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Generated: Jan 25, 2019 1:37 PM
Post last updated: Jan 25, 2019 11:57 AM
drift with delicacy
A skyship descends on Hekírekum
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The aethership known as the Covenant sails through the skies between worlds, propelled by the magic of her captain and crew. They are exploring the edges of the known aetheric web, following uncharted currents in search of new horizons. 

Most of the time, with a competent navigator—which they have—this is not a particularly risky endeavour in its own right. The risks of exploration are largely in the form of hostile or otherwise dangerous natives, with the occasional astral beast floating between the stars to catch unwary travellers. 

Occasionally, however, even the finest navigator can fall afoul of unexpected changes in the flow of the current. 

The ship lurches. There is a sickening jolt. 

And a whirling vortex springs up out of nowhere to envelop them, ship, sails and all. It's far too late to turn about or make any attempt to control the ship's trajectory within the wormhole; all they can do is ride it out and try to hold the ship together. 

After a second that seems to last a lifetime, the vortex spits them out. 

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... in an unknown sky, falling very rapidly to the ground. 

It’s a lovely sky, though they might not be in the best position to appreciate that.

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Not. Good. 

There'll be time to figure out what went wrong later. Jacob focuses his energy on holding the ship together, trusting that his crew are doing the same. Casimir can handle— 

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—finding a safe landing point. 

"There's a lake, haul to starboard!" 

Focus, focus, this ship is their life, his magic can and will protect it. The winds around the ship lift and guide it in the direction of the lake, even as Jacob turns the wheel in the right direction. 

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The Covenant crashes into the lake with a massive splash that drenches most of the crew, as well as anyone standing on the shoreline. 

The timbers creak ominously, complaining about the sudden impact, but they hold. Just.

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There’s a woman- blue skinned, dark haired, wearing the incongruous combination of long sleeves, short pants, and a scarf- standing on the shore; she appears mysteriously dry. She also seems to be accompanied by a small retinue; they aren’t similarly lucky.

It’s an exquisitely pretty lake, once the waves settle, with water dozens of feet deep and clear as ice, delicate koi fluttering about, and gorgeous lily pads dotting the surface. Exquisitely pretty place, too- it looks like it has multiple suns, but there’s just enough cloud cover to make it merely bright, rather than piercing.

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"Ow." Linden uncurls painfully from the navigator's chair. "Sorry about that, Captain," he says groggily. "It came up from nowhere." He speaks at a normal volume, despite being half the ship away from the captain; Jacob can hear him anyway through his bond with the ship. 

"...where the hell are we?" 

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"I haven't the foggiest." The ship carries Jacob's reply back to Linden as if they were standing next to each other.

A moment later, his next words are projected to the whole crew in the same way. "Whatever that was, it was far too quick for any of us to react, and it didn't act like anything I've heard of before. Do any of you know what happened, or recognise this place?" 

There is a chorus of negatives. 

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"Looks like we've got natives," Casimir reports from the crow's nest. The Covenant obligingly echoes this to everyone at a thought from Jacob. "Should I go say hi?" 

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"Not alone." Casimir is the obvious choice: he's their usual spokesman, in places where it's too dangerous for Jacob to leave the ship himself. But, like Jacob, he's far weaker magically when away from the Covenant. It's not safe to send him by himself when they don't know what's out there. 

"Does anyone else feel like exploring?" 

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"I'll go." 

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"So will I." 

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(One native in particular, observing this sequence of events- in spite of the fact that she remains on the shore, and in spite of the fact that she wouldn’t, naturally, be at the right angle to see anything on the ship- delicately flicks out a wand and a staff from the air itself; that air then seems to whisper ‘shwoto fwopo shwosho wutu’ul, shwoto fwopo shwosho wutu’ul...’ in a nearly-silent chorus. This is audible upon the ship as well, for those paying attention. A stray cloud migrates, with not unnatural rapidity, and moves in front of both suns.)

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Kirill happens to be looking in the right direction. "Fuck. Native mages." 

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Casimir half-slides, half-hovers down the mast to land next to Kirill. "Sounds like we definitely want to talk to them, then. I'll fly us out there once Su-Jin's ready." 

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This, too, is watched by the unnervingly silent and still woman- who is very busy having an entirely internal panic attack and manually calming it down, not that anyone could tell- and her less still, less silent, less unnerving retinue.

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Su-Jin emerges from belowdecks with a bag slung over her shoulder. "Ready." 

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"Great. Here we go—"

The wind swirls around Casimir, Su-Jin, and Kirill, lifting the three of them into the air and carrying them over the lake. Rather than flying directly towards the natives, Casimir aims a little to the left so they'll land somewhere nearby. 

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They manage to make it over to the shore unimpeded, if still creepily started at! 

And then... don’t quite seem to be capable of landing.

Aforementioned creepy-starer doesn’t seem to be doing any obvious magic, but they nevertheless find that the air isn’t giving them up quite yet- like a strong force is counteracting the pull of gravity, and a weaker wind is pushing against any attempts to move otherwise.

The blue-skinned woman makes an impatient, elaborate gesture in the general direction of one of the gold-skinned women.

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Said gold-skinned woman blinks, and takes several steps forward.

”Who are you,” she begins eununciating, projecting loudly, clearly, and with only a mild accent. “And why are you here?”

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Casimir lets the other mage have control of the winds rather than start a dominance battle. Kirill might get antsy if they're stuck like this for too long, though. 

"My name is Casimir; I speak for the crew of the Covenant." He's decent at projecting his voice, and makes sure to speak slowly and clearly. "Our ship fell through an anomaly and we crashed here. We mean you no harm." 

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The blue woman doesn’t seem particularly impressed by this set of assertions. She pulls out a bamboo rod, and moves it in an elaborate series of twirls; the air seems whisper once more, this time too indistinctly to be transcribed.

 

Nothing visibly happens.

 

She then proceeds to make several elaborate hand gestures, while the gold woman watches.

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“Well,” translates the gold woman, “you’ve landed on the territory of Our Lady Arizvam, Royal Shachihoko Mage- who I am interpreting for- on the hekyeiyekui. Where are you from?”

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"I apologise for trespassing on your lands, milady, but we really didn't have much choice." Now he's aware that the gold woman is a translator, Casimir makes sure he's primarily addressing Arizvam.

"As for where we come from, that's...a complicated question. We're sailors, all from different planets, but the last port we left was New Tumul, on Volaris. I don't know if you'd have heard of it; are you in contact with many other planets?"

Are you in contact with any other planets, he means, but that would be seen as rude if the answer is yes. He's never heard of a planet of rainbow-skinned people, but it's a big universe. 

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Gesticulation occurs.

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(Alongside ‘patient, invisible, inaudible spying from the shadows’, which is one of Tasha’s favorite hobbies. Arizvam really ought to call her more often; this is more than interesting enough to make up for having to waste a ritual sacrifice on teleportation.)

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The gold woman coughs.

”We have not heard of ‘New Tumul’ or ‘Volaris’, or any planets with languages compatible with those names. We were in contact with our parent planet, briefly, but the involved Way shut down while the colonization process was halfway through, and we haven’t been able to reestablish contact. Titles are unnecessary. Apologies are also unnecessary.”

She pauses, for a moment, while Arizvam makes several more gestures.

”Are you capable of making formal diplomatic contact on behalf of any particular polity, or capable of putting us in contact with others who can?”

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Casimir nods along to this explanation, unsurprised by most of it. He doesn't know what a 'Way' is, but he can hear the capital letter. Probably it's the local term for an aetheric current?  

