the Nueroi.

Little news is good news, still."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's what I mean. Even if we were fighting the Gallians twenty years ago, and the Venetians before that, and even Suomus... Greater threat and all."

Permalink Eye

"Nothing like a good threat to unite people. Happened back home, too. Did any of those wars get all the way over here?"

Permalink Eye

"Gallians did coastal raids. I think the Suomus war sank a bunch of fishing boats? Being an island means it's hard to send an army over here, it's good. Though sometimes the nobles here start fightin', too."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. Civil wars. Such lovely things."

Permalink Eye

"At least they're over fast. Some noble's knights ride around burning stuff, a few people die, a few cows get stolen, maybe one of the nobles gets his head cut off, and we all go back home in time for the harvest. Long wars are worse."

Permalink Eye

"Civil wars aren't so bad when they're short lived, yeah. Round my neck of the woods, they've got a bit of a tendency to be not short. So."

Permalink Eye

"Things get a bit rough in our neck of the woods sometimes, but we haven't had really bad fighting for a while. Just Welsh nobles fighting English nobles and Scots making loud speeches in Parliament. The Isles are one of the most civilized places in the world in that respect, methinks."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, from what I've seen you're chill enough folks."

(Yeah right.)

Permalink Eye

Well, nobody's attacked her at all this whole week!

"I'll drink to that!"

The bartender obligingly fetches that man a refill.

"I hear they haven't have any fighting at all in Albion. Nothin' worse than the occasional bandit problem."

"But I heard they don't have cities. Just tents and mud houses."

"Maybe the neighbors having less stuff means you have less reason to go steal it?" Shrug.

Permalink Eye

"I've never heard of people having less stuff leading to less stealing. It ends up being 'hey, that guy has better mud! I should make that my mud!'"

Permalink Eye

They don't have any evidence to the contrary but they argue about it for a while anyway.

The bar continues to be a bar. Rambling conversation, drunken singing (including a couple of more bawdy songs), booze. Not a bad time.

Permalink Eye

...and it looks like her two hours are nearly up. She says a cheery goodbye to the bar patrons, and heads back to the air field.

Permalink Eye

Assuming she does in fact pay for her drink at some point, they wish her well!

The airfield folks recognize her! She can come in and wait by the 'wings. Helas isn't quite back yet - it'll be another fifteenish minutes.

One of the postal workers asks, "...You're not actually in the UDF, right? You're an independent they're hiring on for a run or two?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm probably not going to an independent for too long, but that's the sitch at the moment, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. So, uh..." He glances around. "If there happened to be an avenue for making a little extra cash that the big-wigs would not necessarily approve of, what would you think of that?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I'd think that the big-wigs really didn't need to know.

And that entrepreneurial spirit should be encouraged."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, entrepreneurial... I've got a special delivery. Nothing dangerous or anything, just a packet of documents. But the brass is so strict about 'critical military use only', it's stupid. Barely adds any weight to the 'wing, doesn't slow you down, and you're going in the right direction already, right? Back to Bristol. So, these have got to get to my buddy as soon as possible. I'd find some other witch, hire her to run them, but if you're already here, already going there... You hear me?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I hear you.

Who do you want this to get to?"

Permalink Eye

"It needs to get to Mr. Albert Henson of the Westward Boat Company's prototyping division. Straight to him, ideally. They've got a big sign near the river, near the harbors in Bristol. I'll give you a few shillings now, and he can give you a few more when it gets there."

Permalink Eye

"Don't worry about it. The only people who'll know are you, me, and Albert."

She considers stuffing the packet down her shirt, but no, that's going to be too obvious. Giant skirt pockets will have to do.

Permalink Eye

And here are a few coins. "Good! Good." Nervous glancing again. "There may be more opportunities like this later if it goes well, but I can't promise anything. And anyway, it looks like they're just about done loading for the return trip, so good luck!"

Permalink Eye

"Good luck to you too!"

Is Helas back yet?

Permalink Eye

"Oh, and tell him it's from Danny or he'll just kick you out!"

 

Helas is leaning against a wall, looking bored.

Permalink Eye

She waves behind her as she walks away "No worries!"

She walks up to Helas. "Are we ready to go up again?"

Permalink Eye

"Ya. They are finishing now. Is an annoying wait, no? Too short to go sleep or study or spar, too long to count as just a small break."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, there's not much you can do in just two hours.

It'll be nice to get back up in the air, and back home."

Permalink Eye

"The air is always refreshing. The open sky. Well, except when it's raining." She shrugs. "Let us go."

Postal workers clear off of their 'wings. Back into the sky!

Permalink Eye

Sky!

Taking off and flying is less scary now that she has more of the hang of it.

Permalink Eye

The trip back is uneventful. Helas is quiet the whole way.

When they land, "Freelancer? Go talk to the clerk in the mail office for your pay."

Permalink Eye

Marena goes and does that.

Permalink Eye

Here's some money! Here's a stamped work order form! It's unclear if she's supposed to keep it, or what.

Permalink Eye

It's probably best to keep it? Don't want to throw it out and then realise she really needed it.

She heads to the docks, looking for the sign for the Westward Boat Comany.

Permalink Eye

It's not that hard to find the place. Finding the right building might be tricky though - They own like half a street.

Permalink Eye

Well, that's a certain kind of hard to miss.

Let's just walk into a random open door, and see if we can start looking for our Albert from there.

Permalink Eye

Looks like some kind of showroom or museum! High ceiling, a few sharply dressed people looking at various boats. They look like pretty fancy boats for the tech level, admittedly - apparently that one can go at 18 knots - six faster than the competition! - and engine doesn't smell and the smoke goes out the back so it doesn't ruin the view. A luxury craft.

A woman at a desk near the entrance asks, "Can I help you, miss...?"

Permalink Eye

...okay so this is a little more public than she would have liked. It'll do.

"I'm here to see Albert. Danny sent me."

Permalink Eye

"Albert who? Danny who? We employ over a thousand people, ma'am. I don't suppose you have an appointment I can look up?"

Permalink Eye

"Albert Henson. Prototyping division. Sent by Danny Forgot-To-Give-His-Last-Name,-Just-A-Delivery."

Permalink Eye

"Mr. Henson, I see. I'm afraid the prototyping division is a secure area. We can't let just anyone walk in and interrupt their important work, you see. I can give you directions to the mail room."

Permalink Eye

"That would be lovely, thank you!"

...this is going to require some sneakiness, isn't it?

Permalink Eye

And now she has directions to the mailroom from a standoffish secretary.

Sneakiness will indeed be called for, it seems.

Permalink Eye

There are probably sensible ways to sneak in. As a lunar, she has some thoroughly awesome and thoroughly stupid ways to sneak in.

She goes to the mailroom. She puts the documents into Elsewhere for safe keeping -- and turns into a bird. Are birds meant to be in secure areas? No. Are people going to be less alarmed by a bird showing up in a secure area than a random stranger? Hopefully.

She flies out of the room, and starts looking for-- a sign or something. Some indication on what direction the prototyping division probably is.

Permalink Eye

A bird indoors is a bit alarming! She is shooed outdoors post-haste.

A view from the sky clears things up a bit. Prototyping is probably going to be factory-ish, but not an acutal factory? Some kind of mix between offices and workshop-type structures, possibly with weird looking boat parts lying around.

That bit over there behind a high fence and with a gate guard looks about right.

Permalink Eye

Huzzah! Something that looks like a prototyping place.

She flies over the fence, and looks for an open window or door.

Permalink Eye

There are a couple of open windows on the main structure. Two leading into offices (only one occupied), and a row of open warehouse windows leading into a large two-story workspace where bits of machinery are lying around, a dozen or so people working on them or talking about math and going over design papers.

Permalink Eye

So, this Mr Henson sounds important. Probably the sort of guy to have his own office. Into the occupied office window! (And if that is the right office, she'll have reasonable amount of privacy to change back into a human, without startling too many people by a bird turning into a woman.)

Permalink Eye

"-Bloody birds! Out, out!" The man throws a crumpled up paper at her.

Permalink Eye

Does he have a sign on his desk, or anything in here that makes it look like he's Albert? If not, out she flies!

Permalink Eye

No signs on his desk. Lots of papers and instruments, though. It's kind of hard to guess how important he is, but it's a pretty fancy office?

