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Generated: Apr 10, 2019 11:27 AM
Post last updated: Apr 10, 2019 11:27 AM
the star which shines for me
magical girl sasuke faceplants on luthien
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This witch has been annoying - more twisted spatially than she's used to, and she can feel it (her, probably, she needs to keep reminding herself that witches are people...) moving even as she fights her way to the center. Which is unpleasant - she doesn't like being dropped somewhere other than where she got in.

Still, nothing for it. She doesn't have Sakura along, so this is a bit more of a slog than usual, but Sue does eventually knock enough holes in the central witch - something out of an M.C. Escher painting - that she collapses and the labyrnth dissolves, depositing Sue in a forest.

Sue rolls her eyes, groans, retrieves the witch's grief seed, and douses - and doesn't feel any local grief seeds.

She springs up - but can't fly past the canopy, the trees blocking her. She lands again, eyes the branches, and contemplates shooting her way out and how much of a bad idea that'd be.

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The forest is thick, but not cramped, and strangely lit. It seems to be night, but despite the lack of holes in the canopy, silvery light streams through to the forest floor below. If Sue looks down, the grass is a brilliant green even in the silvery illumination, and if Sue knows anything about plants it's far greener and more plentiful than should be possible. It's extremely comfortable, too, and the dirt is soft but not muddy or compressing beneath her shoes.

 

If she listens, closely, she might be able to hear the faintest hint of a sound in the distance.

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Something is definitely weird with this forest. It doesn't feel like a witch, but she's hesitant to go around blasting holes. (She's tried that inside labyrinths before. It ends poorly.)

She'll glide towards the sound - flying a bit off the ground even though it's expensive, the increase in security is worth it - and go ahead and clear her grief seed.

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The trees are healthy, tall, and strong. If Sue is paying attention and knows her botany, the leaves and trunks may seem oddly unfamiliar, but it's hardly obvious at a glance. the rustling sound of branches and their boughs is a soothing background, almost like a blanket of calming sound. The air is chill, though untinged by frost, and the breeze on her face is only a whisper through the trees. Then it turns, a bit, the sound it might not even carry still so faint it could be mistaken for imagination. 

No, that's odd. The wind hardly changed direction at all; the grass still leans the same direction, and the trees don't call out more than a whisper of a sound from their branches moving position. Still, the caress of the air on her cheek as heads through the zephyr is a gentle one, and friendly.

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Sue is not a botanist. Sue is a city girl. Sue does not know how to navigate among all these trees, but she's pretty sure she can at least shoot bears.

The wind is moderately freaky. She's starting to suspect another magical girl might have trapped her here.

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After correcting her course, she soon feels herself turning again, but once she's on the watch for it it's quite easy to overcome. If she continues, she soon feels her feet start to act up, as though she were walking in an entirely other direction. It won't affect her flight, though, and if she presses through she'll start to feel what seems to be a poorly-directed attempt at a headache whenever she looks ahead of her.

The sound is definitely not her imagination. It's a babbling brook, the melting of ice in the spring thaw, a nightingale singing softly, the last songbird on a clear night of late autumn, a song of sweetness and sorrow. It's undoubtedly the most beautiful thing Sue has ever heard, and not by a small margin either.

 

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Definitely another magical girl fucking with her.

Directing broadcasts is hard to do if she doesn't know who she's aiming at, so she'll start with stopping, gripping her bow tighter (but not nocking an arrow), and saying, "I know you're doing this. I'm not aggressive. A really annoying witch dumped me here - I'm not poaching. You don't want me in your territory, fine, point me at the exit, but stop it with this Alice in Wonderland shit."

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If the magical girl can hear here, there's no sign of it.

Up ahead, between the trees, there might be a flash of gold, but it's gone almost as soon as it appears.

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She'll slowly fly over there, vanishing her bow - she doesn't actually feel like a fight right now, and she can get it back faster than most people can figure out she's invulnerable. 'Hello?' she'll send to the flash of gold.

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"Hello!" is the response, and it's just as beautiful across telepathy as it is in song.  "A star shines on the hour of our meeting."

The music continues, uninterrupted, even as she speaks telepathically, and just as it finishes up the clearing comes into view. It's a treeless space, and where she dances the ground is a single, smooth grey stone. Within the clearing dances a girl, merrily singing, and the sight is enough to take Sue's breath away. Her dress is a brilliant blue in the moon and starlight, and it's set with glittering white jewels like the stars on a clear night. On the dress hangs golden flowers, a match for the beauty of the gems, and complementing their light. 

All this, however, cannot compare to the appearance of the girl herself. Her skin is smooth, her appearance without flaw, and her hair a deep, glossy black like the twilight. Her eyes are grey, and her face shines with a brilliant light, her appearance outmatching the brilliance of even her song.

As she watches, the girl spins onto an emerald green hillock, and flowers grow around her feet. 

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Sue doesn't find beautiful things breathtaking. This is immensely alarming. She tries not to let her wariness show on her face, but she still lingers on the edge of the clearing and has never been particularly good at hiding anyways.

"Nice to meet you. What's your name?" she asks, instead. "I'm Sue Uccelo. And can you tell me where we are, a witch dumped me here - I wasn't intending to come into your territory."

Repeating niceties like this is exhausting, especially with a magical girl with potential mind-altering powers. Sue'd been resistant to Nausicaa's 'friend aura', but this seems to worm its way past her defenses.

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"I'm Lúthien," comes the response, and with it comes a tinkling quality like joyous laughter, and the sound changes. A lark in springtime, delighted and excited at meeting someone new, the flowers coming into bloom. "You're at the northern border of Doriath - just a little bit further north and you would have wandered out of the hidden kingdom altogether! I don't know what a witch is, but I'm hardly possessive while dancing!"

 

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"I think they use other terms some countries? Big despair monsters? Involve labyrinths? Leave grief seeds?"

"I haven't heard of Doriath, or any hidden kingdom. Is this all magical girls?" She knows that one girl, Ashley, tended to switch between talking about a nation just for magical girls and 'magical girls should rule' which Sue's pretty sure was gloss for wanting to personally rule the world. 

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"I've never heard of those, but that's true of most of the enemy's creatures; I've never left Doriath. My mother keeps this entire forest safe from him; nothing evil can enter the borders. Doriath isn’t just inhabited by girls, My father, King Thingol, rules it, and it's got all kinds of people, not just ones like me!"

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"...I haven't heard of one 'enemy.'" She hasn't heard of witches doing strange things like interdimensional travel - this isn't another planet, unless it's multiple galaxies away, Luthien seems to have emotions close enough to 'human' for government work - but something bizarre is going on. She still can't sense any witches. "I'm from the United States of America. Planet Earth, though that doesn't translate well - third planet from the Sun in the Orion arm of the Milky Way Galaxy? Home to humans."

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“Oh, wow, a human? I’ve never seen one of you before, I didn’t think you could even get into Doriath! I’ve never heard of any of those places either, although that’s less surprising. They must be really far away, if the enemy hasn’t reached there yet, not just well hidden!”

There’s a hint of wistfulness behind the curiosity and excitement, but it’s mixed with fascination as well.

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"You have humans? I think it might be different dimension or universe far away. Like, we're in contact with our whole planet."

She's also very not sure how she's going to get back, now. Different planet? She knows Kyubey has interstellar - possibly intergalactic - travel, and wants her alive and on Earth for some bizarre Machiavellian reason. Different universe?

Yeah. No.

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"Oh, wow, you're from one of the later Plans? That's really cool, everyone will be so excited to meet you! We've always wondered Eru did once he finished Arda, you should come meet them!" It's very clear that Plan and Eru are capitalized. 

 

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"...Maybe?" If her world was planned she has a target after she finishes tearing through the incubators. Still: "Who is 'everyone'?"

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"Well, Mom and Dad - King Thingol and Queen Melian - and Daeron for sure, but probably most of the Sindar and Laiquendi would."

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A princess. What is her life.

"Talking like this is tiring," she says after a pause. Well, talking at all is tiring, but pretending the telepathy is exhausting is more likely to get a positive response. "So I'd prefer not to tell the story too many times. And I'm going to need explanations. On. Kind of a lot."

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"Sure! I'll take you right to mom and dad, let them know you're coming!" At this, she bursts into another song, and even without the words, the subject is somehow easy to understand. The details are still lost to the language gap, but it's a song about the forest and the trees they're in, and the person who.. gardens them? There's clearly love there, and reassurance, and excitement, and much like the earlier songs it is incredibly beautiful.

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Odd.

"Is your magic song-based?"

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This gets a surprised reaction.

"Of course it is, I'm not a Noldo."

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"Our's isn't. Magical girls have will-based magic, that's fueled by hope. Not sure what witches have, but it's also not a song. And I don't know what a Noldo is."

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"That's definitely different from us! We have song and dance magic, which all Quendi use, metalworking, which the Noldor and Nagothrim use, and the Powers." There's a moment of silence, and then she continues. "Some of the Enemy's servants have other kinds but those all come from him. The Noldor are the Quendi from across the sea, in Valinor, but we don't like them. They also fight the enemy, but they're also kind of evil themselves."

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"Lots of people are."

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"Not Quendi."

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"That sounds odd."

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"It makes sense to me. If you don't have the enemy, why would anyone be evil?"

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"...Admittedly I'm not certain how much of our fightiness is social engineering, witches, or us just being like that. Witches make people feel - angry, despairing, like nothing will ever be right again, and usually people then lash out. If someone feels like that because they're hungry and there's only enough food for half the people anywhere... They might act like a witch has them."

Her plan right now is to negotiate a place to just. Not be around people. Luthien isn't bad, a bit naive - reminds Sue of Nausicaa almost - but this is. Unpleasant. Moreso than talking usually is.

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"That's just awful!"

She seems genuinely upset, although it's not entirely obvious which part brought that on.

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"There's a lot to fix in my world."

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"It sounds like it."

The song becomes a lot more sad, at that, but it doesn't carry the same distance and encompassing power; the magic, if that's what the feeling is, is lesser or non-existent.

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She'll go quiet, start conserving her energy - and organizing her thoughts - for what's ahead.

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Luthien doesn't seem to be in a particular hurry, but even so, it quickly becomes clear that she is really fast. It's not just because she never misses a step or has unsure footing even when she dances along, either, its definitely at least borderline superhuman, and casually so. It's still technically within the range of human capabilities, and certainly not beyond those of Puella Magi even if Sue doesn't want to show off, but she doesn't seem to tire either. She never needs to stop to catch her breath despite the singing, and if at first it might simply be explainable by skill that quickly stops serving as an adequate explanation.

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Not unusual for a magical girl, or at least one who knows what she's doing. Still, if this Luthien represents an entire species, and isn't some modified particularly pretty lich like Sue... (Her soul lives in a gem. It's a phylactery. Anyone who argues with her or calls her a nerd is clearly not particularly self aware.)

But, yeah, definitely far from home.

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After a few hours, the forest starts to brighten. The sun starts to peak through the trees, and the forest turns a bright reddish orange as the wildlife starts to wake up.

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Sue considers asking when they'll get there a few times, but she's not getting tired and testing assorted senses - she's been trying to recreate Carrie's sensory abilities - is occupying enough. It's nice that Luthien's willing to let them be quiet so long, too, even quiet people usually try starting a conversation over that scale.

This forest also doesn't seem particularly flight friendly. 

Still, once it's dawn and she's less likely to hit a tree if she takes off at speed - "We getting close?" she asks.

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"Yeah. We're over halfway to the entrance to Menegroth."

They're running nearby a river, now, and the song Luthien is currently singing has also changed. She sings of slow but steady currents, the dappled sunlight through the trees onto the shaded water, and... something Sue doesn't really have the context to place due to her lack of Sindarin; it's something about the ocean, but not the water itself, not really.

