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Jul 06, 2022 9:07 PM
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Penelope accepts her tea, and takes a seat on the couch. She takes a small sip, smiles politely.

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"These... factions. I presume remaining neutral like you is not a reasonable route for new witches to take."

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"It is not."

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"I assume you cannot recommend any faction above the others."

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"I cannot. But I can provide information for you to make your own choices with."

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"Please elaborate, then."

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"The College at Arcadia is a loose collection of gentle-hearted witches, which requires loose attendance from its students and provides housing and instruction on a somewhat ad hoc basis within a lush green pocket dimension. Tutition is free, and you would find friends there. It has a loose commonsense law policy within its pocket dimension. Its magic is an evocation of constructs and manipulation of pocket spaces known as digicasting. 

Hawthorne Academy is more strict. It is a full-spectrum educational institution for witches of all skill levels, within a cavern dimension off Earth. Enrollment is free. Housing is in dorms. Discipline is strict. For serious crimes, such as for example murder, execution is permitted. The Academy prides itself on turning out competent witches who are able to operate well in Witchdom. Its magic is the use of wands to store mana in limited spells. 

In these two, you would be students, with limited responsibilities. The other factions would demand more of you, but your opportunities for advancement would be commeasurably greater."

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Lily nods and takes another sip of her tea.

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"The Watchers, with the guidance of the celestials, keep order on Earth, maintain the masquerade that prevents open war, and address threats from rogue witches, monsters, and Outsiders. They have the magic to summon celestials to guard and strengthen. As a low-level Watcher, you would likely be employed as a spy or informant to keep tabs on Earth's conditions.

You could go to the Hespatians, who keep court near Hell in the mana-saturated planes there, and seek to learn of the Shadow from them. The Hespatians are an old and respected collection of covens and cults, each with their own ethos and plans; you would be expected to provide information or else force for their operations. Their magic draws on the Shadow, but it is closely guarded and I cannot share much of its nature with you. 

You could also turn to Lunabella, the witch colony on the dark side of the moon. All there are slaves to the Iron Tablets, a complex form of government and prestige where the achievements of the lesser reflect on the greater. You would be taken in by a household, some wealthy patron, who would care for you well and see to your eventual advancement, but everything you were would be owed to your patron. Their magic is Domain, the creation of pocket spaces. 

Finally, there is Aelfheimr, the courts of Summer and Winter, in the lush wildlands of the sidhe plane. Again, you would seek a patron, someone you could serve in the complex games of the Fae; it is from them that the magic of Covenants comes, the binding and sealing of contracts and agreements. You would have much opportunity for advancement, there, but little direct tutoring; you would be expected to prove yourselves capable in your own right as you worked to serve your patron."

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"That is informative, thank you." More than she can follow the implications of in the next few minutes. Marianne feels very divorced from reality right now, and her words walk on stilts.

"Isabel, from what Penelope has said, there doesn't seem to be a choice of whether in the matter of awakening, only when. Would you like to do it now?"

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"I think we had better get it over with."

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She turns to Penelope, hands folded at her waist in front of her ugly one-piece dress.

 

"Please go ahead."

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Penelope stands. 

Then she reaches out and taps Marianne firmly on the head with her staff.

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Marianne Belor was expecting every part of her sing with knives, from her skin to her teeth to her innermost parts. She was expecting to be reforged to the last skin cell. She was expecting nothing to apparently happen at all, as events of true significance tend to pass.

Several things happen at once, none of them quite that.

— She recognizes her soul. It had always been there — a tapestry of immense size, of which her conscious mind is only a pallid reflection. The fact that it's now changing simply makes it apparent for the first time, like an internal organ screaming with pain.

— She can feel new shifts and balances and weights take place inside her. There is a measure of power she can feel, surging at once to her index and middle finger. There is no complexity in it, only the pure and abstract ability to do something. There really isn't much but it makes her giddy anyways. A birthday girl, eight years old, set and posed to make a wish.