Permalink Eye

Hmm, she can always come back later if it turns out to be him. --unless he closes the window. That would be frustrating. And there's been a distinct lack of useful signage so far.

She can talk as a bird. Maybe now would be a good time for that. "Are you Albert Henson?"

Permalink Eye

He had started muttering to himself about what sort of bird she might be, but, "-A witch! Of course! Bah, magic. What do you want with me?"

Permalink Eye

She turns back into a human, summons the documents, and hands them over. "Danny asked me to deliver this to you. Oh, and next time you talk to Danny, tell him to give more specific directions."

Permalink Eye

"Danny? Danny who? I don't know any Danny. You can't just barge into my office! All the security nonsense and still a witch flies right into my very office!"

Permalink Eye

"...You're not Albert, are you? You could have said as fucking much. I am trying to help your company, by delivering a letter to Mr Albert Henson, of the prototyping division, from Danny No-Last-Name in Bristol, and you are making this absurdly difficult."

Permalink Eye

"I am Mr. Albert fucking Henson, young lady, and I don't appreciate that tone. Whoever gave you that packet is either some sort of charlatan or some sort of idiot. I don't have any informants called Danny, and there are already established channels for this sort of thing. How am I to know that whatever information is in there isn't worse than useless - misleading, a waste of time? How much did he pay you to do this? I don't doubt at all that those bastards at Windward would consider a pound to distract and vex me and my team for half an hour to be well worth the money."

Permalink Eye

"I am merely the messenger here. Whether the information is good, bad, I have no clue. Important enough to risk getting caught putting it on a military delivery flight, but who knows, maybe confusing you is worth that risk. Maybe you are god's gift to boating. Who knows! Not me. ...and goddamnit, Danny was a cheapskate. --And I am going to be telling him that."

Permalink Eye

"I harbor some doubt you will even be able to find him again from the sound of this story. Good day, bird-witch."

Permalink Eye

Ooh, she's going to track this Danny down. Do not underestimate the tenacity of a pissed off Lunar, random dockworker. Do not underestimate it!

And track Albert Henderson down, if this is some double layered bamboozlement so he can get out of paying for his intel. Or if he informs anyone of this transaction.

But screw this for a game of soldiers, she's turning back into a bird and leaving.

Permalink Eye

Nobody stops her from doing that.

Where to next?

Permalink Eye

...she's used a lot of Essense, so she should probably rest up. Maybe a pub. Get a drink, some food and a place to sleep, find someone to sleep with, and maybe actually sleep.

Permalink Eye

Well, there are plenty of pubs and plenty of food and plenty of guys and plenty of beds.

The next morning is announced by the clattering of construction starting back up again.

Permalink Eye

Well, time to head back to the post office, and see if there are any more freelance jobs, or if a position has opened up for her.

(And hey, if she ends up sent back to Cardiff, revenge will be quick!)

Permalink Eye

The bureaucracy moves slowly, but it moves. If she wants to officially join the UDF as a witch associate (courier) she is invited to take the General Skills Test at the London Assembly Yards.

Freelance work running up north on a longer and better-paying flight than Cardiff was is available, though.

Permalink Eye

So the first thing would require knowing where London is, so that's going to have to go on the backburner. She'll get around to it. Eventually.

More freelance work would be good though! She can probably do a longer flight. And another city to explore -- and potentially cause chaos in -- would be fun. ...She of course doesn't mention the chaos part.

Permalink Eye

Well, she could always ask for directions to London.

Worcester is a fairly long flight. She gets a loaded up heavy 'wing and a partner to fly with again. This one barely acknowledges her.

Permalink Eye

She could, but freelance flying is working out pretty great so far. And she gets transportation to these cities while doing it.

She can probably make Worcester. The last flight didn't dip into her Essence reserves that much. She says hello to the quiet person, to be polite.

Permalink Eye

"Hi. Let's just get this over with, yeah? Course is fifteen, match my speed."

Permalink Eye

"No worries!"

Eh, they can't all be social.

Permalink Eye

Her grumpy fellow witch is happy to lead the way over pastoral farms and small towns, all the way up to a city on a river which seems to be a fair bit smaller than Bristol was, and also more compact, not running along the river and shore. Still probably counts as a city and not a large town, but it's a lot closer to the line.

They pass a pair of middle-aged witches flying actual brooms, who wave politely as they whoosh past.

Permalink Eye

She waves back.

Even small cities will probably have something to do. She'll find something.

Permalink Eye

Well, there's always bars. There are some around here, as in any city. The biggest building in town is the Worcester Small Arms & Ammunition Factory & Store. There's also a fancy botanical garden sort of thing, which seems to have some kind of party going on.

Permalink Eye

How fancily dressed are the people in the gardens? Does it look like she could sneak in and not look completely out of place?

Permalink Eye

Not courtroom gown fancy, but pretty fancy. About like that boat guy who's probably rich-ish was dressed. She could probably do with a change of clothes.

Permalink Eye

Should she be saving Essence, and not using it for no good reason? Yes. Is she going to do that?

No.

She uses Changing Plumage Mastery, and changes into a fancy green dress in an approximation of the local style. --with a fancy, dance like twirl to make it a stunt, instead of flashing people.

She heads towards whatever looks most entrance like.

Permalink Eye

The obvious display of magic attracts attention, but not particularly lasting attention.

The big trellis archway is the most entrance-like entrance. There's a short line - they seem to be selling tickets.

Permalink Eye

She has some money on her, and courier-ing seems relatively steady so far.

She'll wait in line and find out the price from the ticket-seller. If it's too much she can just leave and go be overdressed in a pub or something.

Permalink Eye

The sign says it's a celebration of the newly completed Worcester-Birmingham railway! Fine food and wine, specially decorated garden, live music by half an orchestra, exotic fruit, and a display of fireworks (generously provided by Worcester Small Arms & Ammunition) for later. The whole works. The cost is about three days of staying in an inn and eating and drinking fairly well, or a bit more if she wants a round trip to Birmingham later. She can well afford it, especially if courier work stays steady.

Permalink Eye

And it'll be a fine opportunity to find out what a railway is! She pays the money and heads in.

Permalink Eye

Rich people hanging around chatting, fancy sculpted hedges, well-tended flower beds, servants in dark professional outfits wandering around with trays of snacks and drinks offer her some. The orchestra seems to be playing in a big central sort of area.

She catches snatches of gossip while walking by. Ignoring the inane or personal bits and focusing on gossip that sounds relevant:

"...hardly a luxurious trip, but it's very cheap, see, even common workers will be able to afford a ticket once in a while..."

"...You looking forward to the fireworks? My father says they can just replace the fuss- er, the phosphorescent chemicals with iron balls and make shells to fight the demons with!"

"I'm just glad we managed to petition them to move the station to the north end of the city where it won't be so noisy..."

"...The Crown's money contributed as well, and I made an investment into the rail line myself, but..."

"...They say the whole of Britannia will be criss-crossed with rail lines in twenty years." "If the Neuroi don't get us first." "Oh, toss, that's negative thinking. The war effort is really getting into swing lately, what with all the new taxes..."

Permalink Eye

So, it's definitely some sort of transport device, and it might be noisy? Just because rich folk say something's noisy doesn't mean it is, but it still might be.

And they're optimistic about the Neuroi. That's something.

She wanders around a bit, to see if this railway is actually here, or if this is just where the party for it is.

Permalink Eye

This is just where the party is, apparently.

There's a sort of podium set up in the central area, near the orchestra and near long tables with fancy silverware. Behind the podium is a fairly large painting that shows a big, steaming iron box towing boxes with windows in them, and people gathered around.

Permalink Eye

It's a... fire powered... wheeled thing?

...that's actually not any weirder than the heavy wing brooms.

She goes to grab some finger food, and maybe find a conversation to insinuate herself in.

Permalink Eye

Interesting choices for a conversation to insinuate include a bombastically dressed man with tanned skin telling some kind of exciting story involving wide gestures to an audience of a dozen or so, three middle-aged men who seem to be discussing how the railway works, complete with technical diagrams, and a pack of young ladies walking around loudly judging all the food, wine, plants, and other guests, carrying several bottles of drink with them.

Permalink Eye

Oooh, options!

