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Jul 06, 2022 9:00 PM
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"How would one go about that. Leaving Earth.

Witches are uniformly capable of this?"

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"There is an established network of portals linking Earth to places beyond, many of which you would be welcome at. I can elaborate if you wish."

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No, she is not going to chomp at that bit being dangled in front of her. She is not going to be caught scrabbling through the minutiae. Minutiae like everything that exists beside the pale blue dot. She's — it's not that she was wrong about everything so much as she was fed lies in school and was too stupid to notice. Does the solar system even exist? What is the sun? She doesn't even know where to start trying to correct herself.

She rubs her eyes. "How many of us are there? How many witches on earth?"

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"Around a hundred million, most of whom are Neutrals - the witch equivalent of a human. Population on earth is less than a quarter of that." She looks over at Lily. "Do you have any questions?"

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"Not yet. I trust Marianne to ask the right questions."

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The stranger nods. "I see." Then she looks back at Marianne.

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Around — one in 300? That is. A staggering amount. She will have met a witch before, maybe more than one.

She turns her eyes to Lillian and attempts to beg, please have thirty-five percent less faith in me I am not what you think I am.

Exactly what the awakening process consists of doesn't matter if it's something that can fit in an afternoon. The social structure employing the witch in their apartment is something she can find out later, when she's not burning a hole in the stranger's valuable time. The worlds beyond earth could not be less relevant, nothing outside the room could be less relevant.

"How do new witches learn things?"

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"Generally they're educated by one of the factions. The College at Arcadia and Hawthorne Academy both accept all witches as students, or you could take a Hespatian, Lunabellan, Watcher or Aelfheimr patron. There are human factions as well, but they know less."

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"I don't suppose you have a pack of business cards under that hat."

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"Alas, no, but I can put you in touch with some people. I maintain good relationships with everyone. Except the Outsiders, but they don't count."

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"Are you under the employ of one of these groups?"

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"I am a neutral third party under quite a bit of Covenant magic to remain so. Waking new witches is taken very seriously; no faction wants any other to have a monopoly, nor is open competition good for stability or the Masquerade."

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That's the second time she's heard 'covenant', it goes in the cache.

She can feel an ignition of curiosity about the exact compact the stranger is under, but if disclosure was required she'd have it already and if it's not it would be meaningless to ask.

"What's your name?"

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"I go by Penelope."

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"Is that sufficient to identify you from the rest of witchdom?"

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"Yes, actually."

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She has a couple of ideas for how that might work, but none that seem to ring true.

"—I'm sorry, I've been awful. Let me put on some tea." She wrenches herself from her stiff attentive position and walks to the next room, like a flower turning from the sun.

"Please ask your questions, Lillian."

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"I hardly know where to begin. I'll have to drink blood? Am I secretly a vampire or something?"

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"Yes, actually. An Empusa, to be more precise. It's a form of vampiric witch. And yes, you'll need to drink blood to survive; your body will be animated by mana, and your biology will require blood to charge you. Or you could spend Witch Kisses."

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"What is a witch kiss?"

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"It's a form of crystallized mana that Witches use for trade, generally in the form of copper, silver or gold coins."

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"How does one earn Witch Kisses?"

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"Generally by being of service somehow. A job, or a scholarship. Or occasionally favour from a patron."

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Marianne puts the kettle on and stares down at it, a bubble of cheap silvery tin. She lets her hands cup it as it warms. It's not painful yet, but she's itching for it. Pain breeds desire. Desire sublimates into focus. She needs that clarity. In any given moment, there is one important thing. One next waypoint, the satisfaction of which outweighs all other considerations—

It is not important that she asks the exact right questions, she should be able to figure them out later just as well.

It is not important that she take diligent precautions to save herself from being sacrificed to Satan. Penelope is capable of breathing animus into bone and summoning her witch clothes from empty air. The implications scatter from the facts like fallen glass. They would have been at her mercy from the moment Penelope turned her notice upon them.

So what is important?

...she doesn't know, and the lack of it has reduced her to a soft unfortunate placidity. She will figure it out. In the meantime she will bring tea: one cup and saucer is offered to Penelope and the second set placed before Lillian.

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Lillian accepts her cup and saucer quietly, holding them delicately in her lap as there is nowhere to put them on the floor.

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