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Generated: Feb 19, 2021 10:20 PM
Post last updated: Feb 19, 2021 9:48 PM
all roads lead to the city
Saevetei makes new and exciting friends in a new and exciting wasteland
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Saevetei is currently planning her retirement. She feels (rather strongly) that her critical bit for the whole ‘fix the world’ project is done. While she’s absolutely happy to help other people do the work, and maybe pitch in every now and then, it is not going to be her priority, and definitely not her full time job. A couple of decades of peace and quiet and not having the pressure of resurrecting every dead person in the world by herself would do her some good. She’s torn between retiring in the dream world, or putting in the work to find (and fix) a small little island somewhere to bring her friends and family back to life on. Probably that second one, even though it’s more work. She’s the most recognizable person ever in the dream world, and she’d really rather not have people pestering her and treating her like a celebrity. Anonymity sounds great right now. Barring that, she’d like to pick and choose her company, and show up in a couple of decades when this whole project has gained a lot more traction and she’s a bit less, uh, famous. Maybe. That’ll happen, right? Given enough time?

She finishes copying out the map she’d picked out of the library, carries it and the other informational materials she’s gathered so far, and takes it all back to her little cottage in the dream world. All of it’s carefully arranged on her desk for looking at later, and then she takes a deep breath and wills herself back to the waking world.

...

When she wakes up, she’s not nestled comfortably on the couch she decided to take a nap on. She’s also not anywhere in the bustling compound she’s been stuck in for the past far too long. Instead, she’s curled up on some sand, the hot sun above already some of the way through burning her poor skin. Her first thought would be that she’s somehow in the wastes somewhere, except the essence in the air feels far too thick for that. There’s nothing trying to nibble at her and erase her body from existence. It’s just. A desert. Like what she’d find in the dream world, if she went walking for a while with a particularly deserty mood in mind. Except for how she’s definitely awake.

She sits up, huffing with annoyance, and looks for any landmarks.

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Despite the burning sun's unwelcoming glare, there's a river to the south as a source of immediate relief. She'd need to climb down a slight cliff, or find another way down, but it's not that steep a fall, and the river seems to extend a long way to the east, and in the distance she can spot some gigantic ruins of what must have at some point been a bridge. To the north, there are more, taller cliffs, although she can see a break in them to the northwest that probably indicates a pass or path she could take if she wanted to explore.

But by far the closest landmark is the west end of the river, only a few minutes walk if she can find her way down, and right there where the water ends she can spot something that might be tents and campfires and even people. The technological level suggested by the ruins seems pretty unmistakeably high, but the village (tribe?) standing in their shadows seems like a pretty straightforward hunter-gatherer bunch.

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She's so confused. She has a number of ideas of what might have happened, but none of them make any sense. Her most plausible idea is that there was some glitch somewhere, because of her many extremely weird qualities, and she was stuck between dreaming and waking for a very long time. But that doesn't... make sense. Her body would have starved to death, if it'd been this long, and this is definitely the same body she went to bed with, clothes and all. If it were a new one she'd expect to be naked.

For lack of a better idea, she decides to go to the camp to directly ask someone what in the world is going on.

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Turns out there's a fairly easy-to-find path down from the clifflet she woke up at down to the river, and from there it's an easy trek upriver.

Or it would be if it werent for this weird... turtle thing... standing watch near its eggs. There are a couple of its smalls milling about at the beach. And as soon as it spots her it roars (well it's something like a roar but more... turtle-ish...) and starts lumbering in her direction in a mightily unfriendly fashion, all over six feet of it.

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If she dies to a giant turtle-thing she is going to be so mad.

Well. The most obvious thing to do in this situation, armed with only the small athame on her hip, is to run away. She can find another way to the camp, probably, she’s not particularly attached to this direction. Will the turtle-thing stop chasing her if she runs away?

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It will chase her for a bit but when she doesn't turn around to ambush it it stops, watches her for a few seconds, then starts walking back to its nest, looking over its shoulder every now and then.

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Yep, that’s about what she thought. Bye, turtle-thing, good luck with parenting.

Is there another obvious route to the camp, that doesn’t potentially upset a protective guardian of some kind?

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The beach she was travelling along is kinda narrow and there's no real way ahead without going past the turtle. Given how slowly it actually managed to chase her when it tried, she could plausibly just run past it and dodge it if it went for her; alternatively, the river is not so wide nor is its current so strong that a particularly fit person wouldn't be able to swim to one of the long islands in the middle, and although they don't stretch all the way to the encampment she could try to run along them until the river got narrower and then go to the opposite bank instead.

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... ugh. Fine.

Okay. First step: draw the guardian turtle away from the direction she’d like to go. Then, run around it towards the camp, keeping as far a distance between the parent-turtle and herself as possible. While also trying to keep a distance between herself and the babies, in case they’re dangerous, too.

Can this get her past the turtle thing without getting squished into a paste?

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It can! The turtle thing looks very betrayed (or maybe she's projecting) but it is in fact reasonably slow and even when it gets within close enough quarters that it might have been able to hit her, its momentum was carrying it forward enough that it didn't manage to actually arrest it to target her substantially more nimble form. Whatever predators this thing evolved to fend off are probably as slow as it is, or more focused on straightforward offense than agility.

The smalls are not, however, dangerous at all. And in fact they also seem quite unfazed by her, and just watch her pass by undisturbed. They are so harmless she could probably literally snatch one and carry it with her if she wanted, or maybe steal one of the three watermelon-sized eggs hanging about in the nest over there.

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She’ll leave both the eggs and the babies alone, thanks. She’s pretty sure she could get some kind of basic farm growing to maturity faster than it’d take for her to outright starve to death, so. No legitimate reason to bother any of them. They can just keep on being giant turtle-things on their own time.

To the camp! She slows from her sprint to a jog, and then a walk when the big turtle stops chasing her. Sure, she’s barely winded from that, but there’s no reason to exhaust herself pointlessly.

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After walking for another minute she hears the rustling of leaves and a loud growling noise. From the direction of some bushes over there emerges the head of a fairly aggressive-looking alligator that's apparently intent on eating her.

At least it's a regular-sized alligator?

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“Oh, fuck off,” she sighs, and then because she can outrun this, too, she gets to doing that. You ruined your ambush, alligator, how did you even survive this long, being this stupid?

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Probably that was the predator that the slow turtle thing evolved to deal with. It is in fact about as slow as the turtle, but it is also substantially more persistent about chasing her and will keep doing it for longer than would be at all reasonable.

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Wow, that's so stupid. This is such an incredibly stupid alligator. Are there any rocks nearby to throw at it to dissuade it from its very stupid chase? Because this is just unreasonable.

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Many rocks! The beach is littered with them, small stones and large rocks and big boulders and all that. Also branches and other pieces of flora that the river has brought from here and there.

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Great! She throws rocks at the alligator to see if that will get it to go away. Hey, alligator, is she looking unappetizing now?

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No because now it is pissed.

Not that this changes much other than making it growl some more and maybe try (and mostly fail) to use its stubby little legs to better effect, but it's the principle of the thing.

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Wow.

How is this thing even alive? It's just so monumentally stupid. She could certainly kill it with time, patience, and just a sliver of intelligence, but she's missing that second one, so. Back to running it is, then. It'll leave her alone eventually, probably, or she'll have a very inept alligator stalker until the end of time. She guesses.

"It's not clear how your species lived long enough to mate," she informs the alligator, before she runs off. Because it's dumb and it should know it's dumb.

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She can outrun it easily. Whether that will be enough to convince it to stop pursuing is another question entirely but if she puts enough distance between them it might well not be a question she'll have to think about answering before reaching the camp.

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Well, she'll keep checking on it, it's not hard to keep it in sight. She'd rather not lead an (admittedly very stupid) alligator to someone's camp, that just seems rude. If it looks like it's still following her by the time she gets there, she guesses she'll, uh. Fashion some kind of spear or something and get to killing it.

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She can't really keep an eye on it for the entire journey due to trees and bushes and grass and other environmental features blocking her sight of it fairly quickly.

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Never before has she been so annoyed about not being in a blank, grey wasteland. But that's definitely a thing she didn't have to worry about in the wastes. Line of sight was very easy.

Ugh. Whatever. She'll just keep jogging away and hopefully it'll stop caring. It surely cannot survive by stubbornly picking one target and chasing them to the ends of the world.

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After a while of no signs of the alligator, she'll get close enough to the village to see it and the ruins properly.

It looks fairly incredible actually. Whatever structures previously stood there were the kind of thing one would be tempted to use words like grandiose to describe. And the contrast with the tents, campfires, pots, and sticks is almost poetic. From this distance, the people seem no better dressed: furs and skins more than leathers and fabrics, with multiple people wearing only a necklace and a belt with some tools attached, and even a few stark naked ones. They definitely none of them have invented the concept of pants and the concept of shirts was probably heard of from a fishwife's tale twenty years ago.

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She doesn't have much of an opinion of the juxtaposition of grandiose ruins and makeshift tents. It's intellectually interesting and probably gives some credence to one of her unlikely theories about what happened, but she doesn't care to think about it right now, because actually, she's a bit winded. What with running away from the very dumb alligator for an extended period of time. The lack of clothes is a bit more noteworthy, but not very. Just because clothes are the norm in her culture doesn't mean it's the norm for all places. She has seen naked people before, and has herself been naked many times, so honestly this is just kind of convenient if she ends up dying. No one will blink twice at her being stark naked. Though, uh, they should maybe be introduced to the concept of shoes.

"Hello?" she calls, waving.

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The camp has scouts. They had, it turns out, already noticed her, and had been watching her from a distance. They had not been expecting a wave and a "hello", apparently, from the rather confused and surprised expressions they exchange. Their grips tighten on their longbows and they don't reply to the call, but one of them calls something out towards the camp and other people inside it reply and take notice, as well.

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O... kay? Well, she supposes she can't blame them, she must look incredibly weird and probably suspicious. There's probably going to be a language barrier. That'll be fun.

She will just peacefully walk towards the camp and look very nonthreatening.

"We don't happen to share a language, do we, because that would make this so much more convenient," she says, when she's a bit closer and she doesn't have to call quite so loudly.

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They look bewildered by that, too, and exchange looks before one of them decides to speak: "What in Yog's name do you want?" She does have a thick accent (?) but is perfectly understandable to Saevetei nevertheless.

Further into the village someone looking reasonably chiefly emerges from a tent, throws a glance in her direction, and starts walking towards her and the entrance (as it is) of the encampment.

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“Oh! Good, okay. I’m Saevetei, and I seem to be extremely lost. I woke up somewhere over there,” she points back where she came, “And I have no idea where I am or what happened.”

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Oh! Well that is a situation they're much more used to and better equipped to handle. Chiefly dude (wearing a painted wooden mask and lots of jewellery that up close look to have a suspicious amount of human bone but otherwise also pretty naked) looks at her for a moment then declares: "Yog feasts tonight."

Whatever that means, it sends the more battle-ready ones into a frenzy as they start shouting and yelling and running towards her with weapons at the ready. The scout who spoke before has an evil grin when she says, "Your flesh will taste delicious," before she shoots an arrow that only narrowly misses Saevetei.

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“What,” she says, flatly. A bit dazed, she adds, “No, I’m inedible.”

Then the arrow narrowly misses her, and she abruptly realizes that this is very, very bad. Edible or no, she is probably going to die. What with how she only has the clothes on her back and a knife that’s meant for rituals more than stabbing people. Well, shit. Running probably won’t work, they’ll chase her down and murder her for sure. Her best chance is probably getting her hands on one of their bows and forcing some kind of stalemate.

“If you’re all so strapped for food that eating people seems like a good idea,” she calls, sprinting towards the nearest convenient rock for literally any kind of weaponry, “I bet I could set you up with a lovely little potato farm that could feed all of you with much less fuss than this idiotic nonsense!”

Rock! Okay, now to rush an archer, hopefully before she gets shot. Probably not, though. She’s probably going to get shot. Hopefully it’s not anywhere vital.

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Just the shoulder, yep, although the bow this person is using is not the best quality and neither are the arrows so most of them actually fly wide. Another scout, this one carrying two knives, as well as someone carrying what looks like a bludgeon made of branches tied together with a large rock, are also running towards her right now. One of them calls, "We'll drink your blood and feast upon your meat!" with the same kind of sneer that accompanies catcalls in a certain other world and era.

(Rocks continue to be widely available.)

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Ow. Arrow. That's not comfortable. Not debilitating, but not comfortable. Better not to touch it. It hurts, but her real danger is bleeding out, which will go faster if she doesn't have an arrow in the hole that the arrow made in her, staunching the bleeding with its presence. At least it doesn't seem barbed. She thinks. The melee fighters make rushing the archer more complicated, but maybe she can make it past them to get the bow. If not, well. This will not be the dumbest death she's ever had, but 'walking into a camp of cannibals and saying hello,' is definitely in her top ten of dumb ways to die, in retrospect.

"Not my kink," she hisses, throwing the rock at the nearest melee person, who happens to be the one that wants to drink her blood. "I really recommend the potato option! Much less mess!"

She doesn't expect them to take the potato option, but hey. Successful diplomacy is more likely than survival, might as well try it. Can she make it to the archer before she's either shot again, or one of the melee people shows up to bash her skull in and/or slice her to bits?

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Blood melee person takes a rock to her head (it's the one with the knives). The bludgeon one pauses to look at his comrade for long enough that Saevetei does manage to run past them, but she does not manage to avoid the next arrow that grazes past the side of her stomach, leaving a shallow gash.

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This archer has shit aim or a shit bow, and she's hoping for the former. Because she wants her bow for herself.

Well, she still has her knife, and she does not want to go grab another rock and potentially let the melee people catch her. So. She'll need to stab the archer if she makes it to her. A slash across the throat would be most efficient, but she's kind of uncomfortable with killing someone? It's not a thing she's done before, killing an actual person. She'll. Do her best and aim for debilitating over direct murder. She guesses. And if she dies again, well, she's done it before.

Does she make it to the archer to begin trying to stab her?

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She indeed does! Although the archer has quickly switched to a knife upon noticing she was the target. Also from up close it is pretty clear that the bow is shit.

Would she like to be stabbed? Because the ex-archer is now trying this.

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Oh. Great. A knife fight. She does not want to be stabbed, thank you, and in fact loses her momentum by trying to stay not-stabbed. If she were back home fighting a shadow monster, she wouldn't hesitate, but somewhere else against a living, bleeding person, and, well. There's some hesitation.

"You sure you want to do this?" she asks the ex-archer, a bit dismayed. "I really think trying to eat me is the absolute worst option, here." In that it will just not work unless they plan to try to eat her alive. Which they don't seem to want to do, with how so many of them have sharp weapons, and with how dead people are less trouble than living people that kick and bite and scream.

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"It's tastier when you put up a fight," she says, grinning to show off her set of teeth filed to a point.

Stab stab? Stab stab. Saevetei shall be stabbed.

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Ow! Okay that'll probably end up killing her, ow, but first she will stab this bitch right back. Being stabbed has eliminated her desire to not stab this person back. You may also have a stab, you murderous cannibal bitch!

"No, because I'm inedible," she snarls, attempting to stab her right back.

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She is somewhat better than Saevetei at avoiding being stabbed! Probably due to having lived here for a while and having some notion of survival in the face of humans trying to kill her. She is lightly grazed and she tries going for some other vital non-heart organ with her stabbing.

Oh and the woman she threw a rock at? Yeah she's now here too, with her buddy the bludgeon guy.

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Well.

This is really only going to go one way, even if she does manage to stab the bitch. She'll go down fighting at least. And it's not like she hasn't died before.

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It's not like she hasn't died before, it's true.

But now she can add "killed by cannibals trying to preserve her heart and most of her blood and meat" to the list! Bludgeon guy has no problem bashing her face in, though.

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What an exciting list.

The cannibals will probably be dismayed to know that shortly after she dies, her body fades away into nothingness, leaving her torn and bloodied clothes. Even her blood starts to disappear, actually. This is exactly what she meant by 'inedible.'

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...what.

What?

What the fuck.

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...what the fuck indeed.

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Coming back is very quick. She has just long enough to swear, from her spot in the dream world, before she's tugged back into the waking world and her body begins remaking itself. Not being stuck in an essence-starved wasteland makes finding the power to put her back together very easy, apparently. How nice.

She's quite surprised when she shows back up where she died, instead of somewhere else. That's not how this usually works. That has some implications, though she doesn't have time to think about them. What with how she is stark naked, unarmed, and surrounded by cannibals that recently killed her.

Well, this is awkward, she thinks but doesn't say, in favor of diving for her dropped athame to put new effort back into stabbing someone.

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The cannibals have had time to slightly step away from her body, except for the lightly stabbed ex-archer who is surprised enough by her reappearance that she is successfully fully stabbed. "What in Yog's name -?" are her last words.

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The archer dies! Saevetei does not have time to feel bad about it, she has bigger problems.

She steals the dead archer's knife and throws it at the nearest melee person. Even if it doesn't land, sharp part in fleshy bits, it's heavy and sharp, so it should slow them down a bit while she scrambles for the archer's bow. And her arrows.