The 'how does this work' discussion is definitely what Misho would do -- but she's not Misho.

Plus, it'd be easy enough to get into the back of the bombastic dude's audience.

Permalink Eye

"-And then a thunderous explosion as the witches' attack hit home. The demon's black and red form shattered into countless glittering shards! They'd killed one of the foul things, but there was still another, and gaining. We could see the red glint as it prepared to fire again. Our sister ship had already lost a mast and was listing. Our captain was determined to aid our comrades... But we had no cannon, and muskets would have no chance of hitting such a distant target. Desperate for anything we could do to help, I hatched a plan. We had barrels of oil and tar in the hold - and I know from unpleasant personal experience that burning tar makes a voluminous, noxious, thick, black smoke. It could hide us as the witches formed up to fight the second demon! But we had to act fast, for it fired again and again every few seconds, smashing timber and lighting fires, or missing by only feet and sending up spray and steam... The Captain ordered rudder hard to port, sails let out to full, so we would come around behind our friends, exposing ourselves to the demon..."

The story continues with a little bit of blundering and a scare when the impromptu smokescreen fire threatens to spread, but the two sailboats are ultimately saved. When it finishes, everyone claps pretty enthusiastically. He's a good storyteller.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, he is. And possibly a good source to mine for info on what demons actually are-- if he was anything resembling a reliable source. Which he isn't.

But still.

She wanders up close. "So, do you have any other stories of dashing adventures?"

Permalink Eye

"Nothing quite as dramatic as that! I like my head where it is! There was this one incident involving one of the princes of Istanbul..." He gives a smirk and looks around - about a third of the audience is still here. "But I couldn't possibly bore you all with another long-winded tale without getting a drink first! Shall we go track down a server?"

Someone fairly enthusiastically volunteers to do it for him! He warmly thanks them as they go off.

"He seems like a nice lad. Hello, miss, you only caught the tail end of that story, unless I'm mistaken? You can call me Rost."

Permalink Eye

"It was a good tail end though. I'm Marena."

Permalink Eye

He smiles near-blindingly. "Thank you! A pleasure to meet you, I'm sure. I've only been in town for a few days, but I don't recognize you, I think - And I think I would have remembered you. Just passing through and liked the look of the party?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, I've only been in town less than a day, so it's not surprising you haven't seen me. Parties tend to be interesting events, and if they aren't interesting they can be made interesting. That's why I'm here."

Permalink Eye

"Truer words have never - well, have probably been said, but not that I've heard today," Rost jokes. "There are interesting people here. I can only presume you are a witch, my lady. Mr. Corveau there is a merchant from Gallia who's here to invest in the future. And Ms. Engelhart here helped manufacture the fireworks - they're beautiful, I think, and moreso for how they do not last."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not that subtle, am I?

I'm assuming the fireworks will be happening at night? Kinda hard to have day time ones."

Permalink Eye

"And it's always better to flatter and be wrong, than the reverse, of course." He winks. "Yes, I believe they're scheduled just after sunset. It's an all-day affair, speeches and socializing now, a tour of the station and railcars later, and then back here for dinner and fireworks."

Too bad she's supposed to fly back in about two hours, then.

Permalink Eye

On the one hand: fireworks. On the other hand: money. ...yeah, money wins that fight.

"Yeah, and there are a lot worse things than looking like what you are."

Permalink Eye

"Presentation can do wonderful things. Showmanship! Though I'm sure such a beautiful lady as yourself has little need to fake it."

The guy who ran off to fetch him a drink returns. "Ah! Thank you, good sir! Now, the thing you have to know about Persia..." He launches into another story, clearly enjoying the attention.

Permalink Eye

"Heh, no reason not to gild the lily."

She sticks around for the Persia story. She hasn't heard of Persia before, and it'd be worthwhile to know something about it.

Permalink Eye

He paints it as an exotic desert landscape full of rich spice traders and lush oases and beautiful old cities and bored royalty. It's also "the gateway to the Far East," apparently.

Permalink Eye

So pretend it's the South, and she won't be too wrong. ...Her south, not their south. This is going to get confusing.

"What's the far east like?"

Permalink Eye

"It is a land of dense jungle, high mountains, peninsulas and archipelagos. Mastery of the ocean is power in the far east. And halfway around the world, at the edge of the great Pacific Ocean, is the Empire of Fusan, a powerful island nation, rich with goods and culture and history, that exerts dominion over the waves."

Permalink Eye

So it's... like the West. She does her best to not go cross eyed trying to keep track. It's starting to sound like this place doesn't have Elemental poles, the geography is juts not matching up-- but she can't really ask that.  At least not without sounding stupid.

Which does not bode well for getting back home.

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like a fascinating place. Do they have much trouble with demons?"

Permalink Eye

"From what I hear, they've lost many ships and a few islands, but the homeland is safe. I haven't been in person since before the war, so that's just what I pick up from the news and rumors, mind."

Permalink Eye

"From what I've heard, rumors is most of what everyone has to go on."

Permalink Eye

"The military has better communications, but they're real tight-lipped about it. 'Operational security,' she says, 'Who says the Neuroi aren't spying on us?' Bah. They don't talk."

Permalink Eye

"Still, can't be too careful. And even if the Neuroi aren't listening in, who really know who else might be?"

Permalink Eye

"I suppose I wouldn't be very surprised if one could get up to various nefariousness with access to the military telegraph network. And frightening rumors can turn into panicked mobs if one is not careful. Still, all the secrecy rubs me the wrong way."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, and it's not like lack of information stops panicked rumours--"

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps. It's all a bit moot from my perspective - I'm nobody of real power, just a bit of money and some audacity and a connection or two."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, you can turn those things into real power, if you know what you're doing. "

Permalink Eye

"That sounds like hard work. Having enough power to push people around is such a different thing than having enough to not be pushed around too much, yourself. Though it makes me sound like a layabout - why would I want to?"

A few of the rich people listening to their conversation seem a bit uncomfortable at this, though one young man nods agreeably. "I don't want to manage my pa's land and business. I'd screw it all up."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's sensible. No point chasing after power if you don't want it, or think you'd be bad at it. That's a recipe for unhappiness. 'Enough not to be pushed around' is enough for most people-- but it's worthwhile knowing your options, you know?"

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps, perhaps. I will say - exotic luxuries and the chance to travel in relative comfort are the ticket to happiness, for me."

Permalink Eye

"I'm guessing the war has made both of those tricky to get."

Permalink Eye

"Tricky, yes. Impossible, no. I will tell you, soldiers and fighting Witches appreciate my knowledge of... Procurement."

Permalink Eye

"Ahh, I see--"

Permalink Eye

"But such matters are not fit for such mixed company, no?" He winks.

Permalink Eye

"That's the shame about mixed company, isn't it? It's so delightful other times, but in this case--"

Permalink Eye

"Indeed. My ways of getting spices, salt, good silk, medicine and such, and sturdy boots by the crate are a bit too boring for a dinner party."

Permalink Eye

"Such a shame trade is such a dull topic, even when it's goods so important for saving people's lives."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure there are people here who would appreciate that conversation, but telling adventure stories to pretty girls is much more fun."

Permalink Eye

"I'm glad it's so enjoyable! Adventure stories are so delightful."

Permalink Eye

He also winked at some of the other ladies listening in, but Marena's getting some (frankly unsurprising) jealously.

Rost starts another adventure story about Liberion, the continent across the Atlantic Ocean, and nearly getting sacrificed to the gods by some particularly warlike native tribe. (This one sounds a bit more fake than the others if you're much experienced with made-up stories.)

Permalink Eye

Yesss, jealousy. On the one hand, it's not very sporting of her to appreciate that, but on the other hand: yesssssss.

She listens appreciatively, and doesn't comment on how fake the story sounds. (Not that human sacrifice never happens, but it's not that often.)

(She also makes a note to herself that next time she gets some paper, to draw a really bad map of these places. It's getting complicated.)

Permalink Eye

Well, there's a map on display on the little stage where some fat man is making a pretentious speech about industry and hard work. It shows the town she's in now and a few cities, including London to the southeast. The path of the railroad line is in bold red on it. She could probably buy a real map somewhere.

Rost continues socializing with people. He makes a show of drinking a lot but is actually tempering his intake quite a bit. The fancy lunch is served, dominated by elaborately prepared meats and desserts.