"We don't represent any governments, no. We can carry messages wherever you would like, assuming we can get our ship back in the sky and figure out where we are—"

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"Get them to put us down," Kirill grumbles at a volume too low to be overheard without magic.

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"...but perhaps we could continue this conversation on the ground?" 

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Arizvam feels substantially less off-balance about this situation now that she has combat-specialized backup. She sets them down.

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"Thank you." 

The three sailors compose themselves and adjust to being able to move again. They stay fairly close together, shifting into a triangle with Casimir at the front. 

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Su-Jin takes out a leather-bound book and starts writing in it. 

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Kirill appears to have lost interest in the conversation and is instead looking around at their surroundings. 

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Those surroundings are, as one might expect, incredibly pretty. The lake, as already mentioned- but also the tall, narrow grasses surrounding its edge, colored in delicate blues and purples and rustling gently in the breeze, and a large, red maple, not yet losing its leaves, and a small set of stone chairs and tables. Farther out, what immediately draws the eye- at least if one is to ignore the lovely teal-tinged sky, with cumulus clouds delicately drifting by- they’re surrounded by layers and layers of geometric, polished-smooth, technicolor boulders, forming a spiral that ends in the lake itself. Behind the maple tree, cutting through the spiral, there’s a stone-paved path; it leads to a faintly-visible speck in the distance which may or may not happen to be a city. Everything has two shadows.

If Kirill is very, very perceptive, they might notice that a small patch of grass in the shadow of the maple tree isn’t quite bending right- rather in the manner that would signal an invisible spy, as a matter of fact.

Arizvam makes another one of her complicated gestures towards her interpreter; the air whispers translations into her attendant’s ears.

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“You’re welcome,” interprets the interpreter. “Thank you for understanding our caution. If formal contact isn’t currently an option, we will make do with informality. Could you tell us your names, miscellaneous ways that we could inadvertently offend you, plans for the immediate future...?”

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"Of course! My name is Casimir, as I said. This is Su-Jin and Kirill." He indicates the others as they are named.

"We're travellers by trade, so we're used to a lot of different cultural mores and hard to offend by accident. I suppose the easiest way to do it would be using the wrong pronoun for someone? I'm not sure how this will translate if you're using translation magic, but, for example, my pronouns are 'he' and Su-Jin's are 'she'."

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Gesture- this one in particular seems to resemble some sort of demented puppetshow, depicting several different drunken bumblebees.

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“The pronoun ‘he’ translates as the green-to-azure pronoun, and the pronoun ‘she’ translates as the blue-to-rose pronoun; given that you’d intuitively read as- red, I think?- it’s good that we addressed this now. And your plans?”

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Huh, they have an interesting gender system. No, priorities, they can find out about that later.

"In general, we plan to make our ship flight-worthy again while the navigator works out where we are relative to the places we know," Cas explains.

"Once we have an idea of our heading, we'll be on our way, carrying any messages you want to send to the nearest major trading ports. I don't know exactly how long either of those will take, but I'd expect it to be a week or two. If this is an inconvenient place to keep a ship for that length of time, she should be up for a shorter flight within a few days, so we can move her if we have to." 

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Arizvam seems mildly startled by this proclamation, and gestures a bit more emphatically than normal.

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“... I’m sorry. It seems like we’ve missed something. You mentioned an ‘anomoly’, earlier; we assumed this was an unexpectedly shifting Way, or similar. If that were the case, you would presumably still know where you are relative to where you were. It does not sound like that is the case.”

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"Last I checked, none of us had any idea what happened, but we do know that one second your planet was nowhere in sight, then there was the anomaly, then we were right on top of it. We can't rule out some kind of weird space-warping effect." Cas might be slightly stressed out about this fact. 

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Su-Jin looks up from her note-taking to do a spot-check for mana sources in the vicinity. She's noticed Arizvam's impressive mana capacity already, and...there's someone over by that tree. These people have weird mana but it's definitely mana, which means there's a person there who's roughly on the same power level as Arizvam.

She blinks back to normal vision to check she didn't just fail to notice them before. Nope, definitely an invisible person. 

"Um, Cas?" she whispers. "There's an invisible mage." 

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And then- to mana perception- there’s another invisible mage! And another invisible mage! And another, very visible mage, wearing bellbottoms and gaudy, skull-themed jewelry, right in front of her, absently twirling a (gaudy, skull themed) knife. She seems to be capable of fluent elocution in whatever-they’re-speaking.

“Yes, there is. What fortune, that you may notice. Perhaps it is the blessing of one most high. Perhaps it is the working of man. Take care with it. Treasure it. For if I decide that-“

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Arizvam taps her staff, lightly, on the ground; this produces a sound of disproportionate volume. She gives Tasha a pointed look.

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“My dearest, you spoil my mirth and my joy. My every pleasure is cut short. How am I to persist?”

She turns back to Su-Jin.

”I will watch. You will not. Goodbye.”

She- with, perhaps, an overly developed sense of melodrama- swirls around in a sharp turn, and she, alongside all of the other invisible mages, seems to disappear, to both the naked eye and the mystic one.

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Su-Jin is not equipped for a magical spying arms race but she kind of wishes she was. Also, she wasn't watching at the right moment to catch the other mages appearing, but now she knows they can hide from magesight she's not going to assume there's only one of them. 

"Um...?" 

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"They seem friendly," Cas tells her. "Don't interfere with their...bodyguards?" The last word is a question, directed at Arizvam. 

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She makes an evocatively impolite gesture. 

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“They’re... friends,” attempts the interpreter. “Um. Anyways. If you didn’t come into the system via Way, I’m not sure how you’ll be able to get out, or how you can confidently predict getting out. What, precisely, are you anticipating doing in order to get to a trading port...?”

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...ah. Right. They said something about a broken 'Way', and no other planets they're in contact with, which could mean there aren't any aetheric currents to follow. 

"I'm not an expert in aetheric navigation, but, uh...ships travel along aetheric currents, which are basically tunnels of ambient magic connecting different points in space. I'm hoping our navigator will tell us there's at least one of those leading away from your planet, because if not then we'll have to get creative."

(Creative, here, sounding very much like a euphemism for I have no fucking clue what's going to happen.)

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Arizvam raises an eyebrow, and makes an odd little series of motions, involving a great deal of finger-twirling.

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“- okay, it sounds like we’re describing the same phenomenon with different- underlying assumptions. We have a great many Ways leading away from this planet. All of them lead to uninhabited systems, and all of the Ways leading away from those systems also lead to uninhabited systems, and so on, presumably forever. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to make contact with our mother planet. We are not optimistic. It sounds like you’re used to being in the middle of the network, instead of the edge; we’re sorry.”

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"When you say 'forever', how far have your people actually explored?" Su-Jin asks. "And how have you not found a way back to your parent planet yet, if you have so many options? Could you not just follow paths going in approximately the right direction?" 

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At this, Arizvam, vaguely frustrated at her interpreter’s difficulties, speaks directly- or, rather, uses that odd directly-vibrating-the-air trick that she’s so fond of. It’s more overwhelming that just gesticulating and letting someone else pick the right sentences, the right words, the right turns of phrase, but not quite as bad as speaking mundanely; she doesn’t have to hear her own voice.

Ways not directional,” hisses the wind; the nearby grass flattens, and the birds all hush, and the clouds swoosh rapidly from great gusts, but they themselves are left untouched. “Ways based on connections, not locations. We have explored in shells; millions of Ways from this system, from each connecting system. Rapidly intractable.

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Cool trick, but Cas can do something similar, so it doesn't faze any of them much. 

"That doesn't sound like what I know of aetheric currents: it's been all but proven that they are directional. We might be describing different phenomena." 

