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Generated: Apr 08, 2021 4:04 PM
Post last updated: Apr 08, 2021 4:04 PM
anomalous occurrences
People are quite suspicious of the Commander's new girlfriend
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He sleeps for many, many, many hours.

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So does his girlfriend. There is a lot of sleep to catch on, here, and it's not clear when the next chance to sleep in a nice bed will be, so she is taking full advantage of this opportunity.

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Eventually he does wake up, though.

And he grins fondly at his girlfriend.

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She doesn't take much longer; his stirring is enough to wake her up from her vague half-asleep but still mostly asleep haze.

Vetareh smiles back, sleepily.

"Hiiii, handsome."

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"Good morning, princess."

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She nestles closer for sleepy snuggles.

"Yep, it is, good job, you helped with that."

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He laughs and hugs her.

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Hug!

Look, she understands that they should get up and do... things. At some point. But that some point can be a bit later, right? She's so cozy.

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No one's about to come knocking, for sure, no matter how much thinking this is tempting the gods of narrative causality.

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Oh, good.

"We should probably eat, even if we don't want to go and face today just yet," she observes after a while, nuzzling him.

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"Oh. Yes. Food."

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"Mhmm. I can go get something from Henry and bring it back if you'd like longer to lounge?"

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"No, don't worry, we'll go together. I can get up." Huuuuuuuuuup no that failed. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup no that failed too. Huuuuuuuuuuuuu-

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Oh no, now she's too busy giggling to try to get up. Sabotage! Sabotage by boyfriend!

"Don't hurt yourself, love."

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"I will have you know I have faced foes much mightier and more dangerous than the morning," he says, in all seriousness. Huuuuuuuuuuuu-

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"Mhmm. I believe you. You can do it."

But because she's feeling playfully competitive: she does it first. Hup! Then she leans down and gives him a quick peck. Of victory. Because she has won.

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He laughs, and sits up. "Shall we, then?"

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"Sure," she agrees, amused. "Though we should probably put any clothes on first, unless you want to flash your staff. ... Do you have spare bathrobes somewhere or something, I don't want to bother with the complicated corset and spikes and fire, respectively."

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"Probably," he says, shrugging, and goes to the closet to rummage around for a pair. Which he finds easily enough.

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"Victory!" Also keeping the royal letter hidden for him, but he doesn't need to know that until after he's had food and woken up.

Okay, now they can go find breakfast.

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Breakfast is in the kitchen, still warm from the oven or whatever. It's almost like the house staff is used to James's times from when he returns from adventures.

"Morning, Henry."

   "Good morning!" says Henry, cheerfully, when they pass him by on the way to said kitchen. "Saved the world many times these past few days?"

"Oh, no, just a couple."

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"Good morning. Mostly it was just groundwork for world saving, really. I had many chances to be a magic nerd, it was quite fun."

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    "I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves," he says with no small amount of mirth.

And then: kitchen! And breakfast!

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Breakfast is excellent, and very much appreciated.

"So," she says, when it is eventually gone, "face today, or go back and hide under the covers?"

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James blinks, taking a couple of seconds to find the context, then sighs in resignation. "We should get it over with, probably."

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"Probably, yes," she agrees, reaching out to clasp his hand and smiling fondly at him. "But I'm your girlfriend, not your taskmaster, so."

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"Yes, and Jennah is my queen, so..."

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Giggle.

"I'll show you where I hid it. It wasn't even in a particularly inspired hiding spot, I wanted to make it ridiculously easy to find if I turned out to want to hide under the covers while you still had adventuring to do."

To the bedroom! And the pile of clothes that conceals the letter!

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He laughs and follows her. When they reach the letter, he carefully unseals it, opens it, and reads it. The frown on his face... is not exactly upset so much as bemused. "Uh... The Queen wants to meet you," he says when he's done reading, handing Vetareh the letter.

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"Uh. Okay. Why." She takes the letter to read, a puzzled expression on her face.

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To James Orland, Lightbringer of the Order of Whispers, Commander of the Pact, Slayer of Dragons, Peacebroker of the Maguuma, Unifier of Races, Conqueror of Madness, Guardian of the Egg, Lord of Shaemoor,
and,
to Lady Vetareh, Spellbreaker and Professor of the Orrian Crown,

Her Royal Majesty Jennah, first of her name, Queen of Kryta and Regent of Ascalon, does humbly request a visit to the palace. Lady Vetareh's presence in this meeting is required, and until such date as she is available to parley this meeting is not to take place.

Please report to the Royal Guards at your earliest convenience.

The Royal Scribe

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"Good, ah, gods I don't worship, the list of titles is longer than the letter." Pause. "Wait, did she actually get all of my titles right. How did she even know that one. Except Lady I suppose, since, technically no, but she'd be allowed to add that one as queen." She squints at the letter. Understanding dawns.

"Ohhhhhhh she wants to check that I'm not using you as a pawn in a mad scheme to topple her kingdom or whatever. That makes sense now."

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"...well, I suppose it makes as much sense as anything else," says James, shrugging.

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"It does, random mesmer shows up out of nowhere and starts dating the important powerful heroic guy that's adventured at lots of stuff, it's smart to check to make sure she's not a fraud, power hungry, or crazy." This sentence sinks in and she makes a face. "But I don't want to be involved in politics, nooooo."

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"This is your chance to run."

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"Aughhhhhh but then how would I date you without your queen suspecting I'm out to kill her, I probably just actually have to meet her if I don't want to go to, ah, what would I do, oh, to Rata Sum and bunk with Taimi and write a couple papers on ancient magic until I can live somewhere that isn't going to be filled with rampant murderous magical anomalies every couple of hours."

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James raises an eyebrow. "I meant you can run from the 'dating me' thing."

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This earns him a look.

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He laughs. "Just saying, I'm a package, princess. Lord of Shaemoor and all."

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"Yes, but, but at least let me dramatically complain about the challenges and hardships I'm facing to date you without insulting my honor! Of course I'm going to go talk to your damn queen, just, just—, look, if I just said that, you wouldn't have realized that I really don't want to do any of this at all! This is a sacrifice I am making because I care about you! I will grudgingly tolerate being paraded in front of your country's royalty until all of my aspirations and ambitions are laid bare and everyone is well and truly convinced that I'm not using you so they can go away and we can snuggle in the morning in peace!" She huffs, and crosses her arms. "Even though I definitely have other options."

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Well that deserves a hug. "I know, I know. For what it's worth, I think you won't be paraded."

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She leans into the hug. Grumpily.

"Uh huh. What about interrogated, is interrogated a more accurate term?"

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"Well, there will be a conversation, and they will come out of it knowing more about you than they did before, but I think you might not notice it's happening until it's over."

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"Aughhhhhhhhhh," bemoans Vetareh. Dramatically.

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Lots of hugging. She's very adorable.

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"Commiserate with my pain, damn you," she mutters into his shoulder. "Jerk."

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"There, there?" he tries.

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She snorts, rolling her eyes.

"Nevermind." Huff. "I will just have to make the best of it. What do you think, would she appreciate me sliding a paper on the nature of resurrection signets over to her in lieu of actual conversation? Maybe something on lost Orrian spells?"

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"It would certainly dispel any doubts that you are who you claim to be."

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"Okay. Great." Snuggle. "I'll probably just stick with the resurrection signet one, and save the papers on Orrian spells for when I have... Much less interesting things to do than my current options."

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He grins. "Sounds like a good idea."

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Her mouth twitches. "Yes, as one of my available options, I expect you'd feel that way."

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Grin.

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She leans up and gives him a quick kiss.

"Okay, I actually kind of want to get talking to Her Majesty out of the way soon, so I don't have to fret too long about it."

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"Then we should get dressed, probably."

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"Probably! Goodbye abs, I'll miss you..."

But, yes, getting dressed.

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Back upstairs, and then James has to find his fancy outfit. It contains zero spikes.

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... His girlfriend approves of his fancy outfit. And appreciates it very much.

"Look, I know the spikes and fire are very imposing and impressive, but, but." She gestures to him in lieu of explaining. "James. James please."

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He laughs. "I'm sure you were trying to communicate something there but for the life of me I cannot figure out what."

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"Noooo, you've no idea how you look in your clothes, you just tripped into a tailor and they just had their way with you. You poor, poor man."

Vetareh, for her part, will wear her clothes from Orr. She was summoned with her Orrian titles, it only seems polite. And the hatred of the clothes have abated. ... A little. She might try to find something different in an Orrian style, but she does not actually want to delay meeting the queen of Kryta for a shopping trip.

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He... has to stare, too. "Ah, I think I begin to comprehend what you meant."