The bow is utter garbage, but it'll do for shooting people at such absurdly close range. Hello, nearest melee person, enjoy your new piercing, she's aiming for the center of mass!

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Yeah they are rather annoyed at this turn of events. Melee people are hit, although they do have good enough reflexes that after seeing their fellow fall suddenly they dodge enough to not be immediately hit in the vital areas.

The other people in the village, however, are now also joining the fray given that it seems like two scouts and one ?knives person? were not enough to take this devil woman down. And this might be trouble if it weren't for the arrow suddenly sprouting in one of said villagers' eye socket.

That arrow is of substantially superior make than the ones the cannibals have.

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She has a friend? She has a friend! Hooray! She's fine with this. She's so glad to have a friend.

This bow is such garbage. If this were a proper bow with any actual draw strength it wouldn't matter if she hit vitals or not, it'd knock the wind right out of these assholes anyway. And possibly right over. She thinks about the risks of remaking tensioned material under pressure and how it all might explode in her hands. Then she thinks about how she was brought back here, and that actually she'd really rather not be stuck in a loop of being killed over and over by cannibals, and decides to take the risk anyway. She's made plenty of bows before, and she's not even going for something fancy, she's going for 'not hot garbage.' She's not starting from scratch, either, just shoving all of the shitty parts of this garbage bow into a less garbage configuration, and breathing some life and force back into the wood.

She slices open her thumb, so her own blood can touch the bow as she holds it. That's for the connection to the weapon. Then the end of the bow is dipped unceremoniously into her first kill's blood. That's for the power to change the bow. Now she just has to do all of the fiddly detail work and hope the whole thing doesn't explode in her hands.

It doesn't explode in her hands. Instead, it changes from its makeshift nature to a smooth, deep red-brown bow of living wood, and the unnecessary parts crumble away as sawdust onto the beach. The bowstring is strong enough to not immediately snap, but if she tried to draw the bow properly, she's pretty sure it would snap. So. That also needs fixing. Fortunately, that's a bit easier than the bow itself, it's more like rebinding the existing fibers and mending any frays than outright remaking it. And there's already blood available, so. That's easy enough to do.

And then she has a bow that is not garbage! The garbage arrows have their tips dipped into the deceased archer's blood, and they get to be upgraded just before they're fired. Hello, melee people, you are about to have a bad time! It doesn't matter if this hits vitals or not, it will probably knock the wind out of them either way. But yes, she'd like to go for the vitals. She's pretty mad about being killed. With a bow that's not garbage, she's a pretty good shot. She hopes they wanted their hearts pierced, because that's what they're getting.

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Her friend - who seems to be located in some hard-to-see vantage point high on one of the cliffs surrounding the village - apparently has arrows with iron tips, which must be extremely difficult to make in this bronze age location. Or maybe it's just this one tribe of lunatics that is bronze age and there's any good tech elsewhere. Regardless, iron-tipped arrows and the altogether unrealistically good aim of whoever her friend is seems to have kept some of the heat off her back while she was doing her weird voodoo thing. There are a few more corpses around her, dead porcupines with arrows sticking out of their bodies.

As soon as she's done with whatever it is she's doing and changes from "magic" to "shooting", her new friend seems to take notice and starts shooting at villagers who are farther away from her and have not yet joined the fray. The cannibals are extremely mad about being made such short work of by two people and keep crying out imprecations and curses against them and in the name of "Yog", whoever that may be.

Here's someone with a serrated sword though.

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"Oh, go away," she snarls, and she changes the latest arrow nocked on her bow to something a fair bit meaner and shoots the someone with the serrated sword.

The arrow hits them, then bursts into flames upon contact with their blood, and summarily explodes. It is a bit messy.

"Maybe consider running away instead of towards," she advises loudly, nocking her next arrow.

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It's probably against their religion or something. Lots of them are throwing themselves at her with a fury. One of them has glowing eyes, actually; he must be really furious.

The few children she had spotted from a distance can no longer be seen, though, so probably whoever was inclined to run away has already done so?

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Fine.

She reminds herself that they killed her, and that they seem to have practice at this whole 'killing and eating people' thing. Her urge to be merciful gets shoved in a box in favor of being a damn good archer. They're just people shaped targets, that's all. People shaped targets that can conveniently offer her power, instead of trying desperately to drain it from her, like what she's used to.

The guy with the glowing red eyes gets an exploding arrow out of principle. Everybody else gets the standard unless they get in too close, and then they can also have the explosive special. She'd like to save what little power is left in this corpse, and shoot all of the arrows dipped in its blood before moving to another. Mixing two different people's blood and trying to split power sources is messier than she'd like, and frankly she's a better shot if she stays still and just keeps shooting the idiots as they rush her. So. She does that.

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Despite being a hunter-gathered tribe of maniacs, it is still a hunter-gatherer tribe, and the number of fools crazy enough to keep going after her is in the low double digits. It does not take much longer for her and her mysterious friend to kill or disable all of them (and the chiefly guy from earlier isn't one of them so he has probably also fled).

So now she is naked, dirty, covered with some of the blood of her enemies, and surrounded by corpses in an otherwise empty village of cannibals.

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"Fucking idiots," she snarls venomously. "'Look everyone, a mysterious woman showed up! Oh, I know, let's eat her!' And look where it fucking got you all," she continues, stalking over to the pile of clothes where she died. Boots go back on first, because if anyone else shows up she'd like to not be running around barefoot, thank you. Grumbling all the while.

"Damn waste of everyone's time, it would have been much better to just take the potato option! Not to mention I am the literal worst person to try and physically eat! Inedible! I said it! Multiple times!!!"

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"Well, that was interesting," calls a voice from further into the village. Sliding down the slope of one of one of the cliffs is yet another mostly-naked person, although there are many things that set him apart from the villagers who were killing her. For one, he has an extremely sopphisticated-looking, thick fur vest around his neck and shoulders going down to just below his chest in a display of handiwork substantially superior to what was shown by the villagers. He's also wearing light leather footwraps and handwraps, and the leather belt surrounding his otherwise-bare waist has a sealed leather waterskin hanging from it. There's a necklace with animal bones and a bronze moon hanging from his neck, and the large fang earrings hanging from his ears are the only adornment he is wearing on his otherwise-shaved head. Finally, he also seems to have an exquisitely crafted longbow attached to the back of his fur vest, plus a quiver with a number of arrows of the same make as the ones that killed some of the villagers.

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"Honestly it was mostly just very irritating," grumbles Saevetei, her boots now on and moving on to the rest of her clothes. "My job description is the exact opposite of killing people, this is so stupid. That was not my dumbest death ever but it definitely makes my top ten. Cannibals."

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"You know, I'm sure all these things you've shown confusion at are informative about you and where you're from and how in these hells you did what you did there, but I cannot for the life of me figure it out."

He starts going through his victims and checking on the arrows to see how reusable they are.

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"I am very confused, too! My plan for today was preparation for my retirement on some little island somewhere, not, not. Giant overprotective turtles and extremely dumb alligators and even dumber people, how the fuck does cannibalism make any sense at all!"

The arrows on her kills are the same deep, almost blood red brown that she turned her bow into, with the fletching made out of some deep green leaf growing out of the arrow itself. There's no head to them, but (aside from the ones that exploded) they seem surprisingly intact for something that's just apparently pure wood.

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"I think their god gives them some nifty benefits for it, although we are of one mind that they should be pretty damn good to be worth the tradeoff."

Most of his arrows are ruined, as arrows are wont to be, but he does recover one or two. He pauses when he first sees one of hers, but then shrugs and moves on. It would be rude to take them.

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"Their what?" says Saevetei, stopping midway through putting on her outer layer of robe.

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"Their god, Yog? Ever heard of him? Grim fellow, I'm told, likes sacrifices and cannibalism and all that, although I cannot say I am very well-acquainted otherwise."

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"No, I mean, I've never heard of gods before, and I certainly haven't heard of Yog, so how did I understand what you were saying just there?" She pauses, and tilts her head and hums thoughtfully. "Oh! Oh I see! We aren't speaking the same language, oh that's very clever and sneaky! Where's it coming from, it looks like it's on you—"

And then she has completely forgotten putting on the rest of her clothes, leaving a set of gloves and her belt completely undone in favor of walking over to her exciting new friend to stare in fascination at his wrist. "What is that," she says, clearly not talking about his handwraps.

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"The bracelet? So you aren't wearing one either, huh." He starts undoing the wraps on his left forearm to reveal a very clearly magical bracelet. It's made of leather but very well-made at that, and has a glowing green gem attached to it.

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"No, no bracelets to speak of." Both wrists are completely bereft of any bracelets, though her gloves could have plausibly hid them. "Can I see, does it work for other people? It looks very attached to you. Metaphysically, I mean, it doesn't look hard to physically remove, just."

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"I... could remove it to show you, yes, but that would kill me and then it would teleport back to my reformed body elsewhere."

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"It would what. Why would it do that, is having a quick suicide method that vital...?"

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"I'm pretty sure I'm cheating somehow, but this didn't exactly come with an instructions manual. It's meant to prevent me from ever removing it and - ah - how about we loot whatever we can here and then come back to my base rather than chat in the middle of this recently-decimated cannibal camp?"

He starts rewrapping his arm.

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"Oh. Right, yes, that's. Much more reasonable than cornering you to interrogate you about your accessories." And get him to take off some of his clothes, what little of his clothes there are. Uh - no, don't look at his penis, that's very rude, what is wrong with you, Saevetei. "Um," she says, turning away to return to the rest of her clothes and hoping she's not turning a bit pink (she is), "anyway thank you for the rescue, it's very appreciated, I was not expecting to be remade right where I died, I could have been caught in a nasty death loop, there."

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"Cool, we can trade immortality stories when we're out of here." Once he is done with the armwrap he resumes his search of the corpses for arrows and other valuables, although those last ones are not coming by very easily. "My name is Taharqi, by the way. A pleasure to meet you."

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"I'm Saevetei. The pleasure's mine, considering, you know. Cannibals."

She goes to get the rest of her clothes back on! It's mostly all on, now, just the gloves and the belt left. And she can grab a quiver and some arrows, to go with her bow. While she does retrieve a couple of the arrows she shot, she opts to instead start transmuting more of the arrows of her fallen enemies with their blood. She grabs a couple used arrows if they're convenient, but clearly they are easily replaceable and she's not very attached to them.

And then once she's properly armed she can get to helping with looting the camp! Apparently! She feels a bit bad about it, but these people do kill and eat strangers, so. A little incentive about how that is in fact bad for any survivors would do them some good, she thinks.

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And then there's a growl from the direction of the river.

It seems the alligator has found her.

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"You!" she says, irritated, and then since she has a bow she is going to shoot that idiot thing until it dies. "You stupid suicidal lizard stalker!"

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It's just an alligator, nothing special about it, so it does not take much to die of arrows.

Taharqi laughs at it, though. "These creatures are quite persistent, aren't they." Pluck pluck pluck he's about done with his arrows and he's found a little cloth bag where he's storing what little valuable pieces he's found here.

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"What kind of predator ruins its ambush by growling, and then chases a creature much faster than it across the land even though it's a water ambush predator! How did its species live long enough to mate."

She sounds so offended. But, yes, yes, looting. She can loot. Uh. Is there. Anything of value to this place at all?

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The only things of value, really, are the things the cannibals themselves looted off other people. Taharqi seems to be focusing on items of more difficult manufacture such as glass or anything made of iron. There are also all of the little totems and religious symbols, if Saevetei is one for such AuthenticTM things.

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She would really rather not, thanks. Instead she’ll stick with the things Taharqi seems to be after, gathering them into a little (looted) cloth pouch. The iron is about the only thing that seems worth the trouble, but okay. She’s fine helping out the man who helped her.

The place is quickly looted, and then they can go.

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So Taharqi walks past her and out the village to lead the way to... "I hope you don't mind riding bareback, I don't have a saddle on my horse." His horse is apparently where he's leading the way to!

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"You have a horse!" she sounds absolutely delighted. "I'm afraid I have no experience riding, I've barely seen any horses at all, so I will be absolutely hopeless."

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"Hold on tight and try to let your body go where the motion of the horse wants it to go," he advises. "Resisting it will only make it more uncomfortable."

Rather than straightforwardly following the river, though, he takes a right turn around a large boulder and doubles back to start climbing up a reasonably steep path. Steep enough that at points he gets down on all fours for better stability.

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...

This would be made less awkward if he had on pants, but, uh. Well. Here they are. The worst part is that she feels like she's the last person that gets to be uncomfortable about nudity. Echoes of one of her teachers telling her that magic is best done stark naked so as not to mess up the details run through her head, and that she should get over it. Along with all of the many times she has been annoyed at other people for being uncomfortable about herself being naked. On account of how her resurrection works. She makes the firm decision to try and not be weird about bridging cultural gaps. Like by gawking. Which she will not be doing. Even though he is, admittedly, a very pretty person. Who is not wearing nearly enough clothes.

Climbing! They are climbing. They are climbing and she is going to be so very careful about climbing this steep path. She wouldn't want to trip. Mhm. That's what's going on here.

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If he notices this at all (how would he? she's behind him) he shows no evidence of it.

The path is approximately exactly as treacherous as a path can be while still being accessible by a horse. A very nimble horse that is extremely obedient and uses to rocky, winding, narrow paths between cliffs and boulders. Taharqi himself seems barely winded, sure-footed and agile. He does not slip or trip or lose his balance, and after a couple of minutes they reach a part of the short cliffs that is friendlier to walking.

This part also has very good view of the village they just plundered while not being itself very easy to spot, and the angle suggests he was probably pretty much right around here when he started helping her out with his arrows. Which means that the way down he took when he was coming into the village to reveal his presence was probably somehow climbing the significantly more vertical cliff face between this spot and her.

And over there she can easily spot a brown horse with a few pieces of rope attached to it and various pouches with other loot hanging from them. Taharqi grins up at the horse and trots over to her happily. "There's a good girl," he says, getting up to the side of the horse's face and offering his hand up for her to sniff before patting her cheek and neck. "Thank you for being so patient, I'm sorry it took me so long. And here, we have a new friend! This is Saevetei, she is a voodoo witch."

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Saevetei sporfles.

"Witch I'll accept, 'voodoo' I will not, don't slander me to your horse!" She goes over to the horse to coo and introduce herself; would the horse like to sniff her? She may sniff her! "Who's a good horse who is not going to listen to slander, you are, aren't you, pretty girl."

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"It is no slander! My people have much respect for the voodoo arts." The horse will sniff her, then sort a bit and pat the floor with her front hooves while stretching her neck a bit to offer it up to Saevetei. "Seems that she likes you. Her name is Lucky, because I was damn lucky to find her here when I did."

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"Huh! That's interesting," says Saevetei, gently petting Lucky's good soft nose. "Well, it is translating to a somewhat offensive slur of a magical practice I don't actually know how to do! The more classy name for it is 'vodoun,' which does not imply animal sacrifice and occasional torture. That one's more associated with 'voodoo.' And would be an especially rude way of introducing me to an animal, considering!"

She sounds teasing, and not particularly angry.

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"Oh. You don't do any sacrifices? What about the blood you used there?"

He starts fiddling with the pouches attached to the horse, dropping what appear to be stones from some of the bags onto the ground to replace them with his spoils. Apparently they are balancing each other on either side of the horse and are not actually attached in any way other than through gravity pulling on either side of the ropes. He extends his hand in her direction, angling it towards the bag she herself was carrying to offer to attach it to the horse for her.

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"In theory I could, but I don't know the specifics of how, I'd be rederiving it from first principles. There were not enough animals around to justify sacrificing them, and there are other ways to get what I want," she says, passing her bag over to him. "Technically speaking, for me, blood magic is a different magical practice. They weren't ritualistically sacrificed, I just uh. Killed them, and then since they weren't using their blood for anything I drained what was left of their life essence for transmutation. Most of my practice at blood magic is using my blood, I was just, um. Kind of pissed, there. About being killed. Plus, I was running on empty, power wise. If I tried doing that with my blood I could have maybe managed the bow before passing out, which would not have been helpful."

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"I understand. I think?" He does the same thing to other bags on Lucky's other side, then puts his hands on her shoulders and says, "Hyup!" as he pushes himself up to mount on the horse. He once again offers Saevetei a hand, this time presumably to help her get seated.

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Okay, she can do this. She takes the offered hand and attempts to get onto the horse!

...

She manages it, but she does almost fall off, catching herself on him with a squeak. "Sorry," she says, letting go of him before she's distracted by how pretty he is again. "I'll uh, try not to fall off, but no promises."

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"Hold onto me," he says, not looking over his shoulder but tapping his own waist to show where.

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"Right, yes, okay," she agrees, complying immediately. Is she blushing? She's maybe blushing. Damn it.

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"Do you want to fall off the horse?" he asks, turning to look over his shoulder with a smirk. "Because this is how you fall off the horse." He puts his hands on top of hers and pushes them firmly against his waist, tucking her thumbs into his belt. "Tightly," he repeats.

