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Generated: Jul 20, 2022 3:26 PM
Post last updated: Jul 20, 2022 3:25 PM
If You Go Down To The Woods Today
Permalink Mark Unread

Firewood gathering duty is very important.

And also very much for people who don't have the patience and self-control for panning for mana, or working in the trinket forge, or looking after kids, or patching up houses, or growing a vegetable patch.

There are half a dozen briars - mostly human, a little bit tree round the edges - out in the woods today, not in any particular formation, mostly just wandering along and occasionally picking up a nice fallen branch and adding it to their bundle.

Permalink Mark Unread

The thing about Adventures that Brant didn't like is that they involved a lot of walking.  He didn't know how the pumas and deer and the other animals did it - they always talked like it was the easiest thing in the world to hike through the forest all day.

He stopped under an umbrella-nut tree by a stream and cracked and nibbled a few nuts, but it was really for an excuse to rest a few minutes.  When he got back up, he splashed his feet in the stream in hopes that'd make things that'd make things easier.  It didn't, really, even though his shoes could take the wet.

But a few minutes later, when he got out of his snit enough to notice, he gasped and stopped dead-still.  The grass and moss wasn't blue anymore.  It was green.  Had he already come so close to the Emerald City?  Or had that been a magic stream!?  He whirled around - but he couldn't see any blue behind him either.  He gulped.

But then he swallowed and pressed on.  Now he really wanted to find other people, especially if they knew anything about that magic stream.

Permalink Mark Unread

The first briar who spotted Brant fancied herself as a bit of a scout, so she approached slowly, her brown and green clothing blending into the scenery.

This was entirely spoiled by the second member of the firewood party to spot him, a tall excitable briar man who called out "Hey! Hey, we've got a wanderer over here!" and started loping quickly towards him, bellowing "Hey! Don't worry! You're near Foundhome now!"

At least four of the firewood hunters were now converging on Brant's location, although the first was still remaining relatively stealthy in case someone needed to see what happened and fetch help...

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hey!" Brant waves to them in excited relief.  "Where am I?  You know about any magic back thataways, like the stream?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hi there!" replies the friendly shouting briar, who has just sprinted to close the distance without noticeably being out of breath. "You're in the woods near Foundhome - that's in Oakways in Miaren, if you weren't expecting to be here? And yeah, the stream's magic, that's why we settled here in the first place."

"We should get him back to the Steading," says the second to arrive in talking distance. "What's your name, kid? Uh, if you don't mind. I'm Alfwyn Foundhome."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, it's a [i]friendly[/i] magic stream?"

He waves again to the second person.

"I'm Brant.  Er, from Ezania in the Munchkin country.  Er, I don't know any of those places?"

Permalink Mark Unread

First briar: "I've never heard of those places either! I bet Allegra will know, though, she's been everywhere. Want to come down to the Steading and see if she's about?"

Alfwyn: "It's not a very talkative stream, but it's friendly enough."

Third visible briar, just catching up: "The stream makes mana crystals. We don't use them much, but they're very expensive, so we can buy all the things we need with them."

Permalink Mark Unread

He nods at the suggestion of going down to the Steading.

"Mana crystals?"  He looks confused.  "But - what do they do?"

Permalink Mark Unread

The briars start to gently herd him in, presumably, the direction of the Steading.

First briar: "All kinds of things! Like, anything you can normally do with magic, but when you've run out; or they power rituals for doing bigger things, like knocking down a fort or raising a magic one or making the crops grow better..."

Permalink Mark Unread

He notices the herding, but before he can get really upset, he gets distracted.  "Oh wow!  So I just need to scoop up some of those crystals and - uh - I guess I could try the magic countering words..."

Permalink Mark Unread

Alfwyn: "Uh, don't go scooping up any crystals without Allegra's say-so - I'm sure she'll let you try one if you've got something interesting to do with it, she loves hearing about what new people can do and trying things out, but they're kind of everyone's property and it's mean to just use them without permission."

Ahead, the trees start to thin out, and a number of extremely haphazard looking wooden buildings are clustered on a slight rise.

Permalink Mark Unread

"'Course - I don't mean to be a wicked wizard!  But I'm meaning to fix my best friend!  Disenchant her!"

Brant looks around the village appraisingly.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh - your friend is cursed?" asks Alfwyn. "Or does she just need an enchantment replacing?"

The village is a collection of wooden buildings which look like what happens when you build things with no plan whatsoever. There are a couple of somewhat neater buildings, one on the edge towards the forest which is a long thin building with lots of doors, one somewhat centrally placed at the highest point.

It is the second that the briars appear to be taking him to.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah.  Cursed, I guess you'd say."

Brant's judged the village as clearly built pretty recently, unless it's one of those strange weird idea-tribes that he's heard of.  But then, most of them wouldn't be trading so much.

Permalink Mark Unread

As the group pass through the village 'streets' - the small pathways that are left between houses - a few people look up, smile and wave at the newcomer, but he seems well looked after so none come over to interfere.

The first briar knocks on the door of the slightly tidier house. "Allegra! We've found a wanderer and he's from a weird sounding place!"

The door opens to reveal a middle-aged lady slightly leaning on a big leafy staff, with a burn scar on her left cheek and a big tattoo down the right cheek.

"Hi there," she says, in that kind of slightly awkwardly enthusiastic Adult Trying To Talk To A Child voice. "Welcome to Foundhome! What brings you here today?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Hi!  I'm Brant, from Ezania in the Munchkin country!  I was on an Adventure when - I think I got caught up in some magic that took me here, unless you're somewhere near the Emerald City?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Unless someone is calling Seren the Emerald City - which wouldn't be terribly far off, it is pretty green as cities go - I have absolutely no idea where any of those places are," replies Allegra, attempting to maintain some cheerfulness but it is rapidly wearing off.

"Would you like to come inside and sit down? I think this might be one of those long explanations.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I guess."

Brant doesn't like taking up her invitation right after she was talking to him like a really little kid, but he does want to sit down again.

Permalink Mark Unread

The inside of the fairly tidy house is one big room, with a bed in the far corner, a few sturdy wooden chairs around a mostly clear table with a couple of wooden cups and bowls, and many chests of drawers, shelves, and a couple of workbench surfaces covered in papers, thin books, and miscellaneous objects.

Most of the briars that had been accompanying him peel off, but Alfwyn hangs around at the door.

"Oh, uh, do you want something to eat or drink?" asks Allegra, noticing Alfwyn still hanging around. "I don't know how far you've travelled or how tired you are." She seems to be becoming more business-like, or possibly more distracted and uncertain.

Permalink Mark Unread

Brant sinks down on one of the chairs.

"Something to drink; thanks?  I was eating in the woods."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Apple juice or water? We can also do tea if you'd rather; apple juice I've got here, I might send Alfwyn for a jug of water anyway."

