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Sep 30, 2022 7:52 AM
Daémon Fleet characters dropped on The Untamed
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"But most of the things on the Fleet were just... useless.  Distractions.  Nearly everything anyone does up there is busy work without a real reason for it.  Making games and books for each other to read, changing fashion and making fancy clothes, arguing about philosophy.  Even when I ran around purifying the canals, it's not like we didn't have machines that they could turn on to do it instead." 

She's not sure if the things they'll be doing here are any less hopeless, but they are at least novel.  

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"People here don't have the technology to let one person grow enough food for hundreds.  That's the only reason everyone's farming.  That doesn't seem better."

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"No, that's not what I meant."  She grapples with the words. 

"That's a problem.  But we can do something about it.  There are things we can do here, that have useful results.  On the Fleet, everything was just... waiting.  Like reading the magazines in a dentist's lobby, except with a bigger budget and for 290 years."

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"Well, yes.  That's how generational ships work."

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"The part that I don't like is how, even though fashion and keeping up with media isn't as important as farming, people still act like they are.  Everything felt fake, just running back and forth doing useless things."

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Azure sighs.  This isn't the first time Azure and Verity have had this conversation.  Though, now that they aren't on the Fleet itself, "It was done at least partially on purpose - the time-filling activities being called useful, I mean.  People like having something to do, and keeping everyone busy playing and debating media kept them from getting into fights or turning to dangerous amounts of alcohol.  Which is important, in the long run, because having healthy people now means healthy grandchildren to land on the new planet. 

"Though there's always a few people who don't buy it and turn to vandalism..." he adds, glaring towards her. 

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"Getting to be useless and entertained was fine by me."

Was the propaganda to keep everyone busy even supposed to be secret?  It had always seemed obvious to Iarlaith.  He'd just never minded it, and didn't seem worth bringing up.

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Time passes.  

The river continues to be scenic and peaceful.  Or boring, depending on one's point of view.  The land ripples with hills, with fields and patches of forest and the occasional town.  They are sometimes passed by boats heading west up the river, or pass fishing vessels.  The mundane people continue to avoid them, and cultivators twice more show up to question them. 

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Around noon of the day that their schedule said they'd be reaching Caiyi Town, Jiang Cheng catches up to them.  Jin Ling is deposited on their boat, being too young to fly and therefore having ridden on Jiang Cheng's sword.  There are 6 other Jiang cultivators which had flown behind him, but they land on the road beside the river.  The boat is far too small for everyone, so they'll be walking alongside.  Jiang Cheng secretly wishes he could join them right away, wanting the chance to move his own legs after hours balancing on Sandu, but he's ignoring that.  

Are his guests still alive?  Do they look like they're behaving properly?  He doesn't want them embarrassing him in front of the important people of the other sects, and this means they'll have to be on their best behavior for the next several days.  Or he will be tossing them off of Cloud Recesses' mountain hard enough that they'll land in Lanling.  This is made very clear to all of them, punctuated by the occasional sparking from Zidian.

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They're alive.  And bowing properly and everything without needing to be told, for that matter.  Having a better understanding of the social fabric of this land helps.  

Azure is even less pleased at having to deal with Sect Leader Jiang than he'd been when they last saw him, now that he knows more.  Everyone he'd asked for gossip on the Jiang sect had been tinged with at least a little fear of the man.  Still, he knows how to stand back and not cause trouble.  Azure has questions, but this isn't the place to ask.  Or the best person.  It would be safest to ask the Jiang disciples.

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Good.  

If he notices Azure is suddenly even colder to him than he was before, he isn't acknowledging it.

They need to look their best when they arrive in Cloud Recesses.  He points out everything wrong with their hair and orders them to redo it before they get to the dock.  They need to get everything ready to go and packed away because he's not going to be happy if he has to wait.  They won't be stopping long before leaving for the Cloud Recesses.

Jin Ling is squirming slightly, also wanting to run around after so much balancing on a sword.  Jiang Cheng picks him back up and sets him back on Sandu.  The boat can get a talisman so that all four of the humans can prepare without slowing down, then he heads to the shore and takes up the lead position of his cultivators again.

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"Yes Sect Leader Jiang," he says automatically.  Florentho glares over his own bow.

There's not much he can do about his own hair.  The local culture doesn't consider short hair acceptable and it's going to take more than a week to grow it out.  He prefers it short, personally, but he's already resigned to eventually matching the locals.