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Whyyyyyy. As in, why is he pretty, and almost naked, and why does she have to be directly behind him and holding onto him and his pretty almost nakedness? And also why is literally all of her sexual experience from the dream world? She doesn't really know how to handle touching a pretty person in physical space, it's different here!!! If this were the dream world she'd be fine, this is not fair, the world is clearly conspiring against her.

Naturally, she doesn't say any of this.

"I do not want to fall off the horse," she agrees meekly, and. Yep. Holding on to him. Tightly.

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"Correct answer," Taharqi says, turning to look ahead again and holding onto Lucky. "Hyah!" he calls, and the horse starts trotting in the direction they came. Despite how treacherous it is, she is in fact nimble enough to do it, and Taharqi is a good enough rider to lead her. They are soon on stable ground again and he starts riding along the southern river bank to the east.

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Saevetei does not fall off of the horse! She feels this is an impressive feat and she should be lauded for her efforts and self control. Everyone should be very impressed and congratulate her accordingly.

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It's almost as if he hears her thoughts: "The rest of the way will be much easier, if you didn't fall off the horse there you won't fall anymore. You did well."

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”Yaaaaay,” she squeaks, followed by a little self-conscious giggle.

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He grins to himself then calls, "Hayah!" and Lucky picks up the pace. He leans forward so his body is closer to Lucky's, but she's not so fast that Saevetei will have much trouble if she doesn't do the same.

They follow the river bank, too fast to be chased by any reptiles.

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She can lean forward with him, that’s. That’s fine. She’s fine.

The scenery is very pretty. In a desert kind of way, anyway. Much nicer than looking at grey wastes.

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After a bit he starts veering left towards the water, then he turns left and they start trotting along a submerged land bridge towards one of the middle islands. The water splashing onto them provides a welcome respite to the oppressive sun, even though their trek along the riverbank under the shades of the trees and cliffs was surely itself substantially less onerous than running through the actual desert.

They gallop across the little island for a minute before they veer left once more to cross another submerged land bridge and reach the other side of the river. And a little bit up ahead it forks, a tributary to the main body of the river coming from the North, and Taharqi also aims to turn there.

Before they reach it, though, they can see an unlit bonfire with two naked people sitting by it. They give the horse riders wary looks and reach for their makeshift weapons nervously, but when Taharqi and Saevetei ride right past them they relax once more.

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She’s tempted to wave at them, but they seem scared enough already. It’s probably for the best if the strange person in her strange clothes doesn’t pay them much mind.

Mostly she keeps track of their location in case she needs to navigate her way around later. The scenery makes it much easier than she’s used to. Look! Landmarks! Amazing.

With the rest of her brain, she also thinks about the implications of having been resurrected right where she died. They’re... not good? The only time that happened was the very first time she died, before she’d had any chance to fall asleep. It had been when they were testing if her experimental resurrection bullshit would even work. Ever since, it’s always brought her back in the last place she fell asleep. So what does not having done that mean? Maybe she was moved after she fell asleep, and, what. Her soul couldn’t navigate all the way back to her last sleeping location, and instead opted to just remake her where she fell?

That implies a very great distance. Maybe not anywhere in the world, in fact. That’s extremely scary. ... but she finished the really important part of her job before getting whisked away to wherever this is, so she’s not too broken up about it. Some other people have been brought back to life, there’s a tiny aggressively alive foothold in the middle of the wastes, if people want to fix the world they’ll have the chance. Which is something.

This is a very odd retirement location, though.

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They fully veer left and start following the tributary stream's western bank to the north. That path starts sloping upwards, with the shallow river meeting drops that turn it into waterfalls at irregular intervals. After passing by the second waterfall Taharqi speaks up again: "Don't try to make any sudden movements, Lucky's used to it and we're fast enough that we won't have any trouble."

Used to what, she may wonder for half a second? Probably the pack of hyenas up ahead that notices them from a distance and whose members get up from their lazing about gnawing on bones and start growling menacingly at the approaching human horseriders.

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“I will not flail and fall off of the horse to be ripped apart by, uh, whatever those are. Is everything here so murderous?”

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"The babies usually aren't. And the herbivores tend to be more peaceful and only get irritated if you get too close."

True to Taharqi's warning, Lucky does not get spooked by the hyenas, and although they try to pounce and eat them, the horse is much too fast and agile for that. They cross a natural bridge above the water to go to the eastern riverbank and the hyenas give up chase a little bit after that.

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"No small, adorable bunnies that are incredibly traumatized by their murderous surroundings? Well. That's great. What a damn retirement location."

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"Well, there are hares endemic to some harder-to-reach islands but they are small and don't have much meat in them."

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"Eugh, pass. I'd rather just live off of potatoes until I get proper vegetarian dietary variety going. I was mostly just amused at the visual of something small, fluffy, and innocent, surrounded by all of the death and murder."

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"The shaleback hatchlings are quite adorable in my opinion."

She now knows what the name of the large turtle thing that attacked her is.

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"Are those the turtle things? Because the babies were very cute."

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"Indeed! They're even mostly nonaggressive so long as you don't bother the hatchlings. With some exceptions, they actually vary rather a lot in personality."

And once more he veers left to return to the western riverbank. This time the threat he's avoiding is not immediately clear but if she tries to get her eyes used to the camouflage she might notice a number of giant spiders hanging out on a grassy area they would have otherwise needed to pass by if they didn't cross the river.

The smallest of the spiders is about the size of a mastiff and unless her eyes are playing tricks on her there is one as large as Lucky.

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"Huh! Neat. ... Are those giant spiders. Why are there giant spiders."

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"Presumably they nest in the cave over there. I've peeked once or twice but never had a good reason to go in and see what's inside."

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"Augh. I mean, I want their spider silk, I bet it makes for some amazing cloth, but still. Augh."

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"That would be a reason to go inside!" he replies cheerfully. "Although the times I've peeked I also managed to snatch some of their nested eggs and make some silk from their gossamer so unless you want very large quantities of it we can just kill the handful of siders at the entrance and snatch the silk there before the ones farther in take notice and decide to come see what's up."

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She snorts, amused. "I don't think I'd want spider silk right now, I don't have the infrastructure set up to make plants that could replicate it, but. If I get that, I will want samples to dupe any and all interesting materials available. If there are any others that spring to mind."

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"Plants?"

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"Yep. I have so much magical horticulture experience, you have no idea. Are you attached to material scarcity? Because it's dumb and should stop."

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"You are a very useful voodoo witch. I'm glad I helped you."

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"Thank you! I'm very glad you helped me, too! And also do you see why I was so annoyed about people deciding to eat me, it's such a waste! I mean I would still be offended if they wanted to torture me for all of the knowledge I have until I was their witch-slave or something, but it'd be much less actively counterproductive and dumb."

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"I think Yog only likes torture for sport, he is substantially less gung ho about it than about the cannibalism."

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"Mmhmmm. Yeah, fuck that guy. God. Whatever."

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He laughs and shakes his head.

Northwards they go.

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Northwards! She keeps an eye out for any other weird nasties that will inevitably want to kill and/or eat her. Such a great retirement home, really, it shouldn't have.

(She's being sarcastic. But at least she's not famous here, that's nice.)

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She can spot more hyenas and alligators here and there but most of them are too far to notice or care and the ones that aren't quickly give up on chasing them once Lucky makes it clear just how few shits she gives about their slow attempts to kill her.

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Well. Okay. Back to looking at scenery again, she guesses. Are they going to get to his home soon?

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Not very. At least depending on her definition of soon. Half an hour on and they will not have arrived still.

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Her sexual panic fades away, and eventually she just. Huffs a sigh and leans into him. She's so bored.

"Did you know that I can make teleportation circles. I can. Not right now, mind, I've got the clothes on my back, a knife, and the garbage bow I upgraded to being not quite so garbage. I'll be stuck on potatoes for a while. Again. But one day."

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"Is there anything your magic can't do?" he wonders.

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"We have yet to find the souls of the people that aren't being sheltered in the dream world! That's a big one that has lots of us annoyed. Uh. We could not prevent the apocalypse, but also we caused the apocalypse with magic, so I feel it was kind of self inflicted. And also we magicked our way into it, and then we magicked our way out of it, so. It kind of evens out. Nobody's figured out how to breathe underwater, I asked. Nobody's figured out how to fly, either, I asked that one too."

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"I don't even know where to begin asking questions there."

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"Yep. Uh, short version. So imagine the great powers of the world were powerful with magic, and got into a magical arms race that ended in destroying the world and killing everybody. But then, just before everybody died, they pooled their knowledge together to make an experimental self-resurrecting immortality woman to stubbornly claw out a little section of the world and make it stable enough to start resurrecting people in. And then taught her a good portion of their useful magic from the afterlife. Hi, that woman is me."

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"I can't say any of the gods I know of are very open to being convinced to let anyone out of their afterlife."

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"... Okay. Well. That's a problem. Do you guys have a, uh, dream world equivalent? Thing that catches all of your souls when you die, lets them all hang out together in some picturesque woods and chat out their differences and talk to the living people while they sleep?"

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"Not as such, no. Not that I've heard. Some priests claim to be able to talk to the dead but from what I've seen they are all lying or crazy."

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"... Okay, so, that makes the earlier killing of people a lot more horrifying," says Saevetei, wincing.

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"Maybe their bracelets saved some of them," he says, but he doesn't sound very convinced.

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"Mmmmrrrrrrmmmhh," she enunciates, with feeling. "If so, then they will go on to kill yet more people that also don't have a picturesque forest afterlife situation to catch them after they die, so. In a lot of ways that's worse."

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He shrugs and doesn't reply. His afterlife situation has never been a topic he's given much thought.

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For lack of a better idea, she flops her head onto his shoulder and whines.

"I'm going to steal your world's entire population into the dream world," she grumbles into his shoulder. "My world saving count will be at two, everyone will be very impressed."

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She can feel the rumble of the laughter rocking his body at that. "I don't know about everyone but I sure will."

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“I’m being dramatic, realistically it won’t be everyone. Lots of people will not trust me or want to take their chances reuniting with lost loved ones elsewhere, or something. ... I do want to understand your bracelet better before I go putting your soul places, though. Since it is very touchy and explosive.”

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"I don't think it goes so far as exploding, as it is," he says with a pensive tone.

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She sits up from his shoulder, rolling her eyes. “Okay, fine. Since it is touchy and possessive, and will burst your head open at the first sign of disloyalty. There, happy?”

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"That's more accurate," he agrees easily.

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“Mhm. Regardless, I am a responsible researcher, and so I don’t want to unknowingly break your jealous resurrection bracelet by being too opinionated about where your soul should go. Purposefully breaking it, mind, is absolutely fair game.”

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"If you do break it, please do it in a way that preserves the property where I do not permanently die. It would suck to lose that."

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“Yes, of course. I will not do things to your soul or your person without full expressed consent.”

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"Very responsible mindset."

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“Thank you, thank you, I try.”

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They'll keep riding north for a while still.

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Boooooored. Are they there yet?

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Nope.

It takes a while still, and the sun starts getting noticeably lower in the sky. Taharqi points at another cannibal camp on the other side of the river when they pass by it, somewhat camouflaged by the stones and foliage and substantially smaller than the one they raided earlier, but they go unnoticed. It's not too far after that, though, that she can spot a constructed structure in the distance.

It looks like... a house, right by the river. It is, of course, much sturdier-looking and of higher quality than any of the tents and bedrolls she saw at either cannibal village. There are torches providing its illumination, and they all seem to be lit, judging by the dancing shadows visible from the window and the flickering light reflected from the walls and ceiling.

The location seems more tranquil than most places they've passed by, with a peaceful pack of gazelles grazing nearby and the occasional flutter on the surface of the water indicating live fish. As Taharqi crosses the river one final time to get on the right bank, she will be able to see two shadows next to the house that eventually resolve into an alligator and a shaleback... who are not in any way attacking each other. They seem to just be there, content to exist near each other.

Despite the growing darkness of the lowering sun, it is still light enough that she can see tall ruins in the distance, behind the house. They give the place an eerily calm ambiance, as if the whole place is a still image removed from time. But soon enough it becomes too dark to see the ruins properly, and the house is just a house.

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She is very charmed by the house! It is an exceedingly cute house.

“Aw! Is that your house, because it’s very cute.”

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"That is indeed my house! I suppose I shall take that as a compliment." He slows down and then stops before the steps, and with one agile movement dismounts. As he offers Saevetei a hand again, she'll notice the alligator and the shaleback have approached them, looking up curiously. "Hey, boys! Impatient, aren't we? I didn't bring anything exceptionally great for both of you but I'm sure you'll like it anyway. Just wait a minute, the both of you."

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Saevetei is significantly less graceful than he is about dismounting! But she can manage it with some assistance! ... also why does everything hurt. She was just riding a horse, it’s not fair that this caused everything to hurt.

“Ow,” she grumbles, wincing.

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"Oh, right, first time. That is going to hurt for a week."

He lets go of her hand and reaches into a couple of the bags attached to Lucky. One of them contains some strings of sun-dried meat, which Taharqi throws onto the ground a few feet away and which the alligator happily chases to munch on; the other has some purple-blue berries that he bunches in his cupped hand so that the shaleback can eat from it.

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"Great. And me without any healing charms. Mrrgh." She looks at his (kind of scary) pets, and decides that, actually, she will go pet Lucky again! Who is a good horse, you are a good horse.

"It's okay. It's not your fault, and if it were I would forgive you," she coos to her.

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The horse whinies and huffs at that. "There are some more berries from that same pouch," Taharqi says. "You can give them to Lucky if you want. Just cup them in your hand and let her lick them off. Ow," he says, looking at the shaleback again. "Now what did I say about biting, boy?" he tells the creature with no heat in his voice. It makes a meek little raspy noise and he pats it on its head a couple of times.

Now that they're close enough to the house, Saevetei might notice the sound of drums coming from inside.

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"Are those drums? Does someone else live here, too?" she asks, while of course fetching Lucky's well earned snack, for bringing them all this way. Here you go, pretty girl, enjoy your berries.

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"Oh, yeah, that will be Sendhei. He's probably dancing, he likes doing that... well, approximately all the time."

He starts untying the ropes and removing the bags attached to Lucky to fetch all of the spoils.

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"Well, I look forward to meeting him."

Saevetei can help with that, once Lucky is good and fed! Even though she hurts. But she's still perfectly capable of carrying things despite that.

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Taharqi'll accept the help with the untying, but she doesn't need to worry about carrying it all, really.

He walks up the steps onto his torchlit porch and pushes the door open, calling, "Home!"

    "Welcome back!" another voice replies from inside.

He leaves the door open for Saevetei, and the very first thing she will see right at the entrance is a tiger's head staring at her. Through the window she'll also probably be able to spot Sendhei himself, who is indeed dancing, though he does not seem to be carrying any drums on his person.

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Mostly she's distracted by the head on the wall! It is very, uh. Itself.

"Taharqi, why do you have an animal head on your wall. Right at the front entrance. For all of your guests to see as their first introduction to the interior of your home," she says, staring.

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"It looks cool," he replies with a shrug.

The ground floor is a single room with one other door than the one the walked through (presumably the one that leads to the fenced outside area she saw before) plus the wooden stairs that lead up. In addition to the Stygian carpet adorning the immediate entrance, there is an animal hide rug in the center, where the other inhabitant of the house had been dancing until just now. Next to a wall there is a single leather-bound drum, which seems to be making drum noises despite no one being there to... actually play it. Or so it seems, as the music fades to a stop after Sendhei stops dancing. Next to the rug and up against the wall is a bed with light covers and a pillow, and against another wall there is a wooden cupboard.

Sendhei himself seems to be of the same ethnicity as Taharqi, most of his head shaved with the exception of a strip of light brown hair in the middle, going from the forehead to the back of his neck. He is approximately as naked as Taharqi, except that while Taharqi's attire seems more focused on practicality Sendhei's is definitely going for a specific aesthetic. He has golden nipple rings connected to each other by a thin gold chain, and a golden choker in the likeness of a serpent adorns his neck. The index, middle, and ring fingers on both his hands have rings, and the wrist that doesn't have a magic bracelet is adorned by a different bracelet, also golden, also having snake motifs, while his upper left arm is encircled by golden band. He has a thin golden string with golden decorative blunted spikes around his waist holding something that would require substantial generosity to be called a loincloth - the middle of the front cloth ends before his penis begins, while the sides go all the way to his knees, making it something like an arc or an inverted U shape that draws attention exactly there. He is also wearing black sandals with golden trims that match the colours and style of the not-a-loincloth. His build is lean and athletic, in contrast with Taharqi's bulkier and stronger frame, and is covered from head to toe in a glistening sheen of sweat, although this does not stop Taharqi (who in the meantime has taken off his fur vest, longbow, and quiver, and put them plus the loot down on the ground) from walking up to him and giving him a hug.

    "Oh, you brought a friend," says Sendhei belatedly when he notices Saevetei there.

