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May 29, 2022 4:22 AM
An imperial heiress has a very pleasant vacation.
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Congratulations! You've won a one year all-expenses-paid experience on Thalassa Cruises' premier transmultiversal vessel, the Galaxia! As our guest of honor, you have the extraordinary privilege of not only joining us for a whole four seasons free of charge, but even choosing our course for the year! Unfortunately, due to prior arrangements we are limited in what options we can offer, but rest assured that all of them have plenty of opportunities for fun!

Dream messages aren't unheard of, or even unexpected, but this one has a strange, alien atmosphere to it. It offers a year of adventure in distant worlds, across this mysterious Star Ocean. Each season brings with it different potential destinations for this grand voyage, and equally grand possibility to accumulate power and influence. Even at just a cursory glance, many of the options have heaven-overturning potential on their own, let alone in combination with one another.

All the heiress has to do is make her selections, gather her luggage, and will her way aboard the Galaxia.

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Dyva was not particularly expecting another ominous dream, and if she was going to have one, she'd expect it to be another one of those awful bloody parties her predecessor liked so much. This is much more interesting. Where can she choose to go? 

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Fascinating! She examines every option in detail, before making any choices. The first thing that jumps out at her is the holy soil - what could she grow, if she had access to something like that? Then she notices the shining city, and the example of empire that it provides. If she's going to make the most of it, she may as well make a plan which will guarantee she can become the Dread Empress of Praes by the time she returns - and a perfect guidebook for empire-building sounds like just the thing for that. She'll be the dark lady of all the world in no time! The shining city looks interesting in general - she's not interested in being the assistant to some distant empire, but if they're giving away total removal of limits on her potential, that sounds pretty damn useful - one of the most common reasons for a villain to die is that they reach the peak of their potential too quickly and then it can only be downhill from there. Not so for her! So visiting the shining city is a must. She confirms with her guide that the shining city's emperor won't consider her unworthy, just because she's a villain ruling over a rival empire (it will not). The next thing she sees is that, in the season after the shining city, there's an option to be trained to the limits of your potential in a single skill. She could apparently be trained by the best horticulturalists in the multiverse to reach the peak of that art. Between that and the upgrade to the soil, stopping there seems like a great idea - but it's mutually exclusive with some other great items, like the soil itself and the scriptures. Paging back a bit, she notices that in spring, a treasure map can be found to bring you any one other item. (how do they even guarantee that?) If she finds a map to the soil, then she can get it upgraded while she's studying gardening. She can't even begin to imagine what she could do with that. (okay, no, she can - it starts with upgrading her favourite cultivar of griffon-eating sundews into dragon-eating sundews and then maybe even god-eating sundews.) 

Okay with that core to her power sorted out, that's her decisions for summer and autumn and part of spring done. Just the rest of spring and winter to pick out. The spring choice that seems most interesting is the feast with immortals, ones who can lay down Mythos. If she didn't know better, they sounded like they might be some of the gods above or below themselves, and even if they aren't, it sounds like the perfect seed for ensuring that her Name transitions in a direction that she likes, rather than into something boring like Dread Emperor or Warlock. Well, Warlock was her goal before, but now, now she can aim even higher.

Her last decision, then, is winter, and she considers the options for a moment. She eventually settles on Star-on-Horizon - it would be a tragedy if she came out of all this without any way to leave her world again, and had to leave it as a single perfect opportunity rather than an infinite sea of opportunity, and the other options sound pretty good as well - she'd probably make a fool of herself if she returned home totally untested, and the abyss sounds very interesting. For the Lost Treasure, she simply notes down "the best seeds you can find" as her request.

It feels like she's been studying for hours, in this strange dream. She hasn't stopped for a moment to consider if this is a trap or deception - it is just so obviously real and true. Nor has she stopped to consider if it's a good idea (not that she ever does). Her mind is racing with the potential. Eventually, she finalises her requests. 

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Wonderful! When you wake, it will be time to gather your luggage. As the guest of honor, there will be no limit on your luggage volume or mass, though must warn that we cannot guarantee the safety of any pets or pet-like plants on the journey. Additionally, we are unfortunately unable to offer bag-packing services at this time. Once you've gathered and recognized your luggage, simply will yourself aboard the Galaxia, and we will be away!

Then the dream is over.

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Dyva wakes in a bed of fine silks, entirely unready to start her previously-planned day of gardening and terrorising her underlings. She considers for a moment - if she's going to be gone a year, she needs to make arrangements. How many can she get done before her parents notice and decide to confront her about it? Not enough, so she'll have to prioritise.