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Ways look like panes of stained glass, or violet water, thousand to five thousand miles wide. Cover outer shell of system, lead directly to other system’s corresponding Way, no intervening space. Sometimes change where they lead. Aetheric currents?” asks the air.

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Su-Jin looks at Cas, who takes over again. 

"I was being pretty literal when I called them tunnels. They're essentially a path through the void that's safe to travel because it's full of aether; if someone tries to leave the path and go off into the void, they...well, the people in question usually explode, or so I've heard. I've never seen it happen." He grimaces at the thought.

"Aetheric currents are hard to see with normal vision—you can see them from outside, they look sort of like more colourful streaks of void—but trying to find the edges when you're in one is chancy. Navigators learn to sense them with magic, so they can keep their ships from drifting out of the current by accident." 

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The wind whistles. 

Our void is blank. No streaks. Would have noticed.”

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"None at all? That's...really weird. And it sounds like we might have to get creative after all." He sounds determined rather than hopeless, though. 

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"If you think about it, the fact that the aetheric network has never discovered a planet without connections to the network is almost a tautology," Su-Jin comments. "It says more about the limitations of the network than about its ubiquity." 

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"Huh. Good point." 

To Arizvam, he says, "We might be looking at the longer end of that projected timespan, maybe a month or more assuming we won't be able to hire any local experts. Would it be possible for us to find lodgings for our crew off the ship, so they can experience your people's culture while we're here? Some of us get a little stir-crazy if we go too long without the chance to explore a port." 

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Mm- Brada is an emphatic no, she doesn’t even slightly want to deal with them, Tasha is a no, Lalvien is a- maybe, but he could leverage them to improve his position and he’s already more personally and geopolitically powerful than her- Sasha is a no, Rakaskem would subject them to an endless tide of beige cubicals and tile hallways, Kelsiran would badger them, she is not handing a noble mage that much leverage...

Oh. 

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I have a friend. Can get you somewhere to stay.

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"For how many people? We're a crew of thirty, in total—I don't imagine your friend would want to host that many for very long, and I'd like them all to get at least a week on land." 

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Size not a concern,” quoth the air.

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"Convenient." 

He considers. "I'd like to relay what we've discussed so far to my captain and the rest of the crew; is there anything else you want to ask or tell us before we go back to the ship?" 

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No,” sings the sirocco and gale and breeze.

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"...if I fly back out here with another couple of crewmembers in an hour or so, will there be someone here we can talk to, and will you stop us in the air again?" 

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“Yes. No.”

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"Thank you. We'll be back later." 

The wind picks up Casimir, Su-Jin, and Kirill, and flies the three of them back to the Covenant

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"Oh good, you're back. I have good news and bad news." 

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"Oh, yay, me too!" Cas shoots back with false cheer. "Is the bad news that you can't find any aetheric currents?" 

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"...I think you'd better start." 

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A short time later, everyone is caught up on the events at the lakeside. 

"...and according to Arizvam, there's no limit to how many people we can send. I'm not sure I want to test their hospitality with twenty rowdy sailors all at once, though."

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"I'd rather keep at least a third of the crew here at all times, anyway. We'll rotate personnel so everyone gets a chance for shore leave—Casimir, you can help me draw up the shifts later." 

Jacob is preoccupied, thinking about the problem of how to get their ship off this planet and back home without access to the aetheric network. "This would have been so much easier back when I didn't have a crew..." he mutters.

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Meanwhile, Arizvam and company are politely ignoring the sailors, and resuming what they initially came to the lake for- they’ve laid out a rather pleasant picnic, with exquisitely thin slices of crisp seaweed and bread, alongside assortments of olives, seaweed-based hummus, avocados, and perfect slices of raw tuna and salmon. There’s pleasant chatter- mostly by people who aren’t Arizvam- and gossip- exchanged entirely by people who aren’t Arizvam.

(She also makes a call, via her handy little bamboo rod- not that the sailors are likely to notice.)

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Eventually, they have something resembling a plan for how they'll get the Covenant back in the air. It relies heavily on Jacob's control of the ship and Casimir's control of the air, which Cas isn't thrilled about, but it's a plan. 

"...oh, hey, Linden. You said you had good news?" 

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"It's not important." 

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... and then there was a Kraken, seeming to take shape out of the water itself.

 

It doesn’t quite take up the entire lake, even fully stretched, and the water level seems oddly undisturbed by its presence; it is nevertheless very, very large. Tentacles gently encircle the boat and slowly sway in the air; each one seems perhaps the size of a carriage.

Jacob Hyland, Jacob Hyland, Jacob Hyland,” it gurgles, its (oddly feminine) voice booming from below the clear water. “The Eightfold Orderly hath bade, within her screaming serenade, that you should ever be now bound to the Lady of the Slave. Jacob Hyland, Jacob Hyland, Jacob Hyland: I come for Jacob Hyland. He is mine: I am his. I come for Jacob Hyland.”

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What. 

What the hell is this thing and how does it know his name. Also, where did it come from, but that's a less pressing question. 

Jacob leans over the side of the ship, more for signalling purposes than because it actually makes a difference to his ability to see, hear, or talk to the creature, and asks, "Who or what the hell are you?" 

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The suction cups on its tentacles open and close, in some unnerving, unnatural imitation of a blink. It doesn’t respond.

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"Maybe it can't understand you," Casimir suggests, leaning on the rail next to Jacob. "Or can't hear you? It's underwater; maybe you should speak out of the bottom of the boat or something." 

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"Either of those seems likely to be inconvenient if I'm supposed to keep it," Jacob replies. "Your new friends didn't mention anything about this, did they?"

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Cas shakes his head. "To be fair, it probably has nothing to do with them."

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Jacob wants answers, and the Kraken seemed to explain itself just fine a minute ago.

"Can you hear me?" he shouts at it. "Speak!" 

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Jacob Hyland,” it says, obligingly. 

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Well, that's something, at least. "How do you know my name?" 

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You are mine: I am yours,” it says. 

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(The gathering on the shore is vaguely concerned- and wondering whether there was a newborn on board, or something- but Arizvam seems fairly nonchalant, and they ultimately follow her lead. Picknicking resumes.)

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"What are you? Why—how are you mine?"

The rest of the Covenant's crew aren't even pretending not to be listening in. 

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I was sent by the Eightfold Orderly, the Lady of the Slave, the Goddess of Pride,” gurgles the Kraken. “Sent by she who tends the dead, and she who tends the live.”

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'Goddess'. Well, that clears some things up at the expense of opening a whole new can of worms. 

"Why?" 

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You are alive,” it says, helpfully.

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No, that is not helpful. At all. 

"So is everyone else on this ship. Why me?" 

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You are alive,” it repeats.

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Not a productive line of questioning, apparently.

"What are you?" he tries, again, since he didn't get a satisfactory answer before. 

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The cephalopodic equivalent of blank staring ensues.

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"I wonder if it can breathe air, or if we'll have to make a tank for it when we leave." 

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"Good question. Can you breathe air?" 

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Krakens are capable of breathing air, water, magma, certain acids, and vacuum,” it replies.

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"That was a genuinely useful answer. Well done, Su-Jin." They now know that the creature is called a Kraken, and from the sound of it, it can breathe just about anything short of solid rock. 

"Any other practical concerns?" 

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"Can it fly," Kirill suggests. "Too big to haul." 

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"Yes, I doubt it would fit in the cargo hold with much room to spare for cargo." Perhaps if all the tentacles curl up smaller than they look?

"Can you fly?" he asks the Kraken. His Kraken, and he's already warming to the idea despite the frustrations of trying to communicate with it. 

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Krakens may move arbitrarily while in even slight contact with water, ” so sayeth the Kraken.