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"I'm fine, but if you want I can fly us." It uses up magic which she might want to ration more than usual, but she doesn't use grief seeds from witches she doesn't know she can beat, so, as long as she finds somewhere deserted to hatch one or a few...

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Luthien isn't privy to any of this, and even if she had that word for word she wouldn't really have the context to make an informed decision; magic taking nonrenewable resources is very much not her expectation. This lack of knowledge, however, does nothing to change the fact that this is super exciting.

"I'd love that!"

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"Alright. I'll want to carry you, then." She's not sure the phrase 'bridal style' will translate at all.

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The implications here would be very different, so it's just as well that she doesn't use that. With the phrasing as is, Luthien has absolutely no objections.

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She'll scoop Luthien up, then, and take off, rising as high in the canopy as seems safe.

Speed scales nicely with cost, but long jumps are a cheaper way of steering than course correcting with flight, so she'll (gently) bounce off trees whenever she needs to turn to navigate.

She has a good capacity, so won't need to clear her soul gem mid-flight even being incredibly paranoid about usage.

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"Eeeeeeeh!"

Words, it seems, can not express how delighted Luthien is.  Songs might also have difficulty, but Luthien decides to give that one a valiant effort. If the previous songs were supernaturally beautiful, then this one is almost overwhelmingly so. Luthien is really, really delighted, and if she has any objections to the method of carrying she certainly has yet to express them.

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Flight is one of the skills she'd insisted on training until it wasn't prohibitively expensive.

It's fun in a way few things are.

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Luthien very enthusiastically agrees. The river starts to get further below the ground, and the riverbed lies at the bottom of a steadily deepening valley. After about 12 minutes, they start to approach what elves would consider near to the entrance; it's quite a ways out of vision range for humans, and the bridge blends in well with the stone of the cliffs, but Luthien's familiar with the area and her eyesight is more than good enough to pick it out even from this unfamiliar vantage point. 

"That's the entrance to Menegroth."

 

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She'll drop them down to the ground, then, so they can walk or run the rest of the way. No sense in alarming any sentries. She enhances her vision a bit so it's more visible and then nods.

"Any approach protocols?"

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Luthien tries not to seem too disappointed about no longer flying, and she achieves this admirably! It’s still incredibly obvious if you can hear the music, though; she seamlessly moves from one subject to another, but the change from sheer delight is it’s own message.

”They can hear me coming. Menegroth doesn’t have some kind of secret code you need to knock out on the wall to get in, or anything like that.”

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"Alright. Lead the way?"

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They’re still about three miles off, but Luthien hasn’t gotten slower, so within ten minuted they arrive at a stone bridge across the ravine, far above the water below. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the architecture is entirely unfamiliar, but the creators were clearly skilled; even to Sue’s eyesight, the seam in the stone cannot be seen, and it is impossible to tell just where cliff ends and bridge begins. On the other side of the bridge, the door is similarly well hidden within the rock, and it opens to a passageway leading down into the earth, carved into the solid stone. The walls are lit with torches and lanterns cleverly hidden within intricately carved mouths of dragons - in the flickering firelight, their jeweled eyes seem almost alive, and their teeth indistinguishable from real bone. 

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"Your artists are good," she arranges to say after a few moments. "These weren't made with magic?"

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“They were well carved.”

Luthien seems somewhat confused by the question, actually.

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" - How would you define 'magic,' actually."

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“The works of the Powers, and the Arts they taught.”

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"So carving is magic?"

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This doesn’t seem to alleviate the confusion!

”No? The Naugrim were created by Aulë, but Eru Ilúvatar granted them life. They aren’t extensions of him, or anything like that.”

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"Iiiiii think we're using two very different meanings of 'magic.' I'd define magic as 'breaks conservation of energy.' Like, you can get more out than you put in. Actual magic I know about is hope-magic, and whatever witches do which I've been assuming is despair-magic. Some girls - and one boy I know of - are potentials. Some potentials can make a single wish between age seven and seventeen. The wish's power depends on how strongly you feel about it. That sets a high point for magical strength. Using magic burns hope, and produces despair. Magic does things - conjures items, heals people, damages things, moves things, warps space, and a bunch of other stuff. Wishes produce more effects than spells but I think that's degree, not kind. People who haven't wished can't use magic."

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”What’s the conservation of energy? And that sounds a lot like the Powers, I think mom can do all of that, but I’ve never heard of a human who could and certainly not anything about wishes.”

Then suddenly from up ahead comes the sound of laughter in the halls, a silvery mirth that seems to fill the air and stone, and with it the sound of birds - nightingales, if Sue knows her songbirds - and a voice that sounds much like Luthien. Just around the next corner is a massive hall, showing even onto the sky, but a sky unlike any Sue has ever seen; the light is like day, but the vault of the heavens glitters with stars. Great trees stretch up from the ground to the heights, and their branches are covered in leaves of brilliant emerald green despite the winter outside the halls, and the branches seem almost golden. On the trees perch songbirds, the nightingales whose song Sue can hear, and within the forest stand beautiful fountains that - that doesn’t just look like gold, this is all carved stone and metalworking

At the end of the hall sits a pair of thrones upon which sit a a pair of figures with hair of silver and black; if Sue had not seen Luthien, these would undoubtably be the most beautiful people she had ever seen. Upon their heads rest crowns, one of flowers and one of of metal, somehow wrought to be silver and green. The person with silver eyes turns to look at Sue, and she feels a prescence that somehow makes it perfectly clear that this is a king. His grey eyes burn as though lit by an unquenchable light, and it suddenly becomes clear that he is very tall. 

 

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Alrighty then, luckily Sue has zero awe of (or respect for) authority and is entirely unaffected by the presence of a king and queen.

She will nod solemnly, say - and telepath - "Greetings, your Majesties," and then solely over telepathy: "Or whichever mode of address is most proper," to both figures as well as Luthien. And with not much of a pause because she spent several hours stringing words together in her head: "Your lands are very beautiful. Thank you for hosting me for even a short time. I apologize that I do not know your language, but I am from very, very far."

To just Luthien: "I'll explain conservation with the general audiences magic explanation?"

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“Thou art skilled indeed at thought-opening, for one not of the Quendi. Who art thou stumblest hither? What wouldst thou here? What hither led thy wandering feet, O mortal child?”

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“That would probably help.”

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Uggggh she hated the old fashioned talk in English class.

"I'm not from this world. There are incompatible concepts. I am Sue Uccelo, daughter of Makena and Fredrick Uccelo, ward of Shayne Uccelo. I am a magical girl - magic is restricted to a few people in my world, and I believe works differently than here. I would like to get home. I came here by accident - I was fighting a witch, another type of magic user who can warp space to greater extents than magical girls. This one seems to have warped space more than usual."

"I am also not mortal. No magical girls are. We cease in battle, of exhaustion, or of despair, and nothing else."

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“It seems Andreth’s reckoning had more truth, than any among the Quendi gave her credit for, if indeed those Men born beyond the grasping reach of Melkor are not so fiercely hunted by the shadow of death that they remain for mere decades, and are blessed by The One Above All with the gifts befitting his secondborn children. To know that they live on beyond his reach is beyond anything which we had hoped. Yet it also fills my heart with dread, for it seemeth we hath dearely underestimated the malice and power of Melkor, that if he might change the Doom of a whole Children, and deny them of their birthright, then mayhaps all our resistance is for naught. And yet Mortal still I judge you, a guest, for the Fae of Men, though indeed close to the Fae of the Quendi, is not one and the same, and thine is not confined to Arda, nor is Arda thine home. Thine Fae and Rhaw art in Harmony, but thine Fae departs for lands unseen when the Rhaw can endure no longer, and does not endure within Arda for all the Ages of the world."

If he sees anything unusual about death from grief and exhaustion, it's not in evidence.

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"Most humans aren't immortal back home, either. Getting my world's hope-magic separates us from our bodies, and allows us to heal them easily. If I had enough magic, I could rebuild this body even from nothing, and I'm rebuilding it constantly whenever it's injured. Possibly we could heal older humans of accumulated damage, resetting the clock, but there aren't that many magical girls, and fewer who can heal, to the point where it's more reasonable to leave lifespan extension to medicine."

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If Sue is good with faces, Thingol is very surprised to be spoken to like this, and to be so contradicted, and annoyed by it as well. It’s not casually visible even to an elf, but Luthien can tell easily. To one less experienced on the subject, he seems merely mildly surprised.

Beyond that, and more obvious, is a sense of relief and even curiously - Thingol is hardly a Noldor, much less a Feanorian, but he was not one of the few among the elves willing to scout the uttermost west for no reason.

 “To say such tiding are good news is to understate the affair, child. It seems unlikely in Our eyes that Melkor would be permitted within the later works of the one above all to meddle, and if he were he would not refrain from warring; that thine home is free from his marring, and still comprised of the same fundamental nature, is perhaps something of a relief.”

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"I'd be surprised if humans were very different, though I already know our concepts of magic differ. I can explain some of my world, if you would prefer."

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“We beleive that would be wise.”

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Ughhhhhh okay so, she prepared this speech.

"Humans are the only known sapient species on my planet. There are other planets, at least one of them with another sapient species, the Kyubey. I believe there are more than just them, though."

"Magic is - discreet. Most people don't have it. It requires emotions that work a specific way, and as far as I know currently only humans qualify. We'd define it as stuff that breaks conservation of mass and energy - in my world, left alone, matter and energy can't be made or gotten rid of, only changed. People aren't born with magic. People who can get magic - almost entirely girls - are called potentials. Potentials can make wishes. The ones who're allowed to is currently controlled by the Kyubey."

"Wishes - range a lot. On the useful end, I've heard of everything from 'a lot of money, non-suspiciously' to 'mass mind control' to 'grant someone invulnerability' to 'resurrect the dead' to one girl who made herself unable to die at all. Because wishes are granted to kids, most people don't optimize them and make weaker wishes than their potential."

"Wishes grant the ability to use magic. The magic used by magical girls is powered by - and burns - hope. If I'm very hopeful, which usually means joy but I've managed it with anger, I can do more powerful things. If I do powerful things, I start feeling despair. If a magical girl uses too much magic, or separately falls into despair, she becomes a witch. I'm unsure if witches are sapient. They feed on people's emotions, and usually kill people - they'll cause someone to commit suicide or murder-suicide usually, sometimes just assault if they're weak. There's a way of offloading despair into grief seeds, which witches leave when they run out of magic, and I have a collection, so I'm not worried about running out of magic myself."

She has to pause, then. "There's more but I'm getting tired."

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“Thine world must be wholly different from Arda, so much so that We cannot learn all there is to know in a short conversation. Thine magic is different from the acts of the Powers that created Arda, but through thought-opening its nature is more clear, and it does not seem wholly dissimilar save in scale. For one dying of grief to weigh down others onto death seems a great tragedy to these eyes, although perhaps the same cannot be said of Guests such as thou.

“In these times of war, Menegroth is more crowded than it might otherwise be, but not so that we cannot house visitors. You have Our leave to do so.”

The last bit goes to Sue as well, through telepathy, but does not seem to be directed towards her.

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She - doesn't know whether to curtsy or bow so will quickly ask just-Luthien about basic niceties. (She might not respect anyone, but she has eventually learned the basic concept of not immediately pissing off people who think they have power over her. (She doesn't pass this thought along))

'Thank you, your Majesty.'

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“Normally, you’d kneel, right leg back, and bow your head, but you’re human and from far away; Dad’s not going to insist on you knowing protocol.”

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She'll bow in the human style, then - it seems close enough. Her skirts, being magic, don't move inconveniently. 'I would like to rest now,' she sends to the same set as earlier. 'If I may be excused, and shown to a place to recuperate.'

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Thingol does not take issue with this, at least not detectably.

”Thou hath Our leave to do so.”

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Luthien smiles at that, radiantly, and if the hall doesn’t literally get brighter at that it doesn’t seem to be for lack of trying on her part.