She moves an empty wooden jug off a work surface onto the table, picks a clean wooden cup off a shelf, and opens a couple of cupboards in search of juice.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, apple juice!"

Permalink Mark Unread

Allegra hands the empty jug off to Alfwyn and pours a cup of sweet brown-ish apple juice for Brant.

"So, Brant from Ezania. I don't suppose there's some simple explanation, like Ezania and Munchkin Country are just places over the border in the Marches? Have you heard of - the Empire, the Virtues?

And I suppose I ought to ask - are your parents, or similar, likely to show up at my door demanding an explanation? We don't hand people back to anyone they want to get away from, here in Foundhome, but it would be good to know if I should be posting sentries."

Permalink Mark Unread

Brant shakes his head.  "Never heard of those places.  And, uh, my parents know I'm out adventuring."

He's a little confused about why she thinks his parents would be demanding an explanation.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...okay. Do you know how far you came after the last place you recognised, and do you think you could get back there? Do you even want to go back, or are you 'adventuring' away for good?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Brant plops down the cup of juice and sighs.  He wishes he'd been watching better.  "It was a little after that stream by the umbrella-nut tree.  When I looked up, the grass and moss was green.  I looked back, but I couldn't see the blue grass anywhere."  His head sinks further.  "But then I might've just been walking too far without looking."

Permalink Mark Unread

At the mention of blue grass, Allegra seems to update quite rapidly.

"...are you human, or a Herald?" she asks. "Or have you been trapped in a regio pocket for a while? I'm not sure how to rule that one out; I suppose detect magic might do it. We... don't have blue grass here, or anywhere in walking distance. Do you mind if I cast a spell? It won't do you any harm, I just want to look for traces of magic."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh... what's a regio pocket?  And the spell - it won't do anything else to me either?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, it just gives me information about any traces of magic that are hanging around you. A regio pocket is a smallish area of unreality that borders both reality and one of the Realms of Magic - usually smallish, I've seen ones that are up to the size of a village and a couple of fields but not more extensive, but I'm not sure whether there are any actual theoretical limits. From what you've said and your behaviour I'm suspecting a Summer pocket, but that's just me guessing."

She keeps catching herself mid-sentence after saying big words, like she's trying to work out how to say things more simply for a child's supposed comprehension level, but keeps forgetting to do so when she gets too fascinated.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You - you're a witch!?"

He jumps up but freezes in fear.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh, I'm a Vate, which is what we call magic users - or at least ones that have made responsible oaths about it - I'm sworn to use magic in the service of others, not purely for my own personal gain.

I can not do this if you don't want me to, but it'll be harder to understand what's going on and help you if I can't use magic about it.

I know some people don't like it though - there's a whole country who ban it entirely, but they'd probably enslave you if you casually wandered in, so I don't exactly recommend them."

Allegra is mostly keeping talking in a calm voice and hoping that Brant will calm down.

Alfwyn comes back with a jug of water, and hovers nervously at the door when he sees what's going on.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, you're a good witch?  I-if it really won't do anything to me..."

He takes one nervous step forward, but glances back at Alfwyn at the door.

Permalink Mark Unread

Alfwyn smiles, tries to wave in a friendly fashion, almost drops the jug. Allegra waves him in and he puts it down on the table and gratefully flees.

"Yes, it's totally non invasive. I have to draw some patterns, but I can do that in the air near you without even touching you. It won't even feel like anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay."

If she's really a Good Witch, it'll be fine.  If she isn't - well, he couldn't get away anyway now that she's so interested in him.

Permalink Mark Unread

Allegra stands right by him and traces some patterns in the air just above his head. 

"I draw the Web; I am the Spider, I watch from afar; I am the Web, I am connected to the lingering trace of magic; I am the Spider..."

This takes a while; after half a minute she says, "Well, those are definitely traces of Summer magic," and starts again, this time muttering about being a phoenix and finding a key.

Permalink Mark Unread

Brant stands still, his eyes going wider and wider.  This isn't anything like any of the witches he's seen or heard of.

"What's summer magic?"

Permalink Mark Unread

She finishes up the second half of the spell and by the brief expression on her face doesn't seem to like what she discovers.

"Summer magic is the magic of adventure, fairytale castles, and the kind of battle which is glorious and nobody gets badly hurt and they're all okay to do it again tomorrow. Also fantastic beasts, hunting them, and big showy competitions.

From what you've been saying about Adventure, I suspect you've been living in a Summer pocket - it can't have been the realm itself or it'd have told me that your soul was interesting.

Good news is, we can probably get you back there if you want. Eventually. If you don't know the way in then it might be, well, quite an adventure."

She does not sound like she finds 'adventures' to be something with positive connotations.

"So. Apart from getting lost, what brings you out here? We might as well try to help, now you're here."

Permalink Mark Unread

He's confused for a moment.  "Hunt?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh yeah, like when we're playing hide-and-seek with a deer?  Or the squirrels want to join in too, but we don't let 'em 'cause they're so small and they've got so many good places to hide."

"And don't worry; I'm going on a good Adventure!  Pippi - my best friend - picked a magic flower that she didn't know was magic, and it was probably planted by the Wicked Witch, so it turned her into a butterfly!  A mute butterfly, made of gems!  And everyone's upset, and 'course we tried all the counters we knew, but they didn't work and now nobody's doing anything!  So I'm going adventuring to try to find a cure!

Permalink Mark Unread

She is about to formulate a child friendly explanation for hunting when he continues - for some reason she seems to find 'hide and seek with a deer' very funny, although she collects herself quickly.

"...yes, that does sound a lot like something that happens near the Summer Realm.

So, I have two solutions to curses on hand that sometimes work. One is just to re-enchant the person with something else - I can do that myself with a single crystal.

The other is to destroy an item which is causing the curse - this might work if you still have the flower - which will need two crystals and the four people from here who know how to cast it.

If those don't work, or we can't find the way back to your world - I guess I'll take you to Anvil and see if we can get anyone else to help."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, we've got the flower!  Or I mean, we had it when I left!  I'd rather not have two spells still on her if we can get them off."

He quickly drinks down the last of the apple juice.

"You're saying Oz - where I'm from - is near the Summer Realm?  So there're other places like Oz too?  Other places that the Great Fairies enchanted?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes - I think your Great Fairies might be what we call Eternals. There are six Realms - Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring, Day and Night - which all have different ways they are. And there's variety within those too - each has maybe half a dozen Eternals we know about and probably many more that we don't.

Would you like more juice? We should probably at least take a few people to retrace your steps as soon as possible, so you don't forget anything that might be important."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes please!"  He holds out the cup for more.

