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Jun 17, 2019 2:47 AM
a Cameron falls on Hearth
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The ship is hit by something that looks like a world-shift kaleidoscope effect on steroids. There is no warning. Cameron isn't even in her raiment. One moment, she's watching Ganymede smoothly fall away and the next, she's tumbling in vacuum, right into the maw of the dimensional fracture.

The next thing she feels is fire. And then she doesn't feel anything at all.

 

A meteor falls out of the clear blue sky. It strikes an unremarkable hill, leaving a small crater and a few barely-identifiable remnants of blackened human bone.

Twenty-four hours later, a nude, unnaturally beautiful, improbably pristine girl climbs out of the crater (where there was definitely no girl ten minutes ago), gasping from the brief sensation of growing all her nerves (and her everything else) back from nothing.

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There's a woman crouched in the grass nearby, sorting through the debris scattered by the impact. Her clothes are in a style that gives the initial impression that they were designed for function rather than appearance, but they're form-flattering enough that they could reasonably be called flirtatiously revealing despite the relative lack of exposed skin. Her hair is likewise tied up in a simple bun that flatters the line of her neck.

 

She turns to look at the newcomer, looks her up and down, and says in a businesslike tone, "Right then. Whose prophet are you, and should I be asking why they didn't give you clothes?"

"Also, uh, sorry for poking around if this is a holy site now."

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Grass. Sky. Random woman surprised at her nudity. Did she somehow get flung back to Earth? That seems really improbable. Cameron glances down at herself. Nothing happens. She double-takes, frowns, and a moment later she's suddenly wearing (a convincing illusion of) nigh-featureless walking boots and a very minimal, simplistic black dress.

"...why would this be a holy site? And why are you apologizing to me if it is? I just got here."

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...okay, she's officially confused. "You're a stranger who appeared naked and unscathed out of nowhere at the place where something fell from the sky, am I not supposed to assume you were sent by a god? You didn't just walk here, you'd have dirt on your feet at least, and on top of that you just used some sort of ... clothing powers ... without an incantation or even a gesture or a scroll. There's like zero chance you're just some gal who happened to show up."

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"Right... because I'm a magical girl. Who just happened to show up. By falling out of the sky. Magical girls usually have soul mods that keep us groomed and allow us to appear clothed, if you didn't know."

What very specific rock has this person been living under that she talks about sorcery as matter-of-fact but doesn't recognize a magical girl? Cameron hops nimbly off the lip of the crater, onto the grass. Some very specific god's rock, maybe. Cameron has seen weirder.

"...if there's a god around here who's in the habit of haring off halfway across the solar system to attack ships full of civilians and kidnap random magical girls back to... where are we?" Cameron holds up a hand. "Nevermind."

And her hand pierces the very air, and then returns holding a glossy black rectangle about half the size of a book, with a flat surface like a perfectly polished gemstone, which emerges from a seam in the fabric of reality. She taps it with her finger, and it lights up with a vividly clear static image of some kind of purplish four-armed monster-man with tentacles for a face wrapped tightly around a pair of nude women one of which might be Cameron herself. Following that image, a collection of smaller symbols and numbers appear on top.

Cameron frowns. It's only been a day and a half since she was on the ship. And she's not getting a signal. There's nowhere on Earth that gets no signal. Either a god or something else did kidnap her and is now jamming her tablet... or this isn't Earth after all.

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The solar system? That would certainly explain the confusion. "We're on the earth. I didn't even know there were people living on the sun. If you're shipwrecked here, I don't think we know how to build the kind of ships that you'd need to get home."

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Cameron doesn't even know where to start addressing all the things wrong with that sentence. She actually flounders for a moment, failing to words.

But if this is Earth...

Cameron turns away from the woman and raises her voice, "Excuse me, random god or whoever! If you stop jamming my tablet right now and explain yourself I might stop feeling obliged to kill you over your random murder of hundreds of bystanders!"

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"My condolences on your shipmates." She can talk her down from deicide later.

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When there is no reply to her challenge, Cameron deflates and sighs.

"Thanks, but it wasn't like I knew them or anything. It was a Jovian tour craft ...and I'm sure you have no idea what that is if you think people might live on the sun while also being under the impression that Earth isn't space-faring. But I'm from California. I don't need a spaceship to get home. I'm more interested in this god you think brought me here, and where exactly here is."