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"Hm? What was that? I'm just wearing the clothes native to my culture, I can't figure out what you're trying to communicate."

Orr is (or, well, was) rather warmer than Kryta. This had effects on fashion.

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He laughs and kisses her. "Shall we go meet my monarch?"

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"Yep. Let's go. Very excited."

She is not excited. She looks sort of like she wants to go run off and hide in a cave.

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James can hold her hand on the way. Might reassure her.

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It helps a bit, but auuuughhhhh.

Can they please get this over with? Please? She would like to go back to flirting with her boyfriend without having a meeting with royalty hanging over her head. Is someone going to try to drag her into politics? She doesn't want to get dragged into politics! Especially not Krytan politics, ew.

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Eventually they get there, and the royal guards salute them. "Commander!" they say, in unison.

"Gabriel, Mary, good to see you!"

    "Good to see you, too, sir," says presumably-Mary. Both guards relax their pose.

"The Queen asked us to come at our earliest convenience. Doubtless she knows this would be about now."

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Vetareh tries on a smile that manages to edge into sincerity, despite her discomfort. It helps that James addressed them by their names, it makes it easier to see them as people instead of instruments of her impending polite interrogation over tea.

"Hello," she says, wondering why she didn't spend that free time James was spending exploring the mursaat fortress trying to invent an invisibility spell. Resurrection is probably more important? Really? Then why doesn't it feel like that right now...

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    "It's a pleasure to meet you, miss...?"

"Lady Vetareh, Spellbreaker and Professor of the Orrian Crown," James says primly, causing a few seconds of silence.

Followed by shrugs. It's the Commander, after all.

    "If you'll follow me?" says presumably-Gabriel.

In they go.

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Are the royal guards prone to gossip? Because if so: oh, good, thanks ever so your royal majesty, that's very appreciated, breaking out her official Orrian titles for use in front of royal gossiping guards so that everyone in this damn city can be aware that there is a new shiny thing to look at and augh, she does not want to think the worst of these people, they actually haven't even done anything to her.

It's fine. She's fine. It's fine, see? James is doing the talking. He's good at that. It's fine.

Yeah, she's just going to follow her boyfriend and look pretty.

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Gabriel steals looks at her out of the corner of his eye every now and then in a mostly discreet way but otherwise makes no conversation. They walk in silence until they reach the throne room, at which point he announces: "The Lord James Orland of Shaemoor, Lightbringer of the Order of Whispers, Commander of the Pact, Slayer of Dragons, Peacebroker of the Maguuma, Unifier of Races, Conqueror of Madness, and Guardian of the Egg, and the Lady Vetareh, Spellbreaker and Professor of the Orrian Crown." Then he bows and turns away.

The Queen stands up to walk to them, followed by a woman in a dark blue outfit that seems to somehow fit her personality perfectly even though Vetareh knows approximately zero about said woman's personality. "Welcome, my friends. Commander, it has been a while."

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"Oh, you know, I have been kept busy by this or that."

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"This or that, indeed," says the woman-who-is-not-the-Queen with a smirk.

"Lady Vetareh," says the Queen, "it is a pleasure to meet you in person. And this is Countess Anise," she introduces, gesturing at the other woman, "Master Exemplar of the Shining Blade as well as my personal advisor and close friend."

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She studiously does not hide behind her boyfriend, even though it's very tempting and she really, really does not want to be here.

"Pleasure to meet you both," she says, with a polite curtsy, even though it kind of isn't. She meets their gaze evenly, trying to look as innocent and sincere as possible, and... okay, no, this is stupid.

"Okay, look, I realize that it's probably alarming to have a foreign mesmer show up on the arm of he-who-has-a-few-too-many-titles. I want to help clear things up. I am really actually who I say I am, which you've probably figured out, but I feel is worth stating aloud. I am not using James in a bid to seize power or to blow up the capital or assassinate someone or whatever it is I realize lots of naive young mesmers who have mastered their very first illusion think they can pull off. My intentions to you and the people under your charge are to not cause trouble and not get pulled into politics, and do my best to keep them from being eaten by dragons, respectively. My goals are to live a long and interesting life filled with lots of research, the possible restoration of lost ancient magics, and not to be eaten by dragons." She lets out a breath of air through her teeth. "Questions?"

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The Countess bursts out laughing. "Oh, I like her. You did always have a talent to find the most interesting people, didn't you, Commander?"

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"I swear it happened by accident."

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"Of that I am certain, my dear."

"It is most reassuring to hear you say that," interjects Queen Jennah. "Every ally in our struggle against the Elder Dragons is welcomed and much wanted."

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Oh, good. For the first time since she got here, Vetareh starts to relax. A little. She even actually smiles.

"I imagine they would be. Not to mention how sick you must be of stupid vapid power struggles when there are more important things going on."

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"Oh, you have no idea. I believe you've met our friend, the Minister Caudecus Beetlestone, in Bloodstone Fen? Charming figure," says the Countess. "Speaking of which, Commander, I'd like a word or two with you about it, if you don't mind?"

Not that she's waiting for him to mind before moving somewhere.

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James offers Vetareh a sheepish smile and a shrug, then turns to follow the Countess.

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She sees Countess Anise runs a tight ship.

"Please don't trip headfirst into anything exciting until after we're done talking, darling," she informs James, amused.

Then, back to Jennah: "Are there any other reassurances you might like to hear? I've only been here about a week and spent most of it on the Fire Islands, so I'm afraid I might be a bit miscalibrated for what sorts of justified worries you might have. I stuck with just the very obvious ones."

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"Reassurances are easy. Why don't you come for a walk with me? I could show you the royal gardens and we can get to know each other. I'm very curious about someone who's managed to catch the sights of the Pact Commander; Lyssa knows how many have tried over the years."

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"I would be delighted," she says, and... that one's actually true, she's actually having fun with this now that all of the boring standard mesmer crap has been cut through.

"I can imagine. Poor souls must have been so frustrated. Mostly I went, 'ooo' instead of 'Aah!' over the adventure, and it was remarkably straightforward from there."

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Jennah starts leading the way out of the throne room. "He had a... reputation, when we were both young. I didn't think much of him, back then. It was very surprising a few years ago when the Hero of Shaemoor turned out to be James Orland. I believe the people of Shaemoor thought so, too."

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Vetareh follows, of course.

"A reputation...? Troublemaker, or... oh, I see. Yes, I can imagine how a pretty noble boy would seek to entertain himself before he fell in love with something of substance. I can't say I'm sorry to show up after, I'd have likely found him insufferable."

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The Queen chuckles. She has a way of doing it that is way more composed and regal than it should have any right to be. "I didn't get to actually meet him, back then, so I don't know what he was actually like. Before his parents passed away they tried to set him up with a large number of noblewomen, and when he turned out to... ah... have more eclectic tastes than that, there were rumours that they tried to see if male suitors might have a higher success rate." She smiles to herself and pushes open a door to the gardens.

They're gorgeous, of course; a large open terrace with tasteful fountains decorated with flowers and the occasional tree, vines in pretty patterns crawling along the walls and stone arches, and stone walkways leading to shaded tables and wooden benches in locations prime to enjoy the view. It is currently empty, but the bending of the grass and the glittering of the coins inside the fountains for wishes betray somewhat more frequent use of the place than just soirées and the entertainment of othertimely guests.

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"Oh, these are lovely," she sighs, smiling. "He hasn't mentioned anything, but I suspect he's a little put out that the first person he's been serious about is a female human with half a drop of noble blood. On principle, you know. The moment I start talking it's back to 'Nevermind I regret nothing.'"

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Jennah chuckles again. "Yes, I would imagine he is quite unamused with the gods for this. Although I have always suspected he and Canach are rather closer than they may at first appear."

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"He does speak of him with a fondness and familiarity that probably belies... something," she says thoughtfully. "But I suppose it's not my business. Pity Canach and I didn't get to talk more while we were together, I liked him for the little that I met him."

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"I would expect it is your business, if you're serious about the Commander," she says, eyeing Vetareh from the corner of her eye. She's not smiling with her face, but her tone has some mirth in it.

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"I am, and touché, your Majesty, but..." She trails off, at a loss for the correct words.

"... Not in the way most might think it is?"

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"Very few things involving the Commander are, and you seem to be of a kind."

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Vetareh snorts. "Yes, quite."

She clears her throat a little and looks away, feeling just a little bit like someone has just stared into her soul. Well, she did come here to be honest. "How's Valette Wi doing, anyway? Has her nose healed properly?"

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"Oh, you'd have to ask Anise about that. I believe the Countess had a question or two to ask her, too." They reach one of the pretty fountains and the Queen takes a seat on the stone part of it.