Permalink Eye

Food!

Also meat! She does her best to eat in a vaguely lady-like way. And also maybe manage to sit next to Rost.

Permalink Eye

One of the gentlemen questioning Rost about the cities of Egypt (which is, apparently, near but not in the Middle East) is eager to show off his pocket watch to the pretty lady! It's 12:37. They wanted her to fly back at 1:30.

She can manage to sit next to Rost at the cost of getting the other ladies who also wanted to do that to make a couple of snide comments.

Permalink Eye

Wahey, most of an hour to eat and socialise!

She's okay with snide comments. More than okay.

Permalink Eye

Little do they know 'so forward' is actually a compliment.

Rost runs out of stories and expertly deflects attempts to get him to tell more, getting the locals to tell their own tales instead (like the runaway train prototype that wrecked a fence, freed a whole bunch of sheep, and took two days to round them all up again.) He asks about peoples' homes, their businesses, their families. He eventually slips away from the crowd, into the gardens.

Permalink Eye

The local stories are pretty good too.

She doesn't want to look like she's following Rost, so she waits a few minutes before heading into the gardens after him.

Permalink Eye

He's muttering under his breath and furiously scribbling into a book, in a little nook. He doesn't notice her immediately.

Permalink Eye

"Would I be interrupting?"

Permalink Eye

The book snaps shut and the smile comes back in an instant. "Not at all! You wanted a break from the crowd too, hm?"

Permalink Eye

"Mhm. Parties are lovely, but they can be so draining."

Permalink Eye

"I think every one of them feels the same way, deep down."

Permalink Eye

"I'd say there's enough people in this world that there's a little variety to each party.

Not much point writing about in your diary if they weren't."

Permalink Eye

"True, or I'd attend fewer of them. It's a ledger, not a diary, strictly speaking. Information is a much lighter good than boots, after all."

Permalink Eye

"I get it, I get it. Surprised there was anything useful at this party, unless trains are a shocking revelation."

Are trains a shocking revelation?

Permalink Eye

"It's all in the details. Who owns what, who might marry who. The new line was touted as having technical innovations and from what I can tell that is, surprisingly, true, and I got a tidbit of that as well."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. And the nice thing about those little details is people don't try to hide them."

Permalink Eye

"People are surprisingly eager to share damning personal revelations to a friendly face, sometimes. It's some kind of primal urge, to connect with our fellow man? A bit bizarre, at any rate."

Permalink Eye

"I find it's more-- they don't realise exactly how damaging what they're saying is, they don't realise how someone could put it together.

And people always like the sound of their own voice, especially if there are attentive ears."

Permalink Eye

"I'd like to think I'm beyond such stupidity, but I'm probably not. I told you something of what I just found out, after all. Self-deception is also a quintessential human skill, no?"

Permalink Eye

"Aww, and I thought you wouldn't notice! Though it's not like you can't work out things about me I'd rather you didn't. I'd say we're reasonably even."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'm quite sure you're hiding something. But I don't care for magical enemies, so I'm not trying to pry further than that."

Permalink Eye

"Ehh, I'm not that magical, but I appreciate it."

Permalink Eye

"Quite. So, any particular reason to come seek me out?"

Permalink Eye

"Honestly? Curiousity. People who are doing their best to be the life of the party don't tend to sneak off."

Permalink Eye

He just shrugs. "Perhaps it adds to my mysterious charm. Perhaps the act is... Tiring."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps you want to write your notes before you forget."

Not that acts being tiring isn't Relatable.

Permalink Eye

"Yes, there's that, I was never very good at mnemonic tricks on the fly. I don't suppose you have any interesting gossip for me?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'm new enough round here that I'm not sure what counts as interesting gossip.

Well, someone is taking the weirdest route to sabotage the Westward Boat Company."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, really? There's some sort of shenanigans with loans and UDF funding going on with them. One of their competitors was complaining. I didn't get the details. Sounds like some funny business indeed. It also sounds like you had a little bit of an adventure, to learn something like that."

Permalink Eye

"Someone tried to get people to sneak in and give them information-- that they didn't want. And they have a tendency to shoot the messenger. Metaphorically. Still very shouty about it though."

Permalink Eye

"Falsifying information can be very valuable. As a trite example, pretending the competition is less impressive than it actually is, so they don't try as hard. It sounds like they weren't very clever about it, though." He shrugs. "I don't know the details of whatever scheme you seem to have been used towards and likely never will. Could've been any number of things."

Permalink Eye

"I think the guy I was delivering to thought it was meant to send them on a wild goose chase. Really stupid scheme, all things considered. I'm surprised I got in at all."

Permalink Eye

"I suspect the most successful schemes are the ones where nobody but the mastermind is sure anything is going on at all. So of course, we wouldn't have heard of them."

Permalink Eye

"I've seen some schemes where it was obvious something was up work out in my home country, but nobody was clear on the details.

Which ended up going really badly--"

Permalink Eye

He shrugs again. "As I said, I try not to get involved with those sorts of things. Too many people willing to kill if the stakes are high enough. Now, if you want something rare or difficult to get in a hurry, without fuss, I'm your man."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, politics is a mess, staying far away if a good tactic.

And if you need something small transported, I'm happy to help. Or need someone to turn into a bird. That one comes up less often though."

Permalink Eye

"A bird could listen in places a woman could not. But I don't have urgent need for that, no. Perhaps you should visit my ship in Cardiff in a few days. I might have a job. Then again, I might not. We'll see when the time comes."

Permalink Eye

"True. Unfortunately, birds tend to get kicked out buildings and have a hard time operating doors.

I'll try and be in Cardiff around then. No promises-- job takes me weird places, can't really control where. But I'll try."

Permalink Eye

"Best of luck. Or perhaps more importantly, have fun!"

Rost heads back to the party.

Permalink Eye

While more party time would be fun, this probably a good time to slip out and head airfield-wards.

(Also, if people realise she and Rost were alone together-- them thinking they were having some fun, youknowwhatimean, wouldn't be a problem, but if they work out it's skulduggery, that would be bad.)

Permalink Eye

The airfield contains random postal workers, guards, and the untalkative witch that flew here with her. One of the postal workers nudges her.

"She's back. Pay up."

Untalkative witch rolls her eyes and flips a coin at the postal guy.

Permalink Eye

"Hello, good to see you all!"

She probably shouldn't find the bets on whether she'd return funny. But she does.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, welcome back," her copilot says. "Man, this whole place is like one giant country estate aside from the factory, isn't it? So many frikkin' gardens and brickhouses, all perfect and tidy. Doesn't quite feel right."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, and it's all very--" she makes looping motions with her hands "--spread out. Everything's all got margins and separations and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Rich country lords in rich country houses. Probably think farming's quaint, and farmers stupid. S'not. Takes hard work and insight."

Permalink Eye

"God. Yes. Too many people think food, like, magically appears on plates with no effort."

Permalink Eye

"My folks are farmers. Lots of witches' folks are farmers 'cause most folk are farmers. You'd think they'd learn better. Maybe witches don't complain enough."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know if the 'witch' or 'farmer's kid' would cancel each other out not with those folk, whether they'd actually listen. Who knows. Nice thought, though."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't know how to read 'till I was 13 because nowhere villages in Normandy don't have books or schoolteachers. And then a priest taught me to read Latin, how damned useful of those god obsessed holy men."

A postal worker flinches at 'damned', and interrupts, "You're all set to go back, Miss Couriers! Whenever you're ready!"

"Right, let's get on with it."

Permalink Eye

"Don't you know that the best languages to read are ones you don't speak? That's definitely how reading works." She shakes her head.

"Let's head off."

Permalink Eye

They get into the air. It's still a significant Essence drain to fly these things, even though she's gaining it back very quickly even while awake.

"Latin's the godly language, or something, don't you know. Where'd you get the new digs on such short notice? I can't imagine you spent the whole time at a tailor."

Permalink Eye

"Which would make it a reasonable second thing to learn to read.

My magic is transformation based. So: magically transforming clothes. It's a neat party trick, if I do say so myself."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I'll say. I can sing to plants. Make them grow a day in an hour. I mean... Really? Oh, it's useful, sure, but, really?"

Permalink Eye

"...yeah. Like, super useful, not denying that, but not much of a thing you can show off.

