Oct 28, 2021 11:14 AM
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"Eight hundred a year originally, and they were hoping practically all of them would survive. Though deaths on graduation day don't really change the life support costs. Now it's sixteen hundred a year, except - I don't know what your parents told you, mine said half make it to graduation. We've still got thirteen hundred juniors. And, being a junior, I'm grateful, but - the school's low on juice, and the mals that usually stay in the graduation hall are in the fucking library. And it's Orion's - not his fault, but his decision, and I'm not sure he has ever weighed the long term consequences of his actions in his life."

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"He does come off that way, doesn't he. I can't say it would be better if another few hundred people were dead though - a scare about a maw-mouth isn't as bad as that if you hold them up next to each other."

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"What do you suppose the graduation hall is like, this year."

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"I'm not sure. I mean, most of the things that stay down there don't need to eat that often. Some things probably usually - nab a kid or two and then go back down for some reason and get eaten, but the things that stay put might just be picking each other off instead."

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"Might be. Or maybe everything smart enough to be scared of Orion is reasonably staying down there and it's going to be a slaughter come graduation day. I don't know. We won't know, if none of them make it out."

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"...yeah. We'd know if it was a slaughter - two years ago, after we were freshmen, because then the kids who are sophomores now could have told us, but even Orion wasn't that much when he was a freshman..."

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"Yup. And we'll learn after this year's seniors head out whether it was a slaughter last year. 

And it doesn't really matter because our best move is obviously to cling to Orion and El regardless, but -" Shrug. "If I were Todd I'd honestly have been kinda tempted to poach from a freshman."

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"What, and stay here longer?" says Aadhya. "When he has an enclave waiting for him?"

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- right, most people care more than Annisa about getting out of school and less than Annisa about minimizing the odds that they die. "I don't think maw-mouths up here portend good things in the graduation hall. If I had to bet, I bet it was pretty ugly, last year, and it'll be much worse this year, and I think Todd bets that too or he wouldn't have lost it at Orion, which was a pretty stupid thing to do for his goals."

 

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"Mm."

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Annisa slices her cedar lengthwise, perfectly, and starts twirling it up for resonance. There's not much more to say. 

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"I'm going to ask her," says Aadhya, when it's almost the end of the period.

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"Yeah. Good luck."

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Aadhya does not report to Annisa about this at all afterwards.

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This is what Annisa expected; they're not friends, and she hasn't even got anything to trade for it, at the moment. 

 

She watches El and Aadhya closely, though.

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They're... definitely more solidly friends than before.

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Following a compelling intriguing line of inference off a cliff is one way to get yourself killed. 

 

On the other hand, not keeping accurate tabs on who is powerful and who is friends is another way to get yourself killed and there's no way to not make inferences.

 

 

So, what if El killed a maw-mouth. What if El's the most powerful person in their year, stronger than Orion, and hiding it for incomprehensible reasons just like she does everything for incomprehensible reasons, like being rude to the New York kids (who are now pissed at her, for latching onto Orion and then denouncing them in front of everyone).

 

What do you do about that.

 

 

If you're Annisa, you start working on an artifact. It's your value-add, here, and it's always been true that you can't get through school without allies.

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El keeps her head down. Does Annisa's Marathi worksheets.

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She spends language classes in the lab, instead, working on El's divining rod. It's more practical to just add a shield separately but it's less impressive and she's going for impressive, here. Someone you'd want on your team even if you can kill a maw-mouth and are dating Orion Lake. So the divining rod will also have a shield, that flares up when it hits unfamiliar magic and bites if El wants it to. The tricky part of that is 'if El wants it to'. The shield wants to be a weapon; it wants to bite by default. But that's mana-intensive and she's noticed El is very sparing with her mana, and besides that's a good way to rip an innocent person's face off.

 

The ideal shield isn't mana-intensive, because it's barely doing anything, when it's just in shield form; it's a demarcated area of air where you visibly will get bitten if you step, materializing into ferocious existence only when something crosses what would be its boundary. There's a reason no one invents new shield spells, it's hard, but weapons do what Annie wants them to do, and she trades away all Jack's alchemy stuff for the materials, which should help - riches won from a man you killed in self-defense make for better weapons -

- it's not quite done after two weeks. She smiles tightly at El. "Bet I can have it for you tomorrow."

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"Well, if you can, your declensions'll be turned in on time."

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Which is completely fair, though it means she ends up pulling an all-nighter and taking a precious stimulant tab from her initial weight allowance, in order to have the thing done by the deadline for her Marathi homework. It doesn't kill things that hit it, that'd be too mana-intensive; it does the sort of equivalent of rapping them hard on the nose and throwing them backwards, not all parts of them at the same velocity, which should be incapacitating enough that it's then not hard to kill them some other way. 

"I built some other stuff in," she says when she gives it to El. "We can talk about whether you owe me extra once you see how much you like them."

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"What kind of extra stuff?" El asks, handing over the Marathi.

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"Prototype bitey shield. Low mana, since I have ever observed your style. If you wanted to trade me for a dagger, you know, it's a mana-free way to kill things."

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"I'll think about it. ...Thanks."

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"Just tell people who you got it from. ...and don't tell 'em how little you paid for it."

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