Come on! I know just the place!”

She heads out into the forest - no, cavern - with purpose, off to the left of the throne.

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She'll thank him, then follow Luthien.

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The trees go on for a while; it seems implausible that they wouldn't have an edge, but if they do, it isn't in evidence. There's a song from up ahead. It's also ridiculously, absurdly good, to the point that it's obviously inhuman, but it's not as good as Luthien is. There are a few of what must be Quendi wandering about this new area of the underground forest and singing. The main part of the noise is still coming from elsewhere, but it's not clashing from the different volumes, and now Luthien joins in and harmonizes with the song and it's back to indescribably pretty.

After a few more minutes, they reach a river. It's got a quaint little bridge, hanging between two trees, just a little off the ground; stone and metal, but carved to look and sway like actual wood and rope. There's a staircase up to the bridge, and down on the other side. Once they cross, it's only a minute before Luthien leads Sue to an honest-to-goodness treehouse, and sings down a - ladder, it looks like, but so beautiful it might well be a work of art in it's own right.

"I hope you'll like it!"

 

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"It's pretty," she sends. "And isolated. I think I will."

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”Some people just need space! That’s the feeling I got from you, I’m glad I got that right!”

Inside the treehouse is, unsurprisingly, as gorgeous as the outside. There’s what looks cute little bed by a window with lightproof shutters. Two of the walls have tapestries so fine that even up close the threads are essentially invisible, depicting scenes from a forest that look as though the animals might come to life at any minute. There’s what looks like an extra room, or maybe a closet, behind a brilliantly embroidered curtain, and a table with chairs in the middle of her room that look to be elegantly carved from a single piece of wood. If Sue has been paying attention, it’s possible to tell that this is actually wood and not carved stone like outside, but it’s not easy. The floor is carpeted and very soft, and there are what look like a few woven baskets by the wall.

The sound of singing can be heard, still, although it’s quieter in here.

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"Thanks for the thought." She goes to sit down on the bed, and, because she's getting the sort of achy she does when she's been using magic a lot (regardless of whether she clears her soul gem), she dismisses her magical girl outfit. The crisp, sharply cut white-with-black-accents blazer and skirt fade into white glittering flecks, revealing her usual loose jeans, t-shirt, and open jacket.

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”It’s no problem at all!”

A beat, and then.

”How long to humans usually sleep for? I was going to offer to show you around when you got up again, but I don’t actually know how long that’ll be.”

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"Most humans sleep seven to nine hours out of every twenty-four hour period, sometimes more or less. I can go without but it's tiring, and I separately need time to think. Ten hours should be sufficient? A second is this," and she sends a sensation of the amount of time, "a minute's sixty of those, and an hour's sixty minutes, for reference. Or five twelfths of a day, assuming our days are the same length."

Permalink Eye

“That sounds about the same, at least. I’ll let you sleep.”

Luthien heads out the door, and it swings shut without even a whisper. Despite the door closing, the room is still well lit from the windows, which open onto the forest at tree-height; the not-sunlight goes mostly unhindered through the branches above.

Permalink Eye

She sits, regards her magic and her current grief seed, and sort of - twists her hand, and a white box materializes in her palm. She wants to keep most of her seeds at a low usage, for now, especially since setting one off in the middle of her hosts' city would be dangerous. So she stashes the seed she's got, hesitates over her sister's seed, then grabs Bridget's - it's recently reset and Bridget makes for an easy witch to beat, anyways. (She's strong, but so's Sue, and Bridget was always straightforward.) She closes the box, and with another twist it vanishes.

Clearing her soul gem and stashing the grief seed in a secure pocket is almost second nature.

Then she lays back, and settles in to start trying to figure out paths back.

Permalink Eye

Once Sue starts looking, it becomes immediately clear that this place is blanketed with magic, but not of any sort that she’s familiar with. No, blanketed is the wrong word; this place is magic as much as matter. It’s hard to focus through at first, although far from impossible.

Permalink Eye

Interesting. It seems congruent with Luthien being confused magic could be a limited resource, and with her statement that magic is basically the same thing as crafting. She probes - she can reach her pocket dimension, can't reach through it (though she does remove a pad of paper and pen, and leave a note for Sakura on the off chance it's reachable from either side).

She doesn't get far, and does eventually sleep.

Permalink Eye

Sue sleeps uninterrupted; this isn’t near the center of Menegroth, so even without closing the curtains the sound isn’t that distracting. The fact that it’s pretty probably doesn’t hurt either.

When she wakes up, there’s sunlight streaming through the window, at a different angle than before, and the room is perhaps a bit brighter than it was the night before.

Permalink Eye

She stretches, grimaces down at her old clothes, but decides not to change for now - it's not like they get sweaty while she's in her magical girl outfit.

She'll take some time to herself, just resting, before sending to Luthien: "I'm awake now, if you want to give me that tour."

Permalink Eye

“I’d be delighted to!”

If Sue is listening closely to the music, it should be clear that Luthien isn’t that far off;  she’s harmonizing with a group of Quendi, and her voice is still audible. She’s not the closest person to the treehouse that Sue can hear, but it’s less than 10 minutes later that Luthien dances up.

Permalink Eye

She's already jumped down by then, and is loitering at the base. She nods at Luthien when she comes into view.

Permalink Eye

“Hi! Do you have any idea where you want to start, or should I pick somewhere? Oh, and let me know if I’m not explaining something or you have question, I might not realize what stuff isn’t common knowledge.”

Permalink Eye

"I don't know what there is to see."

Permalink Eye

“Lots! There’s the gardens, and the concert hall where Daeron usually plays - he’s really really good - and the treetop meeting grounds, the central clearing, you saw the throne room - there’s the city, although lots of people don’t like it there because it’s too crowded; we could go see the river, it pools up into a lake over that way, and I guess we could see the Naugrim but it’d be kinda hard to get much out of them since you don’t speak Sindarin.”

Permalink Eye

"Why wouldn't this work with them?"

Permalink Eye

“Dwarves minds can’t be effected, not even by Melkor. If you try thought-sharing with them, it’s as though they don’t exist. It was kinda a problem, early on, but things are better now and then having the immunity is probably for the best, at least until The Valar fix things.”

Permalink Eye

She shrugs; there's a chance her telepathy works differently enough, but she doesn't care enough to test it. "The river or the gardens, maybe."

Permalink Eye

The river In question is the same one they went over yesterday. It’s a cute little thing, burbling it’s way across the ground. Further down, it thickens out a bit, but doesn’t seem to be any slower.

”The water here all comes from the Esgalduin. The Naugrim dug us tunnels so that the water could flow, without letting in people in case they somehow got past the girdle. She could make it herself, but apparently that’s not the best idea so she only does that when she needs to; if she made too much water, it wouldn’t be good for the oceans, and then Ulmo would have to fix it. She still controls it, though, some areas she raises the temperature, or makes  it bubbling, or calmer.”

There are a few Elves bathing in the river; one of them calls out to Luthien and Sue via song. Sue might be starting to get the idea that these people really like pretty things. And, apparently, they have no modesty, although whethe that’s because they don’t expect people to look or not might not be immediately obvious.

Permalink Eye

"She who?" She's not looking at the naked people. "And - do you have modesty rules? Like, ways it's inappropriate to dress or groom around strangers."

Permalink Eye

“Queen Melian. You saw her on the throne next to dad earlier."

Luthien blinks.

I'm sorry, I didn't think; we don't with bathing, and it's not very serious otherwise, but I know there are a few groups of Quendi that do and the Naugrim have their own rules. Um. The lake usually doesn't have very many people in it at once, and I could find out what parts of the river are clear to look at?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm fine. Don't super care."

Permalink Eye

"Alright!"

The river widens more, but Sue could probably still jump across it with enhanced strength even if she didn't use her flight trick. The pass some more Quendi, but there aren't a ton of them; even if Sue is averting her eyes, she won't miss much. It comes to a stop at a lake. The lake is less than a kilometer across, but it's still quite sizable; there are a few more Quendi swimming in it, and what looks like a pair of them having a race. There's a river flowing out of it as well, which curves a bit and then dissapears among the trees.

"This is almost the edge of Menegroth. The water flows back into the Esgalduin, and there's a wall of rock just a ways beyond those trees. It's made to look pretty natural, but lots of Quendi don't like to see it and be reminded that there's an outside where things aren't always safe."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Things don't go away if you don't think about them.

This place is... Almost too quiet and peaceful.

"What's the outside like?"

Permalink Eye

"The forest is pretty safe. I've never heard of someone getting through without mom letting them before you did, but she says that The Enemy might be able to force his way in after enough time, and not everyone can be safely let in. The rest of Beleriand is pretty bad, though; after the battle of sudden flame, the enemy swept most of the kingdoms off the map and broke the siege of Angband. Aside from Himring and the Falas Havens, the only ones that aren't dead or enslaved are the ones he can't find. Gondolin is almost as safe as here is; Ulmo made it impossible to locate unless someone who already knows where it is tells you. Nargathrond should still be hidden, and might last a while if he found it because there are lots of Noldor there, but it's hard to be sure. I haven't heard of any of the Naugrim cities falling, but they wouldn't be able to stop any serious assault and mostly stay out of the war aside from supplying us with arms. The north is all controlled by The Enemy's Glamhoth, but further south there are fewer of them?"

"I'm sorry I can't be more helpful. I've never actually left Doriath before."

Permalink Eye

"It's okay. It sounds bad out there."

Permalink Eye

”It’s pretty awful. Things were safer a decade ago, but still not safe; nowhere outside of Valinor has been really safe in almost 500 years, not even Menegroth or Gondolin.”

Permalink Eye

"I don't know much about here. What's - the threats?"

Permalink Eye

“Most of The Enemy’s forces are Glamhoth, which aren’t that dangerous unless they outnumber you or ambush you or you get tired, but he has lots of them and they often have dogs to hunt you down. He has some Men that serve him, too, but I don’t know as much about what they’re capable of; Gorthaur turned some of them into Werewolves, but those mostly stay near his fortress on Tol-in-Gaurhoth. The Valley of Dreadful Death has giant spiders, but I think those are just dangerous, not servants of The Enemy.

”If The Enemy wants to destroy someone personally, then he might send an army, or he might send some of his Maiar. Most of them are incarnated as deadly monsters of flame - we call them Balrogs - but Gorthaur isn’t. He’s nearly as strong as a Power himself, and is The Enemy’s chief lieutenant so he never lacks forces. The Enemy doesn’t leave Angband much himself, he hasn’t done much himself since he killed Fingolfin eight years ago.There’s also Glaurung. No one knows what it is, besides one of The Enemy’s creations - it’s hard to say how big it is, but at least 6 horselengths, not counting the tail. It’s got four legs, each with enormous claws, its scales are as hard as iron, and it can breath fire. 

“The Noldor can be really bad, but if the alternative is the Enemy everyone says they’re the much better option.”

Permalink Eye

Dragons. Great. Fantastic. This day keeps getting better.

"Bad how?"

Permalink Eye

“They’re Kinslayers. Back before they got kicked out of Valinor, they killed thousands of the Falmari because the Falmari wouldn’t let them steal their ships, and then burned the ships when they were done with them. If the people who live in a place aren’t strong enough to stop them, they don’t care about them at all; almost their land is stolen from native Sindar that were hit hard early on in the war, and they drove out or killed all the Noegyth Nibin living there so they could make a kingdom in their caves in Nargothrond; they also don’t treat the human kingdoms very well but I don’t know the details there. Apparently, their king is a sexual deviant, but I guess that aside from letting him be king that’s not most of the Noldor’s fault. 

“The only reason they’re even at war with The Enemy is that he stole some of their treasure.”

Permalink Eye

"Sound bad. Treasure like what?"