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"Well, that's useful."

Su-Jin starts making notes on the Kraken and its capabilities, jotting down ideas for experiments to try. 

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Kirill loses interest and wanders off to get something useful done, muttering, "I want a giant monster pet, why does he get a giant monster pet..." 

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As it is asked, so often it is given.

A dragon appears in the air above them; bronze-feathered, with scales like chocolate diamonds and eyes like stars and wiry horns, seemingly forged from copper. It flaps several times, and delicately lands on the deck. It isn’t terribly large- perhaps the size of a horse, or a crocodile- and it flutters happily upon seeing Kirill.

I come,” it says, in a bright baritone. “I come, I come, and I arrive. Arrive from the Nebula Knight, who lit night skies with light, to endeavor to familiarize with the foreign Kirill, kind. “

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Holy shit that's a dragon Kirill gets a DRAGON this is the BEST. 

"...hello. You got a name?" Also, is it amenable to petting? Because Kirill wants to pet it. 

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No,” says the dragon. It is amenable to petting! And actively engages in affectionate nuzzling! 

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Kirill pets the dragon! It is the best dragon and this is the best day ever. 

"Want one?" 

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It doesn’t seem to understand the question.

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Kirill shrugs. "Names are optional." More petting!

"You're my dragon." It's halfway between a statement and a question. 

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Yes,” it agrees.

It seems to be capable of purring. It does so.

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Excellent. Kirill will just be over here petting the purring dragon. 

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Meanwhile: 

"Want me to go ask Arizvam about this? Your Kraken doesn't seem brilliant at explaining itself."

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"That might be a good idea." 

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Arizvam notices this! She doesn’t turn in their direction, or anything, but she doesn’t really need to, given her preferred method of vocalization.

I am listening,” murmers the air. “No need go. What questions?”

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"Suddenly-appearing talking animals!" Cas replies cheerfully. "What are they, why do they know our names, should we expect more of them...?" 

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They are familiars,” says the air. “Gods find interesting people, give people like them magic animal, people get animal and animal’s powers. Royal mages get royal familiars, nobles get noble familiars, then greater, common, lesser, descending order of power. Most people have lesser. I have royal, am royal mage, have country. Most people get familiars when new-hatched; other people, sorcerers, get two more when they do an interesting thing. Not know why you are getting them; might be interesting, might be new-hatched.”

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"...there aren't any newborns on this ship; we're all adults. But so far it seems to be one familiar each, not two." 

(Su-Jin is quietly taking notes in the background.)

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Do not know, then,” sings the gale and breeze. “Do not have detailed notes on what happens with interdimensional visitors. Does not happen every shenday.”

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...interdimensional. That could put a crimp in their plans for finding their way home. 

It's a good thing the Covenant is Casimir's home in all the ways that matter, but he knows some of the crew aren't so lucky. That's gonna be difficult to break to them...

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"You said the familiars come with powers. What powers do they have and how do they work?" 

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Familiars grant mana, mana is used for thaumaturgy, thaumaturgy does whatever, very flexible. Familiars grant powers, powers depend on familiar type- krakens do water movement, water control, influencing minds, dragons do shapeshifting, star breathing, getting control over territories. I use shachihoko powers for speaking, use thaumaturgy for understanding speech.”

Her picnic companions have, at this point, noticed her zoning out. They don’t find this particularly unusual.

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Su-Jin squints at Jacob. "You have two mana pools now!" she informs him. "One of them looks like the native magic." 

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"Interesting." Jacob mentally pokes around for his new powers. How intuitive are they, if he just wants to levitate a bit of water out of the lake, can he do it?

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It doesn’t seem to be quite that simple, but, with a few moments searching, he hits on how to do it- it feels almost like the water closest to the ship is him, with a corresponding proprioceptive sense of its location and a corresponding ability to move it, provided he twitches the right metaphorical muscles. About six bathtubs worth of water seem to be relevantly his at a time; abandoning water that’s currently his in favor of other water seems as easy as breathing.

With that figured out, he does seem to be able to lift a bit up beyond the surface of the lake, in a ball- but it remains connected to the rest of the lake by a narrow line of liquid, and, if he decides to break that line off, the ball of water seems to abruptly cease being his and just as abruptly splashes back down.

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It's a lot like the way he already senses and controls the Covenant, right down to the limitation where any part that's separated from the rest ceases to be under his control. The only real difference is the medium, liquid rather than solid objects. 

He plays with the water for a minute or two, then starts poking at the rest of his powers. There was something about 'influencing minds' that sounded interesting...

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It takes a touch of concentration, but if he closes his eyes it feels like he has a very vague sense of nearby minds- just enough to identify them and their locations, and with enough reach that he can sense everyone on the ship and everyone on the shore. It also feels like he could try to make them his, in the same way that the water is- whether he’d actually like to attempt it is up to him. 

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Maybe later. 

(He's already looking forward to experimenting with Cas.) 

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Meanwhile, Su-Jin continues to bug Arizvam with questions. "You said dragons grant 'star breathing'. What is that, exactly?" 

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The air sings.

... is related to the way dragons claim demesnes. Breathe something like fire; doesn’t burn, but does- tinge. Can use other magic on tinged things much more easily.”

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Su-Jin opens her mouth to ask another question—

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And there’s suddenly a green-furred deer in front of her! It only has a single antler, on its right side, and it accordingly looks a bit unbalanced.

Su-Jin Kaito. Su-Jin Kaito. She who has considered all knowledge she knows, she with a mind like swift steel sharpened stone, she with a wit beyond meter and measure, she to whom thought is an eternal pleasure. Su-Jin Kaito. I come from the Madame of Honesty Sown: I come for the own known as Su-Jin Kaito.”

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"That's me!"

Su-Jin does not bounce as she greets her familiar. (Her familiar! Who comes with new magic powers!) Definitely not. She is a responsible adult and there are people watching. 

(She maybe bounces a little.) 

"What are you? What can you do? Do you have a name? Do you mind if I give you one?" 

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Familiars can answer arbitrary binary questions about their attributes but cannot, generally, answer open-ended queries or questions about their opinions. No.”

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What a good familiar this is. "Arizvam, I have a green deer-like creature with one antler. Could you tell me about its abilities, please?" 

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Is a Luduan,” says the air. “Depends on type; royals can speak to anyone, anything- though stone is not very good conversationalist. Fly and act very very fast, copy other familiar powers. Lesser types can do subset of those things. Very handy, very versatile.

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...yes okay bouncing is happening. Su-Jin pets her Luduan, grinning so wide her face hurts.

"Which type of Luduan are you?" she asks, already poking around in her brain for new powers. Copying other familiars' powers sounds amazing, especially since there are two of them right there

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Noble,” it responds.

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"Can you fly? Can I fly now?" 

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Yes, and yes,” it says. Is it cheerful? It’s intonation is a bit alien, but it sounds sort of cheerful.

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Pet pet. Good alien deer. 

Now, how does flying work? "Can you show me how to fly?" 

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No,” it says.

It doesn’t seem particularly tricky to figure out, if she spends a bit concentrating- it feels like there’s a little lever, in the back of her mind, set to nothing at all, and it’s rather... transparent, about its purpose. It might as well have neatly labeled settings, one entitled ‘default’, one entitled ‘you can walk on air’, one entitled ‘you can walk on air, and any movement you make will be magnified tenfold’, and one entitled ‘you can walk on air, and any movement you make will be magnified much, much more than that’. It makes for a rather odd sort of synesthestic experience.  

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Well, that's delightfully straightforward. She sets it to 'you can walk on air', takes a few steps like she's climbing an invisible staircase, and grins. 