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Saevetei unstrings her bow and leaves it by the door next to her quiver. She plans to make a better bow tomorrow, but there's no reason to mistreat this one for the time that she's got it.

"Hi! I was rescued from cannibals that mistakenly thought I was edible, nice to meet you."

Sendhei: also pretty and mostly naked. Why. What did she do to deserve this level of ironic fate. There are definitely some people she can never, ever tell about this. They'd maybe say something about how she'd fit right in, even though she actually feels very out of place. Even if someone else is also wearing gold.

She's in multilayered and colorful robes set in greens and violets, with embroidered gold trim at the edges, and there's honestly not very much of her skin showing at all. The robes fall off of her shoulders and leave a large opening on her back, and her gloves are archer's gloves that leave several of her fingers out in the open, but aside from that, she's. Very covered. The bright red hair probably doesn't help her blend in, either. Oh, well. She's used to being ostentatious, anyway. At least she doesn't have a floating magical chain attached to her wrist, like how she stands out in the dream world. Clothes are removable.

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    "Nice to meet you, too! I'm Sendhei."

"And I," Taharqi declares, "am starving. You get that rhino meat done by any chance?"

    "Sure have. It's in the pot upstairs, I left it above the embers to keep it warm, figured you'd want to eat it if you survived. Or, well, died, I guess, you usally come back hungry."

"Wonderful." He turns to look at his guest. "Saevetei, would you like some?"

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Saevetei makes a bit of a face. She doesn't like meat very much even when it doesn't come from a dead animal. Meat that has come from a dead animal is the exact opposite of appetizing.

"You don't happen to have any fruits, nuts, or vegetables available, do you?"

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"I do, actually! I have some desert berries, seeds, and leaves. Some nuts, too, I believe."

    "You don't eat meat?" asks Sendhei curiously. "I think I'd be hungry all the time if I only ate plants."

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"Then that would be great, thank you," she says, with a grateful smile. "I can and have in situations where there's nothing else, but. No, not if I have other options."

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    "Huh. Strange."

"Would you mind getting us some bowls and cups, Sendhei?"

    "Yes, master."

"I am not your master," Taharqi sighs with the tired tone of someone who does not expect this to change anything. Sendhei grins mischievously but does not reply and instead goes to the cupboard by the stairs to fetch said dishes while Taharqi walks to the stairs. "Make yourself at home, Saevetei, we will figure out sleeping arrangements after we've eaten."

    "Wait, so you're not sleeping together?" asks Sendhei.

"Yet to be determined!" comes Taharqi's voice from upstairs already.

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In Saevetei's opinion, that came out of nowhere! What. Uh. She's not against the idea - he is very pretty, and it's not like she can get pregnant - but, also, what?

"U-um," she says, and then decides to instead change the subject because flailing over differences in cultural norms sounds like the opposite of fun. "Why are you calling him 'master'? Besides just to annoy him, I mean."

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    "It's pretty much just to annoy him," Sendhei says, shrugging. "I used to be the Stygian pharaoh's slave, one of his performers," he explains as he takes three ceramic bowls from the wooden cupboard and sets them in a triangle on the floor after kicking the rug to the side to give them more space. He returns to the cupboard to fetch the cups. "He returned early from a diplomatic trip and caught me in, ah, 'unlawful unsupervised fornication' with one of his concubines, and sent me to the Exiled Lands." Cups fetched, he sets them by the bowls and takes a cross-legged seat behind one of them, facing the center of the triangle. "I banded together with this other exile who decided I would be her slave, and it's not like I knew anything different, so I went along with it."

"And one day I ran into them and she decided she wanted to bash my skull in, I tried to stop her but she just wouldn't stop so I killed her and knocked him unconscious," says Taharqi, returning with a large roasted piece of haunch on a ceramic plate plus a larger bowl with non-meat things in. "Then I explained to him that actually this whole 'slavery' business is not really cool and how about we help each other survive out here. He didn't get the first part of the message." Sendhei once again grins unashamedly as Taharqi sets the two dishes down in the middle of the triangle then returns upstairs.

    "He has some personal grudge against slavery or something," Sendhei shrugs again.

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"Shocking," says Saevetei, in a deadpan. She sits on her heels behind her bowl of not-meat, eyeing the animal hide rug with some discomfort. She feels a bit like it's staring at her. Judging her. Look, she didn't have anything to do with your death and skinning, critter, and she doesn't even know where she'd find your soul to bring you back! Stop judging her, please.

"'Unlawful unsupervised fornication,'" she then repeats, looking somewhere between confused and offended. "What a phrasing. Does the sex have to be supervised to be lawful, or was it unlawful and separately unsupervised, both of which are grave offenses. Because. Wow."

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"You know, I'm not sure? It was definitely lawful if the pharaoh was supervising."

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"Wow," she repeats. Is this culture shock? This feels like culture shock. "You know, I thought I was very cosmopolitan for my culture, but this conversation is really opening my eyes to how actually I am a spoiled sheltered dream child who has absolutely no idea of the horrible things people can do to one another."

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    He blinks. "It wasn't horrible at all, other than the whole 'getting exiled' thing I quite liked it."

"I've tried to explain the problem to him but still failed," says Taharqi, returning once more with another two bowls and a jug. He sets them all down then gestures: "Roasted rhino haunch, desert berries, desert nuts, desert berry seeds, assorted leaves, cactus paste, and desert berry juice. Help yourself," he adds, starting with the meat and pulling pieces of it apart with his bare hands while Sendhei gets some nuts and cactus paste into his bowl.

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"Thank you." She starts getting various helpings of all non-meats available. "I guess I could try to explain why it's horrible, but I'm honestly trying to wrap my head around, uh. About four strange new concepts at once. Concubines? Concubines are a thing. It is a word you have. Why is it a word you have. I mean having multiple partners and wanting to watch is normal but enslaving people just for sex? Really?"

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Sendhei opens his mouth but Taharqi reaches a hand towards him to shut it. "How about we take this moment of relaxation and rest to resume that conversation about our widely different backgrounds and assumptions, hmm? You seem to be from very, very far away, and I believe my original assumption that you were royalty who got on the wrong side of someone with the right connections is probably woefully incorrect."

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"Right, yes. Uh. I am definitely not royalty of any form, where did you get that from?"

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"Your extremely elaborate clothing," he replies, and Sendhei nods along at that, pushing Taharqi's hand away to get some food. He serves himself and Taharqi juice and then motions with the jug in Saevetei's direction with an inquisitive eyebrow raise.

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She accepts the juice and pours herself some! Then she looks down at herself and says, "Oh. Uh, no. I made this. With magic. Actually, by my culture's standards, this is only moderately elaborate. I gave Taharqi a quick summary of my background on the way here, but I guess I can expand on it more?"

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"I would like that, please. I only really sort of get it, anyway, although you mentioned the end of the world and, as you see, it has not ended."

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“It hasn’t. That’s part of why I’m so confused about being here. So where I come from, there is a lot of magic. Of a bunch of styles and practices and with different ways to use the same basic set of tools to get different results. And then, people being people, the different groups got into arms races with each other, and sort of. Sucked all of the essence out of everything to power the competition. Thus draining all of the life out of the land and everything in it. This desert is a bright cushy paradise in comparison, really. Trees and everything.”

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    Trees and everything, Sendhei mouths when he hears that.

"So... you're from a different... world? Like the same way the dominons of the gods are different worlds, but yours is like ours with people and animals and plants and all that?"

    "She just said there were no trees."

"Presumably there were trees before they drained all the life from everything."

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“There were trees, yes. And there are trees again, now, I put some back. I... think I’m from a different world? It’s that, or I was killed in my sleep, and unknowingly stuck between the dream world and the waking world for a couple millennia or something before I finally came back. But resurrecting where I died implies I’m a great distance away, I haven’t resurrected where I died since the first time we tested my resurrection thing. Usually it takes me back to the last place I’ve fallen asleep. So as not to get stuck in horrible death loops.”

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"Hers is a different thing than ours, though," Taharqi explains to Sendhei. "Her body disappears instead of staying behind, although her possessions stay. I saw it, she got killed by the Darfari in front of the Dregs."

    "Oh, so you just happened to run into her right there?"

"I saw her just as I was getting back to Lucky, yeah."

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“I’m still very offended that they decided to eat me,” she sniffs. “But yes, I was uh. Very lucky he was in the area to help me with shooting them.”

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    "Of course they decided to eat you, that's what they do, they're the Darfari cannibals, it's right there in the name."

"Pretty sure her world doesn't have any Darfari cannibals. Or Stygia, or the Exiled Lands, or any of that."

    "...oh. Huh. That... huh."

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“No, it doesn’t,” she says, a little amused. “Or cannibals that I know of at all, really. If they’d wanted to kill me as a blood sacrifice it would have been more intelligible than just. Eating someone. Because a god likes it.”

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"Well. Is it my turn, then?"

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“Yes please!”

And since she’s not talking as much she can eat more! Dying makes her kind of hungry, and it’s been a while since then.

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"You are in the Exiled Lands," Taharqi starts with. "There are many countries that use this place to dump undesirables that they do not want to quite directly kill. All of us, really. Not all of us deserve it," he adds, cocking his head in Sendhei's direction, "but many do, which means that lots of the people around here are not the most savory of characters. It's surrounded by the Cursewall, which is a magical wall that is impassable by anyone with one of these." He points at Sendhei's bracelet, as his own is still obscured by his armwraps. "If we try we just die, and I haven't tried it but I suspect it might even be the kind of dying where we don't come back at all."

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Saevetei winces around her berries.

"Really. They gave you a resurrecting translation bracelet just to keep you in one place? That seems so convoluted."

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"So, remember how I said I thought I was cheating somehow? I don't think it works very... reliably. I'm not sure why, most people who die only die the once, I discovered this by shall-we-call-it accident."

    "But it worked for me, too, that one time."

"I usually think of myself as pretty impulsive but I still think that was a very stupid idea."

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Snort.

"Well, now I'm curious. That sounds like an interesting mystery. Do they make these specifically for your confinement, or are they salvaging them and adding convenient extras to it, or?"

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"Their existence is a very well-guarded secret, actually. I didn't know about them at all before I was exiled and I was the sort of person who should have known about it. I don't know where they come from or how people came about them. I do think their original purpose was not exiling us - there are a bunch of ruins around here in the Exiled Lands that react to them, and the ruins themselves seem to be from a long time ago. Way older than any of the kingdoms and empires that exile people to here."

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"Huh! That's fascinating. At some point I'm going to want to see if I can get a spare to study, and go exploring ruins. ... Probably after I set up a garden and build my own house, though." She gives one of the many dead animals staring into her soul a look. "I'll need actual equipment to figure out anything interesting, anyway."

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    "There are ruins everywhere, it'll be very easy to explore some."

"Build your own house, huh? Want help with that?"

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"I would appreciate it, but it's not necessary!" says Saevetei, brightly. "If you help I'm making you carry the heavy things."

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"You mean I will have another chance to show my body off to you in a less life-and-death situation? Sounds perfect to me."

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See, this one didn't come so out of nowhere! She can actually respond to it reasonably instead of stammering and changing the subject. Wonder of wonders, it's like she has experience flirting before, or something.

"Ah huh. Will it help if I make impressed 'oooing' sounds and maybe do a bit of swooning?"

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"If that's what you're into. I was just thinking I'd get those same looks you were giving me earlier and this time I'd be able to actually follow up on them and maybe sweet talk you into sleeping with me."

Sendhei giggles at the forwardness.

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Saevetei giggles too! And also turns a bit pink.

"Damn, you saw those? I was uh. Trying to be subtle."

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"So I am perhaps being a bit more forward than I normally would, you see."

    Sendhei's eyebrows raise so high they would be hidden in his hair if he had more of it. "Are you, now."

"A bit," he replies, grinning. "I said a bit."

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Snort.

"Well I'm not against the idea," says Saevetei in a way that implies that she is totally down for sex, "but I am absolutely not fucking anyone with dead, beheaded animals watching, I'm sorry but it is just the opposite of arousing."

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Sendhei explodes in laughter while Taharqi raises both eyebrows and runs a hand along the skin where his hair would be. "That was not where I expected the objection would have been."

    "You two could always go outside."

"I was also expecting you to want to invite yourself."

    "That seems rude."

"Never stopped you."

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"I was just going to cover any animal heads with my outer robe, but I suppose outside would still be an improvement." Pause. "Oh, no, sand. Nevermind. Regardless, I think I should probably keep it to just one bed partner at a time for now. All of my sexual experience is from the dream world, and I expect sex to work a bit differently between the two."

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"The dream what now."

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"Oh. Uh - there's a soul repository in my world; the dream world. The living that are attached to it go to it when they're asleep, and the dead that are attached to it stick around there and can chat with the living or each other. Or, in this case, fuck. And if someone makes a body for them, they can be brought back, and this is how we do resurrection. If we don't have a soul to shove into an empty body, then you just have a mindless shell that needs help just to breathe. Among other things."

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"Why is sex there different?"

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"So a lot of things there are different? Things are sort of, mm. Convenient and dream-like and floaty? Not very focused on the physical nature of things, more on impressions and feelings. I know at least one person that hates it and couldn't wait to get out."

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"So basically you are not used to sex with solid people," Taharqi summarises. "That sounds fun."

    "Should I go drape a blanket over the rhino?" wonders Sendhei.

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"I am not used to sex with solid people!" agrees Saevetei, laughing. "The rhino? Do you have a beheaded dead rhino staring at you as you sleep."

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"I am from a people of hunters!" he replies indignantly. "Hunt trophies are very common and respectable!"

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"Intellectually I'm fine with that as long as the beast's death was quick and merciful! Emotionally, though, you're talking to a person that is accustomed just talking to disembodied souls. Empty bodies freak me out! Especially if they're staring!"

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"It tried to maul me and nearly killed Lucky. I had to set up camp and nurse her back to health for a week and then she was still out of proper commission for a month. It was not very quick or merciful."

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"Well, okay, quick and merciful is the goal but sometimes it's hard to manage. You didn't purposefully torture it to death out of a sense of vengeance? ... And I'm sorry about Lucky, I'm glad she's okay."

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"Oh, no, of course I would not do that. It's just an animal, it does what animals do." Pause. "Well. Exiled Lands animals, at least, who are admittedly more violent than I was used to before."

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She snorts, relaxing a little. She didn't super want to get into an argument about animal rights! Hooray, she's so glad she doesn't.

"Yeah, see. That." It's her turn to pause. "Oh! You know what I should do. I can't link you two to the dream world without understanding your bracelets better, because magical responsibility something something, but I can link Lucky. And your other animals. I probably won't be able to make them bodies for a while yet, but they would be retrievable."

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"Animals have souls?" This seems to disturb Sendhei.

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"... yes," says Saevetei, blankly. "Why would humans be special? We're animals too, just very clever ones."

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He can't really think of a reply to that so he just takes a sip of his juice with furrowed eyebrows. Taharqi, on the other hand, is curious. "How about plants? And bugs? And demons?"

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"We don't classify plants and most bugs as having souls precisely, we'd classify them both as having spirits of varying strength, but it's essentially the same sort of thing? Just very simple. It's hard to say how much internal experience they have. The divide between soul and spirit is the sort of thing magical nerds get into heated debates about. And I don't know what demons are, so I couldn't tell you."

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"Creatures from the Outer Dark, or corrupted by it," Taharqi answers. "I am... not sure what the Outer Dark is, I'm sure you were about to ask, but the priests I have met all agree that creatures from there do not have souls." He points up at the enormous head of the stone creature hung on a wall. "I think rocknoses are demons."

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“Huh. Well. I suppose that’s another thing for me to investigate. I’ve never seen that thing before. Though its decapitated head isn’t very useful for figuring out the state of its soul, sorry.”

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"There's an iron mine a minute's ride north of here where rocknoses enjoy hanging out. It should be easy enough to find a live one."

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“Exciting! Sounds like I’ve got a lot to do.”

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"You don't know the half of it."

    "Oh, right!" exclaims Sendhei. "Did you find anything interesting in the Dregs?"

"I did, as a matter of fact."

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“Oh? Do tell,” says Saevetei, sipping more of her juice.

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"Those ruins you saw behind the Skulker's End village?" he says. "They're the entrance to... well, I think they were probably sewers or something, thousands of years ago. Why they required a blood sacrifice to open is a mystery."

    Sendhei snorts. "Of course they did. Set likes that."

Taharqi shrugs. "Set, or Yog, who knows."

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"A blood sacrifice to open a way to sewers. How excessive. I suppose having a village of cannibals nearby made that very straightforward. Or did it need animal sacrifice?"

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"No, the inscriptions mentioned human sacrifice specifically." He shrugs. "Anyway, the reason I went was because I heard rumours about an elder demon inhabiting those ruins and... I wanted to explore. I found the demon."

    "Is it dead?"

"It is indeed rather dead." And Taharqi, who has finished eating as much as he wanted to, gets up to walk over to his pile of loot and after some rummaging finds what he's looking for in one of the bags and takes it.