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"Ah. Yes, forgive me for the clumsy subject change. I'm a little out of practice."

She sits a polite distance away from the Queen, on the same pretty fountain.

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"Think nothing of it," she says with a small smile. "But enough about other people. I'm curious about you. What was your life in Orr like? We have so little to go on and nowadays people mostly think of it in terms of Zhaitan, which cannot be very comfortable."

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An amused smile tugs at her lips, despite the dark subject. Yes, because this conversation hasn't been about her at all, noooo, it's just coincidence that it happened to bring up a lot of things that are important to her very quickly. Mhm. Sure.

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Then the dark subject catches up with her mood, and her smile slowly evaporates.

"No, not very. It breaks my heart that all the world knows of my nation is its ignoble end and its cruel leverage by Zhaitan. I loved my country, served it faithfully, and..." and now it's gone. She wasn't even there to see it go.

Nope, nope, something lighter, she will answer this question even if she has to dance around to the less agonizingly painful parts of her answer to do it.

"I expect most of the broad strokes you know already, and it's hard to compare when I haven't seen what life in Kryta is like today. We were devoted to the gods, and certain of our place and purpose in the world. Things were often very complicated, but at it's core, the world seemed very simple. I'd thought once that Arah was the most cosmopolitan city in the world, but I'm... strangely glad to have been mistaken. I mourn for humanity's losses, your Majesty, but the world is so much wider now."

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A genuine smile, at that. "Yes, it is. And though marred by its dark history, we are all working towards making sure that's not the last of Orr. If Kryta and Ascalon can move on from their past and build a bright future, then I'm sure so too can Orr."

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"Yes," says Vetareh, softly. "I wish it the brightest future possible, may it become something better than it was before."

But she doesn't want anything to do with rebuilding Orr. Nothing at all. It's too much to ask, there's too much pain, she can't stand to face it, not yet, and maybe not ever. It'll be so hard just to go there and make sure her mother is properly dead. She is many things, but strong enough to sift through the corrupted ruins of her home, she is not.

She doesn't say this, but she doesn't think she needs to. Jennah's a smart cookie, she can read between the lines just fine.

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She probably can.

"I apologise for bringing up painful memories," she says, sounding like she really means it. "I think you'll find much happiness here, regardless. The Commander is visibly very fond of you, and I believe you will find much to do. That asura - Taimi, I believe she's called? - has much potential, and I believe you two will have a lot to teach each other, and Tyria will only benefit from your friendship."

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"Thank you," she says, regaining her composure mostly through willpower. "That's the plan. I worry that a lot of old magic was lost with the savagery of time, and it seems... such a pity. I'd like to restore what I can of that, and help connect the old with the new. And according to Taimi I make a much better research minion than James, so clearly I have found my calling."

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That startles a giggle out of the Queen, who covers her mouth with a hand to maintain the regal aura. "Best of luck. I'm sure the Commander will be grateful not to have to collect any more samples from the battlefield."

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"I think he liked the part where he would go out to kill the things that would provide the samples, but... yes. I don't think he'll miss it. Though I might want to give him a crash course in field research methodology for when I'm not trailing along behind him, scraping up bits of things he's killed."

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"He'll enjoy the lesson, I'm sure," says the Queen who is sure of no such thing. She stands up and looks around at the garden. "Shall we return? I believe Anise should have finished grilling the Commander by now."

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Vetareh's pretty sure that she'll have to make some kind of game of it for James to enjoy literally anything about that, but okay, sure, she doesn't mind hearing pretty, pretty lies.

"Yes," she agrees, standing as well.

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So they can walk back to the throne room, where indeed Anise and James are waiting for them.

"I do hope we did not keep you waiting overlong," the Queen says.

"Your sense of timing remains impeccable, Your Majesty," replies the Countess.

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"Had fun?"

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"Mhmm. Careful, there's still time for me to run off to dazzle Rata Sum with my brilliance."

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"I would not dream of stopping you, if that's your heart's desire."

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The Queen and the Countess exchange the briefest of looks before the Queen says, "We had a marvelous walk and got to know each other much better. I thank you very much for taking this time to humour me."

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"Thank you very much for having us, your Majesty," says Vetareh, with a proper curtsy. That sure sounded like a dismissal to her. It's a dismissal, right? They're free?

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They absolutely are. James bows, and out they can go.

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Freedom!!!!!

"I like them both, actually," she admits to James, once they are out the door.

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"I thought you might."

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His level of smug earns him a look.

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He is completely unashamed.

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She rolls her eyes at him fondly.

"So I suppose no running off to Rata Sum for me. You're heartbroken, I know."

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"You can always decide I'm too insufferable."

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"That's true, I could. Hmmmmm." Kiss. "Not just yet, no. Despite your best efforts."

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He laughs.

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And then a woman in a very pretty flowery set of armour runs into them almost out of nowhere. "Commander! What a coincidence to run into you today. And who's this?"

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"Good to see you, too, Kas," says the Commander who will believe this was a coincidence on the same day he starts trusting Lazarus. "This is Vetareh." He turns to said Spellbreaker. "Vetareh, this is Kasmeer Meade. She's Marjory's girlfriend and they work together as private investigators."

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Yeah, Vetareh does not think this is a coincidence either. Getting checked for being a manipulative fraud by one of James's friends is less intimidating than the same by the queen of his country, though. The stakes are more personal.

"Pleasure to meet you," she says sincerely, with a polite curtsy.

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"So, Commander, I have a bone to pick with you..." says Kasmeer, straight to business.

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"Before I get an earful, I told Marjory it was a terrible idea."

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"Marjory's her own person. If anyone knows that..."

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"I... see. Very rational. So this bone that needs picking..."

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"Did my invite to Dragon's Watch get lost in the mail?" she asks, putting both hands on her hips.

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This... is not how she was expecting this to go. Her pride is bizarrely bruised, actually. Really. This is over a guild invitation, and not her? By all rights she should absolutely be an intimidating enough unknown to warrant—

...

Oh. Oh, Kasmeer's good. Yes, that's precisely the sort of thing that would absolutely catch an unknown off guard and see what she's really like, isn't it. And all while being perfectly friendly and charming and quite funny. Well played, and also nicely done. She likes this woman already.

Vetareh huffs a barely concealed laugh into her hand.

"James," she says, amused, "did you just so happen to invite Marjory to your new guild, and then not also Kasmeer?"

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Well that's taken a turn for the unexpected. "I, uh..." he starts. "You know, there was the matter with the Bloodstone exploding, and Lazarus, and then Aurene hatched... And I invited Jory when I ran into her, uh..."

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"Flimsy excuses." But she smiles, anyway. "But... I'm in. If you'll have me."

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He breathes a sigh of relief. "Absolutely."

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Vetareh beams, then her smile turns playful.

"Are you just going to leave it at that?" She raises her eyebrows. "You know, I might be just a little out of touch with modern courtesy, but I am definitely under the impression that you're supposed to, oh... apologize... maybe buy her a tasteful present, send a nice card..."

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Kas turns a grin in Vetareh's direction. "You know what?" Turns back to the Commander. "She's right."

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"...uh."

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And back to Vetareh. "Why don't you come with me to the Trader's Forum in Lion's Arch? We can pick something up for the Commander to get me as an appropriate apology gift. Oh, and gossip, it's a time-honoured bonding activity."

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"I'd be delighted. Bye, James, we're going shopping!" She leans up and presses a kiss to his cheek, then flounces off to join Kasmeer.

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what

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Kasmeer has a waypoint stone of her own so they can just go directly to the Forum.

"You know, I didn't expect it to happen, but if anyone had told me it had, 'running into some famous and narratively interesting person during an adventure' would be, like, one of my top three guesses of how the Commander would find a girlfriend. What I wouldn't have expected is for her to actually have any sense of fashion, that outfit's gorgeous."

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"Thank you, though one of the first things I did upon arrival was get something else to wear. I've been in this for, ah, quite a while. Her majesty summoned me with all of my Orrian titles, it seemed appropriate that I look the part."

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"Orrian style, hmm? Maybe we can look for something that matches it but isn't exactly the same outfit, so you can look pretty without having all the bad associations."

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"I'd like that! Though I'm not in a hurry, I like the other set of clothes well enough, just... sometimes I might like to look aggressively Orrian, you know?"

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Kas gives her a once-over and raises both eyebrows with a mischievous smile. "For no reason other than missing home, I'm sure."

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Vetareh grins and looks terribly innocent. "What other reason do I need than love of my country?"