Also, I bet singing to plants all day would get pretty boring."

Permalink Eye

"Kinda. Also, it uses a little of my magic, constant little trickle. They've got these big greenhouses growing rare and useful stuff in places. Medicines. Cork and rubber trees, whatever they're for. They'll pay me to park there and sing and read once in a while."

Permalink Eye

"If you can read at the same time, it wouldn't be so boring."

Permalink Eye

"About anything gets a little boring when it's work. Even flying. But, yeah. It's not so bad."

Permalink Eye

"Such is life, that we have to do boring things to, like, eat."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Life's hard, you can't let up unless you're lucky enough to be born rich."

Permalink Eye

"Once your at the top, your golden, but for all the folks below that--"

Permalink Eye

Her flying companion shrugs. "I can't even say things would be better if everyone relaxed a bit, because people who care a whole fuck of a lot about something are the ones who get something done. It's just... The world's exhausting sometimes."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. It'd be nice if things were less dog-eat-dog, and if things didn't go so well for the dog-eaters."

Permalink Eye

"Wishes and fishes, yanno. Plenty of both, and one doesn't change anything."

Permalink Eye

"Eyup."

Fly fly fly.

Permalink Eye

They fly back to Bristol. She gets paid again. No more work for today, unless she'd like to pour some mana into a shiny golden amulet for someone else to use.

Permalink Eye

What's the amulet for?

Permalink Eye

"It's for older witches who don't have much natural mana anymore - or combat witches who burn through their really fast."

Permalink Eye

She's used a lot of Essense-- but she gets it back quick, especially if she, like, actually sleeps. And money is money.

"Sure!"

Permalink Eye

"Well, here's the amulet. It's not hard to get the knack - sorta like flying for the first time."

Permalink Eye

She takes the amulet and... tries to put Essence in it. That seems like a reasonable thing for a first attempt.

Permalink Eye

Just as weirdly as flying was, it just works! Which is a bit freaky. Sluuurp goes the Essence. This thing can hold at least a couple dozen motes apparently.

Permalink Eye

Okay, that's a lot of Essensce. And also weirdly easy. Huh.

...she's going to go find somewhere to sleep, and just, like, pass out till tomorrow. Rebuild enough Essence to actually be able to do anything.

Permalink Eye

They pay her again for the mana! Not as much as making deliveries, but it's something. She could afford to stay somewhere fancy now, or just go flop in a bar inn or wayhouse again.

Permalink Eye

She's gonna go to an inn. While some place fancy would be nice, saving up is probably a better idea. Some weirdly large expense could fall on her at any time.

Permalink Eye

The city goes to sleep and wakes up again.

Something seems to be happening involving that boat company, according to the next morning's gossip. Something about patents and the war effort and special metal and a royal decree. The rumors are pretty confused, but the boat companies are big business and lots of jobs, so people are worried.

Permalink Eye

That boat company? That's... a thing.

(Special metal sounds... concerning isn't the word, but definitely something to keep an eye on.)

Do things sound like they're going well for that boat company, or bad?

Permalink Eye

Probably good?

It sounds like they're withdrawing from some kind of important competition to look at the special metal instead. Apparently it's pretty amazing stuff.

Permalink Eye

oh dear.

"What's so special about the metal?"

Permalink Eye

Everybody has heard something different about the metal. About the only consistent fact is that it's green, and from somewhere far away.

Permalink Eye

Oh DEAR.

Okay, so they only have a tiny amount (they should only have a tiny amount), and it might not even be 'her' jade.

She's just... going to keep an eye on this situation as it unfolds. And go to work. Not much she can do about it now.

Permalink Eye

The witch in charge of the Courier office is still cheerful and campy. She gets assigned another run to Cardiff, where that guy ripped her off with the secret delivery.

Permalink Eye

Wahey, Cardiff!

...maybe being over-enthusiastic will look too weird.

"Nice! Have a good day!"

Yes, good, that's a reasonable amount of enthusiasm.

Cardiff here she comes!

Permalink Eye

The trip to Cardiff is uneventful! The guy who paid her to sneak that package around isn't here today.

Permalink Eye

That's a good decision on package guy's part. Bad things might happen if he was there.

While they're readying the next flight, she heads off towards the docks to see if she can find Rost.

Permalink Eye

Rost gave her a description of his ship, and said ship is easy to find. The burly guy guarding the plank makes her describe Rost, then mutters that she's probably here to do more than talk to Rost, knowing the guy, and summons someone to show her to wherever Rost is right now.

Rost is apparently arguing with the cook, but breaks off when Marena arrives. "Aha! Welcome! My apologies I didn't meet you on the topdeck - didn't know you would actually come visit."

Permalink Eye

It's not like what she's wearing wouldn't give guard dude that impression.

"Well, I didn't expect to be here so soon either!"

Permalink Eye

"Let's go somewhere we can catch up, talk business. Are my quarters fine? I wouldn't want to give the wrong impression - unless that's the right impression-" He bustles out of the kitchen.

Permalink Eye

"Honestly, at this point I want to see how weird my reputation can get."

Permalink Eye

"The world can stand for some strange reputations. This way..."

And once they're behind a closed door. "I suppose you want to hear about my, ahem, special delivery job."

Permalink Eye

"Yep. Though I also have, hmm, some potential details about something going through the grapevine that you might be interested in."

Permalink Eye

"I can't promise anything in advance for information, not yet knowing its import. As for the delivery... Carefully prepared medicine that the local authorities do not approve of. It's not the nasty shit bliss poppies can be refined to, that makes you go mad for more. If anything, it just makes you sleepy. For many people, it's the only thing that soothes chronic pain. I shan't show you where I have it hidden aboard ship, I'll fetch it without you and bring it to the topdeck, and you musn't be caught with it in your possession if you can help it, but witches avoid most scrutiny so that should be safe. I can pay you fifteen pounds to deliver it to a certain person in Bristol. Half in advance, half when I get word back."

That's more money than she makes on four or five courier runs. Not a fortune, but a lot.

Permalink Eye

"I can deliver it for you."

Permalink Eye

"Grand. Now, I don't fully trust you yet of course. This is a small delivery. The seven-and-a-half-pounds and the product itself are my gamble on you."

Permalink Eye

"And I fully intend to be earn that trust.

So, about the odds things going down the grapevine: you've heard about what's been happening with the Westward Boat Company?" 

Permalink Eye

"They suddenly backed out of the fast transport competition last evening, citing lack of funds, but everyone knows they've had some bright idea or another and are pursuing it?"

Permalink Eye

"There's word on the wind that they've found a special metal, something so amazing they have to drop everything and research it. And I think I know what it is."

Permalink Eye

"Oh? Well, I'm not closely involved with the military industries but such a secret could be very valuable. If, mind you, several unlikely things happen. The strange metal is actually useful and valuable. They manage to keep the exact nature of the stuff secret. I find someone who very much wants to learn that secret."

Permalink Eye

"If it's what I think it is, it is quite useful, but I don't know how much of it they have. No idea how long it's going to be kept secret, or how badly people want to learn it. It also depends how quickly they work out how useful it is."

Permalink Eye

"...Hmph. I think I'll watch the rumors fly for a while, and if it's looking important next time we meet, I'll buy the secret."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds reasonable!"

Permalink Eye

"In the meantime, have you any need for things you don't want to bother having to get yourself? Or have any nosy questions? Acquisition and information runs both ways."

Permalink Eye

"Have any news from London? I'm slowly working my way down there."

Permalink Eye

"London? It's the center of the war organization for this whole half of the world, and the largest city in the country. You may have to be more specific."

Permalink Eye

"Honestly, that's all new to me. Hmm... any notable witches I should keep an eye out for?"

Permalink Eye

"I've already said I try not to make magical enemies - well. If you see a uniform with an emblem of a broom with a crown around it, that's the Royal Witch Hunters. Magical police answerable almost directly to the King. Careful with those."

Permalink Eye

"Noted, will do my best avoid them and-or avoid pissing them off."

whyyy does this place have it's own Immaculate Order.

Permalink Eye

"Well... If you go to the top-deck and wait a few minutes I'll fetch up your package and the first half of your payment."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good!"

She goes to the top deck.