It's an eye, about the size of a grapefruit, yellow and slitted and surprisingly unwet and, most of all, rather thoroughly infused with magic.

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"Oooooo," says Saevetei, staring. "I really need to get some kind of analysis equipment up as soon as possible, that looks fascinating."

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"This isn't the most interesting item, either." He rumages some more and then finds the most interesting item: several pieces of what seems to be a staff of some sort, long and bone-white and having one end shaped as a gem-encrusted cobra's head, and rather extremely completely astoundingly magical.

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"It is very upsetting that I'm stranded away from my laboratory. I can tell there's a lot going on, but I have no idea what, and it will drive me a little mad until I find out!"

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Sendhei and Taharqi both grin, and Taharqi starts laying out the pieces of the staff in what he estimates is the right order. He gets it wrong a couple of times, but corrects himself and then...

...the staff snaps back together and becomes whole once again, as if it was never broken.

    "Well, that isn't creepy or anything," Sendhei says in a light tone.

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Aaaaaaa what is going on with it, she wants to know! Is there something that it's doing?? Or is it just sitting there, not doing anything, being excessively magic but in a way that she can't actually study at all?

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Now that it's successfully gotten back to its original shape it does not seem to be doing much of anything.

Wait, no, that's a lie, it starts doing a thing where glowing runes start appearing along its length and etching themselves in a spiral script. And... there's some other bit of magic in there? There are definitely at least two things in there, one which is mostly dormant and doing the runes thing and the other which is... surrounding it, in some way.

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"There are two parts to it. I think. Magically speaking, I mean. A dormant thing inside, it's doing the runes, and a. Shield? Shell? Around it? They're separate, though. Augh this is so frustrating!"

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Taharqi gingerly picks it up and starts to read the runes. When he does that, the non-dormant part starts interfering with the magic the mostly-dormant part is doing and preventing it from writing all that it wants to write there.

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"Mmm. Maybe a prison? The shell's not letting the gooey magical center do all the things it's trying to do."

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"Some of the runes are blurred and... there are letters placed where they should be?" The process stops and the runes settle. After reading it once through, Taharqi says, "'Betrayer', is what the overriding runes say. The rest of it goes... 'A gift from the', 'give us advice', 'and allow us to control the', 'must be brought', 'The Tower of the Bat where', 'placed on the altar', 'awakened to share with us', 'only awakened by', 'and their blood'. Those are all the fragments."

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"Mmmmmrhhh. And now it's stopped doing things, so there's not much else I can perceive. My professional witch opinion is that it is bullshit and probably some amount of dangerous."

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    "My entirely unprofessional opinion is that same."

"And my opinion as an easily bored person is that I know exactly where the Tower of the Bat is and I am going there to figure this out."

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"Are you going to go running off immediately, or do I have time to build a house and make a garden so I'm free to go with you."

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"...well, I'm not sure I'm waiting for you to build a whole house, unless your magic lets you do that extremely quickly or something."

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"I will be done with it in a couple of days," sniffs Saevetei.

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    "Nice."

"I can wait that long, yes," says Taharqi with a raised eyebrow.

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"Great! Because it'll go faster with help."

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"Yes, ma'am."

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She beams at him, then finishes the last of her meal and sets her now empty bowl aside. Then she folds her hands in her lap and looks expectantly at Taharqi.

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"Right, then. We should put everything away and -" He looks outside through a window. Night has thoroughly fallen by now, and the torches and braziers inside the house of insulated wood are the only thing keeping the desert's night chill at bay. He turns around once more to look at Saevetei. "I believe I shall wash myself in the river and we should figure out where you want to sleep and whether you want to have sex with either of us before that. Your options for sleep are 'here', 'outside', 'upstairs in my room ', and 'upstairs in the workshop', although the only beds are Sendhei's over there and mine so outside and the workshop will need bedroll arrangements "

    "Your options for sex are 'no one', 'me', 'him', and 'both of us'," Sendhei says as he gets up and starts picking up the dishes they used.

Taharqi rolls his eyes.

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"I think I'd like to stick with one sexual partner for now, but I expect to be perfectly happy with two once I'm more acclimated to the waking world. But I'm not picky for which, you're both very pretty, so you two may fight over it if you'd like," she teases. "Sleeping arrangements are more up in the air, I don't think I have much of an opinion. I'll even tolerate sleeping on animal pelts, it's not zero creepy, but it's less creepy than the heads. And I'd rather be warm."

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    "He can keep you, I prefer men anyway," shrugs Sendhei.

Taharqi laughs. "Well, we have some loot to deal with. And as mentioned I absolutely need to wash myself." With that said, he goes to the pile of loot and starts sorting.

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Saevetei also cracks up. "Thanks," she says to Sendhei, not sounding even a little offended. "Oh well. Maybe some day! I live in hope."

Then she looks down at herself. "I should probably do the same? Huh. I guess that would be a problem, wouldn't it."

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"A problem with?" asks Sendhei, who is putting the rug back in place and figuring out what items will need to be washed or stored in some special way. The bits of game that Taharqi brought in particular will need to be dried and salted.

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"Needing to wash up. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it's just not a thing that one needs to do for dream sex."

Can she help with sorting through things? She can put things away or clean things! ... Sendhei can handle the bits of dead animals, though.

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She can help! Other than dead things there are bits of iron weapons and a couple of glass flasks, some pouches filled with strange powders, and one small bag with silver coins. There is also Taharqi's own battleaxe and, of course, the things he might ironically refer to as "clothes".

"That sounds like it would be so convenient," sighs Sendhei.

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She doesn’t immediately know where things should go, exactly, but she can certainly go where pointed and organize like things together.

“It was! Lots of things about the dream world are pretty convenient.”

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The meat and hides go outside, where Taharqi and Sendhei have a number of tables and other workstations, including something they can stretch and tan hides at and somewhere they can hang and dry meat at. They also have a stone bench in a corner where Sendhei places all the metals and powders, in little organised spots "so we can figure out what to keep and what to not keep and then smelt it in the furnace out back". The coins definitely go in the grinder, though, because "silver and gold powder are really useful alchemical reagents, I'm told."

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This is all very interesting! Soon enough everything is tidily put away. She’ll need samples of the various metals at some point in the future, but worrying about gardening and eventually growing literal iron plants is a tomorrow problem. Tonight’s problem is getting everything put away, and then going and getting herself cleaned up. ... the water’s not too cold, right, it’s still warm from the sun?

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The water is still not quite freezing but the wind is freezing and everything else is extremely cold.

Doesn't seem to be stopping Taharqi over there, who is already in the shallow river cleaning himself up, this time 100% naked rather than merely 90%.

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Oh man, she forgot how much bathing sucked before she had baths and heated water sorted. This is terrible. This is so terrible. Fixing this will have to be a major priority.

She debates skipping the river bath in the freezing desert via creative application of suicide. If her body gets remade from scratch, she doesn’t have to clean it. If she were sure that she’d resurrect on the spot like last time, she’s pretty sure that actually, she’d totally do it to avoid an unpleasant bathing situation. The unpleasantness would, comparatively speaking, be over faster. What gives her pause is that she actually hasn’t tested what happens if she dies twice before having gotten any sleep. It would be very bad if she were pulled back to where she last resurrected. Waking up back at the cannibal camp, hours away, in the middle of the night, sounds like the opposite of a good time.

Fine. No cheating, then. Just get it over with as quickly as possible. All thoughts of modesty and pretty men are thrown out in favor of a singleminded focus to get this done as fast as physically possible. And also swearing. Lots of swearing. She keeps it mostly under her breath, but probably her swearing will be noticed.

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Taharqi looks at her and makes a funny face. "You alright, there?"

From what is visible of him, although the cold is affecting him he has more than enough of himself that this still doesn't meaningfully diminish him.

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"Fine," she says tightly, "I'm just acquiring lots of motivation to make a bathhouse. Lots and lots of fucking motivation!" And then she's back to swearing, quietly.

Aaaaaaaaaaa okay she's rinsed off, and most of the blood and dirt is off, this is good enough. She is absolutely not going to wash her hair it doesn't need it, it's fine. Out she goes, outer robe is for drying off right now, inner robe is for putting on because the cold is worse when she's naked and wet, and then all of her clothes are bundled up in a heap and she is back inside. Augh! Augh, why.

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Taharqi watches her with some bemusement but stays outside.

    Sendhei seems to just be walking downstairs, three towels hanging on his arm, also entirely naked, and about as bemused as Taharqi is to see Saevetei back inside already. "That was quick," he says.

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"Not nearly quick enough," she hisses, shivering. "I forgot how much I hated bathing in rivers! It's the worst! I hate it!"

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"Do you prefer lakes? - oh, wait, you're from that paradise world, right, do you - always have hot water...?"

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"Yep! And indoors, so no chilly breezes. Or in the dream world, which doesn't count even if you do go diving in a river. I am a spoiled sheltered dream child, and you have my permission to giggle at me if one of those towels is for me."

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He does in fact giggle and extend her one towel.

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"Thank you, you're great and I am very grateful." Towel! It goes around her to help warm her up, because she's already mostly dry, on account of her outer robe's heroic sacrifice. All of the rest of her clothes go in an untidy pile of sadness for sorting out later.

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Sendhei laughs again and walks outside, shutting the door behind himself.

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Saevetei stays in a bundled heap of misery on the floor! After some reflection, she relocates to the fluffy animal rug, because, look, it's not like the critter is using it anymore. And she is cold, and she hates it.

She'll warm up eventually, just. Augh.

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She'll warm up pretty quickly, actually. The insulated wood is, well, pretty insulated, and there are a grand total of three torches and one brazier in this room alone. It is warm and cosy.

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Yay! Then she won't be quite so miserable anymore. And she can lounge inside in the warmth on a fluffy rug and think about what sorts of things she needs to prioritize growing first, and what materials she needs for them. Hmmm. She probably needs to refresh herself on some books, it's been a while since she bootstrapped herself up from cracked sand and dead tree husks.

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Taharqi and Sendhei sure are taking a bit.

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She considers checking on them to see if they've drowned or not, but actually she's kind of in the middle of a train of thought here. She's got notes about the progression system for bootstrapping her way up from dust and dead trees to check! And there's no paper here. Not to mention that she kind of wants to figure out the layout of her future house, and definitely wants to figure out how to get a bathhouse as quickly as possible. Plus, if she falls asleep here, she doesn't ever have to bathe in the river again! It's a win-win, really.

So that's how she ends up asleep on the rug, bundled in her towel. Look, it'll just be a catnap, she'll be right back.

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So when Sendhei and Taharqi do return, maybe Sendhei will replace her towel with a blanket.

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She stirs at the touch, giving a little stretch and opening her eyes.

"Well, fuck," she says, as half a yawn. "Oh, thank you, that's very sweet."

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Sendhei grins, offering her the blanket now that he's managed to entirely remove the towel from her person. Although she might not want it anymore - it has grown quite toasty in there.

Taharqi is nowhere to be seen.

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Saevetei takes the blanket and wraps it around herself, but she seems very distracted. Her eyebrows are furrowed and she looks... is that worry? That's definitely worry.

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"- something the matter? Taharqi's upstairs if you want to see him."

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"Uh. Yeah, I, uh. The dream world's completely empty. It's just blank, picturesque woods with no sign of any people having actually lived there. So uh. I. Think I could use a hug, actually."

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Sendhei does not understand why that means she wants a hug but he is very good at giving hugs so he can do that.

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Hug!!! Such hug!!! Kind of clingy hug, actually.

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Okay. Comforting hugs it is. He doesn't trust any words since he's still unclear on what that means so just the hug will do.

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Leaaaan.

"Okay. Uh. I should probably let Taharqi know that my mood is well and truly killed and. Finish freaking out. Um. And then make paper and write down everything I remember about how to - bootstrap myself up from dust and dead trees while I'm in a panic."

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"He assumed you were going to sleep through the night actually. We have some paper upstairs if you want?"

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"My plan was actually to take a catnap so that if I died I'd be back here instead of potentially back with the cannibals!" she snorts, leaning. "And check my notes. That certainly fell through. Paper would be great, yeah."

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"Should I go fetch it or should I stay here and yell at Taharqi to fetch it?"

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"Uh. I'll go, you can come with and show me where it is, and I can explain everything to both of you together."

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"Okay."

He unhugs and gets to his feet.

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Upstairs they go! She is less clingy now, she has a Mission.

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The first flight of stairs leads to a small landing with a door that from the position presumably leads to the upstairs balcony she saw from outside. The wall there is decorated with an ornate iron knife and the mounted head of a shaleback. The next flight of stairs back leads to Taharqi's bedroom, which contains Taharqi himself and also does indeed contain aforementioned rhino head.

Taharqi looks surprised to see her. "You're awake!"

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She is barely even creeped out by the heads mounted on the walls! She still is, but. Priorities.

"Hi! I am, but my mood is well and truly killed anyway, sorry. Not your fault, you both are lovely. Sendhei said you had paper up here?"

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"Yeah, in the workshop," he says, walking over to the closed door over there. He opens it, and the room inside does indeed look like a workshop: various tables and benches with tools for numerous purposes. It's pretty organised, to the extent that's possible, but still looks fairly cluttered, the way workshops are wont to do.

One of the desks has some roled up papyrus, which Taharqi grabs for her. He also shows her to a couple of inking brushes and reed pens plus ink she can use to write.

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"Great! Thanks." She goes to fetch the papyrus and writing utensils. "Uh. When I went to sleep the dream world was empty. Which is sort of like going home and finding that not only is your home empty, but it and the entire city it was in is just completely gone. So. I need to write up everything I can remember about how to bootstrap myself up from dust and dead trees. You know, aim the freakout to something productive."

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"Oh. I'm so sorry. Do you need a hug?"

(Sendhei looks smug at that for some reason.)

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"Sendhei actually already gave me one, but I will not turn down extras! As long as you leave my arms free so I can panic write, please."

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...okay sure he can figure out an appropriate hugging position without blocking her arms.

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Okay! Then she can lean against him while writing inscrutable things.

"Copper's easy, iron's just following the train of logic, nature is, uh, essence and, something, definitely a fast growing plant?" she mutters, writing in a somewhat shaky shorthand. Then she stops and takes a deep breath. "Augh, no, just. Stop. Breathe. Materials to figure out what I have to work with, not the specific ratios and ingredients for actually making everything out of dust and dead trees." Deeeeeeep breath. "To see what's in things I'll need glass and a kiln, so - coal and clay, and I need to gather enough unprototyped essence to make some proper essence seeds and fry the absolute shit out of the least opinionated seeds I can find..."

She's going to be muttering to herself for a while.

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Sendhei will watch in fascination for a while but eventually get bored and mutter a "good night" before retiring to his bed downstairs. Taharqi can stay here a while, although he will eventually unhug and take a seat on one of the chairs around.

(She is of course welcome to a chair, too.)

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She distractedly echoes Sendhei's "good night" back to him, but continues to mostly be distracted! Not completely distracted, though. When Taharqi unhugs she makes an unhappy grumbly sound, grabs something flat to write on, and then follows him to the chair to be cuddled while she writes. It involves mostly being in his lap, but whatever, she wants cuddles.

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Okay sure. It's not a sofa but it is a reasonably large chair made of sturdy polished and insulated wood. He will absently pet her and try to follow what she's writing for five seconds before realising he does not understand a single word she's writing.

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Eventually, she huffs a sigh, and gets up to put away the writing utensils and flat surface, and then comes back to Taharqi for Pensive Snuggles. While peering at her newly written notes.

"Hi," she mumbles, leaning on him. "Thank you for the moral support, it's appreciated even if I've been shit company and muttering witch things to myself."

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"It was actually kind of endearing," he admits, "even though yes I have no idea what your witch things meant and found out that whatever translation thing my bracelet does does not work on writing."

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"Aw, thanks. It doesn't translate? That's a pity. You're not missing much with this, anyway, it's not written to be legible. I think upon reflection I'm probably going to be okay? Mostly. I expect I won't be able to do any of the fiddly fancy stuff, but I did actually specialize in material recreation. Making bodies will probably take me actual years, though, that was mostly following instructions instead of direct problem solving. I think I should focus on figuring out how to make your bracelets not suck instead of trying to re-engineer that one from the ground up."

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"You said your dream world had a forest, right? And you don't need a body to be in it?"

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"Correct. Why?"

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"Is it... much worse to be in than your original world? Or here?"

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“No. It’s fine. Downright pleasant, really,” she says, sounding a bit confused. “Sleeping and eating and such are optional.”

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"So... why resurrect people at all?"

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“Oh. Not everyone likes it? Some people find the lack of physicality really upsetting. It’s also impossible to have children, and impossible to do magic there. You also can’t detach yourself from inside, so if everyone is there, everyone is stuck.”

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"Huh. I guess I do not really know what it must feel like, then. The dreams I remember usually feel okay to be in, I think."

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“Compared to normal dreams it’s a bit more, mm. Solid? Lucid, maybe? And cognitive functions are definitely better, there’s more self awareness and control than I remember ordinary dreams having. But it’s been a while since I had ordinary dreams, not since I was a child.”