First priority: Her garden. Packing an entire botanical garden would be prohibitive even without mass or volume limits; it is after all, set into the earth, and it takes several human sacrifices per year to keep it at it's current level of supernatural fertility. So she has to prioritise, make sure she brings enough to work with and that the family gardener-mages won't mess anything up while she's gone. The latter should be fine - some of them have been tending that garden for generations, so it's only her most personal projects which will be at risk of neglect. They won't travel ("pet-like plants" indeed), but she should be able to order them looked after while she's gone, and in the mean time she can have the contents of potting shed three put into crates for her so she has tools to work with while she's gone. 

(As she thinks, she gets out of bed, has a maid start fixing her hair and makeup, and generally prepares for a busy day). 

Second priority: Her belongings. She doesn't have anything she's incurably attached to which isn't secure in her room (One of her teachers destroyed any possession of hers that she *didn't* keep secure, to teach her paranoia.), so having everything packed, along with enough good clothes for a year's travel, should be simple. The problem is, her parents will noticed all the crates and suitcases forming. Does all her luggage need to be in the same place? 

Third priority: Travel goods. She can ask one of the senior staff to suggest any items she'll need while travelling that she wouldn't while at home. Not until everything else is packed, though, they'll tell her parents. 

Fourth priority: The vaults. Is there anything worth getting out of the family vaults for this? Probably not - the trip is all-expenses-paid, so she shouldn't need absurd amounts of money (Merely the very large amount she can get from her own rooms), and the letter said not to bring cursed items with her, which rules out nearly everything else, even the most useful things. And if she needed to unleash a demon of excess upon her foes, it'd be a pretty bad pleasure cruise, demons are terrible. 

Properly dressed, and with everything planned out, she heads off, sending all of the orders which will need to be sent for her luggage to be collected. The staff are surprised, but obedient. 

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The luggage does not need to be in the same place! She just needs to have a reasonable awareness of its location and contents.

As her orders are carried out, and as she goes about her own business, the heiress may notice a subtle change in the air. No one else can notice it, but the timing of goings on around her seem just a little off, early or late by fractions of seconds, as if to gently ease the process of preparing for the journey.

It's not quite enough to prevent her parents from hearing word of their daughter's evident soon-departure, she will be faced with them briefly, but enough that there is little they can do to stop her.

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Indeed, as she's explaining to them that she has a wonderful opportunity to discover an untold of wonder, if only she leaves immediately, and they grow increasingly annoyed by her evasions about what opportunity exactly, and why now in particular, the servants pushing the last trolley of chests and boxes comes in. She is now aware of the location of the boxes containing all her possessions, (excepting those related to her projects, whose notes she has granted various retainers permission to read, and the keys for bypassing her wards on said notes). 

She bows politely, and says goodbye to her parents. And then she's off! 

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The transition is smooth and intuitive, brief but not jarring, like passing through a short hallway, simply in a direction she hadn't happened to be looking in before.

No longer is she within the family manse, but instead on a small deck of a ship of impossible enormity and unfamiliar construction. It's really more like if someone built a grand castle, courtyard and all, out of steel, stretched it out into a vaguely ship-like shape, and then placed it down in these night-dark waters which what can only be the Galaxia currently rests.

"Welcome, guest of honor!" A crewmember, servile in stature and modestly dressed, says as they approach her. "I'll be your primary crew liaison and travel guide. I'm here to facilitate any requests you have of the crew or Galaxia, and to ensure your experience is a satisfying one!" They offer a hand, a gentle colorless glow emanating from the space above their palm. "Here is the location of your quarters, from which you can access all of the Galaxia's many amenities, as well as your luggage."

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"Thank you! What amenities are available here?" While they talk, she will walk in the direction of her rooms. This place is strange and wonderful and she's so excited! 

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There are so many amenities! There are several contexts for socializing with other passengers, including music, dancing, dining, theater, various games, as well as individualized forms of all of the previous. A personal garden has been prepared. Vast libraries are free to be perused. Fortified practice rooms are available for all sort of high-energy activities and experimentation. Really there are rooms for just about everything!

Traveling to her quarters is a similar experience to boarding the Galaxia. The path to her quarters sort of, slides right in front of her, the shape of the Galaxia's many decks, rooms, hallways, stairs, and assorted other liminal spaces perfectly aligning such that her destination is just a few steps away. You might think that's disorienting, but it's all quite sensible, perhaps even majestic!