"I wish some witch - hey, you're a witch; have you ever thought of making some sort of juice trees?  There're all sorts of good food trees - I even found a lunch-pail tree once - but I didn't find anything to drink in the woods 'sides stream water!  Pippi told me about a stream she'd come across once with tiny bubbles and an extra bite, but that's just one stream and nowhere near here.  Near Ezania, I mean.  She and her parents were traveling a lot before they came here."

Permalink Mark Unread

Allegra pours him another cup of juice.

"It turns out that keeping new things growing which wouldn't normally grow here takes a lot of power," she explains. "It's something that might be possible at a regio - a place of power, normally that's where you also find portals to realm pockets, which is why they're called regio pockets - but not just anywhere. And it'd still be quite an undertaking to set up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh...  You mean this place isn't like Oz?  It isn't enchanted?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No - this is what we tend to call 'the real world', which isn't especially near any of the Realms of magic. Bits of it are enchanted on occasion - there's been an Empire-wide enchantment of some kind up ever since people put together the ability to do it again after Britta - but enchantments wear off quickly, a season or a year at most."

Permalink Mark Unread

Brant's mouth drops open.

"Oh!  So you don't have any talking animals or singing rivers or lunch-pail trees or as many witches - and all your grass is green without magic?  And - do people - y' know - I heard stories - die?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think there might be one singing river over in Syrene. And I think we might have more total magic users, but we can't do so much on our own. Otherwise - yes. I think I'm meant to tell you to be very careful at this point, will it help?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

...

...

"I think so"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Basic not dying precautions: don't eat things that you don't know are safe, I can tell you and any of Foundhome can, I can tell you more people you can trust if we go elsewhere; don't wander off without me or at least four of Foundhome's people or equivalent, there are animals that will eat you; do eat, drink and sleep when you feel like it or at least daily.

If you stick around enough trustworthy people they will probably protect you from anything that might happen here, it gets more dangerous in other places."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well yeah, those're basic not-getting-enchanted precautions when you know there's dangerous magic around -- what, the animals eat people!?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, and we generally return the favour - if you don't want to, let whoever is providing you food know, it's not uncommon so they'll understand."

Permalink Mark Unread

" - Not today."

A moment later, he adds uncomfortably, "Oh, I wonder, is that what the pumas and wolves are getting at with their toothy grins and such?  Pretending about wanting to eat the deer, like they would've before the enchantment on Oz?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, that sounds likely. Pumas and wolves are generally predators and eat other animals - or particularly small and unwary humans - and deer are generally eaten.

It does also sound like your animals might be more intelligent - animals here mostly just act on instinct, they don't think about things like people do. Or can, anyway."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, animals in Oz can talk just like we can!  And think!  They're people too!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ah, right - our animals can't do those things. Speaking creatures here are humans, orcs, heralds, and daeva, although you're unlikely to encounter the latter.

Every other animal doesn't talk, doesn't appear to have complex thought - except maybe dolphins - and doesn't appear to have a soul or spirit - except possibly horses, but you definitely won't meet one of them, they're extinct.

Some heralds can look a bit like animals, but they'll usually speak up if they don't want to be treated like one."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's sad.  What're dolphins like?

And what's 'extinct'?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Dolphins are mammals that live in the sea, they look kind of like very large fish but they actually breathe air and have live young and lactate. They chase ships and the Freeborn think that sometimes drowned sailors reincarnate as dolphins - if you end up in the ocean they sometimes help people swim to shore, but I wouldn't advise relying on that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Huh - I don't think we have them in Oz; maybe our seas aren't big enough?  Fish in Oz can't talk; animals eat them sometimes - and sometimes humans too.  Pippi ate one once when she was traveling; she said it tasted strange."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Regio pockets don't tend to be that big, and we only get dolphins in the Bay of Catazar which connects out to the ocean, which is so huge it takes weeks to get anywhere across even with a fast ship. I used to take a small fleet on trade routes across it, and it would take most of the three months between festivals to get there and back.

Talking of time passing - would you be okay to try and retrace your steps now? We can keep talking as we go, I'm just keen to get it done before the light fades and you forget bits."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Sure!"  He drains his second cup of juice and slips off the chair.

"Uh, Oz is pretty big even though the seas in Oz aren't.  We've got the Munchkins, Gillikins, Winkies, and Quaddlings, and the Emerald City and its lands as well.  I don't think anyone's put fleets of boats on the seas?  We usually just walk around them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you can walk around the sea, it's not very big - the ocean entirely surrounds our continent apart from the north where it gets too cold and it's all ice. You can't walk from here to the Commonwealth or Asavea, there isn't a route on land."

Allegra opens the door and leads him outside, calling to a couple of other people who are hanging around doing domestic tasks to come follow them for a bit. Two of them grab spears that are just leaning up against buildings before following.

All the people have tattoos, usually at least one of thorny vines and sometimes others, and other than Allegra they all seem to have bark or raised green veins on their skin somewhere.

Permalink Mark Unread

"The sea's around the land?  I guess someone said that used to be the case outside Oz - but we can't go there now.  The Fay sealed it off."

Brant waves at the other people.  "Hi!  I'm Brant from Oz!  If we do find a way back to Oz today, are you planning on coming too?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Is there Vallorn there?" 

"What's an Oz?"

"I think it's a summer regio pocket," explains Allegra.

"Can we extend the Trods out there?" 

"What do they think of Briars?"

"No one is going through today - except Brant if he wants to - I want to at least get the Winter coven together for an expedition, there's at least one curse."

"Ooh, is it an interesting curse?" 

"Isn't he a bit young to run off on his own?" 

Permalink Mark Unread

"What's Vallorn, and what're Trods?  Briars -"

He whirls to the person saying he's too young.  "Hey!  I'm quite mature enough!  I've been doing just about as much as Mom and Pop in the bakery for - for ever since Ezania started, almost!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"My kid's been helping at the stream for six years, but he's still twelve and he still shouldn't wander off unescorted. It's fine to have come here if your parents didn't want you, but you're safe with us now."

"Vallorn is - bad plants and stuff that kill you? We're all sworn to help defeat it but as Briars part of that is staying well away from it."

"Trods are what we use to defeat the Vallorn - you walk from one Vallorn to as far away as you can and it drags some of the energy out with it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're saying your kids are never gonna be able to go off by themselves?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, uh, sorry, are you one of the kids who, like, goes to Anvil and passes citizenship really young? I know those exist, I just didn't think I'd ever meet one! Of course my kid will get to do whatever he wants after his citizenship test, he's just not even interested in taking it yet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wow, he still isn't interested in getting to go places?  And you haven't pushed him to?  I know Heida had her parents trying to keep her in bounds for a while, but even they finally let up.  And she's littler than me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's still got some growing up to do. He'll probably be ready in another couple of years? It's a big thing, especially round here - if he wants to stay Navarr he'll swear his life to pushing back the Vallorn, even if he does it like we do here by supplying those who fight."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Growing up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

The Briars look very confused and unsure how to answer this question.

