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Generated: Jun 28, 2022 1:59 AM
Post last updated: May 14, 2022 7:54 PM
within the soul you've stowed away
Daémon Fleet characters dropped on The Untamed
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Alizara, Azure, and Verity are walking through Topaz Hall.

Despite being one of the habitat sections of a large generational ship drifting through the interstellar void, it has been made up to be comfortable.  The center of the street-wide hall is a canal where water-type daemons can comfortably travel.  Small trees line the canal, patches of tall grass and flower gardens beneath them, before giving way to wide tile-paved edges.  The walls aren't made of separate buildings - instead, there's a solid wall of shop windows and private residences, with the occasional small branch hallway leading off to apartments deeper in the bowels of the ship.  Above them, two layers of balcony roads rise above them holding more shops and houses, bridges occasionally extending to connect the two sides through the wide open space.  Flowers bloom from planters lining the edges of the balconies and bridges, and each blossom at least as large as a person's palm.  Also hanging from each bridge are silk banners with the flag of the given Hall, these ones in bright yellow which match the walls.  

The people pass, traveling mostly on foot.  Each is accompanied by a daemon: their soul in an external form.  Their silk clothing - shirts and either pants or shorts or skirts, for the most part - always matches their daemon.  Blue with lacy white edges for the woman with a swablu, red and cream with black accents for the man with a ledyba. 

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Alizara's Salanaya floats above them.  There is plenty of space between the floors.  Every door and path, save for some of the cheapest housing, is meant to be traverse-able by large daemons.

Alizara wears a dress of the same blue-gray as the metang's body.  It's quite elaborate, as outfits go on the Fleet, mostly because it was picked out by Azure.  The skirt is ankle-length and pleated in a way that lets it swish freely as she walks.  The sleeves and neckline are trimmed in white flowers that glisten with well-placed reflective beads.  She doesn't care either way - most of her day is studying science in order to join the research corps looking to develop faster-than-light travel, and she can sit at her computer in anything.  

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Araeneve, Verity's daemon, does their best to blend in.  As the largest daemon in the group, and the completely opposite color to the pale yellow walls, this doesn't work.  Whispers follow them, people getting out of the way with respectful bows.  Suicune are Legendary, and that means something even though it shouldn't.

They stare straight ahead, mostly avoiding cringing away from the attention.  Araeneve steps so close to Verity's back that if they weren't so subconsciously aware of one another's movements they probably would have knocked her over by now.  If Verity were alone, she could have gotten on Araeneve's back and sprinted to the restaurant.  Instead, they have to walk at the same slow pace of the two shorter humans.  

Like her daemon, Verity is also unusually tall, and quite muscular.  Her own clothing is loose trousers that can be run around in, though Azure had also been the one to help pick out her clothing and had insisted that nearly every inch of silk to be embroidered in patterns of blue and teal and purple.  The Church would also not have let a Legendary walk around in anything less than what others would only wear to a formal dinner event.  At least with Azure to help pick them out, she wasn't forced to put up with anything jangle-y or drape-y getting in her way.

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Azure, at least, is taking this attention in stride.  He walks at the outer side of the path, between his friend and the majority of the passers by.  With a humanoid gallade as a daemon and being about 6 inches shorter than Verity he can't physically block the attention, but he does what he can. 

His own outfit is at the cutting edge of fashion, elaborately embroidered with thousands of tiny glittering beads in green and white.  

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The street isn't crowded but there is a constant murmur of noise.  People talk in the distance.  Music is playing in a few shops, faintly audible through their open doors.  The occasional bird-like flying daemon carries their human through the air between the bridges, their passing creating wind which rustles the trees and the flowering vines.  Ignored in the background but ever present is the humming of the spaceship itself.  

Behind all of these is a sound coming from a side hallway.  It sounds like someone screaming for help?

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Verity, closest to the wall, hears it best.  

She is entirely ready to take a break from getting bowed at to go explore this random side-hall, and dutifully informs her companions.

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Azure follows behind.  

Florentho can sense the emotions of others, even if not exactly where they come from.  Right now he's detecting annoyance that has quickly turned to curiosity (probably Verity) and not much of anything which is now mild annoyance and curiosity (probably Alizara).  In the range from six feet to about twenty the feelings are much fuzzier and blur together into an average of everyone around - some curiosity and awe which always follows Verity around.  

He walks to see if there's a point where that blurrier mood-of-the-room sense gets tinted by anger or fear.  

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Nope!

The hallway has a set of restrooms, a janitor's closet, and a recessed unlabeled door that is currently open.  

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Doors can be searched!  Alizara and Azure get the respective restrooms.  Verity checks the janitor's closet.  

All three are currently empty.  

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Mystery unlabeled door it is.

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The door leads to a downwards ramp, heading to the short layer between the Hall and the outer hull which is mostly used for pipes and wiring.

It is a small storage space, dingy and badly lit.  Flaking graffiti can be seen on a few of the walls, and the floor space is partially taken up with boxes of junk.  Heavy tiles of cheap stone, moldering rolls of wallpaper in tacky designs.  Various other cumbersome things.  There's the unpleasant scent of ammonia in the air, and it doesn't look like the concrete floor has been mopped in over a decade.  

The room is empty.

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"Ugh.  Who would let a place in Topaz Hall get this dirty?"  

Space was precious - with a bit of cleaning, it could be turned into something.  

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"Doesn't your family own most of this Hall's businesses?"

It is terrible down here, but it being empty does mean that it's an improvement to being on the street.

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"True.  Maybe I'll go bug Gramps to see who specifically has it.

"Anyway, if there was anyone here they must have teleported away."

That's more immediately concerning.  

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Alizara has been looking around.  An old bottle of something viscous and opaque had fallen and cracked open, leaving a wide puddle.  There are footprints of it through the back half of the room.  

Careful to avoid stepping on the evidence, she moves closer to see behind some crates.  

"Hey, this is strange - these prints are going into the wall there."

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The latch is very well hidden.  Luckily, the footprints have given her a good place to start looking.  It doesn't take long before the well-concealed hidden door slides open.  

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The lab within does not bare much resemblance to the abandoned storage room outside.  It is far cleaner, for one thing.  Its walls and floor are white, and the room is strangely shaped instead of the usual squares and rectangles.  The entire room is packed with strange machines and large computer banks.  Only a narrow path is left clear of machines.  

There's a single door on the opposite side from the entrance.

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Araeneve is the obvious choice to go first, though they fill the entire path and their large mane only barely avoids getting snagged on the machine casings.

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One of the walls begins to open up in a manner similar to the original hidden door.  

A woman with a drowzee daemon is on the other side, holding cleaning supplies.  She freezes and shrieks and backs up when she spots a Suicune standing in the middle of her secret base.  Frantically, before the door is even fully opened, she begins tapping at a control panel on the other side to try and shut it again.

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This doesn't happen fast enough!  Araeneve quickly reaches the door (knocking into a few machines in the process) and rams it hard enough that the hinges malfunction and the door freezes in place about a foot off of the ground with some unhappy grinding and clicking noises from the door mechanisms.

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The doors are reinforced, and this one is very stuck.  

None of them have a daemon small enough to fit through the gap.  

Still, there is very little a determined Legendary can not destroy.  After about thirty seconds of having a six and a half foot tall, 412 pound, nigh-indestructible beast slamming into it, one side of the hinge system snaps and the door can be forced open.

It is similarly white and oddly-shaped, though lacks the machinery of the first room.  There's a stack of pallets holding shelf-stable supplies, and a table surrounded by three chairs.  

No one is inside.

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This information gets passed down.

"Damn.  Think there's another door in that room, or that the drowzee knew teleport?"

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"I can check for more doors."

This is going to be difficult.  Not the door finding - getting her over to the room.  Why is this place so cramped?  

They shuffle themselves, the humans having to carefully avoid daemons who aren't theirs.  Salanaya continues to hover over everyone else.  Florentho briefly climbs on top of one of the sturdier machines.  Eventually, Azure is in the room the drowzee-daemoned woman vanished from and Alizara and Verity are in two other places in the first room that look a bit like paths terminating at blank walls.  Florentho winds up in the center where he can see everyone - they might need to Teleport themselves, and he can grab them all from there.  

The one non-hidden door appears to be a normal, if very tiny, restroom.

Alizara finds a door first, shouting for the others.  Salanaya rushes in once the door opens far enough, followed by everyone else.

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The room isn't larger, but it is emptier.  There's room for everyone.  A single large machine takes up the entire back wall.  Some flat monitors line a second wall.  Two more machines are sitting off to one corner.  

Most notable are the two men and daemons in the room.  

One is wearing a white lab coat, illegally blank.  It looks like it might have been taken from a stock intended to be altered with thin ribbons of a person's colors.  The fabric has no pattern printed into it, which on adult clothing is usually the mark of a uniform.  His hair is dark, hanging limply to just past his ears.  He turns around and growls under his breath, then turns back to the machine.  There's a control panel in front of him.  

Despite the white outfit, the liepard is probably his.  She hisses threateningly towards Salanaya when she floats in.  When it becomes clear that they are very outnumbered and outmatched, she presses closer and closer to her human, scrunching down in panic.

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The other is clearly not here because he wants to be.  Both the human and his honchkrow are tied up in thick tangles of grass.  

From the handful of damaged feathers, it is clear that the honchkrow had fainted while trying to fight the kidnappers off.  He blinks woozily, barely making an effort to struggle out of the cocoon of knotted grass.  

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Verity doesn't know what the scientist is doing.  But he should stop. 

Araeneve uses Surf.  From beneath their forepaws swells a contained bubble of water which raises them up as it appears from nothingness.  With a forceful push downward, they shove it in a wave towards the liepard and her human.  It's not at full strength as they don't want to kill the human or knock a hole in a wall, but it's more than enough to knock them over.  

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The part of the machine the scientist is looking at is about the size of a vending machine, perhaps a bit wider.  The case is plain white other than the console at chest-height hidden behind him.  It hums loudly, echoing between the walls.  Next to it is a shallow dish facing towards the rest of the room, circular and about eight feet in diameter.  Around the edges of the dish are coils of wiring and two dozen evenly-placed small devices.  Those look strange, exposed metal with lights at the edges.  As he taps at the console the lights begin to spark; a smooth layer of some kind of energy grows outward from them across the dish.  It flickers and pulses strangely, shifting in color between greens and blues.

When the water hits it, it doesn't short out.  Instead, the blue-green energy spreads shifts and spreads along the water.  It splashes around the machine to hit the back wall, then floods back towards the rest of the room as gravity spreads the water back out over the entire floor.  Along with the water comes the glowing energy, sped along by the rushing surface of the water.  The turbulence of the surface makes the light pulse faster. 

The scientist is knocked into the machine, then collapses into the water.  His nose is bleeding, and looks even worse as the blood mixes with the water and gets all over his white clothing.  Not dead, though - his liepard forces herself under his head to prop him up.  They both stare at the water in confusion.  "What did you do?"

There is a loud booming noise.  The light changes.  The room is falling.

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What had only been an inch or so of water suddenly becomes a full sunlit lake.  Everyone except for the hovering Salanaya and the water-walking Araeneve immediately fall in.  All of the items in the room, including the machines, the door, and entire ragged-edged chunks of the surrounding walls come with them.  Each sinks to the bottom of the lake.  

The area they fell into was empty, though lotuses grow in the shallower areas.  Verdant hills stretch out around them.  On the closest shore to them are a series of buildings connected by wooden bridges and walkways which wind their way through the lotus plants.  

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Jiang Cheng has been busy since before dawn, dealing with a number of emergencies that needed the direct intervention of the sect leader.  Is an hour of peace and quiet to eat his lunch too much to ask?

Apparently it is.  Because there was some kind of explosion on the lake.  

Jiang Cheng runs towards the source of the noise, Zidian already sparking on his wrist.

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The most obvious concern is making sure the person who is currently bound up in grass doesn't drown.  Salanaya takes care of that, lifting the honchkrow to sit on the flat part of her head while using Psychic to hover the human just below her.

Alizara is not having a fun time swimming in a full-length skirt, but is managing well enough.  No one on the Fleet fails to learn how to swim, even those who would rather read than play in the water.  She takes a quick stock of the situation and decides the best thing to do is start heading towards the closest dry land.  That appears to be the dock.  

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The scientist and liepard are swimming towards the far shore. 

Verity climbs her way onto Araeneve's back.  Then, Araeneve will easily catch up with them.  They circle around, casually blocking their way and looking down with an unamused expression.

"Do you really want this to turn into a fight?"

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"... No, Legendary."

They will begin swimming towards the docks, Araeneve walking behind them.

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Azure and Florentho watch the others.  Everyone else seems to be fine.  They catch up to Alizara and swim alongside her to the dock.

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They reach the dock and can start tearing the sodden grass from the captive.

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Iarlaith is not having a good day, and is now kind of crying in front of a bunch of strangers and one of the Legendaries.  Well, nothing to do about that.  He wails dramatically.

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There is now also a man with a sword pointed at them.  

"Who are you?  What are you?

... Nie Huaisang?"

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Strange angry-looking human with a sword and no daemon in sight.  Florentho can go stand between him and the others.

From right behind Florentho, Azure speaks.  He hadn't quite caught what was said.  "We apologize for the intrusion.  There was an accident that brought us here."

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The unusually Nie Huaisang-shaped person doesn't pay attention, currently focused on standing up with the aid of Alizara.  He hiccups, holding an equally-distraught honchkrow to his chest with both arms.  Alizara pats him reassuringly on the back.

His own silk outfit is of an intricate and layered cut, but lacking the embroidery of Azure, Alizara, or Verity.  They are instead printed, mostly black but with a faint feather pattern in very dark purple.

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He peers closer at him.  The resemblance is uncanny, both in appearance and movement.  The only difference is clothing (which is clearly very finely made, but scandalously un-robe-like). 

"What were you trying to do, when you had this 'accident'."

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"I'd like to know too," Verity says after hauling the scientist out of the water.  She pins his hands to his back and marches him up towards Azure and the purple stranger.  

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He goes without argument, unhappy sodden liepard next to him.  

"The machine we have - had - is able to travel between the universe that the Fleet is in and this one.  I'm part of a research team working to give daemons to people who were born without them."

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"And what were you doing with..." that guy.  She uses her free hand to gesture to the man with the honchkrow.  

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"I, uh... I'd been exploring.  I didn't know there was a door there, only the wall looked odd..." 

Iarlaith is quite upset.  His clothes are wet, and his brother is going to be looking for him, and he didn't get a chance to pack.  This is made known to everyone with frantic complaining and wailing which goes on for far too long.  Emerimis is still weakened from the fight earlier, so merely flops dramatically in his grasp.

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It is both remarkable and disturbing how much that person looks and sounds and acts like Nie Huaisang.  He's not doing a very good job of pretending to be Nie Huaisang, whose brother died years ago and who knows Jiang Cheng.  It might be enough to fool others.  

This is getting out of control, and they need to start over from the beginning.  He activates Zidian, not to strike but to make a very loud cracking noise in the air over the lotuses.  

"I'm the one asking the questions here.

"Which one of you is in charge?"

(In the distance, several other Lotus Pier cultivators have approached as backup, watching from behind Jiang Cheng and on other bridges and a few on the rooftops.)

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Everyone gestures towards Verity.  Verity gestures towards Azure.  She looks annoyed at being out-voted.

 

"I'm Verity-and-Araeneve.  I'm a Legendary.  Which the Fleet decides is a kind of leader for very stupid cultural reasons."

"That's Alizara-and-Salanaya," she says, pointing to the shorter woman.  "One of our scientists, studying how to make ships go faster."

"This is Azure-and-Florentho.  He's the one actually studying politics."

"I don't know who the other two are.  Alizara, Azure, and I were walking when we heard screaming from a side-hall.  We found our way into an illegal hidden lab, where the man in the lab coat had kidnapped and tied up the other one.  I summoned water to hit him - the lab coat guy, not the tied up one - but the water reacted with the machine in an unexpected way and the whole room wound up in the lake."

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"I'm Kerul-and-Ojiohlia."  

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"I'm Iarlaith-and-Emerimis," he says between sniffles since it is apparently the time for introductions.  Genuine crying always makes his nose run, and on top of that he'd gotten a bit of water in his nose during the fall into the lake.  This is the worst.

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"I am Sect Leader Jiang, of the Yunmeng Jiang sect.  This place is Lotus Pier, our sect residence."  None of them seem to be bowing, and he doesn't know if they're being rude or just don't know who he is.  Either way, he's not going to bow to them.  

"What are those?" he points at the closest, which is Florentho.

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Ojiohlia will be speaking out of turn to explain.  No one but her and her human have had the chance to get used to the idea of a daemon-less society.  Or, as much 'used to' as one can be with such a horrifying concept.  

"We are the souls of our humans, also known as daemons.  Every time a person is born, a daemon appears beside them.  At least, the people of our home world - the humans of this world are incomplete."  Despite being dripping wet and sitting beside a bound human, her tone is somewhere between a sneer and pity.  

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He wasn't expecting those things to be able to talk.  He doesn't like her tone of voice.

"What are your names?"

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Florentho also doesn't like Ojiohlia's tone of voice, and looks down disapprovingly. 

"Of Azure-and-Florentho, I'm Florentho.  My human is Azure.  Our formal address combines human and daemon."

He wonders how names work here.  Is Sect Leader Jiang only called Jiang?

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He can keep wondering, because Jiang Cheng is still the one asking questions of them.  

"How much do you know of where you landed?"

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"We - my research team, not these random interlopers - have been aware of you for a few weeks.  'You' in general, not you specifically.  The machine had been calibrated to reliably get your world, but the exact destination of each viewing portal could be as far as a hundred miles apart.  We know that you are a pre-industrial society."

One of his associates had been in charge of figuring out their culture.  He hadn't bothered.  Whatever fumbling attempt they'd managed was going to be corrected once they figured out how to give everyone daemons and technology.