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"None at all!" she says brightly. "Alright, here we are. Now, what apology gift would best say 'I'm so so sorry for being a terrible person and completely neglecting to invite my amazing, brilliant, gorgeous mesmer friend to my newly founded dragon killing guild'?"

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"Hmm... Something specific to you that shows that he cares about you as more than just," she waves her hand, "a member of his newly founded dragon killing guild. Practical, but pretty? Maybe not something for use daily, but something that could be."

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"Well, I'm not sure pretty things are quite the way to go - I'm actually quite skilled at illusions, I can keep them up even while I'm asleep, so whatever pretty thing I see I can just have." She gestures in the direction of her ears and gets a new set of pretty earrings matching her outfit. "All of my clothes are illusions," she adds, almost as an afterthought.

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...

Wait, Kas is basically naked right now??

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Actually, no, how is that safe, tangible illusions are all well and good but even decorative clothes are protective, even if they look anything but.

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"How does that work," she says, sounding somewhere between 'put out' and 'delighted,' "do you have a set of really nice protective jewelry or something to manage the enchantments, or are your illusions so good you can, can copy protections in clothing themselves??"

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"It's actually something halfway between those!" She fiddles with her right earring and removes it, then dispels the illusion over it, revealing it as a small, plain, golden earring with a white crystal embedded. "I do have some real physical jewellery, but it doesn't have the protective enchantments itself. It has a, let's call it anchoring enchantment. It's connected to a set of enchanted gear back somewhere safe, and so long as I keep the appropriate illusion over it my set of illusion clothing behaves just as if it was itself enchanted!" She seems very proud of this for some reason.

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"Oh! Oh I see! That's very clever, then you don't need to worry about repairing it or cleaning it or anything. And clearly the anchoring enchantment is covered and protected by the enchantments it duplicates, because I'm not seeing any obviously weak points for dispelling the entire illusion. Though you might have more trouble with some of a necromancer's enchantment removal, they're better at brute forcing than mesmers are and with enough focus could..."

Vetareh realizes Kasmeer's girlfriend is a necromancer. She trails off.

"... That's a feature, not a mistake, isn't it," she realizes out loud.

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Kasmeer just keeps smiling at Vetareh for another second, then says, "I was thinking maybe a sigil to replace my old one on my wand, maybe."

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Vetareh clears her throat and tries fruitlessly to forget this tidbit of information about Kasmeer and Marjory's sex life. It is very much in vain. In fact, it is burned into her mind forever, and she is terribly jealous she wants to do that too! Why are James' friends so hot and surprisingly kinky!! It's not fair, he was the one that wanted to do polyamory, why is she surrounded by hot people with clever magical ideas!!!! She doesn't even want to make passes at any of his hot friends right now, that sounds too complicated and messy and she would really rather wait for her thing with James to be more settled, but, but, the universe needs to stop conspiring to immediately discredit her thoughts about herself, okay!!!!

"That'd be nice and practical," she agrees, nodding.

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"Yes, it'd be useful on its own for me but also make us as a guild more effective, wouldn't you think?" she continues, acting oblivious to Vetareh's internal struggles with her attractiveness. She absentmindedly reattaches her earring and covers it again with an illusion.

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"Mhm! Though that does technically make it a little self serving as a gift from James, doesn't it."

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"Well, anything practical would be, a little, right, since in practice I'll probably be hanging around hunting Dragons. You know, as you do."

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"True. But it would be important information for ridiculously teasing James about it later, which is really the most important part of this whole adventure."

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"Oh!" She grins. "Of course, how silly of me."

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She smiles back, then hums thoughtfully.

"Though, ah, I will be the one paying for the sigil if James turns out to not find this whole adventure amusing, so..." she tries to figure out a polite way to phrase 'Please don't break the bank' but fails. Kasmeer can figure it out even if she doesn't manage to finish the sentence, right?

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Kasmeer laughs. "Don't worry about that, he will in fact find it amusing. In fact, if I know him, he'll be thrilled."

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"I expect so, yes. But..." she trails off again. The words 'I love him,' are... a lot. They're a lot. The only way she wants to finish that sentence, but also a lot.

Instead: "I think it's important to clarify with these sorts of things, you know?"

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"Well, if you want," she says, in lieu of questioning the end of that sentence, and then closes her eyes -

- and after a sparkly explosion of purple, there's a second Kasmeer there. "I could ask," says the clone.

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Vetareh laughs, delighted.

"Can you? Can your clones actually make the trip from here to Divnity's Reach intact??"

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"They're time-limited rather than distance-limited," says original. "And also, I can change the ratios of where I put the magic in them to make them last longer." Kas-clone shatters into rapidly-dissipating magic and then a new one appears, but this one looks more like a purple Kas-ghost than a proper clone. "Intangible, unrealistic, but this lets me redirect a lot of its magic to other relevant things I want out of it."

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"Oooo. Is there a reason why it's based on you instead of—well not an image of something that isn't really there, that's obviously much harder than a direct copy—but, say, multiple copies of your staff hitting something? I suppose there you'd be need to be simulating a way for a staff to hit something by itself, whereas with a clone of yourself you can copy precisely what you've already done and have less to personally do yourself, but then, wait how does that work with your clone being able to say things that are different than what you say, or take actions that are different from what you do? I suppose you can set all of that up in advance, but then the question comes 'why clones at all in particular'..."

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"As opposed to?" she asks, clearly enjoying this as much as Vetareh herself, though apparently for now taking the 'mentor' role.

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"Uh, wings, illusionary knives that you throw at people, rocket boots, illusionary darkness, flock of birds that mob people—hm, but those are all situationally specific, aren't they, a clone has an easy base that any mesmer could use with a lot of potential applications, which would make sense when you've got to take the time to write all of your spells on weapons that different mesmers would use. But that's so..." She gestures helplessly. "I acknowledge the benefits and tactical intelligence of it but I am so upset about all mesmers apparently doing clones now!!!"

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"The technical term for the transparent ones is phantasm, actually," she says, grinning. "And for what it's worth, even when not writing spells on weapons it's pretty time-saving to just have the general-purpose clone spell memorised to deploy at will. I do have a few of those specific ones, though, when the situation calls for it."

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"The idea of all mesmers doing clones is going to get ever so delicately assassinated with my lost ancient magical knowledge, and there's nothing anyone can do about it," huffs Vetareh, crossing her arms.

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She giggles. "Any juicy gossip about this lost ancient magical knowledge I can draw from you before you publish it in a major journal and get rich off it?"

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"It's a bit hard to say, without more complete knowledge of the modern standard, but... As far as I can tell my hexes are significantly meaner and more varied, and the modern necromancer has figured out how to spread them with epidemic. Which is quite a change and retroactively justifies my chosen secondary profession even more."

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"Secondary- oh! Oh you have a secondary profession!!"

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“I do! It didn’t occur to me at first that it’d be notable, actually, it came up at all because I offered to show James ancient necromancer spells.”

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"How does it work, what does it feel like, can you combine them? Lyssa, that's so exciting!"

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Vetareh giggles, amused. "It works like I'm a necromancer with some of the... most important parts missing? I can't pick up life essence from things dying near me, for example, and I doubt even if I devoted all my time and effort to it that I could match a proper necromancer. It's more of a pale imitation necromancer. Hm, describing how magic feels is tricky, I'd say it's like... cold, brittle ice, or maybe bone, to mesmer's... fuzzy and shifting mist and swirling possibility space. Combine them, yes and no, I can have spells from each pool, and cast them both normally, and sometimes the spells dovetail together nicely, but they don't... mesh together into one spell, the differences are too stark. It'd be worse than trying to combine water and oil, and I can't even.... shake the jar. Proverbially."

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"How about the, you know, divine magic that's letting the things in there coexist, do you feel that part?"

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"When I picked it, yes, I did, and it was at a shrine to Grenth, but now... no. The hard part was getting the necromancer in there, now that it's in it's quite stable and there's no divine anything involved at all. My father was ascended and could switch secondary professions, it's a pity I don't have him available to relate how that feels like."

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"Switch! I thought that was just rumours and stories, there were so few people who said they could do it..."

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"It required ascension, and the list of people that successfully pulled that off was rather short. My father never wanted to get into the details of how he'd done it. I'm not surprised you'd think it was all rumor, for most of the rest of us we were stuck with our choice for the remainder of our lives, like our primary profession."

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"I am very jealous of the Commander, right now."

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"Just for having found me?"

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"Found, kept," she says, waving a hand vaguely.

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She snorts. "I suppose. Though I'm not very kept, am I, considering I ran off with you to go shopping, hm?"

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"I consider this a kidnapping, really. But you're being quite cooperative," she says, grinning.