"...that might be a problem," says Allegra. "In... this world, each year that passes, humans grow one year older, and change from babies to children to adults, and eventually die of old age. Does that not happen in Oz?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No - babies stay babies - kids stay kids, like me - adults stay adults - nobody dies.  It must be weird... How long does it take to become a grown-up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

The briar who has a kid replies: "Usually about sixteen years, maybe a little longer - it's not an obvious thing, people change every day, so we have the citizenship test to work out when someone should be treated as an adult."

"You might start aging now you're out of Oz," Allegra warns him. "And... some people will find the idea of never aging very attractive - if they hear about Oz they might try to get in. In large numbers. And take over.

About how many people would you guess there are in the whole of Oz? I understand that's a difficult question, but, like, hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?"

Permalink Mark Unread

...

...

"Just... sixteen..."  He shakes his head quickly.  "I don't wanna be a grown-up so quickly!

"Er, more than a few thousand humans, at least.  And then there're all the animals - I've no idea how many squirrels and mice there are."

Permalink Mark Unread

"How would they cope with, say, ten thousand people experienced at fighting and organised and equipped to do so, turning up at the place you left?

That is the kind of thing that might well happen if we tell the wrong people about this."

Allegra's latter comment seems to be partially directed at her briar companions, not just to Brant.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Er, I think we'd treat it like a wicked witch and run.  If we can.  The animals definitely would; we humans can't be quite so fast about it.  And then one of the witches nearby - maybe Arzela or Thurdan - would scry them and do something."  He shrugs.  "Don't know how much magic the ten thousand of you would have; don't really know how much magic Arzela has either, and don't wanna know.  But if she really needs to, she could tell all the other witches and wizards about the invasion, and they'd help her - even the most powerful ones if they need to, Enanora the Witch of the East and Osco the Wizard of the Emerald City himself.  You couldn't defeat Osco."

He says that last line like he's blithely certain of it.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, so it would be a hideous mess and probably eventually pushed back by magic by people who are more used to the affordances of the regio pocket. Not the worst possible outcome, but let's try to avoid it anyway."

By this time the party have reached the edge of the woods.

"Do you think you can retrace your steps, or should I get some of the original firewood party who found you to get us closer? Oh, and Tywyn, could you go round up the Winter coven? If we do find the place, I don't want to go through until we can cast Wisdom Of The Balanced Blade and Words of Ending, and if Brant went over the threshold by accident we might too."

One of the briars runs off back towards the village.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wait, where're you going!?" Brant calls after the briar who left.  "Are you gonna get those ten thousand!?"

He adds more quietly, to Allegra, "Yeah, it would be a hideous mess.  And I think I could retrace my steps till where I met the wood-gatherers; past that..."  He shrugs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's just gone to get our winter coven - half a dozen people who together can identify the properties of curses, including how long they're going to last and how to end them early," Allegra explains. "I don't think the Empire would invade Oz at all, some people might try to sneak over individually but en masse people wouldn't want to claim they didn't believe in reincarnation, or wanted to hide from the Labyrinth. I'm mostly thinking of Axos, who think that death is a terrible curse and already go to huge lengths to trap their souls here already - if they could do it by just not dying in the first place, they might do anything to try to secure that."

Permalink Mark Unread

He smiles at the reassurance.  "Oh good!  Can we get some of the power crystals too, or do they work some other way?

Uh, I don't wanna die either.  Or even become a grown-up.  Though I think some parents of babies would want to come here, if the portal's stable, till the baby's about my age."

Permalink Mark Unread

"They'll have a few crystals on them; enough for a couple of castings. I'm not sure I want to take my whole stockpile on the first visit, although I appreciate I might regret that if we can't get back here easily.

If retracing your steps doesn't work, we can try some other things - we don't have enough mages in the Steading to do Shadowed Glass of Sung or Clear Lens of the Eternal River, or just search the whole area with Detect Magic, but I can think of several ways of getting them together - I can write letters, or we can go to Anvil where we will definitely be able to round people up but they'll be less trustworthy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Good!"

Brant looks around the woods, nods, and starts down a small path.  "Thisaway!...  What does it feel like to become a grown-up so quickly?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It doesn't seem fast to us; in fact a lot of people would quite like it to be faster, especially if their parents are... not very good for them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If your parents aren't good for you in Oz, and you aren't a baby, you can just leave.  Find someone else, find a pack of dogs or something, or just keep traveling.  There's food in the forest if you can't find anything else."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah... it's not that easy here. There are some edible things in the forest, but you have to know where to look, how to prepare them, some of them are very similar to things that are highly poisonous instead, and you probably can't run away fast enough from wild animals or bad people who want to kill or capture you. Plus, unless your parents have done something so bad that everyone agrees with you, most people you try to befriend will just return you to them."

This series of facts is delivered in a somewhat less upbeat or even matter-of-fact way, more kind of distant, as if looking at a memory more than her surroundings; there might be some personal experience here.

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Brant hangs his head.  "Maybe you should come to Oz.  Or the kids should.  You're a witch; maybe you could claim some land and the other witches would stay off.  Or maybe we could even talk to the Greater Fay about enchanting this place too, except they never listen..."

After a moment, he sees a mouse running along the ground and calls out, "Hey, mouse!"

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The mouse continues running, possibly even more determinedly away from Brant than before.

"They don't talk, but they're quite cute. They do tend to poop everywhere if you try to keep them as pets though.

Uh, mice, that is, not Greater Fay - I reckon that your Greater Fay are what we call Eternals. We've got a system for communicating with them that they _sometimes_ listen to, but only, like, one message per realm per season, very short, and they generally just show up to insult people and possibly curse them anyway."

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"Oh, I forgot they don't talk here...

"The Greater Fay actually show up!?  Themselves!?  We've never more than seen their cloud-chariots in the distance; we've never talked to them - there're some Lesser Fay who've talked with us, like the Daughters of the Rainbow, but even they hardly ever even know what the Greater Fay are doing -"

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"They only show up in the Hall of Worlds, at Anvil, and even then they mostly send heralds - that's probably the same as Lesser Fay. Sometimes they invite people into very small regio pockets to speak with them. I've seen a couple, spoken with two - one was a pretty chatty Eternal as they go, the other... I think it _could_ have gone well except someone tried to stab them, which... did not go so well."

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Brant glances around the woods, looks over his shoulder for a few moments, nods, and heads forward ducking under a low branch.

"Someone tried to stab a Fay!?  You can't do that - you can't even stab half the witches, unless you've got a magic knife or something -"

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"They did have a magic knife, but it really didn't help. Generally Eternals won't come out into the Hall of Worlds unless there are - magical treaty protections, it's called Parley. The entire Empire had trouble doing Spring magic - that's the magic associated with the Eternal who got knifed - for a whole year."