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Once the boat is docked they form into line with the others.  The humans are in two rows of six - Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling in the front, followed by their guards, then the aliens behind.  Salanaya, Florentho, and Araeneve walk single file in the back, as two of them are much wider than humans.  Emerimis flies high overhead.  

Caiyi Town is still a good distance away from the Cloud Recesses.  The path goes up a huge staircase carved into a mountain wreathed in clouds.  Ancient but well-maintained trees stretch into the distance.  Intricately carved bridges span over numerous waterfall-riddled streams coming down from the cliffs and vanishing into the clouds below. 

This - a long hike through empty space between the start of the sect territory and the location of any actual buildings - is apparently normal.  Lotus Pier is an anomaly of accessibility.  Alizara and Iarlaith are flagging by the time buildings finally come into view.

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Space is precious on the Fleet.  If they were still in outer space Azure would understand what such a long walk to one's front gates would mean.  He's less sure what it means on a planet.  Like wood, land is plentiful here.  They've passed so many random forests and mountains on their way over.

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A bearded cultivator stands at the entrance, and the Jiang cultivators bow synchronized to him in greeting.  After a bit of conversation with Sect Leader Jiang and Jin Ling, which the aliens are too far back to hear, the cultivator steps towards them and peers suspiciously.

"You say these creatures are natural?" he says to Sect Leader Jiang.

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"So I'm told.  They appear at birth, in whatever realm they came from."

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"It's likely not a -"

Alizara begins, and is quickly elbowed by Azure who does not think they should be speaking.

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Azure's instincts are correct.  Both cultivators ignore her.

Qiren has read the letter that Sect Leader Jiang had sent in advance.  He's concerned that the appearance of these creatures will lead to attempts by the rebellious youth to sneak in pets.  This isn't enough to justify showing disunity and going against Xichen's previously given invitation to the group.  Still - 

"Sect Leader Jiang, we would like to have a few of our own scholars examine this phenomenon while they're here."

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He assents.

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Azure doesn't appreciate not being consulted on that.  He isn't surprised, however.  

He is slightly surprised that no one else in the group seems to be upset.  Alizara continues to be interested in figuring things out.  Verity - the one he'd have expected to be annoyed - is ignoring their conversation entirely to stand on her toes and look around at the buildings.

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Cloud Recesses as a whole is expansive, its low and stately wooden buildings scattered across much of the mountain.  Much of it remains hidden behind well-placed thickets of bamboo and down winding paths which switchback their way around the vertical terrain, carefully arranged to retain the otherworldly and silent aesthetic no matter how many guests they happen to be holding. 

What is visible to them at the moment is the fine courtyard and handful of buildings which make up the staging area of the conference which will be officially starting in a few hours.  Guests in fine robes of every color mill around.  The doors of the buildings are opened wide.  The largest building is a long dining hall, still mostly empty.

The aliens are being stared at.  Mostly the daemons, obviously, though Alizara and Azure stand out with their blonde hair.  And Iarlaith, who has the opposite problem in that he looks too much like a local.  A very specific local.  Everyone who goes to these meetings is familiar with Nie Huaisang.  

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Jiang Cheng's intimidating presence keeps the curious onlookers from approaching, at least for the moment.  Even his reputation has it's limits, however, and it's only a matter of time before this becomes an Event.  So, best to move them. 

He leads the aliens into the dining hall, and specifically into the Yunmeng Jiang seats.  The four great sects each have a full section with eight seats, while the lesser sects have each been assigned two seats - the ones that were invited have, anyway.  This isn't one of the official conferences called and ordered by the Chief Cultivator, and Gusu Lan can afford to be pickier with who they choose to invite.  Notably, Moling Su has not been invited, despite their growing prominence and their proximity to Gusu.  

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The hall is still mostly empty.  But not entirely.

Wangji hates this conference already. It hasn't even technically started yet.  Unfortunate, that the night hunt he'd just returned from had happened to wrap up in time for him to arrive back in Gusu last evening.  Brother had maneuvered him into putting in at least a token appearance for the first day.  

He'd intended to remain sitting in the hall where no one would bother him, but it's clear that this isn't somewhere he wants to be any longer.  He rises to leave.

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"Hanguang-jun," he greets with a slight bow.  Because Jiang Cheng isn't the rude one and knows how to greet people.

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His face remains expressionless.  Internally, he seethes with incandescent rage and grief at Jiang Wanyin's presence.  

Wangji pauses just long enough to make it obvious he heard Jiang Wanyin, because from experience he knows that he would otherwise try to greet him again.  He does not look at him.  

He keeps walking.

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