"Cas, look!" She walks around a few feet above the deck, twirling in place to show off how easy it is. This is the best type of flying; it doesn't involve new limbs or new modes of movement at all

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"Very nice! But can you go as fast as me?" 

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Su-Jin gives him an amused look, and flips the switch to 'you can walk on air, and any movement you make will be magnified tenfold'. Then she glances around, assessing the space in which she can move, and breaks into a run that takes her right past Cas and out over the lake. 

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Cas calls up the wind and chases her, laughing. 

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A Luduan Mage in that particular mode can run at sixty miles an hour, fairly trivially; he might have a tricky time actually catching her.

The fact that a large tornado chooses that moment to appear overhead- with a low-pitched thunk thunk thunk thunk and a screaming whirrr and a rumble as cacophonous and roaring as an incoming train- might further complicate efforts at flying. 

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—shit. 

He grabs Su-Jin with the wind out of habit, hauling them both back on deck. Everyone else, also on instinct, grabs hold of the nearest rope or tied-down object. 

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Jacob tightens his grip on the rail, which warps under and around his hand to hold it in place. Wood and rope elsewhere on the ship wrap around various crewmembers who were too slow to secure themselves. Where Cas and Su-Jin landed, the deck beneath them grows armlike tendrils that grab the two of them and anchor them down. 

Less than two seconds have passed since the tornado appeared. 

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It lasts for ten seconds. The gales that ought to be dizzily spinning off of it seem more muted than they should be, by right, but the result is still more than windy enough for most people’s taste.

Someone within human skin-tone variation floats down from it, once it’s fully dissipated, up to just a few feet above the deck.

”Hello! Goodness, Arizvam wasn’t exaggerating when she said ‘aliens’, although you definitely aren’t eldritch blobs of pulsating energy- um, I’m the fellow who’s hosting you?”

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The ship releases its hold on its crewmembers as it becomes clear that the danger is not as imminent as it appeared. 

Jacob steps forward. "Greetings. I am Captain Hyland; welcome aboard the Covenant. I take it the tornado was your doing?" 

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“Yup!” he chirps. “I’d have a dreadful time getting around otherwise, they’re how I teleport. Um, I suppose I should introduce myself more formally, shouldn’t I- I’m Kadlawen, Royal Red Sorcerer, he-who-holds-no-country, the Miscellaneously Helpful, pavaiel Sashadö pavaiel Lalvië pavaiel Bradatö- there are probably other titles but I can never quite remember them."

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"It's a pleasure to meet you, Kadlawen. I'm afraid we haven't quite finalised the list of crewmembers who will be going with you, yet, as some of us need to stay with the ship."

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“The pleasure’s all mine. I don’t have the opportunity to meet intensely polite aliens every day, you know- and I could also just pluck up the ship entire and bring it there, if you’d like? There’s plenty of room.”

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This is the face of someone who is intensely dubious about his ability to in fact do that safely.

"I'm not sure that's the best idea. The structural integrity may already be compromised; I'd rather not risk her in a tornado at the moment, and I don't get the impression you have a less...energetic...means of transport." 

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“... things that I transport via whirlwind don’t, actually, experience substantial turbulence in the process,” he clarifies. “Notice how I am mostly unruffled. If something’s within the tornado and I’m not transporting it, then it’s, um, kind of not going to have a good time of it, but things that I do transport don’t experience much more than a light breeze.”

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Jacob remains intensely dubious.

(They nearly crashed, the ship could have fallen to pieces, he's still not entirely sure she's not going to—he hasn't been this nervous, hasn't felt this mortal, in a decade—)

He checks, compulsively, stretching out his senses to feel the structural integrity of the whole vessel. She's holding. She can hold through a whirlwind. Probably.

"I...suppose it would simplify a few things," he says, letting a little of his reluctance show. 

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“You can, of course, do whatever to think is best,” Kadlawen reassures.

(Having someone be this skeptical of his ability to do things is sort of unnerving.)

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(Putting his literal life into the metaphorical hands of someone he's only just met is more than a little unnerving.) 

"Of course I can; she's my ship." And he's not entirely sure Cas could take this person in a fight but he is confident the whole crew together could manage it. And they would, for him. It doesn't seem likely to come to that, but the knowledge is reassuring nonetheless. 

"Very well," he says after a pause. "You may attempt to transport this ship and its crew. I expect it would be convenient for the familiars to come along as well; the Kraken is mine." He gives Kadlawen a look which suggests that any damage to either ship or Kraken will be taken out of his hide. 

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“Lovely,” says Kadlawen, who might find threatening looks and suave self-assuredness appealing in other circumstance but is, in this one, tragically unimpressed. 

And then Kadlawen gestures grandly with a staff and wand that weren’t there a few moments ago, and infants a few words, and they are in a tornado- which is, as promised, at most mildly breezy with regards to its passengers, if still obnoxiously loud- and then they are in a rather different body of water, as compared to the one they started with.

They’ve landed on a large dodecagon, although they’re at a poor angle to figure out the precise size; suffice to say that it makes the ship look rather tiny. At each tip, there is a tower, made out of some solid gemstone and interlaced with ivory in intricate geometric patterns. The tower that they’re closest to appears to be a deep, violet-hued amythest; the one to the right of it is some sort of magenta agate, the one to the left of it is a deep blue sapphire, and so on; they can safely presume that they form a rainbow. Each seems cast from a similar architectural mold, with small tweaks.

Between each tower, forming an edge to the oddly large polygon, there are grandiose curtain walls, made from ivory, with elaborate swirls and curlicues of gemstone, with that gemstone forming a smooth gradient between tower colors. Each wall has an elaborately calligraphed ‘exit’ sign- which, uncannily enough, seems to be rendering itself in their native language- and a downward arrow; one presumes that a closer look might reveal a staircase of some kind.

In the middle of the absurdly large dodecagon, there is a castle- white, with rainbow accents, and far from the sort of castle one acquires via budget constraints.

We’d better leave it at that.

The surface of the dodecagon seems to be mostly covered in smooth, clear water, pristine enough that they can see (ivory) bottom; it reflects the light of the two suns with unnatural mildness, just enough to be pretty, not enough to blind. There are (ivory) bridges- high enough that their ship ought have no trouble passing beneath them- between the castle and the outer towers.

 

Arizvam may have been understating the case, when she said ‘size not a concern’.

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Just a little, yes. 

(Jacob absently checks the Covenant's stability again. His anxiety ticks down a notch or two when he finds her as intact as she was before her trip through a whirlwind.)

"Impressive," he says to Kadlawen. "...all yours?" 

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“I just finished making it just a few minutes ago and accordingly haven’t filled out property-claim forms with the associated city! I love having excuses to make castles- and on a relevant level you can consider it all yours, unless you’re secretly a serial killer and I need to confiscate your castle for the sake of society, or something.”

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Cas is definitely not making any type of expression which might imply that Jacob, or anyone else, is secretly a serial killer. 

He looks like he's suppressing an urge to giggle, which is true. He's also shoving down several other potential expressions, most of which would be less ambiguous, and trying not to think 'oh shit what's he figured out' too loudly in case there are telepaths around. 

(Technically, Jacob is a reformed serial killer. Cas is sort of proud of the 'reformed' part.) 

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Jacob doesn't visibly react to the serial killer comment. (He's glad Kirill and Su-Jin are both too distracted by their familiars to pay attention to this conversation. They're not quite so skilled at managing their reactions.)

There's a little bit of surprise he can't hide, but he manages to redirect it into, "You mean to say that you built this entire castle today?" 