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"Which sounds better. Right?"

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“I think so, yeah. I did mention I wanted to consensually steal everyone into the dream world, didn’t I?”

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"You did, it's true," he says, grinning. He runs a hand through her hair and adds, "But for now we should sleep."

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“Mmm. Yeah, I suppose. It’ll be weird, though. For me, I mean. I guess I can do a lot of sightseeing of dream locations. Or nap until I wake up.”

She scoots off of him so he can, in fact, stand up! Look at her, so thoughtful and kind.

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He can get up! And if he's slightly stiff from it, that's only to be expected.

"You can also sleep in the dream world? You mentioned it, didn't you - it seems so strange. You probably have lots of habits about sleeping that we just... don't, huh?"

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“Yeah, probably. The cultural divide is uh. Definitely present.” No, bad Saevetei, do not look at his penis! This would be so much less awkward if they’d actually fucked.

“Damn it,” she realizes. “I had the terrible river bath for nothing, that’s so upsetting.”

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"...terrible river bath. I'm getting some mixed signals here, you know," he says, folding his arms and cocking his head a bit. But now that she gave him the look again and he's not in Business Mode, the look has... an effect. "I think I am going to go with my gut, here, please tell me if you don't actually want this."

And with that he steps closer to her again so he can tip her chin up and kiss her.

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Bwuh?

She is actually too confused to kiss him back! Instead she pulls away slightly to peer at him in utter bafflement.

“... I’m getting some mixed signals too!” she says, a little exasperated. “I thought you weren’t very interested? I’d rather have sex with someone that wants to have sex with me, not someone who seems kind of ‘eh’ about the whole affair. Are you not eh about the whole affair?”

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He looks utterly baffled. "No? I just figured you needed some space after your, you know, dream revelation," he says, waving a hand around vaguely. "Or exhausted, since you fell asleep there at all, one of those."

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“Space after the dream revelation is totally fair, and it was absolutely a mood killer that might tank my ability to fuck for the rest of the night! But I’m talking about before?” She blinks at him, brow furrowed.

“... I fell asleep on purpose, it wasn’t a matter of exhaustion. I wanted to be sure that if I died I’d come back here instead of potentially back with the cannibals. I’ve never died twice in a row without falling asleep at all, I was a bit worried I’d get pulled back to their camp instead of getting brought back where I stood again. Plus you were taking a while and I was bored and wanted to check my notes? Is getting clean that important for sex in the waking world, that sounds aggravating.”

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"...it is, ah, somewhat important, it - Sendhei came over and we fooled around in the river for a while since it seemed like you didn't want to?"

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“Oh, well if you were after river sex then yes, no thank you. Sorry, I didn’t realize that was what you were after, I didn’t mean to lead you on there and bail immediately. I thought you meant sex in general. Which was why I bathed at all, since yeah upon reflection needing to be clean for waking world sex seems important?”

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"More like river foreplay, but yes. I also think that - there might be some miscommunication about sleep, here. It seemed like a pretty no-go when I saw you asleep? Especially since it's night? Do people not sleep through the night in your world?"

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“... It’s pretty common, but not universal? But I would have thought it’d be obvious I wasn’t planning to spend the night sleeping on the rug in a towel, I’d be horribly sore all day tomorrow. Uh, sleep isn’t really a sex show stopper. I mean, it would have been pretty messed up if you’d started trying to fool around with my body while I was out of it, but, like. For me it was the equivalent of ducking out into another room for a bit, not checking out entirely? I stirred the minute anyone poked me, Sendhei was trying to get me a blanket, which was very sweet.”

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"Another room? - I don't have access to your dream world."

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“I know! But you could still just call me back over, even if you can’t enter the room yourself?”

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"It is pretty rude to wake people up for anything that is not particularly an emergency."

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“... No? Not in my culture? It’d be rude if you woke me up by yelling, mind, but. Gently poking me to see if I wanted to keep to a prior engagement is fine?”

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"I think if I woke up someone who fell asleep and asked if they were still up for sex, here, they might feel justified in punching me."

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“Oh. No. That sounds annoying. I wouldn’t punch you for poking me if I were engrossed in a novel to ask if I wanted to have sex, I would have perked up and put it away and said sure, or said no and gone back to it if I’d changed my mind. Not asking at all reads as not very interested? Plus you were taking a while in the first place? Which, again, is fine, just. The whole thing reads as extremely meh about the affair, and I would rather not be a meh.”

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"You are an extremely attractive, foreign, magical, and ambitious woman wearing a fairly flimsy dress that the inner barbarian in me wants to tear to pieces with its teeth. I am not 'meh' about this."

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“Oh.” She colors slightly, and has a faint little smile at the corner of her lips. “Why didn’t you say that, then? You were just going ‘I am very pretty, look at how pretty I am, don’t you want to have sex with me,’ to which I agreed and said yes, but that’s not, you know. ‘You, Saevetei, are attractive and I kind of want to rip your dress off but have ever heard what consent is and want you to want me to!’ Which, for the record, I do! And this dress is easily repairable even if ripped into pieces, I did not want to have to replace my wardrobe every single time I have yet another stupid death.”

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"It was going to be part of the river foreplay! How about we start over from the part where the little mounting miscommunications have been solved and I get back to when I was kissing you just now and maybe carry you to the other room where ripping your dress to pieces will be more comfortable for you, hm?"

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“Me not being into river foreplay doesn’t mean I’m not into you, it means I’m not into river foreplay, and I think you should have asked or adjusted instead of just assuming,” she sniffs. “But yes, we can get back to kissing now. As long as we get a blanket to cover your creepy dead rhino head, staring at you as you sleep.”

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Taharqi laughs and leans forward again to kiss her, just a small soft peck on the lips. "Let me fetch something to cover the rhino, then."

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Kiss! “Thank you. Though for the record I need way more foreplay than just ripping my dress off, I would like to be thoroughly convinced that you want to fuck me, not that you just want to fuck. ... In a river.”

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"Yes, ma'am. Though I think you still underestimate the relevance of the 'sleep' part."

He goes back out to his bedroom and then downstairs, presumably to fetch blankets.

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“If your date gets bored of being ignored and instead reads a novel, whose fault is that? But fine, yes, yes, fault on both sides, cultural divides are hard to bridge,” she calls after him.

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...well, he'll have to ask about this 'your date' thing later, there's only so much understanding the translation bracelet can impart.

Blankets! On the rhino head!

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Hooray! Now she doesn’t feel like she’s being judged by a soulless husk!

“I am sorry about the communication issues,” she says seriously, sitting in the dip of his bed and folding her hands in her lap to look at him. “And for the record you are very pretty and have very impressive muscles and you’ve been very reasonable and straightforward and thoughtful and kind, and these are all appealing qualities in a person.”

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Taharqi walks in front of her and gets down on his knees, sitting on his heels. "I for one think it is a very reasonable price to pay for the reward. Not just the sex which has not even started to occur, mind you. You seem like a sensible, smart, resourceful, and good person, and although I am sorry that you are trapped away from home I am not sorry that I found you and that you are here."

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She reaches out to gently cup his cheek. “I’m not sorry that I’m here, either, for the record. I’d been planning to run away to the wilderness anyway, you know. I doubt anyone is even surprised about my disappearance, they’ll likely just be impressed that I pulled it off so completely. So it’s not all bad, it’s just a little scary. To be all alone.”

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"Is this the part where I tell you you are not alone? Because you are not alone."

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“Yes, I was leaving you that opening on purpose, well spotted,” she snorts. “Do you want to say it or do you want to show me?”

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"You are not alone," he repeats. "But I am more than willing to show you."

He then gets up so he's on a level with her and so he can kiss her, this time being way more sure that it is entirely what both participants want!

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It is absolutely what both participants want! This participant gives a happy hum and leans into him, kissing him back.

 

Sex in the waking world: a bit messy, occasionally uncomfortable, and a little bit awkward, but in her opinion still pretty great. And they can cuddle and sleep together after! That’s nice, that’s not actually the norm in the dream world.

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That sounds stupid, cuddling and sleeping together is like one of the best parts. Other than all the rest.

Going to sleep soon after sundown means that when their lack of curtains brings sunlight into the room they are both of them fairly well-rested already.

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Cuddling is perfectly normal, going to sleep together is not! Not everyone wants to sleep if they don't have to! Except here, they have to.

"Why do I hurt more," grumbles Saevetei, hiding from the terrible, terrible sunlight. "This is not faaaaaaaair."

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"...more? Oh, than yesterday? Well, that's how it works."

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"Nghhhhh it's dumb why didn't I get pulled in here while I had my healing charm onnnn."

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"That sounds like a very useful item to have. Well, if you watch Sendhei dancing you'll probably feel better."

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"What. Just emotionally, or actually magically doing making me not hurt as much?"

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"The latter. His dancing improves healing and cleanses corruption."

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She immediately sits up, with hardly even a groan.

"How does it do that," says Saevetei, fascinated.

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Shrug. "Magic?" he says, unhelpfully.

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She sighs, and pats him. "I'll figure it out. Probably. It's neat, though, I like that there are several mysteries available to figure out, it'll prevent me from getting bored in flower breeding hell."

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"'Flower breeding hell'."

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"My not so affectionate nickname for the complicated process of plant crossbreeding and magical hybridization to distill multiple qualities of various plants into whatever magic plant I'm ultimately aiming for. It's approximately what it feels like. Flower breeding hell."

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"To make those plants you said, that produce iron and all that?"

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"Sort of. More like isolating the building blocks for making those plants? Extremely weird plants that produce iron or something need a whole magical ritual to be created, and it's significantly easier to do if I can isolate specific processes that somewhat more ordinary plants are capable of, and essentially tell the ritual, 'Okay. That. Do that, but with this.' Does that make sense?"

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"I think so. Is this magic... teachable? It is a lot different from the magics I am used to."

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"It is! I have several advantages at it because this body was specifically designed to channel essence in various ways, but once I get things a bit more set up I could teach you things. I expect you will not want to learn all of the flower breeding hell theory, it takes ages to get anything useful out of it and took me ages to wrap my head around it all. But I will absolutely teach you how to use your blood to feed living things and make them grow faster or stronger or differently if you'd like me to, and I can teach you how to distill key elements from things to use in rites. You will get to burn lots of things, it'll be very exciting."

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Taharqi laughs. "Well, the burning part at least is one I am used to." He sits up and stretches, which causes more than one bone to make a cracking noise.

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She grins, then scoots over to retrieve bits of torn dress to see about piecing them back together. This mostly involves holding once-contiguous pieces next to each other and pressing them together with her fingers. It looks almost ordinary, except there's a little bit of a glow where her fingers meet fabric. All of the tears in her wake are knitted back together, like they'd never even been torn apart in the first place.

"Just setting things on fire will not cut it, a lot of it's burning multiple things at once and channeling the smoke through a filter that catches only the things you want. But yes, burning things."

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The sound of drums starts coming from downstairs, making Taharqi look in that direction. "Seems like Sendhei is up."

And it might just be her imagination, but there does seem to be a little qualitative difference in how her soreness feels. Not like it's gone or healed but like it's less... raw.

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"Huh," says Saevetei, thoughtfully, still melding her clothes back together. "That's so subtle. The magic, I mean, not the drums. It's absolutely fascinating and I will at some point be an excited magic geek at him about it."

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"I'm not sure he knows much about the theory," Taharqi cautions. "But he's very good at the practice."

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"I will not tackle him to forcibly interrogate him at knifepoint for the specifics of the theory of his magic," snorts Saevetei.

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"I just wouldn't want to get your hopes up," he says, laughing. Up he gets, and starts making his way downstairs.

(The wall directly in front of the first flight of stairs down contains the head of a shaleback.)

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She will take a little while to put her robe back together! Yes, everyone else here would be fine if she waltzed around naked, but she'd feel awkward about it, which is enough. Besides, this thing needs to be repaired anyway, so she might as well do it now. And then, once it's all in one piece again, she can put it on and go downstairs.

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Sendhei is indeed dancing. He's not naked, but he's wearing that same lewder-than-naked outfit from before. Taharqi is sitting on the floor, cross legged, a bowl of some thick white paste in one hand and a spoon in the other, watching Sendhei with a slight smile. Now that she can see him, the magical effect is, perhaps not exactly any more noticeable (to non-magical senses), but definitely stronger. It's like receiving a massage, but without the part where massages hurt.

    "Good morning," says Sendhei to Saevetei when he sees her.

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"Good morning," she says brightly, smiling at him. "Your magic is very sneaky and interesting! I'm sorry for not noticing earlier!"

She should also probably acquire food. What... is the paste that Taharqi is eating. Can she tell just by looking at it? (Probably not.)

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    "I stopped dancing just as you arrived, I guess it makes sense." His magic (or rather, a different magic thing that happens to be happening at the same time from the same source) is also making the drum sound! It would be very boring to dance to no music.

"This is some dried nuts and berries with cactus fruit sap. There's a bowl outside, middle floor, if you want some," he says, pointing back at the stairs she came from.

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"And I can't really perceive magic that's not actively doing something. Even then it's kind of iffy. My body's built for channeling essence, not perceiving it. Anyway, I'll go try the cactus medley and be back with questions, if you don't mind?"

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"Sure!"

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When she returns with food, her questions are:

"So is it the act of dancing that does the magic, as in the movement itself, or is there something else going on?"

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"It's... the dancing, but not just the dancing, not anyone who dances can do it. You gotta do it right."

Despite the conversation, Sendhei seems barely winded, and he doesn't stop dancing to chat.

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"That's so interesting! Do you know what other people might be missing, if they were to just try dancing? Or how you'd teach someone to do it right?"

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"I could teach someone, I think, but it's... I dunno if there's a thing missing really, it's not like that."

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"So... more like getting lots of little details right over missing a key unseen component?"

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"I... think so, yeah. That feels closer."

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"Huh! Okay, so if you were teaching someone, which things are most important for someone to get right? Or are they all equally important."

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Sendhei looks at Taharqi, who grins at him and shrugs, then does a final twirl with his hip and swirl with his body that ends on him sitting on the ground, the drum fading to silence as he does that. The immediate feeling of relief slowly fades as well, but the soreness and pain are decidedly lessened.

"Equally important?" he guesses. "Getting fewer things right means doing less well not doing nothing at all."

Taharqi gets to his feet, his bowl of cactus porridge appropriately empty, and makes his way upstairs to fetch Sendhei some.

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"Huh! Okay. And you can tell when you get things right or not?"

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"Yeah. But you can too, right?"

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"Tell when you get things right? ... I guess so, yeah. Is your ability to perceive getting it right about the same as mine?"

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"Yeah."

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"Well the implications of that are very interesting, it might mean that there are other dances to do other sorts of things. Or maybe this is a one off. Without knowing the theory behind it I really couldn't do anything more than speculate! It's very exciting. But as much as I want to figure out the why behind the what, I should actually probably instead leverage the magic I do know now instead of getting distracted like the magic nerd I really am."

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Sendhei laughs, and thanks the returning Taharqi for the bowl of gruel. "Maybe you could teach her how to dance."

    "I think women's dances are different."

"In ways that matter?"

    "Hmm. Maybe not."

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"I would be delighted to learn how to dance! But probably in about ten years after I have your bracelets and immortality sorted out, and I have disseminated books on how to tie one's soul to the dream world to the entire continent at the very least," she says, brightly. "Or I guess if I'm restless and bored, but I'd be a very flaky and distracted student then, which seems sort of unfair to you as a teacher."

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"Most people can't read," Taharqi mentions.

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"Damnation. That will be trickier but not impossible to overcome. I'll need to figure out little charming devices to recite to people all of the ingredients and the preparation steps. Or something."

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"You have got your work cut out for you."

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"So, Tuesday, then?" says Saevetei, dry.

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Sendhei sporfles and then looks confused by himself. "I don't know what a 'Tuesday' is, but yes, probably," says Taharqi.

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"It's a perfectly ordinary day of the week. Anyway! I should get to work instead of just talking about it. First of all, do you have any garbage, preferably organic based, that you do not want and would like to get rid of? Things from animals you didn't use, food that's rotted, that sort of thing?"

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"We have a compost heap out back that we use to fertilise the ground around to grow some aloe but you can feel free to make use of it for whatever."

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"Ooo you already have a compost heap! Then if you don't mind I will commandeer it and use it as a starting point, it will be very helpful. Uh, do you have a particular opinion about where I put my house, and also if you're fine living in the obnoxiously alive oasis I am going to make?"

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"You probably want to steer clear of the rocknoses and imps? But that's for yourself, I'm not the master of the river or anything."

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"Okay! Where are the rocknoses and imps? And what are some other plants you'd like me to focus on, aloe should be pretty straightforward, especially if you've already got some growing around here."

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"Rocknoses are up the cliffs to the north, near the iron mines; imps are across the river from us, in the cave mostly but sometimes they venture out."

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"All right, I'll keep an eye out for them. And keep my bow handy. Where do I go to clean this?" She motions to her now-empty bowl.

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Taharqi hands out a hand to take it from her.