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Vetareh laughs. "And what would you have done if I wasn't cooperative?"

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"I would be very ashamed of my skills if that happened."

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"Fair enough!"

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She giggles.

They can go find some cool sigils to buy, then, can't they?

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Yep! Vetareh is very interested in modern magic, this is a great chance to see some.

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Speaking of magic: she can hear a noise. A strange, staticky noise... that she might recognise from the Fire Islands...

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She frowns. That's... odd. In a concerning way.

"Kasmeer, do you detect any strange magical anything happening nearby, in... that-ish direction?" She points towards the strange staticky noise.

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She blinks, opens her mouth, closes it, frowns, then says, "No, but there's a strange magical thing happening in you."

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Vetareh sighs. "Damn. Yes, there is, isn't there. And if it's happening in me it'll be happening in James, too."

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"The Commander?"

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"Mhm. He was sensing strange things too, earlier, though now I suppose we know why our perceptions weren't synchronized."

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"I see. Is it just - a noise, or...?"

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"No, there was also a figure, made of unstable magic. I'd tried to get samples of it when we first saw it. I suppose I should have guessed why none of it would go in any of the jars when I saw it then, but it was honestly the least of our problems at the time."

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"What did it look like?"

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"Humanoid figure, made out of unstable magic. It looked very like a figure James and I fought when I first came out of the Mists, in the aftermath of the bloodstone explosion."

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"Huh. But the figure you fought was, you know, fightable, it wasn't completely undetectable like these other ones you found?"

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"Yes. It might be that the figures we're seeing are a result of having killed that one, some... leftover residue that it left behind that we unknowingly absorbed and now can't process in any way but seeing and hearing things. As a very estimated guess that I don't trust to be accurate, mind."

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"Sounds as likely as anything. I haven't heard of anything like this before, but with bloodstone magic, who knows?"

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"Precisely. And it was powerful enough to tear some kind of hole to the Mists, because it was how I got out of the Mists. I'd thought I'd walked into another echo, and then it all became real."

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"Huh! I'd never heard of holes to the Mists happening like that except in old cautionary tales about experimentation with magic."

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"Yes. Quite dangerous, but there had just been a very big magical explosion, so I suppose if it would happen anywhere, that'd be a reasonably likely location for it."

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Kasmeer nods. "I... this is wildly beyond my area of expertise, so all I can help with is speculation," she says, shrugging a bit helplessly. "This seems like something that needs a specialist."

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"Doesn't it just! Ugh. I'd better go find James, he'll likely have better connections to modern specialists than I do."

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She nods again. "Especially when he's with the Order of Whispers. What I wouldn't give to know what that's like..."

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"I know next to nothing about them, so it's just as well for me, really."

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"Oh no one does, that's their thing, you know, being all secretive and everywhere and knowing lots of things they shouldn't by right know."

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Vetareh snorts, amused. "No wonder James joined, sounds like he'd have a blast from the ability to frustrate people alone."

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"Oh, trust me, he used that ability."

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"I'd expect nothing less." She sounds terribly fond. "Come along, let's find you your sigil while we're here, and then you can return me from whence I was stolen. And make James pay for it."

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"Let's indeed!"

Sigils can be found in a shop that-a-way or bought off the Black Lion Traders' marketplace over here.

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Sigils!

.... Vetareh is woefully out of touch with modern magic and what sigils would be good sigils! But she's very curious, happy to hold things, and understands a lot of the underlying theory, so she makes a pretty good soundboard for whatever Kasmeer might be thinking. Actually, on the whole, this probably makes her a much better shopping companion than any who would have any annoying opinions that might get in Kasmeer's way.

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Well, having opinions or not having opinions both work in different ways, really. But here, she can nerd about the sigils and what they do and how they work with modern weaponry and modern magic.

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Exciting stuff!

A sigil is eventually found. This complete, they can wrap up the shopping trip and go find James to pay for it, and also to get into solving that whole... alarming unprecedented magical thing that might kill them or drive them mad that they’ve got going on.

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"Did you guys have plans today before I kidnapped you?" Kas asks on the way to the waypoint.

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Her mouth twitches at the re-emergence of ‘kidnapped.’

“Not as such, no. We’d finished the only strong plan for the day, I was impatient about getting ‘Hello your majesty I am what I say I am, and my boyfriend is not my pawn in a mad bid for your kingdom’ out of the way. If I had to guess where he went, it’d be the Order of Whispers, though to be honest my plan was to have Taimi call him.”

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"You called?" sounds a voice from somewhere in the back of Vetareh's dress.

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"By the Six!" exclaims Kasmeer, nearly jumping out of her skin.

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Vetareh jumps, too.

What in the...?!” she says, immediately getting to finding the communication device in her clothes. “Ah, hi Taimi, this is... very convenient,” and kind of rude, but whatever, “but is this a... new communication device for me, or is it James’s?”

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"New one, made just for you! I had an assistant deliver it to you earlier today."

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"Deliver?" Kasmeer asks, raising an eyebrow and folding her arms in the direction of the communication device. "Seems like your assistant forgot to warn the recipient! Or, indeed, make their presence known at all!"

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"Oh, well," sighs the voice, with not a trace of remorse. "I'll tell him to be more conspicuous next time."

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“Don’t bother, I imagine James took great glee in getting to moonlight as your minion and take me by surprise,” she rolls her eyes, fondly. “He’s incorrigible and would only be sorry he didn’t get to see my reaction. Well. Thank you very much, Taimi. Could you direct us to James, please, he and I have a bit of an... unprecedented magical affliction going on. Making us see and hear things, might drive us slowly mad, you know, the usual. We might need to borrow a bit of your lab to figure it out, depending on what his secretive organization knows.”

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Kasmeer gives Vetareh a strange look, half-disbelieving half-"yep the Commander would date this person alright".

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"I'll loop him in! Hey Commander!"

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"Yes, Taimi?"

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“Hi, James! Thank you for the communicator, It was very thoughtful. Along with your gift to Kasmeer, very practical, it was three gold, fifty-four silver, you’re welcome. We’re friends now, she’s very charming and clever. Where are you, or, no actually where should we meet up, we should get to figuring out our magical seeing things affliction sooner rather than later. I’m thinking it was likely the thing we killed when I first fell out of the Mists.”

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Kasmeer hides a surprised giggle when Vetareh mentions the gift and grins at her.

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"Oh, you saw it, too? I can meet you in Lion's Arch, or Divinity's Reach, and then get you a ride over to the library, they will want to take a look at you, too."

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Vetareh grins back at Kasmeer and winks.

“‘The’ library? Very specific, James. Would it make your entire super secret organization calmer if I spent the entire time blindfolded? Divinity’s Reach works fine.”

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"They are not worried about the library, it will be fine. I'll meet you there!"

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“If you say so. I wouldn’t mind if it made your spy friends less jumpy and stabby. Anyway, going now.”

She has by now located the communicator hidden on her person. Very subtle, good job, James, she’s not even sure when or how he planted it. Is there an off switch of some kind? Or a hang up button?

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No to both things.

"See you in a bit!"

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Of course not. So Taimi's going to be listening in to every conversation she makes, which is not terrible, but still needs fixing. She reattaches the communicator to a different place, this time on the inside of her collar instead of the sneaky location James hid it at before.

"Well thank you for stealing me, Kasmeer. I can try to sneak you in with some kind of excuse for the Order of Whispers, or I can try to ask any questions you particularly want to know the answer to for you?"

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"Oh don't worry about it, I have my own secret organization to keep me occupied. Do keep me posted on your little problem, though!"

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Vetareh snorts. "Of course you do. Have fun with that. And I will, I'll do my best to not explode or go mad or something."

And then: to the library! Or, well. To Divinity's Reach to meet up with her boyfriend, and then be guided towards the mysterious library.

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James arrives only a few minutes later and immediately moves in for a hug.

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Aww! He's cute, and yes of course he can have a hug.

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"Ready to meet the shadowy secret organization that everyone knows about?"

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"Sure! Everyone, though? It seems like it'd be counter-productive for a shadowy secret organization to be famous."

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"It could not very well recruit people to kill dragons if it was not known to do that!"

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"Fair enough, I suppose," she snorts, reaching out to hold his hand. "Well, let's go say hi. I'll still tolerate being blindfolded if it'll help them be less jumpy."

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James shakes his head, smiling, and gives her the device to let her follow him to a waypoint she hasn't been to before.

Then he disappears.

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Her boyfriend disappearing out of her actual hands is still going to take some getting used to. She's immediately curious about how waypoint system differentiates between people with such precision; she can think of a few different ways that it could pull it off, but having it integrated so neatly with an automated system that works for random people implies—no, no, focus.