Permalink Eye

“A bunch of them, but the ones that sparked the war are called the Silmarils. There are three of them, gemstones. They’re supposed to be really pretty and glow with the light of the Trees, and Varda blesses them to burn anything evil that touched them. They were made by Fëanor, the high king of the Noldor, and he was really possessive of them so when The Enemy stole them he brought the Noldor to war.”

Permalink Eye

"...That's making me think 'evil-burning lasers.' I'm probably very wrong about the possibility of spreading the effect, though."

Permalink Eye

“I’m not sure what a laser is, but I don’t think so? The Enemy can’t touch them, but he still put them in his iron crown.”

Permalink Eye

"A way of projecting light in a small beam. Usually harmless, but big ones can set stuff on fire."

Permalink Eye

“How would that work? The Silmaril’s burnt The Enemy’s hands, but they weren’t hot or anything.”

Luthien pauses for a moment, as hearing something.

”Oh, like how the Sun heats things up, but concentrated onto one spot. That sounds incredible!”

Permalink Eye

"Don't know if it'd actually work. Just what I thought when I heard 'burns on contact' and 'emits light' together."

Permalink Eye

“I don’t think that’s it. The Silmarils don’t burn you unless you touch them, because Varda blessed the gemstones and not the light. Light is always moving, I think if you tried to bless the light like that it wouldn't work well because the blessed light wouldn’t stick around any more than normal light does.”

Permalink Eye

"Huh. That's not intuitive to me. Magic items in my system aren't - inherently limited in being able to produce or project things?"

Permalink Eye

"The Silmarils aren't a Power, I don't see how they could be constantly blessing the light they make, even if Feanor wanted them to? I don't really know how they were made, though, I'm not a Noldo."

Permalink Eye

"It's - in my magic, conjured things are inherently magical. Only people with magic, or wishes, or maybe things made by wishes, can conjure anything. If something is conjured at all, it wouldn't be hard to make that conjured thing have active effects."

Permalink Eye

Luthien blinks, and looks down at the ground by her feet.

"The flowers I make aren't magical like that, I don't think."

Permalink Eye

"I think it's a difference in magic systems. Ours are - very, very different."

Permalink Eye

”It sure seems like it.”

It’s a bit of a trek from the lake to the gardens, but probably not enough so that Sue gets bored. Luthien spends the trip singing, as seems to be her habit, and several of the Quendi she and Sue pass join in for a time. 

“Here it is!”

The trees give way to open fields, and they are covered in flowers of all different types. Reds and orange and yellow and blue and green, all the colors of the rainbow but with  black and white and pink, in vibrant colors that grab the eye and muted pastel to not overwhelm. It seems like it should clash horribly, but there appears  to have been an enormous effort made to make everything work together. It’s not the same style as the carved dragons, or even the trees and sky above, but they also have prodigious attention to detail and a strong sense of aesthetics. If Sue knows her flowers, she’ll notice that this garden seems to have many of the same as the ones she knows, but also unheard of varieties that share only artistic inspiration with those from her home world. The field is enormous, but the effect isn’t ruined no matter how much one gazes at at a time. The air smells faintly sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and tinged with dozens of mixing scents; each one still separable from the mass, but blended together to something far better than the some of its parts. In the center lies a copse of flowering trees, in which songbirds sit and spring, and the air has a smattering if gorgeous butterflies in their own riotous color.

There are paths among the flowers, almost completely hidden and placed so as not to ruin the veiw, for travel. There are quite a few Quendi here, although not really a crowd.

“This isn’t the biggest of the gardens, but it’s my favorite one.” 

Permalink Eye

"It's nice." She has questions, vaguely, but putting them into order sounds exhausting.

Permalink Eye

Luthien is, in fact, a mind reader, but she’s not doing that right now, and thus isn’t picking up what Sue isn’t sending. She can, however, notice a lack of enthusiasm.

”Should we go on to a different garden, or to our next destination?”

Permalink Eye

"I'm fine not moving too fast."

Permalink Eye

”Alright.”

Luthien likes it here, quite a bit, so if Sue wants to keep things slow, she’s happy to sing and dance among the flowers. If Sue looks interested, Luthien will give her the names of the flowers in Sindarin, but otherwise will use the names in context of another stunningly beautiful song about the flowers.

Permalink Eye

Sue will sit and watch her. Sue's not big into music - not like it seems the Quendi are - but Luthien's good.

She should probably be trying to learn the actual language, so she'll pay attention to the words and their patterns, but she doesn't really talk.

Permalink Eye

Luthien isn’t in a hurry, and thinks nothing of spending most of an hour sitting by the garden in the light. Once she notices she listening for words, she makes sure her enunciation is clear and it suddenly becomes... obvious which plant she’s singing about, when it responds to her voice.

When she sees Sue pull out a book, she’s fascinated, but quickly grasps the purpose and retunes her singing on the fly to something softer and less distracting; the other Quendi in the field switch with her.

Permalink Eye

"Do you have writing?" Sue asks, once she determines the book she'd pulled out isn't going to hold her attention more than an hour or two (it's one of Sakura's science fiction novels, with a ridiculous amount of math for a story), having noticed the glance. 

Permalink Eye

”We have some music notation Daeron invented, but not anything widely in use. It’s a Noldor thing, and we don’t usually get along with them.”

Permalink Eye

"Makes it easier to pass stuff around. Guess it's less important if you're immortal, or don't have a bunch of people."

Permalink Eye

“There are lots of Quendi in Doriath; over 100,000! We’re usually pretty good with our memories, but when we want to remember things in detail, we usually put them to songs so they can get passed from person easily and are simple to remember.”

Permalink Eye

"It's harder if you don't know someone, or you need to teach things to someone on another continent, or most people aren't interested in it. The city I grew up in had... I think about six hundred thousand? And wasn't that huge for a city. My country has something like three hundred million but we're most of a continent."

Permalink Eye

”That’s a lot of people! More than us, the Naugrim, Humans, and Ents combined; I don’t think we have that many even if you count the Glamhoth and the people in Valinor.”

Permalink Eye

"There was a lot of - food technology stuff. That happened."

Permalink Eye

"There's more than enough food in Doriath for this many people; the reason our population hasn't been growing aside from refugees is the war. Quendi don't have kids when it's not safe, and only some of them think Doriath is protected enough for that."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense if you're immortal."

Permalink Eye

“Yeah. When you have all the ages of the Arda, why would you have children at anything but the best possible time?”

She might not completely agree with that? It’s not clear, precisely, but she doesn’t seem to object to the logic, so if there’s another disagreement there the clash isn’t obvious.

Permalink Eye

Sue hms, but - doesn't really know how to poke that, or if it's her place.

"Magical girls don't have kids," she settles on eventually. "I think."

Permalink Eye

"The Ainur usually can't have children either, but I don't think that's for the same reason."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know if our bodies are different or we just don't."

Permalink Eye

"That seems kinda sad. I'm not ready to have kids yet, but it'd be kinda sad if I couldn't ever. I guess the fact that you don't know for sure means it hasn't really come up yet, though."

Permalink Eye

"Not for me." She shrugs. "Don't know any magical girls with kids."

Permalink Eye

Luthien will go back to singing, then, until Sue is done. It's still before noon, so Sue probably won't keep reading until she wants to sleep, but if she does want to Luthien isn't in any kind of a hurry and almost certainly isn't going to comment unless Sue expresses further interest in a conversation.

Permalink Eye

She'll read for a few hours, having switched to a more interesting book, before asking about food. She has some, but it won't hurt to see what's local.

Permalink Eye

Doriath is, apparently, not wanting for much of anything, and hasn't been wanting for anything for thousands of years. Some animals aren't infinitely available, apparently, but they have an astonishing range of spices and a different flavor palate from what Sue is used to. The place Luthien leads Sue to serves something like a kebab in its core idea but has a radically different execution. Some of the fruits taste tart, which combines surprisingly well with the meat. The sticks, for lack of a better word, are edible; they most closely resemble celery in execution, but aren't quite that fibrous and differ in flavor. Each one is carved in the likeness of a different animal in exquisite detail, but neither Luthien nor the cook seem to think anything of them being consumed in a single meal. No money changes hands, but it might not be immediately clear if that's because there isn't any here at all or if this is just because Luthien is a princess.

Permalink Eye

She's got a fairly limited range of food she likes - nothing too sweet or sour, only mildly savory, she likes salt and doesn't mind spice or bitterness. Vegetables, rice, some curries, pretty much.

Also these people have way too much time on their hands. (She doesn't say this.)

She does after a little bit ask about the money - "What kind of - economy? Is there here?"

Permalink Eye

Most of these will fit in that range, modulo some uncertainty from Luthien about exactly how much of these are too much, although she does warn away Sue from a particularly brightly colored set that is apparently extremely sweet.

"We don't have one, not in the way that the Naugrim or Noldor do. About the only things we use gold for is trading with outsiders since we don't need it for much in Doriath.

Permalink Eye

"Huh. How do you - get stuff inside the - thing. System."

Permalink Eye

“What do you mean?”

Permalink Eye

"If I - wanted an item. Like - a dress. How would I get it?"

Permalink Eye

“It depends on how soon you needed it, and for how long, I guess, but usually you would find a dressmaker you like, and ask them to make one for you? If you need it on a time constraint and they’re busy you might borrow a dress from a friend, or help them out so they had more free time? You could also try and find someone who wasn’t as busy? I know I usually to get stuff faster because I’m the princess, but it’s the same process...”

Permalink Eye

"So by default there's no - exchange? People just do things for each other?"

Permalink Eye

“Usually, yeah. Sometimes people want more of something than we have people who make it? Most of the time when that happens it’s because we don’t really have those skills and we go to the Naugrim, like when we needed weapons to fight The Enemy or when Menegroth was built, and we pay them in gold. Otherwise, though, they can always go find someone who likes doing it, pick up the skill themselves.”

Permalink Eye

"Probably works better with less people and more time, I guess."

Permalink Eye

“I’m not sure more people would become an issue, at least not until you started to get so many that mom couldn’t support them all. More time, though... If you died so soon, then waiting a few months for someone to get around to compose your song might be too long, and you can’t just spend most of a decade of your life getting as good as everyone else is in your field.”

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Plus. Lots of people. And no one - making new natural stuff? So there's resource shortages. And - "

She's not sure how to word 'there's people no one likes who should still probably have stuff,' especially in a way that'll make sense to someone from an apparently intensely pro-social species.

Permalink Eye

Even with telepathy, stuff that Sue isn’t sending isn’t going to be heard. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, what sue did send is sad enough to visibly effect Luthien.

“Everything about that sounds really hard. It was really awful in the early days of the war, when people couldn’t safely hunt or gather food, and how hungry the people coming to Doriath were. And your world... it sounds like you don’t have The Enemy, but there are so many of you, and I can’t even really help people here either.”

This may have gotten abruptly somewhat more personal.

Permalink Eye

"Why not?"

Permalink Eye

“I’m not allowed to leave Doriath. I’m half Maia, so I’m a lot stronger than most Quendi, but dad... if I got captured, he couldn’t stay objective, so the Enemy would never stop trying. I design Songs, and try to help keep up morale, but it’s not the same and I hate not being able to help.”

Permalink Eye

"There's - support stuff. That's important. But... People should - be able to go where they want?" She shrugs. "I'm not - used to the idea of one person being essential, though."

Permalink Eye

“I used to be able to leave before the war, but I didn’t really do it then; there wasn’t  any need. But Angband... only one person has ever gotten free once they got captured, and the Valar were helping.”

Permalink Eye

"...I might be able to break people out if that's - important? Depends on what's keeping them there. And how vulnerable I am to local magic."

Permalink Eye

“Melkor is the one keeping them there. He’s the strongest person in Ea; in the years of the lamps, he used to fight the Valar constantly, 13 on one, and they almost lost before Tulkas arrived. He’s not impossible to fight - the Noldor do it occasionally - but it never ends well. He also controls Angband and the territory around it even more than mom does Doriath, and he has all his Balrogs and Glamhoth.”