Permalink Eye

And a few minutes later Rost hands her a package and a note with an address and some money. With a messy salute he says, "Directly into Mrs. Crenshaw's hands, if you can. I'll be sending her a hinty note to be expecting someone like you."

Permalink Eye

She gives an over-elaborate salute. "Can do."

You know what's awesome about being able to put things Elsewhere? No one else can grab it! So handy.

Permalink Eye

"Have a nice day making more waves, then." He waves her off.

Permalink Eye

She heads off back to the airfield.

Permalink Eye

The airfield: Exists. Her flight back isn't for another hour or so. There's bureaucrats, guards, postal workers (still no sign of that one guy), and idle witches around.

Permalink Eye

Are any of the idle witches chatting with each other? If so, she heads over to insinuate herself in their group.

Permalink Eye

There's a pair over there chatting and playing with fire. Literally, one is cupping a little flame and passing it hand to hand.

"-Was wounded and taken to a hospital in Venezia. At least he's not dead."

"Still stinks."

"He didn't need to go off and fight. I'm too much of a coward to go off and fight... But he's safe now." She glances over at Marena and lets the fire go out. "Hello. Haven't seen you before."

Permalink Eye

"Hi! Yeah, I'm fairly new around here, just getting my feet and such."

Permalink Eye

Fire witch says, "Indie? Good for you, the army types are really annoying. Goddamn army."

"Hey, it's not that bad! Someone needs to kill the Neuroi."

"Right, sorry. Just... Sorry." She sighs.

"Yeah, I get it. It sucks. Let's pick a new topic."

Permalink Eye

Yep, let's all be new topic buddies! Topics that don't require working out what 'Indie' is!

"So, where are you two based?"

Permalink Eye

"I wander around taking odd deliveries, o fellow indie. Army can't hold me down," sing-songs fire-witch.

The other one says, "My permanent post is in Newcastle. I do medium to long distance hauls. Due for a combat deployment in two months."

Permalink Eye

Yep, now she definitely can't admit she has no idea what an indie is, other than it's some sort of person. Maybe it's another word for witch?

"Well, that sounds exciting-and-or-worrying."

Permalink Eye

"Worrying. Definitely worrying."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I feel that. I wouldn't want to run into the Neuroi on a cold dark night, even if there were other people at my back."

Permalink Eye

"People having your back is big. They do months of squad teamwork in combat school. But yeah."

Permalink Eye

"It's also good that they're not just throwing you in the deep end, but-- yeah, it's a big change. Dangerous one too, from what I've heard."

Permalink Eye

"Can we not talk about how I'm maybe gonna die?"

Permalink Eye

"We could... talk about Newcastle?"

Permalink Eye

"It's a city. It's cold."

Fire girl goes fishing with the question, "Any good bars?"

"No clue. I don't drink."

"...Any good churches?"

"Ugh. Just because I don't drink doesn't mean I'm crazy about sin and righteousness."

Permalink Eye

O...kay, didn't expect a hornet's nest there.

"Is there anything... home-y about it, or is it just cold all the time? Honestly, everywhere here is pretty cold--"

Permalink Eye

The gloomy upset one snorts. "Well, it's got fishing and Scots visiting sometimes. And there's a weapons testing field. Cold? You haven't been to Orussia, have you?"

"Dark skin. From the south somewhere probably."

"Oh, right."

Permalink Eye

"I've heard of Orussia? Never been though; doesn't sound that appealing."

Permalink Eye

"I've been there. If you think this is cold, don't be tempted to visit Siberia in the winter. You'll probably just die."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I would, I would."

Permalink Eye

"Where're you from, anyway? I can't place your accent."

Permalink Eye

"I'm from Thorns.

...not super sure where that is in relation to here. I got here by magical accident, and I haven't quite joined up the maps."

Permalink Eye

"Yikes. Well, I'm sure some office somewhere has a big old atlas of the whole world if you can bother enough people to get at it?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, that's why I took this job. Eventually, I'll end up in the office of someone with, like, the biggest map, and I'll be able to get ten minutes with it to work out what the heck you people call Thorns and find it."

There are unclear levels of sarcasm there.

Permalink Eye

"I'll mention it to the regional coordinator. Maybe we can work something out."

Permalink Eye

...

"Sure!"

Permalink Eye

"No promises, of course. Everyone's busy and all."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, of course, I don't want to put you out or anything."

Permalink Eye

"Mentioning it doesn't cost-"

"Kathe! Flight's ready in five!"

"Eh, that's my cue. What's your name so I know who to mention?"

Permalink Eye

"Marena. Ragara Marena."

Permalink Eye

She writes it down. "Well, probably won't see you two again. Wish me luck against those fuckin' demons, yeah?" And off she goes.

Permalink Eye

"Good luck, and try not to get eaten!"

Permalink Eye

The fire witch is still here. She snaps her fingers and starts playing with the flames again. "Soooo... I'm bored now, but I was bored before, so whatever. You know anything fun to do around here?"

Permalink Eye

"There's a pub? Not sure if that counts."

Permalink Eye

"Getting drunk might be better than standing around. Maybe even find a guy or something." Flick, flick, idle tongues of flame.

Permalink Eye

Wahey, a kindred spirit!

"I'd be happy to come along to a pub."

Permalink Eye

She smirks and quits with the pyromania, kicking off from where she was leaning against a wall. "Lead the way, o indie captain of booze."

Permalink Eye

She leads the way. Pub, ho!

Permalink Eye

Pub, ho! They remember her and cheer that she's brought a friend this time! Her friend gets into the spirit of things very quickly. She does fire tricks and manages not to burn down the entire bar, and is pretty drunk by the time it's about time for Marena's return trip.

Permalink Eye

Yay, pubs! And party tricks!

...and 'yay' flying.

Permalink Eye

Flying continues to drain essence and be physically tiring but not, like, actually difficult. Bristol awaits her. Apparently the Windward Boat Company made a sudden rush order of a lot of things from London! The post office is scrambling about it.

Permalink Eye

She is graciously going to volunteer to help with that rush. Definitely no ulterior motives here! (Anyway, 'weirdly keen to make more deliveries' is more likely to be see as 'would like more money' than 'desire to conduct industrial espionage and work out what the heck is those orders')

Permalink Eye

"If you don't need to rest for a bit after coming from- Well, it was a short flight. Sure, if you think you're up for it, you haven't botched anything yet... More than I can say about some of my girls. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about but apparently it's a big deal, and orders are orders. We'll have you follow Sasha there to the pickup spot and they'll immediately load your wing and then you fly back just as immediately and drop it straight in the Windward Company's yard. Sasha'll show you where, she's one of the more reliable ones."

The boss witch points her to two 'wings and a tall, blonde girl with sharp features in an unusually pristine uniform, who looks deadly serious.

Permalink Eye

...well, no one said industrial espionage would be easy. She'll work something out. Somehow.

She walks over to Sasha. "Hello, I'm Marena."

Permalink Eye

"Hello," she says with a very distinctive accent. "I am Sasha Inovich. You will follow me. You will keep up with me when we fly. I do not say this to browbeat you, we have a job to do. It is a short flight by my standards, so we will go quickly. Tell me now if you cannot handle that."

Permalink Eye

Her Essense isn't, like, super high at the moment, but short flight should be totally doable. "I should be fine."

Permalink Eye

"Good. Job gets done, probably, you get paid, probably, all are happy and we have a party. Let's go."

And they're off.

Permalink Eye

Off she goes!

...she's going to feel really silly if this turns out to just be something ordinary instead of jade.

Permalink Eye

It's twice as long as going to Cardiff. Her interpretation of 'short flight' is not the same as the locals' apparently.

She'll be very close to empty if they head back straight away... But maybe not totally empty.

The cargo appears to be a bunch of complicated metalworking tools and two engineer types in nice outfits like that boat guy had! Well, the 'wings do have a single passenger seat.

"An honor, isn't it? Picked for an important visitation like this."

"Don't be daft. We're just the first two metallurgy graduates the dean saw who weren't doing something important at the time."

"No, no, he was very excited. He passed right over Marcel."

"He doesn't trust Marcel. Trust me, this is going to be some pointless stupid errand and a waste of everyone's time. Seen it before. You get excited, and it turns out to be a mistake or a lie."

"A pessimest, are we?"

"A realist."