To the mysterious unknown place that she has a waypoint thingy for!

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The mysterious unknown place turns out to be... somewhere in the Shiverpeak mountains, right next to some hot springs. There are a few people in the actual springs, and some tents set up here and there with vendors and places to store clothes.

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Well, she sees why the Order of Whispers would want to set up a meeting location here; it's rather nice, if a bit chilly. Fortunately for her, her rather skimpy attire is enchanted to warm her, so the cold isn't too bothersome. She makes a mental note to come back here if she decides she needs a good soak in something other than James's bath. As it is now, however, she's on business, not pleasure.

Accordingly, her first order of business is finding and following James to the library. Of nonspecific noun and complete lack of adjectives.

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Nonspecific noun and complete lack of adjectives are probably by design. James hugs her then leads her to a nondescript tent where a norn is selling warm pelts with small sigils carved into a corner. "Hail, friend."

    "Hail. A pelt for fashion or for the cold?"

"A pelt for warmth and an insignia for knowledge. One for me and one for two," he replies, gesturing towards Vetareh with his head.

    She nods. "Then come, and learn."

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Oh goodness, they have code phrases! She is so charmed. This is atrociously adorable. It is bad form to giggle at the spies doing the most ridiculously overblown spy speak she has ever heard, so she doesn't, but she cannot actually repress her smile. The Order of Whispers is, apparently, an order of dorks. That's it, that's what's going on here, that's why they're so secretive. They are a bunch of incorrigible dorks reciting spy phrases to each other and visiting each other at libraries nestled near hot springs and describing the whole thing with a lot of vagueness and nonspecific nouns. She should probably take this more seriously, and reminds herself that the Order of Whispers is a major force for good in the world, and they're probably all very competent and resourceful people and help, they're dorks, they're all dorks, and she loves them and wants to keep them and their adorable spy clubhouse and ridiculously overdramatic code phrases safe.

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They are led further into the tent and behind its false back where there is a... stone wall.

That the norn then steps through.

And James follows.

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This isn't even particularly weird, she's a mesmer. Through the stone wall!

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This reveals a small cave with a wooden door behind it. It is unguarded, but Vetareh will notice it is enchanted and from the way of it it's something really nasty. When the norn touches the handle, her ring reacts to it and temporarily disables the ward, then she opens it for them.

James steps through and, once Vetareh's followed, the norn closes the door behind them. The narrow stone passage is unlit, but enchanted to be navigable anyway. After a little bit more walking and a few choice bifurcations, the passage opens up to a large cave that itself serves as the library. The magical visibility effect in the passage fades once they're out, and the library proper is illuminated by regular torches and lamps rather than anything more obviously magical. There are only a handful of people there, and some of them look up from whatever they're doing to see the newcomers but only one of them starts walking towards them.

"This isn't our main library or headquarters," James explains while he walks. "We just pretend it is so that people stop looking."

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Vetareh weathers all of this with perfect grace and dignity, and even thinks some of these precautions aren't laying it on a bit thick. A lot of them, though.... yeah, a bit thick. It's adorable.

"Oh, I see. Are the code phrases not typical, then?" Actually, upon further consideration, she doesn't actually want anything but one specific answer to that question, so she adds, "If they are not, kindly lie to me, I want to pretend that they are regardless because they're terribly charming."

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He laughs. "They are absolutely typical, princess. But they tend to be more complicated and less obvious than that."

    The enrobed person arrives. "Commander! And you must be the Lady Vetareh," he says, lowering the hood to show a young-looking sylvari of purple-blue hues. "It is a pleasure to meet you."

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Being called 'Lady' is weird, but she reminds herself that the actual queen of Kryta did give her the title before she does something embarrassing like 'protest about it.' Instead, Vetareh gives him a proper Orrian curtsy, and replies, "The pleasure's all mine, thank you for having me here on such short notice." Then, more casually: "James, stop straightforwardly telling me the actual answers, you're spoiling all the fun of the secret society."

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    "It's not really that secretive," says the sylvari.

"I keep telling her that," James shrugs. "And Vetareh, this is Lightbringer Elodir, one of our chief scientists."

    "I'm no one's chief and the Lightbringer title is only a formality," he huffs.

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"So's calling me 'Lady,'" points out Vetareh, dryly. "Since the title is perhaps a week old at best, and it doesn't come with any land or responsibility. So if I'm not mistaken, you started it."

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That makes him laugh. "I am beaten. You may just call me Elodir."

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"And you may just call me Vetareh!" She smiles at him. "So, how much have you been told about our strange psychomagical affliction?"

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"You two fought a humanoid being made of lightning, and now you're seeing and hearing copies of it that no one else can see or hear?" he summarises.

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"Yes. The times when we see and hear the copies are analogous, but not actually synchronized, which likely implies... something, but I really don't know what. Yet."

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    "Right, then, let's run some experiments on the both of you."

"You could stand to sound less ominous."

    "Where's the fun in that?"

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"Honestly, 'run some experiments' is rather innocuous, as these things go. 'Get in the device, I'll prove all of those fools wrong with my theories,' is much more alarming."

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"Say, has anyone ever offered you a position here?"

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Her mouth twitches. "No, this is my first time doing anything related to the Order of Whispers. Why, are you planning to change that?"

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"I think the Priory would probably suit her better."

    "Nuh-uh, you are not stealing her from us, the Priory gets all the good scientists do you have any idea how hard it is to recruit, Commander?!"

"I confess I do not."

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It's very flattering how many people want to give her a job. She's very flattered.

"Recruiting should probably wait until after we're sure I and the Commander aren't going to be slowly driven mad by visions, you know. Otherwise you might let me in on the various secrets, and then both I and he go, 'Yes! Bwuahaha! With your resources at last we can turn all of Tyria's inhabitants purple!' or something ridiculous like that."

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    "Worth it."

"It is not."

    "We'd need to interview you first anyway."

"Don't you collaborate with the Priory anyway?"

    "Come on, Commander, do you actually think they share all their resources with us? We don't share it all with them."

"We are the secret society."

    "Still."

"Maybe we should go to them instead to deal with this problem."

    "You are coming with me right now." And the sylvari starts striding away from them towards some specific unspecified place.

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Vetareh giggles and dutifully follows him.

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A few other people greet the Commander on their way to a corner table with lots of reports and sheets of paper strewn about haphazardly, piles of books, ink pens, and the occasional bizarre asuran stone construct.

    One of which Elodir reaches for - a flat slab of stone with the shape of a humanlike hand outlined in glowing blue veins. "Place your hand here, please."

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She does, of course.

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    He waits a second, then: "Commander, your turn."

James does it too.

    Another second. "Okay, this will get an overall reading of your magical signatures. ...I should find another human. Two. A necromancer and a mesmer would be best. Er, be right back." He starts striding towards one of the other members of the Order and muttering under his breath about how he bets those Priory nerds have access to all test subjects whenever they want.

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“Ah, hold on,” she calls after him, “I have necromancer as my secondary profession, which might complicate that a bit. Not very much, it barely affects my magical signature, but I likely won’t be perfectly comparable to a mesmer without another profession.”

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It takes Elodir a second to process what she says then he stops and whirls on the spot and dashes all the way back. "You have a secondary profession????"

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Elodir is adorable, and she smiles accordingly. “Yes. I don’t think it’s easily replicable for anyone else anymore, unless another pantheon of gods shows up to replace the missing human one and helps with the,” she vaguely motions with her hands, “the fiddly soul bits. Though I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible for mortals to figure it out without them, when I’m less primed to go mad or explode or something I’d be happy to be studied so that bit of lost history could be a bit less lost.”

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"The human gods actually exist??????????????"

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“Oh, yes, definitely. But they have left, so their neat presents like resurrection and choosing secondary professions are gone with them. But I once had an hour long debate with Lyssa’s avatar about the philosophy and uses of mesmer magic and the nature of illusions. My father spoke to Grenth’s avatar and was actually brought to the Underworld to help out with demon slaying or something.”

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"I am going to need so much data - I still need to grab a necromancer and a mesmer, you're going to have to cast some necromancer spells for me so I can see that - I will return anon."

Away he goes again.

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Vetareh giggles. “Certainly.”

Elodir: very cute nerd.

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"I'm glad we ended up with him," James confides. "He is an extremely talented elementalist and has worked with Taimi in many projects. And also he has the best reactions to your ancientness out of the research Lightbringers."

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“Oh, absolutely. The Order of Whispers could make an entire recruitment pitch based around ‘look at this nerd, don’t you want to work with him?’”

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"I think the Order is not particularly focused on recruiting more researchers. They outsource most of it to the Priory anyway."