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".... Fiiiiine. Thank you. But I will earn my keep even if I don't do dishes," she sniffs, and hands it over. Now to get the rest of her clothes on! Like boots, boots are important.

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Taharqi and Sendhei do not seem to agree with this assessment; Sendhei gives Taharqi his bowl and gets back on his feet to start stretching, and Taharqi goes to the door that leads outside. "I'll show you the compost heap," he tells Saevetei.

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"Sure, thanks! But give me time to get my clothes on, yeah? Or I will be bright red by the time this day is through."

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"Sure, meet you outside."

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Her clothes all go on, and then out she goes.

"Are you still willing to help, by the way? Because I could use cuttings of, uh. Every unique plant I can get my hands on."

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He has washed the bowls with river water by then.

"Every plant? Sure, I can do that."

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"If possible! It's not a big deal if something is missed, but having a variety of starting materials will give me more to work from and I won't have to bully plants quite so much! Aim for large differences in plants over getting six different varieties of cacti, I can still use six different varieties of cacti, but there's less overall gained from it."

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"Got it. I don't think there is a lot of variety here but what little exists I can get you. How much of each kind?"

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"I don't actually need a very large part of them, I can work from very small pieces. Instead the constraint is that I do still need it to be mostly alive. So, not too dried out and within a couple of hours of taking the cutting. I can go around and gather a couple of different variety of plant and show you how to give them the best chances? General rules of thumb are that water almost always helps, and larger cuttings take longer to die."

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"Well, I was thinking that," and he gestures around expansively, "I'd start with the kinds around this place. That's at least ten within a minute's walk. Within two hours by horse I could get more."

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"Sounds good! And then I let you loose to go adventuring to find new and slightly more exotic plants."

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"Perfect. Anyway, the compost heap is just outside here, next to the furnace." He walks around the house to the opposite side of it from the one they arrived from. There is indeed a stone furnace there, cold and quiet, and then a bit farther away from the house so as to not get the smell close is indeed a compost heap.

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Compost heap! She's excited. Look at it, it's so gross and smelly, that makes it absolutely perfect.

"I am going to take a minute to bully the compost heap to make it better at composting, and then we can go running off to pick pretty plants together," she announces, retrieving her athame. "Mostly it will just involve me bleeding on the compost heap and then sitting around looking very serious, so you're free to uh. Go do less boring things for a bit, if you'd rather."

The cut on her thumb's already healed over, leaving unscarred skin. The benefits of being in a body that can remake itself from scratch; she gets to skip all of the annoying scab phases. Like having a painful cut on her thumb. A bleeding injury there is good for archery, since it lets her modify arrows just before she looses them, but it is just not practical for day to day work. Mostly because she uses her thumbs for things. So this cut gets to be on her forearm! Just a little one. Ow. And then the compost heap can be bled upon! Not very much, just a little.

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"When I get bored I shall leave but for now I want to watch."

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"Okay, suit yourself. I guess I can explain as I go, this isn't actually very interesting to do. I've done it a lot."

She sits down next to the pile of rotting garbage, and closes her eyes. As she works, she explains. "So, the bleeding is for a connection. It's possible to connect to things without bleeding on them, but it would involve directly sticking my hands in the garbage, and I'd really rather just not. Not to mention the connection that way is weaker and more tenuous, and it's easier for me to lose hold of. So, I skipped that. And now that I'm connected to it, what I am aiming to do is magically shove it to work faster and better, and sort of. Mm. Streamline the process. But right now I'm setting up a decent environment to work in before I properly get going. Which mostly involves me rudely telling everything living in here to stay out of my way or I will squish it beneath my proverbial magical heel. Fear me, compost."

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"I thought the things living there helped with the... composting."

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"They are! I am not killing them, I am crushing them beneath my heel, there is a difference. Mostly they're fine with the iron fisted rule of Queen Saevetei of the Compost, and just go with it. A lot of what I'm doing is reducing the in-fighting of the living things present. Nudging things away from competing with each other and more into working together."

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"- oh, so you're bossing them around."

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Her mouth twitches. “Yes. Yes I am. That’s why it was so helpful to already have a compost heap! Thank you for my tiny minions.”

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"You are rather welcome."

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"I will take good care of them," she promises, then she opens her eyes and stands back up. "There, that's enough for now. I'll come back to check on it later, and eventually I'll start directly feeding it essence to speed the whole thing up even more, but it has to be set up correctly in order to process it."

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"See, that wasn't even long enough to get boring."

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"It probably helps that I spent the entire time talking!"

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"It does, but still," he says, grinning. "Anyway, let me return these bowls to their appropriate places, then you can show me what to do."

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"Mhm! Oh, and you might want to wear gloves if you have any. Definitely bring a very sharp knife and something to clean it with. And maybe some scrap fabric to wet and wrap around the base of the cutting, but that's more for when you're venturing out on your own, we kind of don't need it when I'm right here."

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"Sharp knife... give me a bit," he says, heading inside for bowl-placing and knife-fetching-probably-question-mark.

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"Sure. I'll go bully your aloe plants while I wait."

She can find the aloe plants, right? The poor things are soon to be under the iron fisted authoritarian rule of Saevetei, and there will not be space for mercy in her new regime.

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Yep, there's a smol plot of land with aloe over there.

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Great! It should become the most triumphant example of aloe kind. She doesn't actually want to change anything fundamental, that'll be for secondary strains that are grown parallel to this one, but she can help it with all of its plant problems. The equivalent of showing up and cleaning someone's house instead of actively renovating, in metaphor terms. And killing any pests that are getting in the aloe's way of being the best aloe of all time.

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Taharqi's back in a minute, holding a pair of leather gloves and a knife of... that metal is perhaps more reflective and sharper than regular iron would be.

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"Oh, that'll do nicely!" says Saevetei brightly, looking up from her slightly perkier aloe subject.

Lessons in how to take cuttings from plants commence! The most important part is locating these little bumps along the plant's stem, called nodes, and making sure the cutting has at least one. Next is finding new growth to cut from, cutting it at a forty-five degree angle, and then putting the whole cutting into water promptly.

"If you're trying to replant them without a life witch, anyway. With me here, I just need you to not take so long that it dries out entirely. But I do need a node to be okay, so if you can only find one, try to cut much further down on the plant than it to give it some space and prevent drying out. And if you're doing this to replant without any magical bullshit assistance, I recommend sterilizing the knife first, because the plant is very vulnerable when it's, uh, starting from a cutting like this. If you want to get into how to replant these without me I can actually show you that, too, but it's less relevant and more fiddly and you might not care."

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Taharqi follows her directions with exacting care. "'Sterilizing'?"

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"Oh. Uh. Cleaning and completely killing all of the tiny lifeforms on the blade. Strong alcohol or dousing it in boiling water, basically."

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He looks at his blade. "Tiny lifeforms," he repeats.

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"Oh dear. Uh. So there are lots of very, very small lifeforms everywhere. Sort of like, uh, animals running around in a jungle, except we are the proverbial jungle and they're generally too small for us to notice them. But we can notice some of the effects. If a wound gets infected or you get a cold, it's generally because a tiny lifeform got into you and is, uh, chopping down a bunch of trees for their own purposes. Which you do not appreciate, being the jungle in this metaphor."

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He blinks slowly. "And the knife is, what, a boat? How did they get there in the first place."

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"Sure, the knife can be a boat. They are the fundamental building blocks of life itself and so they're kind of everywhere, and it's more accurate to ask where they aren't than where they are. If you were to try to kill them all it'd kill you too. Going back to the metaphor, if you tried to kill all of the types of tree and animal in a jungle, you would no longer have a jungle, you'd have a desert. You, the jungle, would be dead. You are already made up of a bunch of them, the problem's when a foreign one gets introduced that throws off your natural balance in favor of making trillions of itself with your resources."

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"O...kay. And they survive fire? This knife was made only a few days ago."

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"Typically they don't survive fire! Fire is also an acceptable way to sterilize things, if you use it right and if it's hot enough. But in the few days since then, they have had the chance to get back onto the knife, by contact with, uh, the knife's sheath or unboiled water you've washed it with, or something. Since they're everywhere. So if you want to be sure that everything's dead, you need to sterilize it before using it."

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"That sounds very time-consuming if you have to do it every time. How quick are they?"

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"It is a bit time consuming without proper setup beforehand, yes. My athame has a way to quickly kill all of the tiny lifeforms on it, it's why it has the gem in its hilt. Uh. It's mostly transferred by touching more than active movement speed? So if it's a boat, then when you touch the knife to something else, the boat docks at the proverbial harbor, and new things get on."

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"Okay... So I do it once and cut lots of plants with it and after I sheathe it I have to do it again? The boiling water part, I mean."

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Wince. "Nnnno, between each one. Since each time it cuts a plant it's like it's docking at a new dock. Uh. I'll get you something to make it quick and easy, and until then don't worry about it?"

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"The plants have tiny lifeforms that are harmful to each other?"

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"Often, yes."

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He furrows his eyebrows but nods seriously.

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Poor Taharqi, confronted with germ theory out of nowhere. She reaches out and pats him. You're doing great, Taharqi. "I guess I'll prioritize distilling alchohol higher, then!" Pause. "... Until then I could teach you how to clean my athame with magic and then send you off with it."

She looks so incredibly unenthused about this prospect, though!

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"Why is it a bad idea?"

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"It's a good idea, actually, if you'll be running around getting cuttings of things instead of me, I'm just, uh. .... It's mine?"

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"I think I can deal with boiling water, it is not a deal breaker."

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"Honestly, I recommend just skipping it until I get alcohol to let you do it quickly. I can and will just kill any of the tiny lifeforms that plague any cutting you give me. But, if you're replanting things without me! Sterilize things."

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"Duly noted."

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Okay, back to their lesson on cutting bits off of plants! It's still super straightforward. He's probably glad he's wearing gloves, though, because it involves a lot of sap and other plant related liquids. And then all of the plants are placed into little holes in the ground, that Saevetei does just a little bit of magic to and then fills with water from the river. The holes in the ground do not seem like they're going to drain anytime soon, even though that is... not how things tend to work.

"And that's basically it!" she says brightly, once the cuttings are all safely potted in their little waterproof holes in the ground.

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He does not actually care about the wetness and sap but sure. "Isn't that a bit too much water?" he asks.

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"Nope! They don't need that much water to drink, but they'll find it easier to grow new roots if they're suspended in water. Once they've got roots of their own I'll rip holes in the waterproof film keeping the water in, and add in dirt. From there they'll get watered normally. But little baby plants are delicate."

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"Clever. I feel like this entire area is going to suddenly have many more plants than it's ever seen."

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"I did warn you! Obnoxiously alive. I was really, really not kidding."

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"I look forward to seeing what-all you will do."

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"It'll be fun! And also often rather boring. Magic involves a lot of setup and then wandering off for a while until things are done growing."

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"Not the local kind, but I suppose that makes sense."

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"Right. My magic involves a lot of setup and then wandering off for a while. The local magic involves dancing, placating gods, and blood sacrifice. There, happy?"

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"It sometimes involves food, fires, and chanting, too."

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"Mine sometimes involves food and fires too! But no chanting. I have no idea how chanting would help anything in particular."

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"Me neither, it was never really my thing," he says, shrugging.

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"I will teach you some of my magic, and then you can lord your strange power over everyone."

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Taharqi laughs. "I can, but maybe I'd rather keep it a secret."

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"Then you can do that too! A lot of things I could give you would plausibly just be weird collectibles without the knowledge of how to use them, anyway, so it wouldn't even be hard."

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"I do not actually care about keeping it a secret."

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"Oh, so you're just being contrary as an excuse to flirt with me."

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"Yep. Can you blame me?"

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"I could! But I won't. Since you are being kind enough to go run errands for me and let me take over your compost pile."

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"Mutually beneficial agreements are very useful."

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"They are!" And then, because he's cute, he gets a kiss.

"But speaking of, I have things to do! I have a house to build and indoor heated plumbing to reinvent."

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"And I suppose I have plants to collect."

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"Thank you very much, I appreciate you immensely."

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"You are rather welcome, my lady."

And off he goes for nearby plants.

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It's so convenient, to not have to run all over creation while setting up her starter workshop! She can instead just focus on making the tools that will let her manipulate and purify molten glass. Which will involve some running around, but significantly less so. Especially with how there are people that are already established here. She goes off to find Sendhei to ask him a question.

"Hey, Sendhei, where do you get your clay? I'm going to need some."

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"Uh, there's a deposit not too far southeast from here."

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"Great! Thanks. And any spare bones I could have?"

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"Oh yeah we have some."

He can go fetch.

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"Thank you!"

The first time she did this, she didn't have any bones available, and had to go through a whole runaround to make something close enough to serve as a substitute. It's so nice that she doesn't have to do that!

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Fetch'd! Here are bones. They are varied but most of these seem to be alligator and deer bones.

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Variance is fine! It's all going into a vat in the ground anyway, having a variety to start from just makes her later job easier. Is the marrow intact, or no?

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Mostly, not in all of the bones but many.

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Good enough for her! She goes out and digs a pit (Sendhei is kind enough to lend her a shovel), reinforces the edges of it, and then grinds up and dumps all of the bones, some compost, some mud, sand, and quite a lot of water into it. Then it's off to find clay! Are there any trees available on her way there?

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Several, the river actually has rather many trees aroung its banks, plus shrubbery, cacti, and grass.

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She removes a branch from one and takes it with her. Along with her bow and arrows. She'll use her own energy for converting the branch if she has to, but if something happens to, say, attack her on the way to get clay, well. Waste not, want not, or something. Does anything attack her while she's locating and digging up clay?

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Nope! There are deer but they are very nonthreatening and do not want to kill her at all.

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Saevetei doesn't want to kill them either! The deer can live. Her own energy (and blood) will be better anyway, just. The very suicidal alligator made an impression, okay. And if she needed to kill to defend herself it'd be worse to just waste it.

Clay gets brought back and dumped into her vat, and then she draws blood and gets to transmuting the branch. This isn't going to be as wasteful as her emergency bow transmutation with the cannibals, since she isn't working something on something under tension, and has time to make everything properly neat, but she's going to need a snack and maybe a nap after this. Still. She has enough in her to transmute this branch into what is essentially a giant red-brown vaguely magic spoon. She has that snack, and gives a little yawn but doesn't actually need a nap, and then she ties up her hair, takes off most of her clothes, slices a small cut on her ankle, and hops into the vat to stir her concoction with her magic spoon.

Behold, onlookers, the grandeur of magic.

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The sole onlooker is bemused.

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Yeah, that's fair.

There is a method to her madness, though! Really. She's making a living rock-alike mix that can be moved with magic into specific shapes she wants! And then hardened, to make permanent. This first pass will be kind of weak and flimsy in comparison to what she'll be able to get later, and comparatively difficult to move, but the end result will be better at delicate detail work than just shaping clay herself. Not to mention with more variety in texture, which will be very necessary when it comes to sanding down the lens she'll need to make later.

Not that she's going to explain herself yet, though. It's funnier if Sendhei has no idea what she's doing or why she's doing it. She gives a cheerful wave and goes back to mixing and ordering the sludge around with magic! Every now and then she spoons out some sludge that she deems unfit for her slurry.

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This is so weird and worrying and weirdly fascinating and mesmerising!

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Aww! He looks so charmed.

Well, soon enough she's got something she can at least do some rudimentary shaping to. She picks up some of her (magic) sludge with her (magic) spoon and slowly pours it back into her vat, holding a hand close to the stream of brown-grey sludge. Without actually touching it, she gives the falling sludge a magic shove, and watches the way it flinches away from her and splatters with a critical eye. Not a bad first pass, but not great. There's still a lot more work to do. But at least she has a better feel for what things she needs to spoon out of her mix and what things she needs to nurture.

She does this test several more times, with various stirring and spooning out of sludge (and, in one case, retrieving some spooned-out sludge) happening in between. It's a slow process, but the stream of falling sludge gets a bit more responsive each time she tests it.

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He's kind of entranced by this process, now; he's even stopped dancing to watch.

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Eventually the sludge is quite responsive, and willing to struggle against gravity to try to keep to the shape she's impressing on it. She gives a little self-satisfied hum, hops out of the sludge (telling it to please get off of her feet and stay in its vat) and sits at the edge to start shaping the things she needs.

"Do you want to try moving it around?" she asks, as she begins. "You'll need to bleed into it, and I can't promise great results at first, but shaping probably plays to all of your strengths."

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"- eh?" he asks, blinking as if he wasn't expecting to be addressed at all.

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"Do you want to try shaping the rock slurry? You look fascinated. Shaping this stuff isn't a bad start for a beginner, and there's enough for you to mess around with without worrying about wasting any or anything."

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"...okay. I have to... bleed first?" He starts removing his silks and sandals and jewellery, presumably so they don't get dirty.

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"A little, yeah. Sorry. But once it's tied to you, you won't need to do it again unless I start a whole new aggregate. Adding stuff into this one won't mess up the connection."