By now the party numbers about a dozen - Brant, Allegra, the four original briars, and six more that have rushed to catch up, who are probably the Winter coven.

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Brant waves to them.  "Hey; thanks for coming!  You know about the spell on Pippi?"

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"No, who's Pippi?"

"We were just told there was a curse to look at."

"We hardly ever get to look at a curse! Is Pippi cursed, then?"

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"Yeah!  She picked a magic flower and got turned into a jewel butterfly, and that's why I went adventuring to turn her back!  We're heading back to Oz - that's where I'm from - now; have you got all the crystals and everything else you need?  And, er, Allegra found there was some other Summer magic on me - I'm sure it'll be on her too - is that gonna be a problem?"

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"Shouldn't be, we're not trying to knock off an enchantment."

"Depends on what the curse says."

"I've got two, you normally have a few?"

"Six. As long as we don't need more than a couple of Wisdoms and an Ending, it'll be fine."

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"I hope you won't need any more than that!  I don't know about any other magic problems in Ezania!"

He looks behind them again and smiles.  "This's almost where I noticed the grass was green.  And I was coming from thataway..."  He starts off again, beckoning for the others to follow.

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Between one eyeblink and the next, the grass turns blue.

Allegra immediately freezes, takes a quick look around, then steps backwards exactly how she had stepped forwards.

The grass is still blue.

She starts to cast a very similar spell to earlier, drawing patterns on the air: "I am the web..."

Six briar ritualists are gazing around with great interest, although not casting their own magics yet. The two spear-wielders and two runners who were with them are nowhere to be seen.

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Brant jumps in triumph at being back in Oz.  He plucks down a large blue fruit from a tree, and takes a big bite of it.  He waves to the ritualists.  "Hey, try one of these; they're good! -- Oh, what's wrong?"

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Allegra finishes casting her spell. She does not seem to like what it tells her.

One of the ritualists comes over and picks a fruit, then looks questioningly at Allegra.

"Well, we're going to be here for a while," she says. "No regio, no indication that there's a portal to operate. Everything is kind of slightly Summer-y round the edges. Can we maybe leave off trying the fruit until we've had a look at the curse? Most likely it's just going to be tasty, with a slight chance of accidentally stopping you aging and trapping you here forever, but I'd rather bring a full intact coven to the flower before we start experimenting.

Especially as it looks like Twywn and the others weren't sufficiently interesting to whoever runs that entrance."

The ritualist looks at the fruit longingly, then stuffs it in her satchel bag instead of taking a bite.

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"You think it's the fruit that has the magic?  Everyone says the Fay cast their magic on the land... okay, fruit trees do grow out of the land...  Well, if you're going to stay here a while, you're going to need to eat and drink something.

"But sure, let's go.  Thisaway!"

Brant starts off through the forest with more confidence.  Soon, they get to what looks like a well-established trail, with lots of deer prints together with some larger animals'.

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"Okay, I should probably give you all the quick Oz briefing. Animals are people here, unlikely to be violent, don't pick a fight. Nobody ages and they only have rumours of death, so, uh, generally don't pick a fight. There's 'witches' who are powerful magic users that can leave stuff lying around that will curse you, and 'Fay' who seem like Heralds or Eternals and are probably generally bad news in the usual way; hopefully we don't run into any until we have some idea how we're approaching them, but I was also hoping that stepping backwards over the threshold would work and it did not."

The briars nod and make various slightly distracted signs of assent; they are still mostly gazing in wonder at everything being the wrong colour, and trying not to get left behind.

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"Yeah.  All the animals are people.  Some of them are friendly to us humans; some of them want to stay away from us - there're some others who really don't like us, but not around here.  Nobody's gotten older or died - well, 'cept in fighting, maybe - since the Greater Fay enchanted Oz."  He looks up to the sky for a moment.  "I saw their cloud-chariots..."  Then he shakes his head.  "Hope we won't see any witches.  But if we do, whatever you do, don't disrespect them.

"Pippi's with her parents in Ezania, a few hours thisaway."

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Everyone in the Imperial party seems to be quite happy walking along a game trail.

Allegra takes out a notebook and makes some notes about number of steps and a rough sketch of where they joined the deer trail as she's walking.

"I don't suppose... you have any idea of how we might get back, once we've sorted out the curse?" asks one of the ritualists, after a while. "Only, I'm not sure there are any Vallorn here, and I wouldn't like to disrespect my oath."

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"Oh, oops.  I guess you could find a Good Witch and ask them.  I'm sure they've been asked it before - well, portals to somewhere."

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"Sounds like a plan."

"What can you tell us about Ezania? Will there be somewhere for us to stay or should we start thinking about bush supplies?" 

"Uh, are any of the plants or trees people? If we're going to be picking stuff and making shelter frames..."

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"The plants aren't people; don't worry.  Well, don't worry about that - but make sure you aren't picking something magic; that's what got Pippi in the first place.  We've got room for you in Ezania; don't worry about that - spare rooms, and Mardle's old house.  He left town to find -"

There's a rustle in the bushes near the trail.

"Hello?" Brant calls.

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A fox pokes its head out from the bush.

"Oh, hi!  Did you see someone heading the other way, just a few hours ago?  This place, well, you might want to take another road today?"

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The briars start to look a bit more nervous / alert - a couple of them reach into hidden robe pockets or boots and check their dagger supplies.

"We weren't on this road an hour ago," Allegra offers. 

"Is there another road to Ezania?" asks a ritualist.

None of them look too surprised at the talking animal, given they've been warned about this and are in a weird magic place; random talking things in weird magic places are just Heralds, and everyone here has taken a Vate's oath at some point. 

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"Ezania?  Isn't that one of the human villages over thataway?"  The fox points with a foreleg.  "There's another road that goes right past the Witch's house, but - well, even if she's out today, I'd rather just go through the woods."

"She's out?" Brand says curiously.

The fox nods.  "Looking for someone, I heard."

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"Is that... Not a good witch, then?"

"We can walk through woods just fine, don't worry if we have to go off road."

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"That'd be Arzela.  No she isn't.  And...  she miiiiiiight... be looking for me.  Let's go through the woods."

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The briars are just as happy off the road, like they spend a lot of time making their way through woods. Allegra is definitely using her leafy staff to balance quite a bit, although partly that's because she is looking round an awful lot, in case anyone witch shaped is trying to get the drop on them. 

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The fox follows along with them, slipping under branches and bushes that the humans need to duck under or go around.

After a bit, he sticks up his nose and asks Brant, "Why's this witch interested in you, young human?  And how'd you meet all these friends so quickly?"