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"We're not random interlopers.  We broke in because you had hostages in your illegal lab and we're arresting you," Azure snaps.  He is going to make sure that the local - whatever a sect leader is - doesn't think that Kerul represents them.  

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"And what about him.  Does he always look like that?"  He nods towards the aforementioned hostage.  

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What's that supposed to mean?

Is he being insulted?  Is he having an allergic reaction to the lotuses that's making his face break out?

Emerimis twists his head around and looks at his human.  "Your eyes are a bit red, but you don't have anything on your face."

To Sect Leader Jiang, Iarlaith says, "I look normal.  Why?"

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"Never mind.

"Can you get back to wherever you came from?"

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"I doubt the machine is usable after being dropped in a lake."

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What other questions stand out.  He should probably figure out their organization.  

"What is a 'Legendary?'"

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Multiple people start answering at once, each starting with different topics. 

"If anyone's the expert on this, I am," Verity reminds them.  

"About one in a hundred-thousand people have daemons which settle as one of seventy unusually powerful forms.  Suicune, the name of the form that Araeneve is, is one of those.  In addition to having a much stronger Barrier and being able to use Moves with more force than non-legendaries can, I can purify water, walk on it, and run unusually fast."

She is tempted to remark on how these are stupid qualifications for who gets to be in charge of the judiciary branch of government, but holds off.  Verity would rather keep this conversation about the provable facts.

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He had in fact been more curious about the political rank that went along with it.  That she is ignoring it means that he probably can too.

"Barriers?  Moves?"

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Alizara can explain!

"There are about a thousand known magical techniques, called Moves.  All daemons have the ability to know and use four moves at any given time.  Different daemons have the potential to learn different subsets of the full list, which mostly correlates to their shape.  They are learned through devices called TMs, but can be done much more slowly through meditation and training.  Each Move does something different.  Some examples... Sunny day creates a long-lasting ball of bright light.  Fire Blast creates a burst of intense flame.  Hypnosis causes whoever is targeted to fall asleep.  Most are useful in combat.  A few can create matter out of nothing.  Others have other useful effects.

"Daemons who are attacked or otherwise should be hurt don't immediately get injured the way that a human would.  They have an energy within them that protects them, at the cost of getting depleted.  We call that a barrier, though it's less of a kind of armor and more built into their physiology. 

"There's also other things which are more inherent and unchanging than Moves, and specific to a given shape.  Salanaya is a Metang, which means she is able to levitate and has a natural immunity to certain kinds of weakening phenomena."

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That is impressive.  He tries to keep this off of his face.  It might make Lotus Pier look weak.  He only partially succeeds - Jiang Cheng has an unusually expressive face.

"That doesn't sound like what we have here.

"Where does the energy they use come from?"

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"That is a very good question!  We only have theories.  It isn't the world around us - we would be able to tell if there was a pool somewhere that got lower whenever someone used Surf to create water.  It also can't be energy from what we eat, because we don't eat nearly enough for that.  The best answer anyone can come up with is that our souls generate it."

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"But it doesn't come from built up resentful energy, the stolen life force of others, or the displaced spirits of the dead?"

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"No.  There are a few techniques that'll leech out energy from an opponent as a form of attack, or let a daemon heal another with their own energy, but they're pretty uncommon.

"I don't know what you mean by resentful energy or displaced spirits."

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It doesn't sound like demonic cultivation, whatever it is. 

"Do you have any of those techniques?"

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The others shake their heads.  None are grass or bug types, so that isn't surprising.  

While they do, Azure considers what to say.  Jiang Cheng is afraid of such moves, though Azure doesn't know why.  Perhaps there's a cultural equivalent he's missing?  Still, it's better to have it be known, if they're going to be stuck here.  

"Florentho knows the move Life Dew, that allows us to give energy to those around us to restore their barrier."

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He relaxes, though this can mostly only be detected through empathy.  That hadn't been the direction he was concerned with. 

"Transferring energy to heal others is something well known and within the canon of proper cultivation techniques."

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"What are cultivation techniques?"

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"Cultivation is the use of spiritual energy, which comes from living things.  We train from childhood to generate and collect this energy and form it into a golden core within ourselves which allows us to better sense and control it as well as giving us access to a regenerating pool of it.  

"Yunmeng Jiang sect is a cultivation sect.  Our primary duties are to train disciples in cultivation and organize night hunts for our cultivators.  Night hunts being the hunting of hostile supernatural entities such as fierce corpses and monsters."

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"We don't have anything like that.  We also don't have fierce corpses or monsters."

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"I wonder if it's possible for our kind of human."

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"If you can gather the energy at all, a skilled cultivator will be able to sense it within a few hours.  You likely won't be very powerful - the later a golden core is formed, the weaker it is."  Though, they wouldn't need to be if their daemons are already useful. 

"Before that, we should deal with him," he gestures towards the captive.  Jiang Cheng also looks suspiciously towards the not-Nie Huaisang.  He's been listening quietly from behind the others, but Jiang Cheng hadn't forgotten about him.  That continues to be unexplained.

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"I don't know what you normally do with criminals here," Azure says.  Or even how that's going to work.  The Fleet hasn't had a foreign nation to have jurisdiction disputes with in 200 years, and his education assumed that it would be more than his entire lifespan before they'd reach their destination.

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"I have dungeons that can hold cultivators."  Most notably demonic cultivators, though not always.  Even those who walk the traditional path can be thieves or murderers.

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It looks like Sect Leader Jiang is going to say something else.  Instead, Kerul can lunge away before any more attention can be drawn to him or in particular what moves Ojiohlia currently has.

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He can be grabbed again!  

Really, what was he thinking?  He's outnumbered and surrounded.

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"What sorts of techniques does he know?"

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"Hard to tell without anyone with a ditto or drowzee around.  Liepard in general are immune to many forms of paralysis.  The Grass Knot - a technique to tie people up in grass - was probably him."

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"He was the one with Grass Knot," Iarlaith confirms.  "He also has Thief - they took my phone."

Emerimis also has Thief, but he's not going to say that.  Non-dark types sometimes get strange about their traditional moves, and he doesn't know these people other than by reputation and they are all Very Important.  And the alien Sect Leader dislikes him and keeps looking at him and he's still not sure why.  Sect Leader Jiang is terrifying.  Iarlaith is terrified.  Emerimis wails about wanting to go home.

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Kerul refuses to speak, standing still in Verity's grip and staring sullenly at the wood of the pier.  

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Alizara will translate the Move names into descriptions.  

Grass Knot creates grass that will tie up the opponents legs and trip them.  Healthy daemons are too strong to be held for more than a second, but repeated castings of the move on a weaker human can act as a makeshift binding when done by someone skilled.  

Thief causes a painful burst of dark energy which can also teleport small items to the user.  Perhaps don't leave the keys to the cell in view of it.  

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Noted.  They can bring him to the dungeons.

"Once he's in the dungeon, I'll have someone make up guest quarters for you.  Whether or not you can earn a permanent place here will depend on whether you can become cultivators and how well your daemon techniques compare to what we do."  Jiang Cheng explains as they walk. 

He says this, to the best of his ability, in an indifferent tone.  Perhaps he normally would have merely kicked them out, but he has been managing the same basic supply orders and teaching schedules and night hunting assignments for long enough without any major shake-ups that he is in the mood to take the chance on a group of strangers.  If nothing else, he doesn't want anyone else to have them.

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Kerul-and-Ojiohlia are being stubborn and refusing to walk towards the dungeon.

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Verity is more than up to the task of dragging Kerul.  

Ojiohlia can be picked up and carried by the scruff of the neck in Araeneve's mouth.

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About two thirds of the way to the dungeon, the Substitute breaks. 

They are left holding rough dolls in vaguely the shape of a human and large cat.  The skin is made from a rough papery substance like a wasp nest.  The inside is packed with cottony fibers which burst out in a cloud of fluff as the imbued energy fades and the shell loses cohesion.  Kerul-and-Ojiohlia are nowhere in sight.

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Araeneve curses around a mouthful of stuffing and bits of paper.

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"What was that?"

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"Substitute.  A move where someone sacrifices a fraction of their energy to create a fake version of themselves.  It can trick everyone into ignoring the real version for a little while, but the substitute can't move or speak."

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There are still some Jiang cultivators following around them at a distance, partly as extra guards but mostly out of curiosity.  Jiang Cheng starts shouting at them to make themselves useful.  They quickly run off to search the area.

Jiang Cheng hesitates.  He has other things to do today.  (He had other things to do even before this started...)  There are still four aliens who need to be escorted somewhere and he can finish that before going in search of the criminal himself.  They don't need to go to the dungeon.  Instead, he turns them around and starts heading towards one of the meditation areas.  

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They are led to a quiet room not far from the library and lecture hall, coming off of a courtyard where a few teenage disciples are sitting.  They look over, curious at the strangers who are wearing odd clothing and being followed by even odder creatures.

Within this room is a man from Jiang Cheng's grandfather's generation.  He has a very long beard, one of his legs removed at the knee, and a yellow-green robe beneath his blue one.  His previous clan had been destroyed by the Wen during the Sunshot Campaign, and he'd answered the call to rebuild Lotus Pier as an instructor and scholar.

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Jiang Cheng is more than capable of sensing gathering energy from meditation himself.  However, the unusual souls-in-animal-bodies is something he's going to want a more experienced eye to look at.

By the standards of the Fleet, there is quite a bit of formality.  The man rises, well balanced despite his age, and bows towards the sect leader.  He is introduced as Master Cai, a scholar and occasional teacher.

Once the formalities are taken care of, Sect Leader Jiang explains the situation.  "Five people appeared in the lake from another realm, via some form of accident.  They claim that the creatures following them are their external souls.  They've shown themselves capable of feats which would normally only be possible through cultivation but claim to have no knowledge of it.  

"I want you to examine them, and check them for the ability to gather life energy through meditation."

With that, he will take his leave.  "I'll return in an hour or so."

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They are examined.  Alizara volunteers first.  This, to those who are not yet sensitive to the energies involved, seems to be him hovering his fingers a few inches away from Alizara and Salanaya in turn.

"Ah, fascinating. This 'daemon' does in fact seem to contain your soul and spiritual cognition, and isn't like anything else I've ever seen or read about.  It's neither standard cultivation nor demonic cultivation, nor any other kind I've seen practiced, though I've never stepped beyond the bounds of the empire.  I admit I'm quite baffled as to how you managed this, as well as why."

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"We're all born with daemons.  They appear naturally as soon as we take our first breath."

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"Hmm."  They don't look natural to his senses.  

He's tempted to ask after more information.  Instead, he'd better start leading them in an attempt to gather their spiritual energy.  

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The daemons catch on to the concept quickly.  It's not quite the same thing that they do when they access their moves and abilities, but it has similarities.  Unfortunately for them, the energy doesn't seem to be sticking correctly.

The humans, sharing the same subconscious, also easily pick up the described techniques.  They don't have the same issue, and well within the allotted time each of them has managed to gather a trace amount of energy. 

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Salanaya is curious.  They decide to try moving energy into Alizara instead.

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Their instructor notices this, and leans forward to prepare to interrupt her.  There are reasons that cultivators don't just throw energy at people to form golden cores for them. 

He pauses.  The fact that they 'both' are the same person might make those reasons irrelevant.  (He's still not sure exactly what is going on with their spiritual configuration.  It does seem alarming, but he's choosing to be optimistic.)  And at this level of energy, the worst that'll happen is a day of lost progress. 

He decides to merely watch very carefully.

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Nothing unusual seems to happen in the next ten minutes.  Alizara is now fractionally ahead of the others, as if she'd spent twenty minutes meditating instead.  The 'flavor' of the power from both Alizara and Salanaya is the same, just as it would have been looking at someone's left hand compared with their right.  Which would make perfect sense to them, being as they're literally two halves of the same person.  

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Well, good.

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Sect Leader Jiang returns not long after.  He seems especially annoyed.  He does not have an alien with him.  These two things are probably related.

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Their instructor calls a halt to the meditation.  

His report to the Sect Leader is positive.  The daemons can't form golden cores, but the humans can.  

Daemons are weird, but very definitely not diabolic or heretical in any way.  He wants to make a more comprehensive study of them to better check if anything is likely to happen, and keep a close eye on them for a while just in case the process of cultivation interferes in an unusual way.  Apparently they all have daemons from birth, so if there was anything unusual without cultivation they would already know.

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Would they?  Perhaps everyone where they're from spontaneously combusts on their fiftieth birthdays and they just assume it's normal.  

"I'd like to see what kinds of Moves each of you have."

He can direct them back out to the courtyard.  The instructor pulls out his sword, which glows with a faint golden glare along the edge.  Rather than using it to attack or threaten, he sets it down a few inches off of the ground and hops onto it.  It bears his weight as he follows behind his sect leader.  This entire process is unremarked upon by the locals. 

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Oh wow a hovering sword!  

She is going to stick near him and prepare to ask so many questions.  

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"All proper cultivators have spiritual swords," Master Cai mentions to her quietly as they walk, noticing her curiosity.  "Riding on them is one of the standard skills that we all learn.  It's the fastest way between towns, for those strong enough at cultivation."

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The courtyard has a few clear areas for people to show off in or play in.  Will one of those suffice?

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"It'll work for a small demonstration.  If Araeneve uses their full power the Blizzard will kill half of the plants and Surf might take out a wall."

Verity hasn't been intensely focused on the architecture, but it's hard to miss that it's made out of wood.  By Fleet standards, wood is valuable enough that it would be a sign of status.  She doesn't know if it's supposed to mean anything here or not.

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"We have larger clearings."

They can go somewhere else, a clearing with nothing to risk but very hardy grasses and some unimportant wild flowers.  Some of the bored juniors trail behind at a distance, and Jiang Cheng doesn't bother to shoo them.  

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Alizara and Salanaya will go first.  On one hand, she wants to point out that she'd be much more useful earning her keep as an engineer, figuring out what the next step in technology should be on this planet.  On the other hand, flying swords are very cool.  Perhaps she can learn more about those, then pivot into building windmills or whatever later. 

Salanaya's most useful move as the Fleet measures usefulness is Rock Tomb.  Several large chunks of sandstone are created from nothing, hurtling towards a point in the center of the field from the air above.  Each is large enough that an adult human would have difficulty rolling them unaided, though one cracks upon striking the others and winds up as several smaller chunks. 

Those make a decent target for her next move, which is Psychic.  Engulfing them in a faint glow, one of the larger rocks can be lifted up telekinetically and tossed further into the field.  The remaining pile of boulders will be struck with Flash Cannon, a beam of powerful light energy which slices into them like a laser.  

Finally, a brilliant ball of light is created overhead.  The weather had been comfortably temperate.  With the presence of a second sun, it turns unpleasantly hot and dry, though the breeze from beyond the range of the light is still cool enough.

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Florentho will go next.  "Most of our moves need a volunteer to help," he says. 

"Life Dew is the one that restores daemon's barriers.  Emerimis, how are you right now?"

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"I fainted just before you found me," the bird says.  Neither he nor his human are hurting, but the shattered barrier comes with exhaustion as they instinctively want to find somewhere secure to nap until it regenerates.  

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Life Dew is cast.  The particles aren't true water the way that the rocks from Rock Tomb are real stone.  They float weightless in the air, refracting the light from the bright second sun into rainbows.  More appear and cling on every available surface, as if everything is covered in tiny glittering gemstones.  

The closest motes float into Emerimis and vanish, melting together and restoring the invisible layer which the other daemons had and he was lacking.  Bit by bit, the rest of the dew begins to dissipate.  The cultivators will be able to sense the energy.  It feels akin to being in a place of healing such as the Cold Spring of Gusu.

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Azure, who can not sense such energy and has no known places to compare it to, describes what he knows of the process.  "It works best on daemons, though does have a very slight effect on plants and humans.  It's enough that when we don't have to use it in emergencies we usually use the spare casts at hospitals or arenas before they can go to waste."

"Next is Hypnosis.  It puts a single target to sleep, but not very accurately.  It seems to work about half of the time.  Alizara-and-Salanaya?  Mind being the target, since you've already gone?"

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"Sure.  Wake me up before anything interesting happens."  

Salanaya drops closer towards the ground, and Alizara sits down

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Hypnosis looks less impressive - just some distorted ripples in the air.  They move towards Salanaya.  

As Florentho does this, Azure explains.  "Normally, when one of a pair sleeps the other half always sleeps too.  Hypnosis is sudden and unnatural, so there can be a minute or two of a delay if the other is fighting it.  This makes it even harder to keep someone asleep if they don't want to be, since the one that's still awake can wake up the other.  Hypnosis isn't like a chemical sedative - it doesn't do anything to make the resulting sleep hard to wake up from."

In the back of his mind, Azure begins to wonder if the people here wouldn't have that resistance, and if that means the hypnosis might be more useful here.  He's been trying to avoid thinking about the lack of daemons.  They don't act the way that the mythological zombi were said to.

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Even on a willing target, it takes two attempts before Salanaya settles fully onto the ground and falls asleep.  Alizara suddenly feels very exhausted, and sways in place.  Reaches out a hand and starts knocking at Salanaya's side until their eyes open back up. 

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Teleport is interesting, though comes with a lot of warnings and caveats.  About twenty times a day, he can travel to any place he has memorized within about a hundred miles, and bring anything he chooses within a few meters of himself, including people as long as they stand still enough.  However, it is very important that the place being sent be entirely clear.  On the fleet, this is handled with special platforms that are only to be used when teleporting and then exited promptly.  The ones throughout the residential areas are mostly for emergencies, and only by people who have official licenses.  The high-use ones for cargo or mass-transit are only used via one-way linked platforms.  

To show off exactly why all of these warnings are taken so seriously, they memorize a spot of grass-less dirt a bit away from where the others are standing and bring one half of the broken sandstone rock a few meters beyond that.  Everyone is informed of exactly where he's teleporting to, and Araeneve creates a shimmering wall of light just in front of the rock as Florentho goes alone back to the rock pile.  