Permalink Eye

"I might want to know more about local magic, if I can't get out quickly, which looks like the case. I won't want to stay in this same forest long. But I don't know what here can threaten me."

Permalink Eye

“You’d probably want someone more familiar with the war, like Mablung or Beleg. I know what I’m supposed to do if I ever end up outside of Doriath and can’t get back, but that doesn’t translate to knowing what’s most dangerous to you.”

Permalink Eye

"Direct magic attacks and mind control would be most dangerous to me? Maybe? I have a wish protecting me, and it - covers most've what I've met?"

Permalink Eye

“I don’t think anyone in The Enemy’s forces except the Ainur and Glaurung are likely to have those. If it just stops you from being hurt, though, his other forces could still capture you, or slow you down enough that you couldn’t just escape. If you can keep up the flying you showed me and use it to avoid fights, you should be mostly fine, because I’m not sure anything short of an Ainur could chase you down since their archery isn’t as good as ours is and nothing else flying can challenge the eagles.”

Permalink Eye

"I'm immune to all physical damage. I'm immune to magical damage native to my world. I've met mind control that could get through my shields once - a girl whose wish made everyone she talked to like her. It wasn't malicious and was a wish-power, which might've been why it got through. I'm probably vulnerable to emotional control. I can't be knocked out, and I don't need to move to do magic, so I'm hard to capture without strong magical bindings. If I was being careful about clearing my magic as I went, I can fly for a very long time, a bit faster than what I showed, or probably for an hour at around five hundred times that if I was being stupidly reckless."

Permalink Eye

“Wow. I don’t know if mom could do all of that, even in Doriath, and she’s one of the strongest and most versatile Maia around. Affecting emotions can be done with just the Song, though; minds are harder to do much with, but if anyone on the continent could do it it would be The Enemy. Maybe an Utumno survivor would know more, but it seems cruel to ask them.”

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. So I'd want to avoid people with the Song, I guess, maybe unless I could find an ally to push the other way, if - countering? Exists?"

Permalink Eye

”Everyone can use the song, if they can sing it. Mostly the Enemy doesn’t teach the Glamhoth how, though, and Men don’t tend to be as good as Quendi are. 

“Countering songs is possible, but it’s really hard to do unless you’re one of the Ainur. There are only a dozen people or so in Doriath who can pull it off reliably, and there’s a skill gradient.”

Permalink Eye

"I'd want to know - how strongly it affects me. And if it still works if I destroy my ear drums."

Permalink Eye

”if you want, I could try to put you to sleep, or calm you down, or make you happy? If you want something specific then asking Daeron would be the way to go. Bursting your eardrums doesn’t help, it works just fine on deaf people.”

Permalink Eye

"Huh. But those would be useful tests, yeah. How's it - doing the thing? If you don't need to hear it?"

Permalink Eye

“How... wouldn’t it work?”

Permalink Eye

"...Like. How does song - do things?"

Permalink Eye

“How would you do things without the Song?”

It may become clear that Sue’s question isn’t really parsing. 

Permalink Eye

"...Either there's a translation error or we have very different fundamental ideas about how the world works." She thinks back to her investigation of the local magic - how magic and matter might as well be the same thing. "My world is - material? It's not magic. Not like here is. Magic is... Stuff that breaks the rules? So - there'd need to be a way it works, and even for material stuff - like, I'd need to read a textbook first but I could tell you why some things can catch fire and others can't, what happens when they burn, and how the fire started. If I used magic to start a fire, and not friction, it's - I actively did a thing, and there's a mechanism I used. Stuff doesn't just... Mysteriously happen. Everything's caused by something else. How does a song cause someone to fall asleep, or be happy, or be calm, even if they can't hear it?"

Permalink Eye

"That's an odd way to go about it. Why would you set up rules while including a way for them to be broken? It's usually easier to feel, how we do it, but... when you sing a Song, you're singing to the universe. You're... telling-in-a-way-that's-true-by-being-said that they're asleep. It's like, you can grow a plant by tending it, and giving it light, and access to plenty of nutrients, and water, and carbon dioxide, and you can do it faster with fertilizers, but you can sing the-song-of-creation and do the same thing? Like how you can talk to people with thought-sharing, or use words?"

Permalink Eye

She shrugs. "Maybe it's just that there's different rules for magical girls and for everyone else. I - am not really sure if that's blockable, though the wish protecting me might stop someone from using that to damage me. When I do magic, it's - the world's the way it is. Someone who's using joy might say it's pretty good, but it can get better. I use anger. The world's terrible, and I'm going to make it better even if I have to fight the universe to do it. So, I... Think about how I want the world to change, and shape that intent with my emotions. World doesn't much like that, so it's hard, and it drains me of the emotion I use, and some stuff's a lot easier than other stuff. Some stuff's too hard to do. Some of that's mental block, some of it's bigness. There's... Specific ways the magical energy moves to do stuff, that I don't have words for."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds almost like something the Powers do, but I'm not one of them so it's hard to be sure. Do you want me to try with one of the songs?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. And - do songs work on people in comas?"

A thought's wormed its way into the back of her mind.

Grief seeds can't be contacted over telepathy, she's tried - witches just scream - but neither can most coma patients. And a joy song...

Permalink Eye

"Some of them definitely do, like healing songs. Most mood altering songs are somewhat less effective when you're asleep, but I've never actually tried it. Quendi don't usually have comas, not normally, and if any of the Noldor have tried it I wouldn't know. Do you have a preference for which song I should try?"

Permalink Eye

Her soul gem's not really dingy, but - "Joy, but let me do something first. I want to see if it'll affect my magic, and I'm about full right now."

She conjures a brace of white ribbons, has them entwine and move and glow and puts enough juice in them she could bind the strongest magical girl she knows. It's like a crash to her mood, makes her antsy and sparks a bit of the anger in her chest, but it's enough of a drop she should notice. (She checks the luminosity on her soul gem, too - definitely some shadow in there. Not enough to be dangerous if she needs to fight, of course, but enough it'll be obvious if it gets at all cleared).

Permalink Eye

And Luthien starts up.

She's singing and dancing, and - it's not more beautiful than anything else she's sung, but it's the focus, this time, and Luthien hasn't stopped being literally the best singer Sue has ever heard by a landslide in the last 5 minutes. It doesn't feel like anything, not at first, but then the anger and antsiness fade like they were never there, and all of a sudden the world is good again, and bright, and beautiful. She can't understand the words - it doesn't have any of the same ones as she was learning earlier if she's listening that intently - but it's meaning is clear, in the same way, that you can often understand a foreign language from the tone and body language. It's entirely possible that Sue hasn't felt this happy in a while, and if her sister's wish does something to weaken it, it isn't obvious. 

It's a Quendi song, on Quendi scales, and goes on for a full half hour unless Sue moves to cut it short.

Permalink Eye

Being artificially happy is intensely freaky, the closest she's gotten in nine years was Nausicaa's fault, and that was also mind control. 

It brightens her soul gem until it's glowing through her hand. 

She's too frozen to call it short.

Permalink Eye

It doesn't feel like it did with Nausicaa. It doesn't feel like mind control at all - its as though the universe truly is a grand and beautiful place, one where sorrow isn't so much absent as unknown in the first place. It just feels... good. Unalloyed, purely, good. 

Considering Sue's experiences, this may well be freakier than the alternative; it could go either way.

Permalink Eye

Definitely something valuable in an emergency, definitely possible it'll work on a grief seed, not something she's ever doing recreationally. (She's never even as a child with her family intact felt the universe was beautiful or grand or good, it's always taken more than it gives, she's always had to seize whatever she wanted - )

Permalink Eye

The song comes to an end.

The warmth fades, a little. The light fades, a little. But her soul gem doesn’t darken again - it still seems clearer than ever before, and - it’s like the emotion equivalent a dozen minor aches and pains, that you were used to and ignored completely to the point that they didn’t feel like anything at all, are finally gone.

 

Permalink Eye

She can maintain the same ratio of hope while dropping the what the fuck as long as she nurtures the anger a bit. Her soul gem dims a little bit as her horror at the emotional change bubbles up, but not to its usual resting level.

...She's also not capable of forming coherent sentences right now. Mostly she's just. Trying to breathe.

Permalink Eye

“Did it work like you hoped it would?”

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Slowly: "Kinda."

Permalink Eye

“Daeron might know another joy song, or we could ask Galadriel if you need a Noldor version, but I don’t know if they’re materially different; mine is probably stronger, if that matters.”

Permalink Eye

"Was more. Freaky. Not - something I'd do if I didn't have to."

Permalink Eye

“I’m sorry, I should have noticed that you didn’t like it.”

Permalink Eye

"It's okay. Did work well. Would probably boost my magic some. Let me go longer. Though I'm not used to working with joy. And..."

She drags her hands down her face. She doesn't feel like talking, but this is important. "When magical girls fall into despair we become witches. If you exhaust a witch, and don't destroy her soul, she turns into a grief seed. Grief seeds turn back into witches if they aren't destroyed, unless you - put them in a box that slows that."

"I stole a box from the Kyubey, and then figured out how to conjure more."

"I have about three hundred grief seeds in my pocket space. All of them were probably humans once. Magical girls, or witch's victims. That song... If it works on people who - aren't really aware - could maybe turn them back. Make us not need grief seeds - right now the only way to clear our magic is offloading the despair into one."

Permalink Eye

"Destroy the soul? What? That's..."

Luthien looks kind of faint at this, and at first, the rest doesn't even seem to register compared to how horrifying that sounds. When Sue mentions how they're just sitting there in despair, however, this too manages to elicit that reaction.

"Of course I'll try. But... even the Powers can't naturally reimbody people. Mom says that even Mandos needed to ask Eru in order to get the ability to reimbody dead Quendi by attaching their Fae in a new Rhaw, since normally only Eru can do that. I might be able to help their suffering, but I wouldn't know how to start with making a body for a soul."

Permalink Eye

"We can do that ourselves, if we have enough magic. My concern would be - if it's not enough? If they're - conscious for a moment, then swing back the other way and witch again. That'd be riskier with girls who witched from despair. I only have one I know for sure witched from running out of magic. It wouldn't be a safe test to run anywhere near a population, even if I picked one I know I can fight quickly."

Permalink Eye

"20 years ago, the obvious solution would have been to bring them somewhere depopulated by the war, and if that didn't work head down to Brithombar to go ask Ulmo to send a message to Mandos. Now... I don't know if there's anywhere that's safe from The Enemy that's not close to people. Maybe further south..."

Permalink Eye

"I do have a big mobility advantage, but yeah."

Permalink Eye

“Maybe Tol Gorgoroth would work, if witches aren’t as mobile as you are. Those mountains are impassible, so the only people nearby would be the eagles, and they can fly away.”

Permalink Eye

"Witches can move, but they're slow, and - they're... Sort of areas? That're space folded. I'd go inside their barrier to fight their core, and if it ran I'd be inside it. I can definitely limit myself to ones I can beat before they'd get anywhere interesting."

Permalink Eye

“Dad and Mom both think you’re a good person too, it’s not just my feeling... if you leave Doriath to go try and save those girls, then I... would come with and help out, if we can be safe.”

Permalink Eye

"I'm - fairly sure I'd be safe. I don't know enough yet if you'd be safe, or - what your risk tolerance is?"

Permalink Eye

“I could do it from some distance away, but then it would almost certainly affect you too.”

Permalink Eye

"I'd rather be next to the seed anyways. It's - alright. I could keep a witch from affecting you, I know that, but - I don't know local threats well."

Permalink Eye

"Unless you would keep me safe by running away, it should be fine to do it right outside Doriath; I guess I didn't guess right about how easy it would be for you. Mom's protections wouldn't stop my songs either direction, and definitely not heading out. To be safe it would probably be best to do it away from any of the surrounding settlements of forces of The Enemy, but the border is really long and he doesn't control the continent completely."