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"I... peeked in her house to try to figure out if she had any antidote to the magic flower.  She didn't."

(The fox perks his ears at this.)

"My best friend Pippi picked a magic flower by accident and got turned into a butterfly.  That's why I went adventuring!  And I didn't think Arzela caught me looking through her stuff!  Well, she didn't actually catch me.  Anyway, I was heading thataway on my Adventure when I found -" He drops his voice to an exaggerated whisper.  "A portal all the way out of Oz!"

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"If you hear of another one of those, by the way, we're, uh, in the market."

Nobody seems to be very surprised that Brant did a bit of sneaking around to look for the cure.

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"Oh my.  Good luck; I haven't heard of any of those in years and years."  The fox peers at them again.  "You're from outside Oz, are you?  Do you have any magic of your own?"

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"Yes, we've been specifically picked for it!"

Allegra picks up at this point:

"We have a Winter coven - that's these six, I don't do Winter myself - which can gather information about curses and destroy magical objects. I can do a variety of Spring rituals by myself, and a little Night and Day; mostly healing, purification, replacing enchantments with something that wears off quicker; and I can also do some spiritual effects, providing specific emotional patterns and attuning people to virtues, although I don't have very much liao on me - that's a substance needed to do that, the other things mostly take mana crystals which we have a few of.

And we all have some basic personal magics that recharge overnight, basic magical detection, operating portals if we could find any, that kind of thing."

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"Are you planning to make a house and set yourself up as witches?  And maybe take these woods for your own and keep out the other witches?"

The fox's tail is wagging a bit, and he looks eager.

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"We're _planning_ to do what we came for and try to go home.

Unfortunately, most of our powers run off a limited material we only have a small amount of here - if we find a source for it, we can consider other options.

I'm hoping to make contact with a 'good witch' and sell them on the prospect of trade - it seems like each side has things the other would benefit from, but reliable transport is the first requirement for that - the portal we entered by doesn't seem inclined to let us leave."

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"If you want trade, you'll need to make sure there isn't a Wicked Witch sitting on top of the portal here.  But why not try some of the magic or rocks here to recharge your magic?  I'm sure the Fay put everything into Oz for every sort of magic!"

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"Cenys, you're often on mana duty, keep an eye out for mana site signs or anything that looks vaguely promising?"

One of the ritualists nods and renews her efforts at gazing around in wonder.

"Is it likely that this particular portal will reopen at all, or would we actually be looking for another one to exit? If we can make two way travel work, I can go and hand pick a quest team to deal with any individual less powerful than the Greater Fay, within a couple of weeks, but what you've got here is a curse analysis group, not a fighting unit."

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"I dunno."

(The fox shakes his head too.)

"But if Arzela's already around here... maybe she closed it?  So we'd need to deal with her again."

Brant kicks a small stone; it crashes into a bush just a little bit away.

"Let's fix Pippi first."

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The party from Foundhome seem to be generally on board with this and conversation subsides a bit for a while as they make progress towards Pippi - but there does seem to be a distinct increase in worried / conspiratorial glances between them and calculating looks at Brant when they think he's not looking.

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Brant notices.  He's learned to be on his guard for that sort of look, when the more patronizing grown-ups feel like there's a plan they shouldn't let kids in on.

It's not like he's impatient.  It's some time before he looks over his shoulder and says "Hey, what're you looking so sly about?"

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"Just trying to figure out any way of getting out of here," one of the briar ritualists answers immediately.

"You did ask us to look out for options," another points out.

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"Well, did you think of anything?"

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"Not really," admits the first one sheepishly.

"Maybe if we could find some substitute for crystal mana," the other muses, "but even then I don't think we even have enough power for casting Clear Glass, we're pretty specialised in curse investigation."

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The fox (named Frinnac) perks up his ears and sniffs a little ways ahead and to the left.  "I smell something!  Something magic - not you, but different - don't know what.  Thataway!"

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"That... might be where Pippi plucked the magic flower?  Maybe?"

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"We'll be sure not to pick any flowers without asking your advice," one of the ritualists reassures him.

"If you still have the flower and Pippi, those would be the best things to do our ritual on, though - we don't have either of the major location targetting ones mastered," apologises another.

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"Then... she dropped it pretty close by where she picked it, once she started turning to jewel.  If you can sniff out the magic" (he turns to Frinnac) "we might be able to find it."

He leads them off ahead and a little to one side, in the direction Frinnac was smelling the magic.  The ground starts getting a bit soggier, and there're more smaller plants between the trees.

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"We can detect magic on it, at least," one of the ritualists offers. "That should tell us if anything else would be useful."

"Don't quite have to touch but d have to get close," adds another, "is that going to be a problem?" 

"Do you actually know where Pippi is right now?"

Allegra is being strangely quiet - she looks increasingly irritated at the landscape, whilst her briar ritualists are perfectly happy picking their way through the increased undergrowth, like they do it all the time.

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"Getting close to magic things is usually fine if you make sure you don't touch it - even if there's a sudden breeze or something.  Pippi's with her parents back in Ezania...  What's wrong, Allegra?"

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The brush bends in a sudden wind coming from ahead and a bit to the left.

Frinnac's ears suddenly stand up, and he sniffs into the wind.

"Human.  And magic.  Thataway."

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"I'm not fond of any of being stuck places, unfamiliar swamps, and unfamiliar magic," she explains. "It brings up unpleasant memories."

At the fox's note, she shakes off the melancholy a bit and adjusts her grip on the staff, going from 'using it as a leaning post' to 'ready to fight'.

"Do we have any idea who? Could it be the witch?" 

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"Yyyyyyep.  Why'd she be here!?"

(The fox nods too.)

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"This being a summer realm pocket, I expect that coincidence is setting us up for a dramatic confrontation. Or she's just back to check on her magic flowers."

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"So... we should go find her?  Or just stay here and wait for her to find us?"

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"Now, that depends on how much we want to play along. And if we can think of an suitable plan.

Generally I'm disinclined to play along with Realm nonsense and would say we should skirt round the area, get to Ezania, find out how to fix Pippi from the most likely target to work with our ritual - Pippi herself - and then give in and meet the witch when we have more knowledge of what we might want to bargain for.

But this is your homeland - do you think that sounds like the kind of plan that would work out, or the kind of plan that will go dramatically wrong?"

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"Yeah!  That's what I wanna do too.  If the witch's interested in us, it probably won't end nicely - at least not for a while - so let's help Pippi first.  And if it doesn't work - well, we tried."

(Frinnac nods along.)

Brant glances around for a moment and then sets off in another direction, where the ground quickly gets firmer.  After a bit, he turns again along a more-defined path.  They can hear birds chirping, though not from the direction of the swamp.