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“Oh, I see. Poor Elodir, that has to be terribly frustrating. The adorable code phrases must only make up for it a little.”

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"I think most people take them a little bit more seriously than that."

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"Most people are allowed to be wrong about things," she says serenely.

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"Do you have an alternative first-pass idea?"

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"Not really, my point is not that they're impractical, just that if people are not delighted by their existence, they're incorrect."

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He laughs. "Alright, I see your point. I am sure the other orders have similar things, anyway."

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"But James, I was charmed by this one first!"

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"That seems like a flawed decision criterion!"

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"Yes, but there is no perfect decision criterion, so I might as well go with the one I find the most entertaining!"

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"I feel like there's a flaw in that argument somewhere, too."

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"Nonsense, I never make any of those, you must be imagining things."

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"Of course, dear."

    Elodir returns, dragging an annoyed-looking asura and a charr.

        "Commander," the charr says.

            "Commander," agrees the asura. "I trust this is very important? This one," she continues, giving Elodir a look, "seems to think so, but I have learnt to not trust him."

    "A wrong lesson to learn if there ever was one," says the sylvari, unashamed.

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Vetareh snorts.

"It's for the Commander, actually," it is so weird to call him that instead of by his name, but she knows how to play along to people's customs, "and also me, but not knowing me at all I expect helping him will be more compelling."

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            "Now that is a surprise," says the asura.

"Vetareh and I seem to have been infected with some sort of magical affliction and the Lightbringer," (Elodir huffs when James uses this title), "wanted to use a necromancer and a mesmer as basis to analyse our magical signatures."

    "But she's special," the Lightbringer can't help but bring up, "because she has a secondary profession. Given to her by the human gods."

        "Is that so?" wonders the charr, turning to examine Vetareh with more attention than before. "I thought they had left."

"It's complicated. In any case, let's stop skipping the introductions here, why don't we?" says James, amused.

        The charr snorts. "Agent Nelia Poisonbreaker, at your service," she says, saluting.

            "Agent Smipa. A pleasure," the asura adds dryly. "And you're Vetareh, yes? Shall we get the pleasantries out of the way and finish this so I can get back to my work?"

    "Please forgive Smipa, I think she has been trying to stop drinking coffee and that has had an effect," says the Lightbringer.

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Vetareh resists the urge to snicker at Elodir's and the Agents' antics, instead giving a proper Orrian curtsy.

"I am indeed Vetareh, a pleasure to meet you both. It's fine, I wouldn't want to keep you longer than necessary," she demurs.

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            "Yes, yes, good, what do we need to do?" wonders Smipa.

    "Just put your hand here, I'll compare your signature to the Commander's and Nelia... well, I'll need to figure out how to tell things apart with Vetareh but I'm sure it won't be a problem."

James grins fondly at Vetareh while the Agents get their signatures collected.

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She grins back! It's distracting that his pretty face is out and about instead of hidden behind spikes and fire. Not a bad kind of distracting, but. Distracting.

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After Elodir is done collecting their data the Agents salute again and return to their work. "Right, then! Let's see what I'll find." He places the device on a little rectangular indent of the wall where it somehow sticks in spite of gravity and then a section of the wall lights up to show a lot of writing going by really fast. "Just a minute, need to boot this up."

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Well, obviously Vetareh is going to try to figure out what the writing is about! She might not manage it, but it's something to do, and she despises boredom.

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It seems to be giving information about the initialisation of various... things? The names seem to be the kinds of things the asura would invent, like "Aetheric Alterator" or "Enormously Massive Data Storage Unit Lite", but if they're referring to any actual physical... things... those things are nowhere visible, or not reacting in any way if so.

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Huh! That's interesting. At some point she should probably acquire at least a basic knowledge of how different Asuran tech works, but now is probably not the time for that. She'll keep reading over Elodir's shoulder, though, that seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

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After another few seconds, something like a graphical interface not too different from the ones Taimi uses pops up, and Elodir starts quickly tapping various things on the screen. He reaches a point where a diagram of a human shows up, with highlighted glowy points around its body and thin vein-like connections between them. He rotates the diagram and taps various parts with purpose even if the order seems to be random, but the colour of the lights changes as he does that and various diagnostics data appears as he does.

He starts humming tunelessly to himself while that happens, almost but not quite as if he was talking aloud about his thoughts.

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Vetareh would actually prefer if he were talking aloud about his thoughts instead of just humming to himself. ... She's getting bored already, trying to figure out what Elodir's doing with little to no context and no outside help is very like how she kept herself amused in the Mists, and she has not had enough time or distance to get completely over it.

This is the point where she'd go snuggle James and have him distract her, but also they're kind of on duty, and she would kind of like to not end up making out (or... other things) in a closet in his adorable secret society's library. Not... that this is what would end up happening, no, no, that would be silly, she and he are far too professional for th—hahaha okay she'll stop lying, it's totally what would happen with the both of them bored and with nothing better to do. Even if they could probably totally get away with it, because he likely knows this place well enough to know all of the out of the way nooks, and she's a mesmer. Great, now she's reminded of Kas's illusionary clothes, that is not helping.

She looks at James. C'mon, one of them has to be reasonable, can't she pass the reasonable stick to him this time...? It's his fault for showing off his pretty face, this was much easier when he was covered in spikes and fire.

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His pretty face is being shown there, yep, all austere and serious, arms folded, eyes closed, concentrated in his thoughts probably.

 

 

 

 

 

 

........

 

 

 

 

 

 

...........maybe a bit too concentrated in his thoughts, actually.

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She squints at him, then she leans over and pokes him. Jerk. Sleeping while standing up is very clever, and also tactically smart, but also, they're in this together and so he does not get to just tap out because nothing's happening.

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James opens his eyes and raises a questioning eyebrow at her. He does not look like he was asleep - no grogginess or startle from the poke or even loss of balance.

But then again, she has seen how quickly he gets his bearings upon waking up.

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By the expression of his girlfriend, with crossed arms and raised eyebrows: yeah, right. That can be their story if anyone else asks, but she knows better. She flicks an illusionary butterfly to land on his nose, just because, then it disappears before anyone else has any chance to spot it.

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He keeps the act for a couple more seconds but when the butterfly lands on his nose it cracks and he grins at her.

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She grins back. Sleeping while standing up? That's impressive, and also kind of crazy, and probably he can't teach her, but still. Very clever, as long as it doesn't actually get him into trouble!

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He scratches the side of his nose and eyes the screen Elodir is working on then rolls his eyes and sighs heavily in silence.

Booooooooring.

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He’s so cute. He’s so absurdly cute. How can he be this cute, it’s impossible that this much cute can fit in such an intimidating adventuresome person. And yet! It’s there! He’s so cute!!

She makes him one of her illusionary puzzles from the Mists. Here you go, you cutie, figure out how to solve this instead of being bored!

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...well now he's curious, how does this work?

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So! The purpose is to move these illusionary rings to get the colors to line up, except the rings are interconnected, and moving one messes up its fellows. It is unfortunately not autonomous, though, she’s the puzzle master and has to move it for him with her mind. But he can poke rings and move his finger and she’ll obligingly move the puzzle bits for him!

She’s long grown bored of this puzzle herself, but operating it for her boyfriend and watching his reactions is very novel, and she doesn’t have much else to do right now.

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Oh wow this is complicated. He's not sure he can figure this out in their time here.

On the other hand it's not like he has literally anything else to do.

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He does not! He's cute when he's trying to figure out a puzzle, d'aww. Look at him. And his cute face.

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But eventually:

"Okay, I think I have you two mapped out," Elodir says, frowning at his screen.

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"Great!" says Vetareh, who shrinks down the puzzle illusion to the size of a copper coin, then tucks it against the inside of James's sleeve. If they get into a fight it'll probably be dissipated from all of the magic flying around, but if they're not going to get into a fight, he has his progress saved until next time they are bored.

"So now what?"

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"Now I am very thankful that the Commander is here and that you have some necromancer in you otherwise I would never have been able to isolate this thing. Here, come look."

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"Strangely convenient that I'm weird and novel," she says, brightly, and comes to look.

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"So you did manage to isolate the problem?"

    "In a manner of speaking," Elodir replies cautiously. "It's definitely alien, as in not part of your native magical makeup, but it seems like it's trying to make itself cosier. Here, look." He takes a step to the side to show the screen, which now has a 2D line drawing of a human male with roughly the Commander's build, although any defining characteristics are too fine to be captured by the diagram. There are swirling patterns of light flowing around his body, almost like bloodflow if blood didn't need veins to have its direction set, and there are multiple colours distinguishable there.