Permalink Eye

"All of the witches won't be easy. But if I use a grief seed a lot, to clear my own magic, they'll be witches again. There's a few I rely on for that, so I've fought them a lot. And they don't - learn. So I know how quickly I can beat them, and which ones are relatively weak. I won't be - picking the powerful ones without a big team. I can also dismiss the despair effect over a few people, but it's not - efficient in a population center."

Permalink Eye

“I’ll ask Mablung where a good spot would be, then. Um... what kind of characteristics would you need, aside from isolated?”

Permalink Eye

"Nothing else, really?"

Permalink Eye

“I’ll ask Mablung about it when you go to sleep, then. Do you want to continue the tour, or would you prefer to do something else instead?”

Permalink Eye

She shrugs. "I might - spend some time sorting my pocket space."

Permalink Eye

Not all of Luthien’s good cheer has vanished; she gives Sue a radiant smile.

”If you end up needing to go back, your treehouse is that way.”

She runs off, rather than dancing, but it’s still an incredibly graceful sight, and fast too boot. The sound of her music lingers for a time, but eventually fades into thr background of Quendi song.

Permalink Eye

She heads back to the tree house, meditates on local magic more, and then starts sorting her pocket space, trying to put more effort into identifying which seeds might be magical girls, and sorting them by power levels and the amount of information she has on them. (The ones with obvious powers are probably magical girls - there's one seed she keeps forgetting exists, that likely is the result of a wish, but the others are much, much harder to pin down.)

Permalink Eye

It'll be a few hours before Luthien returns, bringing another quendi with her. 

"Sue?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah? I'm awake."

Permalink Eye

The telepathic message is not nearly so clear as it was with Luthien or Thingol; he may be experienced beyond the dreams of mortals, and extraordinarily talented besides, but the sharing of thoughts is a hard skill, and not where his chief talent lies. The message is understandable, but not nearly so clear or context laden - not so effortless.

”I am guard-captain Mablung, of the marchwardens. Princess Luthien said you wished to know of the world beyond the borders of Doriath?”

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'm - new to this world. And it's - important I know what threats are out there? And there's a - project? That needs space not around people. Did Luthien explain?"

Permalink Eye

"She has. Naturally, the ideal location depends on which foes would prove most dangerous to encounter, and how quickly you could deal with these witches. Given that you are from another world, it's hard to be sure what knowledge is lacking, but I'll do my best and will clarfiy any details that are still unknown to you, as best I can.

"The first of the Enemy's soldiery, and the most numerous among them, are the Glamhoth. Glamhoth are shorter than Men or Quendi, and appear ugly to the eye; chiefly green or grey or sallow, but other colors aren't unheard of. They are to the last slaves of the Enemy, and none defy his will or his commands, though they are not without fear. A Glamhoth is typically slower than an adult, and somewhat weaker besides, with worse equipment, but you will almost never encounter them without a group and their weapons are often poisoned with the latest concoctions from the vats of Angband. They lack the grace and keen senses of a Quendi, but are not far from Men on that regard, and often travel with hounds when on hunting parties to flush out their targets. They rarely have any form of armor, but even when mortally they will often still fight. They possess little woodcraft, and their trails and camps can be easily noticed; their coming can be detected, if not from the baying of the hounds, by the flight of birds. They are most dangerous in great numbers or when stiffened by the Enemy's stronger forces, but he seems to posess no real limit on how many he can breed to replace the numbers of his losses, and they can be deadly as distractions or against a distracted force.

"Also among his armies, often in large number, are the Easterlings - men who never escaped from the shadow into the west, and still serve the enemy's purpose. These far more defy generalization, and often cannot be determined as foe on sight, allowing them to pull off sneak attacks. These can and indeed have been swayed back on occasion, particularly with payment of gold or threat, for their loyalty is generally more fickle than that of Glamhoth. The danger of these depends on the group; many of the richer and more skilled groups can be nearly as strong as one of the Edain, but others are less of a threat than even the Glamhoth. More dangerous by far than the normal easterlings, however, are the Gaurhoth - werewolves. They appear merely as Men, but can at will transform into a monstrous form, near as fast as a horse and capable of healing perfectly from lesser injuries; they have great stamina, and are very difficult to outlast in a chase even on horseback. Generally, they don't range far from their master, Gorthaur, but it's not unheard of for the Enemy to deploy them elsewhere. They can act independatly, and have incredibly keen senses, particularly of smell and hearing; they are very difficult to flee from.

"Balrogs are the most dangerous of The Enemy's general soldiery. They are Ainur in their own right, given up their ability to shift forms and utilize their Power directly for an immensely strong physical form and control of flame. Their whips are extremely deadly, capable of shattering poorly made armor or shields in a single blow, and the heat their weapons give off can injure even with a near miss. They don't think like incarnates do, but they are invariably old, clever, and experienced. It's very difficult to disincorporate one without magical weapons, and if you do, they are not slain forever but abandon their body and take their surroundings with them in a massive fireball. There shouldn't be any of these outside of the north, even after the fall of Felagund's fortress at Sirion, for they are not subtle and our forces have not collapsed to that great an extent.

"Glaurung is a type of monster we call a dragon; his breath is nearly as hot as a forge, his scales and claws like steel, and his gaze can hypnotize all but the strongest willed. When he was younger, Lord Fingon managed to best him and drive him back to Angband, but that was nigh on two centuries ago and he proved incredibly fearsome at the battle of sudden flame; even Noldor lines could scarcely stand against him. The poisonous Miasma he trails in his wake can prevent the regrowth of plants for years, and is toxic to Quendi, Men, and Khazad. He is further enormous, and capable of attacking and killing whole groups of soldiers at a time, and it is very difficult to get anywhere with blunt impact. I don't believe we've even reached the limits of his capabilities, either; I would scarcely take him on without an army at my back, and even then I would have to prepare for many among them to end up dead. 

"Gorthaur is the greatest of The Enemy's servants, and a Maiar nearly on par with Her Majesty. He is a master of disguise, and of shifting shape, but is also clever beyond any of his peers and possesses a better understanding of incarnates, making him a very effective liar. His power over the song he commands is extremely potent and practiced, and he is a highly accomplished smith. The equipment of his troops far outstrips that of the rest of The Enemy's forces, as often does their quality, such as in his werewolves or the lesser Maia like Thuringwethil that serve under him rather than directly under The Enemy as Balrogs. Do not blindly trust that things are as they appear to be with him; he usually takes the form of a Quendi, but can at the drop of a hat change his shape or cast an illusion over his surroundings to fool the uncautious. Should he venture from his fortress, or you encounter him there by some ill stroke of fortune, I can only suggest you flee."

Permalink Eye

"I'm immune to everything from my world except mind control, which I'm resistant to. Luthien's emotion-control song worked on me. I - might be able to figure something out for illusions, but it'd take practice. There'd be magical girls who'd - have different advantages. Why are the Glamhoth so loyal? - I'm specifically thinking here of a girl I know whose power was... She'd talk to people, and they'd like her, and trust her, and - be her friend?" A pause, and - "I have her grief seed. I... Wouldn't want to fight her witch alone. She's strong."

Permalink Eye

“To assume that the same holds true of all the Powers here would be reckless in truth, but if it remains truth that you are invincible, or nearly so, then that gift may  well be a great boon. Much like I would a Noldor mailed by Fëanor, however, I must caution you - should things go awry, flee! To hold your ground for no purpose is folly, for you will tire and slow, and even if the barbs of Glamhoth cannot pierce your skin, the chains of The Enemy may still serve to drag you back to Angband.

”The Enemy created Glamhoth in mockery of Quendi, and twisted them to serve his purpose - to love evil, and harm, and torment and to fear his strength above all else. The Enemy was reckoned  a master, of treachery in fair words woven, but through his machinations such talents are unnecessary for his dealings with the Glamhoth.”

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I know, I'm not gonna count on it. And that sounds like they'll be hard to - subvert, even for the girl I mentioned, though I wouldn't... Count her out? But even if the song works to de-witch grief seeds, I'd want a couple of magical girls before risking having her witch."

Permalink Eye

Mablung nods, face grave. 

“If you seek a place safe from the enemy, then there are few more empty than Eres Gorgoroth, for the mountains are lifeless and too treacherous to cross for Quendi or Glamhoth; none live there. Should you need more space than lies among the mountain peaks, then the lands to the south are largely free of Glamhoth, and none  venture beyond the hills of Andram. Should such distance be unreadable, the lands to the east of here lie stripped, but remain free behind the Noldor lines.”

Permalink Eye

"Mountains should probably work. South wouldn't be a problem for me, but might make returning hard for weaker girls, or girls who can't fly well. First few shouldn't need much space."

Permalink Eye

“Mablung reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a piece of paper. It unfolds to a map.

It doesn’t appear the same as other Quendi works Sue has seen; it shares a clear kinship, but is also not wholly dissimilar to the world of the Khazad she has seen before. 

“Menegroth is here, in central Beleriand; the princess says she met you here, on the norther border of the woods, and the mountains lie beyond that border, perhaps two thirds the length from here to the edge of the woods along the same path, though you will reach the foothills somewhat sooner.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. Mind if I copy that map?"

Permalink Eye

“I do not. This map contains no information unknown to The Enemy, so there need be no efforts taken to keep it a secret from him or his servants. The princess you do not yet know how to speak Sindarin, much less read it, but that you can read writing from your own language; if you wish, I can translate it for you through thought-sharing.

Permalink Eye

"I need to make an effort to learn the language anyways... But yeah, that'd be helpful." She concentrates for a moment, and a version of the map sans labels appears in her hands. "If I can figure out translation I can leave you guys with some nonfiction books on stuff like technology and medicine. Don't know how much it'll help, but..." Sakura's nerd and book-hoarder tendencies to the rescue, she guesses.

Permalink Eye

"In Doriath, even reading in Sindarin is an uncommon skill. You might gain better results by leaving such texts among the Noldor, or at least the Khazad or tbe Sindar of the havens."

In speech, it might not be so obvious, but via thought-sharing, it's clear that when he refers to the Khazad, it's the same people that Luthien calls the Naugrim.

"The cities of the Khazad lie along these eastern mountains, although they share their exact location only reluctantly with outsiders, and this map does not list them. The great forest in the center is Doriath, the kingdom in which we reside, and the smaller woods to the east is Nam Elmoth, the territory of Eol. He, along with the inhabitants of the Havens of Falas under Lord Cirdan- centered around Brithombar at the mouth of the Brithon and Eglarest at the mouth of the Nenning - and the scattered Nandor and Laiquendi of the south are direct vassals under King Thingol. 

"To the North and east lie the fortress-towns of the Feanorians, although they are mostly now in ruins besides Himring. The Feanorians serve their lords, the sons of Feanor, who in turn  obey their eldest brother Maedhros and supposedly above him the Noldorin High King Fingon, but the kinslayers are give scant loyalty to any of the house of Fingolfin. On the northwest side sit the territories of the House of Fingolfin; Hithlum, and its sub territories of Mithrim, Dor Lomin, and Nevrast, which were under the control of Fingolfin, Fingon, and Turgon. Turgon and his people left their homes to found Gondolin, and thus Nevrast is largely empty, while Fingolfin's death leaves both territories directly under Fingon. Here also dwell the house of Hador, the greatest surviving Edain kingdom. 

"In Dorthonian once dwelled the house of Beor under King Finrod, but the coming of the shadow in the battle of sudden flame left their forces in ruin and their kingdom occupied; Their lord yet lived when last I saw him, but it has been many hard years under the shadow since and we have heard no word if any survive. To the southwest of Doriath lies Nargathrond, the hidden city of King Finrod, and from that fortress he controls the surrounding plains and hills of western Beleriand.