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Yes, good, let's not meet a witch in a swamp. Birds chirping is also a good sign. Hopefully there will be a village soon, they can at least discharge their obligations, and then they can see how good Brant's plan to get them home is and decide whether they're going with that or... the other plan.

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After a few minutes Frinnac says, "The magic's gone.  She must've left... leastwise for now.  I have known her to give up sometimes, but I wouldn't think she'd give up so quickly."

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"Maybe she went back to try to reopen the gate?  But let's go cure Pippi first!"

After a minute, he adds, "Everyone will be so surprised you're from outside Oz!  If you stay for a bit, there'll be so many questions!  And then some people will want to leave with you!"

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"Oh good, it sounds like more help on the quest might be very welcome.

I wouldn't worry too much about the witch getting through to our world, we're quite used to containing unusual magical threats. Foiling her plans will probably entertain some Vates and maybe Threshers for a bit, depending on how far she gets."

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"Oh good!

"Uh, can we get some of those to fight witches here too?  If the portal stays open?"

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"Yes, I would expect a number of enthusiastic quest parties to come through if it was open and widely known.

Although I can't guarantee they would all have your best interests at heart, if it was entirely public knowledge.

Some people would want to make deals with the witches and work for them in return for their magic, some people would want to exploit the natural resources, some people would want to bring through everyone who didn't fancy a go in the Labyrinth..."

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Pretty soon, the forest changes to fruit trees, and then opens up to a meadow thick with mostly-blue flowers and wheat and other plants obviously growing by themselves.  And behind it is a village - a few dozen whimsically decorated homes, most colored one shade or another of blue, all very neatly built in orderly rows and curves and looking like they've had decades and decades to patch up any problems.

A woman gathering some wheat in the field looks up in surprise.  "Brant!  You're back so soon!  And -"

"Hey, Clatsa!" Brant waves.  "We're here to disenchant Pippi!"

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The briars are obviously hanging back a bit awkwardly, so Allegra steps forwards to introduce them.

"Hello, Clatsa," she says. "We're a small delegation from another part of reality - outside 'Oz' entirely - and we have a little magic that might be able to help Pippi. It's something we can only do co-operating with each other - we're not witches as you understand it, we have much less individual power - but it can tell us what the full effects of a curse are and how to remove it."

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Clatsa stares in amazement, letting half the wheat fall from her arms.  "Outside - outside Oz!?  Can people come back with you!?  Everyone needs to hear this!"

Without waiting for an answer, she turns and runs to the town, calling out, "Outsiders!  Friendly!  Outside Oz!"

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Allegra begins to answer, then stops as the woman runs off.

At least if there's a crowd she might get away with not repeating herself so much.

"Is there any kind of - stage, raised place, gathering place - that might be better than here for addressing the whole village?" she asks Brant. 

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"There's the town square, and - Pippi's house has a loft window, actually, so let's just go there!"

He takes off running for the town.

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Allegra does not share Brant's sense of urgency and follows him at a reasonably brisk walk but nothing like a run. It wouldn't be dignified and she is rather acutely concerned with looking as dignified as possible with the eyes of the whole village - or town or whatever it was meant to be today - on her.

She looks out for anyone who is gazing curiously or fearfully at them to smile reassuringly at.

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Oh, everyone is curious.  They're pouring out of the houses - and some of them from the woods - to look at them and shout questions about who they are and what their world is and are they going to help stop evil witches and can people come back with them.

Most of them are humans, but there're also some dogs and birds too.  Most of the humans are wearing some shade of blue.

(Brant is jabbering to some other kids his age who've gathered around him, and waving impatiently for them to catch up.)

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"We'll give a speech and answer questions in the town square in a few minutes - if you can all gather there it will save us repeating ourselves. Please pass it on. We have one obligation to meet first."

Allegra is not quite shouting but is definitely using her best Carrying Commanding Tone, like she used to use on the battlefield. She repeats the message a couple of times as different people move into earshot and start asking questions.

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The town square looks very deliberately established, with space for a couple hundred people if they squeeze in.  As it is, unless there're a lot of people, there'll be a lot of elbow room.

There're several houses with loft windows and balconies next to it, but Brant is standing at the door of one of them waving.

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Allegra leads her ritual team over to the door with the practiced air of one who has moved a small unit through much more hostile crowds than this, and ushers them all in.

"We'll need to get everyone in the location with Pippi, two minutes, and ideally some soap and water to clean up afterwards, clean bandages suitable for hands if you've got them, we have some but only a limited supply." she explains, all brisk and businesslike now. "If there's somewhere the floor will be easier to clean that would be ideal, we shouldn't make a mess but accidents happen, or if you can safely bring Pippi outside."

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A woman, who looks like she's been crying, holds out a small carefully-woven basket with a blue butterfly-shaped sapphire in it.  "Here she is, ma'am.  I've got soap and water and bandages in the back room; you can do it anywhere - or right here."

(The floor is squared-off wood planks that look dented from long use, but well-polished.)

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"No really, they're nice!" Brant interjects.  "Why don't you do it in the Annex out back, if you think it'll mess up the floor?  It's still just dirt and straw there."

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"Excellent, we'll move to the annex. This won't hurt anyone but us, but people who aren't used to it might find it upsetting to watch; you're welcomed to watch anyway if you would like to. We will be very careful and discuss her options with you before we do anything but look."

She gestures to one of the ritualists to take the basket, which they do very carefully, like it's got a baby in. They proceed through to the annexe, place the basket in the middle of the floor, arrange themselves in a circle around it, and draw their ritual knives.

"This will take about two minutes and we are absolutely not to be interrupted, after which the bandages and so on will be appreciated," she tells Brant. 

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Pippi's parents stand by the door, inside, nervously.

Brant stands back next to them, with a triumphant smile on his face, twitching with excitement.

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There is a ritual.

It involves the ritualists using those ritual knives on themselves - carefully, along the top of the arm, some alongside existing bark patches from previous wounds - and then applying the blood to each other's faces in the form of the rune burnt into Allegra's face.

And then they all peer at the basket and make somewhat confused gestures and say things like "it's connected to... No, that doesn't have a..." a lot.

Allegra doesn't seem to be a direct ritual participant and is mostly looking alert in all directions, as if she will absolutely take down anyone trying to interrupt this ritual with her big stick.

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Pippi's parents take the knifing in stride, but they're looking more and more nervous as the ritualists are looking more and more confused.  Quietly, though.  They're not daring to interrupt.

And then - there's a bang almost like a small thunderclap outside, and cries of shock and horror.  Someone screams, "Arzela!"

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"Go and distract her for just one minute - not you, Brant, the adults, she might snatch you," Allegra advises in a brisk, order-giving tone. "Where's she likely to come in from so I can block the way..."