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"I was assuming a god sent you, as a prophet. It sounds more like you just got shipwrecked. I haven't heard of space-ships before today, but the earth's a big place, who knows what they've got going on other places."

"I haven't heard of California. We're outside of Costallow, in Gesland."

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Cameron doesn't recognize the name, so she taps her wiki app and repeats the words.

Her wiki app has never heard of such a place.

"Okay," she says slowly.

She's... probably not going to get any more of a straight answer out of this possibly-brainwashed woman. So, setting the where aside for now...

"Is this a specific god you keep talking about? Or are you just making bizarrely narrow assumptions about random magical girls falling out of the sky?"

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"No, just, when someone dramatically hurtles to earth from above, leaves a crater, and emerges unharmed... it's the natural assumption? I'd expect most random sorcerers would just travel by horse like everyone else. Maybe a magic horse if they were especially powerful. Or, you know, seven-league boots, or turn into a bird, or something. Is magical travel usually noisy and dramatic in California?"

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"No, that's..."

Cameron takes a breath. Clearly they're talking past each other. Getting frustrated won't help.

"Okay, back up. Let's start over. Hi! My name is Cameron Aphron, and I am a magical girl of middling power with a fifth-generation Reinforcement-specialized soul I inherited by accident without the involvement of any of the usual patrons, who go around giving people souls and there-by turning them into magical girls for various reasons. Yesterday I was on a Jovian spaceship when a reality shear of some kind, which looks kind of like an angry kaleidoscope in the fabric of space, collided with and destroyed the ship, killing all the passengers by ejecting them into vacuum where they presumably suffocated. I fell into the reality shear, which apparently instantly spat me out again close enough to Earth that I hit the atmosphere before I could gather my wits. My burning corpse crashed down in your back yard, and, as normally happens when a magical girl's body is destroyed, my soul reset itself. I woke up bodiless a few minutes ago. Then, because I'm a very powerful healer, I didn't have to wait for a new body, I could just re-create my body myself. Which I did."

Cameron takes another breath.

"Now, how does what you think happened compare to that? And what exactly is a prophet?"

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"Hello, Cameron. I'm Tegan Fallahal. Most of that made no sense to me, and doesn't sound similar to anything I've heard of."

"Late yesterday morning – about twenty-four hours ago, actually – several people saw something bright fall to earth, and many more people heard the impact; I'm guessing that was your burning corpse. We went looking around the area where we thought it probably landed, and found that crater. We didn't find anything that looked like human remains. We figured it was a starstone – a rock that fell from the sky, that happens sometimes. I was looking through the debris, because starstones sometimes have rare metals and such, and then you climbed out of the crater and then you were here for the rest."

"A prophet is, broadly, anyone who starts or reforms a religion. They're usually sent or called by a god of the religion in question, if the religion has any. They always have otherwise-unattested abilities of some kind, to distinguish them from everyone else. They always know they're prophets, and of what religion, though the ones that're called don't know they're going to become prophets until it happens. I don't know how literal the word 'magical girl' is, but prophets can be boys. Or men or women, most prophets are adults."

"As far as I know, everyone on earth has a soul. I haven't heard of dead people being able to do things. Magical healers exist, and I've never heard of anyone coming back from the dead."

"If not having a patron could explain how you don't know what's going on, I'd guess that you're likely a nonstandard prophet."

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This is the face of someone who is disappointed because the person they're talking to just revealed themself to be painfully ignorant.

Cameron sighs. She isn't going to touch most of that mess, but.

"I assure you, magical girls are not prophets, and prophets are not magical girls. Your prophet thing isn't a thing anywhere else I've been, and magical girls are definitely their own thing that is the same thing wherever you go."

And Cameron gets the feeling she's been way more places than Tegan. If the signal jamming isn't for Cameron in particular, it might be active all the time, to keep these people cut off from the outside world entirely. This is sounding more and more like a cult of some kind.

Out of morbid curiosity, Cameron taps her tablet, opening Google Earth in offline mode, then angles the screen so Tegan can see and flies down through virtual space until she's hovering over San Francisco.

"This is where I live."

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"I'll take your word that you know what you're talking about on that."

 

She watches the moving image with interest – and then it flies closer and those are buildings – "I've never even heard of anywhere like that." And she has so many questions.

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"I was afraid of that."

Cameron closes the app and slips her tablet back into her Pocket, vanishing it through a seam in the air.