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"Oh I have no problem with it, I was just making sure." He can procure a knife and then bleed, once he is naked and this will not mess with his silks.

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Once he bleeds into the vat, she mixes it in with her magic spoon, then scoops out a glob of sludge for him to begin lessons.

“Okay, hold out both hands?” One hand gets the glob of sludge, and the other gets nothing. “This is for comparison, so you can feel the difference.”

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"......one has it, the other doesn't," he says.

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Saevetei snorts. “Yes. Okay, close your eyes and move your empty hand. Focus on how it feels to move the muscles. Then hold the feeling in your head and, without actually moving it, imagine moving the hand with the aggregate. Focus on the physicality of it, it’ll feel a lot like how you move your empty hand.”

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He nods slowly, closes his eyes, then starts wiggling his right fingers.

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It definitely feels like there’s something to move, over there with the glob of aggregate. Sort of like a phantom limb. The comparison between the two hands does make it a bit easier to see the differences, and soon enough...

The glob of sludge wobbles. That definitely felt like moving something. Not quite like a normal limb, but. Definitely in that vein.

“Oh, good job,” says Saevetei, “That was very fast, you might be a natural.”

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He opens his eyes immediately, but grins widely when he is praised. "That felt very strange."

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"Yep, it does! And from there it's just a matter of practice. Later I can show you about how to make and change the aggregate, but it'll be better if you get used to moving it around first. Changing it branches off from moving it around and takes more familiarity."

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He nods and tries to move it some more.

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It will wobble obligingly! Yep, this will take some practice to get right. It's not particularly strong or graceful when it's just sort of wobbling around like this. With some practice, he'll get more of the hang of moving it around. Interestingly, it's not just about directly moving it, it's sort of about having it press or brace against itself, so it has something to move against. He can slowly graduate from wobbling to purposeful wiggling.

Meanwhile, Saevetei gently forms her own goop into specific shapes, occasionally offering pointers to Sendhei as she works.

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And that is more or less how Taharqi finds them when he returns.

"Having fun in the mud?" he asks, eyebrows knitted together in amused bemusement.

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“Yes we are,” she sniffs, “do you want to join us? I’m teaching Sendhei magic. He’s very good at shaping, I think he’ll end up better than I am at it after some more practice.”

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"...I'm actually tempted. Where should I leve the, ah, plants?"

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“Oh, I’ll take them! If you think you can walk Taharqi through the basics, Sendhei?”

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"Huh?" He looks up from his mud at Taharqi. "Oh, hi. Yeah, I guess I can."

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Saevetei gives a little giggle, then says, "Thank you, it's appreciated."

First though: she needs to mix Taharqi's blood into the goop! Then, once that's done, she can claim the little plants and go place them in their new homes, in holes in the ground, with their fellows.

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And Taharqi will figure out how to do some stuff probably. Except he is not anywhere near as good at it as Sendhei.

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That's fine! There are a number of options for magic, and many of them don't involve shaping at all.

"Besides, not being as good as Sendhei doesn't mean you're bad at it, and also makes me feel less completely outclassed by a beginner!" says Saevetei, brightly.

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Sendhei looks perhaps a bit too smug by this.

"I will figure this out, though."

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"I don't doubt it! But I'm done with what I needed to do, so I'm going to go fire these and then resume doing obscure magic things. Want me to let you two know when I'm at a part that is interesting to watch or learn from?"

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"Yes," they say at the same time.

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She giggles. "Okay, sure. Do you have an iron or copper cooking pot I can borrow?"

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"Iron, yes. The upstairs balcony should have a couple."

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"Great, thanks! And I will raid your alchemy supplies for my own magical purposes if that's fine with both of you?"

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Taharqi laughs. "You can use whatever you want, just show me what you make with it later."

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"Eeeee excellent thank you!" she squeals, and then off she goes to raid their supplies.

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He laughs but Sendhei slaps his arm and tells him to stop getting distracted and pay attention to his blob of mud. "Yes, master," replies Taharqi, rolling his eyes.

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And meanwhile, Saevetei gets to work! She is going to make a lens and can probably put together some decent magical chalk, and there's already a bunch of stuff to work from, she's not actually clawing her way up the proverbial tech tree from dust and dead trees! She's very excited. This is much nicer than last time she did this.

 


"Okay!" she calls, after a couple of hours have passed. "I did all of the boring production stuff already, now I can do some proper witchcraft!"

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Taharqi and Sendhei have been working on the wobbly mud and are rather muddy as a result. They both look up at her and immediately abandon the mud pit to watch.

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Okay, now they just need to start wrestling in the mud, and—

No, bad Saevetei, focus! This isn't very hard, because showing people magic is fun.

She practically glides over to where she's set everything up, on a rock that looks like it's been smoothed out to make a kind of work table. On the makeshift table is a little pile of tinder set on top of an eclectic array of debris (aloe, some copper dust, a couple glass beads, among other things) and a surprisingly well-made glass lens. Between the two are a bunch of arcing lines drawn in a mix of several colors; one looks like some kind of muddy reddish color, one looks pale white, and the last looks like it is made at least partially with gold dust. The gold is, by far, the rarest of the three colors, barely even showing up, so at least she seems to be valuing the rarity of it.

"So if shaping is, mm, like steering a ship, this is like attaching hooks to things and forcibly dragging it to where you want it to go. Which means that I don't need a blood connection to anything I'm working with, and that it doesn't need to be some level of alive, because none of it is going to be moving under its own power."

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"Sounds like it would be extremely inefficient, though."

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"Well spotted, and you are absolutely right! It is! But it's also supposed to be." She points at the lines. "The essence of the things are going to be travelling down these trails I've drawn for them, which is sort of like dragging the objects over rough terrain. The different colors are sort of like different roughnesses. Most destructive," she points at the mud-red, "somewhat destructive," then the white, "and not destructive at all," and at last, the gold. "This is because I want to wear away the things from these objects that I don't want in my final result."

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They both nod slowly in a "uh huh... go on..." way.

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"The fire is going to serve two purposes here, which is why even the things that aren't flammable are in the pile. First, it's breaking apart the organic objects to make it easier for me to grab the actual parts of it that I want. Second, I'm going to be redirecting its energy towards pushing everything down the lines here, so I don't have to power it all myself and then pass out in five minutes."

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"Fire has more energy than people?"

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"Not quite. Fire has more energy than I can comfortably forfeit, because most of my energy is being devoted to things to keep me alive. But I can comfortably devote all of the energy in the fire in one direction without there being a problem. Not to mention that I'm not quite a normal person. I'm a hyper-efficient streamlined experimental self-resurrecting construct, and I've had most of my proverbial unnecessary energy removed in advance. You both would do much better at power loss than I would."

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"What kinds of... unnecessary energy?" asks Sendhei curiously.

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"Uhh. My hair and nails don't precisely grow, they sort of restore themselves to a specific setting with the same method that makes the rest of me. I don't make scar tissue or proper scabs, the bleeding stops from a more internal method and then my body restores itself to my default. I don't have any kind of working reproductive system, my vagina is purely recreational. Similarly, I'm missing a couple other superfluous organs, with others made more efficient or pulling double duty to replace them, but I'm not entirely sure of the specifics there. There's more going on, but I was not actually a participant in my body's design process besides okaying things like what length I wanted my nails to stay at forever." Pause. "Or the aforementioned recreational vagina, because some people thought I didn't need that to save the world," she sniffs, sounding terribly offended.

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"I for one am very glad you have it," says Taharqi earnestly, and Sendhei snorts at that.

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“How completely unexpected,” she says in a deadpan. “Any more questions, or should I get to setting things on fire and doing magic?”

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"Let's see that fire."

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"Mhm. I'm going to be a bit distracted, save questions for once I'm done."

Then, purely for effect, she snaps her fingers. Unrelatedly, she uses magic to strike the dried coal powder she set up beforehand to ignite the flame. Hey, they're seeing her do proper magic for the first time, she might as well get the theatrics right. The fire grows significantly faster than an ordinary flame, stoked by the witch sitting placidly in front of it. Then Saevetei places her hands beside it, and abruptly the fire's light and heat cut out. There's still the smell of smoke, and the faint crackling of burning fuel, but the orange color is entirely absent. Faintly, some of the air around the tinder still wavers from heat, but it's clear that the fire is no longer radiating it like it did.

The objects in the flame crackle and ignite. Colored energy starts leaving them, and travelling down the trails from the fire to the lens, like a tiny spark following a wick. For the most part, the trails change color as the colored energy consumes them; the muddy red changes to a dark black, and the white changes to a sickly beige. When the energy hits the gold trails, though, it looks like the color completely winks out. No trail of destruction is left in the wake of the essence. Until the lens itself swims with the apparently lost energy, it's not even clear that it didn't wink entirely out of existence. Soon enough, the transfer of energy is complete, and there's a collection of something swirling around on the glass lens. Saevetei's eyes narrow on the lens itself, and the essence seeps into it and disappears entirely. Once everything is gone, the light and heat return to the fire. The witch leans over, cups her hands around the tiny flame, and blows it out in a single puff that was probably also magic, and definitely theatrical.

"Done!" she announces, brightly, waving away the lingering smoke.

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Both of them clap at the display. Clearly that was what came next, is the audience appreciation.

"So what did that... do?" asks Taharqi.

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She grins. "Imbued this lens with the ability to see the essence makeup of things through it. Here, you can see." She offers the lens to the two of them. "I'll need to run around peering at everything and writing down compositions for a little while. I am going to do terrible things to your paper stores, by the way, I'll also figure out a way to easily renew them, but."

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Ooh Sendhei wants to look!

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It's rather strange - almost everything through the glass looks vaguely blue-grey, except for a wash of bright, nearly psychedelic colors near the middle. Upon inspection, it seems that when the very center of the lens is pointed at an object, the object slowly starts to change from blue-grey to a wash of detailed and shifting colors, some of which thrum with life. Taharqi is mostly a wash of reds and oranges interlaced faint trails of silver, a deep crimson centered around his heart and pulsing in time with his heartbeat. Around his head the silver becomes so bright it's nearly white. It's difficult, but not impossible, to pick out faint orbs of blue that mark where his eyes are, and there's some kind of shell around the silver that's hard to pick out.

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Sendhei offers the lens to Taharqi, who uses it to look back at Sendhei.

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Sendhei looks about the same! Not that the two can compare directly, or anything, but. What's going on roughly correlates between them, with some allowance for (comparatively) minor differences.

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Saevetei, meanwhile, gets to cleaning up the leftover debris. The gold dust gets gently swept into its own little pouch, and then the once red and white dust both get to be dumped in another little pouch. She starts to scoop the items that had their essence sucked out of them into this same pouch (of trash, basically), but pauses.

"Do you want to look at these and compare them to something that hasn't had a lot of its essence transferred out of it? It looks kind of neat."

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"Yes!"

Peer.

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"I've got a few things in reserve, hold on..."

Out comes some more glass baubles, copper dust, and aloe.

Comparatively speaking, the ones that have had their essence transferred away look... flat. Or maybe sort of empty. There's definitely less going on. The drained aloe in particular looks extremely dead in comparison to its (dying) fellow, and the glass looks all sad and dark and flat in comparison to the swirl of blues in its fellow. Some of the copper dust looks a bit faded, but mostly seems all right.

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Huh.

How about Saevetei herself, what does she look like?

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Significantly different from Sendhei! She has some blocky gold veins twined near the organic silver ones, and some sort of halo of lavender near her heart, which Sendhei just did not have at all. Additionally, she's much more streamlined, and it's easier to pick out specific sets of colors. There's less going on, and everything that's there looks very purposeful almost minimalistic.

Her clothes are neat, too. The gold trim actually glows and pulses with energy, and her clothes look like they're a kind of blueish green that emulates the verdant green aloe more than anything.

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"You look all - fancy," Taharqi observes. Sendhei looks through the lens over his shoulder then up at Saevetei herself again.

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“I am, thank you! I did say experimental construct, didn’t I?”

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"What's the lavender?" he asks.

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“Oh, you can see that. Other side of my soul bond, it’s what puts me back in here.”

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"'Other' side?"

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"So you're only seeing what's going on with my soul and resurrection thing from one side. It's more accurate to say that this body has an anchor that my soul can pull itself to. And all of the soul stuff is not something that lens will be able to show you, it's very basic and imprecise and you kind of need the soul out of a body in order to really get a good look at what's going on with it."

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"Would you be able to make a lens that can see this other soul stuff, too?"

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"If it's still in a body, it wouldn't just be one. I'd need a set of lenses stacked on top of each other to hide all of the stuff in front of it. Preferably adjustable ones. Or a specific container that wasn't too... in the way."

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"If it's that hard how did anyone find out how to do it in the first place?"

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“There were things going on in what they could see that couldn’t be explained by what was there. So people tried to find out, and did, and their first attempts were very messy, but they learned how to do better.”

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"Sounds... difficult." He puts the lens down. "So what do you need this for, exactly?"

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"It'll give me a general idea of what types of essence make up things that are easily available, which will let me categorize and strategize for how to use it all. This," she motions to the lens, "was done with a mix of some very tedious meditation with the objects in question, and some educated guesswork to aim for the right sorts of things I needed. This is more accurate than meditating at every single unique object you have, less annoying, and easier to put to concrete values of things instead of, mm. Guessing based on the feel of things. Like how you could figure out what makes up the broad strokes of a meal just by eating it, but having access to the list of ingredients for it makes recreating it significantly easier. It's like that."

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"So it changes between things? Like, two leaves of a type of tree?"

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"It does, but it can often be very subtle. For leaves from the same tree with the same growing conditions, they are usually very nearly identical. For leaves from the same type of tree, but two different trees, it's similar, but less so than with the same tree. And leaves from different types of tree vary in similarity, depending on how alike the trees themselves are."

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"And if you need specific quantities then this is very very useful," he concludes, nodding. Sendhei takes the lens from him and starts just looking around at random stuff with it.

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Random stuff: sure is colorful! More complicated stuff tends to be more colorful, and living stuff seems to pulse, or perhaps internally flow, a little.

"Precisely! And less wasteful, I did a lot of hedging my bets with this one, so there's a lot of leftover stuff that's going to be hard to use."

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"Does that mean you can make a new one that is better and more efficient, now?"

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“Nope! It means that if I made another one there wouldn’t be as many waste products. The lens itself is the end result I was aiming for, and I can’t make something better enough than it to be worth the trouble without more setup that I don’t have.”

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"I see. Makes sense."

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"Though I suppose it'd be nice to have a spare. Or maybe two spares, if you both want to look at the pretty colors and try to figure out what they mean."

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"I am mostly in the business of waiting for you to build your new house so that we can go to the Tower of Bats and figure out what is going on with that staff."

    "I don't know, I like the colours," says Sendhei.

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"One spare, that I give to Sendhei, so that if I break mine I have a backup to borrow to make another without it being wasteful, and he gets to look at colors whenever he wants," she says, amused. "Though I am absolutely going to peer at that staff with this lens first and see if that tells me anything about what's going on."

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"Oh, yeah, that's a good idea."

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"Thank you! We can do that right now, actually, the curiosity has been driving me a little crazy."

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Taharqi laughs and goes to fetch it.

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She retrieves the lens from Sendhei (with an apologetic smile and the promise that he can look over her shoulder while she looks at stuff) and then holds up the lens to look at the staff.

There are a lot of colors.

"Oh, wow, okay," she says, squinting. "There is a secondary thing around it, it looks, uh. Newer than the original staff, and like it's actively sabotaging what's going on in the staff itself. And what's going on in the staff itself..." She trails off, then grimaces. ".... Thaaaaaat looks like it's built to hold a soul. That's alarming, the staff is probably a person. That someone broke into pieces, cursed with something to keep it.... asleep...? Good, not awake and silently screaming, at least. And then threw into a cave."

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"So... what, the messages that appeared on the surface of the staff when it snapped back together, were they from the newer magic or from the older magic?"

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"Old, I think. The older magic has a lot more going on with it, and frankly the new magic looks a little bit like someone's jammed something heavy into the old magic's main gears with a stick. Not literally that, but. The equivalent. If anything complicated is happening it'd be the older magic. But it's not doing it now, so I can't say for sure."

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He nods. "Well... if the person inside the staff is asleep this is less urgent than it could have been but I am going to go ahead and guess whatever is on the Tower of Bats can be used to awaken them."

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"Yeah. Maybe clear out whatever weird gunk is clogging up the staff's thing." Squiiiiint. "I might be able to figure out how to do that without the Tower of Bats, if that falls through, but I'd want better equipment before I started messing with something someone's soul is held in. Even to try to wake them up."

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"Yeah, that makes sense. Why would someone trap someone else in a staff and then... break it... and throw it into the sewers to be eaten by a giant worm demon?"

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"Might have been two completely separate groups of people. Whatever made the staff was pretty skilled, and whatever gummed it up looks less thoughtful and calculated. I'd expect that if whoever made this staff wanted to shut up the person trapped in there, they'd just actually break it and let the soul loose, or put it into something less built to house it, instead of just. Taking it apart and covering it in garbage, both literal and figurative."