— There are channels for that measure of power, empty vessels which she might suffuse. As easily as pouring tea, or depressing a sequence of letters on a keyboard.

— Her body turns blue, drenched in the color as though dipped in a vat of it. Thin translucent scales form across her flesh, like if goosebumps were permanent.

— Her soul finishes changing in the same instant it starts. The tapestry has three things woven into it now. The first is the totality of herself, who she truly is and has always been. The other two are physical objects.

Every facet and intricacy of them is immediately obvious, as though she were looking at a blueprint — no, she is the blueprint, viewing itself. On some level she can feel she is inextricable from these things, as she is inextricable from her body or her concept of self. The first is a set of thin silvery armor, its material something between metal and cloth, shimmering like a bright mirror or mirage. The second is an amulet on a chain, an inverse pentacle. Small and black, runes etched around the outer rim. Its appearance is thin and understated, its actuality heavy and immutable.

— The necklace snaps into place physically at her throat, a droplet of onyx on her sea-glass skin. The armor substantiates in the next moment, supplanting the reality of her other clothing: it mimes a dress of all things, skirts of mail flaring about her waist.

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Isabel steps forwards.

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Penelope taps her forehead as well.

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Her heart stops. 

... that's not just nerves. She touches her wrist. She has no pulse. 

And there is a hunger, now, distant but present, and even as her body stills and weakens it sings to her of things dead flesh can take that the living body could never withstand. 

She can feel something slowly slipping away from her. 

And yet the world has never seemed so alive. 

She was meant for this.

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Penelope withdraws her staff and looks from Lilian to Marianne. 

"An academic and a warlock, then. It would seem you have a patron, Marianne. And a rich one, too."

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Again, it's not the clean slate that she had been building up in her head.

Her armor doesn't clink as she looks away from Lillian: it is one sleek flowing garment. As if she were a child, insisting that her clothes were MADE OF FORCEFIELDS — but this time the universe is obliged to nod gravely and accept the implications instead of pretending it didn't hear her.

She fixes her gaze on Penelope.

"Why might I have a benefactor? I," the words are painful to pronounce, "haven't done anything."

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"Some witches are seeded into the world by Powers of Hell, Heaven, or stranger places. I would guess you've been touched by Hell, looking at that pentagram at your neck. That's an artifact that will allow you to contract with a senior demon to barter your services, or summon other, lesser demons to purchase the services of. I don't know who your Patron is, but work and achievements - not necessarily in Hell's name, but because you are Hell's piece - will likely earn you Favor with Hell and help you gain in strength. That's what it means to be a Warlock. Your... roommate... is an Academic; she will gain in Focus and eventually power through study, as well as through achievements."

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Right.

The first time the witch said 'hell' it got tossed in the 'analyze later' bin. Does she need to become Catholic. It sounds like even running to a church screaming the whole way might not help, if things have already progressed this far.

"—are we talking about the biblical torture farm."

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"It's much more complicated than that, but the broad strokes are accurate - demons claim souls, souls claimed by hell are used in service or ritual, generally this is not very good for the souls in question. It is possible to earn your way out of Hell, even as an outright demon - certain witch types claim ancestry. You're likely not damned, at least not yet. Doing good is generally sufficient, faith is less necessary. The gods are real but there are many of them and each one lays claim to some proportion of souls based on its power to do so and the actions of the Reapers. 

You are, incidentally, immortal now. You will not age, and if you are killed there will be a chance for you to cheat death - it varies by witch species, but for you two it exists. For you, a Vanir, a second body will form in a nearby snowy area and gradually awaken. For Ms. Amber, if her dead body is soaked in enough blood she will revive."

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Christ on a cock slobbering on a sock.

"—is there anything else?" Honestly, she would unquestioningly believe anything at this point.

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"Naturally there is the actual study and practice of magic, but that's not my responsibility to help you with except insofar as to prevent you from using it where it'll be noticed. My time is limited. I recommend you two decide on a faction to approach between yourselves and make preparations to move out."

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"Witches uniformly live with their faction?"

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