Jan 21, 2021 3:33 PM
To Eleutheria.
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Months earlier-

Thorn's failure to secure any truly spectacular officers does not mean those they did eventually find are bad at their jobs. A splinter of the rat gang assisting a Tackety whose previous engine was blown up by pirates, a cook and quartermaster recruited from one of the dockside pubs, a respectable junior navigator with a nervous tic who figured her best shot at seeing Eleutheria and not dying was with the mysterious and staggeringly well-equipped new captain, a somewhat paranoid driver who is skilled enough to be worth it and should at least be good at avoiding hazards.

They are very well-equipped. Many aspects of the engine have been upgraded beyond the already high standard of her construction. Her hull is suffused with antimagic and shielding, equipped with mining and scanning equipment, one of the cabins transformed into a respectable medbay.

She's a beautiful locomotive and Lenora grins all the time about it. All she needs is a name.

 

The fungal riot of Hybras's surroundings is suffused with fetid light, distant starlight being diffused by clouds of floating spores. The purchased charts insist that this is the proper way to Hybras, and they are finally proven correct after the third time Lenora looses her gatling-cannon to clear away unpleasant quantities of fungus over an important passage. A wide space stands before them, a great fungal ring supporting towers of fungal flesh, some of it red and runny. And there is a small trainyard, with a few houses on the lower slope nearby. They have found Hybras.

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Thorn considers a few names for the new locomotive, including one she's been saving for herself - but it doesn't fit a locomotive. She discusses with Lenora, and they settle on "Morningstar." An appropriate name for a vessel supplied by Devils.

Hybras is a welcome sight, for all its fungal rot. Another new place to see, another place where fuel and supplies can be laid in. Thorn smiles.

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The Navigator seems relieved and continues annotating the charts in a much better mood. The driver might be muttering about what sort of dangers could exist on Hybras.

Lenora quietly tells her captain, "From what I've heard we'll want to bring ashore a supply of ka. I don't know the details but I heard a rumor that everyone on Hybras is old."

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She nods. "Stock from my backpack should suffice, but we have the stores if need be." 

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The approach to Hybras is uneventful. The positioning of the railyard means it's a long half hour of steaming until they've crossed the gap, turned around, and lined up for docking.

The Navigator suggests not allowing shore leave. This place makes her uneasy. She doubts the driver will be willing to leave the Morningstar at all.

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Thorn indeed forbids shore leave. She's familiar enough with the eccentric nature of the Reach's flora, and that goes quadruple for the fungi. She thinks her personal system can handle it, but otherwise? Everyone aboard stays aboard.

Lenora can come if she wishes to risk herself. After all, she has insurance.

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"I'm torn. One the one hand, people do manage to live here, apparently. On the second hand, fungus. On the third hand, having a 'native' around might be a useful perspective if weird things try to happen to you. On the fourth, I don't want to appear too, uh, favoristic."

She flips a Sovereign. Tails. "I'm staying here. I'll go look for you if you're not back by dark though."

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"Alright. Thank you." 

She goes and scouts the town. 

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Spores on the breeze smell about how you would expect. The residents come out to greet her, led by a Wizened Mayor. His back is bent, but his pace is steady. His assistant of slightly fewer years gently nudges them both around a mushroom sprouting up in the path and towards a park bench.

"Welcome, welcome. What brings you to our peaceful little hideaway?"

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"Mail, trade and the search for a certain relay." She fishes in her belt bag and pulls out a stack of letters. "Here. And then let's talk trade. I have antiaging magic for sale - twelve sovereigns a month, gift one month free for every month purchased - and I'm looking to buy Hours at a thousand times market rate."

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The assistant takes the letters and says she'll get them sorted. They don't have any return mail as far as she knows.

The mayor frowns. "Our best years were spent by others. We had a plan to address that," he gestures vaguely - maybe towards a particular fungus tower, maybe towards a sort of town hall, where an elderly carpenter is working on a stage(?). "But it won't come to fruition for a while. What's got you in such a tizzy to get a little extra spare time?"

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She runs a hand through her hair. "I have a way to apply time just when it's needed, to avoid a fatal accident or similar. With that technique, even a few spare moments can be precious."

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They look at each other.

"We'll see if we can rustle anything up. We're not in much of a hurry around here. There's a dispensary down the way if you'd like to pick up food and fuel, though."

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"I will, thank you."

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"Let us know if we can help you with anything else!"

The mayor then starts chatting with his assistant about Mr. Cochran's comment about fence height at the last town meeting. The fungus they steered around in the path suddenly bursts, revealing streamers of rust-brown flesh and loosing a cloud of spores. Neither pay it any mind.

The dispensary is unlocked and empty, with a pull-bell on one wall that says 'ring for service'. Open barrels of coal and sealed crates of food much like the ones sold in New Winchester are plainly visible, with a thin layer of dust. Though the expiration dates look a bit closer to the line.

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She pulls the cord after first examining it for fungus.

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The cord is fungus free. A thin, glasses-wearing old man emerges from a side door after a minute.

"Eh- Hello. Sorry for the wait. We don't get many customers, it doesn't quite make sense to be here all day, you know?"

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"It's no problem. I'd like to purchase fuel and supplies to restock my engine. Are you quite sure your supplies are fungus free?"

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"Oh, there might be a few spores on the coal but those will burn just fine. And the food is still factory-sealed, people being a lot more choosy about what goes into their mouths. Some varieties of fungus are quite edible, you know," he says in an annoyed tone of voice.

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"I see," she says. She silently thanks herself for stocking up beforehand, but... their supplies could use some bolstering. 

"I'll take two boxes of supplies and eight barrels of coal," she says. "Can you arrange men to load those onto my engine, or will I have to risk my crew?"

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"That'll be a hundred twenty Sovereigns. I can get it all down to your front step but you'll have to be the one to actually bring them aboard."

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"I can do that." 

She counts out the sovereigns for him.

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He busies himself with the barrels, separating the specified number from their kin, muttering.

"I'm not the one you have to look out for, you know. Some of the others are a lot more involved with Mother."

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She drops her voice. "Mother?"

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"You don't know? I shouldn't have said that. Forget I said that."

Clang.

"Some of the fungus is intelligent, or so rumors say."

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"I see," she says. 

She resolves to leave as soon as possible.

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