Florentho lands in open space.  (Well, air.  But Teleport can handle air fine).  The rock he brought along did not.  

Rocks do not like being in the same space as other rocks.  Shattered splinters of both rocks explode outwards.  The ones which hit the glowing barrier lose most of their momentum going through.  The result is a semicircle of thoroughly mangled rock.

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"This would be really bad to have happen to a living person," should go without saying, but Azure says it anyway just in case.  

"The move Araeneve did there was Reflect.  It doesn't stop objects like a wall, but it slows them down, and lasts for a few minutes.  It also only affects physical things, and not things like energy beams or psychic manipulation.  

"Next, I'm going to use my last move, Wide Guard.  It's somewhat similar, though creates a fully enclosed bubble rather than a barrier, and stops things entirely as a wall rather than merely slowing them.  It's better with larger-scale dangers - narrow-focused Moves like Ice Beam can still get through.  It lasts for 6 seconds."

"Surf can show off the differences well," Florentho says, looking at Araeneve.  

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They nod, and step out away from the others.  

There's a countdown, upon which the ground beneath Araeneve's feet erupts in a much larger wave of water than they'd generated in the lab.  They are lifted up by it, the water held against itself in shape for just a moment before Araeneve slams downward and it is propelled towards Florentho with enough force to tear away the grass from its roots with its passing and leave a noticeable gouge in the soil.

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And runs into a barrier of shimmering hexagons that had been set up a few seconds earlier.  On the flat field it looks like a dome about 18 feet in diameter.  The water passes, arcing an impressive distance overhead to fall as rain on the far side of the field.  Exactly six seconds after being raised, the hexagons fade out, leaving a dry circle.  

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That was all four of Azure's moves.  Verity guesses that means she'll have to explain the other two of hers.  

This can start with Blizzard, once Florentho gets out of the way.  

A vortex of freezing air and shards of rapidly-swirling ice roars to life.  The already-abused grass freezes, and more of it is torn away in the wind.  Even with the humans well away from it, the air coming away from that part of the field is shockingly cold.  

"My last one is Rest, which I don't want to do.  It recovers our barrier energy and has some healing effects, but also puts us to sleep."

"I think that's everything... You've seen me walk on the lake, and the ability to purify water was mentioned?"  

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That leaves Iarlaith and Emerimis.  He doesn't especially want to, though he can hardly refuse.  They can't help but compare their abilities to that of a Legendary.  All of the others seem to know each other, and seem so much more competent than each other.  He... well, he was never very good at anything but painting and avoiding whatever he could get away with.  What if they all get invited to stay, and he gets kicked out for not being good enough?

He has Sunny Day, which has already been demonstrated by Salanaya and is still up in the sky making quick work of the remaining cold and ice.  They don't need a third sun right now.  

With Fly, Emerimis can pick up weight far heavier than a bird his size logically should be able to, even one with the increased endurance and strength of a daemon.  They fly out, well into the blizzard-wrecked zone, before casting Rain Dance.  False clouds appear, generating rain over a wide radius.  They've already dried out from their fall in the lake earlier, so Emerimis flies them above the low clouds to return to the others.  The rainwater holds the special property of empowering water-type moves for the first few minutes of its existence before it turns into normal water.  

Finally, Thief.  A chunk of the teleport-spliced rock is picked out.  In a blast of dark energy that scatters a number of other pebbles and dust, one of the larger pieces vanishes from the pile and appears in Emerimis' beak.

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That would be all of them, then.  

"We should probably also go over some of the general-to-all-daemons information," she says, once Iarlaith is finished.  It had occurred to her in the middle of the move demonstrations, but she hadn't wanted to interrupt.  

"For myself and Verity - and possibly Iarlaith? - we can't go more than a few meters away from our daemons."

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Iarlaith confirms this with a nod.

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"There's a process that we can go through that allows us to permanently remove this limitation safely, but it's painful and difficult.  Only about two percent of people seriously try.  I've gone through it, because I'm an emergency responder and there are places where my human half is too fragile to run into."

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"What happens if you go too far away without having done this?"

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"It's painful.  It starts out merely unpleasant then gets worse the farther away we get, up to the point where it snaps permanently.  That is the process we use to separate, though done in a controlled manner.  It requires about a kilometer of walking, and a cage.  The daemon will always fight the process regardless of personality.

"Walking isn't dangerous, but other methods can be.  Teleporting in particular is sudden enough that it can lead to death from the shock."  He can go into statistics if they seem interested.  He has them memorized, as a part of the emergency responder training; there is the chance that he'll have to decide between teleporting someone fast enough to save them or waiting several minutes for their daemon to be pulled out of rubble, and the fleet has policies on that.  Speed matters, and willingness.  The walking method never results in death but does often result in turning back, and sometimes lingering emotional issues.

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Alizara can explain the rest.  If either a human or daemon dies, the other dies as well.  Daemons don't need to eat.  They don't technically need to breathe but feel the absence of air (or water for fish-shaped daemons) as if they do.

A human touching a daemon which isn't theirs results in intense pain for the person being touched.  Sometimes bad things to the toucher, too, depending on the daemon.  And getting beaten up and arrested on top of that.

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Master Cai nods thoughtfully.  He hadn't been able to figure it out just from examining them earlier - it was hard to positively identify the traits of something so unfamiliar - but it fits what he saw.  There are a few other things he'd seen that still don't have explanations, though perhaps they'll explain them later.  That, or perhaps the aliens don't know, themselves.

"Would one of you, other than Azure-and-Florentho, be willing to step slightly away?  I'd like to see what it looks like in a magical sense."

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Alizara is always willing to put up with a bit of discomfort to advance science, so she volunteers.  Salanaya drifts away while Alizara stands still and lets the scholar look at her with whatever magical sense he's using.  At about 7 meters, they slow down and gingerly hover just past the invisible point where it starts to feel wrong.

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While those two are occupied, perhaps now is the time to start asking his own questions.  To Sect Leader Jiang, "How do names work here?"

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This is a much deeper and more complicated subject than Azure-and-Florentho are probably expecting.

Everyone has a family name and a birth name.  Most people also have a courtesy name.  A handful of people have an earned title, if they've been especially impressive in some way.  There is a staggeringly complex series of honorifics, especially when one includes the component added for non-firstborn sons and daughters.  Not to mention the set of familial relation terms, which specify birth order and gender and side of the family.  There are often multiple ways of addressing someone, which have intricate and subtle implications of closeness.  Some people also have preferences which don't quite fit the standard pattern.

He hasn't done more than scratch the surface by the time the scan of Alizara is finished and Salanaya is gestured back into a comfortable range.

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Wow.  That sounds overwhelming and fascinating.  He's going to need to find someone to ask when he has paper to write things down on.

"Is there a good rule of thumb, until we manage to internalize all of that?"

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He considers the most standard rules.  However, every one of them has exceptions.  It's probably best to just keep it as simple as possible.  "...Ask people what you should call them.  For myself, I'm either Sect Leader Jiang or Sandu Shengshou to you."

Which is something he should be doing, now that it's been brought up.  "Do you have family names, or anything else I should be aware of?"

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"Alizara and I are main line descendants of the house of Oak.  We stopped adding family names to our own about a century ago, on the fleet, but if we need one here we do qualify for it.  Most people never had them - Verity doesn't.

"We have some family relation nicknames."  Probably not relevant to list here.  "Some positions have honorifics, but not many.  Verity is 'Legendary,' which is both a place in our government and our religion.  Neither Alizara or I have one."  

He turns to Iarlaith, questioningly.

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He shakes his head.  "I have a grandparent who was a Rys, but not their heir.  And no job honorific."

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The method of family name transmission being implied sounds very strange to Jiang Cheng.  That this Iarlaith is not the heir to something akin to the Qinghe Nie Sect also surprises him.  He's not sure why he expected him to be in the same position as Nie Huaisang just because they look identical, but apparently he had.

It is beginning to occur to him just how extensive the potential cultural differences might be.  Maybe it'll be a relief when they decide they want nothing to do with him.

"So you'd be Oak Azure, Oak Alizara, and Rys Iarlaith, translated to the local system?" he asks.

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"It feels strange to think of them as part of our names, given my culture's history with them.  If everyone uses them here, I have no objections."

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Alizara nods too.  She would have never admitted it, but sometimes she wishes that it wasn't so taboo on the fleet.  Even if it didn't mean anything legally, it was still something only done by royalty.

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Verity doesn't want to be called anything other than her name.  Given that they've been speaking aloud, perhaps she can finagle it so that her name is Ver Ity and she doesn't have to make something up or whatever she'll be expected to do.

The whole system reminds her too much of having to deal with people calling her 'Legendary' whenever she passes.

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A child, perhaps eight years old, spots Jiang Cheng and storms onto the field.  He wears golden robes, unlike everyone else.  Two older cultivators flank him, though they are still wearing purple.

"You were supposed to be at the archery field after lunch today, Jiujiu," he says accusingly.

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There is a small puppy running after Jin Ling.  When he stops, she nearly barrels into his legs.  She pivots just in time, and continues running past him.

These new not-animals are very interesting, weirdly scentless under all of the outside things they've rolled around in.  Some of the smells are entirely new kinds of plants, lingering on all of them even after being dunked in the lake.  And the humans don't seem dangerous; the men smell very familiar and like they might give her treats if they had any but they don't seem to right now. 

Fairy tasks herself with the important duty of checking these humans to see how good they are at petting dogs.  

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What is that?  

Verity freezes as the creature reaches up and headbutts her hand, not sure why its doing it or whether or not its hurting itself by doing so.  

She glances frantically at Sect Leader Jiang or Master Cai for instruction as she backs up and hides behind Araeneve.

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"What, have you never seen a dog before?"

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"I haven't.  This is a dog?"

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He was not expecting that answer.  It's nice knowing things that other people don't.  

"This is Fairy.  She's a spiritual dog, and also the best dog.  Who are you that you don't even know what a dog is?"

Jin Ling wants to know what the things with them are, but doesn't want to admit he doesn't know already.  He peers at the one that is being hidden behind.  The colors are vibrant and unnatural looking.

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"Don't touch them," he warns.

Jiang Cheng isn't feeling happy about his nephew, the only remaining member of his family, now being in range of a bunch of powerful and unknown strangers, however friendly they've been.  

Well, if he's here anyway, they might as well have proper introductions.  "This is my nephew, Jin Ling.  Heir of the Jin Sect, of Lanling.  That's Jin-gongzi to all of you."

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He bows, looking at them suspiciously.

"Your clothes are weird too.  Why aren't they robes?"

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There's a bit of disorganized bowing, all of them confused as to whether or not bows are supposed to be reciprocated.  Also, whether they're supposed to do the thing with their arms when they aren't carrying swords.  

The fleet people introduce themselves, first by their proper human-and-daemon names, then more hesitantly by their noble-and-human names.  (Other than Verity who is not even tangentially related to nobility as far as she knows).  

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"A-Ling!  Be polite or I'll break your legs and drag you out of here myself.  Don't you have something else you could have been doing while waiting for me to finish this?"

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Jin Ling just crosses his arms and glares back stubbornly.

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Hm.  One of the two of them is nervous about something, but his sense isn't directional enough to pick up which one.  There hadn't been any sort of increase to the worry after the threat, at least.  

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He is also curious about everything that A-Ling had asked.  He was getting to them before he'd been interrupted, in fact.

"Perhaps you could explain where you came from?  You only mentioned that you were on a 'Fleet.'"

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Azure can answer.  

"Yes, a fleet of ships travelling through space.  In another dimension than this one, if Kerul-and-Ojiohlia is to be believed."

To Jin Ling, "That was the person who brought us here, on accident."

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"Space?"

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"Space is the empty, airless void between planets."

Well, in the universe the Fleet is in.  She doesn't know what this universe is like.  Perhaps she'll just start at the beginning.  That, and simplify it so that children and aliens and alien children can understand.

"We originally came from a planet, one much like this one if our old paintings are to be believed.  But the universe it was in was unravelling.  It was a very small universe, with a single planet in the center and a sun and moon attached to the outer edge which rotated to create day and night.  

"Our ancestors had enough of a warning to build ships, so that at least some of them could escape.  Big metal ones sealed to keep the air in, and have entire farms inside to feed people.  

"With the help of all of the Legendaries, we were able to break through into another universe.  One that was much, much bigger.  Stars there are giant balls of flaming gas which planets circle around.  There are millions and millions of them, but they're very far away from each other.  Far enough that the stars look like tiny points of light from each other.  

"Our ancestors found a planet that was suitable to live on, but it was a long way away.  Even as fast as our ships can go, it would take 300 years to get there.  So far, we've been travelling for a little over 200 years."

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Jin Ling forgets to not look fascinated.  

"How do the sun and moon work here?" he asks.  "I know that the air gets thinner and thinner the higher up a cultivator flies.  And colder."  

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What a good question.

"It's hard to say from the ground.  Is the moon always exactly opposite from the sun?  Or do your sun and moon travel separately, with the bright side of the moon always facing towards the sun?"

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He doesn't know.  Does Uncle?

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"The sun and moon have separate paths and speeds," he confirms.  "Sometimes we have eclipses, though they're rarer than once in a lunar cycle.  The moon gets between the sun and earth, but never the other way around."

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"That would imply a planets-that-circle-stars universe.  Or a more complex tiny one.  Or a third option, I suppose..."

Alizara wants to study it more.  That, and everything else.  Determining whether or not they're in a heliocentric solar system probably shouldn't be her first priority, though.  

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No, it really shouldn't.  And as fascinating as this conversation is, the middle of an abused field of grass isn't the place for it.  Time to shepherd everyone indoors.

"I'm sure the guest quarters are ready by now."

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Hmph.  He missed whatever it was that destroyed all this grass, and it isn't fair.

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They've been assigned two rooms.  As Alizara and Azure had not mentioned their siblinghood before the order had gone out, the two girls and two boys are housed separately, in two adjacent rooms.

They are politely offered the suggestion that they should rest after their eventful day, and that someone will come by to speak to them later.  The more socially astute among them will notice that this is also a request to not cause trouble.

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They will not cause trouble.  They will all go into a single one of the two rooms to talk amongst themselves.  

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This seems to be permitted.  

The rooms are decent, though not opulent (at least by the standards of a planet where wood is easily harvested).  Four humans and four daemons make for slightly cramped conditions.  Thankfully, the sliding doors are wide enough that neither Salanaya nor Araeneve are bumping into the frames while entering.  The furniture is odd, having very low tables and cushions rather than chairs, and no furniture suitable for daemons.

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The daemons take the largest clear spot of floor and form their own group.

Florentho explicitly invites Emerimis and settles the honchkrow into Araeneve's mane.  A clearly understood 'we are all in this together - welcome to the group'.  He sits down next, leaning against Araeneve's flank while Salanaya sets down across from them.

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Emerimis is grateful not to be alone here.  He's still pretty intimidated by Araeneve, though astute enough to notice that it seems to be Azure-and-Florentho who are taking the leadership role.

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It's nice to be in a normal daemon group again.  

Their humans have been doing their best to ignore that their local hosts are daemonless.  That doesn't mean they don't still feel it's incredibly creepy.  Half of the person they're talking to just... doesn't exist?  Exists but without the ability to speak or emote?  

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"I don't like Sect Leader Jiang."

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"Why not?  Any reasons you can share?"

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"It's not anything specific.  Nothing I can explain, or have evidence for.  I just... I don't like him."

The sect leader is absolutely brimming with negative emotions.  That's not a reason to dislike someone.  It doesn't mean that anything is necessarily wrong at all, and even less that it's anything wrong that will affect them as opposed to some personal drama that they can ignore.  

Daemons aren't the logical part of a person.  Their humans focus on that.  Florentho just feels, and expresses it.  And 'it' at the moment is an immediate dislike of the person in charge here.  

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"I'm hardly going to blame you for instantly disliking the local authority figure."

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"I don't think he likes me."

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Meanwhile, their humans have settled around the low square table.  Unaccustomed to the furniture, they sit on the cushions in a variety of ways.

Though the daemon conversation is too quiet to hear clearly, there is some level of subconscious connection keeping them parallel.  "Well, Sect Leader Jiang doesn't seem corrupt, or malicious, or lying..." he says dubiously.

Unlike Florentho, the fact that he doesn't have a reason for his dislike bothers Azure.  He makes a mental note to reflect on the feelings with Florentho later.  

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"Does it seem dangerous to be here?  Compared to... I don't know.  Wandering off into the forest?"

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"No.  I don't think it's dangerous."

He pauses for a while.  "We should go out and get a look at how things work before making any long-term agreements."

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Alizara nods.  Quietly, "I noticed that you didn't mention the emotion sensing.  Are we keeping it a secret?"

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"No.  Or, I'd rather not."  He hadn't consciously made the decision to avoid it.  It just... he was used to not bringing it up. 

"The problem is... we don't really have anywhere else to go if they do have a problem with it here."

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"I think we have to tell them first.  Not because they might want to know.  Because if they're going to be assholes over abilities that people have no control over, I don't want to be in their presence."

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This seems like a good point for Iarlaith to nod in agreement.  

Dark types are the most commonly stereotyped as being bigoted towards people with electroreception, empathy, and other non-standard senses.  Best to make it clear right away that he's never been in one of the groups that want to go back to the old days.  Back to when those who settled as zubat and eelektross and such would get banished from cities or locked out of sight.  

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"Let's bring it up with Master Cai first."

Alizara trusts more educated people to be more logical.  She's not sure whether that'll stretch to scholars in pre-industrial societies, but they're probably the closest equivalent to scientists.

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"It would be worse to let it fester," he agrees.  

While he doesn't doubt that Verity would be willing to live out in the wilderness as some kind of hermit, he doesn't think he could manage.  It's not even their lack of wilderness survival skills.  It would just be so lonely to never have a full conversation again.

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"We're probably overthinking this," she mentions.  "Hating electroreception and such is arbitrary, and there's no reason to assume that they would have even developed that taboo just because we had it at their tech level."