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Pippi's parents are rather reluctant to leave!  But after a few moments, the mother says, "Ma'am, it sounds like she's heading for the square, so she'll be coming the same way we did, or else through the yard and that door.  I can get her to wait and make a show in the square, I think..."

She reluctantly steps to the door; if there's no response she'll leave.

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Allegra nods, moves to be able to quickly cover the relevant entrances, says "Thank you," with relieved sincerity.

The ritualists don't appear to have noticed anything happening outside their ritual huddle. 

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After a minute, there's the sound of screaming in the square.  Brant and Pippi's father both look worried.

After another minute, the door to the Annex shakes, and a shrill voice from outside calls, "Open!"

Brant looks at the ritualists with a shred of hope...

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The ritualists look awkward and shuffle their feet.

"I've never seen a permenant curse without a clear break condition like this," one offers, apologetically.

"I still think we should destroy the flower and see if it helps..."

"Basically, the only sure thing is to get the witch to take it off," confesses a third.

Allegra opens the door, and tries to look confused and naive rather than angry. 

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The witch - who's wearing a crown - isn't looking angry either.

"And who might you be, coming into my territory?"

She speaks smoothly, but with an irritated air.

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"Allegra Foundhome. I'm sorry if we've messed anything up? One of the people here came to us in distress and we were just trying to help with their problem, but it looks like they need you anyway."

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"Ozi-quadi-gili."

She flicks her fingers in from Allegra, as if beckoning for her to come.  A magic spark flicks from her fingers but immediately vanishes in the air.  (If they can feel any magic, they won't be feeling anything here.)

Her eyes go wide for a moment, and then her face settles into a smile.  "I'm the Witch Arzela.  I see you're new to this place - what are you planning to do here?"

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"Mostly, get myself and my people home - we only intended to look in briefly and get the person who lives here back home safely, and maybe help their friend if we could, but we couldn't step back across the threshold."

Allegra isn't best pleased with the unknown magic system but doesn't give any obvious outward sign of this - she weighed up asking curiously about it, but discarded that for now as possibly too distracting and threatening.

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"You... couldn't get back across the threshold.  I take it you want to get back?"

She glances around.  All the Oz-ites are trying their best to look nonthreatening like they're not doing anything at all.

"At least, by yourselves?"

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"Yes - I mean, we'd be happy to take anyone who wanted to go, but we're mostly looking for a way back to where we left the rest of our people and our houses and everything..."

This is a calculated performance, attempting to look clueless and harmless. Allegra is very good at calculated performance but isn't sure what that magic is directly reading - if it's not standard magic it may not obey the limit of mental sanctity.

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Fortunately, Arzela can't read their minds.

Unfortunately, she's assuming they're plotting something anyway.

It's usually been a good assumption with other witches who aren't staying in their own territories.  Even though she still doesn't have any clue what Osco of the Emerald City was plotting last time he went traveling.

"I looked at the portal already - it must've been just after you came through.  I think I can open it with the yarrow staff I have in my house - but I'll need to re-weave some spells first, to stay up when I take it out.  Would you be interested in helping me there?"

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"Sure!" 

Allegra weighs up pushing her luck here. Her people are counting on her to get them home. But so far the witch seems like she's also putting up a cooperative front, this might be the best time to push for concessions, and she doesn't want to burn all her bridges with people who might plausibly come save them from the witch when it turns out she's not actually cooperating.

"I don't suppose you could lift the curse on the kid in this house first, though? I know she was probably trespassing, but kids do that sometimes, I'd expect she's learned her lesson now?"

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"Perhaps.  I'll take her, and I can do it at home."

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Brant gasps.  "No!  Don't take Pippi!"

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"Ah, so there's your spunk!  Well, if I can't take her - I can't fix her here."

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Allegra shoots a meaningful look back at one of the ritualists - is she telling the truth?

The ritualist looks a little uncertain, but does nod. "It's going to take outside magic to fix it," he volunteers.

"It does sound like she needs to take her back to where she's got supplies to work on it," Allegra says, in what is intended to be a reassuring tone of voice. "If he's worried about her, maybe he can come with us?" she offers, still staying with a light and naive sounding tone.

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Pippi's parents are still almost too scared to speak.  But now that Brant's objected without getting bewitched, her father finds the courage to say, "If you think best - you take her then - if you would."

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Clearly something is wrong here with the amount these people are terrified of the witch, but also a lot of bad things happen to good people everywhere, she doesn't have enough context, and she only really bears responsibility for herself and her people - so she just waits for the witch to respond, still looking helpful, eager and harmless. 

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The witch quickly picks up Pippi-as-the-butterfly, holds her for a moment, and then hands her to Brant.  "I don't know your magic well enough," she says to Allegra.  "Well, if this's all your business here, let's go.  Do you travel by whirlwind or cloud or chariot?"

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"Generally I just walk, or possibly take a boat or a wagon if one's going? We're happy to try out any of those if you can include us, though."

The ritualists have formed up into a loose huddle behind Allegra to make it clear they are one unit and go places together. 

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"Of course!  Tiparit, litarip, paranip -"  She points at them, and then at Brant, and whirls her arms around herself while still chanting.


Swirls of smoke waft up, and in seconds, the smoke keeps them from seeing anything except (faintly) each other and (momentarily) something that looks like pieces of wood flying in the wind.  They can feel themselves wafted up and along through the air, sort of like floating in a swift river.  And then - a minute later - they're set down again with little buffeting but no attempt to actually set them on their feet.

The smoke vanishes as they're set down; they're outside a blue stone tower with open gate and several outbuildings around it.

"Welcome to my house."

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Allegra and the ritualists scramble to their feet in a more or less dignified fashion; all their clothes seem fairly well designed for falling over in.

"Lovely colour," remarks Allegra, for want of anything better to say. She has a bit of a sinking feeling about the pieces of wood, but if she can keep up a chipper face the witch might at least actually spare Pippi, which would probably make the destruction worth it. 

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"Thank you; I made it myself.  And if you do like the color -" she gestures around them at the grass, which's even more blue (if anything) than it was around the portal "- you'll like this Munchkin country.

"Shall I show you around?"

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"Let's fix Pippi first!"

Brant is just hoping that not too much of Pippi's house went up in that whirlwind.  But there was nothing he could've done about it then, and nothing now.

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"Oh, but she can wait.  It's not like she can even get impatient in there.  But the portal can't wait - don't you know that it's a lot harder to reopen portals once they've been closed for too long?"

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Brant glares... not quite at her face, but in her direction.

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"I didn't know that, but it makes sense! Is it going to be possible to hold it open once we've sorted it out? I think Brant would be happier if at least some of us stuck around until Pippi is better, he did go on an awfully big adventure to find us."

Allegra might be laying on the Chirpy Innocent Act a bit thick here, but everyone else here appears to be a massive stereotype, so maybe it'll work.