The most frequent colour is a dark green, which seems to permeate approximately all of James's body; secondary to that is a dark blue, which - when Elodir slides his finger across the screen and makes the body slowly rotate tridimensionally - seems to be more concentrated on his skin. There is a light green and a soft yellow amongst the other colours, but there is one colour that stands out the most, both because it's brighter than the others - despite being relatively localised to close to his brain - and because it seems to not quite mingle as much as the others. While the other colours flow into and out of each other and sometimes mix and fade, this red seems to be almost set apart from everything else by some invisible membrane. It also behaves weirdly, being more self-contained but at times seeming to try to lash out aggressively down James's throat, at which point the rest of the colours gently push it back up. Some specks and flecks of the red seem to get separated in this process, though, and dissolve into the other colours.

    "The colours are artificial, of course," explains the sylvari once he has given them enough time to digest the diagram. "This red one is the foreign one, and it's - actually if the colours were at all accurate it'd be green-white, it's very heavily balanced but a bit skewed towards Destruction and Preservation. I managed to isolate it from the other strands of your personal magic due to how self-contained it seemed to be, compared to everything else."

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"Oh, look at that, that'll be tricky," hums Vetareh thoughtfully. "Can't disrupt it without damaging everything else, and even if we did, even just the residue doesn't look like it'd be easily processed by our systems. That'd need to be extracted, probably after finding someone that can shield it so as to cut down on the fallout. Do monks that specialize in protection and enchantment magic still exist?"

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Elodir stares at her blankly for a couple of seconds then catches up. "Oh! No, I don't think so, I think that sort of magic is more used by guardians?"

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"Okay! James, do you have any guardian friends who are one or both of; a longtime friend that would know your magical signature extremely well, or an expert in very very tricky and incredibly niche theories about personal magical auras? Possibly this can more easily solved with modern equipment, so please feel free to tell me if I'm wasting everyone's time, Elodir, but I'm thinking of how I would solve this problem if it were two hundred and something years ago."

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    "Commander, please," pleads the sylvari, causing James to laugh.

"I told you, she will have to be the one to decide whether to join up." To Vetareh: "I unfortunately do not have any such friends."

    "Oh! Right, no, you need, er, okay, so, here." Elodir turns back to the screen. "I think it should be possible to do something simpler than that if you find samples of the original magic - Bloodstone magic, probably, of the right kind. I'm not entirely sure yet how but I think we should be able to... use it... to separate your magic from its magic more cleanly."

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"Ooooo, trying to draw it out by tempting it with more of itself to consolidate with! I like it. And if we do it right, it'd work with both of us at the same time, which would be very tidy. But the new ball of magic will probably come alive and try to kill us, since that would be the most likely reaction even if it didn't start out trying to kill us. Which it did. So we'd need something to shield the people present once we killed it again. Otherwise we might get caught in a loop of killing it, redistributing the maddening magic around upon its death, and reforming it to get it off of its latest victims. Just to kill it and start the whole thing over again, hopping that after enough rounds it'll be dispersed enough that we can all finally move on with our lives. But this is an excellent idea, I like it very much."

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"Pleeeeeeeeeeease," this time directed at Vetareh again.

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"Well don't look at me, I was terribly charmed by the secret pass codes. He was the one that was all, 'You should be responsible and meet all of your options before permanently picking one'..."

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"Far be it from me to stop you from doing the irresponsible thing if that is your wish."

    "See???"

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Vetareh giggles.

"Joining the Order of Whispers does mean I get to tease all of the nerds in the big fancy nerd organization about my ancient magical knowledge. Which sounds very fun. And it'd mean more control over what ancient magical knowledge gets released versus what gets leveraged to my benefit. Resurrection signets and the like I'd want to freely release to the world, but I'm pretty sure that a lot of what I know could potentially be very dangerous when combined with modern advances, and I don't even know where they might be. If I joined the Order of Whispers would every secret I know then belong to the Order and need to be guarded with quite as much zeal as other Order secrets? Or would it be up to my own whims?"

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"I don't... know? I don't think there's much they can do other than ask and advise. But we're way more about finding out the secrets before anyone else than necessarily keeping the secrets."

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"Hmm. Then it will probably have to wait until I can interrogate a person specialized in recruiting instead of research. Sorry."

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"I can get someone!" he replies immediately and brightly.

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Vetareh laughs. “Sure, okay. But I think I will still compare to the Priory now that I’m actually being responsible and negotiating properly, so we should probably solve this problem first. Since negotiations take a while and are unscientific and barely about magic at all.”

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Pout. "We were doing so well with the irresponsibility right there!"

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"We were! And then I started again. Mesmer, sorry, I live to trip people up." She winks.

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Pooooooooout.

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Vetareh smiles innocently.

"So! We need to go collect bloodstone magic, preferably in that cave where we fought the thing originally. Do you have any recommendations for collection apparati?"

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Boy oh boy does he! He runs off, and James laughs. "He sure is something."

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"He is! He's very cute."

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"Very competent, too."

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"Very!" She pauses, then she squints at James. Thoughtfully.

"... James. Are you plotting?"

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"Plotting what?" he asks, perhaps a bit too innocently.

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"I don't know, but you are, I see it in your face! What are you plotting, tell me, I'll figure it out anyway and telling me will just save time."

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"But it will be much less fun."

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"Admittedly yes," she acknowledges.

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"Incentives!"

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She rolls her eyes, fondly.

"Fine. But I'm onto you. Whatever it is you're plotting about Elodir and—" She stops, mouth still open, then shuts it as she starts to turn a bit pink. "Are you. I. I don't even know the phrase for it. The precise opposite of jealous?"

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"The word I have seen used nowadays for that emotion would be 'compersion', I believe."

He does not answer the question.

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"Mmhmm. Good to know. But it'd be better to know the answer to my original question."

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"Wouldn't it just."

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Vetareh flicks an illusionary butterfly at his nose, rolling her eyes fondly.

"Fine, keep your secrets. But dating is scary and you notwithstanding I'd like to take things rather slow."

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"It has only been a few days, after all," James agrees easily.

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"I should not fling myself at everyone available in my first week of arrival to the world," she says, nodding sagely. "Even if my boyfriend thinks I'd be cute with someone. Which you do."

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"For the record, sylvari are significantly less hung up on this than species that have any actual childrearing," he adds, apropos of nothing.

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“That makes sense! Still not going to fling myself at anyone available, though.”

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"Oh, it was just a fun fact."

    And here comes Elodir, arms full of strange artefacts, most of them made of stone with glowy runes and veins.

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"Of course it was," says Vetareh, deadpan. "Welcome back, Elodir, what toys did you bring?"

(Oh no, why did she have to use that phrasing, after her previous conversation with James her mind is immediately going to - well, things that would not be unwelcome in a sexual encounter, nooooo whyyyyyy!)

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"Long explanation or short explanation?"

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“Long!”

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Insert long explanation here!

They're basically various different flavours of the same thing, though, with changes mostly along axes of sensitivity or how to operate or how delicate they are or size or how replaceable they are.

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Hmm!

Okay, so they should have something very sturdy and hopefully not difficult to replace should it get dropped in a volcano or something. Not because they plan to do this, but because this device will be handled by herself and James. And, well. She motions to James to demonstrate, in lieu of trying in words. ("And while I think I'm better about wanton destruction, I don't actually think that's saying all that much.") Difficulty of operation isn't a problem. Axes of sensitivity is the tricky prospect here, but they should focus the most attention towards the principle school of aggression, and flavors of magic that trend towards madness when unstable.

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So he proudly presents them with a cube. It has a circular depression on the top which "lights up different colours depending on background magic". It doesn't do much else - it was built exactly for the Commander's type of situation, so it's designed to withstand a lot but doesn't have much of an interface, which would be more fragile than the device itself. Any data it collects can be read by another device, locally in the OoW headquarters, and it's actually quite detailed. It just, well, does need to be read by the specialised bit of equipment here.

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Excellent! It sounds perfect! Vetareh will take it and keep it safe(...ish) in her mesmer bag. She is very excited to do more magical field research, and also hopefully not go insane.

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    "So, I think... that's all?" says the sylvari, sounding a bit disappointed.

James nods slowly but looks at Vetareh with a questioning look in his eyes.

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"For now, I think so, yes." Poor Elodir, losing his new nerd friend so quickly! "But we will be back soon enough with data, and maybe if we're feeling very efficient I can make up my mind about joining the Order of Whispers or not, hm?"

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That seems to cheer him up.

"Then let us be off."

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"Let's!"

She has no idea where they're going next, but! Yep, let's go there. She will be following James. Does James know where they will be going?