Within, her quarters are expansive, practically a mansion unto themselves, with areas suitable for all the myriad things one might entertain oneself with, including further pathways to all the previous mentioned amenities. It is also well-decorated with vibrant greenery, though lamentably none of it is as energetic as her favorites.

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Unless there is any indication her time is particularly needed, she will spend several hours cooing at and fawning over all the strange plants and their excellent greenness. Eventually, it will come time that she thinks that she might want to go have a meal, and maybe socialise with the other guests if any happen to be around. 

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Her enjoyment of her quarter's decorations will not be interrupted!

If she chooses to visit one of the public dining options, she can certainly encounter other guests! Most but not all of them are broadly humanoid, but relatively few are lacking in all morphological divergence, and there are roughly an equal number who are distinctly non-human in appearance. A subtle shift in the perspective of the room highlights a party of what appears to be plant people, currently enjoying an appetizer of candied insects, who perhaps may be of particular interest to the guest of honor.

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Dyva isn't *totally* human herself - the golden eyes of the highborn lines aren't natural at all, among other, more subtle things. But she's closer than most of these people. Fascinating! She will go introduce herself to the plant people! And then ask about their history and biology.

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They'll introduce themselves as well! None of their names are anything even vaguely transcribeable here on account of being as much grounded in aromas as sounds, producing highly complex and many-layered meaning. The heiress in particular could probably fashion a cultivar to facilitate communication if that were needed, but the Galaxia has that covered already!

Historically, they are from the world of Walled Garden, originally, though this particular group of envoys boarded the Galaxia from an exclave situated in the much larger world of Myriad Reeds. They are the inheritors of an abandoned garden-world and the creatures of a now-absent god, who leveraged the defensible and secretive nature of their homeworld and the broad ontostability it provides them into a place as an up-and-coming financial and trade power in the local asterism.

Biologically, they show remarkable parallels to carnivorous plants which the heiress is already exceedingly knowledgeable of! They're not sundews, not primarily at least, as they seemingly drawing more from pitcher plants, but they explain they are outright chimerical in origin, their distant ancestors have been created by the Gardener as stalwart defenders and wardens of Walled Garden. One of them, the group's medical expert, is happy to explain at length and in great detail the particulars of their physiology and even the rudiments of their metaphysiology, though their experience in that field is only as a hobbyist rather than a professional.

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Walled Garden sounds like an excellent sort of thing to have exist! She mentally notes down her desire to visit one day. After she achieves godhood, maybe she'll make something like that. 

Pitcher plants are very good as well! Her sundews are the best minions, but pitcher-plants make patient traps. She has compliments and questions in great quantity. 

Dyva hasn't studied metaphysiology in any great detail; she knows about names and souls and gifts and such, but hasn't worked with them at all beyond using them for their intended purposes. It occurs to her that she should remedy this deficiency, since this ship presumably has better books on the subject than home, where one of the major books on the subject drives everyone who reads it mad (Not even as an inherent property of the knowledge or anything, the author just wanted to ensure that everyone who learned the subject would be subject to beneficial-to-him infohazards). She can talk astoundingly literately about plant physiology by the standards of her tech level, which will still leave her mystified by anything which needs a microscope to see, or a detailed chemical assay to check. She will drink in any knowledge that they have to share, and begin to realise the scope of the insight's she's missing. 

Beyond the fundamentals of their nature, what are these particular people up to?

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The medic can sympathize with regretting a neglected metaphysics education. It's easy to get side-tracked! Likewise, they can attest to depth of the Galaxia's libraries, having gone a bit of a dive through them right after their party boarded.

They are enjoying their conversation with Dyva which rapidly becomes technical enough that the rest of the plant party loses interest, but after a considerable period of exposition on modern plant-person medicine and biotechnology later the medic forms a totally inscrutable plant-person expression which the Galaxia conveniently translates as something along the lines of serendipitous realization, followed by the equivalent of several meaningful glances to the rest of their party. They look back (in so far as this applies to their physiology, which is more than none but less than for a more humanoid individual) to the heiress and ask. "You wouldn't happen to be the guest of honor, would you?"

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The tragedy of having only a finite time in which to study should hopefully be somewhat mitigated here, she thinks. 

"I am!!!"  

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Expressions of excitement pass over the group! They're on the Galaxia to make connections and spread the good word about Walled Garden's services. If she's the guest of honor, that means her homeworld is almost certainly going to be making a big splash on the multiversal pond in the near future, with her at the pinnacle of its ascension! Obviously, this is a pleasure cruise and she is the guest of honor, so they're not going to push any business talk on her, but if she wants to talk with people familiar with what breaking into the scene involves or info about the economic situation of her homeworld's asterism or anything like that, these envoys of Walled Garden are at her service.