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“I made the plans a few weeks ago- I have a little castle-design folder for when the need arises- and those are most of the work: I just had to stab myself a few times, wait to reform, and wave around my wand and staff and suchlike for a while to make it actually appear. Although I had to make a few design tweaks afterwards- you never quite know how something looks until you make it, you know?”

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"Stab yourself?" 

That is definitely purely academic curiosity and not any other type.

 

Mostly academic curiosity. 

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... Kadlawen notices the slight dose of non-academic curiosity.

He doesn’t act on it, for the moment, but he notices it.

“... I suppose Arizvam didn’t give you a full explanation of our magic system? Um, I have a unicorn, alongside other familiars, and you can boost thaumaturgy by sacrificing virginity- in, um, the obvious way- or by life sacrifice, or by sacrificing the life of a virgin? And royal unicorn mages and sorcerers persistently count as virgins, and we self-resurrect? So if I want to cast anything particularly major I have to stab myself first.”

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"Interesting. Ah, what sort of workings would count as major?" 

(Su-Jin has finally noticed they're talking about magic, and is listening in but letting Jacob do the talking.)

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“Um, royal mages need a virgin sacrifice for- making spectacular floating castles? Resurrecting the dead en masse? Teleporting-in-groups-via-non-tornado-methods? I could make an army insubstantial for as long as I could hold the mana drain, temporarily let someone move and think and use thaumaturgy ten times as fast, ward a location against this ailment or that issue, make nifty boots that let someone fly... when I’m working without a sacrifice I can turn insubstantial myself, do the thing that’s letting me speak your language, do some minor scrying, regrow someone’s limb, transiently turn into a swarm of gumdrop grasshoppers... how much detail are you looking for?”

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"Those examples are sufficient for now, although I suspect Su-Jin may want a more in-depth tutorial in magic later. A few of us seem to have acquired it, you see." 

He gestures to his Kraken, Su-Jin's Luduan, and Kirill's dragon. 

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“It’d be a tricky thing to avoid noticing!” he agrees. “Um- should I show you around the castle, or should I show you around the city below us, or should I leave you to your own devices for a while, or should I do some unmentioned fourth thing?”

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"Showing us around the castle seems like a reasonable next step if it's to be our home for the next while. I suspect some of my crew will prefer to find their own way, but personally, I should think it'll be useful to get a tour from the architect." 

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That was very nearly flirting. Why is Jacob almost-flirting with the alien. 

Cas gives him a 'what the fuck are you doing' look behind Kadlawen's back, because what the fuck, Jacob. 

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Kadlawen does not have omnidirectional vision, and is accordingly unaware of this interaction. 

“Well, it is your castle, and I am your host; I think that you can dispose of either as you’d like,” he says. ‘You’re pretty and unusual and even if I’m still not super impressed I’m interested enough to signal it’, he does not say but does imply.

“Should I just boop everyone who’d like to head on over so they can spend the next few minutes walking on air, or would you rather everyone be on board for the docking process, or...?”

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"We'll stay on board until the ship is docked, which gives me time to ask the crew what they'd like to do," Jacob decides.

"You are welcome to stay and watch, either from the deck or floating in the air—so long as you don't get in the way." 

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“Um... well, I suppose I’ll just mosey on up to the sky and do my very best impression of a strawberry buzzard, in that case, that seems least likely to result in accident. If you need me urgently, just say the word ‘palalka’- it’s Wecheyum for coffee- and I’ll be back in a flash.”

And so he ascends.

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The crew set to work, bringing the ship in to dock at a suitable point.

As they work, Jacob talks to each of them individually and figures out a plan for what they'll do next. A few people want to stay on the Covenant for now, but these people travel to new worlds for a living. Most of them want to see the castle. 

Kirill, who has a dragon, wants to see the castle from the air. Su-Jin thinks this is a great idea and will go along to stop Kirill and the dragon getting into trouble. 

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Cas and Linden will stick with Jacob and get a tour of the place. 

"I'm pretty sure we're safe here; we can let people explore on their own. The worst that can happen is someone'll get lost for an hour or two, and we should be able to find them between us if that happens." 

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Other captains would worry about leaving someone in charge on the ship, with the captain, first mate and navigator all elsewhere. Jacob, who can see, hear and respond to anything that happens on his ship at any distance, pities those other captains. 

Getting the ship secured doesn't take too long. It's a little different to normal since they dock in the air rather than water most of the time, but they've made water landings before and it's not a totally unfamiliar task. They get it done without incident, and the crew separate into various groups, some disappearing into the castle while others stay on deck. Jacob, Cas and Linden disembark and wait for Kadlawen, along with a few other crewmembers. 

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Kadlawen, who’s been pleasantly meandering in the crisp glimmer air, descends, once it becomes sufficiently obvious that they’re waiting for him.

”Lovely- um, okay, so! The castle can be divided into four wings. If you’ll follow me into the north wing, I can show you around the indoor hot springs, the indoor cold springs, the first section of bedrooms, the game room, the self-cooking kitchen, the fazdipu ring, the living rooms, the sunrooms, the neat little indoor butterfly garden...”

 

The castle, it transpires, is just as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside, and much more interesting.

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"What's fazdipu?" 

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“I suppose that wouldn’t translate- it’s a style of formal wrestling, we have more styles of wrestling than we know what to do with- your culture might not emphasize it as much? “

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"Not really, no. I think I've heard of...maybe five or six different styles of wrestling that actually have names? So what's special about fazdipu?"

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“It’s, um, played by four fully-clothed people, and at any given time, two of them are on the field as a team, one is on the field alone, and one is on the sidelines? The current team heads up against the current lone wolf, they almost inevitably manage to win- via the expedient of getting them to say ‘I give up’ or an equivalent, or else by pinning them for a full two minutes- and then it rotates? People win by losing the mini-matches more slowly and winning the mini-matches more rapidly? It’s very popular. And its name means ‘full-moon’ because it’s played in a circular, white ring, and because of vague mythological references that it’d be tedious to explain.”

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"I've never heard of anything like that," Linden says.

"Two hundred years of travelling, and the universe still finds new things to show me." He looks around at the room they're currently walking through, and it's clear he's not just talking about the wrestling. 

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“I hope to still encounter novelty when I’m a thousand!” chirps Kadlawen.

 

And they continue touring.

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At some point, it occurs to Cas to ask about Kadlawen's preferred pronouns. "You guys have a lot more genders than we do, so your exact pronouns might not translate, but Arizvam said you have equivalents of our 'he' and 'she' that work for multiple genders? And I don't know how 'they' translates, that's the other commonly-used pronoun in our culture." 

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“- in this particular context both ‘he’ and ‘they’ are translating as correct, even though the thing that ‘he’ directly translates to isn’t correct? ‘They’ is translating as the gender-category that I am- which is also used for mixed groups- but ‘he’ is... right, even though it’s wrong? Translation magic sometimes gets strange about this sort of language-to-language muckety muck, I wouldn’t worry about it overmuch.”

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Cas nods. "I'll default to 'they' for anyone I'm not sure about, then, like I would at home—it's the one we use for mixed groups and people of unknown gender, plus some people actively prefer it. You won't offend anyone if you do the same for us."

That's an interesting translation weirdness and he wants to poke at it, but Kadlawen doesn't seem to want to talk about it so he won't. "Would you mind telling me, or rather us, a bit more about the way genders work here? I've picked up that they correspond to skin colours and that they come in groups, but not much else." 