"Further north than the territories this map covers is Angband, the central Fortress of The Enemy, and his soldiers roam the plains of the north. His chief servant, Gorthaur, rules out of the Island of Werewolves, which fortress he seized from Finrod; it guards one of the few paths to the north, and should be given wide berth."

Permalink Eye

"So. Complicated politics. I can put copies of books more places than one, but learning a language is slow."

Permalink Eye

"None of the still-free kingdoms would fail to shelter refugees from The Enemy with whom they have no quarrel, should you have need of it, and even should you not reveal your origins widely your status as an aftercomer will shield you from the worst of those disputes. Your strength will not change that fact, unless His rage at you becomes so great that the forces he sends after you cannot be withstood by the locals. To most of the continent, your powers will seem to be those of the Ainur, and they do not have Queen Melian around to connect them, so for this and the previous I suggest you do not widely spread the extent of your power without cause. If you scribe enough copies of the Sindarin version of these texts to go around, though, there are those among Doriath and Nargothrond who would happily learn from these repositories of lore."

Permalink Eye

"I'm used to keeping my magic secret. And physical objects without - little fiddly bits - are easy to make multiples of."

Permalink Eye

”Aren’t all objects made of the same things, when you get small enough? Protons and Neutrons and Electrons, and below that Quarks?”

Permalink Eye

" - I'm not sure magical girl bodies are, but it's more - if I get the chemistry wrong in a piece of paper, it's not bad? But if I get the details wrong in a computer, it won't work, and if the chemistry in food is wrong it's maybe poisonous."

Permalink Eye

"I'd think if you messed up the chemistry of paper, it wouldn't last as long, but I guess that's much less bad than bad food or a broken... whatever a computer is, especially if you don't live forever."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. A computer is - a thing that stores and shows data and does calculations, is why they're useful. They have a lot of small parts."

Permalink Eye

“The Enemy possesses many powers that we do not, but if you wish, we could test your invulnerability under controlled conditions against some of the weapons from the armory.”

Permalink Eye

"That'd be really helpful, yeah."

Permalink Eye

Mablung leaps down from the treehouse, landing easily without a sound, and once Sue and Luthien descend, he leads them across Menegroth, back in the general direction of the throne room. He seems rather more serious, and less prone to song or dance than Luthien, but he has much the same effortless grace and perfect balance, simply channeled into economy of motion and silent travel. His hair hangs behind him, but it doesn’t flutter in the wind or otherwise act in a way that might give him away, were he moving stealthily through an area under observation.

 

Permalink Eye

Luthien follows behind, keeping pace easily; this would be quickly tiring for any human that wasn’t fit, but it’s not an issue for any of them, and doesn’t seem to be the limit of any of the parties involved.

Permalink Eye

After a short trip, they arrive at the throne room. Melian and Thingol are once more holding court though there are a few more Quendi around this time. 

Permalink Eye

There’s a bit of a stir when Luthien arrives; most of the conversations stop, andany turn to look at her.

Permalink Eye

Mablung goes down on one knee, and bows his head before the monarchs.

Permalink Eye

She sort of half bows, half nods, about the same amount she did last time. 

(She's not positive why they're in the throne room instead of going to the armory. Maybe they need permission? She'll let Mablung or Luthien do the talking...)

Permalink Eye

The conversation is in Sindarin, but Luthien relays a translation to Sue.

Permalink Eye

“Thou hath Our leave to speak, Marchwarden.”

Permalink Eye

Mablung rises from his bow. 

“I would like to request access to the armory. Our visitor, Sue, has a a remarkable defensive ability, and I would test its extent before needs must.”

Permalink Eye

“At times, thine worries cross from preparation to paranoia, but thou hath earned Our trust in such matters many times over, Marchwarden. Thou hath our blessing to withdraw or use all that thou need.”

Permalink Eye

“Your trust does me credit, your majesty.”

Mablung sketches another half bow, and leads Luthien and She back last the throne room a few hundred feet, into a great cellar lit by lampstones, built into the earth, with stairs leading down. The walls are lined with weapons of all sorts; swords, spears, axes, and bows are the most common, but it also contains hammers, maces, daggers, and a great variety more. On stands sit hundreds of sets of armor, each made of impossibly tiny steel rings combined into a mail that seems almost smooth and looks light as a feather, and some have additional layers of heavier plate on top to cover vitals. Carefully packaged in boxes and bins are arrows, stored by the quiverfull for new equipment and in neatly stacked piles for refilling one only partly spent. These are all themselves arguably a work of art; they

Mablung ignores all of this, and leads them past it, to a door, where another Quendi stands guard. Something passed silently between them, and the guard steps aside to let them through the door.

Permalink Eye

Sue follows, quiet but keeping her eyes open - and turning a small part of her attention towards sensing magic. She might not really understand the local magic yet, but - if anything here can hurt her, she wants to know what it feels like.

Permalink Eye

Until she steps through the doorway, there’s nothing that manages to get above the background of Melian and Luthien, but the moment she does, it’s obvious to her senses; the doorway must have somehow blocked the traces. Each and every item in this room is magic, and strongly enough so that she can detect, although there’s some serious variation. One of them, however, feels different; dark, is the best word that comes to mind, albeit not in the same way as a witch is.

Permalink Eye

"...That one feels. Not particularly nice." She says, gesturing to the one she means. "Also I can apparently detect magic weapons, but the - whatever - was able to block me before getting in here."

Permalink Eye

It takes a moment for Mablung to locate the weapon in question, but when he does, he's unsurprised.

"This is Anglachel. It was Eöl's work, and bears within it much of the man's malice; he was a smith of great renown, and gave it as a vassal-fee to King Thingol for his residence in the realm of Nam Emloth, but Queen Melian warned him not to use it in battle, so it's stayed here ever since."

Mablung draws it from its sheath, and holds it up in the light; the black blade shines with a mirror sheen, reflecting its surroundings with crystal clarity, and its edge seems impossibly sharp.

Permalink Eye

She focuses, examines it more closely - mostly with her magical sense. "Did he say what it does?"

Permalink Eye

"He did explain what it was for. The theory is"

he starts, sheathing the sword, and stepping out of the room.

"That it can cut through anything."

He finishes, a few seconds later. as he steps back in, carrying a couple of pieces of steel equipment.

"I suggest you stand back for the demonstration unless you want to test your invincibility on it early."

Permalink Eye

Luthien is already moving back, giving Mablung a clear radius.

Permalink Eye

She steps back. "Hm. I'd be interested if it can cut through a magical construct like one of my barriers... That'd be a better first test than poking the blade with my finger..."

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He tosses the metal into the air, one at a time, and swings the blade through, effortlessly slicing them in half rather than sending them flying off. 

"Feel free to put some up. if you can block this, there are probably only a handful of weapons in all of Arda that could possibly do the trick, which would mean in practice that as long as you have a line of retreat Glaurung, Gorthaur, The Enemy and the Feanorians are your only real potential causes for concern."

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"Right. Starting with a standard barrier, like I'd use against an average magical girl - "

She gestures, and long arrows hover in the air before her, a shimmering field of white between them, the holes in the latticework narrow enough a rapier could be thrust through but not most swords, including Anglachel. She then steps out from behind it, nods to it, and telepaths, "That'd hold back the best common non-magical weapons in my world, and most magical girls could overwhelm it but it'd be more costly to them than to me. It's mostly useful to shape battlefields, cover retreats, and wear down opponents; if I was trying to seriously trap a magical girl or hold back the most powerful weapons I'd do something different. I don't think this'll hold up, but I might be able to get a sense of how powerful a barrier I'd actually need."

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Mablung swings the sword, and Anglachel cuts straight through the barrier.

"I felt some resistance there, but that's not nearly enough."

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"Yeah, that - was higher powered than anything I've encountered. I'm going to jump straight to most powerful barrier - I'll probably want a really brief joy song after that, or time to clear my magic normally, just to be on the safe side."

She forms a barrier of solid, glittering white - only bothers with a one foot diameter sphere of it, but it still dims her soul gem noticeably. 

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Mablung slices straight through it, once more. This time, it's possible to notice the blade slow down noticeably as it encounters resistance, but Mablung doesn't need to strain to cut straight through it. he then sheathes the sword again, and sets it where he got it from.

"It's a bad habit to use mood altering songs in locations that need to be guarded attentively. How far does your song carry, Princess?"

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"A hundred feet or so, at full power, but it's noticable for about two-thirds of a mile."

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"Should we leave and return after the song, or are you able to continue?"

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"I'll just clear my magic normally. Is it okay if I take something small out of my pocket space?" she sends. "If not I'd rather just continue, I'm not dangerously low, just being paranoid."

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"I have no objection to you retrieving something from your pockets. Were I not confident you meant no harm, you would not be here in the armory."

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"Meant from - a folded space. Didn't know if it'd be alarming." She raises a hand, palm up, and a grief seed unfolds into her palm. It's one of the ones she uses more often - a dark murky purple with tarnished silver casing. She raises her other palm to her neck, lifts up her necklace, and the white moonstone in the pendant glitters. It then shines, and the necklace folds together, revealing her soul gem - a brilliantly shimmering white stone encased in angular bands of silver. The top fourth looks almost damaged - speckled in a seething black. She touches the two together, and the grief sloughs off her soul gem in little charcoal flecks, darkening the grief seed even more. She then returns her soul gem to its necklace form, and the grief seed to the pocket space.

"Right. Done."

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Luthien gasps.

”That poor thing! I have to-“

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“Not now, your highness. It is suffering indeed, I judge, but its suffering is one of sleep. It will not begrudge your wait, unless it wakes.”

Mablung’s hard eyes turn to look at Sue, and what they lack in the brilliant power of Luthien, Melian, and Thingol, they make up for in the sheer danger they convey.

“More important than that by far, is the other matter. Sue: what sins could this Fae have possibly commited, that you would torment it so?”

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"That's how grief seeds work, and the only normal way magical girls can keep from turning into witches. I wasn't aware they experience anything; they can't be contacted with telepathy. They feel like coma patients, and there's no - evidence - they have memories, or continuity of experience moment to moment. Witches can't learn and barely react to their environment, and grief seeds are... Less aware than witches. They naturally gather and feed on grief; it's - not even so much a thing I actively do when I clear my gem, more that I'm putting my own soul in easy range of their pull."

"I also knew the girl it used to be, and - while I'm not sure how meaningfully witches and grief seeds are the same person as the magical girl that becomes them, the way her moral system worked she would - acknowledge it as fair, I think."

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As Sue continues speaking, Luthien’s expression changes; horror wars with pity wars with anguish and grief. She starts to sing a hauntingly beautiful song of mourning; there’s no magic to it, that much is clear, but it’s still achingly clear.

”This is what a witch is? This... and they cannot even die of grief, and go on?”

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“As near as my eyes can see, that is the case; the Fae lacks senses, and rests as though in a dreamless sleep, trapped within  a cage. Her Majesty might be able to see more, but I concur with your observations that it is not currently awake in it’s suffering.”

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"This is - what witches turn into when they're drained of magic. Witches are - much more despair. A grief seed registers to my magic sense, but I wouldn't be able to feel one more than a few hundred feet out. Most witches can be felt for miles."

"A grief seed can be destroyed. Same as a soul gem can be destroyed - they're pretty much the same thing, just... Different emotions. No one's - really sure what happens then, if it's like when a non-magical human's body dies or if we just stop existing. When a human dies it feels like something's fading, if I'm paying attention. When a soul gem or grief seed's destroyed, it feels like something's shattering. My guess is we don't exist if our gem doesn't, which's some of why I started hoarding the seeds instead of giving them to the Kyubey to be destroyed. I have - a few other reasons for that guess, too."

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It is not immediately clear if it is possible for Luthien to look more horrified, but she seems to be giving it a really good try.