The optimist scoffs and starts pacing away from the crowd, looking thoughtful.

Permalink Eye

...She'll see about taking a nap when she gets there. That'll renew her Essence a reasonable amount.

But first: investigations. She heads over to the optimist. "Hello, nice to meet you."

Permalink Eye

"Hello! Likewise I'm sure. I take it you're our ride to Bristol? Or part of it at any rate." He holds his hand out for a handshake.

Permalink Eye

She shakes it back. "Yeah, I'm one half of it, Sasha's the other. First time I've ever shipped people. Well, other than myself."

Permalink Eye

"I'm probably used to more comfortable rides, but that people can travel so easily is amazingly useful. Flight is probably the greatest power of witches, I'd think."

Permalink Eye

"One of the more common useful ones, at least. So, how's it feel to be part of an emergency shipment?"

Permalink Eye

"Annoying. But I rather imagine standing in rows pointing an arquebus at the Neuroi is far worse, so."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, there's plenty of advantages to not being at the front."

Permalink Eye

"So being shipped around to investigate some supposedly-" He looks thoughtful. "You know, I'm not actually sure how secret the UDF thinks it can keep this, but I should maybe not help the gossip spread."

Permalink Eye

"Aww, but gossip's so fun! I know it's probably metal, because why else would you send mettalurgists--"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, well. One could tell that by inspecting our tools too. I suppose I can tell you it's been kicking around for a few days as something interesting and potentially useful but unique... And now they think it's not."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that sounds intriguing."

...and not at all like jade. Because they should have pretty limited amounts of that on hand.

Permalink Eye

"I think any witch would be interested in the rest- But alas, I've said too much already."

Permalink Eye

"That's fine, I won't tell."

 

Permalink Eye

"They all say that, you know."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, yeah, but it's also true I don't have much to tell. 'A company that uses a lot of metal has some ~secret~ metal' is somewhere between crazy sounding and 'yeah, no shit.'"

Permalink Eye

He laughs.

"Yes, trade secrets existing is not surprising."

"Marena! Mr. Bolard! We're off in a moment!"

"Ah, time to... Fly. Please don't drop me."

Permalink Eye

"Well, if I screw this up I'm also dropping, so I at least have an incentive."

Permalink Eye

 

He's visibly nervous and straps in very tight to the second seat, despite this assurance.

Permalink Eye

She sympathises, flying is pretty alarming the first time you do it, but she doesn't say anything. There's no way she wouldn't end up sounding condescending.

And their off!

Partway through the flight, she starts glowing silver.

Permalink Eye

Sasha is in front. She turns around to level a questioning look, then shrugs and continues straight on.

 

Her passenger asks over the wind, "Should I be concerned about that light?!"

Permalink Eye

Okay, how to explain this-- how to explain this in a non worrying way.

"It's a thing that happens to some witches, it's kinda a training thing, as a side effect of using a lot of mana. 'A lot' being more like a half to two-thirds. I wouldn't be worried unless it started taking a distinct shape. Then I'd be a little worried, but it's really not likely."

Permalink Eye

He should have heard of that, if it were a thing. Shouldn't he? Well, he's never actually studied witches.

"Alright! As long as you're not going to run out of mana, do please not crash into the countryside in an effort to deliver me an hour quicker."

Permalink Eye

"Don't intend to!"

Permalink Eye

The rest of the flight is uneventful. Mr. Bolard spends much of it trying not to stare at the pretty glowing girl; Taking notes or reading is probably possible in these conditions but he doesn't want to risk it.

 

Sasha leads them straight to some place at the boat company, an open yard off a bay inlet, and lands.

Permalink Eye

Landing!

Oof, she has much less essense than she'd like. A nap would be ideal-- but she should probably hang around for the unloading. It's probably not jade, but either way, maybe 'it's [insert colour here]' will be useful to Rost or whatever. She's just gonna sit down out of the way under the wing. And try not to fall asleep.

Permalink Eye

A squad of workers starts unloading metalworking equipment. 

Albert Hensen, that boat guy, comes out with them, barking orders, chokes mid-word upon seeing Marena, then proceeds to pretend she's not there as the unloading of things continues and he chats with the other metallurgist.

 

 

Marena's passenger, however, says, "You know... I sort of have to wonder what that's about."

Permalink Eye

Oh, she definitely waves at Albert. She's obligated to.

"What's what about?"

Permalink Eye

"You've interacted with our illustrious Karlslandish boat genius before, and he didn't like it, and you're rather relishing that fact. It's at minimum amusing and potentially more useful than that to speculate."

And idle chat while he's recovering his balance and breath from the flight is useful too.

Permalink Eye

"I did a delivery for him once, and he decided it would be a great idea to shoot the messenger. Don't think he thought said messenger would show up again."

Permalink Eye

"I sense the possibility of there being more to that story. Because there usually is. But I shan't pry."

Permalink Eye

"Those are the best kinds of stories. At least when I tell 'em."

Permalink Eye

"Not really time for a long tale at the moment... And I'd struggle to think of one to tell in return. Maybe the rocket boat. That thing was an awful idea in hindsight. They'll want us two engineers to go inside to talk about our exciting little project and shoo you witches soon, at any rate."

He's digging through one of the boxes on the 'wing as he says this.

Permalink Eye

"When you have the chance, you have to tell me about the rocket boat."

She does her best not to look like she's looking over his shoulder, while she is totally doing just that.

Permalink Eye

Investigated claims of objects/materials with persistent anomalous properties Jul-Sep 1404

...Reads the cover of one of the packets of papers he's sifting through.

He finds what he's looking for a moment later and brings out a small book.

"I'm sure I'll be in the area for the next few weeks. Maybe we'll run into each other again."

Permalink Eye

"And I travel enough that even after that there's a chance we'll cross paths."

'Anomalous materials' is... interesting. Still probably not jade, but still worthwhile to keep an eye on.

Permalink Eye

"I take it this is good bye for now, then? Theodore Bolard, by the way." He presents his hand for a handshake after a moment of hesitation.

Permalink Eye

Handshake! "See you when I next see you. Marena."

Permalink Eye

And the metallurgists go inside with all their tools and boxes, revealing a room totally devoid of boat parts (where it had several last week).

And Sasha the serious-faced witch says, "We go back to post office now. Job done."

Permalink Eye

You know what? She's found out non-zero things. She'll count that as a win.

She hops into her wing, and hopes she doesn't fall out of the sky.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't fall out of the sky. She gets paid a big chunk of money by the sleepy logistics director lady (it's late evening by now).

Permalink Eye

Yay, money.

She'll be more happy about that once she's had a chance to sleep.

Permalink Eye

Her usual inn is full by this time of night, but there are others here and there. She doesn't run into any trouble finding a place to sleep.

Permalink Eye

Sleep.

And then get up in the morning, and go and try and find Rost's client. It wouldn't do to keep one of his (and being extension her) clients waiting too long.

Permalink Eye

Rost's client is a fancy house here in Bristol somewhere. It's findable with some effort.

The middle-aged lady who answers the door visibly holds herself back from making a nasty comment of some kind.

"...You're here with that, erm, medicine, yes? From the Americas."

Permalink Eye

Well she's just going to be aggressively polite and smiley. "From Rost? Yes."

Permalink Eye

She invites Marena in, vaguely tense.

"Alright. I swear, that man... So, where is it?"

Permalink Eye

She pulls it out of her skirt pocket and hand it over.

Permalink Eye

The lady quickly opens and inspects it, particulalry by smell.

"...Yes. Good. You can tell Rost we have it and will want more if the quality is up to expectations."

Permalink Eye

"I'll let him know."

Permalink Eye

"And ask him to send someone perhaps a bit more discreet next time. If anyone asks, though it's unlikely, please do make something up."

Permalink Eye

"I was sent for my skills in making things up." And she leaves.

Permalink Eye

This is a street full of stodgy rich person houses. She's a bold foreign probably-witch. A few of them are staring at her from their windows and looking away when they think she's noticed. But nobody confronts her or anything.

Permalink Eye

She's a witch. She belongs everywhere!

..okay, maybe not, but rich people do like, hire witches. How hard is it to say 'I hired her to enchant a thing' or even 'I am so rich I got her to personally send me a message from little Timmy on the front' really?