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"Yeah, they probably wouldn't.  Even if 'let's greet important people by bending down and looking at their feet for a second' is apparently universal.  Multi-universal?"  Verity adds.  Give or take some arm movements which may or may not require a sword.  

"I wonder if they'd also have a problem with other senses.  Ones merely better than a human's, rather than ones humans don't have at all."

Araeneve can sense a lot through smell.  Who has been in a given room, what they've eaten recently, whether they're menstruating, or sick, or scared.  She could track someone across an entire ship if she wanted to.  Emotion sensing, by contrast, really doesn't show much more than someone good at reading people could tell by looking at their daemon's behavior.  Hence why she thinks the old taboos were so arbitrary.  

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Master Cai shows up after a little while.  Rather than leave the task to an errand-running junior, he carries in a few sets of robes.  They are generic white, selected so as to not claim allegiance which has not yet been determined.  

"You might want to change into these before dinner.  Your clothing is unusual enough to attract unwanted attention."

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"More unusual than the daemons following us around?"

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"It's... more a matter of the amount of skin revealed, and the unusual cut," he says tactfully.

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Iarlaith looks down at their clothes, skeptical.  All of their sleeves go at least to their elbows.  Iarlaith's pants are the shortest, but are still a bit past the knee.  By fleet standards, they're pretty well covered up. 

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"Oh, you wouldn't have rules about daemon colors here!" she realizes. 

She accepts the white robes with a surprising amount of glee.  They're annoyingly swishy-looking, and she'll have to figure out what they use as riding gear, but it's not blue.

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"Daemon colors?"

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"Fleet law states we need to wear colors that match our daemons."

He is much less happy about the robes.  They're so... plain.  If he were going to cross-dress as an ice type, he'd at least want something patterned.

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"I'd noticed the matching colors," he says.  "I doubt we have full robes prepared that will work, but I can send someone to look for something, if it's important?"

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Azure thinks it is very important.  Alizara and Iarlaith are more practical, though do want something suitable sooner rather than later.  Verity is perfectly happy in white.

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"Ah.  Color among cultivators commonly indicates loyalty to a sect.  In the Yunmeng Jiang sect, it isn't mandatory outside of night hunts or official business, though you'll rarely find anyone wearing colors other than our blue and purple."

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Joy.  More blue and purple.  

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Alizara files away the concept of 'night hunts' to ask about later.  Instead, she pokes her brother.

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"There is another ability of Gallade which I hadn't mentioned.  We can also sense emotions in the area directly around us - around Florentho, specifically," he clarifies.  Florentho is still in the cluster of other daemons, though half hidden in how Araeneve's mane has puffed up in defensive agitation.  

He can explain their worries and thought processes.  The modern Fleet culture is much better about it than their ancestors had been, but back in the days when they were still on a planet there had been a great deal of prejudice involving daemons with inhuman senses.  Emotion sensing, the ability to sense magnetic fields, electrical fields, or heat, telling what Moves a person has memorized... Any sense that humans don't have a version of was considered indecent, and anyone who settled as daemons who had them were often thrown to the wilderness or locked away in segregated districts from everyone else.

They hadn't exactly intentionally hidden it, but they avoid bringing it up in general.  After getting back to the room, they'd realized that it hadn't been mentioned here.  

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Master Cai strokes his beard thoughtfully.  "I don't recall anywhere in this world that has that particular issue.  Nor can I say that, upon hearing the list of abilities that you bring with you, that emotion sensing would be the most threatening sounding among them."

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"Which one would be?"

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"Given the demonstration, probably Teleport or Thief."

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"Thief has a low reputation on the Fleet, too," Iarlaith points out.  "Though Moves didn't carry the same controversy.  Er, at least from the little I've read.  I don't know much about it?" 

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"Moves are always under the person's control whether or not to activate them.  Senses can't be turned off," she clarifies for Master Cai.  It is the relevant distinction.

"It's still illegal to use Mind Reader on someone, or for a Rotom to possess someone else's phone, or for a gastly to walk through a wall into a private dwelling, because all of those are things that people can choose not to do."

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That seems like a reasonable enough split, and not one that people always measure up to.  He thinks about the various messes which happen here when someone is merely born related to someone disreputable.  

"Is it possible for you to alter the emotions of others?"

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"No.  It's just a sense.  There are Moves that can enrage or otherwise effect other's emotions.  They aren't singled out.  It's illegal to use them on the unwilling outside of battle, but then again so is Flamethrower."

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"Is it useful?  For telling who is telling the truth, or such?"

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"Not well enough to be considered viable evidence in court.  We don't know what causes a given emotion.  The main use, niche as it is, is to tell when there's someone trapped under rubble or otherwise not visible and in danger."

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Verity is feeling especially protective.  

(Out of her field of vision, Florentho had been cringing slightly into Araeneve's side at the questioning.)

This seems like a good time to point out, out loud, that Araeneve's sense of smell can tell even more about people, and track them from a much longer distance.  

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That doesn't surprise him.  Spiritual dogs have long been prized for their ability to track, and Araeneve resembles one as much as they resemble anything he's ever seen.  

That said, he has another thing he'd wanted to bring up before bringing them to dinner.  

"Oak-guniang, when you were performing the meditation exercise earlier your daemon was also gathering its energy and sending it to you."

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Huh.  She hadn't known that consciously, and hadn't had the chance to speak to Salanaya on it yet.  It doesn't surprise her.  

"Is that okay?"

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"Ordinarily I would advise against it.  Mixing in spiritual energy from sources other than oneself can be dangerous without the proper techniques."

"However, it does appear that your daemons are in fact a part of yourselves.  Merely a part of you which has it's own mind and is physically separate.  The energy that you gather from your daemon is identical to that of your human body."

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"Yes, that's how daemons work."

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"With that being the case, we have no objection to any of you who want to try it.  We will want to keep an especially close eye out for trouble, for as long as you choose to remain under our tutelage.  Just in case.  And do tell us what you intend - the recommended ratio of meditation to sword training will also need to be adjusted."

The Sect Leader probably will not want him to teach them right away, before they swear their allegiance to the Jiang Sect.  Sect Leader Jiang is a hard-ass when it comes to charity.  But given that they have no way home and will likely be somewhere in the Cultivation World regardless, Master Cai does not see the harm in making sure they have the basics.  If asked, he can say that he is fostering good relations with them - making it more likely that they'll chose to stay.

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She is definitely going to do so!

Less than a day in and she already has an interesting exploit.  Maybe it will be worthwhile for her to do this after all.

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"Is cultivation dangerous?  Assuming nothing unusual is tried."

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"That depends on the method, and the teaching.

"The Jiang, Jin, and Lan sects teach stable and safe paths of the sword.  We have been around for centuries, maintaining our traditions and techniques.  Dangers of fatal qi deviations are vanishingly rare for those under eighty.  Even in the worst cases of ill-suited students, the negative effects are rarely worse than what aging or disease would have done had they not developed golden cores.

"The Nie sect has been around for as long as us, but practice cultivation with sabers.  This intentionally sacrifices stability for power.

"Lesser sects vary more dramatically in their teachings.  As many of them were founded by students which broke off their educations before learning important knowledge, or people who learned out of books of dubious quality, many of their techniques are flawed."

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"Do cultivators not age?"

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"We hold onto our youth longer than the mundane folk.  Far longer, in the case of the powerful.  

"The ideal to which many cultivators aspire is to cultivate to immortality and cease aging entirely."

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"Do many people manage that?"

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"Very few - maybe one in ten thousand.  One must both be unusually powerful and entirely in control of oneself.  That, and survive the various other perils of the world; no one has cultivated to immortality without being a hero who has lived for over a hundred years.  

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In the distance, Florentho is busy chastising Salanaya for doing something dangerous.  She has no idea how cultivation works, and shouldn't be trying things blindly.

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Verity and Araeneve are paying very close attention to the scholar.  Close enough that Araeneve disentangles themself from the daemon conversation to walk over and listen with another set of ears.  

(Iarlaith's Emerimis remains nestled in their mane rather than getting out)

"What is a qi deviation?"

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"You're aware of how your emotions affect your physical body, and how your physical body affects your emotions?  For instance, people who are hungry are more likely to lose their temper and snap at people, and those who are very scared will find their hearts beating much faster than their level of physical activity will account for.

"Cultivators have enough spiritual energy in their bodies that it acts as a third system which can push and pull on the other two.  And be pushed and pulled in turn.

"When qi is balanced and regulated, it empowers the body.  A cultivator is stronger and heals faster than a normal human.  We're nearly immune to disease, and only very specific spiritual weapons can leave permanent marks.  We can handle unusual amounts of pain and remain calm on dangerous hunts.

"On the flip side, disordered qi runs rampant in the body and mind.  It causes fevers and muscle spasms, or mood swings and hallucinations.  If allowed to spiral far enough, it can lead to death.  That is a qi deviation."

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"So we'd have to control our emotions?  I haven't noticed people being unusually calm here.  Sect Leader Jiang in particular..."

Azure cuts himself off.  He does try to keep what he senses private, even when it's someone he doesn't like.

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Not exactly.  Not here in the Jiang sect, certainly.

He can go into more detail later.  For now, it's growing late.  It's time for them to head towards the dining hall.

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They change, the men and women splitting back up for privacy reasons.  

However scandalous their exposed forearms and Iarlaith's calves are, they do have multiple layers on already.  One simply doesn't wear hand-embroidered silk directly on skin, no matter how much Azure loves shopping for replacements and no matter how advanced washing machines and detergents are in space.  

"I'll have to talk to whoever handles clothing here.  It seems like a shame to waste this embroidery.  I think the panels can be added to a robe by someone who knows what they're doing," Azure mentions, meeting back up.

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Verity swooshes the robe around.  Between the unusually thin pathways meant only for humans and the loose clothing, she predicts she'll catch something on a doorframe or planter box by the end of the day.

At least it isn't blue.

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Lotus Pier has quite a few people.  Most are Jiang sect cultivators and disciples training to be such.  There are relatively few servants - the local culture encourages its cultivators to be self-sufficient; those who do exist are often those who have failed their training or found themselves unsuited to cultivation.  

One thing they don't insist everyone do is cook, at least.  Many people do choose to, but there is something basic available twice a day for those who don't know how.

They can be warned that Yunmeng food is quite spicy.

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Iarlaith eats spicy food as well as a local.  

Alizara is indifferent.

Verity can handle spice, but doesn't like it.  She eats what she already grabbed because doing otherwise would waste food.  

Azure doesn't like it and is handling it poorly.  He is too proud to be the only one to complain, and just tries to swallow quickly.

A number of Jiang disciples are very curious, and they spend the rest of the evening getting asked questions.  Their mouths feel strangely tired from it.  Small demonstrations of Moves are done in the courtyard, and are reciprocated by the disciples showing off minor talismans.  Eventually, it is time for bed.

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In Jiang Cheng's office, he speaks privately with Master Cai.  "Is there anything else you've noticed today?"

"Daemons are stronger than they look," Master Cai muses.

"You think they were holding back during the demonstration?"  Jiang Cheng thinks they looked plenty strong already. 

"No." Master Cai once again strokes his beard in thought.  "They are very much... it is a bit like spiritual tools.  They have specific things that they can do - prebuilt channels that energy can run through - and can only act within them.  But the amount of energy that they are using for what they do is astonishing.  Even immortals don't work with anything approaching that level of raw power.  Their Moves are inefficient and limited, though, compared to even the roughest talisman."

"Does this mean anything in a practical sense?"

"It is hard to say, Sect Leader."

"Mn.  You are dismissed."

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A few days pass. 

Much of their time is spent being led around and taught basic facts.  How clothing is washed, how bathing is handled.  They are sent to Master Cai's section of the library to meditate so that he can check up on them occasionally without interrupting his own work.  

Alizara begins writing down lists of things she'll want to write down in greater detail later.  Steam power, electricity, the periodic table... Her handwriting off of a computer and with a brush instead of a pen is abysmal.  Having to make ink with an inkstone is an added complication.  Still, a chicken-scratch list is produced.  She hopes that her handwriting will improve with practice; by the time she starts writing down the real information to give to others she needs it legible to people who aren't her.

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Iarlaith can annoy Alizara by being very good at writing with a brush.

Does she want pointers?

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She wants a computer.

In absence of that, she'll take tips on how to use a brush.

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Iarlaith can spend some time correcting the angle of her brush.  

He runs out of patience for writing things down fairly quickly.  Not that he knew anywhere near as much as Alizara does about anything useful.  

Maybe he can go bother some of the locals for information on the local who supposedly looks like him?

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Unlike Cloud Recesses, gossip is not forbidden in Lotus Pier.  

Sect Leader Nie is the leader of the Qinghe Nie Sect.  Their headquarters is known as the Unclean Realm.  

He's, uh.  Well.  Mostly known for being incompetent?  His earned title is Head-shaker, from his habit of answering any question or problem by repeatedly claiming he doesn't know anything.

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Do they know him personally?  Does he ever visit?

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All of the other sect leaders come to Lotus Pier for the occasional formal banquet, but they're important people and none of the random cultivators Iarlaith asks happen to be distinguished enough to be part of those.

He can also learn that Nie Huaisang and their local sect leader were friends as teenagers.  They attended lectures together before the war.

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That means he should probably just ask Sect Leader Jiang, even if he is intimidating and angry.  

Iarlaith goes looking for him.

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Jiang Cheng can be found overseeing some archery lessons in a forested section of land nearby.  The disciples are aiming at kites for the added challenge of moving targets.

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Ooh, archery.  He can ask lots of questions about it!  Extremely basic questions, like what the arrows are made out of and how bows work.  They don't have bows in the Fleet.  It's hard to say, due to so much of their history having been lost, but he doesn't think they had bows on the Dead World either.

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What is Young Master Rys really doing here?

"I wouldn't have thought you'd be interested in weapons and fighting."  

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Shrug.

"I duel sometimes.  Not with weapons, though, and not for anything serious."

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That's an interesting difference between Nie Huaisang and young master Rys.  

"Hand to hand, then?  And what sorts of things do you fight over?"

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"With Moves. It's our daemons who do the fighting.

"We fight for lots of reasons.  Just meeting a new person can be a good reason, usually."

They've been here a couple of days.  If they'd been on the Fleet, Iarlaith would have expected a few invitations to duel already.  He'd never considered it the best way to make new friends, like many claimed - he preferred talking to people about their interests - but it would still be nice for being familiar. 

There was a part of them (specifically the daemon part) which felt like they haven't really been invited in since they haven't had a good fight yet.  Emerimis looks longingly at the weapons as he's thinking about this.  "I wonder how daemons and cultivators would match up?" he considers from Iarlaith's shoulder.  These humans who can do move-like things and fly through the air.

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The disciples find that idea very interesting.  A couple have stopped practicing entirely in order to get closer and listen in on the conversation.  

"How do duels work where you're from?" one asks, once the sect leader looks over and he realizes he's been caught anyway.

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Iarlaith can explain.  A duel goes until one daemon has shattered the other's barrier and caused them to faint (which he can also explain, to everyone except for Sect Leader Jiang who had been there for Alizara's explanation).  Pretty much any kind of attack is permitted, though not all arenas are ranked for all moves, since some can create poisonous gasses or other things that could hit the humans.

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The disciples are Really Interested in the idea of sparring with something so unusual.  A few immediately present themselves as possible dueling partners.  If Sect Leader Jiang will allow it?

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Sigh.  Fine.  They're too distracted to pay attention to the archery right now anyway.

He'll go over the ground rules for sparring among cultivators.  The students could use another reminder and Iarlaith should learn what is too dangerous for a friendly bout.

Out of the three disciples who have pushed their way up front, he picks the one he recognizes as being especially good at defensive and healing techniques but somewhat lacking in offensive power.  That seems like the best combination to avoid either of them taking serious damage.

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He is very happy at being picked!

The clearing that the disciples had been firing over seems like a good place to do this, as no one is using their bows.  He sets down his bow and pulls his sword off of his belt.  

They bow to each other, and the fight can begin.  

He'll start with a few test swings of his sword.

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Emerimis dodges most of the blows.  He's had lots of practice flying around inside of rooms and around people.  

One smacks him on a wing, taking off a chunk of his barrier's energy.

He retaliates with some swooping dives, punching at silk-covered arms with balled-up talons.

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That stings a bit.

The battle ramps up.  The sword gleams with channeled spiritual power.

Emerimis doesn't have advantage by being a flying bird; the cultivator can easily leap and flip as high as Emerimis' tether to Iarlaith permits him to go.

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Emerimis retaliates with Thief.  The move doesn't need an item to target, only a place.  He can send the vortexes to appear next to the disciple's limbs.

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That stings more!  A non-cultivator would have pretty bad bruises from it, and maybe more if it hit somewhere delicate like a hand.  

He'd been expecting dodgeable projectiles.  He's never had to fight something that could attack without needing to travel to him.

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An energy-infused sword strike can take out a third of his barrier.  That is so much more than he'd expect from just metal. 

He prioritizes dodging, using as much space as he can in the bubble that he can get away from his human.  Using Thief seems safer than getting close.

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A well-placed strike to the back of the disciple's knee sends him to the ground.

He's already hurting and low on energy, while Emerimis still looks unhurt as far as he can tell.  Does he want to give it his best, or leave under his own power rather than needing his friends to carry him to the medical building? 

"I yield!" 

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Emerimis halts his attack to circle around.

Iarlaith can help him up.  And try to figure out if he's hurt, though he doesn't know enough about medicine to tell.

"Wow that was a close fight.  Those swords really hit hard."

He'd like to go over strategies, if the disciple seems interested.  

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That kind of makes him feel worse, like he gave up too easily.  But he's going to take this seriously and not act like a sore loser.  

He bows, a bit stiffly but able to stand on his own after a few seconds.

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Jiang Cheng grabs his wrist and does a proper examination.  The disciple doesn't have enough energy left to heal the bruises immediately, but he's in no danger from them.  Perhaps a day or two of soreness will encourage him to fight better next time.