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"All of our lore contends that the destruction of the Fae is impossible, but it seems there is much we do not know about your world."

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"Yeah. There's a lot different. And I don't even know for sure, but... Anyways, it's - part of why I'd like to try and see if the joy song helps turn them back into magical girls sooner rather than later. I'll also stop using grief seeds outside of emergencies, just rely on Luthien's joy song."

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"That just makes our task all the more urgent, I think."

He once more stores Anglachel away, and draws off the wall another blade, far fairer than the dark blade of Eol, but without its dark sense of power. It shines like the frost, and the air chills as he takes it into his hand.

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" - I still might want to try Anglachel, my invulnerability's a lot more comprehensive than my barriers. But we can start with other blades if you think that's better."

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“If a lesser blade would suffice to harm you, it seems foolish to test first with Anglachel.”

It turns out that, at least in Mablung’s hands, most of the swords can break her lesser barrier, but it’s usually fairly hard. Only a handful can damage her stronger barrier, and on those Mablung refrains from powering through and shattering the barrier entirely. Five of these blades are rather similar, which Mablung attributes this to their makers; they’re forged by Fëanor, Curufin, and Celebrimbor. There’s also an axe and a hammer he identifies as the works of the Khazad of Nogrod, and a sword called Narsil forged by a smith named Telchar; nothing else suffices against her stronger barrier.

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She wants to test anything with strange effects against her skin, too - it's possible even if something can't cut her it might be able to act on her otherwise.

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He passes her the weapons she wishes to try. Most of them fail here as well; or achieve little; the chill of the first sword can be felt, but it fails to harm Sue, which is a trend that continues among many of the blades. The one that shines like a beacon with the light of the sun does succeed at temporarily blinding her at full strength, but it’s nothing she can’t easily heal. The most interesting result from these weaker weapons is a chain that binds Sue’s limbs beyond her ability to readily escape, but it’s in turn easily deflected by the barrier should she try.

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She still wouldn't be surprised if she could do something about the chain, but she's not really willing to make a blast capable of damaging their infrastructure. Still, magic chains: something to watch out for, since they can be as strong as or stronger than binding ribbons. (Her plan for if a hostile manages to chain her is honestly currently 'fly straight up, hope rocket speed trumps whatever anchor they have and that she can handle being out of the atmosphere better than they can'. Not really an option with magical girl ribbons, but her limbs being bound with the chain doesn't stop her from flying around, so.)

"So. Magic chains can potentially be a problem, and I'm looking at - trapping being the biggest common threat. So I definitely should pretend to need to dodge stuff, so anyone coming after me has less incentive to bring a magic net that's anchored well enough I can't just fly off with it."

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“It would probably not go astray to wear armor as well, if you find a set you like; even most of the enchanted stuff wouldn’t do you much good, what with how hard to injure you are, but it should redirect attempts to harm you to hitting weak spots in your mail rather than pinning you down.”

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"That's a good idea. I can change my raiment so it looks like armor; it can't be damaged the same way I can't if I don't want it to, and other clothes get - folded away - when I'm in my raiment anyways." 

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Mablung fetches one of the finest they have, forged by Fëanor in Valinor, to serve as a model.

”There are a few later works of his and Curufin’s that might better still explain your invincibility, at least to the spies of the enemy, but none that are not already accounted for among the Noldor.”

 

Of the weapons that Mablung manages to use to break the stronger barrier, none can injure Sue; a few seem to react differently to the barrier, but it becomes clear that Sue’s invincibility is really quite comprehensive. After seeing the last of them, a dagger forged but Celebrimbor, fail to pierce Sue’s skin, Mablung frowns in thought, but goes to bring forth Anglachel.

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Some of the stronger ones do cause the sort of black shimmering over her skin around the point of contact that Sue identifies as a something that sometimes happens when she tanks powerful blasts.

"Mind if I hold it? That'll make it easier for me to pull back if it does cut me."

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He hands over the blade, sheath and all. It’s got a weight to it, but it’s not so heavy that it’s difficult to lift.

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She draws it, keeps the sheath handy, and tests her thumb against the blade.

A solid shield of glowing black springs over her thumb, stopping the blade, causing a thin shimmer much farther from the site than prior experiments. The shield pulses, and is very, very clearly magical - and warm, physically and emotionally. (There's an echo of emotion, separate from Sue or the blade, curling protectively around Sue.)

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“If you did not wish for me to harm you, why did you swing me at your hand?”

The voice is cold and clear, somehow sounding completely fitting for the blade within her hands.

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...Okay, telepathic sword. 

Just to the sword: "You are the greatest of swords I have heard of. I thought that if any here could injure me, it would be you, and I needed an assessment of my vulnerability. Does intent change your ability?" 

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“It affects you. Your barrier responds to desires, and is resistant being pierced by those who do not deeply desire you to be harmed. I know you not, and have no care for your injuries; if you do not desire that the shield fall, it will not do so by my power.”

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"Hm." It's easy enough to twist her thoughts towards her old anger at her sister, the sheer spite that had her thoroughly testing the invulnerability as a kid. It's a familiar rage. Like an old, worn coat. 

The sword jerks forwards, slips through the barrier, which throws sparks -

And into Sue's skin.

She hasn't felt physical pain in ten years.

It's... Interesting.

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"There you go."

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"Thanks for the tip." She pulls the blade back, takes a deep breath to calm herself down, and looks to Mablung and Luthien. 

To them: "So, it couldn't cut me at first, but once I started strongly intending to get past the barrier it worked. Also did you know the sword can talk. Because it was the one that informed me about the desires overpowering the invulnerability thing."

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“I did not know that, but I’m less surprised than I could have been. I suppose I didn’t think of how literal Queen Melian was being when she said he put part of himself into the blade. 

“Do you think someone could do the same with another blade, or would you only need to look out for Eol himself?”

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" - I think it'd be harder without... A specific magic, I've angered plenty of people who haven't hurt me, even if I've tended to avoid fighting high-capacity people. But... The way my world's magic works I wouldn't be... Too surprised? If someone who cared about hurting me more than - the person who wished for my invulnerability - cared about protecting me, managed to blast through it. So it might be a 'anyone angry enough and equipped with magic'."

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”That could be bad. Mom remembers what The Enemy was like, back when the world was young and he was still called Melkor, and he hates everything in creation. The Powers don’t think like we do, but they’re... bigger than we are, in many ways.”

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"Yeah. I don't know if that's - specific enough, or if the way the Powers process emotions - counts as close enough? But it's not something I want to risk."

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"Do you need me to cleanse your soul gem, or does your invincibility not drain you the same way?"

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"It's not something I'm doing, and healing's not that hard."

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"Luthien tells me that you can transmit Doriath in the span of a few hours, so I can't imagine you'd need to pack overly much in the way of provisions for such a trip; not with such a short travel time, and no campsites required. Is there anything you would need?"

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"I don't know. I have a lot of stuff in my pocket dimension, anyways."

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“Unless there’s something else you wished to test, then, I beleive that concludes things here.”

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"Right. Head out, then?"

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Mablung nods, and heads back out the door. When the door swings shut, the magical items within once more vanish from her senses.

"If you have need of me, and I am in Menegroth, I'll usually be in my house, in the south eastern portion of the caves."

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"Alright. Thanks."

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"I know you're not supposed to start long trips at the end o the day unless you have to, but I don't really no that much about travelling in general besides that, and even less about how you do it, so I'm not sure what applies. Do you want me to finish showing you around, or?"

She's kind of out of her depth on that score, frankly.

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"Alright. Then does tomorrow morning work?"

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Luthien hesistates, then nods. “Yes, I can do that.”

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"...Do you want to - wait or something?"

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"No. That's... not what I want."

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"What do you want?"

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“I want to help.”

Her mental voice is somewhat firmer now.

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"Good. So. Tomorrow, then."

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“Right. It’s still a ways off from night; we should go hear Daeron! He’s got a performance this afternoon, he’s the best there is.”

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" - I am actually tired and would like some time to myself, but if the performance is in a few hours..."

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"He says he doesn't plan to start it for about three hours, so you're good on that score. How private do you need it to be? There's not many places besides your treehouse where nobody can go, but there are plenty of places where most people don't or very few do."

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"I'd rather not be disturbed. 'Unlikely' is fine enough."

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"There's a few spots nearby that would fit, then."

With this comes a... mental map, of sorts, of this part of Menegroth, with different feelings attached to each one; solitude-and-brooding, relaxation-and-nature-watchingsitting-by-the-brook, plus some vague senses of stuff further out.

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Solitude and brooding sounds good; she communicates this.

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Luthien leads the way there, to a nook in the trees overlooking a pond. Unlike a normal wooden bench, though, it’s not uncomfortable to sit in even as it looks like a natural confluence of branches.

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Sue sits and leans back, curling in on herself a bit. "Thanks."

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“You’re welcome.”

Luthien also gives Sue some space; she doesn’t go out of what the Quendi would consider esrshot for her singing, but she does sing more quietly at at a higher key, to the point that she’s inaudible at that distance.

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She spends the next little while just - staring at the water. And then eventually gets out a book and settles in to read.

Mostly, she's letting her brain calm down and recharge.

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Quendi aren’t big rushers by nature, and life in Doriath has not made Luthien an exception. She’s perfectly happy to sing to the plants and flowers, chats with friends, and work on finishing up a magical song of hers.

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Eventually Sue will emerge and send "So. I'm guessing it's about time for the thing?"

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“Pretty soon now.”

They’re not that far from the auditorium where Daeron apparently is performing, which admittedly isn’t that surprising considering the size of menegroth. It’s rediculously overly pretty, and even if it’s not exactly packed it’s far more Quendi than she’s ever seen at a time. Luthien has some seats at the front.

“The acoustics mean it’s not really any louder up here, but it’s a lot more convenient.”

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"Alright. Thanks."

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If Quendi singing breaks the bounds of what Sue thought was possible from a voice, Daeron does the same with instruments and composing, as far above them as they are above most of the musicians Sue has heard. A skilled musical theorist might tell of his touch, at varying degrees of remove, in the design of nearly every one of Luthien's songs, if they could bear to do anything but listen. In addition to being incredibly talented even for a Quendi, Daeron has thousands of years of practice at every part of performance and it shows. His opening work is on the pipes, and the tales do not go far astray when they claim his work unbearable by mortal heart. It's enrapturing, the sounds of twilight and the sweet singing of the nightingales, and here, within the enchanted heart of Menegroth, his playing is almost as heartwrenchingly, achingly perfect as Luthien was when Sue first saw her.

If she can tear herself away to check, there's no magic in the feeling it evokes, not even of the strange and foreign sort of the magical weapons or Luthien's song of joy.

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If it's nonmagical, Sue doesn't really... Care that much. It's noise. She doesn't like noise. She's dislikes most music; she pretty much selects for stuff that matches the angry screaming in her head, which means most of what she does ever listen to is metal or punk or screamo or emo.

She'll get bored and start staring at magic after a while.

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There's a lot of magic around in the city. It's the same kind as was in the forest itself, but more of it; in turn, it's less concentrated here that it was at Queen Melian's throne. The air is thick with it, and though it doesn't cover up any of the other magic it does mute it if it can't stand above the background. It's a very... foresty magic, focused mainly on the plants and the animals within, but it's also impossibly old and powerful.

Blips within the sea correspond to the various Quendi around her; they're stronger, magically speaking, than humans back home are, although largely not as strong as magical girls.

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Daeron is the strongest of the lot by a fair margin, but he doesn't challenge that paradigm either. The song he's singing flares his won spirit, but it doesn't really affect anyone around him.

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All of which is, of course, besides the point, because besides the point, because beside Sue is Luthien, who just passively glows with magic. She's also noticed that she's misjudged Sue's tastes, although besides her thoughts there might not be much immediate evidence of such.

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Eventually there'll presumably be some kind of intermission at least?