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“They also correspond to hair color, eye color, and blood color, though more loosely... the groups are ‘red to chartruese’, ‘green to azure’, and ‘blue to rose’, which want to translate as ‘they’, ‘he’, and ‘she’, respectively? You probably don’t want details on anatomical differences, but the-thing-which-unifies-the-green-to-azure-group is the only thing that doesn’t want to translate, so there’s nothing too estoeric going on? Each gender has a different selection of possible professions, possible and ideal roles in the reproductive process, that sort of thing- reds do social stuff, browns do food preparation and service, golds do clerk-ing and translation, chartreuses do academia, mints do corporate leadership and management, roses do medicine, other genders do hard-to-summarize combinations of things, nobles and royals mostly ignore the ordinary roles.

I’m not sure what else you ought to know- different genders have different nudity taboos? Like, greens normally go around just barely covering anything, violets wear headscarves, golds need to wear hats and roses need to wear gloves and browns don’t go barefoot in public, that sort of thing. Um. Each gender has three gods who are commonly considered to belong to it, they have different rates of facial hair and different median builds and such and you can almost always tell even in colorless photos, I’m personally red, Arizvam’s blue...”

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"Apparently I read as red; is that just me or all of us?" Social stuff doesn't actually sound that far off, for Cas. 

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“Um, you seem pretty distinctly red, it seems like your whole-“ he gestures vaguely in the direction of everyone else present- “ranges from plausibly red to plausibly brown to maybe-kind-of plausibly gold, color wise? In terms of non-skin based social cues you all range from ‘plausibly such and such’ to ‘incomprehensible’.”

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"I'd be interested to know how I come across." 

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“... probably as a moderately short mint, coloration aside?”

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"Leadership and management? That sounds about right. What about Linden?" 

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“- sorry, my apologies, nothing comes to mind. You look very thoroughly nothing-in-particular,” he says, to Linden.

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"That suits me fine. If you're wondering, I use 'he' pronouns like Casimir and Jacob." 

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"Red kinda sounds like me, I think." 

Cas sorts through the mass of new information in his head for a question that's not about gender. "So, does 'royal' imply any sort of actual rulership, or is it just the word for the top tier of mage?" 

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“I’m not in charge of anything in particular because I would turn into a quivery puddle within like two minutes and it’s slightly less expected of sorcerers, but the seven royal mages have, you know, countries? Tashalka- Arizvam mentioned that you met her, earlier, she’s very, um, herself- runs Shazligraia, Sashadon runs Haizdiraia, it’s all very tidy? And then noble mages rule over much smaller sub-sections of each country- the translation spell is providing the word ‘counties’?- and greater mages are mostly just ordinary citizens.”

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"And in whose country have you built us a castle, if not your own?" 

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“Lalvien’s- the country of Habifaraia, over the city of salt, to be precise. I believe that I introduced him as one of my boyfriends, earlier?”

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"Must have gotten lost in translation," Jacob says cheerfully. 'One of'...so these people have a concept of polyamory, which means Kadlawen is unlikely to be offended by Jacob flirting when they both have boyfriends.

"He won't mind us being here, then?" 

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“Not in the slightest- unless you all have hitherto unmentioned tendencies towards arson and cannibalism, I don’t see why he’d find reason to object to anything at all that you decided to do.”

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"I'll keep that in mind." That was definitely subtext. Jacob is a fan of subtext. 

"Other than arson and cannibalism, are there any other local, national or planetary laws of which we ought to be aware?" 

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“Um- don’t induce injury, paralysis, death, sensory deprivation, or similar without consent, don’t litter, don’t do anything with someone’s egg that they don’t want you to, don’t unnecessarily restrict someone’s freedom of movement, don’t steal, destroy or deface another person’s property, don’t use mind control without consent, don’t do- a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t really apply to you? I think that covers most things that you might potentially be inclined to do, and it’s pretty universally applicable.”

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"Most of that list is standard across our part of the universe," Linden confirms. "The only unusual part is the - eggs?" 

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“... when Ruwiens with applicable parts want to have a child, they arrange to become pregnant, and then they eventually lay an egg and cease to be pregnant, and then, six years later, if properly tended, the egg hatches and they have a child?”

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"That's the information we were missing, yes. Not many intelligent species lay eggs where we come from. Plenty of animals do, though, so we have the concept." 

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“It’d presumably fail to translate, otherwise! I’d be saying ‘sortoshen’ and you’d be staring in woeful bafflement. There would be an unfortunate series of comedic misunderstandings, resulting in everyone wearing potted plants as hats. It’d be charming.”

Walk walk walk, tour tour tour. 

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Oh no he's funny. 

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"Is there anything you want to know about our society? It might help us better spot gaps in communication like the one we just found." 

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“I’m not really sure what to ask... um, what’s your magic system like?”

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"Su-Jin would be a better person to ask if you're looking for detailed thaumatology—"

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"He's looking for a basic introduction and you're a better teacher," Cas interrupts. "I should know." 

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"If you say so." Linden smiles at Cas for a second.

"Alright." His manner changes slightly, voice becoming slower and more deliberate. "Magic—our type of magic—is threefold. By this, we mean both that it exists in three forms in the world, and that it is shaped and used in three ways. I will begin by explaining the forms."

(Cas, behind him, is trying not to laugh.)

"First, there is aether or ambient magic. Aether suffuses the air around habitable planets and the pathways between them. It is necessary for most forms of life. We're not sure where it comes from, or even whether that's a valid question, but it doesn't seem to run out."

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Kadlawen nods: they pass by an exquisitely pretty ivory fountain, producing sparkling, opalescent water.

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"Second, there is mana, a person's own magical energy. If aether is like air, then mana is like fuel. Everyone produces mana and can learn to use it, but different people generate different amounts. Casimir, for example, has far more than average, making him an unusually powerful mage."

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"Specifically, I regenerate mana faster than most people, so I can use it faster and more often." Cas clarifies. "Linden gets the same effect with slower-than-average regeneration by having a ridiculously large capacity and being about four or five times my age, so he has bigger reserves to draw on." 

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"Thank you, Cas." Linden resumes his explanation. "The third form of magic is the one commonly referred to as 'magic' by everyone but academics, although its proper name is 'dweomer'. This is shaped magic, crafted from aether and fueled by mana to produce some form of magical effect." 

He pauses. "Do you have any questions so far?" 

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“Um- which sorts of magical effects are trivial, which are known to be possible but difficult, and which are outright impossible but nevertheless sought after?”

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"I'm getting to that," Linden says, amused. 

"Dweomer is further divided, into three magical disciplines: perception, manipulation, and augmentation. Everyone is capable of all three, although most people tend to specialise. I myself am a perception specialist. If your system doesn't have an equivalent, it might be helpful to think of these as something like different areas of study for scholars, so that the difference between myself and an augmentation specialist is comparable to the difference between a linguist and a historian, for example."

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Kadlawen is mildly puzzled by people who say ‘do you have any questions’ and then proceed to refrain from answer your questions. He supposes it might be a cultural thing, nods, and aims to look attentive.

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"Perception magic is about observing the world without changing it: reading minds, seeing magic, scrying or pastwatching. Learning to see magic within a short distance is relatively trivial; scrying distant events is difficult. As for the impossible, the classic example for my discipline is the old dream of seeing the future." See, he is answering Kadlawen's questions.

"My work as a navigator involves sensing currents of aether out to a radius of more than two miles; it has taken me more than two centuries to have such a large range while retaining enough detail to be useful." 

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Kadlawen appreciates the fact that he’s answering his questions, even though it would’ve been trivial to instead answer them without large conversational delays and vaguely frustrating evasion! It’d be implausible if every alien he met was perfectly charming, he supposes. 

He continues nodding and looking attentive and rapt and so on and so forth.