This sounds like a good time to segue into a lesson.  The disciples should brainstorm ideas for fighting smaller faster opponents.  Many of the more dangerous monsters are large and lumbering, but not all of them.  Also, ways to handle attacks that don't travel as projectiles.  Those are rare but they might need to face them one day in a serious fight.

(In a serious fight against someone with a daemon, they can just go after the human.)

---

The class is dismissed afterwards.  The students can be sent to the library to look for obscure yao.  Each needs to find one with an unusual property or attack, and explain three ways to counter it.

"So you're about the same level we'd expect of a junior with a relatively new golden core," he says to Iarlaith on the way back.

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"It seems that way.  Emerimis is, anyway.  I'm totally useless in a fight."

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"You don't learn fighting techniques for humans at all?"

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"A non-cultivator human is weaker than the weakest daemon."

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"How strong is your daemon, compared to the Fleet baseline?  And the others who came here?"

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"Honchkrow in general are okay, but we aren't the kind to do duels too much.  Uh, 'we' as in 'people with Honchkrow daemons' and also Emerimis and I.  Emerimis' moves were picked out for convenience and doing work on the Fleet, not fighting.  Actually, none of the people brought have proper fighting movesets.  

"Suicune like Araeneve are Legendary.  They can take on any dozen normal people easily.  They don't really fight though, only choreographed fights as part of religious ceremonies with the other Legendaries.  

"Gallade are good.  Strong physical attackers.  They actually really like fighting.  Usually.  I probably shouldn't be stereotyping, but it wouldn't surprise me if Azure-and-Florentho had the most experience dueling of everyone here even if they do have an emergency responder move set memorized.  

"Metang are below average.  I don't know Alizara-and-Salanaya well enough to know whether they'll ever turn into a metagross."  He can then explain some stuff about evolution.  Daemons don't grow the way that humans do, but some can metamorphose into larger versions once or twice.  Salanaya is the only one not at the final known stage of what she could be, barring some mythological tales of 'mega evolution'.  

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"People with the same daemon are similar to each other?"

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"Something like that.  We settle as whatever best fits our personality.  There are over a thousand different forms, if you count variants like fire vulpix and ice vulpix.  Two people getting the same form means they have at least a little in common."

They reach the main buildings, and other people are demanding Sect Leader Jiang's attention.  Iarlaith will go back to the pair of rooms he shares with the other aliens.  

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Verity meditates.

She considers developing a golden core and a chance at immortality to be very important and spends nearly all of her time at it.

(That, and her daemon is very fluffy looking and incapable of flight.  It's easier to avoid small children without the correct instincts by staying inside as much as possible until everyone has been informed of the rules.)

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She and the others can also practice sword forms.  With wooden swords, because as far as the sect is concerned they might as well be 8 year olds with their level of skill and qi.  For now, they get the most basic drills that any lesser sect or wandering cultivator would know.  Only sworn Jiang disciples can learn their unique sword style.  

The path of cultivation that is practiced here is known as sword cultivation, not meditation-cultivation-with-a-sword-based-aesthetic.  Once the energy is gathered the kinetic motion of sword forms assists in shaping the correct architecture of the golden core, or so they've been told.  All of them except for Verity also need to build some muscle - walking may be the main method of travel around the ships of the Fleet but the distances are never more than 10 li apart at most and it does nothing for arm strength.

Sect Leader Jiang still isn't especially happy that they're here yet aren't immediately asking to join, but has been pacified for the moment by Azure noting that he takes swearing loyalty very seriously.  Part of doing that is taking at least a week to think on something instead of impulsively picking the place they happened to land.

-

On the third day, Master Cai examines them again as they're about to return to their rooms for the evening.  Everything seems to be coming along well.  

"There is something I'd suggest considering," he says, hovering over.  "After more time to examine your particular differences, I think it would be safer to separate before forming a golden core than afterwards.

"I don't know quite how it's handled in your homeland..." he pauses.  Land probably wasn't the right word.  "Though not being able to separate does seem like something that will cause a great deal of inconvenience and danger for you here."

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Expecting everyone to separate just isn't done. 

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Araeneve practically clings to Verity's side.  They aren't happy with the idea either.  

"Do you even have something that can hold a legendary?"

(Huh.  That's a concerning issue even outside of the ideas of separation.  It hadn't occurred to them before, but they realize they don't like the idea that they might be trappable in general.)

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"I can see the logic in it."

It's only been three days, and they haven't even left Lotus Pier for the massive planet-sized world beyond.  Already they've run into issues.  She had never considered how many tiny things in the designs of the Fleet had been set up for daemons, until she was in a place that didn't have them.  Stairs instead of ramps, more fragile furniture, low ceilings...

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"You do have years to decide," he reminds them.  

"The attempt to form a golden core is usually begun at age 8 for those born into a sect.  Of those, the average age of success is 14.  The youngest prodigy we've had in a century formed his golden core at 10.  With two bodies and two minds you will likely be a little more than twice as fast, as you can gather spiritual energy quickly and not have as much radiate away between meditation sessions."

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"I'd be willing to try right away, if you have somewhere suitable to put Salanaya."

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He gives a concerned look to his sister.

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She catches the look.  

"I did read all of the information about it online."

Azure had been fine, when he tried it.  Really, the worst that would happen is she'd fail and be upset for a day, or succeed and Salanaya would be upset with her for a week.  No one has ever died from attempting to walk away from their daemon.  It's not like she's telling him to teleport half of her away.  

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They can be led to the most likely place that fits their requirements.  Powerful wards take time and energy, and it's best to use locations already set up for them rather than building them from scratch.  

The dungeon is a small building of sturdy stone, contrasting with the wood that makes up the rest of Lotus Pier.  It's old, far older than Jiang Cheng, though before he had inherited the position of sect leader it had been used less often.  Windows small enough to prevent escape are also too small to let in much light, leaving everything dim and shadowed.  There is a faint smell of old blood lingering in the age-worn benches beneath the heavy chains set into the walls, but is otherwise minimalist and clean.

A wide array of protective seals and charms are inlayed into the stone.  As the dungeon is currently unoccupied, the seals are all disengaged, with rotating circles of stone at their edges twisted in such a way that the patterns are disrupted.  Twisting them a few degrees would complete the seal again, and make activating the ancient defenses a matter of a quick infusion of spiritual energy.  

He feels very odd about this, but Master Cai gestures them in anyway.  "Anyone who wants to try, stand over there."

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Salanaya floats in on her own.  They know enough to know that she'll probably change her mind later, but for now she has the same determination as her Alizara.  

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Iarlaith and Emerimis are unimpressed.  This is hardly a dungeon.  Where are the trap corridors with swinging axe blades?  Deep underground mazes with stagnant pools of eerie glowing water? 

...Perhaps Iarlaith has played too many VR games.  He has a sudden jolt of homesickness.  Caverns of the Dread-Void 5 had been frustrating and by far the weakest of the series, but now he'd never get to finish it.  

Iarlaith shakes his head and turns his attention back to the task at hand.  

Neither of the sides of himself are sure they want to do this.  They don't have a pressing difficulty getting around or anything.  They're mostly doing it because everyone else is, and perhaps they'll want to later and it would be awkward to go through all of this trouble alone.

"This is probably a bad idea," Emerimis mutters.  But he's already sitting on Salanaya's head and doesn't fly off.

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Araeneve is quite a bit more conflicted about this, and Verity assists by shoving at them when they pause.  "We're just testing the barrier," she tells herself, but they both know it's false.

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That looks concerning, particularly to someone who is new to the idea that those two are the same person.  

Once all of the humans are on one side of the wards and all of the daemons (other than Florentho) are on the other, he'll twist the stone and make the cell impassable.  Or at least probably impassable.

"It's done.  I'll stay here and undo it whenever you tell me to."

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Salanaya tests the walls.  

"Only do it when one of the humans tells you," she corrects.  "Or, no.  Wait until all of the humans are back.  If one of us goes back early there's no reason to make everyone have to redo it later."

Perhaps they should have planned it out a little better. 

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Why yes, they should have.  Impulsively running off and doing this right away was a terrible idea.

He keeps this to himself, though Florentho crosses his arms and looks severe.

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The walls hold, and aren't even scratched.  If the magic keeping the doors sealed is also hardening the inner walls, this could explain the lack of any chipped-in tally marks or other defacement.  

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Time to go, then.  

Walking away from a daemon is hard.  Almost as hard as if there were a physical wall.  Even knowing logically what they're trying to do, all three of them still instinctively stop walking right at the edge of the comfortable range and stare awkwardly ahead in confusion for a few seconds as if waiting for their daemons to catch up.

At first there's a sense of unease.  Like walking into the dark, knowing that there were stairs ahead but not where.  This becomes overtaken by the feeling of doing something awful to oneself.  And pain, of course, which slowly rises with both time and steps forward.

There are multiple techniques and strategies to be found on the subject on the Fleet internet.  Even though only one person in fifty even makes an attempt, and half of those fail and never retry, that's still thousands of people who succeeded.  Much has been written on the subject.

Alizara lags behind at first, but catches up.  She pushes ahead in a steady rhythm once she finds it.  

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Iarlaith had never considered trying.  But, he has to admit it could be useful.  

He walks haltingly, pausing every few steps.

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The path isn't a straight line, as Lotus Pier hadn't been built with this in mind.  Their route will take them around the main hall, across the training field, and out the gates to the road beyond.  

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The daemons are, predictably, unhappy about this.  Salanaya would like to be let out now?

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Araeneve decides to just start bashing at the door.

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The door does not budge.  It does seem, at least in the short term, that the wards and seals are working.  

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Florentho is also Extremely Upset.  People he cares about are trapped and hurting and it is very hard to stop himself from reaching over to the seal and opening it.  Azure decides that his daemon really shouldn't be in here, and shoves Florentho outside to wait.  

It would probably be a bad idea for him to be near the daemons' humans, for similar reasons.  So Florentho does the only thing left and goes back to their empty rooms where he can stomp around and be upset without bothering anyone.  

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Jiang Cheng is alarmed to hear shouting coming from his dungeon.  What the hell?

Oh, it's the aliens and his scholar.  Of course it would be them.  He continues to be busy, and now has to interrupt his important Sect Leader-ing to check on them and make sure that there's nothing going on that he has to take care of with Zidian. 

"What is the meaning of this?"

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He belatedly sets up a silencing talisman for the room.  Oops.  He'd forgotten to do that.  

Then he'll explain his suspicion that separating after gaining a golden core would likely risk a qi deviation from the particular sort of strain it causes on the spirit.  Not to mention the inconvenience of having them walking around Lotus Pier trailed by large creatures, for them and everyone else.

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"You've been putting a lot of effort into them.  What you choose to do with your spare time is your own business, but do you really think this is worthwhile?"

He thinks that if there weren't the mystery of Rys Iarlaith and Nie Huaisang, I'd have thrown them out by now.

He eyes the daemons, who are looking increasingly frantic.  Jiang Cheng doesn't like the liminal place they're occupying here.  It is so much easier when he can sort people into His or Not His.  He doesn't know whether or not he wants to feel upset that they're screaming.  

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Ugh.  What a prick.  Who just looks at daemons being obviously hurt and only looks annoyed at the noise?

(A ways away, Florentho stomps back and forth.)

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"I think they'll fit here better than elsewhere," he says.  "And be good for Lotus Pier in return."

He may not have been raised in the Jiang clan, but he remembers it as it was before.  A place that was more friendly; a place where the farmer's children from nearby would sneak up to watch the cultivators training, rather than being too intimidated to approach.  He suspects that Jiang Cheng wants that back too.  That meant that sometimes his cultivators would have to make up for their Sect Leader's shortcomings.  He'd yell about it sometimes, sure, but anyone who didn't get frightened off soon learned to ignore empty threats.

Jiang Cheng looks annoyed, but doesn't argue today.  He storms back out of the dungeon to get back to what he'd been doing before.

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Alizara has already passed through the gates.  Her steps are even.  Looking only at her legs and not her face, she almost seems to be normal.

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Verity makes it as far as the entrance and stops, feet stuck in place.  It's almost like the door is physically important, though there's no reason for it to be.  

She stands there, unable to walk forward.  Iarlaith passes her.  She stares outward, at the hills beyond.  Downward at the road.  Downward further at the ground.

She turns back.

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Alizara feels the tether holding her back snap.  The wrongness of being a thousand meters stretched apart had been like standing in a fire.  It's sudden absence is somehow worse.  It feels like having died, a little, though she knows from the feeling of being trapped despite the open road around her that her daemon is still there and still her. 

She hears a strange sound and curiously looks around at the empty street before realizing she had made it.  She's sitting down now.  When had that happened?

It takes her a few minutes of staring ahead at nothing before she gets back up.  Salanaya is still in the cell.  There's a protective feeling for the other two as a distant part of herself is still watching them, though Alizara's human body hasn't looked backwards yet. 

Curious, she steps forward instead.  Fascinating.

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Alizara had marked the point of separation.  Somehow, that made it easier to reach.  

Iarlaith doesn't fall.  He does watch Alizara in a bit of shock until she decides to finally turn back.  They return together.

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Verity is already sitting in the dungeon's entrance room, Azure hugging her as she cries.  The height difference makes this a little awkward, even when sitting, but she's folded down enough that she almost looks small.  

After Verity returned and the other two daemons fell silent, Azure had ordered the cell opened.  Araeneve is still in the cell, sulking in a corner.

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Emerimis is Very Upset.  Iarlaith tries to talk to him and he flies away.  He can do that now.

Lotus Pier doesn't have any fancy towers to lurk ominously on, so he just circles around for a while, as high as he can go.  

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Sigh. 

Iarlaith will just sit down and morosely stare at the complex lines of the seals on the walls.  

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"You think that was foolish, don't you?" Verity asks Azure.

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"I think you were being... optimistic."

He supposes he shouldn't be upset at them.  He kind of is anyway, because emotions don't work on 'should'.  

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Those aren't quite synonyms, but they do feel like they are.  

"It's important to do, and there's only a year or two to try."

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Which naturally means doing it less than an hour after that is pointed out.

"Subsequent attempts do succeed more often, statistically."  For those who try again at all.  

Azure thinks that sitting around in a dungeon is bad, and they should go literally anywhere else.  Time to corral Verity and Iarlaith back to one of the guest rooms.  

(Alizara is off wandering around, when he checks.)

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Araeneve doesn't feel like moving.  Unfortunately, they have little choice.  

Verity shoos Azure away and curls up in her daemon's mane when they get back to their room.  

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"Why couldn't we do it?  I saw the open path ahead of me and... couldn't move."

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"I don't know, and that bothers me.  I'm supposed to know this sort of thing.  Outside of the gate was worse than Lotus Pier."

They are still upset.  They are mad at... Verity?  Themself?  They can see the logic in separating but also No They Can't and that still feels like distance even though they're touching.  

"It might be what we tried, that's making it not obvious?  There aren't supposed to be permanent effects.  So maybe I'll know later?

"We feel useless.  I don't want to be thrown away for not being able to provide insight on our feelings."

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"...or for not being able to separate.  Out of everyone here we're the largest and least-" she waves a hand.  She knows what she means, though the words aren't coming to her.  Small enough to be mobile in tight corners and places not meant for daemons to traverse, and without Salanaya's ability to just levitate above obstacles and furniture. 

Trying hurts, and even though it would be beneficial it doesn't feel like the sort of good pain of pushing herself on an exercise machine.

"We should talk to Alizara, and hear whatever strategies she has memorized."

Neither of them move to go looking for her right now.  By the time Alizara gets back to the room, Verity is already asleep.

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Alizara is gone by the time she wakes. 

Azure has also left their pair of rooms early in the morning.  This results in a somewhat flustered Iarlaith knocking on the door of Verity and Alizara's room with his hair in complete disarray.

"Uh, can you help me with something?"

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"What is it?"

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He points at his head.  

"My hairpiece is stuck and I can't get it out."

Looking more closely at the tangles, there's a piece of metal that has managed to become wrapped in hair.  It's the local style, which he has been adopting so as to stand out less, and which he has almost no experience with.

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Yeah, sure she can help with that.  Verity slowly starts picking away at the tangles as gently as possible.

"Trying to look more like a local?"

So far she's been keeping her own hair in a simple ponytail as a concession to everyone having their hair up here.  Its a different enough texture that it would be nearly impossible to get into a local style anyway.

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Suicune manes aren't the sort of thing that can tangle, but Emerimis flies over to preen them anyway.  He notices that they're still looking a bit morose.

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Iarlaith is filling the quiet with complaints.

"... and it doesn't help that my arms are so tired.  It's hard to keep holding them over my head.  The practice swords they've been having us swing around might have been made of wood, but after an hour my arms feel like rocks."

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"You'll get better if you keep doing it."

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Sigh.  "I know.  Muiredach was always telling me to pick up something heavier than a phone once in a while."

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"Muiredach?"  That name sounds familiar.  "Hmm - the one with the steelix daemon?"

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"Yeah, her name is Valaxa.

"He's my brother.  Do you know him?"

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"A little.  We go to the same gym."

Huh, now that she thinks about it, she does remember Muiredach mentioning a brother.  From the descriptions she'd assumed the brother was still in his early teens.  This doesn't seem polite to mention.

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"I shouldn't be surprised."

And of course his brother never bothered to mention that he knew a Legendary.  It wasn't the sort of thing he considered important.

He lapses into silence as the hairpiece comes loose and Verity puts his hair up properly.  This place is interesting enough to distract him most of the time, but he's still homesick.  

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Jiang Cheng shows up looking for Iarlaith (or more specifically Emerimis).  It's time to get the machine out of the lake, and this is the daemon's job to clean up.  Alizara and Azure trail behind him, already gathered.  

"What are you two doing in here alone?"

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"Iarlaith's hair."

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"I see that.

"You shouldn't be in a room alone with an unrelated person of the opposite sex.  People will think you're doing something inappropriate, even if you aren't.