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She's not yet well-calibrated about how interesting or powerful the median world is right now, since she's only read the summaries of the possible destination worlds (which she suspects are more impressive than average) and hasn't done a broad survey of the conditions. She's happy to talk about her world and the things she suspects might make it interesting - that it's well-known to have been constructed artificially by gods trying to make a point about the pragmatics of ethics among themselves, that Names exist and she is the Heiress (and that she expects it to be something else by the time the year is out), and maybe some of the common capacities of her magic. She's absolutely interested in hearing about her new geopolitical neighbours! Trade is very important, and the empire never has enough of it. What particular services does the Walled Garden offer? 

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That's completely reasonable, and she'll have a year with access to the Galaxia's library (not to mention whatever intelligence she can gather at the destinations she's chosen), so they're sure she'll be comfortably well-informed soon.

Interestingly, the local asterism seems to have been something of a hot spot of divine activity, at various points in history, at least in comparison to the other clusters that Walled Garden has information on. Indeed, a couple of other specialists in the group will happily expound upon various common facets of the local asterism, and how those commonalities contrast with the most accessible neighboring asterisms, as well as the current balance of power between worlds, intra- and inter-world factions and interest groups, major flows of various tangible and intangible resources and which of them seem prime to grow or shrink, and sundry other related topics. Overall, there is a sense that the situation in Dyva's locality is that things have become a bit stagnant, there's likely to be rot hidden under the facades of many of the presently most powerful groups, and that things are liable to explode a bit after she returns and starts making waves.

As for services, there are many! They're a whole world with several exclaves and colonies after all. But the services most relevant to a burgeoning new interworld empire might be their trade fleets and experienced trading crews, their economic analysis and design teams, their forensic accounting and financial divination practices, and additional specificities not obvious to this narrator.

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Honestly, Dyva thinks that things exploding after she starts making waves is the ideal place to find herself! She will need to be ready to deal with the corrupt old order on a scale she hadn't really been considering, above and beyond merely dealing with the thoroughly mediocre local politics of her homeland and it's pettier neighbours. She's not going to make plans for how to expand her empire just yet - she should do that *after* she's got hold of a copy of that book which is supposed to be a single perfect step-by-step guide to empire-building, which won't happen for a few months. For now, she can relax and assimilate context and make friends and study metaphysics and offworld horticulture. And absolutely note down Walled Garden as a potential trading partner, for once she's come back home and can actually negotiate on the behalf of her homeland. 

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All of the group is pretty eager to chat with Dyva about their various specialties. The medic really hits it off with Dyva in particular, and offers the nickname Sweeten (taken from a descriptive fragment of their full name, referring to the subtly sweeter scents produces by their aromatophores, comparable in some ways to a slight lisp or other quirk of speech in humans) as an act of friendship-building.

Additionally, while all that engaging conversation is going on, a waiter will come up to offer Dyva a menu, and return a moment later to ask if what she would like to drink, and if she'll be having an appetizer or would prefer to begin with an entree, as well as taking orders from the Gardenians.

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Dyva will order an vale summer wine made in a monastery that would rather die than sell to Praesi traders (this was tested empirically, thus producing the vintage's rarity despite it's high quality), paired with the traditional proto-cyanide compounds to which her family has a bloodline-magic-induced immunity (and whose bitterness and aroma tempers the sweetness of the wine), and then with a total disregard for propriety, order the sort of peasant dish that her parents would have her beaten if she was caught eating as a child, being a sort of heavily-spiced rice served with stewed game. 

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Her foliated companions are a bit offput by the scent of the wine, though most of them are reasonably skilled in hiding their reaction. They also unfortunately lack the cultural background to appreciate the vintage’s provenance or its contrast with her choice of dish, unless she included that in her previous description of her homeworld or wishes to explain it now.

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She will note that some of them don't seem to like the smell, but not take any particular actions about it at the moment. She will not explain her choice of wine or dish - she feels bringing up her homeland's chronic inability to engage in peaceful trade with the western nations would be impolitic, and doesn't particular care to emphasize that she's having a ran-away-from-parents treat for dinner either. Instead, she will talk with Sweeten about more interesting subjects, like xenobotany and financial engineering, and maybe get some reading recommendations for when she's ready to retire to her rooms. 

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