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"Augmentation is the art of performing magic on oneself, usually to improve one's natural abilities in some way. Of the people on the Covenant, Kirill is a specialist in physical augmentation—enhanced strength and agility, faster healing, tougher skin. Su-Jin has some mental augmentations, particularly memory and reaction time. And, of course, most of us have the standard life and health augments. It is rare for anyone to die of old age younger than one hundred, and even rarer for a disease epidemic to spread beyond a single city before it is halted." But not, his tone implies, entirely unknown. 

"Basic health and lifespan boosts are trivial. Anything involving the mind is more complex and requires more careful study. Giving oneself abilities that one's species does not naturally possess is difficult to impossible." 

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He takes a moment to process this.

”- um. Um. Um! My apologies for interrupting, really, but- hold on a minute, you die of old age?”

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"Most of our species do, yes. Yours don't?" 

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“No! That’s completely and utterly horrifying- we have, we have animals that die of old age and it’s still a tragedy whenever one of them dies, there’s a reason the Travelling Undertaker is generally considered abominable- that isn’t how- gods. Would I be treading on any particular cultural- I don’t know how to word it, I- would you be offended if I offered to make you unaging, I go to animal shelters sometimes and do it on long lines of adorable puppies, it’s- sapient beings shouldn’t do that.”

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"Well, I certainly wouldn't object," Jacob says while everyone else is still processing.

This might be the most Kadlawen has seen him smile so far.

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- huh, he actually has a pretty nice smile-

Kadlawen’s staff and wand flick out, the wand traces out some intricate shape and he mutters ‘kelrelo hä kaki, kelrelo hä kaki’, and his staff hits the ground with a ‘thump’ that seems, perhaps, more booming than it ought to be-

 

And then Jacob feels a sensation akin to being dunked in pleasantly lukewarm sparkling water, alongside sensations less describable and no less pleasant, and he need no longer worry about the wear of the ages.

 

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The smile gets bigger.

"Thank you," Jacob says, as sincerely as he knows how.

 

 

...he attempts to gauge Kadlawen's likely reaction to being kissed and/or hugged. 

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“You’re welcome!” he chirps, beaming.

(He doesn’t seem like he’d be at all displeased to be the recipient of either of those things.)

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"Really, I—thank you—" 

Jacob grabs Kadlawen and kisses him. 

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And Kadlawen beams even more brightly, and - melts. 

And wraps his arms around him, and kisses back, with almost-certainly-magic-aided skill.

 

He tastes like honey.

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Delicious. 

He keeps the kiss relatively short, in deference to their audience, but is obviously reluctant to pull away. 

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The audience...appreciates his restraint. Sort of. 

Cas is having some kind of emotional reaction to this and isn't sure what. He'll work it out later. 

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Linden, looking exceedingly awkward and staring at anything but Jacob and Kadlawen, clears his throat. 

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Kadlawen, too, seems a bit reluctant to pull away. 

“Um, my apologies if anyone’s too dreadfully discomfited- and I can still render people unaging for the next five minutes without having to muck around with casting again, so long as I hold the spell, if anyone else is interested?”

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There are a couple of takers. The rest want a bit longer to think about it. 

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Thus, with all due haste: they are booped.

 

“... um, I suppose I interrupted the magic lecture, didn’t I- but I might prefer a written version, anyways, I don’t think that I click well with your lecture style and it probably ought to end up written anyways, for general distribution? And in that case we can probably continue on with regular touring-“

Fountains! Magically-enhanced bathrooms! Sunrooms, stocked with assorted exotic flora! Ocassional glances in Jacob’s direction, curiously balanced between the twin sentiments of ‘mm, snack’ and something less immediately comprehensible!

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Jacob gives him appreciative glances right back. He's a little concerned about Cas, but they can talk that out in private later. 

Tour! And, eventually, Jacob will suggest that they reconvene with the rest of the crew for a meal of some kind. 

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“Sure! I think that I’ll go ahead and attend to various other miscellanea, while you’re busy with that - I can come back in an hour or two?”

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"Yes, that should be acceptable." He smiles at Kadlawen as they part ways. 

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Smiling back: occurs!

And then he’s off to do Miscellaneous Kadlawen Things for two hours, and they can attend to their internal affairs.

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 They re-gather everyone, find a dining hall big enough to accommodate them all, and eat. Jacob uses the opportunity to lay down a few ground rules for his crew, and also to let them know they have the option to be immortal. He is unusually cheerful. 

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That's nice for him.

Casimir is unusually quiet and withdrawn. Several people notice; he brushes off their questions. 

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"Casimir," he says under his breath at some point. 

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Cas is in the habit of using the wind to listen for that voice saying his name. 

"Yes, Captain?" 

His voice, when the wind carries it back to Jacob's ears, is coldly neutral. 

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'Captain'. Oh, that isn't a good sign. What can he say to fix this, now...

"Come to my room tonight." Kadlawen is lovely, but he can wait. This is more important. 

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"Yes, sir." 

His mood noticeably improves after that. He participates in conversations, quizzes Su-Jin on her magic experiments, and even manages to smile at Kadlawen when he comes back. 

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And Kadlawen, quite unaware of this subtext-laden interpersonal exchange, smiles back at him! It’s very symmetrical.

 

“Hello again!” he chirps, eventually, worming his way around the dining hall towards Jacob. “I spoke with Lalvien - he thought that he might want to talk with you and try to establish lines of communication and all that nonsense. When would be a good time for that, do you think?”

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Jacob has a smile for Kadlawen as well! It's an 'oh, hello, attractive person who gave me a very nice present earlier' sort of smile, rather than a 'you are responsible for the single best thing that's ever happened to me' smile, because Cas would get jealous again over the second type. 

"I should expect his schedule is less flexible than mine. I'd be happy to speak with Lalvien - that being the ruler on whose land you built this castle, if I remember correctly?" 

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“We’re technically floating in midair - I don’t recall whether I mentioned that, it’s fairly default castle behavior - but we’re in his territory. Should I let you collect whomever you’d like accompanying you and then meet you outside, by the violet pillar?”

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"We might as well leave together, unless you have a task to attend to first."

He stands, gathering Cas and Linden with gestures. "Mel, you're in charge."

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A dark-haired man, presumably Mel, responds, "Aye, Cap'n," without looking up from his meal. 

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No, I don’t have anything in particular - I suppose we can be off, then.”

And so they, and anyone else following, can navigate through a few corridors, go out on one of the gorgeous bridges, Kadlawen can mutter and gesture and invoke -

 

A whirlwind plucks them out, spends a few moments in transit, and sets them down, on a gorgeous - lilpyad?

It does, actually, seem to be a lilypad, or at least stylized like one, made out of malachite and inset with occasional lapis lazuli stones, for variety. It’s floating in a very large, very serene lake, and connected to other pseudo-lilypads by little stepping stones, poking their heads over the lake’s surface. At the edge of this lilypad in particular, there is a table, made out of the same malachite as the rest; at the table is a chartreuse-skinned man, accompanied by a small entourage.

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“Salutations,” says the chartreuse-skinned man. “Lalvien, Royal Taniwha Mage - you’re going to think that we hand out countries like people hand out popcorn to pigeons, at this rate, you’ve met more royalty in a shorter period of time than anyone I’ve ever known - and you might be royal yourself, by certain definitions - it’d fit the rhythm of things, although I don’t believe you’ve actually inquired - and I’m somewhat concerned by the fact that we might now have two royal kraken mages, but you’d have to be more vicious than a mad lobster with a chronic pain condition to be worse than Dato - anyways. I wanted to get a sense of how you’re planning to spend your stay here, and determine how we might most advantageously combine resources towards the goal of getting you back to your more familiar universe, and towards remaining thereafter connected to that universe, ourselves. How can you help me with those goals, if at all?”