"Also, you're forgetting to bow again."

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She finishes tying the ribbon before bowing, since she doesn't want to go through the work of smoothing it out again.  She resists the temptation to bow sarcastically.

"Inappropriate?  Like what - Drug trafficking?  Tax fraud?  Those aren't gendered..."

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Azure, who has been paying more attention to cultural differences, clarifies that Sect Leader Jiang was talking about premarital sex.

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"That still doesn't explain why gender matters.  Has gay sex not been invented yet, or something?"

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"Oh, it has.  I've already checked."

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Jiang Cheng splutters.  And then starts shouting.

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Eep!

Iarlaith hides behind Verity.

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Does the shouting seem to be conveying information or is it just mindless noise?

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It does!  Reputation and virtue are important, particularly for women if they want marriage prospects.  Improper behavior reflects back on their families as well.  If Iarlaith is anything like Sect Leader Nie, he's hardly likely to have actually done anything with a woman.  That said, the appearance of being virtuous are just as important as really being virtuous.

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She highly doubts her mother would care, even if she were still alive and in this dimension.  Verity also doesn't especially care about her 'marriage prospects'.  

"...So, this is like when Azure is harping on me not to crossdress?" she summarizes.  "It's a foolish rule that doesn't make sense, but the fools who care about it outnumber the reasonable people, so it's more trouble than it's worth to break it?"

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It turns out that Sect Leader Jiang can shout even louder, and also has jewelry that sparks with electricity.

"Watch who you're calling a fool!

"Also.  That is the worst description of why to follow rules that I've ever heard!"

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"Right, sorry."  She bows, since that seems to be the thing to be done, though isn't sure whether or not it's sincere.  She hadn't meant to lump him in with that category - it had been said assuming that he was merely informing her of other people being obnoxious.  But since he decided to take it personally that was his own problem.  Still, she did kind of feel bad, and had already bowed, so whatever.

"I'll avoid being in rooms alone with an arbitrary 50% of the population.  And only help people with their hair while standing outside."

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He's not happy.  Then again, is he ever?

"Perhaps Rys-gongzi ought to learn to put up his own hair."

Nie Huaisang had interrupted a number of meetings between Jin Guangyao and Jiang Cheng with problems of a similar caliber, yet managed the complex braids common in Qinghe just fine.  He wonders what the difference is.  It's been a while since he spent much time around Nie Huaisang other than in meetings or watching him have hysterics, and his memory of Nie Huaisang's mannerisms was fading with time.  They'd mostly been friends due to being mutual friends with-

 

He clenches his jaw.  "You two, follow me.  It's past time you cleaned up after yourselves and got your machine out of my lake," he says before stalking away, gesturing for them all to follow.

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Sure.  They'll follow him out to where they landed.

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"Uh, wow I can't believe you were so calm about that!" Iarlaith whispers as they walk.  

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Shrug.  "Azure is always telling me basically the same things."

None of the locals seem afraid of him - Araeneve would pick up the smell of fear and stress, if the people were unhappy.  And neither of their pairs of eyes have seen anyone with casts or splints on broken legs.

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"I am nothing like him!"

Florentho doesn't stomp, because every part of him is being especially careful to keep their temper.  

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She pats his shoulder, before letting herself fall backwards to speak to her daemon.  Araeneve gently shoos Emerimis off of her horn.  The honchkrow flits to on top of Salanaya instead, who drifts up further.  

"Why do we think Sandu Shengshou and Azure are similar?"

"Hmm.  Not sure."

"They have similar fashion sense.  That really doesn't seem like enough, though."

Araeneve gives the quadrupedal equivalent of a shrug.

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Florentho sidles up to Araeneve's other side, once they look like they're finished with their conversation.  He has the same question.

He is also rather offended at the thought of being compared to Sect Leader Jiang.

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"It's more that we're comparing him to you, than the other way around."

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"We're not sure what you consider the difference to be." 

Meanwhile, Azure is going to take the time to lecture Verity on thinking before she speaks.  He realizes that this is something he's told her multiple times, but it bears repeating. 

Also, there are benefits to lecturing her in front of Sect Leader Jiang specifically.  It communicates that they aren't trying to offend him, reminds him that they are not unanimous in their opinions, and paints Verity as someone who has trouble with that in particular.  Which she is, and could use the extra leniency about.

Florentho eventually whispers this explanation to Araeneve, who would not pick up on it otherwise.

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Ugh.  Have they mentioned they hate dealing with appearance and reputation?

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The lake is where it was four days ago.

Despite Araeneve's ability to walk on water, they aren't very useful for getting the machines out of the water.  A pair of Lotus Pier cultivators dive to attach ropes, which Salanaya and Emerimis can use to pull the machines and chunks of wall out.  Muddy lake sediment and water pours from the filled machine casing, and the dish is cracked.

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"It's definitely not going to work.  I'd still like to have it, if you aren't going to do anything with it."

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"What would I do with it?

"Just move it off of the dock once it's dried out."

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Alizara spends the next couple of hours fussing with it.

They are a bit glum, though logically knew that it wouldn't work.  Phones and other electronics used in public areas are kept waterproof to some extent.  Specialty equipment in labs isn't meant to be dropped in lakes.

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Verity isn't going to be much use in this.  She knows a bit about VR software, but that doesn't seem relevant here.  Also, she expects that her feelings about being stranded are different than that of the others.

Instead, she gets on Araeneve's back and starts riding around the lake.  It's calming, and will let her look at the plants from up close.  More importantly, they are purifying the waters - if the machine leaked anything unnatural or harmful, they will neutralize it.  

They spend well into the afternoon spiraling outward along the lake, carefully avoiding trampling the vegetation.

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There are fish beneath them, which dart into cover as they approach.  Above, flocks of various kinds of birds fly.  Between them are swarms of various insects.  

Fleet culture knew that pokemon once existed.  Sometimes, they remembered to populate their VR games with such creatures.  They did not have a concept of bugs.  No concept of creatures which could be present within a stone's throw of human settlements without danger.  Nothing that would travel in vast swarms and schools and flocks which travelled so smoothly with one another that they felt like single sinuous beings.  

Even the flowers were unusual.  Lotus were a normal enough size, if not a plant that they had.  Others, though - tiny, tiny blooms as small or smaller than a fingernail.  Some that looked to be a normal size from afar, but were made of clusters of many little flowers.  Plants which had developed alongside the dust-speck flies instead of pokemon.  

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They eventually wander back, rather than continuing off into the distant hills.  Verity finds a quick lunch, then goes looking for the others.

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Back on land, Alizara and Azure have taken over a field that has more than one grown-over gouge mark from cultivators showing off.  A few junior cultivators have joined them, sitting off to one side; they had followed when they heard that two of the daemons would be sparring today.  Word about the fight between Iarlaith-and-Emerimis and the student had spread around.  

Neither Salanaya nor Florentho have a limit on how far they can travel from their humans, now.  This means that Alizara and Azure can sit well back.  Alizara quietly laments the lack of plexiglass and other future safety technologies.  

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Salanaya begins the fight.  

Her first move is to create some rocks and hurtle them towards Florentho.  Not only is this an attack, but hopefully this can give her an advantage later, too, when he'll need to avoid them while she can float right overhead.

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Gallade are quite nimble.  He dodges most of them, taking a glancing clip which does little to throw him off course.  Florentho uses the fallen boulders as stepping stones to leap up towards her.  

He has no good damaging Moves, but the blades on his shoulders are something to attack with even without that.

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Metang aren't as good at dodging, but they are quite durable.  

Perhaps Florentho would like to be picked up telekinetically and hurled away?

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Not especially, though he lands well enough afterwards and dances back towards her, pausing to create a force field around himself when Salanaya releases a bright laser attack.  Most of the light vanishes into sparks against the hexagonal facets of the barrier.

The fight continues.  Twice, Salanaya is sent briefly to sleep and Florentho surrounds himself with glittering dew to restore his energy before stepping back into range to hit her again.  

They have fought many times before, and are fairly evenly matched.  Fights between them come down to whether or not Florentho can dodge, shield, and disable Salanaya enough to whittle her energy down before he gets struck twice in a row between casts of Life Dew.  

Florentho attempts to leap up for a strike.  While in midair, he is hit point-blank with a Flash Cannon strike.  

There is a burst of glittering golden light which shoves Salanaya a foot away.  Florentho lands in a limp pile on the grass, unmoving for a few seconds.  The sparks hover in the air, drifting lazily in random directions seemingly unaffected by gravity.  One by one, they wink out as Florentho comes to and starts clumsily getting to his feet.

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Yay!

Salanaya waits until Florentho is fully standing, then they return to their humans together. 

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Verity, who had caught the last half of the fight, applauds along with the rest of their small audience. 

Araeneve gazes into the field, considering the rocks now scattered around.  Perhaps they ought to be the one to move them out of the way, if someone tells them where they should go.

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Azure lounges on the grass.  Florentho flops over onto Araeneve, while Salanaya squeezes between the tree branches.  This leads to a few leaves raining down on the people below, who respond with good-natured complaining.  

They relax for a while.  The field is taken over by a few of the junior cultivators doing their own sparring.

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Meanwhile, Jiang Cheng is reading his correspondence.  

Several days ago, Jiang Cheng had sent an urgent message to the Unclean Realm, asking for Sect Leader Nie to visit Lotus Pier immediately.  Nie Huaisang might not be the fastest flier, but there would still have been enough time for him to stop by for a day or two before they'd need to leave for Cloud Recesses for the conference to be held in a few weeks' time.  

The message he'd received back claimed that Nie Huaisang had run into some difficulties and simply had to go to Carp Tower.  It didn't seem likely to the person he'd put in charge of answering his mail that Nie Huaisang would be able to take the requested detour.

This had lead to a great deal of Jiang Cheng shouting and complaining at anyone with the misfortune to be standing in his hall at the time.  After which he politely sent a message to Cloud Recesses.  Would they permit him to bring a few guests in his retinue in place of four of his usual guard?

Word returned swiftly, and he reads it.  Zewu-jun will permit this, though reminds him that they will need to be informed of the rules.

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That is easy enough to arrange.  Poor handwriting aside, they're all literate.

Due to their usual method of punishment, the Cloud Recesses has an overabundance of written down copies of their rules.  After one too many incidents, he'd snapped at Zewu-jun that maybe they ought to give him a few of the spare copies to lend to his disciples.  Zewu-jun had then offered to have an artisan create a series of elaborate copies to provide for the libraries of the other sects, which had completely missed the point.  (In retrospect, perhaps Zewu-jun was joking?  It was hard to tell with him.)  He'd returned to Lotus Pier with a half-dozen normal copies.

Eventually, perhaps, he wouldn't need to do that.  In the past, the cultivators in the Sect Leader's guard would have been high-ranking in their own right - people who had shown promise since youth and been invited as guest disciples to Lan Qiren's lectures.  They would have learned the rules alongside Jiang Cheng.  However, all of the other Jiang cultivators from his generation were now dead.

Jiang Cheng shakes his head, snapping himself out of his brooding.  

Now, where had the aliens run off to?

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All four of them are sitting together at the side of the field.  

A pair of local cultivators are throwing weak fire talismans at each other and seeing who can dodge.  They and their audience snap to attention as Sect Leader Jiang approaches, scrambling into a formation and saluting.

The daemons are together at the side.  Araeneve is watching the cultivators while Salanaya and Emerimis have turned away to talk with each other.  Florentho is in the protected spot between them.

When it looks like the Sect Leader is coming to speak to them, Alizara, Iarlaith, and Verity stand up to bow.  Azure is dozing, paying no attention.  

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"You have training to do," he shouts to the disciples, who quickly scatter.

As for the aliens, Jiang Cheng glares and tosses the book onto Azure's chest. 

"You're going to leave for Cloud Recesses tomorrow morning.  Start studying their rules.  I won't have you embarrassing yourselves when you get there."

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He glares back, picking the book off of his chest.  That had been uncalled for.

The book is surprisingly heavy.  It seems far too heavy to just be rules for house guests even if they wrote it assuming aliens that needed basic things explained.  He wonders if it contains construction laws and health and safety regulations.

"Are you kicking us out?"

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"No.  Nie Huaisang is 'too busy' to come here, so we're going to where he'll be."

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Azure might not have much experience living on a planet, but he's seen the distances on the map.  It will take days to get to Cloud Recesses.

"You mean I need to be stuck on a boat for days with you?  That sounds miserable."

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How dare he!

Azure is still lying on the ground.  He can instead be picked up and dragged to his feet.

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Azure yelps, dropping the book.

Florentho pauses.  They really shouldn't be picking a fight when he can't back it up.  He's still weak from having fainted.  Without thinking, he retreats behind Araeneve.  

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Verity grabs Sect Leader Jiang's arm, trying to wrest him away.  

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If Jiang Cheng hadn't been a cultivator, she would have been able to pull him away.  Alas, with spiritual energy grounding him it has little effect.

"What, you want a fight?"

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Well, yes.

"You don't want to fight me."

Araeneve approaches.  They prepare to jump between Verity and Sect Leader Jiang if necessary.  

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He should probably be stopping this.  On the other hand, he really wants to see Sect Leader Jiang try to fight a Legendary.  That sounds hilarious. 

Azure eggs them on, waving them to the field with his free arm.  They're supposed to be skilled fighters here?  He'd like to see someone who isn't a student take on a daemon.

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The few people who hadn't left clear the field and watch intently.  Jiang Cheng sighs - there's no way to back out without looking cowardly in front of his disciples, and violence does sound fun about now.

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Azure seems to think this is okay?  She'll try to avoid knocking the Sect Leader into any trees, just in case.  

Verity moves forward to give them room to move, pointing out that her human body is not his opponent.

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Yes, he saw Emerimis' fight.  Her human form might be stronger than Iarlaith, but it would hardly require talent to take out an unarmed mundane.  He's fully aware that this is a battle to show that he's worth their respect; Doing something considered dishonorable would work against that purpose.

He pulls out his sword, and faces down the large daemon.

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They start off hesitantly, using only a fraction of the energy they could channel into each move.  Slowly they ramp up as he reveals his speed and power, risking harder strikes and colder winds.

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"Stop holding back," he snaps.  

Jiang Cheng is fast enough to dodge a great deal.  Those attacks that do strike him, he withstands well.  It's different than fighting an opponent with a sword; water and freezing wind can't be stopped the same way as steel.

Zidian seems to be more effective than his sword.

He pays attention to Araeneve's fighting style.  Or rather lack of style.  Florentho danced through battle, and Emerimis and Salanaya were graceful enough.  Araeneve's fighting feels more like a drunken tavern brawl between rowdy farmers, strong yet unskilled.  They tank hits rather than even attempting to dodge, and their body language doesn't hide what they're about to do next.

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They are very surprised when the fight goes on for more than a minute.  Even when they're using their full strength, he holds his own.  The electric attacks in particular rend energy out of their barrier.  

Shields of Reflect are cast around the field, making the fighting more interesting.  Araeneve can run through their own screens without difficulty, but Sect Leader Jiang encounters resistance whenever he passes through one.  It almost corrects for his grace, and more than once causes him to nearly slip.  Icy, muddy water covers the churned field.  

Eventually, though, their energy begins to drop.  They don't feel like giving up just yet.  Motes of light absorb into them from... some direction that doesn't quite seem to be any of the usual ones.  They fall asleep.

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Alizara notices Sect Leader Jiang hesitate.  

"They're healing, not fainted.  Keep fighting!"

She glances at Azure.  Technically, they should be on Verity's side, but... she's pretty sure that means having a good fight.

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He had aborted the last strike, just in case, and takes another second after that to nod towards Alizara and catch his own breath.  

Well, stopping Araeneve from healing sounds like a good idea.  (What a strange thing, to intentionally fall asleep in a fight.  He does recall being told that Araeneve could do that but seeing it is a different matter.)

Jiang Cheng is getting a bit tired himself.  Araeneve is visibly unmarked, despite the number of sword slashes they've taken.  Even knowing from Emerimis' fight that it would happen, it's still disheartening to not see the opponent harmed after so much work.  Cold does little to Jiang Cheng, but sharp shards of ice are another matter and being buffeted by waves is taking its toll.  

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Verity wills Araeneve awake.  She always hated that Rest required sleep, and wished that she could have learned one of the ones that didn't, like Recover or Moonlight.  Suicune were rare enough that Araeneve was the only one since the Fleet launched, and they had little information on what Moves they could learn.  As such, they had been stuck in the library for hours at a time staring into TMs.  It had seemed useless at the time, once they'd gone through the material-generating moves.  It's not like Suicune were allowed to fight.  

The battle goes on for quite a long time - several times longer than Salanaya and Florentho had fought for.  Being so close to multiple casts of Blizzard, Verity is shivering.  Her feet are painfully cold, even after jumping out of the icy mud and onto one of the boulders that Salanaya had scattered earlier.

Araeneve runs out of energy for their attacking moves and resorts to mundanely ramming into Sect Leader Jiang and attempting to swat at him with their horn.  This gets harder as the Reflect zones begin to fade out and his movements stop getting slowed down by them.  

Then - 

A burst of light which shoves the lightning whip away.  Araeneve collapses as the sparks begin to vanish, sprawling on their side in the grass.  

Verity is dizzy, the sensation unfamiliar after years.  She sways and nearly falls over herself.  She bows, or attempts to - after a second the change in balance nearly topples her over and she flails and sits on her boulder instead, looking dazed.

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Azure is both annoyed and impressed.

He keeps his sigh internal.  "Congratulations!  I've never seen anyone do that before."  It's the nicest thing he can think to say.

Then he can ignore Sect Leader Jiang and check on Verity.  At least they're uncomplicatedly thrilled at this development.  She's too heavy for Azure to carry back to the not-freezing edge of the field, and Alizara immediately started flipping through the rule book as soon as the battle finished.  He just waits while she collects herself.  