Permalink Eye

Maybe the old lady is just paranoid. At any rate, the city breathes around her. It's oddly much less busy today than it was on every other day so far.

Permalink Eye

Is there any obvious reason for that, or is it just inexplicably quiet?

Permalink Eye

It's mostly just inexplicably quieter and emptier.

...There's the sound of large bells ringing from somewhere.

Permalink Eye

She heads toward the bells, and hopes they aren't a warning or something.

Permalink Eye

It looks like thousands and thousands of people are crowding into churches to listen to priests talk and choirs sing!

Permalink Eye

Oh. Religion.That's a thing that exists.

She heads into the nearest church. Seems like it'd be useful for convincing people she knows what she's doing and what this society is like. (Or at the very least, working out very quickly what she doesn't know.)

Permalink Eye

Most of the people here are dressed up in fancier than usual clothes. She gets a few strange looks but the locals make room for her. Being quiet during the service is a thing, apparently.

Catholic church service mostly consists of prayers and singing (people seem to have memorized these), a reading from the Holy Bible (about being nice to neighbors even though they're nasty to you), and the priest giving a speech that's not from the holy book but about whatever he wants to talk about (hard work and diligence). And then there's the holy communion, where everyone lines up and receives a blessing and a little bread and wine. She's not supposed to do this part unless she's baptized, someone whispers to her.

Permalink Eye

Okay, this is not her usual form of religious ritual (there may be some wine, but not nearly enough) but she can dig it.

And she'll be polite and hang back with the... other unbaptised people? Is that a thing?

Permalink Eye

A few of them. They sing along with everyone all through the communion.

After the whole thing is done, the priest hangs around and talks to people at the front of the church as the cheerful crowd pushes its way toward the entrance.

Permalink Eye

Any notable commonalities among the unbaptised people? (What is being 'baptised'  anyway? Religion is confusing. Maybe someone on Team Unbaptised would know.)

Permalink Eye

More of them are non-white or foreign-seeming.

"Baptism's receivin' the blessing of the holy church, being made a member, ya know. This kind of church only lets ya do it as a babe. Bit strange if you ask me. Other kinds of churches say babes don't know what's goin' on and make you do it as an adult, promisin' to abide by the teachings. That way makes more sense to me, but here the churches are like this, so there we are."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's a bit odd. Like, I can almost understanding making babies members, but only making babies members is weird. Not that it's much of a problem for me, but for other people--" She shrugs.

Permalink Eye

"Well, if you don't want to go to Hell when you die maybe you should find a reformed priest on the continent and get baptized. I'm baptized reformed, and I miss getting communion, but my immortal soul's not in danger or anything."

Permalink Eye

"If I end up there, I might do that." Read: not do that. She's pretty attached to Luna, thank you very much, and if she isn't joining another religion as part of some scheme, it's probably against the spirit of the thing.

...unless her soul works different here, so that she's at risk of this 'Hell' thing. Or something screwy happens to her exaltation when she dies.

..,she's just, like, going to avoid dying. That's rarely a bad idea.

Permalink Eye

Everyone else in the area presumably wants to avoid dying too.

At any rate, there's one last song as communion finishes and then crowd pushes out of the church.

Permalink Eye

So, that's the local religion: Jesus and singing. Not so bad, as religions go. Could afford to go more all out with the wine, but whatever.

She might go check if the post office has any more things they want sent.

Permalink Eye

Post office is closed for the day.

Well, actually no, they're still doing high-priority things, but as the guards explain, Sunday is a 'day of rest' and hardly anyone works.

Permalink Eye

Huh, okay.

...do other people interpret 'day of rest' as 'day of pubs?' This seems worth investigating.

Permalink Eye

Apparently, yes! All the pubs are positively bustling.

Permalink Eye

Wahey!

(Time to go get drunk in a pub!)

Permalink Eye

The pubs are very lively - one could while away the whole day like that.

 

Late in the day, one of her chosen pubs contains a metallurgist having a bowl of soup and a cup of tea in a corner, looking rather exhausted, but also - fidgety? Subtly excited, perhaps.

Permalink Eye

She walks over to him. "Fancy meeting you here!"

Permalink Eye

"Ah. Yes, fancy that. I figure there must be at least forty pubs in a city this size. So is it coincidence, a pub spree, or have you sought me out for curiosity's sake?"

Permalink Eye

"Honestly, it was the nearest pub. I didn't expect to find you here. ...not that I'm against finding you here, it just wasn't planned."

Permalink Eye

"Coincidence, then."

He sips tea.

"Don't mind me. Long day. Complicated work."

Permalink Eye

"But it's Sunday?"

Permalink Eye

"The Lord may declare days of rest all he likes. If I can get something new and useful to soldiers out a day sooner by working Sunday, I'm sure he will accept my penance. Plus the Jews think Saturday is the day of rest and I got a little rest in yesterday. 'S good enough."

Permalink Eye

"Still, all the more reason to take the oppurtunities to relax that you can, eh?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, yes, relaxing is good. Even if the war effort is rather pressing at times, burning out is bad. I've heard this talk before."

Permalink Eye

"And you're applying the advice!"

Permalink Eye

"Indeed. They're doing things they don't need me specifically for right now, anyway."

He looks at his tea, then stands up and heads for the bar.

"If I'm done working for the day, I may as well go order some real booze. I don't suppose you've had any interesting adventures today? Oh, I heard most of the story from Henderson. His point of view may be biased, of course."

Permalink Eye

"You say that like my side wasn't wildly biased.

I haven't done much today, other than finding religion. Literally. I now have a better idea what a church is."

Permalink Eye

He orders a beer. "So you've grown up under some other belief system? I have an anthropologist friend who'd throttle me if I didn't ask at least a few basic questions. Heh."

Permalink Eye

"I've grown up under two, actually, I'm a convert to the second one." This is maybe skirting a bit closer to the truth than she'd like, but it's not like this place is going to spontaneously develop the Immaculate Order, and it's already reasonably exalt friendly, so--

Permalink Eye

"Interesting. Feel free to decline to answer any of these, of course." He digs up a notepad from somewhere. "One god, many, or do numbers not apply? ...Some people are spiritual without believing in the divine. How did you decide to convert, what kind of rite or process was it? How formal is everything? Anything that springs to mind about the primary teachings? Who is allowed to believe in each one? Are there formal roles and ranks, like our priests, bishops, and the Pope?"

Permalink Eye

"That is... a lot of questions. Your friend is very prepared. Let's see-- Many gods (too many, really), though I only worship one, Luna. I didn't decide to convert, so much as Luna chose me. It was... an experience. Not particularly formal, you're expected to find your own way. A lot of the focus on adapting and surviving, you have to do those things, and where you can, help others do them as well."

Permalink Eye

Notes, notes. "Well, that's academics for you."

He takes a big gulp of his beer.

"Figure I've about done my diligence for him, he's kind of annoying, anyway. Last one. What's the, mm, political and social situation where you're from? Developed, as in mostly peaceful with lots of farmland and cities? Or not?"

Permalink Eye

"Tell me about it. As soon as I get back home I am getting grilled.

Let's put the level development down as variable. We've got cities, we've also got untamed jungles no man has ever set foot in. Oh, and a civil war. Lots of civil war."

Permalink Eye

"Civil war, sounds lovely. Jungles? Where is this anyway, Fuso's hinterlands? South Liberia?"

Permalink Eye

"There's been some, hmm, clashes, between the maps we have and the maps you have round here, so I have no idea, honestly. I got here by accident, and geography was never my strong suit." 

Permalink Eye

"Terra incognita, hic sunt dracones... Or something. Being lost sounds kind of awful, my sympathies."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks, I'm hoping can sort it out soon. Here's hoping, you know?"

Permalink Eye

"Where'd we be without hope and beer, anyway?"

He orders another.

Permalink Eye

"On the one hand, we'd probably be more productive without beer. Without hope, though--"

Permalink Eye

"Some kinds of tea have the opposite effect. And, well, only when I'm done working for the day. As for hope, I'm not really sure, but the least one can do is keep going."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, that's kinda how hope works? You keep going, even if it might not work out, because you hope it will."

Permalink Eye

"I chose metallurgy, not philosophy, as my course of study, so I rather don't know."

Permalink Eye

"Sensible choice, honestly."

Permalink Eye <