"If you take me into town, are people going to be really upset about an outsider who's not a prophet? You've made it abundantly clear that I could easily pretend to be a prophet, but," some or all of the other prophets you know about could've just as easily been pretenders. "I don't want to."

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"You wouldn't be able to keep the charade up forever, anyway. And nah, we get travelers and stuff coming through here."

"You look like a Burner, dressed like that, by the way. I dunno if the – connotations – are the same in California, but people are gonna assume you're... how do I even explain it. They're – casual, blunt, direct, not much subtlety or nuance. Not someone you go to if you need things taken seriously, or treated thoughtfully. You'll get the idea when you've met some, I guess."

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"What makes a Burner a Burner? I'm just dressed like this because I like black and it was the only pattern simple enough I could hold it in my mind on short notice when my Style failed to auto-generate a culturally appropriate outfit, presumably because your fashion language isn't already part of its generative data-set..."

Which also implies a very isolated and insular culture... except... "...you get travelers? How often? Where from?"

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"Uh, it's a religion, I forget what the official name for them is, but they follow the Hearthmother. You won't stand out too much, there are in fact Burners around here, but you're welcome to copy my outfit if you like."

"We're not a big town, but there's usually at least one person traveling through at any given time. Usually from nearby, of course, Glenbrook and Wickton and Collersfield, but we get the occasional merchant from as far as Roma or Silesia, maybe a couple of times a year."

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So it's either a whole community of cult towns, or... something much weirder than that. Not enough information. Better to stop speculating and just observe.

"Alright."

Cameron goes over and pokes each piece of Tegan's clothing, once. Then the little black dress dissolves and is replaced by an exact duplicate of (the outer layer of) Tegan's outfit. It's tighter on Cameron than on Tegan, clinging to every curve and straining to contain her nigh-superhuman figure. She frowns down at herself, and it bleeds to black one article at a time.

"Okay, I guess this will have to do. Which way to town?"

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Tegan shows no discomfort with being approached and poked, and once she figures out what Cameron's doing she moves to make the unpoked articles more accessible. She does, however, stop Cameron from copying a twisted-bar pewter bracelet on her left wrist – "that's a religious thing. Path of Charity. You only wear it if you're a Walker."

 

"Can't adjust the stuff to fit? Oh well, it'll do for now. Town's this way." She leads.

 

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The town appears at first glance to be a relatively affluent classical or medieval village, but the standards of hygiene wouldn't be out of place in the 1940s, and many things seem to be made with brass or bronze that one might expect to use iron or steel. The people are dressed in black and gray and brown and white, usually multiple colors on one outfit. The clothes are seemingly modest, but form-fitting and suggestive – here a woman has only a single thin layer over her visibly jiggling breasts, there a man's shirt seems constantly on the verge of falling off without ever quite, there a woman's skirt is split high to reveal opaque tight leggings. They don't seem shy about casual and incidental touch, either.

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Well, that's better than the alternative, Cameron figures. She idly tells the simulated fabric of her borrowed outfit to get slowly thinner. The medieval architecture isn't what she was expecting, but it isn't actually surprising, at this point. Maybe their parents were possessed by spirits of LARP.

"Do you know how long ago this town was built?"

She also stares discreetly and systematically, at clothing, and at faces, because she can feel the phantom tension coming from her Style lessen slightly when she does. How many of these people are wearing a pewter bracelet like Tegan?

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"Not offhand... I think the temple was built in the late Republic era, so it'd have to be at least, uh, six hundred years? I think that's about right."

 

Most of the people are wearing the bracelets, but as they walk through the town she can spot a few exceptions, who are also dressed differently:

  • a pair of women in light, flowy outfits in white and yellow that leave their arms and calves bare, smiling at everyone and receiving a perfunctory tolerance in return;
  • a man and a woman in straightforwardly modest clothes, looking vaguely uncomfortable;
  • and a man dressed in a somewhat less suggestive, though still relatively form-flattering, version of the style of the main crowd, wearing a torc in the twisted style instead of a bracelet.

 

No one younger than about twenty seems to be in evidence.

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Six hundred years can't be how long they've been isolated. They wouldn't be speaking recognizable english.

The way the uncomfortable couple are looking at everyone else provides a huge boost to her Style's adaptation progress. Cameron smiles at them, even though they'll have no idea why.

"Your religion seems popular," Cameron says neutrally to Tegan.

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