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He is also thrilled.  But now that the fight is over he is more concerned with how he is sore and soaking wet.  He stays just long enough to look like he isn't retreating and watch the aliens start heading towards their rooms.  Then he goes back to his own while being very careful to avoid limping while still in sight of anyone.

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Azure drops his cheerful façade once the door closes to their room. 

"What are the rules like?"

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"Numerous.  Over three thousand of them."

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"What is Cloud Recesses?"

Azure seems to know, but Iarlaith hadn't heard the term before.

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"Home of another cultivation sect, to the east.  It was on a map."  Azure recalls Iarlaith having been focused on a different scroll while he'd been looking at it.  "Home of the... Lan?  I think?  Supposedly they are known for their musical ability, uprightness, and an excessive number of rules."

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Well.  "Are the rules at least reasonable?"

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Alizara can start reciting them.  

Some are self explanatory.  Some are presumably self explanatory if you are local and know what things like 'livestock' are - they should probably just avoid killing anything unless explicitly told to.  Many seem to be more philosophical than what they'd expect to be in a legal law book.

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He automatically filters out all of the mental ones like 'believe sincerely.' Those aren't enforceable, and if they had any way of telling they'd know they aren't.  The longer term goals like 'help the underprivileged' can be ignored for now too, as can ones they have no way of influencing such as 'do not wallow in luxury and pleasure.'  

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Verity loses interest early on, and decides to mostly just replace them with 'do what you're told' and the same general protocols for avoiding problems at high-class parties. 

"Fill me in on anything not obvious that I'm likely to do otherwise," she says, then falls asleep.

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Evening, then night, then morning.  

They are led to a boat that's waiting at the docks for them.  A map isn't terribly useful for a trip down a river where the only direction they need to go is downstream.  

Jiang Cheng has decided not to send a babysitter with them.  They're strong enough to handle anything that might cause them issue.  Which should be nothing - Yunmeng Jiang gets a great deal of value out of the river as a trade route, and keeps the waters safe for merchants who don't have daemons to back them up.  

(If he had been any other sect leader, he might have sent them with an evil-detecting compass just in case, the detection of resentful energy being something daemons don't seem capable of.  But it had been Wei Wuxian who had created those, and they are therefore banned at Lotus Pier.)

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"Weren't you going to the conference too?"  Verity asks Sect Leader Jiang.  

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"I can fly much faster than these boats.  I'll catch up to you by the time you reach Caiyi Town."

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Good.  The less that Azure needs to see of him the better.

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Araeneve paces along the water, zig-zagging back and forth within range of the boat and incidentally purifying the water as they watch the shores.  

Verity rows.  It's been too long since she had a chance to do anything physically tiring with her human body, and it's nice to have something to do that's practical.  

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If Verity ever gets tired, Alizara is tempted to get some extra rope from a village. She's pretty sure they could get to Caiyi Town much faster if they put a harness on Araeneve and have them pull the boat.

In the meantime, she has a few books to read.  

This one contains basic information on cultivation sects.

The ideal, laid out hundreds of years ago by Wen Mao, was that each sect was to be made of a single clan related by blood.  They would work much like the old nobility of the Fleet and Kanto before it, passing leadership down from parent to child.

In practice, there were some alterations for practicality - it was hard for a sect to get up to a stable and successful size on internal births alone.  Cultivators rarely had more than two children, and night hunting was dangerous enough that a decent number of cultivators died before having even that many.  Promising youngsters were taken in, in methods that varied per sect.  It had the benefit of unrelated cultivators in a sect who could marry one another instead of needing to seek out all marriages elsewhere, tying them together in a slightly different sort of internal web and keeping valuable techniques from getting into the hands of rival sects.  

This resulted in something of a tiered system among the cultivators.  The main family, who ruled the sects and passed leadership through the eldest sons.  Branch families who could take over if disaster struck the main line, and who were entrusted with high-ranked administration.  And servant cultivators, common troops who did much of the actual field work in eliminating monsters from the land, or performed other tasks such as creating spiritual weapons.  A few sects (the Jiang and Lan did not, the Jin and Nie did) have a fourth tier consisting of servants without cultivation training. 

The Jiang sect in particular had been almost entirely wiped out by another sect a little over a decade ago.  Some had been out on patrol, but many of those died in the subsequent war, or in the battle against the traitorous Yiling Patriarch.  Jiang Wanyin - Sect Leader Jiang - was the only one of his bloodline remaining.  Other than maternal relatives and married out women, who did not count. 

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This is, unfortunately, a promising reason to stay in Lotus Pier as opposed to other locations.  It sounds like it would be easier to work their way to a higher ranking position there than elsewhere, where nepotism and family lines are more entrenched.  He still intends to keep looking for other alternatives.

It only takes looking at a few villages before Azure decides strongly against avoiding cultivators altogether.  He's simply not cut out for being a farmer in a pre-industrial society.  

The people don't look terribly unhappy.  (Not that he can tell, given that they don't enter the towns and Florentho doesn't get even within the fuzzy range.)  There are still such stark differences between themselves and the cultivators and the farmers.  Proper childhood nutrition, modern medicine, fine clothing.  

The clothing in particular fascinates him.  Silk on the Fleet was the standard.  Common, mundane, created in bulk from common Moves learnable by a large subset of daemons.  Here, the fabrics they had access to - all of the materials they had access to - were different and meant different things.

 

He wishes he could set up Teleport spots.  Ideally placed, the distance they're travelling would require 7 way stations to teleport between.  Unfortunately, Teleport is unknown here.  He's not going to trust his life that a bunch of strangers would consistently keep a location clear.  

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That won't be a problem once Azure can fly on a sword.  They can memorize patches of sky over the river.  

She gets distracted trying to figure out if the ideal shape for a flying machine is really the exact same shape as the ideal monster-slaying weapon, or if this is just a cultural thing.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have enough knowledge on either of those subjects.

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The week-long trip progresses.  The small towns they pass are all much the same as each other, and the townsfolk continue to be wary and alarmed at the strange creatures that are travelling down the river.

Some of this alarm gets them attention in the form of cultivators from other sects trying to figure out if they're some kind of monster.  These ones in pale cyan robes, for example.

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Florentho has taken to standing watch on the bow, being less bothered by the sunlight than the humans.  He bows towards the cultivators, which presumably a monster wouldn't.  

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Cyan-robe cultivators are still suspicious, and continue watching from shore for a while.  The boat's markings are clearly from Lotus Pier.  

Finally deciding to approach, one of them flips onto their sword and hovers over.  They are from the Shao sect, one of the tiny ones at the edges of Yunmeng.  Who and what are they?

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Azure can introduce everyone.  He decides against explaining that daemons are their souls, since that seems too complicated.  Instead, he just points to them and mentions their names, and that they're sentient.  There's also the matter of not being sure how much information he's supposed to be giving out.  They can hardly be a secret - the boat isn't big enough to hide Araeneve and Salanaya even if the canopy had doors.  

"We're under orders by Sect Leader Jiang to travel to Cloud Recesses."

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They are so curious, but also seem terrified of getting on Sect Leader Jiang's bad side by slowing them down.

This group in particular isn't on any kind of time limit, and their sect leader is probably going to want to know about this sort of thing.  Judging by the current time of day and speed of the boat, they guess the town that they'll likely be stopping at this evening.  Perhaps they could chat on shore in the evening?

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Florentho isn't sensing any hostility, and Alizara seems eager to have someone to ask questions of.  

Azure has questions of his own.  He really does need to get more perspectives of this world.

The Lotus Pier healer had suggested they avoid non-cultivators until they formed golden cores.  Diseases could spread.  That meant sleeping in the boat, washing thoroughly, and casting Life Dew as much as he can per day for whatever slight boost it offered to non-daemons.  They've also been given aromatic salves to cover themselves in to drive away biting insects, and fine netting to put over the open front and back of the boat.  At least they never have to worry about clean drinking water with Araeneve around.

This was entirely reasonable, but it did mean that Azure wasn't able to get all of the perspectives he wanted.  Not when everyone was so suspicious of Florentho and none of the humans could go into town.

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Cyan cultivators are back and as curious as ever.

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Azure has had a few hours to think of how to phrase things.  He's decided to explain that they're from another world, and that everyone on their original world has a daemon since birth.  He does not explain that the daemons are souls or that Iarlaith is some kind of mysterious interdimensional twin of Sect Leader Nie.  The first is apparently strange enough to locals that it would derail the conversation as well as not relevant to curious strangers; the second Iarlaith has asked to keep close until they figure out the mystery themselves.  

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These aren't important cultivators, and haven't seen Sect Leader Nie in person, so this holds up.

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If they seem finished, he has some questions of his own.

"What is your opinion on Yunmeng Jiang?"

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"Sect Leader Jiang is scary," one of them says in a whisper, to the obvious agreement of the others.  It is commonly understood that it is unwise to offend Sect Leader Jiang, and that he is easily offended.

They have a number of stories, though nothing first-hand.

He is obsessed with seeking out his dead marital brother, who he killed himself seven years ago.  Sect Leader Jiang has been seen hunting shifty individuals, shouting that they're possessed by the Yiling Patriarch, then whipping them.  Sometimes they're taken away to Lotus Pier where they're never seen again.  They're probably locked in his dungeon forever.  Admittedly, those ones are ones that have definitely been doing demonic cultivation.  Which is bad.

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They don't have context on a lot of this.  What is demonic cultivation?  Is possession even a real thing?  Who was the Yiling Patriarch?  He'd been mentioned by their book as a traitor, but nothing else.

Azure's own personal dislike is making him want to believe them.  And they do seem to be being honest.  He reluctantly has to admit that they did get one thing wrong, however.  They've been inside of Lotus Pier's dungeon, and it was empty and rather small.

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Demonic cultivation is a form of cultivation which runs on resentful energy, and involves raising and controlling corpses and the dead.  It corrupts people and turns them crazy and evil.  And also causes them to be hunted down by Sandu Shengshou, if the insanity and general social scorn wasn't bad enough.  

Possession is a thing.  It's one of many things that the dead can do to harm the living if they aren't given the proper burial rites or have unfinished grievances in life that are preventing them from passing on.  Stopping ghosts is one of the things all cultivators do, not just Sect Leader Jiang.  He's just strange in that he's obsessed with looking for a very particular soul.  And admittedly demonic cultivators who have controlled evil ghosts are probably going to be better at being evil ghosts. 

The Yiling Patriarch started off as Wei Wuxian, the son of a servant who had been taken in by the previous Sect Leader Jiang and raised as a brother to Jiang Wanyin.  He vanished at the start of the Sunshot Campaign and came back with demonic cultivation and used it in the war.  After the war was won, he took control of the Wen cultivators himself and started building an army of their enemies and the dead, then started murdering people.  Sandu Shengshou had to kill him himself.  Otherwise, the entire world would have eventually fallen under his reign.

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He mentally notes all of this.  That is, unfortunately, something of a good reason.  

Azure asks some clarifying questions about the Sunshot Campaign.  He learns that the Qishan Wen were the ones being fought against, which had been implied but not explicitly stated. 

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Alizara wants to know more about demonic cultivation.  And evil.  How is evil defined?  How is it measured?  Is it possible to control corpses with regular spiritual energy?  How many types of energy are there?

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They find these questions concerning!  Is she trying to get interrogated by Sandu Shengshou?  

There are evil detecting compasses, so it must be measurable or detectable in some way.  Though, that's an invention of the Yiling Patriarch, so Lotus Pier doesn't have any.  Even though the compasses aren't demonic cultivation themselves, Sect Leader Jiang bans them and anything else that the Yiling Patriarch invented just in case.  Being so close to Yunmeng, their little clan also avoids them to keep from getting on his bad side.  They give her a little bit of the theory, but don't know much of it themselves beyond what they need to have become cultivators at all.

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Azure really doesn't like the thought of Sect Leader Jiang getting anywhere near his sister.  He pulls her away, reinforcing their warning with a more explicit one.  They need to avoid causing any danger to themselves.

Behind them, Florentho is the one to admit that they're afraid of him.  They can't fight someone who can take out Araeneve, and this seems like a situation where they might get hurt if they break the rules, and he's still too new to know what all of the rules are.

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"How am I supposed to learn things if I can't ask questions?" she asks.  Though does eventually get wheedled into a promise to be careful asking questions about anything that might be related.

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Their retreat means that Iarlaith and Verity are the ones left to talk.  

Iarlaith wants to know more about the Nie sect.

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They are - or were - some of the fiercest warriors in the land.  The last Sect Leader before the current one was Chifeng-zun, general of the Sunshot Campaign and a powerful fighter.  He died young, even by the standards of the Qinghe Nie who are prone to qi deviations.

As for the current leader, their information matches what Iarlaith has already been told.  Nie Huaisang is anxious and rather useless, and many of the clans are starting to think of the sect as no longer one of the great ones on par with Jin and Lan and Jiang.

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Iarlaith sighs.  If it turns out that he really is some kind of inter-dimensional copy of the Head-shaker, that's going to be so embarrassing.  At least no one will try to make him do anything useful.

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Well, they have the information they asked for, and seem to have exhausted the aliens' questions, so the cultivators can leave them to their sleep.  

Night passes, and day, then another and another.  The river is quite long.  They meditate and watch the scenery and reread their few books, including the Cloud Recesses rule book which they might actually manage to memorize out of boredom if nothing else.

They take turns on night watch, which keeps them out of trouble.  The river is safe, the few issues being suspicious cultivators coming to check on the odd creatures. 

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"I miss video games," Iarlaith whines.  "And the internet."

"Everything is so far apart here.  They did this just to vex me, I'm sure of it.  Sure, some of these places are farms, but then there's just trees and random open fields?"

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"Huh.  I used to play a lot of video games," she considers, turning back from where she'd been staring at the far shore.  "I haven't really missed them, though.  They were something I could do when I wasn't able to do anything else.  But here there are new things to do, and meditation that does something."

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Iarlaith finds this argument baffling.  "But there were so many things to do on the Fleet?  Even in Lotus Pier there wasn't that much to do."

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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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Typical.

Jiang Cheng kind of wants to chase after him anyway, no matter how immature that would be.  Instead, he straightens himself and fits his face back into a scowl.

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???

 

"Who was that?"  Azure asks quietly, eyebrows raised.

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"Hanguang-jun, brother of the Lan's Sect Leader.

"He has a problem with me."

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Azure noticed!

"Why do you suppose he hates you?" he asks, automatically going for a phrasing that doesn't technically confirm it.  

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He is answered by a torrent of various other emotions, all tangled up.  Rage, annoyance, guilt, grief.  Nothing positive.

"It's a long story."

One that he doesn't want to tell at all.  Oak Azure can get it from someone else, and Jiang Cheng doesn't especially care whether or not he gets it accurately.

His cultivators quietly grouse about getting relegated to the dining hall early instead of getting to look around.  Jiang Cheng ignores them - the gardens are going to look the same tomorrow as they have for the past several years.  

"Keep them out of trouble.  And you four," he says to the aliens, "Don't go running off.  I'm going to find Nie Huaisang."

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The aliens stay put.  Like everywhere else on this planet, there aren't designated spots for daemons to sit.  This is complicated by the assigned seating.  Cloud Recesses' hall isn't cramped by any means, but it does lead to a bit of milling around and asking whether they ought to nudge the back rows of tables a bit forward or not.

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Jin Guangyao has been keeping an eye out for the Jiang contingent, and carefully disengages himself from his previous conversation once they show up.  

He is somewhat panicking about the lack of proper preparation for daemons.  Not that he could blame Er-ge for not considering the daemons - not when Cloud Recesses had a strict no-pets policy.  They just don't consider animals and the spaces they take up beyond the abstract information that Jin Ling has a dog which he never brings, and that horses and donkeys need to be handed over to stable hands at the end of the day.  

In either case, he can swiftly offer Er-ge helpful advice for shifting them, if Er-ge wishes?  If the Jiang sect is moved to the front, then the daemons can sit in the corner space currently holding a pair of easily-moved plants.  And the lesser sects can be nudged here, and here, and there... Cao and Ren shouldn't be put together, not with the falling out between their daughters, but Cao would fit well between Ouyang and Lai.  But of course the final decision is up to Er-ge, Jin Guangyao only wishes to assist him.  

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Xichen appreciates the help.  A-yao is always so thoughtful, and talented at keeping the peace before anyone else would even suspect a conflict.  This makes the shuffling around of the little markers denoting each clan's seats go very quickly.  Fast enough that they can then speak with the newly re-seated aliens before Jiang Cheng manages to find Nie Huaisang.

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The Yunmeng Jiang cultivators are kind of leery about this, but rise and bow to their host.  They have been told to intimidate anyone who approaches, but Zewu-jun is far above their station.  So, he can talk to the aliens, and they'll just glare at anyone else who comes near?

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Introductions are made.  He is known as Zewu-jun, the sect leader of Gusu Lan, and this is Lianfang-zun who leads Lanling Jin and is also the Chief Cultivator.

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From their emotions, Azure is also fairly confident that they're romantically involved.  He keeps this to himself.

They provide their own names, including the family names for everyone who has one, and motion to which daemon matches which human. 

The daemons separate long enough to do the best approximation of bows, but go right back to their pile afterwards.  The humans are doing their best to fit in with the customs of this place, but daemons have never followed those anywhere and they've all decided it would be best to make that obvious early on.

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Jin Guangyao doesn't know exactly how to react to the daemons.  He's not offended by their ignoring of him, at least.  It helps that rocks and animals don't normally pay deference.  Florentho might be bipedal but he really doesn't look human. 

He repeats the names back.  Jin Guangyao has always been very, very good at names.  This stands out especially well in this instance, as he is so far the only person they've met on this planet who manages to pronounce all of their names properly on the first try despite the foreign sounds.  He even makes it sound natural, rather than like he's trying too hard to get their exact sounds and winding up sounding like he's vocally italicizing them like most people wind up doing.  He does wind up referring to Verity as Ver-guniang, since it's not verbally obvious that there was a difference with hers.

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Verity winces, but doesn't correct him.  She is just going to have to adapt to that.  Well, unless she gets impressive enough to get a title or moniker of some sort.

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The others have all taken to being called by the names of their noble houses much more readily.  Verity is strange among them in that she doesn't care if the syllables are mangled so long as they're all there.  The others mostly feel the opposite way.

"I've heard that you know Sect Leader Nie?  Sect Leader Jiang says that we have similar personalities, not just appearance."

He is visibly distressed by this.  The Head-shaker was incompetent, lazy, and a nervous wreck, according to everyone they'd met since arriving.  Iarlaith doesn't have a fan, but fidgets with the ends of his sleeves.

Iarlaith is younger than Nie Huaisang, but Nie Huaisang is a cultivator and still in the extended phase of his life where he looks twenty-five.  The other three aliens are wearing borrowed formal robes matching their daemons' colors, if not quite as bright and lacking in the mimicry patterns that the clothing would have had on the Fleet.  This was both easier and harder with Verity, who wears Yunmeng Jiang's signature color but is unusually tall even by the standards of cultivators, who developed with golden cores that nudge their bodies taller and prettier on top of being wealthy enough to afford decent nutrition.  Iarlaith's is instead white and a reddish taupe, like Emerimis' wings and chest.  Nie Huaisang would be wearing some kind of gray to the event, and Sect Leader Jiang (or more likely whoever he'd sent to handle clothing for them) apparently wanted to make sure they couldn't be mistaken for each other. 

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If he didn't have other confirmation he would have suspected that Nie Huaisang was playing some kind of elaborate prank.  Nie Huaisang would likely have enjoyed such a prank, but Jiang Cheng would never have gone along with something this outrageous in front of everyone. 

That's the look that Nie Huaisang usually gets not long before he starts crying.  Jin Guangyao is concerned but not surprised at Iarlaith's reaction.  He's momentarily rather angry with Jiang Cheng - if anyone was speaking about Nie Huaisang, it would have presumably been him.  This reaction is kept very well hidden.  He considers what he can say that is both comforting and not going to be shown as false as soon as Jiang Cheng shows up.

"Nie Huaisang is a good friend of mine," he says, putting on a comforting smile. 

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That's nice.  Well, maybe.  Iarlaith will choose to be happy about it, he supposes.

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He doesn't sigh in relief, because he has far more control over his face than that.  Nie Huaisang is precious to him, but of everyone he could have had two of Nie Huaisang would be far down the list.  A second Zewu-jun would have been lovely. 

Speaking of Nie Huaisang, it seems that he's managed to hide himself pretty well.  Jiang Cheng still isn't back.  None of the other guests are willing to interrupt the Chief Cultivator and Zewu-jun, though a number have moved into the hall early after them to gawk at the daemons from a polite distance away. 

"How have you found the trip here?"  He asks, focusing on the others.  Specifically, Verity, who took the other front seat.

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She regrets that.  Even if it was only to let Alizara and Azure take the back seats together.  She hates talking to politicians.  At least she has a script to follow.  'Just agree with anything they say that isn't obviously wrong, and compliment things,' as Azure had told her numerous times in the past several years.

"Our trip here was peaceful.  This place is so much larger than the Fleet."

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"Does the scenery around the Fleet look very different?"

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"Very different.  Outside of our ships is only empty space, like the night sky.  There are stars, but we aren't traveling fast enough for them to be visibly moving."

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"Ah."

He is having difficulty imagining that, or how it's even possible.  She doesn't seem to be lying, at least.  He pictures the largest ocean merchant vessels, their narrow wooden hallways and crowded crew quarters. 

"Landing in Lotus Pier must have been a very different experience.  The lotus lakes surrounding it are some of the most beautiful terrain around any of the homes of the Great Sects.  Cloud Recesses being another, of course," he says, turning to Lan Xichen with a smile.

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"Yes, Lotus Pier is very beautiful," she agrees dutifully.

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"And how have you found Sect Leader Jiang?"

Jiang Cheng isn't the most welcoming person in the world.  He pays close attention, curious what reaction they've had to his attitude.

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"Sandu Shengshou is also beautiful," she says, visibly uncertain.

Verity is pretty sure this isn't the correct response.  Why is he talking to her anyway?  She is going to swap seats with Azure as soon as Lianfang-zun goes away so this doesn't happen again.

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He pauses briefly.  "I doubt many people would argue."

Lan Xichen is prettier.  Not that he'd ever say that, of course.  Sect Leader Jiang might hear and spend the next six months in a snit about it and no one wants to deal with his dramatics.

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Oh my god, Verity.

"Sect Leader Jiang has been very generous in allowing us to find our footing in this new land.  We are very grateful for the opportunity, and for his assistance in finding out what the connection between Sect Leader Nie and Iarlaith could be."

Which is what he was actually looking for, Verity.  It's a shame that these tables are too far away for him to surreptitiously elbow her.  Why does she always do this?

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That is what Jin Guangyao was expecting.  Oak Azure can get a more genuine smile out of him. 

"Yes, being permitted entry into one of the cultivation sects is a great privilege and rare opportunity.  Though you are also welcome to visit Carp Tower, should you prefer a change of scenery."

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Sect Leader Jiang takes that moment to step into the bubble of clear space between their conversation and the gawkers, glaring harsh enough at the assembled onlookers that several retreat back to their seats. 

Nie Huaisang had been hiding out by the side of one of the streams they'd played beside as children.  Even though their correspondence had clearly indicated that Jiang Cheng wanted to find and talk to him.  Which is just typical of Nie Huaisang, really. 

Jiang Cheng isn't dragging Nie Huaisang, but he gives off the impression that he would.

Hearing the last sentence, he scoffs.  "Trying to steal my guests, Jin Guangyao?"

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"Not at all!" he lies. 

"It's so good that you're here."

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Nie Huaisang doesn't seem to be paying attention to Jin Guangyao and Jiang Cheng's conversation.  Though, there is a brief flare of intense anger when he happens to glance at Jin Guangyao as he asks after the nephew the two of them share.  It doesn't show on his face; only Florentho is able to catch it amid the churning of anxiety that makes up his default mood.  He is, despite his age and his familiarity with the area, actually much more nervous than Iarlaith.

He lets himself get distracted looking over this Rys Iarlaith, making a grand show of examining.  "My, what a handsome young man."

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"It's like looking into a mirror," he comments. 

They even have similar expressions.  Somewhat wary of the other, not sure whether or not to show it. 

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Nie Huaisang leans close to his doppelganger.  "I think we ought to go find out exactly how similar we are.  There's over an hour left before everyone actually has to start sitting down, and the Lan are so by-the-books that they won't actually start the meal just because so many people are already sitting.  Let's see if the similarities go all the way down," he says with a lascivious smile.

And more importantly, lets him get his copy out of view of Jin Guangyao.

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"Oh, that sounds like fun!" 

And will let him ask questions without an audience.  He'd feel bad about the deception, but if Nie Huaisang really is 'him' in some way he'll understand, and if he's not then he doesn't especially care right now.

Emerimis stays in the daemon pile, since he can now, and just because he's interested in where he's going doesn't mean that he's not also interested in where he was.  They're so happy that they can be in multiple places now.

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"I know a shortcut," Huaisang says, using his years of exploring Cloud Recess for 'good'. 

They vanish through a side hall leading towards the kitchens, which also has a quick way to the Nie guest quarters if one happens to step over a narrow border between the official paths. 

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What the Fuck? That is the most disgusting thing that Jiang Cheng has ever witnessed.  Ew!  Jiang Cheng would never do that with his mysterious alien doppelganger, if he had one.  The very thought turns his stomach.  Nie Huaisang wasn't even being subtle about it.  The least he could do is not make Jiang Cheng think about it.

And now another sect leader is trying to steal his guests.  His replies to Jin Guangyao get even more snappish.

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It doesn't look like the cultivators who were talking to them are paying them any attention right now, since doing so would attract the ire of Sect Leader Jiang.  Verity moves back to talk to Alizara and Azure.  She doesn't like that this means her back is to the room of staring watchers, but she might as well get to talk to them before the formal event starts and she has to sit still and be quiet.  Araeneve watches the room.

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Azure is horrified.  Though at least the disgust he feels is only being shared by one other person - no one else in range seems to care.  Somehow.  Ewww.

He hopes that Iarlaith's actions don't reflect on the rest of them.

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Verity is mostly just amused. 

"You wouldn't be tempted, if you found another version of yourself?"

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"The other Alizara would also be a girl, so no."

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Aaaa why are they talking about this.  He wants to gouge his ears out.  Both at having to imagine his sister doing anything, and also at the thought of having to...

"Ew!  No, that's basically incest.  Gross."

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Verity laughs and pats his arm, and shrugs.  "I mean, it wouldn't be the first thing I'd do," she whispers, trying very hard not to laugh.

"I wish they'd stuck around for a little while.  I'm curious about this shared-face-thing too."

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This is the worst conversation and he is done with it.

"I'm sure they'll tell us anything important later."  And this way he won't have to overhear their flirting. 

Though, Emerimis is still in the daemon pile with Florentho and doesn't seem to be picking up anything of the sort from his human.  Azure is beginning to suspect that Iarlaith and Nie Huaisang just used that as an excuse, and they're actually talking about something else.  Which is still annoying - it still has the negative effect of people thinking him improper. 

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Nie Huaisang leads Iarlaith into his personal guest quarters.  Switching his fan to his other hand for a moment, he takes the time to carefully draw a sigil in the air and send it to the far wall.  He then repeats the action for the other three walls, the ceiling, and the floor. 

"These'll stop us from being overheard." 

He says this much less flirtatiously than before the barrier went up.  It's not that it wouldn't be interesting, but he isn't that irresponsible.

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"Aww.  You were only teasing me?  How rude," he flutters back.  The implied 'oh good, this is going to be a useful conversation that answers my questions' is still fairly obvious. 

"Almost as rude as making me look bad by association."

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"It's not like I could have known that an alien with my face and personality would show up."

He prepares tea and settles himself at the table.  Iarlaith is motioned to join him. 

"I am lazy," he points out.  "And do hate fighting, and training, and stress, and any sort of work that isn't painting.  I'm a nervous wreck who is barely keeping my sect at a functional level.  Very little of what people know about me is technically wrong. 

"But enough about me.  What are you like?"

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Nie Huaisang extracts the entirety of Iarlaith's life history from him. 

His paternal great-grandmother was in the Rys noble line, but his grandfather wasn't the first-born.  By the old rules of how Fleet noble names used to work back when they were still in use, he wouldn't be a Rys.  But he needed a name for this place.  He... might have counted as Rys if he'd been born here?  But they have their heirs gendered for some reason, so maybe not. 

His parents died young, leaving him with his older half-brother.  Muiredach-and-Valaxa.  Who might be a match to Nie Mingjue?  Their fathers also seem to match, insofar as he has information on either of them.  Valaxa is a steelix, an unusually large daemon variant.  He makes some money through using Substitute to harvest fiber, which is... taxing.  But profitable.  Enough that they live comfortably.

(This gets diverted into a discussion on social tiers and just how few people on the Fleet need to be farmers compared to here.)

Iarlaith himself is in school to become a teacher.  He likes kids, and needs to do something with his life.  Mostly, though, teacher was the least unpleasant thing on the list of jobs that honchcrow daemon'd people were supposedly good at.

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"Do you need to do something that honchcrow are good at?"

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"No.  We don't have legal castes or anything.  There's a lot of pressure for it though.

"Lots of jobs require special abilities or moves.  Generating sand for glass, or standing around casting electricity into the generators, or teleporting things between ships... Honchcrow can fly, which means we could be delivery people, but lots of daemons can fly.  That means that we get to do the jobs that theoretically anyone can do.

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"I would have liked to be an artist, I suppose.  If I had to be something."

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"I like poetry, but I wouldn't want to do it for a job.

"Anyway, we're getting off topic.  What have we fallen into and how do I stay out of it?"

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It's going to take more than just being another version of Nie Huaisang to get him to actually spill any secrets.  This one is... 22 or so?  Probably not much older, given that he's not a cultivator.  It is a bit hard to tell - most people who aren't cultivators also lack proper nutrition and healthcare, but he looks as healthy as a cultivator. 

"Oh, things.  Things I'd rather not have to deal with.  You're so lucky to be avoiding them."

Nie Huaisang lapses into silence.  He considers his priorities.  What is safest for himself?  What is most likely to get him his revenge?  Distant but still present: that it would be a shame to let his other self get hurt, either.

Bringing Iarlaith to the Unclean Realm would put him in a spotlight there, right in front of everyone who knows Nie Huaisang best.  He is an excellent actor, but he doesn't truly know what he would have been like if he'd never had to pretend.  Not to mention that any role is going to slowly shift over time.

Letting him go back to Lotus Pier could also be a risk.  He can't advise or teach him in Lotus Pier.

There's also the matter of keeping the aliens all in one place.  Jin Guangyao might try to turn them to his side or do something with them, and keeping them out of his hands sounds like a generally good idea.  If one leaves alone, the rest might split up too, and then he'll have to deal with 4 individuals instead of a group.

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Iarlaith watches him think.  Nie Huaisang is being very quiet.  He wonders if he's communicating in some way with his soul, even though it isn't in a form like Emerimis.  That sounds lonely.  Especially since he doesn't have his brother, either.

(Back in the hall with the other humans, Emerimis snuggles up with the others for another moment, then decides to get some fresh air in a tree outside of Florentho's range.)

He wants no part in whatever complicated politics Nie Huaisang is not talking to him about.  Though that does leave the question of how Nie Huaisang managed to get involved.  And he does seem to be involved?  It doesn't seem like just a matter of being a sect leader, either.  It seems... personal? 

"How did your version of Muiredach die?"

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"As far as anyone knows, including you, right now, he died from a qi deviation.  A natural result of his bad temper and our family's saber cultivation."

He holds his rage in check, but visible beneath the surface.  He could hide it even from Iarlaith if he wanted to.  He sees little reason to bother.  Any him would feel the same about their brothers.

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Iarlaith is more scared and less angry, actually.  "What am I supposed to do?"

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"...I don't know."  He fans himself, out of habit.  Nie Huaisang doesn't have an immediate answer.  It seems like the sort of thing best left to simmer in the back of his mind for a while.  For the moment, he decides to not tell Iarlaith anything about Jin Guangyao.  He is younger, and might be more impulsive, and doesn't want clumsy help from someone who doesn't know the game board.  Even a warning, right now, would be enough for him to put it together.  What he has already said is going to be warning enough, in general, and he can maybe dribble out more hints later if he finds it necessary.

"I'll have to think on it.  Just pretend you know nothing.  It's what I do most of the time, and it works pretty well."

So, time to distract his other self and change the subject.

"Anyway.  You landed in Lotus Pier of all places!  What is Sect Leader Jiang like from your perspective?"

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Iarlaith considers this.  "Intimidating.  He doesn't seem to want me to be there.  I don't know what else...  He's really hot?  That's not useful but it's hard to ignore...  Other than that, it's not like I've spent much time around him.  Sect Leaders apparently have lots of things to do that aren't talk to aliens."

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"I regret to inform you that he is straight.  Ah, of the five great handsome men of our generation, two are dead, one is straight, one is taken, and one is... well, I have my suspicions over exactly what his deal is, but it works out to being 'not available' too."

And to the other half of Iarlaith's comment: "Sect Leaders have so much to do," he repeats, woeful.  "All day I have people bothering me to do things!"

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"At least you're being told what to do, even if you don't want to do it?"  That isn't much of a silver lining.  But it reminds him of his own problem.

"Apparently fully trained cultivators can take down even Legendaries.  I'm not going to be of any use.  They seemed impressed with Azure-and-Florentho's teleporting, and Alizara memorized practically every encyclopedia article on the Fleet and is going to be useful at inventing useful things.  But I'm.  Aside from things like art techniques, I'm useless!  And I normally wouldn't mind being useless, but there's no safety nets here other than family, and mine are in another dimension.  And what am I supposed to do?  I can't run off and be a farmer!  I don't know how to farm.  I never even kept a plant alive for more than a week."

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"Okay, okay.  Calm down."  He pats Iarlaith's shoulder, and scoots over to hug him.  "We're basically the same person.  That means you're basically a Nie.  You can come to the Unclean Realm if Sect Leader Jiang tries to make you leave.  But I don't think he will - if he didn't throw you out on the first night it's going to take quite a lot to get him to change his mind."

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"Do you know him well?"

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"As well as anyone living.  We were friends as teenagers, attending lectures here in Cloud Recesses."

Nie Huaisang isn't sure what else he can say.  People are difficult to succinctly describe and Jiang Cheng is a particularly tough case.  He was easy to read, but hard to understand.  He lies half of the time, but not the half of the time that gets him what he wants.  Short tempered and prideful, yet one of the most reasonable sect leaders in terms of making well-thought out decisions and supporting stable policies.  Then there's the weird stuff like his extreme stance on demonic cultivation and the fact that he utterly fails every attempted date the matchmakers send him on. 

"Where do you think the others will try to go, long term?"

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"It's hard to say," Iarlaith demurs automatically, though he has a pretty good idea of what the others are thinking, and the other him is almost certainly already aware of that.

"Based on the little I know so far... Verity really likes Lotus Pier.  Azure hates Sect Leader Jiang in particular.  Part of it is that he has strong opinions about leadership and won't be happy anywhere but a democracy.  There's no way that Sect Leader Jiang would get elected to anything on the Fleet.  Alizara will go wherever Azure does, unless somewhere on this planet has electricity and computers."

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"What are electricity and computers?"

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Oh no Iarlaith has no idea how to explain this to someone from a pre-industrial society.  Electricity just is.  It is in the walls and you plug stuff into it and it works.  He knows how to use it, and how to be safe around it, but not the basic concept.  Computers are even harder to explain.

Rather than successfully answering the question, he gets flustered and winds up crying, "I don't know!  I don't know how to describe them.  Ask Alizara!"